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.

Film Review: Rocky II (1979)

Release Date: June 15th, 1979
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Frank McRae

United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“I feel like a Kentucky Fried idiot.” – Rocky Balboa

Rocky II picks up right where Rocky left off but that was how most of these sequels worked and why all of the original five Rocky films seem like a long continuing narrative. This is the only one though, that feels like a true continuation but that’s mainly because of its quality and its similarity to the first. Plus, Rocky goes head-to-head with Apollo Creed, one more time.

And not to take anything away from the other sequels, I like them all, but it is necessary to point out that this one is almost as good as the first and it really feels like the second half of one larger story.

The premise sees Apollo questioning himself, after a nobody went the distance with him for fifteen rounds. He is the world champ and he let some bum come in and nearly usurp him as the top dog in the sport. While Rocky wants to live a life after fighting, Apollo constantly baits him and berates him publicly until Rocky decides to take the rematch and see if he has what it takes to defeat Apollo and become the world champion.

John G. Avildsen didn’t return to direct this chapter, so Stallone took the directorial reins himself and he did a pretty fine job. This was his second time behind the camera after 1978’s wrestling film Paradise Alley and it is a much better film than that one.

The majority of the cast returns and it’s actually great seeing them back. I love all these characters and getting to spend more time with them is great, even Joe Spinell’s Gazzo, the neighborhood loan shark.

The film explores the life of a fighter after fighting. Sadly, Rocky can’t find his place in the world and ultimately goes back to what he knows best. But all the while, he marries his love, has a son and rises to the challenge put before him.

Rocky II might not be as good as the original but it’s damn close. I love howe Bill Conti’s score evolved for this film and I love the banter between Rocky and Apollo. You see their admiration and respect for one another start to blossom, which would lead to a solid friendship in the films after this one.

Film Review: Angels Revenge (1979)

Also known as: Angels Brigade, Seven Angels
Release Date: February, 1979
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Greydon Clark, Alvin L. Fast
Music by: Gerald Lee
Cast: Sylvia Anderson, Lieu Chinh, Jacqueline Cole, Liza Greer, Robin Greer, Susan Kiger, Peter Lawford, Jack Palance, Jim Backus

Arista Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Women can make a difference!” – April

This film is almost completely unwatchable. Thankfully, it was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and they made it much more tolerable. Still, it is a real chore to sit through this thing and I’m a guy that will watch Jack Palance in anything.

These are what I call jigglevenge movies. It’s a movie where a bunch of big breasted women get together to get revenge on some man pig that is evil. In this case, these women band together to kill some man pig drug dealers. Of course, the big disappointment with this film is that these pretty girls wear unflattering jumpsuits for almost the entire film.

Although, they have a cool armored van that looks like a time traveling DeLorean had sex with the A-Team van. Then again, it is unimpressive and useless, as are the women piloting the thing. They could’ve outfitted it with all sorts of cool weapons and gadgets but that probably would’ve needed a budget and I’m pretty sure that all Jack Palance and Jim Backus got for doing this movie were two-for-one coupons they had to use together at Big Hector’s Enchilada Bus and Foot Massage.

Angels Revenge or Angels’ Brigade or Charlie’s Rejects is dumb, boring and pointless. It is obviously trying to ripoff a famous show featuring bad ass beauties also referred to as “Angels” but it isn’t a tenth of what that show was and that show wasn’t that great to begin with.

This is also rated PG, which really limits what this film can do in regards to expressing its sex appeal. I guess that’s why this jigglevenge movie has the jiggle contained in Super Dave Osborne jumpsuits. I mean there are a few bikini beach moments but nothing spectacular. Everyone looks bored and disinterested and that’s not sexy. Have you ever been to the strip club and the girls look bored and disinterested? It’s not a fun time and I’m certainly not buying any of them drinks or chow mein from Mr. Wu’s next door.

So considering the awfulness of this picture, it needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Although, I did like the line from the trailer where the narrator states, “…a fighting force of velvet bodies primed for action!” That alone saved this from getting a one out of ten rating but it’s not even a line in the movie, just genius marketing.

Film Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Release Date: December 7th, 1979
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Alan Dean Foster, Harold Livingston
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Grace Lee Whitney, Mark Lenard, Persis Khambatta, Stephen Collins

Paramount Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Touch God…? V’Ger’s liable to be in for one hell of a disappointment.” – Commander Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, M.D.

I feel like this chapter in the Star Trek franchise gets a bad rap.

Here’s the thing, it does not play like the films that came after it. This plays a lot more like an episode of the original television series, which should have been okay, actually. But I guess after Star Wars, two years prior to this, people wanted more action heavy science fiction. The film series rectified that after this picture, however.

The thing is, the reason why I liked Star Trek, as a kid, was because it was more than just sci-fi action. It went deeper philosophically and it tried to find solutions to problems and conflict without resorting to violence. This movie is an incredible example of that. But I get why it didn’t excite general audiences in the same way as Star Wars.

The mission in this film sees the original show’s crew reunite on a very updated version of the original Enterprise. They are sent to investigate a massive nebula looking space oddity that is traveling towards Earth and destroying anyone that comes close to it. The plot is really a mystery in trying to figure out what this massive thing is and what it wants. I really like the big reveal at the end and thought it was an imaginative idea that was executed well on screen. Others seem to differ on this but to me, it’s really just classic Star Trek in the best way.

Plus, the special effects are stunning and they still hold up quite well by today’s standards. The interior of the alien vessel is incredible and Spock’s journey through it was reminiscent of the final sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is bizarre but it’s supposed to be. It all just adds more to the mystery and enriches the mythos as it develops on screen. It isn’t so bizarre though, that it is a hard film to follow. It doesn’t sacrifice narrative for style, it is a good marriage of both actually. It also has its own unique look when compared to the television series and the films that came later. This is a truly unique sci-fi epic that looks beautiful.

Now it can feel slow at times and that bizarre wormhole experience is a distraction but the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

I really like this film. It is not my favorite in the series but it certainly isn’t as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.