Film Review: Flash Gordon (1980)

Release Date: September, 1980 (Turkey)
Directed by: Mike Hodges
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr., Michael Allin
Based on: characters by Alex Raymond
Music by: Queen, Howard Blake
Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Max von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Robbie Coltrane, Deep Roy, Kenny Baker

Starling Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, Famous Films, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” – Dale Arden

Far from great, this is still one of the coolest movies ever made. It’s certainly a product of its time, as it wants to exist on the same level as Star Wars but the rest of Hollywood hadn’t yet caught up to the magic that George Lucas possessed.

Regardless of that, this is still an enthralling motion picture that made the best out of all its parts, creating a one-of-a-kind, pulpy world that really felt like an update of the old school Flash Gordon serials it tried to emulate in many regards.

Also, this has more of a ’70s feel to it than ’80s. But it was technically made and shot in ’79, so there’s that.

Flash Gordon is overly fantastical and I mean that in a good way, as it’s so stylized and unique that it really stands out among a lot of the other epic science fiction space operas of its era.

The sets are incredible, as are the costumes. Sure, some things look ridiculously hokey, even for 1980, but they still work in this strange universe.

I thought that the cast was also solid, despite the lack of experience Sam J. Jones, who plays the film’s title character, had in front of the camera. He still shines and I’m surprised that this didn’t lead to bigger and better things. Although, he is overshadowed by some of the other actors, especially Max von Sydow, a legitimate veteran who seemed to be completely committed to the role of an evil, outer space madman hellbent on ruling the galaxy.

I also really dug Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed in this. They’ve been two of my favorite British actors over the course of my life and this is actually the first thing that I saw both of them in, way back when I was a young kid that rented this movie quite a lot.

Sadly but also understandably, I think that this film is mostly remembered for its music, as superstar rock band Queen did the film’s theme, as well as some other awesome tracks. Their music in this is spectacular and it makes the film so much cooler than it would have been without their iconic tunes. But really, between these songs and the film’s stupendous style, it’s like a perfect marriage.

All in all, this is a film with some flaws and it’s probably way too hokey for modern audiences but for the time, it worked. I just wish it had as much of a cultural impact as other big budget movies from that incredible era of live-action space operas.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi and fantasy films of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Also known as: Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (complete title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Luca Barbareschi, Perry Pirkanen

F.D. Cinematografica, 95 Minutes, 89 Minutes (heavily cut), 90 Minutes (animal cruelty free cut), 86 Minutes (Quebec version)

Review:

“Man is omnipotent; nothing is impossible for him. What seemed like unthinkable undertakings yesterday are history today. The conquest of the moon for example: who talks about it anymore? Today we are already on the threshold of conquering our galaxy, and in a not too distant tomorrow, we’ll be considering the conquest of the universe, and yet man seems to ignore the fact that on this very planet there are still people living in the stone age and practicing cannibalism.” – PABS Reporter

I’ve seen bits and pieces of this film over the years but I’ve never seen it uncut and in its entirety. If I’m being honest, I never had much urge to, as I’m not keen on gore and shock just for the sake of gore and shock.

Plus, the way the film has been described to me, by everyone for years, made it sound like it was just a fucked up piece of shit that gorehounds love without much merit or relevance beyond that.

What I ended up seeing, for the most part, was a well shot, competent film that is definitely shocking but nowhere near as fucked up as my head made it seem, after filling in the blanks based off of the comments and critiques I’ve heard for years.

Granted, I’m pretty desensitized to violence and gore and the only thing that really bothered me about the movie was the legitimate animal cruelty, which was completely unnecessary regardless of “the art” or “authenticity”. I also don’t say that as some hippie vegan; I love eating meat. However, brutalizing animals to get a shot in a film is unacceptable, regardless of how you want to chop that up… no pun intended.

Anyway, despite not hating it on an immense level, I still don’t like the movie and found it tough to get through regardless of the shocking content. While it has an interesting premise that could be explored, this wasn’t the first movie of its kind and I don’t know if it’s the best either. I’d gather that these things are pretty cookie cutter and they’re just the product of a short fad in the exploitation realm of Italian filmmaking.

I don’t really want to ever see another one of these cannibal films again and the only reason I even relented and watched this in the first place was because it was featured on Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In.

The truth is, I didn’t gain anything from seeing this, other than having more of an understanding about what the finished product is. But it’s really a film that I feel wasted the talents the filmmakers had.

As I’ve said, it was competently shot and there is a definite understanding of shot framing and the concept of mise-en-scène but that in no way makes it good; it just makes it better than the level of dreck I expected it to be.

The only other positive is its use of music. It uses certain musical tones almost ironically at some points and whether this was done intentionally or stupidly, it leaves an even more unsettling sensation than just the scene playing out on its own.

Ultimately, this is a really fucked up movie by a fucked up filmmaker that valued his terribly, shitty art over the lives of animals or the people in the film, who were forced into burning huts longer than they needed to be.

But hey, it got people talking! Am I right?

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other cannibal and gory, violent exploitation films of the era.

Film Review: Maniac (1980)

Release Date: May 10th, 1980 (Cannes)
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: C. A. Rosenberg, Joe Spinell
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Tom Savini, William Lustig

Magnum Motion Pictures Inc., 87 Minutes

Review:

“I told you not to go out tonight, didn’t I? Every time you go out, this kind of thing happens.” – Frank Zito

William Lustig made some really interesting horror films in his heyday. While I knew about Maniac Cop first, I spent a lot of my time in mom and pop video stores in the ’80s and discovered this at a pretty young age. It was one of those horror movies that left a lasting impact on me because I was much more scared of the real and plausible than I was of supernatural monsters or ghosts.

I definitely saw this film at a much younger age than I should have but us ’80s kids didn’t have great supervision and a lot of video stores would rent anything to anyone because society wasn’t overly pussified back then.

Anyway, this always had a special place in my mental nostalgia locker due to its impact on me, the fact that it has the mesmerizing Caroline Munro in it and because Joe Spinell was one of the coolest actors of his era. That could also be because I knew Spinell from the Rocky films and because he just has a very unique and memorable appearance. He, along with Dick Miller, were the two character actors that I started to notice in all the cool movies.

The one thing that is really cool about this picture is that it is American but it really has an Italian giallo style to it. Granted, it’s not as vivid, visually, and relies more on the gritty realism of New York City, at the time, but it still feels like it belongs in that very specific, short-lived genre.

I’ve talked before about how giallo kind of gave birth to the American slasher movie. This might actually be the best example of that. And while this isn’t specifically a slasher flick, as the killer uses guns and other tools, it really sort of bridges the gap between the two genres or styles.

Honestly, it just feels like it is both parts, a product of it’s influences and something that was a wee bit ahead of the cinematic horror trends. I don’t think any of that was something that Lustig thought about or planned for but it’s the way I see it and it really cements this film as one that is eternally relevant due to its significance to the larger picture.

Plus, this also has an awesome cameo by special effects maestro Tom Savini. The scene where he blows up his own head is one of the absolute best head splatter shots in motion picture history.

Also, this has an ending that is absolutely bonkers and kind of surprising.

Maniac isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but it is a culturally significant one for those who love these sort of flicks.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other William Lustig films, as well as late ’70s/early ’80s slasher flicks and Italian giallo.

Film Review: Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

Also known as: Fists of the White Lotus (alternative title)
Release Date: January 1st, 1980 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lo Lieh
Written by: Haung Tien
Music by: Eddie Wang
Cast: Lo Lieh, Gordon Liu, Kara Hui, Johnny Wang, Hsiao Ho

Shaw Brothers, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Why worry. He’s not my match at all. To come after us is like seeking death.” – Pai Mei

It’s been awhile since I’ve watched a movie with the Pai Mei character in it. While it may be surprising to some, he is not a Quentin Tarantino creation and has in fact been the villain in several Hong Kong kung fu movies over the years. He’s also based on a legendary historical figure, also referred to as Bak Mei.

Clan of the White Lotus is a pretty cool film that actually features Pai Mei quite a lot. The displays of his skill and power in this are really cool and creative and you get to see him fight a lot, which is always badass.

That being said, the fight choreography in this film is stellar and impressive, even for kung-fucianados. I love all the big battles between Pai Mei and the hero but all the other core characters pull their weight. I especially liked the girl in this, Kara Hui. Even her early training sequence was excellent.

A unique thing about this film is that it exists as both a sequel and sort of remake of the 1977 film, Executioners From Shaolin. The films feature the same main players and the Pai Mei character. Some may find it interesting that Gordon Liu, who later played Pai Mei in Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, plays the hero that must conquer him in this one.

Liu’s hero character gets his ass kicked early on by Pai Mei but then he studies the “embroidery technique” from Kara Hui’s character, which gives him the edge in the final battle. Essentially, this technique works like the antithesis to acupuncture. Here, instead of using needles to heal the body, Liu’s carefully placed needles break down Pai Mei to where he can be defeated. It’s an interesting and neat concept even if it’s a bit bonkers.

This is a fast paced, energetic and enjoyable kung fu flick. I can’t call it a classic of the genre but for fans of Tarantino that like to look at some of the film’s that have inspired his work, this is worth checking out.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Shaw Brothers kung fu films of the ’70s and ’80s, especially those featuring the Pai Mei character.

Film Review: Prom Night (1980)

Also known as: Bloody Midnight (Netherlands)
Release Date: July 18th, 1980
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Written by: William Gray, Robert Guza Jr.
Music by: Paul Zaza, Carl Zittrer
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen

Guardian Trust Company, Prom Night Productions, Simcom Limited, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Killer’s coming! Killer’s gonna get you!” – Young Wendy

I don’t know why there are a slew of slasher fans that seem to hold this in high regard. Is it because it’s got Jamie Lee Curtis in it? Because she was also in Terror Train around the same time and that was kinda shit too. Granted, I enjoyed Terror Train more than this disco train wreck.

Weirdly, this also has Leslie Nielsen in it in a non-comedic role as the high school principal. But honestly, he’s barely in it.

Anyway, this is a pretty uninspiring slasher flick that’s fairly devoid of imagination or anything remotely cool. I mean, the only thing I kind of liked was the simple mask of the slasher but that’s mainly because it was a bit sparkly for some reason and that looked cool during the scenes at the disco themed prom.

Also, the decapitation that saw the prom king’s head land in the middle of the light-up dance floor was kind of cool too. But honestly, that’s all this film’s got.

The plot is about a group of kids that bully a young girl and accidentally push her out of a window, killing her. They get away with it for awhile but there is a person who witnessed the incident and that’s the same person who puts on the mask and starts slicing teens on prom night, years later.

It’s not a wholly original plot, well maybe it was for 1980, as slasher flicks were still kind of new and just gaining in popularity. But regardless of that, it’s still pretty fucking pedestrian and some basic bitch shit.

My biggest problem with the movie though has to do with the pacing. It’s slow as absolute fuck and the good stuff doesn’t start happening until the very end. What that leaves us with is an hour of high school teen drama and shenanigans that isn’t very interesting and that is acted out by a cast of people that didn’t get any real work after this. Well, except for Curtis, who honestly just looks bored in this. I feel ya, babe.

Now this film would go on to inspire a much better sequel that had a cool supernatural twist to it. And I’ve already reviewed that one, since it was featured on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs a year or so ago. Just go watch that one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s/early ’80s slasher movies.

Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, William Finley (voice, uncredited)

Filmways Pictures, Cinema 77 Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi was making threats over the phone. She said she’s going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death. And now my razor is gone. Now you don’t have to be a detective to figure it out, do you?” – Doctor Robert Elliot

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this picture but if Brian De Palma’s early films are any indicator, I knew that this would be bizarre, artistic and intelligent.

And it was those three things but it was also damn compelling and honestly, damn impressive.

I loved this film and it’s a shame that I hadn’t seen it before this. It was intense, melodic, sweet, scary and most importantly, intriguing.

While this picture is very De Palma-esque, maybe the most De Palma-esque of the man’s work, it is also very Hitchcockian, as the narrative and the shot framing displays a young De Palma’s callback to Hitchcock’s style and tropes.

Still, this is very much De Palma’s composition and not a cheap attempt at trying to emulate one of the masters before him. Honestly, it comes off as a respectful homage that creates a familiar framework that De Palma could then artistically build off of.

This is also very much a noir story. It has twists, turns, mystery, secrets that evolve and a shocking reveal when all is said and done. It’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to do some of the stuff they did in the time that this was made.

What really solidifies this as a great movie, aside from the solid direction and story by De Palma, is the cast.

Nancy Allen really carries this movie once she becomes the focus. And honestly, I’ll always love Allen simply for being a huge part of RoboCop but I never really thought much of her as an actress. Not to say she’s bad, she’s perfectly fine. But in this film, she really got to do some daring things. Honestly, it has motivated me to check out De Palma’s Blow Out in the near future as it also features her under De Palma’s direction.

I was really impressed with Keith Gordon and Angie Dickinson as well.

Michael Caine also plays an very important role but it’s Michael Caine, so one should expect a damn fine performance because I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not deliver.

I’d love to go deeper into the story and analyze some of it but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s a film that needs to be seen without knowing much about the plot and a Google search will probably spoil some major details.

If you like De Palma, Hitchcock influenced cinema or neo-noir, than you’ll probably like this picture.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Brian De Palma films, especially Blow Out and Body Double.

Film Review: Humanoids From the Deep (1980)

Also known as: Monster (alternative title – racier version)
Release Date: May 16th, 1980
Directed by: Barbara Peeters, Jimmy T. Murakami (uncredited)
Written by: Frederick James, Frank Arnold, Martin B. Cohen
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, Lynn Schiller

New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Hold it! We think we know where these things come from, but we have no idea how many there are.” – Dr. Susan Drake

I remember seeing this film multiple times as a kid. Back then, I saw it on premium cable and usually late at night. However, the version I saw back then was tame in comparison to the one I just watched. So apparently there are different cuts of the movie and the one I just experienced for the first time was the “racier version” called Monster.

The big difference is a pretty shocking one, as the humanoid sea monsters in this version not only murder every piece of flesh they come in contact with but they also rape all the hot women in the movie that can’t get away. I had to do a double take each time this happened because I certainly would’ve remembered that detail had I seen it back in the ’80s.

I feel like this version of the film also had a lot more gore. The old cut I saw did have a good amount of blood and violence but this edit seemed to push it to another level. And maybe this was due to the censors circa 1980 thinking that sea-beast rape and clawed off faces were a bit too much.

In retrospect, the “racier version” comes off as a true drive-in classic that would draw the admiration and respect of the legendary Joe Bob Briggs. And frankly, I’d love to see him feature this cut of the film on The Last Drive-In.

Humanoids From the Deep was produced by Roger Corman and his studio, New World Pictures. It seems pretty fitting as this movie is very similar to a lot of Corman’s late ’50s and early ’60s creature features. Granted, this upped the ante in regards to tits and gore; it was a Corman feature for a new generation.

But like Corman’s earlier work, this features dudes in rubber suits and pretty hokey but awesome cheap, practical effects.

Overall, the plot is pretty simple. Sea-men rise from the ocean to rape and kill people in a small coastal town. Everything comes to a big crescendo at the town’s big fair, which happens to be set up right next to the water.

The acting and direction are about what one would expect from a flick put out by New World.

While this isn’t a fantastic film, it’s still a pretty good time for fans of ’80s horror with a good amount of onscreen violence.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman produced creature features, C.H.U.D.The Beast Within and Piranha.

Film Review: Contamination (1980)

Also known as: Contamination – Alien arriva sulla Terra (Italy), Alien Contamination (US cut version title), Toxic Spawn (US video title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Luigi Cozzi
Music by: Goblin
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn

Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film, Cannon Films, 95 Minutes, 84 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Help! Let me out! There’s an egg!” – Colonel Stella Holmes

In Italy, at least back in the ’70s and ’80s, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about copyrights. So this was made as a “sequel” to Ridley Scott’s Alien, even though the only similarity it shares with that film is aliens. But these aliens are pretty much just slimy pods that look like inside out kiwis.

Overall, this isn’t a very good movie but for a 1980 horror picture from Italy, it fits that style and is actually better than a lot of the similar riffraff.

Luigi Cozzi wrote and directed this and it is one of his better films. I thought that the story was decent and I was at least engaged by it. There weren’t many dull moments and even if the aliens were bizarre and hokey, the film had an atmosphere that worked and made them haunting.

I think a lot of what makes this film work is the soundtrack by Goblin. I believe the band had a different lineup than when they worked on the Suspiria soundtrack but they still provide surrealist noise that sometimes has a melody but mostly just sets the tone, generating a sort of uneasiness in the viewer.

My favorite thing about this movie is the special effects. They’re practical, they’re cheap but when bodies start bursting from exposure to alien pods, it all comes off really damn good and it has stood the test of time. That opening scene where the scientists in hazmat suits are exploding all over the place is still effective.

Contamination is Italian horror schlock but it’s entertaining Italian horror schlock with a good amount of fun, explosive gore; the type of gore I like most because it’s not there to gross you out, it’s just there to shock you and catch you by surprise.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Luigi Cozzi horror films, as well as movies by Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Release Date: November, 1980 (Paris Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Terry Marcel
Written by: Terry Marcel, Harry Robertson
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O’Farrell, W. Morgan Sheppard, Patrick Magee

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Marcel/Robertson Productions Limited, Chips Productions, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Now this must stay a secret between you and me. Not only will I bring back the head of this Hawk, but I’ll have the gold as well. Then Voltan will see who is the lord of the dance.” – Drogo

This movie is equal parts bizarre and funky.

While that may sound like a strange description, it makes this a very unique sword and sorcery tale with a lot of style.

First of all, the movie has an incredibly energetic and cool score. Harry Robertson, who also was one of the picture’s writers, created some interesting music that at first, might not seem like it fits within the genre but once the film really gets going, it transforms it into something otherworldly in the best way possible.

Also, the film’s style is partially defined by the filmmakers’ love of glow-y things. There are a lot of neat lighting effects employed within the weapons throughout the movie, as well as magical items and other majestic things within the picture that apparently needed some sort of neon flourish. This flick looks like a bunch of medieval era people crashing through an ’80s candy store at the mall.

The acting is pretty much at the level one would expect from a film like this but Jack Palance definitely stands out and embraces the madness of his character. He could have looked a wee bit cooler but his performance isn’t too dissimilar to Frank Langella’s Skeletor from the 1987 Masters of the Universe live action film.

Patrick Magee also pops up in this in a minor role but he grabs onto you like he always does. He’s always got a certain kind of intensity and his role here is no different.

This isn’t my favorite sword and sorcery movie but it is still a really cool addition to the genre and certainly stands out on its own.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies from the ’80s.

Film Review: Alligator (1980)

Also known as: El cocodrilo mortal (Peru, Columbia), Der Killer-Alligator (Germany)
Release Date: November 13th, 1980 (Argentina)
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: John Sayles, Frank Ray Perilli
Music by: Craig Hundley
Cast: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael V. Gazzo, Dean Jagger, Henry Silva, Sydney Lassick

Group 1 Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

“How about cats? I got plenty of cats. I also got a parrot I’d like to get rid of.” – Gutchel

Alligator is just one of many Jaws ripoffs. However, this one takes the animal horror carnage and puts it on land. In fact, the killer beast in this movie gets urban, as he terrorizes a city: eating a kid in a swimming pool, eating people at a opulent wedding and snacking on idiots that go into the sewers. The scene where the alligator bursts up through the street while kids are playing baseball is fantastic.

This is one of those movies that used to be on cable almost weekly in the ’80s and early ’90s. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and well, it still amuses me. Also, it was really my introduction to the great Robert Forster. I mean, I’m pretty sure I saw this before I saw him in The Black Hole. I definitely saw this before Forster’s grittier ’70s stuff and then his resurgence in the ’90s with films like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Forster is a man’s man and he’s no different here, as he makes it his mission to snuff out this giant gator.

I think that this film resonated with me the most out of all the killer animal movies because I grew up in South Florida and this seemed plausible to me. But at that time, I also believed that Cobra had bases in the Everglades and were doing experiments to create weapons to rule the world and destroy G.I. Joe.

Anyway, this film feels very early ’80s but it’s aged well for what it is. The special effects still look good and they are still quite effective. I’d rather watch this any day over some CGI killer gator movie. The practical effects just work so well in this low budget affair and I have to give props to the effects artists that brought the gator to life.

The wedding scene is superb, especially for 1980, and even though a few shots and angles may look a bit hokey, it doesn’t diminish the impact of the scene. I mean, that wedding sequence is batshit crazy but it is better than any big carnage scene from any of the other killer animal movies of the time.

Alligator is just a killer movie, pun intended. You don’t watch these sort of things for acting and stellar directing, you watch them to see people get chomped to bits. This accomplishes that and actually does it better than one would think.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal movies from the late ’70s/early ’80s: Jaws, Piranha, Orca, Grizzly and Alligator II: The Mutation from 1991.