Film Review: Beware! The Blob (1972)

Also known as: A Chip Off the Old Blob (script title), Beware the Blob, Son of Blob, Son of the Blob, The Blob Returns (alternative titles)
Release Date: June 10th, 1972 (San Antonio, TX premiere)
Directed by: Larry Hagman
Written by: Anthony Harris, Jack Woods, Richard Clair, Jack H. Harris
Music by: Mort Garson
Cast: Robert Walker Jr., Carol Lynley, Godfrey Cambridge, Gwynne Gilford, Richard Stahl, Richard Webb, Marlene Clark, Gerrit Graham, J. J. Johnston, Danny Goldman, Dick Van Patten, Cindy Williams, Burgess Meredith (uncredited), Sid Haig (uncredited)

Jack H. Harris Enterprises, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Hippie, schmippie!” – Unidentified Rabblerouser

This is a strange fucking movie.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it, though.

I mostly found it entertaining and amusing but taking the concept of The Blob and making a sequel that’s a comedy was an odd choice. But I get it, the monster is basically just killer toxic snot.

While the humor is borderline slapstick and lowest common denominator stuff, it’s still funny because the actors really committed to some of the more absurd things and it just worked because of that.

This also featured some notable people with a very young Gerrit Graham, Burgess Meredith as an old hippie, Cindy Williams of Laverne & Shirley fame, Dick Van Patten and Sid Haig in a small role.

Still, at its core, this is a really goofy movie and it doesn’t really add anything new to The Blob concept other than comedy and drug use.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Also known as: 4 mosche di velluto grigio (original Italian title)
Release Date: December 17th, 1971 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Foglietti
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Francine Racette, Bud Spencer

Universal Productions France, Seda Spettacoli, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Exactly. You see before you a fully-fledged, highly-qualified private investigator with an extensive knowledge of modern science at his very fingertips. And, in spite of this, in three years of honest practice, I haven’t solved a single case.” – Gianni Arrosio

This is the one Dario Argento movie from the ’70s and ’80s that I had never seen and that has more to do with it never streaming anywhere. It’s been in my Prime Video queue for years and I check every month to see if it popped up on any of the services available on my Firestick. Well, it finally did!

It also irked me that it took me so long to see this because it is a part of the loose Animal Trilogy of films that Argento did back-to-back-to-back in less than two years from 1970-to-1971. This is the last of those films and the ones that predate it are The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Oddly, each film seems to be a slight step down with Crystal Plumage being my favorite of the trio.

That doesn’t mean that this one was bad, it just had two things working against it in comparison to the other two.

The first is that it was pretty predictable. My first hunch as to who the killer was, was correct. However, this could’ve just been due to only having the English language dub to watch, as the voice of the killer made it clear to me that it was probably a woman. I’m not sure how the voice came across in the original Italian language version and this giveaway could’ve just been due to a shit English dub.

The second thing that works against it, is that it was the least stylish and opulent looking of the three movies. It is nowhere near as vivid, cool and exquisite as Crystal Plumage and it also falls below Nine Tails, as well.

I did think the killer mask was creepy as hell and really cool, though. Like the other Argento giallo pictures, this plays like a proto-slasher flick. The slasher-y bits and the kills were all pretty good and the film wasn’t lacking in that regard.

I was also impressed with the end of the film, which features a slowed down, violent car crash.

Overall, this was a good giallo and a good movie in general. While it’s far from Argento’s best it’s still worth checking out if you are a fan of the man’s other work.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Release Date: April 18th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Don Chaffey
Written by: Michael Carreras
Music by: Mario Nascimbene
Cast: Julie Ege, Brian O’Shaughnessy, Tony Bonner, Robert John, Rosalie Crutchley, Don Leonard

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

I’m not a big fan of caveman movies and this one, even though it was made by Hammer, didn’t do much to win me over.

Frankly, I wouldn’t have watched this if it wasn’t part of a Hammer box set that I bought. It’s the last film in that box set of twenty and I guess that Hammer saved the worst for last. Although, there are some people that like caveman shit for some reason.

Like all other caveman flicks, this is slow, boring, cookie cutter and seemingly pointless, by the end.

There are different cavemen tribes, they initially party together, some shit pops off, they fight, there’s a hot cave chick and one of the cavemen fighting for her falls off a cliff and the other one wins her, I guess.

Sorry, I mentally check out with these movies. I do initially try to pay attention and hope that there will be something in it that grabs me and shows me that there are worthwhile works in this genre but I’m always left braindead and wondering why the movie was even made, other than you can make shit like this for free if you have a camera, a few animal pelts and sticks.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Dracula (1979)

Also known as: Dracula ’79 (Germany), Dracula 80 (Canada – French language version)
Release Date: July 13th, 1979 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: W. D. Richter
Based on: Dracula (novel) by Bram Stoker; Dracula (play) by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan, Sylvester McCoy

The Mirisch Corporation, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“In the past 500 years, Professor, those who have crossed my path have all died, and some not pleasantly.” – Count Dracula

Until this viewing of the film, the first in ages, I didn’t realize that the 1979 Dracula was a Universal release. I guess that ties it to the Universal Monsters banner and with that, kind of makes me see how it sort of matches up to the original Dracula films, tonally and stylistically.

I like that this has its own alternate take on the classic story, though, and I thought that they did a tremendous job in telling a different version of the Dracula legend while keeping it fairly true to the source material.

One thing that I really love about this movie is that we get to see one of the greatest actors that ever lived, Laurence Olivier, work alongside a bonafide and legendary horror icon, Donald Pleasence. Both men are great on their own and for different reasons but it’s like seeing what’s considered the top tier talent of motion picture history working with one of the best actors in what’s considered a trash genre by most critics and Hollywood elites. That being said, Pleasence shows that he can hang with one of cinema’s most celebrated actors.

However, even with good performances from those two legends, it’s Frank Langella who really steals the show, as the lead and title character.

Langella is a damn near perfect Dracula, especially for this story. As much as I like this take on the tale, Langella enhances the overall production with his charm, charisma and classically good looks. He looks the part and in some respects, makes it his own. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone else being as perfect for this version of the story as Langella.

The world that this is set in is a great mixture of opulence, darkness and mystery. It feels like an extension of this Dracula’s aura and that everyone else is trapped within it with the monster, himself.

The atmosphere and tone of the picture are also heightened by the score of another legend contributing to this picture, John Williams. This was something he worked on between Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark. These themes, however, are less adventurous and fun and more brooding and dark. Although, the score isn’t too similar to Jaws and with that, shows John Williams’ great range.

Out of all the Dracula movies ever made, this is what I would consider one of the best. At worst, it’s still top tier and features one of the greatest onscreen Dracula’s of all-time. Surprisingly, this is a movie that’s seldomly mentioned today.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Carrie (1976)

Release Date: November 3rd, 1976 (limited)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on: Carrie by Stephen King
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, William Katt, Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Betty Buckley, P.J. Soles, Piper Laurie, Priscilla Pointer, Sydney Lassick, Michael Talbott, Edie McClurg

Red Bank Films, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I should’ve killed myself when he put it in me. After the first time, before we were married, Ralph promised never again. He promised, and I believed him. But sin never dies. Sin never dies. At first, it was all right. We lived sinlessly. We slept in the same bed, but we never did it. And then, that night, I saw him looking down at me that way. We got down on our knees to pray for strength. I smelled the whiskey on his breath. Then he took me. He took me, with the stink of filthy roadhouse whiskey on his breath, and I liked it. I liked it! With all that dirty touching of his hands all over me. I should’ve given you to God when you were born, but I was weak and backsliding, and now the Devil has come home. We’ll pray.” – Margaret White

It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen Carrie and I’ve wanted to review it for awhile. Especially, since I had been working my way through Brian De Palma’s old horror and noir pictures over the last year or more.

I first saw this movie when I was about the age of the characters in the film and honestly, it gave me a really disturbed, unsettling feeling. Sure, I liked the movie but it left me feeling in a way that I found it hard to revisit for a long time. I think that had more to do with the home life of Carrie more than her school life and the bullying she encountered, daily. There was just something really evil about the relationship between her and her psycho, religious mother that made this movie kind of stomach-churning.

As an adult, I have great appreciation and admiration for how effectively Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek’s performances are in their scenes together. I think that De Palma got the absolute best out of both actresses and despite knowing what I was getting into this time around, these scenes still punch you in the gut and make you feel genuinely uneasy and angry for Carrie, who has been nothing but a victim to all the horrible people in this story.

The rest of the film is also effective and, at times, hard to get through. Although, it still has these genuinely beautiful and sweet moments like the scenes between Sissy Spacek and William Katt at the prom before everything goes to absolute shit. Also, I think this makes things much more heartbreaking when they do go to shit.

What Carrie does to her shitty classmates is horrible but by this point in the film, it’s really hard not to feel her pain and feel like her actions are justified. It’s weirdly satisfying seeing the bullies and assholes get murdered and cooked by telekinesis and a blazing inferno. It’s also immensely satisfying seeing Nancy Allen and John Travolta have their car flipped and exploded, burning them alive. And I apologize to Nancy Allen, you are one of my all-time favorite actresses… seriously.

I think that the saddest thing about this picture, other than Carrie’s fate, is that she was possibly on the verge of having a somewhat normal life with normal friends, as William Katt’s Tommy really seemed to like her on some level and former bully, Sue (played by Amy Irving) really started to see how terrible she had been and wanted to be Carrie’s friend.

This is one of those movies where the atmosphere itself is almost its own character. The film feels stifling with this brooding, thick terror in the air. All of that is maximized by the look of Carrie’s home, as well as the way things were shot. The cinematography gives this an otherworldly look and the whole thing, especially in Carrie’s home and the scenes at the prom and the pig farm, you seem like you’re in a dream state.

I really like this movie a lot, mainly because it truly generates certain unsettling feelings in the viewer. De Palma was able to do this more effectively than the vast majority of directors that are considered horror legends.

At the same time, this makes Carrie a movie I don’t want to revisit often because it has that effect. And honestly, it’s not something that diminished with time or repeated viewings, which just solidifies the greatness of the picture.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Brood (1979)

Release Date: May 25th, 1979
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle

Mutual Productions, Elgin International Films, Canadian Film Development Corporation, New World Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“They’re her children. More exactly, they’re the children of her rage.” – Dr. Hal Raglan

The Brood is one of my favorite David Cronenberg movies and the one where I think everything really clicked for him, as a director.

Man, the atmosphere is thick in this movie. Honestly, the picture just broods over you, as you watch it and while that pun is slightly intended, I don’t think that effect was specifically intended by Cronenberg. He just created such a gripping thriller that’s ridiculously creepy to the point that it sort of squeezes you, as the plot unfolds with dark twists and reveals that get increasingly more fucked up as the plot progresses to its insane and powerful finale.

The story is bizarre, batshit crazy and really takes body horror to a level that is distinctly Cronenberg but in 1979, had to simply shock the living hell out of moviegoers.

The picture also features a really creepy, facially deformed, killer kid. However, you then learn that there’s a few more… and eventually, a lot more.

It’s kind of hard to summarize the plot, but there’s this woo woo “scientist” and his cult-like therapy compound. The methods this guy uses leads to the horrors in the film and the physiological changes to the once normal mother of these mutant demon babies.

The film also features one of my favorite Oliver Reed performances. Admittedly, I think that Reed is always stupendous but he nails this role, is convincing as hell and despite his evils, you kind of want to see him survive the threat of the evil, rage-filled children.

I also thought that Samantha Eggar was so fucking good, especially when the big reveal happens. She was chilling, scary and like Reed, convincing.

David Cronenberg reached new heights, creatively speaking, with this motion picture. For film and especially horror aficionados, this was a great thing, as we’d get Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly remake in the coming years.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: When A Stranger Calls (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979 (Indianapolis premiere)
Directed by: Fred Walton
Written by: Steve Feke, Fred Walton
Music by: Dana Kaproff
Cast: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley, Rutanya Alda, William Boyett, Ron O’Neal

Melvin Simon Productions, Columbia Pictures, Embassy Pictures (re-release), 97 Minutes

Review:

“[thinking it’s Curt again] Leave me alone!” – Jill Johnson, “Jill, this is Sergeant Sacker. Listen to me. We’ve traced the call… it’s coming from inside the house. Now a squad car’s coming over there right now, just get out of that house!” – Sgt. Sacker

This movie would be a bonafide classic, if it was just the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. It’s bogged down by the stuff in-between but I still love the hell out of this picture and when I was a kid, it was this movie and Scrooged that made me really appreciate Carol Kane, her range and how damn good she is in everything she does.

It also made me appreciate Charles Durning, who has done a slew of great things but he’s always this sort of gruff, cop-type character. Here, he really turns that up though, as he searches for the killer who has murdered children, as well as others.

The opening twenty minutes of this movie is one of the greatest horror segments ever filmed. It’s a version of the classic babysitter horror story about a killer being upstairs. We’ve all heard or read a version of the story, especially those from my generation who loved the Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz.

While this takes a famous tale from American folklore, it gives it to us in the best live-action version that has ever existed. It’s stood the test of time and even with a sequel and remake of this specific movie, it’s never been replicated at this level. Sure, the original Black Christmas is a better movie, overall, and predates this but it’s more about the caller/killer being in the house and not specifically about a babysitter, alone with sleeping children.

After the incredible opening, the film switches gears and almost goes from a slasher film to a serial killer crime thriller with some noir vibes. By the final act, though, it goes into high gear and comes full circle back to a slasher-y horror flick. Granted, there isn’t enough onscreen slashing to actually categorize this as a traditional slasher. The psycho in this will just use whatever tools are at his disposal and he seems more focused on fucking with people’s minds than outright murdering them.

This is a really well acted film and it is also made better by its atmosphere and the general creepiness of the killer. However, the pacing is a mess after the first act and it is tough to get through that middle hour or so. Had that portion of the film been more fine tuned or leaned a bit more into either the slasher bits or become neo-noir (or both), I feel like this really would’ve been one of the best horror movies of its day.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Also known as: Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave (original Italian title), Irene, Excite Me, Eye of the Black Cat, Gently Before She Dies (alternative titles)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, Sauro Scavolini, Luciano Martino
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino

Lea Film, Titanus, 97 Minutes

Review:

Sergio Martino did this film a year before his most famous one, Torso.

While he’s not my favorite giallo director, he has done some really memorable work that probably deserves its place alongside the giallo masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

Many giallo aficionados seem to like this one too and while I do enjoy the first act of the movie, it drags on and falls kind of flat for me. Although, I do like the ending, as it homages Edgar Allan Poe quite nicely and in the most Italian way possible.

I enjoyed the three main actors in this and seeing Luigi Pistilli was kind of cool in that his character is truly the antithesis of what I think is his most famous role as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The other two leads are Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg, who both put in believable performances even when the story calls for some over the top antics.

My main issue with this film is the pacing. It’s only 97 minutes but those 97 minutes felt like two hours. There are some minor side characters and side plots that simply existed to give the killer more kills. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a slasher-esque giallo but most of this just felt like soulless filler in a movie that could’ve been more fine-tuned in dealing with the core actors and their dynamic.

I do like the look of the movie, even if it isn’t as opulent and vivid as the work of the better giallo filmmakers.

Ultimately, this was okay but it’s not Martino’s best work and with that, it’s not anywhere near the upper echelon of ’70s giallo.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: The Onion Field (1979)

Release Date: May 17th, 1979 (Cannes)
Directed by: Harold Becker
Written by: Joseph Wambaugh
Based on: The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
Music by: Eumir Deodato
Cast: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox, Christopher Lloyd, Priscilla Pointer, John de Lancie

Black Marble Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You’re policemen. Put your trust in God.” – LAPD Captain

I had never heard of this movie until the Criterion Channel put up a neo-noir collection, recently. Going through it, I figured I’d give this picture a watch, as it was one of the few in that collection that I hadn’t yet seen.

This also has James Woods and Ted Danson in it, so I was pretty intrigued, considering I had never stumbled across this.

The story is based on a true crime book and the film is written by the same author, which I guess helped keep things as accurate as possible. With real world stories, accuracy is hardly a priority for Hollywood.

First and foremost, this is incredibly well acted. Once the big, fucked up event in the film happens, John Savage’s acting goes to another level and the film switches gears, showing a once badass man break down because of the death of his partner and because the broken justice system is failing to make the killer pay for the crime.

The first hour of the story gives the background on the people and the events that led to a cop being murdered by a scumbag criminal. At the midway point of the film, we see the traffic stop that leads to the cop’s murder and his partner’s escape. The last half of the film focuses on the fallout and how the surviving cop can’t deal with justice not being served.

This is an emotionally heavy film in the back half and it leaves you incredibly pissed off, as you start to wonder if the scumbag is going to get away with the heinous, cold-blooded crime.

Beyond the great acting, this is a film that has great atmosphere. Watching it, it feels dark, confined and muggy. You feel stifled by the weight of it and feel the emotion pretty intensely. However, even with the genuine emotional connection to the primary character, the film really suffers from its pacing and structure. Something just felt a bit off in that regard and the film drags in points.

Still, I enjoyed this and was glad that I discovered it.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Release Date: February 15th, 1976
Directed by: John Cassavetes
Written by: John Cassavetes
Music by: Bo Harwood
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, James Lew

Faces Distribution, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a club owner. I deal in girls.” – Cosmo Vitelli

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for far too long. In fact, it was in my FilmStruck queue before that service went kaput and Criterion struck out on their own with their current service in an effort to fill the voice leftover by AT&T killing FilmStruck and crushing the hearts of legit cinephiles that can’t get their fix with crappy Netflix originals.

Anyway, this isn’t a rant about the loss of FilmStruck, I already talked about that here. This is a review of a pretty solid neo-noir picture directed by the multitalented John Cassavetes.

Cassavetes doesn’t star in his own picture, though. Instead, the film is led by Ben Gazzara, who became one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors to work with. This was the second of their three pictures.

Gazzara was fucking dynamite in this as his character, Cosmo Vitelli, a cabaret club owner with a serious gambling problem. He finds himself in great debt and with that, to square up his bill with the mafia run casino, he is pushed into murdering a Chinese bookie that is cutting into the mob’s business.

Obviously, he doesn’t want to commit murder but when he drags his feet, the mob does their damnedest to make him see things their way. So he does eventually go to the Chinese booker’s home to begrudgingly kill the mob’s rival. Things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the details.

There are a lot more layers to this than just the main plot thread, though. We get to really know this character and see the world and his profession through his eyes. He’s a nice, likable guy that loves women, loves the nightlife but finds himself in way over his head because he couldn’t stop himself from digging his own hole.

This is a great character study piece while also being a solid 1970s neo-noir picture. And with the neo-noir style, you obviously get a film that’s visually vivid and beautiful to look at in spite of the gritty, dirty city that these characters operate in.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a really unique and genuine movie. Cassavetes wrote a compelling story with a really likable character and his direction behind the camera was executed tremendously well.

While I don’t know if this is something I’d revisit in the future, unless I was showing it to another neo-noir fan, it still provided me with a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It also showed me that Ben Gazzara is a better actor than I’d previously given him credit for only seeing him in smaller roles and as the baddie in Road House.

Rating: 7.75/10