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: The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Also known as: Blood Zone (Japan English title), Method for Murder, Waxworks, Sweets to the Sweet, The Cloak (segment titles)
Release Date: February 21st, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Duffell
Written by: Robert Bloch, Russ Jones
Music by: Michael Dress
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Ingrid Pitt, Jon Pertwee, Joss Ackland, Nyree Dawn Porter

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what’s wrong with the present day horrorfilms. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein. Phantom of the Opera. Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.” – Paul Henderson

I know that I’ve stated a few times before that I’m not a big fan of anthologies but sometimes there are those rare exceptions like Creepshow. Well, this is one of those rare exceptions.

Amicus is often times confused with Hammer Films, as they were another British studio that made horror pictures in the same era and used a lot of the same stars. They did have a tendency to make a lot of anthology pictures though, where Hammer focused more on classic monsters in the same vein as the Universal Pictures horror films of the ’30s and ’40s.

This one might be the best of Amicus’ horror anthologies, which are really hit or miss for me.

love that we get to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in another film, which happened over twenty times in their careers. They don’t share screen time here, unfortunately, as both men star in different stories within this anthology framework. But each is the star of their own segment.

Additionally, we get to see a segment starring Denholm Elliot a.k.a. Marcus Brody of Indiana Jones fame, as well as Jon Pertwee, most famous for playing the third incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who. It doesn’t stop there though, as we also get to enjoy the wonderful Ingrid Pitt, a true British scream queen, and Joss Ackland, who I love in just about everything.

While this stacked cast does a lot to make this film work and to legitimize it in a sea of horror from the era, it is the stories and the actual connection that they have that makes this a really enjoyable feature.

This is a small and confined feeling film, as just about every scene takes place in the same house. Each segment focuses on a different owner of the house and how this haunted property finds a way to effect them and bring out their fear.

We have a story about a writer going insane, seeing his imagined killer coming to life. We then get a story that involves a wax recreation of a dead love. Then there is one about a young girl that is a witch who terrorizes her overbearing father. And finally, we get my favorite segment that sees a legendary horror actor come into possession of a mystical cloak that turns the wearer into an actual vampire. There is also a chopped up segment that strings all the tales together.

I wouldn’t say that this is the best horror film put out by Amicus but it is the best one I’ve seen in awhile. That being said, it is in the upper echelon of their pictures and pretty damn enjoyable all around.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other British horror films from Amicus and Hammer from the late ’60s/early ’70s.

Film Review: Parts: the Clonus Horror (1979)

Also known as: The Clonus Horror (original title), Artificial Humans: Clone Farm (Asia English video title), Clonus Horror (Spain), Alter Ego (UK video title), Clonus (alternate title)
Release Date: August, 1979
Directed by: Robert S. Fiveson
Written by: Bob Sullivan, Ron Smith, Myrl A. Schreibman, Robert S. Fiveson
Music by: Hod David Schudson
Cast: Tim Donnelly, Paulette Breen, Dick Sargent, Peter Graves, Keenan Wynn, Frank Ashmore

Clonus Associates, Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd., 90 Minutes

Review:

“I think it’s time I start paying back this country for some of the good things it’s given me.” – Jeff Knight

This is one of the few Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I had never seen. I missed it way back in the day and it’s just eluded me ever since. But I’ve seen it now! Not that that’s something to be excited about because this motion picture is pretty dreadful.

I guess I could say that the story had some ambition to it but the people that had to give life to this interesting premise, failed in every way imaginable.

This is categorized as a horror film and even has “horror” in its title. It’s not very horrific though, so buffs of the genre aren’t going to get much out of this.

The story is about cloning gone amok. Everything takes place at a desert compound where people are cloned just to be harvested for their parts. The clones are basically enslaved and forced to work within the colony until they need to be cut up for rich people. The clones are also isolated from the rest of the world. As I’m typing the plot details, I get kind of excited. This sounds really compelling but again, all the creative ambition is lost in the movie’s poor execution.

As is common with films like this one, the acting is way below average and the script is a mess. Everything is just lackluster.

Parts: The Clonus Horror is mostly a waste of time. Unless you’re going to watch the MST3K version of it.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s/early ’80s sci-fi fare that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: El Santo and Blue Demon Vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man (1973)

Also known as: Santo y Blue Demon vs Drácula y el Hombre Lobo (original Mexican title), Santo and Blue (US subtitled version)
Release Date: July 26th, 1973 (Mexico)
Directed by: Miguel M. Delgado
Written by: Alfredo Salazar
Music by: Gustavo Cesar Carrion
Cast: El Santo, Blue Demon, Aldo Monti, Agustin Martinez Solares, Nubia Marti

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 90 Minutes

Review:

I have the same sort of love for Mexican lucha libre movies that I do for Japanese tokusatsu. In fact, they’re very similar in a lot of ways, other than lucha pictures don’t tend to feature giant monsters and they always star a big professional wrestling superstar.

In the case of Santo y Blue Demon vs Drácula y el Hombre Lobo, we’ve got a film with two big lucha libre superstars: El Santo and Blue Demon.

But the real treat here is that we’ve also got a pair of classic monsters with Dracula and the Wolf Man. Granted, they aren’t played by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. or Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed but they’re still classic horror monsters squaring off against lucha libre stars in a showdown for the ages!

Sadly, the showdown is pretty weak and the film doesn’t seem to follow the rules of these two classic monsters, as the Wolf Man is killed alongside Dracula by being impaled by wooden stakes.

Most people in the States will probably find this movie to be unpalatable. Lucha libre is certainly an acquired taste as an athletic competition, as well as in the movies. For those that love it and the legendary lucha stars of yesteryear, this goofy movie will be a lot of fun in its action heavy sequences.

Most of the non-action stuff is pretty boring and its hard for an American such as myself to follow, as all the details are in Spanish and that isn’t my native tongue. I know enough to get by and I get the gist of the plot but tracking down subtitled or dubbed versions of these films is very difficult.

The special effects are bad, the make up is laughable and the sets look like they’re from a community theater production but it all works for what this is.

I actually liked how they filmed the wrestling matches. Instead of doing them in an arena with thousands of screaming fans, they’re done against a solid, colored backdrop with canned cheers added in. While this is a really cheap way to create these wrestling scenes, it fits the strange tone of the film and its clunky, cheap sets. But it also feels otherworldly, which just works here.

Santo y Blue Demon vs Drácula y el Hombre Lobo is not a film that most people will enjoy but out of the long history of lucha libre motion pictures, this is one of the better productions that I’ve seen. Plus, two superstars are better than one.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other movies starring El Santo and/or Blue Demon.

Film Review: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Release Date: April, 1974 (Paris Festival of Fantasy Film)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, David Prowse, Madeline Smith, John Stratton, Patrick Troughton, Bernard Lee

Hammer Film Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“[after operating eyeballs onto the creature] Now, in approximately one hour, when the narcosis wears off… we shall see.” – Baron Victor Frankenstein

This is the final picture in Hammer Film’s Frankenstein series. I have now revisited and reviewed all of the films that star Peter Cushing. I need to go back and revisit the other one that stars Ralph Bates but that one is a semi-parody and not as serious as the Cushing installments.

As a kid, I always loved this one and I still like it a lot but having now seen it so soon after watching the others, I’d have to say that this one is the slowest. In fact, it drags out in parts and is a little bit boring.

It still has its fair share of excitement and I love that Frankenstein’s monster in this chapter is a “neolithic man”, which just equates to the monster being a massive, hulking brute, covered in lots of fur with an ape-like face. It’s also worth noting that the monster was portrayed by David Prowse, who would go on to be Darth Vader and thus, this was a film with both Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, three years before their more famous pairing in Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope.

Prowse was also in a lot of Hammer pictures. Certainly not as many as Cushing but this wasn’t a new type of role for him.

The film also stars Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, who many probably remember as Miss Caruso from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor of Doctor Who fame also has a small role, as does Bernard Lee, the actor who played M in the James Bond movies of the ’60s and ’70s.

I like the setting of this film, which is an asylum. Frankenstein has taken on another identity and works in secret within the asylum, where there isn’t a shortage of bodies to experiment on and brains to steal.

Frankenstein is obviously still evil but he is nowhere near as dastardly as he was in the previous film, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. But that’s the thing with the Hammer Frankenstein pictures, there just isn’t any real consistency and every film is sort of self-contained. It’s a stark contrast to how they managed their Dracula franchise where most of the films led right into the next chapter.

Being that this is a later Hammer movie, it does have a bit more of a gore factor than their earlier pictures. It isn’t overly gory but there are some scenes that still come off as pretty intense. For instance, there is a scene where the patients within the asylum literally tear someone apart with their bare hands. It happens off screen but we see meat and fluids flying, as well as what’s left of the poor soul after the savage attack.

This is one of the weakest installments of the film series but I still enjoy it quite a bit. The thing is, Hammer was running out of gas by 1974 and there was more competition in the UK from studios like Amicus, who also produced movies in a very similar style to Hammer.

I wouldn’t call this a worthy finale to the film series but The Satanic Rites of Dracula wasn’t a good finale either.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Mad Max (1979)

Also known as: Interceptor (Italy)
Release Date: April 12th, 1979 (Australia)
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: James McCausland, George Miller, Byron Kennedy
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Geoff Parry, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward

Kennedy Miller Productions, Crossorads, Mad Max Films, Roadshow Film Distributors, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am a rocker, I am a roller, I am an out-of-controller!” – Nightrider

The original Mad Max is quite different than its three sequels. It exists in a time where things aren’t as post-apocalyptic as they would become by just the second film in the series. Granted, the apocalypse seems to exist already, to an extent, but the world isn’t as empty and desolate as what we would see just three years later in The Road Warrior.

Max is a cop in this film and it is his duty to intercept terrible people that terrorize the Australian highways. He’s got a badass car, a cool jacket, cool glasses and eventually, an even more badass car.

As much as I enjoy this film, it is actually my least favorite of the four movies to date. It is high octane and balls to the wall nuts when the action is at its peak but it is also the slowest moving chapter in the franchise. But it was also the template for what would come and George Miller would continue to get better and learn new skills as the series rolled on.

This certainly isn’t a weak film, it’s very good. It just feels out of place when looked at within the context of the whole film series. As its own picture, independent of the other three, it’s a really good demolition derby on screen.

I think the thing that holds this back is it is more of an origin story. The thing is, Max doesn’t really become Mad Max until the end when a biker gang murders his wife and infant son. But that intense moment comes late in the film, which only gives us the true Max for the last ten or twenty minutes.

But don’t get me wrong, the story is good and it is necessary to set the stage for what comes after this picture. I’m just not a big fan of origin stories but that’s not this film’s fault, it’s due to how many superhero movies I’ve seen in my three-plus decades on this planet. But if I am being honest, Mad Max predates nearly all of those movies so it certainly isn’t derivative in that regard.

This film feels small though. Especially when compared to the installments after it. That’s also not a bad thing but everything after this has more of an epic feel to it. Also, the world is much more threatening once we move on past this chapter.

Mad Max is a solid motion picture and a good framework for the character and his world. I just seem to get more enjoyment from The Road Warrior and especially from Fury Road, which is damn close to perfection.

Rating: 8.25/10
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: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

Also known as: Kyōryū Kaichō no Densetsu, lit. Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds (Japan), The Legend of Dinosaurs (US alternate title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Junji Kurata
Written by: Masaru Igami, Isao Matsumoto, Ichirô Ôtsu
Music by: Masao Yagi
Cast: Tsunehiko Watase, Nobiko Sawa, Shotaro Hayashi

Toei Company, 94 Minutes

Review:

The trailer for this Toei picture is actually infinitely better looking than the film itself. Yes, the scenes from the trailer are in the film but the movie lacks energy and excitement and the action just seems pretty minuscule. Basically, this is a really boring movie and I’m a guy that loves kaiju and tokusatsu films.

While I have watched a lot of Toei pictures, this one eluded me until I found it at the end of the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was never brought back for the show’s nationally televised run unlike several of their first season features.

Considering the era in which this film was made, it was greatly inspired by Jaws and the Hollywood trend of having giant animals attack humans. Being that this is Japanese though, the animals here are much more fantastical than their more plausible American counterparts. This really is just a standard kaiju movie but one with generic looking monsters that lack the personality of Toho or Daiei’s more famous creatures.

This never got a theatrical release in the United States but it did appear on television in 1987 with a terrible dub track. In all honesty, the atrocious dubbing really hurts the picture and is probably a major reason as to why this plays so poorly. There isn’t a subtitled version of this that I have been able to track down.

If you like this style of film, there are so many that are much better. If you’re a kaiju completist though, you should probably check this out. I doubt it will wow you but at least you can check it off of your list.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Toei’s other kaiju and tokustatu stuff, as well as lower budget, more generic kaiju pictures that don’t feature famous monsters.