Film Review: Killer Fish (1979)

Also known as: Naked Sun (Philippines), Deadly Treasure of the Piranha (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: June 30th, 1979 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti
Written by: Michael Rogers
Music by: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Lee Majors, Karen Black, Margaux Hemingway, Marisa Berenson, James Franciscus

Fawcett-Majors Productions, Victoria Productions, Filmar do Brasil, Paris Filmes, ITC Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Are you sure there’s no German blood in you?” – Hans, “Hm-hm. I win my wars.” – Kate Neville

I have watched so many Jaws and Piranha ripoffs over the years that I’m surprised that I had never seen this one or heard of it. Also, the fact that this stars Lee Majors, Karen Black and one of the Hemingway sisters, makes my lack of knowledge about this film even stranger. But it was featured on the latest season of Mystery Science theater 3000, so I had to give it a watch. Plus, I love killer animal movies regardless of them taking place on the water, on land or in the air.

As is the case with most films like this, it’s a real stinker. It also lacks anything to redeem it. Even with a few people I like in the cast, they didn’t do much to help the picture and looked as if they were just collecting a paycheck and trying to rush through this.

It was produced by Lee Majors production company with his wife at the time, Farrah Fawcett. That being said, it’s surprising that he didn’t seem to care much about the quality of his own product.

While this does deal with killer piranhas, they never feel as threatening as the killer fish from Joe Dante’s Piranha, a year earlier. Additionally, the footage and effects of the piranha attacks are pretty shitty.

The one thing that makes this not a direct ripoff of Dante’s classic, is that this is also a heist film. Well, sort of. There isn’t much about the actual heist here, it is just used as a plot device to get the characters to try and turn on each other while trapped on a broken boat surrounded by man eating fishies.

This is far from great and barely entertaining. It’s the kind of bad that is really boring and not actually enjoyable for being terrible. It’s just a total dud. But it also isn’t so bad that I can completely trash it. It’s just well below mediocre, unexciting, uneventful and given no real life by the talent of its top stars.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jaws and Piranha ripoffs of the era.

Film Review: The Day Time Ended (1979)

Also known as: Time Warp, Vortex (working titles), Earth’s Final Fury (TV title), Explosión Galáctica (Spain), Black Thunder (Belgium)
Release Date: November, 1979 (Paris Festival of Fantastic Films)
Directed by: John Cardos
Written by: J. Larry Carroll, Steve Neill, Wayne Schmidt, David Schmoeller
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jim Davis, Dorothy Malone, Christopher Mitchum, Scott Kolden

Charles Band Productions, Compass International Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Maybe this was all meant to be. This is our new way of life.” – Grant Williams

The Day Time Ended was a low budget sci-fi film put out by Charles Band Productions. I’ve reviewed a few of their films before. They aren’t pictures that receive much acclaim. In fact, they usually receive disdain for their terribly crafted plots, bad acting and laughable special effects.

While this was featured on the most recent season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it isn’t the first movie by Charles Band Productions that was featured on the show. MST3K also featured Laserblast and that episode went on to be one of their most popular.

Now I can’t call this film unimaginative. And really, other pictures from this studio do seem to have some originality and some creative ambition. Sadly, they’re just executed so poorly and in the case of this movie, it’s a gigantic clusterfuck of too many ideas and concepts battling it out over which is the focal point.

The story is about a house in the desert that somehow time travels do to the effects of a triple supernova and aliens. I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing. Anyway, we get a family holed up in a house and then a barn, as they experience all kinds of zany phenomena: aliens, reptile monsters, a weird UFO drone thing that gets in the house and probably twelve other threats my mind expunged within five minutes.

This is a really f’n weird motion picture. It’s not horrible though, it’s kind of interesting with all its batshittery.

I mean, it’s not a good movie, but I was able to be engaged by it, even if it threw shoddy curveballs right at my face, one after the other for 79 minutes straight.

This is one of those movies that works really well for the MST3K format. It’s not so bad that it’s dull but it is strange and unique enough to provide solid riffing material.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi schlock from Charles Band Productions: Laserblast, Parasite and Metalstorm.

Film Review: City On Fire! (1979)

Also known as: La Cité en feu (Canadian French title)
Release Date: May 24th, 1979 (Germany)
Directed by: Alvin Rakoff
Written by: Jack Hill, Dave Lewis, Celine La Freniere
Music by: Matthew McCauley, William McCauley
Cast: Barry Newman, Susan Clark, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, James Franciscus, Ava Gardner, Henry Fonda

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Astral Films, Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), AVCO Embassy Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“All it takes is one man, could be anybody… your neighbor, my neighbor… one man to destroy a city.” – Chief Albert Risley

How can a movie that boasts the talents of Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Leslie Nielsen be absolutely abominable? Well, if it’s an all-star ensemble thrown into a ’70s “made for TV” disaster movie, there’s your answer.

These things were rarely good. Actually, I don’t think they were ever good. Now some disaster movies are fun but those were the big Hollywood blockbusters for the big screen and only the first few at the beginning of the 1970s obsession with urban apocalypse pictures.

This one sees some disgruntled worker deliberately cause a fire at an oil refinery, which is apparently enough to burn down an entire city. Well, if you can suspend disbelief and watch this thing unfold like an unfunny version of Curb Your Enthusiasm where the city is Larry and the fire is spread by everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong at every turn.

City On Fire! is a compilation of brain farts captured on celluloid. There isn’t much about it that is worth anyone’s time and it has no redeeming factors. It’s boring, dumb and you’ll only feel sadness for the talented actors wedged into this flaming shit show.

But hey, it was lampooned on the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local TV in Minnesota. They never resurrected this once the show went national on Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel and that’s probably for the best. It was alright to sit through once and didn’t need to be dusted off and replayed like a few other films from that inaugural season.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other terrible “made for TV” disaster movies.

Film Review: Phantasm (1979)

Also known as: Morningside (working title), Zombies (Pakistan), The Never Dead (Australia)
Release Date: January, 1979 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Malcolm Seagrave
Cast: Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Angus Scrimm

New Breed Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You play a good game, boy, but the game is finished. Now you die.” – The Tall Man

I watched a lot of horror movies as a kid. I saw a lot of scary shit that I probably shouldn’t have for my age demographic in the ’80s. But I was pretty desensitized to it all at a young age and most horror films didn’t scare me, they just amused and entertained me. Phantasm, however, was one of the few that terrified me to the point that I remembered the details of it.

I had pretty vivid memories of certain scenes in this film and their effect on my psyche. Once I revisited it in my early teen years, I was still creeped out by it but I was fine and no longer scared. But something about it just resonated with my soul. It’s not a perfect movie but it has this dark mysterious quality that taps into your mind and takes it on a bizarre and incredible journey of sheer terror.

Phantasm, is one of my all-time favorite films and in my top five for the horror of its era. It is light years ahead of anything being pumped out in modern times.

What’s really damn cool about it, is that it has a very solid classic horror vibe to it, while being very ’70s in style. It’s not a slasher picture but in people’s minds, because of the time of its release and having such an iconic monster, it is often brought up in slasher conversations. Really, it is more of a dark sci-fi/fantasy film with an antagonist that would make a formidable slasher but why get your hands too dirty when you have midget minions from Hell and killer spheres to do your bidding?

What makes this so compelling is the story. It is hard to describe without spoiling too much but it is really original and well crafted. Don Coscarelli has a hell of an imagination and nothing else is quite like Phantasm. It’s world is strange, mysterious and even after five films, you still want to understand it. All you ever really get is glimpses and clues to help you connect some dots. But honestly, not fully explaining it is probably why it is so terrifying and effective. Peeking behind the curtain too much would ruin the experience.

Apart from the story, this motion picture has an incredible atmosphere, which is the product of a stupendous score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave, as well as incredible cinematography and set design. The mausoleum feels otherworldly and the rest of the funeral home is visually vivid and surreal.

The special effects are top notch for their time. The flying killer spheres still look fantastic today and even though I know a lot about practical effects from this time period, I’m still amazed at how well Coscarelli pulled these shots off. Also, the scene with the guy getting his head drilled and then the blood spurting out is also masterfully crafted. Then that moment where the guy dies and you see urine pool out near his feet was just great attention to detail and realism that didn’t need to be there but Coscarelli still put the time in making that subtle effect.

I can’t praise Angus Scrimm enough for how well he played the Tall Man. Granted, we’ve never seen another actor step into the role but he just has this brooding presence and a real gift at being able to speak with nothing more than facial expressions. It reminds me of some of the great horror actors of the silent film era.

I adore this movie. A year hasn’t gone by in my life, since I was a teen, where I haven’t watched this at least once. I’m reviewing it now because I just had the pleasure of watching the digitally remastered version, which is exclusive to Shudder. If you have Shudder, you need to watch this near masterpiece there.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Phantasm sequels but this is and will always be the best of the series.

Film Review: The Driller Killer (1979)

Release Date: June 15th, 1979
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Nicholas St. John
Music by: Joseph Delia
Cast: Abel Ferrara (as Jimmy Laine), Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth

Navaron Films, 96 Minutes, 94 Minutes (edited), 101 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Hey, while I was in the pizza parlor, this creepy old man came up to me and said, “sweetie, you don’t have to kiss to make babies.” So, I waited until it was about time to leave with the pizza, so I walked right up to him and said out loud, “I know, but you still gotta fuck!”” – Pamela

The Driller Killer is one of those movies that I think a lot of people love based off of memories from long ago. It was certainly controversial and was even banned in the UK, which helped to make its legend grow.

The problem with The Driller Killer is that it just isn’t a good film and it’s actually incredibly boring and doesn’t really get going until the last third of the movie.

Also, it is heralded as a gore fest but there are literally dozens of films with a lot more gore than this. I think the fear of getting murdered with a power drill is just an incredibly scary thought and the brutality of the idea is more terrifying than what actually happens on screen in this film.

I haven’t seen this in a really long time and my mind remembered something much more bloody than this. Or maybe I saw the director’s cut, back in the day, and didn’t realize that I was watching that version. What I just watched recently was the version that Amazon Video has for rent.

Everyone has to start somewhere though and Abel Ferrara would go on to make some good films after this. Most notably, King of New York and Bad Lieutenant.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Other gore filled pictures of the era: Cannibal HolocaustCannibal Feroxetc.

Film Review: Alien (1979)

Release Date: May 25th, 1979
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 117 Minutes, 116 Minutes (2004 Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Ripley, for God’s sake, this is the first time that we’ve encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.” – Ash, “Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid. Who knows what it’s gonna do when it’s dead.” – Ripley, “I think it’s safe to assume it isn’t a zombie.” – Ash

I saw Alien on the big screen once before. I think it was in 1999 when it was re-released for its twentieth anniversary. Granted, I can’t miss the opportunity to see this or its first sequel when they come back to theaters. Both are perfection and both are very different. While people have debated for decades, which film is better, I still can’t decide. Why can’t they both be the best? I mean, they are perfect compliments to one another because of the different things that each brings to the table, setting them apart narrative wise and tonally.

Where Aliens is a badass action thriller, the original Alien is really a pure horror movie set in space. The Alien formula was actually so effective, that people are still ripping this film off today. Almost every year, there is at least one film dealing with an isolated crew battling a dangerous creature in tight confines, whether it be a spaceship, an underwater facility or some science research base in the middle of nowhere. Alien is still the best of these kind of films, although John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very, very close second.

What makes this film work is how dark and how cold it is. Everything just comes off as bleak and hopeless. The film has incredible cinematography and its really unlike anything that was made before it. A lot of the visual allure, as well as the film’s looming sense of doom, is due to the design work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. His style is like German Expressionism from the future in that it is dark, disorienting but also very tech-like and beautiful. Giger’s art is very unique and very much his own. Without Giger, I feel like Alien would have been a very different film.

With as iconic as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has become and as synonymous with the franchise as she is, it is weird seeing her not being the top billed star. That honor goes to Tom Skerritt but Ripley does become the focal point and Weaver gives a great performance, even if she isn’t as incredibly badass as she would become in the next film.

This film benefits from having a pretty amazing cast, though. In addition to Skerritt and Weaver, you’ve got Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Veronica Cartwright. All seven of these people have had pretty impressive careers with multiple notable roles.

The film is also directed by Ridley Scott, who has gone on to resurrect the franchise with new energy since he returned to the series with Prometheus in 2012 and then followed it up with the lackluster but still interesting Alien: Covenant in 2017.

Alien is still a very effective film and even if I have seen it dozens of times, there are certain parts in the movie where I still get chills. The effects hold up really well and still look damn good. And even if the sets and computers look really outdated for a movie set in the future, it still has a certain aesthetic that just works for me.

All things considered, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about the film. It moves at a nice pace, builds suspense effectively, still feels chilling and has aged magnificently.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Other Alien films and Blade Runner.

 

Film Review: Moonraker (1979)

Release Date: June 26th, 1979 (UK)
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Mr. Bond, you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you.” – Hugo Drax

Moonraker was a direct sequel to The Spy Who Loved Me. However, it didn’t carry on that story, it just sort of picked up where it left off with James Bond leaving behind his mission involving the Russians and immediately crossing paths with the previous film’s evil henchman, Jaws.

I was always a fan of Jaws and Richard Kiel, in general. So seeing him return was really cool and also, by the end of the film, he falls in love and redeems himself, helping Bond and Dr. Holly Goodhead escape potential death.

Now this film is met with a lot of disdain from many in the fan community. It seems that a lot of people hated the heavy science fiction element and thought that it was a cheap attempt at trying to capitalize off of the success of Star Wars. It certainly was but I still liked it and it made the film standout in a sea of Bond pictures that can be easily confused for one another. Plus, who doesn’t like clunky, loud lasers and awkward zero gravity sequences? Also, when the shuttle doors open and a squad of battle ready astronauts swarm towards the Moonraker space station and its battle ready astronauts, I can’t help but smile. The action plays out like something you’d see in the original Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers In the 25th Century.

Roger Moore is his typical cheesy self but he still brings the right amount of gravitas to his version of the Bond role. While the Moore films might be the hokiest of the franchise and Moonraker may be the hokiest of them all, it just works for me and I have always appreciated Moore’s contributions to the series. His films are certainly his and he brought a lightheartedness that worked for his time, even if it would be scoffed at in the modern era.

Michael Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax is one of the most memorable villains in the Bond mythos. He is certainly one of the top dogs not to be associated with SPECTRE. Plus, his plot is incredibly ambitious and impressive, in a way that others before him and many after, could never feasibly pull off. If it wasn’t for Drax and his scheming, Bond would have never needed to go to outer space. Some of you may think that’s great but I liked this space adventure.

Lois Chiles was a decent female lead but she had large shoes to fill after Barbara Bach’s appearance in the previous film. While she isn’t as good as Bach, she was believable in her role, was damn pretty and got to crack some skulls, here and there.

I like Moonraker a lot more than most people. I’m a sucker for cheese if it is the right kind. This is well-aged, perfectly sliced and served on a silver platter: cheese of the highest quality.

Rating: 7/10