Film Review: Harold and Maude (1971)

Release Date: December 20th, 1971
Directed by: Hal Ashby
Written by: Colin Higgins
Music by: Cat Stevens
Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Tom Skerritt

Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.” – Maude

I remember this coming on television when I was a kid and my mum quickly changed the channel and told me that it was some dumb movie about a teenage boy who falls romantically in love with an elderly woman on her death bed. My initial reaction at eight years-old was, “Ew… gross… why?!”

In the years since, I’ve learned enough about the film to know that there is much more to the story than that and in fact, this is sort of a black comedy that doesn’t need to be taken too seriously or looked at in any sort of realistic way. Sure, there is drama here but it’s more about the boy’s journey than it is about having a hard on for one’s grandmother.

Harold is a teenager who is obsessed with death to the point that he often stages violent fake deaths to piss of his mother and embarrass her when other people are around. He meets the elderly Maude at a funeral and is quickly drawn to her. Maude, over the course of time, teaches Harold that life is important and should be lived to its fullest.

Now the film is over the top and Maude is pretty nuts, stealing cars, stealing a cop’s motorcycle and always willing to have some sort of ridiculous adventure. Harold’s love for her grows but in that, he finds out things about himself, shifts and changes into something else and learns to live his life, as he is on the cusp of adulthood.

For those who have never seen this, you’re probably wondering as to whether or not they boink in the sheets. They do and despite getting lured into these characters’ lives, it’s still kind of odd. But it’s also not the real point of the film. And don’t worry, it won’t inspire anyone to want to go out and hunt elderly genitalia.

To some, this is a classic indie film. To me, it was an amusing watch punctuated by fantastic performances from a then young Bud Cort and a solid veteran, Ruth Gordon.

Also, you get to enjoy some great Cat Stevens tunes throughout the entire picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hal Asby films, as well as other indie pictures from the time.

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 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: 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, Connie Mason (uncredited)

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.

Film Review: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Also known as: Les lèvres rouges, Erzebeth (original titles), Blood On the Lips, Children of the Night, The Promise of Red Lips, The Red Lips, The Redness of the Lips (alternate titles)
Release Date: May 28th, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Directed by:  Harry Kümel
Written by: Harry Kümel, J.J. Amiel, Pierre Drouot
Music by: François de Roubaix
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Andrea Rau

Showking Films, Maya Films, Ciné Vog Films, 100 Minutes, 87 Minutes (edited cut)

Review:

“Love is stronger than death… even than life” – Countess Bathory

I was surprised to find that this is the first Belgian film that I’ve reviewed. I better start showing Belgium some more love.

Daughters of Darkness was one of the thirteen films featured on the recent horror marathon Joe Bob Briggs did for Shudder. This is streaming on Shudder, by the way, for those of you that have the streaming service.

This is a pretty artsy horror movie but the director was a bit of an uppity self-important tyrant that liked to slap his actresses around and take himself and his “art” way too seriously.

That being said, this isn’t in any way a great or memorable picture except for in one regard: cinematography.

This film is beautifully and magnificently shot. It would have made a spectacular music video had the scenes been used for that but as a motion picture, this falls pretty flat in every other way.

This was made in a time when lesbian vampire movies were all the rage. Okay, maybe not “all the rage” but they were at the height of their popularity, especially in Europe.

The story follows a young newlywed couple that stays in a creepy hotel on a Belgian beach. They are then preyed on by a gorgeous vampire woman and her vampire lesbian lover. The guy starts acting out of character, beats up his new bride and eventually everyone is banging everyone and then everyone dies. It’s predictable and derivative. It might not have been derivative for 1971 but by 2018, we’ve all seen this story a dozen times or more.

This isn’t so bad that it isn’t watchable. It did keep me engaged and the cinematography, especially the outdoor stuff, was genuinely captivating. But I can’t recommend it unless you’re just really into visuals.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: MalpertuisThe Blood Spattered BrideVampyresVampyros Lesbos and Vampire Lovers.

Film Review: Get Carter (1971)

Release Date: February 3rd, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Mike Hodges
Written by: Mike Hodges
Based on: Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis
Music by: Roy Budd
Cast: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Britt Ekland

MGM-EMI, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 112 Minutes

Review:

“You know, I’d almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow.” – Jack Carter

I can’t believe I never watched this film until now. It’s a cool ass motion picture. Now I did see the remake with Stallone from 2000 but that one left a bad taste in my mouth. This however, was a balls out revenge fest.

Michael Caine plays Jack Carter. He discovers that his deceased brother was murdered by some mobsters. He then spends the rest of the movie on a revenge quest, knocking off the scum that were behind his brother’s death.

There are also a lot of babes and Caine gets to toy around with several, most notably the incredibly sexy Britt Ekland, who gets naked. She would go on to be a Bond girl in The Man With the Golden Gun and would get even more naked in The Wicker Man.

I loved Caine in this and it is so cool seeing him kick serious ass in his younger days. Sure, he kicks ass as an older man too but he just had a presence here that made him debonair, dangerous and pretty fucking sexy, if I do say so myself. I’m not gay but I can appreciate a masculine dime piece through straight eyes.

This film also had film-noir elements to it, which pulled me in right away. This is more of a neo-noir, as it has that sort of style to it. The tone reminds me of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

The plot has noir styled twists and turns and it throws femme fatales into the mix but you never really feel like Caine’s Carter could be outwitted by them.

There really isn’t anything negative I can say about the picture. It was well acted, well directed and had some stupendous camera work and cinematography.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other old school Michael Caine movies: The Italian Job, PulpThe Ipcress FileFuneral In Berlin.

Film Review: Shaft (1971)

Release Date: June 25th, 1971 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Gordon Parks
Written by: Ernest Tidyman, John D. F. Black
Based on: Shaft by Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Issac Hayes, Johnny Allen
Cast: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t let your mouth get your ass in trouble.” – John Shaft

When I was a kid, two movies introduced me to the blaxploitation genre and black cinema of the ’70s. Those films were Dolemite and Shaft. Since that time, I have gone on to immerse myself in the genre and to try and soak up all it has to offer. While I still like Shaft, it feels like diet blaxploitation, as it is pretty light when compared to some of the edgier and less commercially marketable stuff of the era.

But the thing is, Shaft really kicked the door down and left it wide open for all the other movies to come rushing in right after it. It wasn’t the first film of its kind but it was the first to make a massive impact and to help these films crossover with a bigger audience. Shaft went beyond the inner city theaters and bled into suburban America and eventually, it grew beyond that as well. Today, it’s widely considered to be a classic from its time period.

Shaft is just a really refined picture for what it is. It feels bigger and larger and less grindhouse-y. It was put out by a major studio and when compared to the blaxploitation films before it, it just has a sort of professional touch and a magic about it. That’s not to take anything away from Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, They Call Me Mister Tibbs! and Cotton Comes to Harlem but Shaft had a feel of Hollywood legitimacy to it. Granted, I prefer a lot of the lower budget blaxploitation stuff like Dolemite but I have to respect Shaft for what it accomplished and what that meant for its era in black filmmaking.

Plus, Richard Roundtree is perfect as the super cool, no nonsense, badass John Shaft. There aren’t a lot of men that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Roundtree and have his sort of presence. Okay, maybe Fred Williamson and Jim Brown but you get the picture, Roundtree is one badass MFer.

Moses Gunn is also in this and he has a strong presence as well. Gunn is a well versed actor that can be tough as hell and also quite sweet. He’s great as a domineering gangster in this film yet he was also incredible in The NeverEnding Story, which saw him play a role that was really the antithesis to his role here. I just love seeing Gunn in things and he also has these very powerful looking hands that draw attention to themselves and add an extra bit of mystique to his characters.

Shaft has good action elements to it but not as much as I’d like in an action crime film. Roundtree’s attitude and swagger certainly makes up for the lack of gun play and fisticuffs though.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Shaft sequels and TV series, as well as the Shaft reboot with Sam Jackson. Also goes well with SuperflyCotton Comes to Harlem and Detroit 9000.