Film Review: Code Name: Diamond Head (1977)

Release Date: May 3rd, 1977
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Written by: Paul King
Music by: Morton Stevens
Cast: Roy Thinnes, France Nuyen, Gilbert Lani Kauhi, Ian McShane

Quinn Martin Productions, Worldwide Enterprises, NBC, 78 Minutes

Review:

Ian McShane? Is that really you?

Why yes it is! And you’re so young!

I love Ian McShane but I don’t love this movie, unfortunately. But all great actors have to stomp through shit until they find their big break.

This was a made-for-TV movie in the late ’70s, which is generally a good indicator for something overly schlock-y.

Code Name: Diamond Head is pure, unadulterated schlock but not the kind that is so bad it’s good. This is too dull and boring to be good and the only way worth actually watching this turkey is with the added riffing of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast.

This film is a weak attempt at a spy thriller. It features a trio of heroes, one of which is a burly Hawaiian singer, who was played by Gilbert Lani Kauhi (a.k.a. Zulu a.k.a. Zoulou), who is probably most remembered for his appearances as Kono Kalakaua on the original Hawaii Five-O.

Watching this, I thought that it felt like a pilot for a show due to its structure and narrative style. I was right, after I looked into it. The show was never picked up and eventually NBC just used it to fill a spot in their NBC Monday Movie lineup.

Ultimately, this falls flat in just about every way. It’s not a bad concept it’s just that the execution was incredibly lackluster.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: pretty much an ’70s made-for-TV schlock that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: The Car (1977)

Also known as: Wheels (working title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1977
Directed by: Elliot Silverstein
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack, Lane Slate
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Elizabeth Thompson, Ronny Cox, R.G. Armstrong

Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[addressing his officers] So look… I want everybody out on the streets. I want you to remember… a young man was killed today, passing through our town… and I don’t like it… I don’t like it at all. Goodbye.” – Everett

The Car is my favorite killer vehicle movie, as it just beats out Steven Spielberg’s early film, Duel. However, unlike Duel, this one has more in common with Christine and Maximum Overdrive in that it features a vehicle without a driver.

What I really like about the film is that it’s a mystery as to who or what is behind the wheel and by the end of it, it’s still unclear other than a demonic face appearing briefly within the smoke of the vehicle’s flaming wreckage.

This is a pretty badass movie, as the meanest looking car of all killer cars mows people down without any hesitation.

Now the only real negative about the film is that there isn’t any blood or even the slightest bit of gore. This is a horror film from the late ’70s, man! Take the kid gloves off and show us some vehicular splatter porn!

I guess that the televised version of this film was heavily edited down but I’m not sure why it needed to be? This is practically PG in how it alludes to violence and doesn’t show anyone actually getting the Gallagher watermelon treatment.

What makes this better than it should be is the fact that the car looks so damn menacing. Plus, it moves like a real predator because whoever was driving it and orchestrating how its movements needed to work within key shots and scenes knew exactly what the hell they were doing.

Sure, there are some cheesy and goofy bits, like the car barrel rolling over two cop cars and the weird French horn toting pothead in the beginning but that stuff works within the framework and tone of the picture.

The character development is also good and no one really seems disposable other than the two bicycle teens that meet their terrible fate in the opening sequence.

The Car introduces you to several characters and it does a superb job of giving them life, even with limited time. For instance, the cop who dies early on didn’t have much screen time but his death hits you in the feels because even with just two small scenes, he was shown to be a good, honorable man.

Additionally, Kathleen Lloyd’s death was a real punch in the nuts. She came off as really likable and she’s definitely one of the people you hoped would survive to the end. Sure, she talked shit to the demon car and some of her disses were corny but it really humanized her and showed her strength as she stood strong against a lethal predator despite showing that she knew she was vulnerable and was very frightened underneath it all. Her death is one of the coolest scenes in the movie though.

James Brolin, Ronny Cox and R.G. Armstrong were all very good too. I’ve never seen Cox play a character that came off as kind of dopey and weak and it’s a real departure from his role as Dick Jones in RoboCop or as the police captain in the Beverly Hills Cop film series.

When I saw this for the first time, I was surprised by how good the main players in this film were. Especially for a late ’70s horror picture that seems like it’s mostly forgotten today.

I also dig the score to this film. The opening credits were eerie and ominous as hell, as they truly set the tone for something dark and brooding.

In a lot of ways, this film reminds me of Jaws, as a killer force of nature descends upon a small, quiet town and starts picking off its citizens one by one until it dies in a explosion caused by the town’s brave sheriff.

The Car is damn good. And it’s just one of those films that I can watch over and over and never get bored with it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other killer vehicle movies: Duel, Christine, Maximum Overdrive, etc.

Film Review: Annie Hall (1977)

Also known as: It Had to be Jew, Anhedonia (working titles)
Release Date: March 27th, 1977 (Filmex)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Colleen Dewhurst, Dick Cavett, John Glover, Mark Lenard, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo, Tracey Walter, Sigourney Weaver, Truman Capote, Laurie Bird

Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions, Rollins-Joffe Productions, United Artists, 93 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to California] It’s so clean out here.” – Annie Hall, “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.” – Alvy Singer

I’m not what you would call a big Woody Allen fan but I do find a lot of his films to be amusing. This is one of them and this is also probably my favorite out of the Allen pictures that I’ve seen.

While I’ve seen all of the famous scenes from Annie Hall time and time again in documentaries and shows about movies, I’ve never seen this film in its entirety and in the proper sequence with all of the narrative context. In some ways, this film is actually kind of genius in how refreshing, original and authentic it feels. But I also didn’t know, until now, that this was sort of autobiographical in regards to Allen and Diane Keaton’s real romantic relationship a few years before this movie.

What makes this work so well is the natural chemistry between Allen and Keaton. But even then, Allen had solid chemistry in his scenes with Shelley Duvall and Carol Kane. It’s hard to say that he’s a great actor when he’s essentially just playing himself but his natural charm works wonders in this picture and it gives a certain life to scenes that may have felt dry if played by someone else.

Diane Keaton was lovable and fun in the picture and I think she is the real glue of the film, even more so than Allen. The reason being is that she just radiates a glow that encapsulates anyone on the screen with her. You clearly see the woman that Woody Allen is legitimately infatuated with.

From a narrative standpoint, this is Allen writing what he knows most intimately. But even then, I don’t think that this authentic tale would have had the magic without the performances in the film. This is lightyears better than a standard romantic comedy but I feel like that’s because the main players felt very at home with the material and they took this very seriously, where most romantic comedies tend to by cheesy and lacking depth in the performances of their actors.

Allen certainly knows how to direct and it is very apparent here. He gets the most out of everyone on screen, including himself. It’s easy to write about your life but it’s difficult to make something so genuine.

In the end, this is a fun, cute, lighthearted picture that presents romance and comedy in a unique way that is very much Woody Allen. He’s had similar films but nothing that hits the right notes in quite the same way.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Woody Allen films.

Film Review: Breaker! Breaker! (1977)

Release Date: April 1st, 1977
Directed by: Don Hulette
Written by: Terry Chambers
Music by: Don Hulette, Terry Chambers, Denny Brooks
Cast: Chuck Norris, George Murdock, Terry O-Connor, Michael Augenstein, Jack Nance

Paragon Films, Worldwide Distributing, American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna stick ya!” – Hillbilly

I had to watch the RiffTrax version of this film as it was too dull and dreadful to watch without riffing. And to quote Mike Nelson from the RiffTrax version, “David Lynch saw this movie and said, “What the Hell?””

If you are a hardcore Chuck Norris fan, you’ll probably still hate this movie. It’s that bad.

This is what happens when you take the quickly played out trucker genre from ’70s cinema and mix it up with Chuck Norris before most people knew who he was. Hell, Norris barely even talks in this film. He mostly just stares as the camera zooms in on his face Bruce Lee style.

This film is batshit crazy but not the kind of batshit crazy that makes it awesome or at the very least, worthwhile. It’s baffling to watch and frankly, it’s a stupid fucking movie.

Hell, at the end, a bunch of truckers are told over the CB radio that some shit’s going down in a small Cali town and they respond by driving to the town and then mowing down all the buildings with no care in the world if there are people inside… and there are! Basically, they are down to commit mass homicide just because they got some hot tip over the CB. Hell, it could be a damn prank for all they know but truckers have no morals, just truck stop breakfast and rest stop syphilis.

The highpoint of the film, which still sucks, is the final fight in the horse pen. It’s full of slow motion roundhouses and a horse locking eyes with Chuck in some sort of metaphorical way that isn’t clear. Maybe they’re old lovers? Anyway, Chuck kicks the scumbag to pieces and then the horse escapes to run wild because I guess I’m supposed to find some deep meaning in a movie that can only be compared to drowning in deep shit.

I don’t know what else to say, so fuck this movie.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other cheap-o trucker movies and other early Chuck Norris movies like A Force of One, Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon.

 

Film Review: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

Also known as: Kyōryū Kaichō no Densetsu, lit. Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds (Japan), The Legend of Dinosaurs (US alternate title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Junji Kurata
Written by: Masaru Igami, Isao Matsumoto, Ichirô Ôtsu
Music by: Masao Yagi
Cast: Tsunehiko Watase, Nobiko Sawa, Shotaro Hayashi

Toei Company, 94 Minutes

Review:

The trailer for this Toei picture is actually infinitely better looking than the film itself. Yes, the scenes from the trailer are in the film but the movie lacks energy and excitement and the action just seems pretty minuscule. Basically, this is a really boring movie and I’m a guy that loves kaiju and tokusatsu films.

While I have watched a lot of Toei pictures, this one eluded me until I found it at the end of the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was never brought back for the show’s nationally televised run unlike several of their first season features.

Considering the era in which this film was made, it was greatly inspired by Jaws and the Hollywood trend of having giant animals attack humans. Being that this is Japanese though, the animals here are much more fantastical than their more plausible American counterparts. This really is just a standard kaiju movie but one with generic looking monsters that lack the personality of Toho or Daiei’s more famous creatures.

This never got a theatrical release in the United States but it did appear on television in 1987 with a terrible dub track. In all honesty, the atrocious dubbing really hurts the picture and is probably a major reason as to why this plays so poorly. There isn’t a subtitled version of this that I have been able to track down.

If you like this style of film, there are so many that are much better. If you’re a kaiju completist though, you should probably check this out. I doubt it will wow you but at least you can check it off of your list.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Toei’s other kaiju and tokustatu stuff, as well as lower budget, more generic kaiju pictures that don’t feature famous monsters.

Film Review: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Also known as: Blood Relations (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1977 (Tucson premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: Don Peake
Cast: Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman, Michael Berryman, Virginia Vincent, Janus Blythe

Blood Relations Company, Vanguard, 89 Minutes

Review:

“We’re gonna be french fries! Human french fries!” – Brenda Carter

I’ve said this before and I know it upsets some ’70s and ’80s horror fans but I’m not very keen on the work of Wes Craven outside of A Nightmare On Elm Street. But this is, at least, better than The Last House On the Left.

I don’t know what it is about Craven but if I’m being honest, his ideas always feel borrowed and not done as well as what he’s borrowing from. Even A Nightmare On Elm Street came from an article he read about a teen that died in their sleep.

The Hills Have Eyes is very much Craven’s version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But it’s not a complete rehash of it, it does take some creative liberties and the premise is somewhat interesting but basically a family’s car breaks down and they are preyed upon by a family of cannibals.

This is more action heavy than Chain Saw or other similar films, which is a definite plus for me. It also has a sort of post-apocalyptic Mad Max vibe to it, which is also a plus. But other than those two things, there’s not much else here.

The film, despite its subject matter, is fairly boring. It has some good intense moments, I love Michael Berryman in everything and the family dog was the most badass character in the film but it is really dragged out in spots.

The Hills Have Eyes is one of the rare exceptions when it comes to remakes, as I was never a big fan of it to begin with and I honestly feel like the remake was a big improvement on the story, the overused formula and it even had a deeper and richer backstory. But I’ll review that one later.

Sadly, this film also had a really bad sequel. I’ll review that at some point too.

I don’t know, I’ve probably seen this movie a half dozen times since I was a kid and I never walk away from it saying, “Oh, I get it now. This is deservedly a classic.”

But it does have a great title and an awesome poster featuring Michael Berryman.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other early Wes Craven works, as well as other cannibal killer movies.

Film Review: Rabid (1977)

Also known as: Rage (alternate title)
Release Date: April 8th, 1977
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg
Music by: Ivan Reitman (music supervisor)
Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan

Cinepix Film Properties, New World Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Potato man loves ketchup man.” – Murray Cypher

David Cronenberg has made some of the most disturbing films of the last half century. Well, really of all-time, as there weren’t anything like his films before he found his groove and started cranking out disturbing body horror movies quite frequently.

Rabid is only Cronenberg’s second film and while he hadn’t quite found his groove or style by this point, he was very close to it and nearly everything after this picture is regarded as a horror classic of its time.

Like his other films of the ’70s and ’80s (and several after) this definitely fits into the body horror subgenre. Also, this is kind of like a zombie movie even though the monsters aren’t technically zombies. It’s like how people say, “28 Days Later isn’t zombies it’s people with a virus.” Whatever, all this shit is zombies. If you want to be that fucking technical than none of this shit is zombies unless the monsters are being controlled by voodoo or Bela Lugosi.

Anyway, Marilyn Chambers, the first porn star that anyone cared about, is in a motorcycle accident and burned severely. She is then given this experimental treatment. That treatment turns her into this sex vampire thing where she throws herself at people and a penis looking appendage comes out of her armpit to drink the blood of whoever she’s latched onto. Her condition spreads and pretty much all of Montreal goes under martial law due to these zombie like people that are trying to spread this virus.

Overall, this is a pretty good and entertaining movie. It’s not exceptional and it isn’t Cronenberg at his best but it showed him growing as an artist and a storyteller. His style is apparent even if it hasn’t fully flourished by this point.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other early works by Cronenberg: Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome.