Film Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Also known as: Black Bart (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Al Uger
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie

Crossbow Productions, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” – Hedley Lamarr, “God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.” – Taggart

I’m a fan of Mel Brooks’ work but not as much as the hardcore fans out there. Most of the ones I’ve talked to over the years seem to like this film the best out of Brooks’ oeuvre. Young Frankenstein is my personal favorite but I’ve also got a deep affinity for the Universal Monsters, which it paradoies.

I also really love westerns too, though. So, naturally, I like this picture quite a bit too. However, I don’t hold it in the same esteem as others.

Everyone in this is pretty damn great, however. Cleavon Little stands out the most, as the actual star of the picture and because he’s just so damn charismatic and likeable. Additionally, his camaraderie and comedic timing with Gene Wilder is incredibly good.

Beyond the two leads, everyone else in the picture is well cast and this is written in a way that allows them all to play to their strengths while also maximizing their value to this large tapestry of talent.

I guess it probably goes without saying but this is a film that you couldn’t make today. It features so much language that would overwhelm the easily offended, which seems to be everyone these days. Modern filmgoers would be so fixated on the language that they’d miss the point of it all.

This was a film that came out in the ’70s and American entertainment was greatly effected by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial tensions the United States had to work through. This movie reflects that, as did most comedy of the time, and it features a lot of racially charged language and situations. But it’s how it handles all of that and presents it that is important. Nowadays, nuance and context are completely lost because fingerblasting your own pearls while on public display is the only way these kids know how to communicate, anymore.

Blazing Saddles is a film that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. It cannonballs into the deep end of the pool, splashing everyone and everything, and it just puts it all out there, letting people express their points and their social grievances through comedy. And this is why comedy was great. It could challenge us, turn the world on its head and directly engage with tough topics and things that many would otherwise try to ignore or suppress.

In reality, comedy brought people together and it built bridges between cultures and different points-of-view born from very different experiences. Also, it didn’t allow everyone to have such thin skins. It forced most people to toughen up and deal with shit, so we could all move forward.

And while I didn’t want a movie review to devolve into a political or social discussion, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the censors retroactively try to cancel this picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mel Brooks parody films.

Film Review: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

Also known as: The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula (US poster title), The Last Warning (UK alternative title)
Release Date: July 11th, 1974 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh
Written by: Don Houghton
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Julie Ege, Robin Stewart, John Forbes-Robertson

Shaw Brothers, Hammer Films, 89 Minutes, 75 Minutes (American edit)

Review:

“I need your mortal coil. I need the form of your miserable carcass. I need your vile image. I need to walk this Earth again, free from these walls, free from this mausoleum. I will return to your temple, in your image Kah. I will recall the Seven Golden Vampires, as my own host. Tools of my vengeance on mankind. I will take on your appearance, your image.” – Dracula

I saw this years ago and while I mostly liked it, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, revisiting it now.

This film was a co-production between the UK’s Hammer Films, known for their iconic gothic horror pictures, and Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio, the masters of classic kung fu flicks.

Somehow, this unusual movie came together like a perfect marriage between the two studios’ very different styles and the end result was something really entertaining, especially for fans of both companies.

I’m not surprised that Christopher Lee didn’t come back to play Dracula once again but I still wish he had, as it would’ve added something extra to the movie. But at least Peter Cushing returned to play another version of the Van Helsing character. I do like the actor that did play the traditional Dracula, however, even if the role was rather limited.

That intro between Dracula and Kah, the Chinese baddie that became his mortal host, was really damn enjoyable: the perfect kind of old school cheese.

Once the story gets to China, it’s really energetic and cool. I love the tone of the film, the martial arts action and the ideas explored in this were really neat and fresh.

I especially love how vivid and almost giallo-esque some of the lighting was in the more surreal horror scenes. However, at times, the movie also looks like what one would expect from a traditional Shaw Brothers kung fu movie.

There’s just a lot of awesome stuff in this film and if you just sit back and enjoy the show, it’s a lot of fun and a great attempt at trying to bring two very different things together in a well-crafted package.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Dracula films, as well as other Shaw Brothers kung fu pictures.

TV Review: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975)

Original Run: September 13th, 1974 – March 28th, 1975
Created by: Jeff Rice
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: various
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt 

Francy Productions Inc., Universal Television, ABC, 20 Episodes, 50-51 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve wanted to work my way through all the classic Kolchak material for quite some time. After reviewing the two television movies, I knew it was time to watch the television series, which only ran for a single season of twenty episodes.

Overall, I prefer the two films but the show is where the character and his world really come to life and start to develop its own mythos.

The show is a mixed bag of some great and some mediocre episodes. None of them are bad but some are a bit slow and felt like they were interesting concepts or ideas that didn’t live up to the level of the franchise at its best.

The episodes I dug most I truly loved, though.

Darren McGavin was born to play the role of Carl Kolchak and it’s hard to envision anyone else in the part, even though it was rebooted thirty or so years later with Stuart Townsend. I’ve never seen that version but I may track it down in order to review it. That show failed pretty quickly though and has less episodes than the original.

I think that the quality of the episodes being a bit shaky didn’t have so much to do with the monsters featured but had more to do with the creative teams that worked on them. Some stories felt rushed, some felt slow and the craftsmanship was sometimes lacking. For instance, in one episode the cinematography could look superb for 1970s television while in the following episode, it could look really pedestrian and half assed.

That’s not to say that the show didn’t have a consistent look and feel, it did. It’s just to say that it really stood out when a director would go the extra mile or when a writer took time crafting a solid, more fleshed out script. You could gauge which episodes were made with actual passion and love for the material.

Faults aside, I dig the hell out of this show and the two main characters within it. I love McGavin and Simon Oakland brought an extra level of gravitas. Plus, the two men have incredible chemistry.

While this is a franchise that seems almost forgotten in the early part of the 2020s, it is still historically significant. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have gotten other great, similar shows like The X-Files.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Kolchak movies before the show, as well as the reboot and The X-Files.

Film Review: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)

Release Date: May 17th, 1974
Directed by: John Hough
Written by: Leigh Chapman, Antonio Santean
Based on: The Chase by Richard Unekis
Music by: Jimmie Haskell
Cast: Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow, Roddy McDowall

Academy Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna eat your lunch, you long-haired faggot!” – Hanks

Peter Fonda starred in several counter culture and road movies in the late ’60s and into the ’70s. So his casting here was pretty perfect and he owns every scene that he’s in.

However, the bulk of the work isn’t just on Fonda, as we also have Susan George, who is exceptional in this, and Adam Roarke, who I always liked but felt was grossly underutilized. Roarke truly gets to shine in this and it’s damn cool to see.

The film also has Vic Morrow in it, as a villainous sheriff, as well as Roddy McDowall in a smaller role. However, any McDowall appearance is worth mentioning.

The story is very Bonnie and Clyde-esque, as it follows a criminal that takes his girlfriend and a buddy along with him, as law enforcement closes in, creating a massive on-the-road manhunt.

While I do like this film a lot, it’s pretty slow for the first two acts. I enjoy the characters and the performances are damn good, especially between the main trio, but there seems to be a lot of filler and chatter. Sure, it helps to build up the characters but this didn’t really get to the good stuff until the long, great finale ramped up in the last half hour.

Once this does get going, it’s fucking perfect, though.

I dug the hell out of the vehicle stunts and all the sequences with the helicopter were damn impressive. I never tire on this sort of stuff, especially from this era when filmmakers couldn’t rely on CGI and post-production visual trickery. Everything in these action scenes had to be captured by real film in real time.

All in all, this is a motion picture that is a reflection of its time and that time’s trends. The story and how it plays out may be predictable and leave you with a feeling of hopelessness but the ’70s were a bleak decade and this doesn’t shy away from that.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other counterculture films with Peter Fonda in them.

Film Review: Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)

Also known as: Kronos (US short title), Vampire Castle (alternative title) 
Release Date: April 7th, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Brian Clemens
Written by: Brian Clemens
Music by: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Horst Janson, John Carson, Caroline Munro, John Cater

Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“What he doesn’t know about vampirism wouldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece.” – Kronos

After revisiting and reviewing Hammer’s The Karnstein Trilogy of films, I wanted to go back and watch Captain Kronos, as it features another Karnstein vampire but it isn’t considered part of the other three films. I went into this in my Twins of Evil review, so I won’t rehash it here.

Another reason why I wanted to watch this again was Caroline Munro, who was one of my earliest crushes and frankly, that crush has never worn off. I love her and she’s a lot of fun in this vampire swashbuckler.

This film is pretty great, especially for those who like not just classic Hammer-style horror but also for those who love adventure and a little bit of swashbuckling. Granted, there are no pirate ships and tropical locales here. But our hero, Captain Kronos isn’t afraid of crossing swords with evil.

Kronos, who is a cool character, isn’t alone in his quest to vanquish undead evil. He actually has a small group that works with him, my favorite of which is played by John Carson, a guy who should have been in more Hammer movies because he always has a great presence. While I most associate him with his role as the villain in The Plague of Zombies, a damn enjoyable film, his role here is more fleshed out, more heroic and he just nails the part so well that his death onscreen stings a bit.

We also get a lot of Caroline Munro in this movie and she’s striking gorgeous and always exciting to watch, as she has real charm and she can ham it up in the right way. And that’s a necessary skill in this picture, as it is lighthearted and fun, even if it exists within the sphere of Hammer horror.

This was a cool concept and I assume that it was supposed to be the start of a new vampire-centric franchise for Hammer, as they had just wrapped up the Dracula and Karnstein series of films.

Unfortunately, there weren’t anymore Kronos movies after this one and the world didn’t get to see any further adventures of this awesome hero. I kind of feel cheated.

Although, there would be a comic book miniseries, several years later. One of these days, I’ll round up all the issues and review them.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Film Review: The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

Also known as: The Cars That Eat People (US alternative title), Cars (Germany, Norway), Killing Cars (France)
Release Date: May, 1974 (Cannes)
Directed by: Peter Weir
Written by: Peter Weir, Keith Gow
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles, Bruce Spence, Chris Haywood

Royce Smeal Film Productions, Salt-Pan, The Australian Film Development Corporation, 91 Minutes, 74 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“As to our youth, they are idle. They are lazy. The need to work! As that American President said, eh, what was his name? Roosevelt. Roosevelt, yes. The New Deal! Build! They have got to work!” – The Mayor

This Aussie film is a strange little bird.

It’s a very dry, black comedy about a small village that causes car accidents in order to strip cars of their parts and to use the accident victims for weird medical experiments.

Writer and director Peter Weir came up with the idea while driving through the French countryside. He thought the road he was on was full of strange warning signs and found it odd how villages were sprinkled along the stretch of his rural journey.

I think that this film has a real place in history not because of its overall quality but because of its influence on other films that made more of a cultural impact, the original Mad Max for instance, which borrows some of this film’s ideas but executes them better. And then later on, the sequels would borrow some of the post-apocalyptic automobile designs from this picture. Most notably, the spiky cars that were used in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

This film also sprinkles in a bit of horror and sci-fi with a pinch of Bruce Spence, who would go on to be in two Mad Max films, as well as Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Matrix Revolutions.

This is a moderately amusing film but a lot of the comedy doesn’t hit. This could be because the humor is very Australian and some things might not translate, culturally. Also, it is a pretty dated movie when seen through modern eyes.

From a narrative standpoint, this explores some neat ideas but doesn’t really deliver on them. Although the mayhem in the final sequence was pretty enjoyable, as the town’s angry teens in post-apocalyptic cars overrun the big annual festival.

I wouldn’t call this a great movie and it’s almost forgettable, other than the fact that it influenced movies that are better than it.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Peter Weir films and then the original Mad Max, as it has some minute similarities.

Film Review: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Also known as: Phantom, Phantom of the Fillmore (working titles)
Release Date: November 1st, 1974
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Paul Williams
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Rod Sterling (voice, uncredited)

Harbor Productions, 20th Century Fox, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[to Beef] Never sing my music again. Not here, not anywhere. Do you understand? Never again. My music is for Phoenix. Only she can sing it. Anyone else who tries, dies!” – The Phantom

This film often gets lumped together in conversations with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The films came out around the same time, share a lot of similarities and have both developed cult followings. However, this film is far superior and I find it strange that it’s cult following is nowhere near as massive as Rocky Horror‘s.

I think this film has the edge in that it was written and directed by Brian De Palma, who was one of the top up and coming directors of the time. He was at a creative high and even though this film merges a lot of genres and is overly surreal and very absurdist, it’s kind of a masterpiece in that all the parts fit together and there has never been anything like this since. Well, at least nothing like this that was anywhere near as good as this.

Additionally, I’ve gone on record multiple times about my general dislike of musicals. Well, De Palma made a musical with this film and it is one of my absolute favorite films of the 1970s. In fact, I dig the hell out of the music in this picture and it all works in a way that makes sense. And I guess it’s not a musical with a traditional musical structure but it is chock full of tunes that progress the story without unnaturally pulling you out of it for the sake of wedging in another musical number.

The film stars actual rock star Paul Williams in what is my favorite role he’s ever had, playing Swan, a demonic record producer.

But the film is really carried by De Palma favorite, William Finley. It’s Finley’s over the top and batshit crazy performance that takes this film to heights it would not have reached without him in the title role as the Phantom. Finley is always great but this truly is his magnum opus, as he gives great range, exudes his passion for this role proudly with every frame and commits to the bit full throttle.

As good as both Williams and Finley are though, the film is also bolstered by the talent of Gerrit Graham. He’s had a lot of great roles within the horror genre but this is Graham at his best, as well. He plays a rock star simply named Beef. His onstage performance is incredible, his comedic timing is superb and he is a big, sweet cherry on top of this already perfect sundae.

And then there’s Jessica Harper. She’s most famous for being the lead in the original Suspiria from 1977 and even has a small role in the 2018 remake. She plays the apple of the Phantom’s eye and she’s terrific. Her performances are also solid and she has a lot more spunk in this film than what fans of Suspiria might expect. It’s really cool seeing her play a role that’s a departure from the one she’s most known for.

Phantom of the Paradise also boasts some incredible visuals. The film feels like a true rock opera of the highest caliber and even if this was made on what I guess was a modest budget, De Palma takes advantage of his surroundings, his sets and the talent he had working on this picture.

The cinematography is damn good and it is greatly impacted by the lighting, as well as the camera movement and shot framing of De Palma. It’s not just the colorful characters on the screen and the stupendous tunes that give this film all of its energy. A lot of it comes from the camerawork and the attention to detail within every single frame of this picture.

I can accept the fact that most people probably won’t view this movie the same way that I do and that’s fine. But from where I sit, it’s a damn fine motion picture that is incredibly unique and a pillar of imagination and creativity.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: I guess The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the closest film to this but it pales in comparison.

Film Review: Foxy Brown (1974)

Also known as: Burn, Coffy, Burn! (working title)
Release Date: April 5th, 1974
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Willie Hutch
Cast: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Terry Carter, Sid Haig

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know… vigilante justice?” – Michael Anderson, “It’s as American as apple pie.” – Foxy Brown

Originally released by American International Pictures on a double bill with Truck Turner, a dynamite film by the way, Foxy Brown was sort of the spiritual successor to Pam Grier’s earlier film with director Jack Hill, Coffy.

I think that this was originally written to be a sequel to Coffy since it’s working title was Burn, Coffy, Burn! but that was changed at some point. Regardless of that, the Foxy Brown character is very similar in style and temperament to the title character in Coffy. Both are characters that become vigilantes, use their sex appeal to their advantage and also have a nurturing nature.

While most people seem to prefer Coffy a bit more than this film, I actually think I like this one better. It felt more fluid and Pam Grier had a little extra level of confidence this round. Not that she was lacking that before but in Foxy Brown she seems a lot more at home in the role.

I also liked the dynamic between Foxy and the villains of the story. They end up catching her and sending her off for a really horrible experience with some piece of shit rednecks in the country but ultimately, she survives, thrives and destroys the bad guys’ lives.

Plus, this also re-teams Grier with Sid Haig. They never spend a lot of time onscreen together but I always like seeing them share a scene.

This isn’t my favorite film within the blaxploitation style but it is one of the best with a female lead and Grier was the best female lead of her era. Although, I prefer Black Mama, White Mama a little bit more.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Coffy, Black Mama, White Mama and other Pam Grier films from the ’70s.

Film Review: Death Wish (1974)

Also known as: The Sidewalk Vigilante (working title)
Release Date: July 24th, 1974
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Wendell Mayes
Based on: Death Wish by Brian Garfield
Music by: Herbie Hancock
Cast: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, William Redfield, Stuart Margolin, Steven Keats, Jack Wallace, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Guest, Olympia Dukakis, Art Evans (uncredited)

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing to do but cut and run, huh? What else? What about the old American social custom of self-defense? If the police don’t defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.” – Paul Kersey

While I still haven’t seen the 2018 remake of this film, I wanted to at least revisit the originals. I’ll probably check out the Bruce Willis starring remake pretty soon but it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen the original Paul Kersey clean up the mean streets of the United States.

In this, the first film of five, he cleans up the streets of New York City. He moves around from city to city in each film, as he can’t stay put in one place for too long.

Anyway, the film follows Paul Kersey, played by Chales Bronson, a man’s man. He is a pretty liberal and pacifistic guy until his wife is murdered and daughter raped and attacked in their home by vagrant, criminal scum. Kersey, unable to accept the failure of the system, becomes a vigilante and sparks a one man war on crime. However, his actions inspire the people of New York City to stand up and defend themselves as well. Soon, city officials want to put a lid on it but they kind of like Kersey, as crime rates are dropping and it looks good for the people in power.

This is a pretty political and social film for its day, as crime in New York City in the 1970s was at an all-time high and people were legitimately scared just walking down the street. I kind of wonder how the 2018 remake will address these issues, as Hollywood hates controversy these days, unless they’re reminding us of how much they hate Republicans, especially our current president. But I digress.

Charles Bronson is known for being a badass in a ton of films but this might be the best he’s ever been. It certainly evolved into his most famous role but playing a character five times will do that.

This is a gritty, realistic film. Bronson isn’t some invincible warrior, he is an everyday man, in over his head. A man with flaws and inexperience who fucks up because of that. But it’s his drive and ambition that really makes the character work. He is kind of driven by a type of mania, not caring that the law is on to him. He just commits to the bit, no matter what repercussions he may face. It’s refreshing to see, all these years later, because nowadays, everyone is a f’n John Wick or Frank Castle.

This first Death Wish movie is the best of the lot. But in saying that, it isn’t my personal favorite even though it’s the superior film. I really love the third one but I’ll get into that when I review it in the future.

But overall, this is a solid ’70s action flick with a giant barrel of testosterone concentrate.

Also, it is the film debut of Jeff Goldblum and has very early roles for Christopher Guest and Olympia Dukakis.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequels and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Killdozer! (1974)

Release Date: February 2nd, 1974 (TV)
Directed by: Jerry London
Written by: Ed MacKillop, Theodore Sturgeon
Music by: Gil Melle
Cast: Clint Walker, James Wainwright, Carl Betz, Neville Brand, James A. Watson Jr., Robert Urich

Universal Television, ABC, 74 Minutes

Review:

“How do you go about killing a machine?” – Lloyd Kelly, “A machine? It’s too heavy to hang and it’s too big to put in the gas chamber.” – Dennis Holvig

I first learned about Killdozer! from seeing the Marvel Comics adaptation in a discount bin, back in the day. I bought it and later on, a friend of mine told me about the movie.

I never did see that movie until now and it’s actually streaming on YouTube for free, assuming it doesn’t get pulled down.

Anyway, this was a really short movie but I guess it was wedged into just a 90 minute TV time slot with commercial breaks.

The movie is exactly what you’d expect, a bulldozer comes to life and kills people. Nothing more, nothing less.

Killdozer! suffers, however, from just how cheap it was. Everything conveniently takes place on a tiny beach island where there are only six construction workers. The kills are all pretty weak, because this is a ’70s TV movie and there isn’t much action, except a killer bulldozer moving at a snail’s pace and a few old dudes running around going, “How do we kill the damn thing?!”

I guess the film is notable for having a very young Robert Urich in it. But really, he’s the first guy to feel the rage of the killer machine and it’s psychic alien meteor powers.

This wasn’t a terrible watch but there is nothing all that worthwhile here, either. I’m glad it was short because anything longer would have made this worse. Frankly, it could have been whittled down to 40 minutes and just been an episode in any random horror anthology TV series.

Also, the poster is really misleading, as the guy in it is shrunk down a lot. The “killdozer” is not that big. Not at all.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other killer vehicle movies: DuelChristine, The Car and Maximum Overdrive.