Film Review: Soylent Green (1973)

Also known as: Make Room! Make Room! (working title)
Release Date: April 18th, 1973 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Stanley R. Greenberg
Based on: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
Music by: Fred Myrow
Cast: Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotton, Brock Peters, Dick Van Patten

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I know, Sol, you’ve told me a hundred times before. People were better, the world was better…” – Detective Thorn

As a big fan of ’70s era science fiction, it’s probably a crime that I hadn’t seen Soylent Green until now. I’ve had the film spoiled for me my entire life, as the last line of the film was a meme decades before memes existed. And frankly, knowing the big twist ending didn’t do much to make me want to actually sit through the picture in an effort to learn what I already knew. In fact, I knew the meme before I even knew it was from a movie.

All that being said, had I known that Edward G. Robinson was in this and that it was his final film, I probably would’ve watched it sooner. I’ve always loved and admired the man’s work, especially his range, as he can go from the vile, intimidating gangster type to the sweet, kind patriarch type without being typecast as one in favor of the other. The guy is a legend and he was one of the top actors of his generation, even if he’s mostly forgotten today by modern audiences.

This stars Charlton Heston and while I also like the hell out of that guy, at this point, he felt like he was just playing a version of himself. That’s not entirely a bad thing but he’s a better actor than he appeared to be in this era, where he didn’t seem to add much flourish to his roles, he just played them straight and went full Heston.

Apart from the two great leads and the twist ending, there isn’t much here to set the film apart from other ’70s dystopian movies and I’d have to say that the best of the decade is lightyears ahead of this film, which is pretty slow moving and a bit drab.

It has some definite highpoints and it explores a few cool ideas but I’d rather watch something like Logan’s Run, or hell, even the visually similar Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which despite being the fourth film in that series, was pretty damn cool.

Soylent Green isn’t as action heavy as I had hoped and the fascist dystopian nightmare only goes street level in one scene, really.

By the time you do get to the end, regardless of knowing the big reveal, it all seems kind of pointless. So what, society is being force fed something terrible by their government? What do you think big government will lead to?

In a nutshell, this is well acted and it is shot beautifully with some solid cinematography but it doesn’t bring much of anything worthwhile to the dystopian subgenre of sci-fi other than a big gross out reveal at the end. I’m not sure how the film compares to the novel but I hope that the book had more to offer for its readers.

Granted, I do like the metaphorical ending of Robinon’s character’s life in the movie but I wouldn’t call that an intentional artistic choice. The filmmakers probably didn’t know the guy would actually die before the film’s release. In fact, it’s been said on record that Robinson knew he was terminally ill but that the filmmakers did not. He died twelve days after the film wrapped.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The Ωmega Man, Logan’s Run, Westworld and other ’70s science fiction.

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: 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: 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: The Exorcist (1973)

Release Date: December 26th, 1973
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: William Peter Blatty
Based on: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Music by: Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, Linda Blair

Hoya Productions, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes, 132 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime.” – Demon

Few motion pictures have a profound effect on American culture en masse. The Exorcist is one of those pictures and even though I was born five years after it was released, it was the one film that I heard people describe with actual terror in their voice. I was warned about it at an early age, most of the people in my family couldn’t even talk about, it was like the Voldemort of motion pictures in my heavily Christian household.

However, once I did see it, and at a very young age, it went the route most things do for me that people warn me away from or over hype, it didn’t overwhelm me with its terror or greatness.

Still, it is a damn fine motion picture in many ways. But as far as its effect on me, it wasn’t as bad as what I had built up in my mind. But it is bone chilling and terrifying, especially looking at it within the context of the era it came out in.

When I was talking to my mum recently, I pointed out that horror films, in less than ten years, went from Vincent Price movies, which are family friendly at this point, to movies like The ExorcistTexas Chain Saw Massacre and Last House on the Left. To me, it seemed like an extreme jump. Sure, there were gory exploitation films popping up in the ’60s but most people were unaware of those unless they lived near a grindhouse theater in a large city. It just feels that the harder, darker tonal shift in the ’70s, which this film was a part of, had a lot to do with the state of American culture at the time between the Vietnam War, the Nixon crap, the tensions over civil rights, multiple assassinations of prominent figures and so much more.

This is one of those films that I assume everyone over 18 has seen but it is also 45 years old now and these young kids today don’t give a shit about the classics or have the attention span for them. I don’t think that this is a film that will work for younger people because they’ve seen more fucked up movies than this and this story is a slow build towards an insane climax where film’s today have to deliver some sort of scare or special effects extravaganza every five minutes.

The Exorcist is perfectly paced, however. Some may feel it is too slow or that it could have been cut down but the emotional and terror build is so well executed that altering it would probably dilute the effect of the last thirty minutes.

One of my favorite scenes, which is still chilling and effective, is when the priest has the demon (in Regan’s body) tied to the bed and they have a conversation. This exchange is more terrifying than any of the demon’s physical antics.

This picture has impeccable cinematography, lighting and music. Everything used to shape the tone and atmosphere was perfect. The direction was good, the acting was solid and everything just came together really well.

The only thing that would have made this better for me was more backstory on the demon and more clarity as to why it chose Regan. I understand that it was some sort of revenge plot to mess with the priest but the motivations could have been clearer and the backstory could have been fleshed out more. Also, I wanted to know more about the demon. But then again, all of this also could have added too much to the simple story the film tried to tell and it could have easily gotten too convoluted.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Exorcist sequels and prequels, The Ninth ConfigurationRosemary’s BabyThe Omen film series.

Film Review: Detroit 9000 (1973)

Also known as: The Holy Hill Caper (working title), Detroit Heat (video title), Police Call 9000 (Canada), S.O.S. Black Guns (France), Call Detroit 9000 (UK & Ireland)
Release Date: August, 1973 (Detroit)
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Orville H. Hampton
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Alex Rocco, Hari Rhodes, Vonetta McGee, Herb Jefferson Jr., Ella Edwards, Scatman Crothers

General Film Corporation, Rolling Thunder Pictures (1998 re-release), 106 Minutes

Review:

“Was this a honky caper to keep black power from taking over the state Senate?” – Reporter

Detroit 9000 was originally marketed as a blaxploitation film during the height of that genre’s run. In reality, it is less blaxploitation and more urban crime thriller.

It was never hugely successful but it had a resurgence in the late ’90s when Quentin Tarantino helped to get it in the public eye by sampling it on his Jackie Brown soundtrack and by helping to get it redistributed into some theaters. A DVD release followed that.

The film stars Alex Rocco and I love seeing him in his younger days. He’s a guy who I’ve appreciated in just about everything he’s done. Here, he plays a cop trying to do things by the book in a town full of corruption, crime and racial tension. His partner is black and played by Hari Rhodes. The two of them had a dynamic relationship that works well on screen.

You also get to see Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation cinema, and Scatman Crothers as a charismatic preacher.

The one thing that this film had working for it was the action. Sure, there are some flaws, like a noticeable squib on a guy’s neck before it blows open and that same guy firing an assault rifle in the most nonsensical way possible, but this picture is action heavy with a lot of gravitas.

It also feels gritty and real. While that was normal for urban movies of the era, this one just has an extra level of authenticity. It was filmed on location in Detroit and the city really is a character in this film in the same way that New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles really came to life in some of the top film-noir pictures of the 1940s.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I’m a fan of blaxploitation flicks and while this isn’t a true blaxploitation picture, it was kind of better than that style’s average offering due to being more of a straight up crime picture. Yes, racial issues were at the forefront but this felt less like a political and social statement and more like a buddy cop action movie that just happened to take place in that cinematic landscape.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Cotton Comes to HarlemBlack CaesarThe MackTruck Turner and Bucktown.