Film Review: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Also known as: Exorcist II, The Heretic (working titles)
Release Date: June 17th, 1977
Directed by: John Boorman
Written by: William Goodhart
Based on: characters from The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty, Dana Plato (uncredited)

Warner Bros., 117 Minutes, 102 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“Pazuzu, king of the evil spirits of the air, help me to find Kokumo!” – Father Lamont

It has been a really long time since I’ve seen this film but since I’ve reviewed the first and third films in the series, I figured that revisiting this one was long overdue.

I put it off for ages because it’s the only one out of the three that’s not very good. However, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it.

Honestly, this is a really strange movie that feels like a product of its time, as it uses some modern (for the time) science-based ideas to try and solve the mystery of Reagan’s previous demonic possession and the effects it had and still has on her. It’s kind of hard to explain but there are some neat retro-techie sequences in the film that probably play much better now than they did in 1977.

Additionally, I like that this doesn’t simply try to retread the material and narrative framework of the previous, classic film. Instead, it takes a new and fresh approach. While that can only be as good as the writing and the execution, it still made this an interesting and unusual film that was very different than what was the norm for religious based horror movies of its time.

The film is also loaded with talented actors from the returning Linda Blair, to Louise Fletcher, Richard Burton, Max von Sydow and smaller roles for Ned Beatty and James Earl Jones.

I also really enjoyed the score by Ennio Morricone, which probably deserves more credit than it’s gotten over the years, as the music is overshadowed by the public disdain for the film.

On top of that, I really liked the finale of the film, which saw the good people in the story return to the spot where Reagan was previously possessed. They want to confront and conquer this evil, once and for all, and what we get is a really neat sequence with solid effects and great sets.

The problem with the movie is that it is a very disjointed clusterfuck that drags along at a snail’s pace in some sequences. I think that the better parts of the film offset its general drabness but it’s a bad movie as far as the story and pacing go.

Also, the plot is so far outside of the box, it’s hard to envision this as a sequel to the original, even as it unfolds in front of you, featuring the same young actress playing the same character.

In the end, I get why people hate this movie. Looking at it as its own body of work, it’s palatable. It has some really cool moments but you have to drag yourself through the uneventful portions of the film to reach the more satisfying ones.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess the first and third films but they’re both much, much better.

Film Review: The Gauntlet (1977)

Release Date: December 17th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince, Bill McKinney, Michael Cavanaugh

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes

Review:

“You cheap shot, gutless bastard! You really get off roughing up girls, don’t you? Big man! Big 45 caliber fruit!” – Gus Mally

People often confuse this movie as a Dirty Harry film. It’s not but it is damn similar to that series and it fits well within its style and tone. I actually think of it as Dirty Harry 3.5 and often times mix it in when watching some Dirty Harry flicks.

While they actually played with the idea of making it a Dirty Harry picture, the film wasn’t originally made to star Clint Eastwood. In fact, Marlon Brando and Barbara Streisand were original cast for the film. Brando had some issues and was replaced by Steve McQueen. McQueen and Streisand pretty much hated each other and then both left the production. Clint Eastwood and his then significant other, Sandra Locke, were cast in their place. Eastwood’s production company then got involved and Eastwood ended up directing the film, as well.

The film’s plot is pretty simple. A tough-as-nails cop has to escort a prostitute from Las Vegas to Phoenix. However, the mob and someone on the inside of the police force wants her to die before she can make it to Phoenix. So Eastwood must protect her and get her to the finish line while dealing with an army of cops, criminals and a biker gang. Everything comes to a head in one of the greatest action movie finales of all-time, which sees Eastwood drive a bus into downtown Phoenix where he is met by the entire police force, who are armed to the teeth and dead set on preventing the bus from reaching its final destination.

That finale is so damn good and iconic that I think that people fixate on it when thinking about this film and forget about how good the movie is as a total package. In fact, this is my favorite non-western Eastwood film after the original Dirty Harry. And honestly, it’s pretty close in quality to Dirty Harry and I’d even say it has better replay value.

The action in the film is incredible, especially for the time. I don’t know if the movie holds the record for squibs used but it’s got to be pretty close to the top.

Also, it’s a picture that has aged tremendously well and plays much better than most modern action films that are created for the ADHD generation that needs constant engagement and for every stunt and action sequence to be bigger than anything they’ve seen before it. The Gauntlet is a very grounded film that feels real and seems plausible unlike one of the thirty-nine Fast & Furious movies.

If you’ve never seen The Gauntlet or just haven’t seen it in a long time, you should probably check it out. Eastwood is an absolute badass, Locke is tremendous and the greatness of that finale will outlive us all.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the Dirty Harry film series, as well as the Death Wish movies.

Film Review: Sorcerer (1977)

Also known as: The Wages of Fear (alternative title)
Release Date: June 24th, 1977
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Walon Green
Based on: Le Salaire de la peur by Georges Arnaud
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Cast: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri, Karl John, Joe Spinell

Film Properties International N.V., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes, 92 Minutes (international cut)

Review:

“He robbed my church, shot my brother. I don’t care where he is or what it costs. I want his ass.” – Carlo Ricci

Sorcerer is a really interesting movie that follows a group of criminals on the run, strangers to one another, who have to transport gallons of volatile nitroglycerin 200 miles through a South American jungle. Along the way, they have to deal with many threats that make their highly explosive cargo, a death trap that must be protected.

My only real problem with the film is that the mission doesn’t start until you’re about halfway through the picture. That’s fine and the first act is very good but there’s this bit between the multiple prologues and the mission that drags for quite awhile. Once the mission starts, however, things pick back up.

Overall, this is pretty well acted and I thought Roy Scheider did exceptionally well in this and it might be my favorite role of his outside of his two Jaws movies and 2010. The rest of the cast is also good and you even get a small Joe Spinell cameo thrown in.

The story is pretty engaging and this would’ve probably been an incredible film if it didn’t have the pacing issues with the second act. I felt like the actual adventure across the jungle should’ve been a larger part of the story and there is so much more that could’ve been done with that.

Granted, this is also based off of a French novel, so maybe the source material was written the same way, only showcasing the adventure for the second half of the whole story.

That being said, there is also a 92 minute cut of this film and I wonder if that one actually flows better and cuts out some of the duller moments while putting more emphasis on the journey itself.

In the end, I like this movie quite a bit. It definitely needed to pick things up a bit and could’ve used some extra sizzle but it was a worthwhile experience, capped off with a really cool second half.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s adventure and crime pictures.

Film Review: The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

Also known as: Goliathon (alternative title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Ho Meng-hua
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Frankie Chan
Cast: Danny Lee, Evelyne Kraft, Hsiao Yao, Ku Feng, Lin Wei-tu

Shaw Brothers, Shochiku, 90 Minutes

Review:

What a delightfully bonkers, energetic and fun movie!

For a Hong Kong ripoff of King Kong, this is so fucking enjoyable and it honestly comes across more like a Toho styled kaiju flick, especially their two King Kong ones from the ’60s.

The overall plot is about the same as King Kong, however, the pretty girl in this film has lived on the island with the giant gorilla for most of her life already. When she was a small child an aircraft crashed on the island and she was the only survivor. The gorilla found her, took a liking to her and raised her into a Jungle goddess. Basically, she’s like Tarzan but a woman… and raised by one very large ape.

Anyway, some rich doucher ends up taking the giant gorilla back to Hong Kong to turn him into a carnival act. But once the doucher attempts to rape the girl, the gorilla breaks free and starts trashing the city.

There is also a male human hero in this, played by Danny Lee. He’s a cool and likable guy that falls in love with the girl while also trying to save her from the danger the government brings down on her gorilla father figure.

While Shaw Brothers was mostly known for their martial arts movies, they really did the kaiju genre well and honestly, I wish that there were more of these. Hell, Roger Ebert gave this film three out of four stars and referred to it as his “favorite Hong Kong monster film”.

I was impressed by the effects of the film and the miniatures especially looked good. If I’m being honest, the craftsmanship and skill was pretty close to Eiji Tsuburaya’s level when he was making magic in those Toho Godzilla movies.

Ultimately, this is a picture that is much better than I could have hoped for. While I do like a lot of non-Japanese kaiju flicks, this is certainly one of the better ones and it should have spawned a Hong Kong era in giant monster movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other kaiju pictures from outside of Japan, as well as the King Kong films, especially the 1976 remake and the Toho ones.

Film Review: Orca (1977)

Also known as: Orca: The Killer Whale, The Killer Whale (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 15th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Anderson
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Robert Towne (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine

Famous Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’d insisted on leaving South Harbor with them. I told myself that somehow I was responsible for Nolan’s state of mind. That I had filled his head with romantic notions about a whale capable not only of profound grief, which I believed, but also of calculated and vindictive actions, which I found hard to be believe, despite all that had happened.” – Rachel

I was originally introduced to this movie by my 6th grade science teacher circa 1991. While most of the class was dozing off, I really enjoyed it, even if it was one of several dozen ripoffs of Jaws.

Orca is somehow better than almost all of the Jaws wannabes, except for Joe Dante’s magnificent Piranha. But the reason for that is due to the movie’s ability to create great sympathy for the killer killer whale as well as Richard Harris’ ability to take a total bastard of a character and make him somewhat noble and redeemable.

I also really enjoyed Charlotte Rampling in this, as she added so much to the film’s context in a great way, as well as having a really organic chemistry with Richard Harris.

Being that I haven’t seen this in its entirety since that day in 6th grade, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the film all these years later. It was actually better than I remembered and there were some scenes I had completely forgotten, like the whale fetus on the boat deck scene, which my 6th grade teacher may have omitted from the movie when he showed us his VHS copy of it.

While this was a Dino De Laurentiis produced picture, which means it had a limited budget, most of the special effects were damn good. Even though I knew that some of the whale celebration moments with destruction in the background were composited shots, they actually look pretty great for the time, even when being seen in modern HD.

The two sequences that stood out to me the most were the coastal house being destroyed by the whale and collapsing into the sea, as well as the scene where the female whale is gruesomely captured and maimed, leading to her death and the death of the baby she’s carrying, all while the male whale watches on in agony. It may sound kind of cheesy but it’s surreal and haunting. Most importantly, it was incredibly effective. You felt the whale’s pain and understood his quest for vengeance against Richard Harris’ captain character.

I also really dug the Ennio Morricone score. The guy is an absolute legend and his score here is enchanting while also being brooding. While it’s not on par with John Williams’ Jaws score, it is very different and fits the tone of this movie, which wasn’t exactlyJaws ripoff. This just used the timing of its release to capitalize off of the killer marine life craze of the late ’70s.

The story is actually closer to Moby Dick and just modernized with a different species of whale. But that didn’t stop it from potentially taking a shot at Jaws by having the killer whale murder the crap out of a great white shark at the beginning of the film.

All in all, I was really satisfied with this. It’s not an all-time classic but it is better than most killer animal ocean movies not named Jaws.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal horror movies, especially those that take place on the water.

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.