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.

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.