Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

TV Review: Star Blazers (1979-1984)

Original Run: 1979-1984
Created by: Yoshinobu Nishizaki
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Space Battleship Yamato by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Hiroshi Miyagawa
Cast: Kenneth Meseroll, Eddie Allen, Amy Howard Wilson, Mike Czechopoulos, Jack Grimes, Chris Latta, Lydia Leeds, Corinne Orr, Gordon Ramsey, Tom Tweedy

Academy Productions, Group TAC, Yomiuri TV, Claster Television, Sunwagon Productions, Westchester Film Corporation, ARP Films, Inc., 77 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I know that I watched Star Blazers way, way back in the day. I was certainly very young when I saw it, which had to be around the time that I first discovered Robotech. In fact, I remember thinking that they were the same universe and wasn’t sure how they fit together. But I was like six years-old and stupid.

I’ve always wanted to see this since then but the VHS and DVD sets were always too expensive for me to get the whole saga. However, I was able to access it through a friend recently and I’m glad to say that this is definitely on the level and as good as my little mind remembered it.

Star Blazers predates Robotech (or the original Macross) by about a decade and it is pretty clear that Robotech borrowed from this show very heavily. Robotech differs in that their fighter jets transform into robots but other than that, the shows are incredibly similar between space battleships, space fighter jets, all the primary characters being military personnel and fighting a humanoid alien race with bluish skin.

What’s very apparent is that Star Blazers is the godfather of what became anime television. Without this show, there might not have been Robotech (in all its incarnations), GundamEvangelion and the more recent Knights of Sidonia.

This show was a trendsetter and it inspired generations of sci-fi creators. Star Blazers has exciting stories, fun characters, cool vehicles and a solid amount of cosmic swashbuckling. What’s not to like?

Frankly, this show is a bonafide classic in its genre.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: later Space Battleship Yamato shows and films, as well as ’80s Robotech stuff.

Film Review: Parts: the Clonus Horror (1979)

Also known as: The Clonus Horror (original title), Artificial Humans: Clone Farm (Asia English video title), Clonus Horror (Spain), Alter Ego (UK video title), Clonus (alternate title)
Release Date: August, 1979
Directed by: Robert S. Fiveson
Written by: Bob Sullivan, Ron Smith, Myrl A. Schreibman, Robert S. Fiveson
Music by: Hod David Schudson
Cast: Tim Donnelly, Paulette Breen, Dick Sargent, Peter Graves, Keenan Wynn, Frank Ashmore

Clonus Associates, Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd., 90 Minutes

Review:

“I think it’s time I start paying back this country for some of the good things it’s given me.” – Jeff Knight

This is one of the few Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I had never seen. I missed it way back in the day and it’s just eluded me ever since. But I’ve seen it now! Not that that’s something to be excited about because this motion picture is pretty dreadful.

I guess I could say that the story had some ambition to it but the people that had to give life to this interesting premise, failed in every way imaginable.

This is categorized as a horror film and even has “horror” in its title. It’s not very horrific though, so buffs of the genre aren’t going to get much out of this.

The story is about cloning gone amok. Everything takes place at a desert compound where people are cloned just to be harvested for their parts. The clones are basically enslaved and forced to work within the colony until they need to be cut up for rich people. The clones are also isolated from the rest of the world. As I’m typing the plot details, I get kind of excited. This sounds really compelling but again, all the creative ambition is lost in the movie’s poor execution.

As is common with films like this one, the acting is way below average and the script is a mess. Everything is just lackluster.

Parts: The Clonus Horror is mostly a waste of time. Unless you’re going to watch the MST3K version of it.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s/early ’80s sci-fi fare that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Mad Max (1979)

Also known as: Interceptor (Italy)
Release Date: April 12th, 1979 (Australia)
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: James McCausland, George Miller, Byron Kennedy
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Geoff Parry, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward

Kennedy Miller Productions, Crossorads, Mad Max Films, Roadshow Film Distributors, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am a rocker, I am a roller, I am an out-of-controller!” – Nightrider

The original Mad Max is quite different than its three sequels. It exists in a time where things aren’t as post-apocalyptic as they would become by just the second film in the series. Granted, the apocalypse seems to exist already, to an extent, but the world isn’t as empty and desolate as what we would see just three years later in The Road Warrior.

Max is a cop in this film and it is his duty to intercept terrible people that terrorize the Australian highways. He’s got a badass car, a cool jacket, cool glasses and eventually, an even more badass car.

As much as I enjoy this film, it is actually my least favorite of the four movies to date. It is high octane and balls to the wall nuts when the action is at its peak but it is also the slowest moving chapter in the franchise. But it was also the template for what would come and George Miller would continue to get better and learn new skills as the series rolled on.

This certainly isn’t a weak film, it’s very good. It just feels out of place when looked at within the context of the whole film series. As its own picture, independent of the other three, it’s a really good demolition derby on screen.

I think the thing that holds this back is it is more of an origin story. The thing is, Max doesn’t really become Mad Max until the end when a biker gang murders his wife and infant son. But that intense moment comes late in the film, which only gives us the true Max for the last ten or twenty minutes.

But don’t get me wrong, the story is good and it is necessary to set the stage for what comes after this picture. I’m just not a big fan of origin stories but that’s not this film’s fault, it’s due to how many superhero movies I’ve seen in my three-plus decades on this planet. But if I am being honest, Mad Max predates nearly all of those movies so it certainly isn’t derivative in that regard.

This film feels small though. Especially when compared to the installments after it. That’s also not a bad thing but everything after this has more of an epic feel to it. Also, the world is much more threatening once we move on past this chapter.

Mad Max is a solid motion picture and a good framework for the character and his world. I just seem to get more enjoyment from The Road Warrior and especially from Fury Road, which is damn close to perfection.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

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.