Film Review: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Release Date: December 14th, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Clifton James, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“A duel between titans. My golden gun against your Walther PPK. Each of us with a 50-50 chance.” – Francisco Scaramanga

This is the last of the pre-Daniel Craig era James Bond pictures for me to review. And well, I saved one of my favorites for last.

Why do I love this one so much? Well, it has the legendary Christopher Lee as the villain and also features Hervé Villechaize and Britt Ekland, who was one of those early crushes I had as a young kid discovering movies. But I also love the story and the locations in this film. Plus, we even get to see Sheriff J.W. Pepper one more time but sadly for the last time.

As grandiose as James Bond movies are, and this one still lives up to that, the actual threat is smaller, more intimate and very personal. Essentially, James is lured into a duel: one on one, man to man, for all the marbles if those marbles are your own mortality. And there really was no one greater than Christopher Lee to play the role of Francisco Scaramanga, the anti-Bond with his iron sights aimed at Britain’s greatest spy.

Scaramanga was also assisted by Nick Nack, played by the tiny Frenchman Hervé Villechaize, who is most famous for his role on Fantasy Island. Nick Nack was a sinister little shit and amusing in every scene he was in. In the end, his fate is pretty hilarious.

The film spends a lot of time in Asia but primarily features Thailand, which is just a beautiful country. The sights are nice, the action is great and seeing Sheriff Pepper stumble through an exotic land was entertaining.

I loved the opening of this film and it’s one of my favorite in the series, as it sees a hired hitman trying to kill Scaramanga in his maze. The maze was cool and it would return in the climax of the film for the duel between Bond and Scaramanga. I liked the very ’70s style of it and it was inventive and clever and something we hadn’t seen in a Bond film up to this point.

I’d hate to say that Lee really steals the show here but this is very much his movie more than it is Roger Moore’s. Moore is still fantastic in all the ways that make him great but in this film, Lee really proved that he was a major player and should be given more roles of this caliber. At this point, he was typecast as just a horror actor but this showcased his talents at a higher, more mainstream level. He would eventually get other major mainstream roles again but not until the early ’00s, thirty years later, with the roles of Count Dooku in the Stars Wars prequels and Saruman in The Lords of the Rings trilogy. But I doubt Lee would complain, as he loved his horror career and still worked on over 200 pictures.

The Man With the Golden Gun is just a fun, exciting film and it kind of grounds James Bond after the voodoo shenanigans of Live and Let Die. It’s simple, effective and just a good movie.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: Blood Money (1974)

Also known as: El kárate, el Colt y el impostor (original Spanish title), The Stranger and the Gunfighter (alternate), Dakota (French video title)
Release Date: 1974 (Spain)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)
Written by: Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Margheriti, Barth Jules Sussman
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, Harbor Productions, Shaw Brothers Studio, Midega Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

The king of the spaghetti westerns that isn’t Clint Eastwood teams up with the king of kung fu movies that isn’t Bruce Lee. Sure, that sounds like a diss but I am a pretty big fan of Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh. Both men owned the 1970s in their own way, so seeing them come together is pretty interesting.

Sadly though, their talents and their team-up were wasted in this picture, which just doesn’t live up to whatever hype my mind might have had in the ’70s when this actually went down.

The film’s premise is pretty interesting though. Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh) journeys to America from China in search of his uncle’s fortune. He discovers that his uncle is dead and the only man that knows where his body is, is the one accused of murdering him, an Old West gunslinger named Dakota (Lee Van Cleef). Once the uncle’s body is found, the pair find clues that point to the fortune. This then becomes a real spaghetti western treasure hunting movie with kung fu flair. The reluctant pair must track down the uncle’s mistresses, each of whom have a section of the treasure map tattooed on their bums. Ultimately, the two men become friends and kick a lot of ass.

The problem with the movie is that the execution is poor and really kind of lazy. Van Cleef and Lieh are both solid but the script just isn’t there and everything is fairly pedestrian. This is a film that is an example of wasted potential. But then again, a studio specializing in spaghetti westerns didn’t have much experience creating kung fu pictures just as Shaw Brothers, even with their input on kung fu filmmaking, didn’t know how to make westerns. And really, I’m not sure how much input Shaw Brothers actually had, it seems pretty minuscule.

Still, if you like both of these men, this is worth checking out. It’s not a total waste but it won’t get you pumped up either.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Gone In 60 Seconds (1974)

Also known as: Gone In Sixty Seconds (alternate spelling)
Release Date: July 28th, 1974
Directed by: H. B. Halicki
Written by: H. B. Halicki
Music by: Ronald Halicki, Philip Kachaturian
Cast: H. B. Halicki, Eleanor, Marion Busia, Jerry Daugirda, James McIntyre, George Cole, Ronald Halicki, Markos Kotsikos

H. B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company, 105 Minutes

Review:

“This job is ruining my sex life.” – Maindrian Pace

For those who love the Nic Cage movie Gone In 60 Seconds, you might not know that it was a remake. In fact, it was the second attempt at a remake. There was 1989’s Gone In 60 Seconds 2, which actually wasn’t completed due to the death of H. B. Halicki during production. Before that though, there was this film and a couple similar ones by Halicki: Deadline Auto Theft and The Junkman.

This film is unique in that Halicki directed, wrote and starred in the film and only hired friends and family members to play the other roles. This was done in order to keep the cost of production down. The police officers, fireman and paramedics are all real. Halicki even did his own stunts and the cars destroyed in the film were owned by him. The emergency vehicles in the film were bought at an auction for an average price of $200 each.

The big car chase in the film takes up the last forty minutes or so and sees 93 cars get wrecked. It is still the longest car chase sequence in movie history.

The premise of the film is about a group of thieves tasked with stealing 48 cars over the course of just a few days. While the setup is cool, most of the film drags on and isn’t as interesting as it could have been. The lengthy action finale certainly makes up for the first fifty minutes or so but it is a drag trying to get there, except in the few earlier scenes that provide a bit of car action.

Considering that this film was made by an unknown in the film industry and he made an impact due to his resourcefulness and skill, Gone In 60 Seconds is pretty impressive. It’s certainly not a great movie but it is hard to deny how fun and how well executed the massive car chase is, as it plows through five California towns and sees the destruction of nearly 100 vehicles. If anything, this film has got me interested in checking out Halicki’s other films.

If you love car action movies, this will be your cup of tea after surviving the first fifty minutes.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Chinatown (1974)

Release Date: June 20th, 1974
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young, John Huston, Diane Ladd, Bruce Glover, James Hong

Paramount-Penthouse, Long Road Productions, Robert Evans Company, Paramount Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“What can I tell you, kid? You’re right. When you’re right, you’re right, and you’re right.” – Jake Gittes

Chinatown could very well be the best noir film that didn’t come out in the genre’s heyday of the 1940s and 1950s. It really embraces the style at its core but it is also a much harsher film than those older classics. In fact, it has a violent ending on par with Bonnie and Clyde, which is ironic, as Faye Dunaway is the female lead in both films.

This is my favorite Roman Polanski picture, although I need to rewatch several of them. But ultimately, the auteur director created a mesmerizing and well paced neo-noir that boasted stupendous acting from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, as well as creating an environment that felt authentic and lived in but also alien. But as noir pictures go, you really never know who anyone is and what their real motivations are. Chinatown is a well crafted tapestry of amazement and discomfort for the viewer, especially for a fan of film-noir or general crime thrillers.

The film takes place in 1930s Los Angeles, a decade before noir was born, but it feels truly at home in the style. Jack Nicholson plays private eye Jake Gittes, who traverses through the film as a rugged hero who is quick witted and always ready to deliver a killer one-liner. He is initially pulled into the story by a woman posing as someone she’s not. He takes the case but soon learns that all is not as it seems. In comes Faye Dunaway, the real woman who Gittes thought he was working for. There’s murder, political conspiracy and some dark secrets that come out, effecting the lives of all the key players. Although, Dunaway’s Evelyn Mulwray is not your typical femme fatale.

Chinatown paints most of its characters as being guilty of something but also being victims. It makes you uncertain of all the characters and wary of the twists and turns that happen. This is a film with layers upon layers but everything just flows well and even if you’ve seen the film and you know what happens, the picture is still emotionally effective. The suspense is like a thick cloud that continues to grow from scene to scene.

John A. Alonzo handled the cinematography and this is probably the film he is most known for, even though he also did a stellar job with 1983’s Scarface. Before this picture, he worked on Harold and Maude and Vanishing Point. This film alone should have really made Alonzo’s career and even though he worked in Hollywood until his death in 2001, later in his career he worked on straightforward comedies like The Meteor ManHousesitter and Overboard. At least he went out with a good last effort with Deuces Wild, which wasn’t a great movie but it was a period film that captured 1950s Brooklyn quite well.

Roman Polanski would go on to be embroiled in controversy due to allegedly drugging and raping a thirteen year-old girl. He fled to France, where he has lived since the 1970s, never returning to the United States. He continued to make films, a dozen or so in fact, but there are only two of them that I found to be good, The Ninth Gate and The Pianist, both of which came out over twenty-five years after Chinatown. Polanski was never quite the auteur that he was, after fleeing the States and leaving behind the Hollywood system.

Chinatown is a true classic, though. In my opinion, it is Polanski’s best work. Jack Nicholson would try to replicate the film with a sequel that he directed in 1990 called The Two Jakes. It’s pretty good but it’s no Chinatown.

Rating: 9.75/10

Film Review: Madhouse (1974)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1974 (San Francisco)
Directed by: Jim Clark
Written by: Ken Levinson, Greg Morrison
Based on: Devilday by Angus Hall
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Natasha Pyne, Michael Parkinson, Linda Hayden, Barry Dennen

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Miss Peters, as they say in horror movies, you will come to a bad end.” – Paul Toombes

American International Pictures and Amicus Productions, two great B-movie horror studios of their day, teamed up to bring us Madhouse. It also teams up two of their biggest horror stars, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. It doesn’t end there though, as the film features Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, and Hammer Horror ladies Adrienne Corri and Linda Hayden.

Coming out a year after the Vincent Price starring Theater of Blood, this film shares a lot of similarities with it. Both movies deal with an actor that is tied to the murders of several people around him. In Theater of Blood Price played a stage actor. In this, he is a horror movie icon most known as a character called Dr. Death. The people who die in this film are killed by someone dressed as Dr. Death. Is it Price committing the crimes or is it someone else trying to drive him mad?

While this isn’t the best work Price or Cushing did in their long careers, it is still a fun and entertaining ride for ninety minutes. Plus, seeing Price and Cushing share the screen is never a bad thing.

I really like the character of Dr. Death and it would have been cool seeing this spinoff into some Dr. Death movies but they never really thought like that back in the 1970s. The filmmakers created a character that could have been a cool brand, all to himself. Plus, at this point, Price didn’t have a permanent vehicle like he did in the 1960s with those Edgar Allan Poe pictures he cranked out annually with Roger Corman.

This is a violent whodunit mystery and it very much plays like an Italian giallo picture but without the vivid colorful flourishes. Still, it feels giallo in spirit, as it is a good prototype for the slasher formula and features a cool mysterious killer with an even cooler outfit. And like a giallo, it has hints of noir in its story, although it is lacking the noir visual style. Had this film been a bit more stylish, it could have actually been something exceptional.

Madhouse is still pretty good and I like it a bit more than the more popular Theater of Blood. But really, the two films are just good companion pieces to one another and also play well as a double feature.

Film Review: The ‘Blind Dead’ Film Series (1972-1975)

Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead tetralogy is a pretty unique take on the zombie movie formula. In his stories, the undead are actually members of the Knights Templar. Each film begins with a flashback of the knights doing some sort of heinous act, usually torturing young naked women. This is to foreshadow that they are evil and into Satanic rituals… or they just party a little too hard.

Each movie is pretty much the same with just a few minor changes to differentiate each chapter. Ultimately, the Knights Templar do some messed up shit, the people fight back, the knights claim they are immortal, generations later they wake up from a dead slumber because some hottie decided to sleep in their tomb (or meddle around their ghost ship).

So I figured that since these films are really just rehashes of the same thing, it would make more sense to review them together.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972):

Also known as: La noche del terror ciego, lit. The Night of the Blind Terror (Spain), Crypt of the Blind Dead, Night of the Blind Dead, Legend of the Blind Dead, Tombs of the Evil Dead, Revenge From Planet Ape
Release Date: April 10th, 1972 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Lone Fleming, César Burner

Interfilme, Plata Films S.A., 101 Minutes

Review:

Tombs of the Blind Dead kicked off the tetralogy. It is also the best story of the bunch but I do prefer the second film a hair bit more.

There is a train that happens to roll through the Portuguese countryside near a haunted tomb of the long dead Templar knights. The main girl in the film jumps off of the train because she’s nuts and doesn’t do anything logical throughout the entire film. She spends the night in this tomb, which wakes up the warrior Catholic zombies. She dies. Her friends that were initially on the train with her, go back to investigate. They obviously discover the cause of her death, a hoard of white robed, sword-wielding zombies that are too slow to properly swashbuckle.

The film isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit, as darkness takes over the screen and obscures too much of the picture. Regardless, these are still some of the coolest zombies in cinema history.

One cool thing about the undead in this film is that they have horses. They are slow like zombies but their steeds of death can outrun any human trying to hightail it away from the site of the haunted tomb. I thought it was weird that their horses were just hanging out for centuries and that they don’t freak the hell out from the zombie state of their masters but it is revealed in the second film that the horses are undead too. That wasn’t so clear in this movie.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is entertaining enough to kill ninety minutes or so. It is not a great zombie picture but very few of them are.

Return of the Blind Dead (1973):

Also known as: El ataque de los muertos sin ojos, lit. Attack of the Blind Dead (Spain), Return of the Evil Dead, Mark of the Devil 5: Night of the Blind Terror
Release Date: September 14th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanza Roy, Lone Fleming, Frank Braña, Luis Barboo

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

This chapter in the series is my favorite, overall.

I’d say that the first chapter is a better movie, as the ideas and the concepts are still new but I liked this one for the fact that the undead knights take on a whole village and that it was action heavy and flew by pretty quickly, until the last act of the film, which then slowed everything to a halt.

The people in this chapter are at least not as stupid as the people from the first movie. They’re still idiots but at least there is a couple and a young girl that survive this time. Plus, that finale was pretty good and suspenseful.

The highlight of this film is when the village folk are burning effigies of the evil Knights Templar and then the undead knights show up to spoil the party, putting their swords through all the villagers, trapped within the stone walls of the small town.

Return of the Blind Dead, from a narrative standpoint, is the most fluid picture. It is also the least hokey out of the tetralogy.

The Ghost Galleon (1974):

Also known as: El buque maldito, lit. The Damned Ship (Spain), Horror of the Zombies, Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, Horror of the Evil Dead, Ship of Zombies, The Blind Dead 3, Zombie Flesh Eater
Release Date: June 28th, 1974 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Barbara Rey

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

The Ghost Galleon is where the series took a big shit on itself. Although, it did introduce some cool elements to the mythos and it has the best sequence out of all the films. Unfortunately, most of this is a big piss sandwich.

In this chapter, a couple hotties on a tiny boat get lost in a fog. They then get hit by a large wooden ship. The women, at different times, decide to explore this pirate looking vessel. Both of them end up having a really bad time and we are treated to one of the most bloodcurdling zombie kills ever captured on celluloid. Not because it is violent and awesome but because the damn girl literally screams for like five minutes and it is the most annoying scream I’ve ever heard. I can’t necessarily blame the filmmakers, as the scream came to me courtesy of the English dub track. But man, I really wanted to punch my TV because that bitch wouldn’t friggin’ die.

I do like the pirate ship and the swashbuckling aesthetic of this chapter but the story isn’t exciting and the film, overall, is boring as hell.

But we do get rewarded for sitting through this drab movie, as the final sequence is the best in the series. It shows our two heroes escape the wrath of the Knights Templar, as they reach the beach after drifting on a piece of wood all night. Once they collapse in the sand, the living dead, in their robes, rise one-by-one out of the water and slowly walk up onto the beach, surrounding the exhausted heroes, who open their eyes to see their doom finally huddling over them.

Also, the glowing demon skull in the film was a nice touch.

Night of the Seagulls (1975):

Also known as: La noche de las gaviotas (Spain), Don’t Go Out at Night, Night of the Blood Cult, Night of the Death Cult, Terror Beach, Night of the Evil Dead, The Blind Dead 4, Zombi 8, The Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead
Release Date: August 11th, 1975 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Victor Petit, Maria Kosti, Sandra Mozarowsky

Ancla Century Films, Profilmes, Pérez Pareja, M. Flor, 89 Minutes

Review:

Night of the Seagulls is better than The Ghost Galleon but not by much.

We return to a beach setting in this one, as de Ossorio probably enjoyed the nautical theme of the previous chapter and its beach ending.

In this chapter, a doctor and his young wife move to a small coastal town. The locals don’t like them because locals of villages never like outsiders, especially in horror movies. The doctor and his wife are eventually confronted by the town’s dark secret; every seven years, the undead Knights Templar rise out of the sea and haunt the village for seven nights, demanding the the sacrifice of a young woman. It is up to the doctor and his wife to try and save one of the young girls from a horrible fate.

While this is a better movie than The Ghost Galleon, it is the least interesting. It’s as if de Ossorio ran out of good ideas and just threw together some lowest common denominator horror tropes. Maybe this was just an effort to capitalize on the success of the series but it was lazily crafted and didn’t open the door for any further sequels.

The undead Knights Templar would not rise again.

Film Review: The Beast Must Die (1974)

Also known as: Black Werewolf (US video title)
Release Date: April 22nd, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Paul Annett
Written by: Michael Winder
Based on: a short story by James Blish
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray, Ciaran Madden, Tom Chadbon, Anton Diffring

Amicus Productions, British Lion Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“One of our guests is a werewolf, I know it.” – Tom Newcliffe

While Amicus was never the great British horror studio that Hammer was, it often times utilized Hammer’s top stars and the company did a fine job of filling in the void that started to appear as Hammer cooled down in the 1970s.

Like many Amicus horror pictures, this one features Hammer legend Peter Cushing. He plays his typical role of scientist or doctor or just general boffin type who could be evil or could be the hero. The thing with this film, is it is a whodunit mystery in the same vein as The Orient Express or Clue. However, the killer here is a werewolf.

A group of people, all suspects, are gathered at the house of an eccentric big game hunter played by Calvin Lockhart. The suspects are an interesting cast of characters that features Michael Gambon, Anton Iffring, Charles Grey, Marlene Clark and a couple others. As can be expected, as the film roles on, people get picked off by the wolf.

The Beast Must Die is pretty standard fare for Amicus. I like the premise more than a typical Amicus film but the execution isn’t spectacular. It’s good enough to enjoy on a rainy afternoon but even with an extra twist at the end, the movie is pretty predictable and doesn’t offer up anything too interesting.

It isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit but the acting is better than decent for this kind of picture. However, the music is distracting and overbearing. It is a jazzy almost funk score that was the trend in early to mid-70s British horror, which probably started with Dracula 1972 A.D. It tries to make the film come off as modern and hip but now, over 40 years later, it really dates the movie and does more harm than good. It doesn’t fit the tone or the visual style of the picture either.

The Beast Must Die is good enough to watch if you are into Amicus’ work. It’s not exceptional, it’s not horrible but it does have Peter Cushing, a werewolf and Calvin Lockhart is really entertaining as the rich hunter.