Film Review: Teen-Age Strangler (1964)

Also known as: Terror In the Night (re-release title)
Release Date: 1964
Directed by: Ben Parker
Written by: Clark Davis
Music by: Danny Dean
Cast: Bill Bloom, John Ensign, Jo Canterbury, John Humphreys

Ajay Film Company, American Diversified Services, Original Six, 61 Minutes

Review:

“And he didn’t steal no bike either! I did!” – Mikey Walton

Mystery Science Theater 3000 never ran short of juvenile delinquent movies from the ’50s and ’60s and this picture is just one more to add to the list.

While this is a terrible movie, it’s kind of interesting in that this one is a proto-slasher film. There isn’t any actual slashing but there is a serial killer that is targeting teens and strangling them to death. I guess you could also consider this an American giallo, although it’s devoid of a vibrant color palette and anything resembling actual style.

This only clocks in at 61 minutes but it is still a slog to get through. It lacks excitement is littered with bad acting, questionable directing decisions and it’s a “how to” on how not to light a film.

It has an interesting enough plot though, as it’s about a delinquent kid suspected of the murders, who is actually innocent, but has no alibis to deflect suspicion.

In the end, the killer isn’t even a juvenile delinquent so maybe by 1964, these films were making some social progress and didn’t blame everything on angst-y teens in car/biker culture.

Despite all its flaws, it does have one thing working for it and that’s the light rockabilly score by Danny Dean, who is probably most known for fronting the rockabilly band Danny Dean and The Homewreckers. While that band wasn’t massively successful, Dean was a pretty talented musician for his scene and his contribution in this film, at the very least, gives it a feeling of authenticity.

Sadly, the film itself doesn’t do much to capitalize off of the tunes and mostly cancels out Dean’s work, as everything else is so lackluster that it drowns out the positives.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other juvenile delinquent movies that made it on to MST3K.

Film Review: First Blood (1982)

Also known as: Rambo (Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Venezuela), Rambo: First Blood (informal title)
Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Written by: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: First Blood by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, David Caruso

Anabasis N.V., Elcajo Productions, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I could have killed’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!” – Rambo

I wanted to see Rambo: Last Blood in the theater. But when it came out, I had a lot going on and next thing I knew, it was out of my local cinema. It’s out digitally now but before finally watching it, I thought I’d start way back at the beginning and work my way through the franchise, as I haven’t watched any of these in at least a decade.

First Blood is the best film, at least from my memory. But my opinion doesn’t really seem to be that different from the general consensus. And after revisiting it, I think the other ones have their work cut out for them, as this still holds up and hits the same notes it did when I first saw it, a few decades ago.

This is the most serious and dramatic of the films and Stallone is pretty damn stellar in this. He carries the entire film on his back and shows why he was one of the biggest action movie stars of all-time. People will always debate who was better between Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger but this film, like the original Rocky, shows that Stallone was the better actor.

The story here is simple, Rambo is a Vietnam veteran that just happens to be traveling on foot through a small town. He draws the attention of a bigoted sheriff that thinks it’s wise to fuck with Rambo. Both men push each other back a little bit and it escalates into the police going on a manhunt for a legitimately deadly soldier that knows how to use his wild environment to his extreme advantage.

What sets this film apart from the other Rambo movies is that this one has a clear message that really resonated at the time that it was released. It’s a straight up action movie, for sure, but beyond that, it examines the treatment of Vietnam veterans by their own country once they got home from the hell that was the Vietnam War.

The film conveys its message quite well and Stallone’s final moments in this film really show the audience the horrors and the effects of war on those who are closest to it. You sympathize with Rambo, you feel what he’s feeling in your gut and its hard not to truly feel his emotion and pain as he breaks down in the arms of his former commander.

In regards to the bulk of the film, which is action, everything is wonderfully shot and executed. I love the look of this picture, the choice of using the Pacific Northwest and how it becomes Rambo’s real weapon against a corrupt, power mad sheriff and his police force.

I also like the final act of the film which brings Rambo back into town for a showdown with the sheriff. Speaking of which, Brian Dennehy was pretty good as the slimeball sheriff and this is the role that helped to give him a pretty solid and respectable career.

One thing that really takes this movie to the next level is the Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s pretty perfect, especially in how it gives extra energy to the spectacle of the action heavy sequences.

First Blood is still a damn good motion picture to watch and it carries a message that is still relevant while not being too heavy handed, allowing the movie to still entertain you. Modern Hollywood could learn a lot from First Blood in that it doesn’t sacrifice story and character to force feed its audience an agenda. It presents its message and allows you to digest it, think on it and then do what you will with it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo films, as well as Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action movies.

Film Review: Frankenweenie (1984)

Release Date: December 14th, 1984 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Lenny Ripps, Tim Burton
Music by: Michael Convertino, David Newman
Cast: Barret Oliver, Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, Joseph Maher, Paul Bartel, Sofia Coppola, Jason Hervey

Walt Disney Productions, 29 Minutes

Review:

“I guess we can’t punish Victor for bringing Sparky back from the dead.” – Ben Frankenstein

There was a time when Tim Burton was my favorite director. That was mainly due to a string of movies from the mid-’80s through 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. Things went a bit sideways in the ’00s but I still have a lot of love for his first few decades as a director, especially his two early short films: Vincent and this one, Frankenweenie.

This would go on to be remade by Burton, years later, into a feature length animated film. While I’ve never seen that one, I can’t imagine it captured the magic and charm of this original live action short film. I’ll probably give it a watch in the near future though, as I’ve been meaning to for quite some time.

Focusing back on this film though, it’s a lighthearted and heartwarming piece that showcases how damn good Barret Oliver was as a child actor. While he doesn’t get as much time in this as he did in The NeverEnding Story and D.A.R.Y.L., this is my favorite performance of his and he’s definitely the glue that keeps this movie together, even though Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern are also wonderful in this.

The story is an homage of the classic Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley. However, in this, Frankenstein is a boy and he uses the power of lightning to resurrect his bull terrier, who was hit by a car in the opening of the film.

Initially, this was made to be paired up with the theatrical re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but upon seeing it, Disney executives thought it was too dark for little kids. They were wrong, as I would have loved this as a kid just as I had loved Gremlins earlier that same year. I was five years-old at the time but I think us ’80s kids weren’t total pussies like the kids today… but I digress.

Frankenweenie plays like an episode of an anthology television series; Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories immediately comes to mind. It’s a really good length, covers a lot of ground but also has enough time to develop these characters in a way that makes you care for them.

Tim Burton showed tremendous talent with this short film and I’m sure it played a big part in him getting his first feature film gig, directing the original Pee-wee Herman movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the feature length animated remake, as well as the Tim Burton short film Vincent and his animated feature The Corpse Bride.

TV Review: The Witcher (2019- )

Original Run: December 20th, 2019 – current
Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski
Music by: Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
Cast: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Eamon Farren, Anya Chalotra, Joey Batey, MyAnna Buring, Royce Pierreson, Mimi Ndiweni, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Anna Shaffer, Mahesh Jadu

Netflix, Pioneer Stilking Films, Platige Image, Sean Daniel Company, One of Us, Cinesite, 8 Episodes (so far), 47-67 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

As someone who has never read any of The Witcher books or played any of the video games, I went into this pretty blindly. But I really wanted a dark fantasy television show that worked for me, as I was never a fan of Game of Thrones but have always loved the genre apart from that show. Also, I like Henry Cavill and he seemed pretty excited for the world to finally see this.

I wasn’t too keen on the first episode, I thought it was alright and I might not have watched beyond that if the first season wasn’t a short run of just eight episodes. But I’m glad I did because about midway through, everything sort of clicked and I ended up enjoying this quite a bit.

The show starts off with a weird pace, as different characters exist in different timelines. That’s not made clear until episode four or so but once you come to that realization, things flow better.

I thought that the world created for the show was pretty cool. The environment changes quite a bit as they travel and it doesn’t feel like it’s stuck in the same place.

The acting is superb, especially the scenes that feature Henry Cavill. However, Anya Chalotra steals just about every scene that she is in, which is impressive as she doesn’t have a whole lot of screen experience and frankly, I didn’t know who she was before this.

It’s hard to say how good this will be going forward but the first season does a good job of setting up the universe for these characters to play in. Plus, it’s made me want to try out one of the games.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other fantasy action television shows. Some would say Game of Thrones but I never liked that show and this is superior.

Film Review: The Trip (1967)

Also known as: A Lovely Sort of Death (working title), LSD (Denmark), Os Hippies (Portugal)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Jack Nicholson
Music by: Mike Bloomfield, The Electric Flag
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 82 Minutes, 79 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“It was a heavy trip. I slept for 36 hours, man. Blind. That was my last trip on Roybal, I’ll tell you that.” – Max

The Trip… is just that, maaan…

Written by the Jack Nicholson, directed by Roger Corman and starring regular Nicholson and Corman collaborators: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller and Luana Anders, this movie about a man’s actual LSD trip is much better than I thought it would be.

It’s not that I expected this to be bad, by any means, but most movies about drug trips aren’t that well done and they just rely on unreliable narrators, weird visuals for the sake of weird visuals and nothing making a whole lot of sense and being left open for any sort of interpretation.

The Trip, on the other hand, is very clearly written and directed in a way that feels pretty authentic to the LSD experience. Knowing that Jack Nicholson had some experience with the drug, as well as stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern, this film is able to go places that similar films can’t. I’m not sure if Corman ever partook but he had enough people around him to help steer the ship.

The film does greatly benefit from Corman’s experience on his horror films, especially his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Reason being, those Poe movies usually had some sort of trippy sequence that saw their star, usually Price, go through some sort of haunted dream or hallucination. Corman, in those films, would experiment with trippy camera angles, lighting, lenses and all sorts of other tricks and special equipment that would give the viewer a sense of uncomfortable otherworldliness. He takes those skills that he developed in the few years before this and then applies them here and ups the ante quite a bit, making this his mindfuck magnum opus.

The Trip also benefits greatly from the acting of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. All three guys commit to the bit, take this all very seriously and make a compelling and thought provoking picture that with less capable actors would’ve probably just been a throwaway druggie movie for the middle class hippies of the day.

This isn’t Corman’s best picture or the best that Jack Nicholson has worked on creatively, but it is still a lot better than most of the films like it and I honestly enjoy it more than Easy Rider, which featured a lot of the same people behind and in front of the camera, as well as a hell of a lot more mainstream recognition.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time.

Film Review: The Green Slime (1968)

Also known as: Ganmā Daisan Gō: Uchū Daisakusen (original Japanese title), After the Destruction of Space Station Gamma: Big Military Operation, Battle Beyond the Stars, Death and the Green Slime, Gamma #3 Big Military Space Operation, The Battle of Space Station Gamma (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 6th, 1968 (Trieste Sci-Fi Film Festival – Italy)
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: William Finger, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair, Ivan Reiner
Music by: Toshiaki Tsushima
Cast: Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, Luciana Paluzzi

Lun Film, Ram Films Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Toei, 90 Minutes, 77 Minutes (laserdisc edit)

Review:

“Jack, do you realize that this is the first time that anything living has been found in space? Do you know how terribly important that is?” – Lisa Benson

The Green Slime is a really interesting movie for a multitude of reasons.

To start, it was the first film ever featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before the show was on national cable television and it was just a little show from a local Minneapolis TV station. And, honestly, it is much better than the standard level of schlock that MST3K features.

Additionally, the movie is a co-production between America’s MGM studios and Japan’s Toei studios, a production company primarily known for tokusatsu (Japanese sci-fi). Around the same time, Toei gave us Yongary, Monster From the Deep, Invasion of the Neptune Men and The Magic Serpent. They would also go on to create Super Sentai (a.k.a. Power Rangers), Kamen Rider, VR Troopers, Beetleborgs, as well as developing a major animation studio: Toei Animation.

On top of that, the production was made in Japan and in the Japanese tokusatsu style but it featured a cast of western and Italian actors. The most notable star is probably Luciana Paluzzi, who some might recognize from her role as Fiona Volpe (a.k.a. Number Ten), a member of the villainous SPECTRE in the classic James Bond picture Thunderball.

Now this movie looks just like you would expect, if you’ve watched ’60s tokusatsu films. While Toei wasn’t quite on the level of Toho, the studio behind Godzilla, the miniatures in this film are pretty decent and the sets work really well for what this is. In fact, this is one of the best looking and impressive productions that Toei had done up to this point. MGM co-financing the project may have a lot to do with that though.

The alien creatures are also pretty cool and while they look like normal tokusatsu-type monsters, they seem a little more refined and built with a greater emphasis on detail. They’re not fantastic alien creatures but they’re still damn cool and were effective as the threat in this picture.

I’m not sure why this has a 4.8 on IMDb but most people don’t enjoy the finer things in life like the tokusatsu aesthetic.

Out of all the movies that have been riffed on MST3KThe Green Slime is one of the best and shouldn’t be viewed as a film that belongs to be in the same company as something like Red Zone Cuba.

In fact, I’d say that this was around the same level as This Island Earth.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other tokusatsu movies that featured western actors, as well as ’60s non-kaiju tokusatsu in general.

Film Review: Scrooged (1988)

Also known as: Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (original script title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue
Based on: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, John Glover, David Johansen, Mary Ellen Trainor, Mabel King, John Murray, Wendie Malick, Brain Doyle-Murray, Lee Majors (cameo), Miles Davis (cameo), Robert Goulet (cameo), Paul Shaffer (cameo), Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Farr, Anne Ramsey, Logan Ramsey

Paramount Pictures, Mirage Productions, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the one good thing about regret: it’s never too late. You can always change tomorrow if you want to.” – Claire Phillips

Scrooged is my favorite Christmas movie that doesn’t fit in the action or horror genres, even though it has a wee bit of those two things. It’s a comedy starring the legendary Bill Murray and it was directed by Richard Donner, coming off of Lethal Weapon, Ladyhawke and The Goonies.

The film also has an all-star cast comprised of a few legends, a few solid character actors and the always lovely Karen Allen and Alfre Woodard.

It’s a modernized adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most famous story, A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray essentially plays Ebeneezer Scrooge but in this story, he’s named Frank Cross and he is the president of a major television network, stressed out over the live televised adaptation of A Christmas Carol that he is producing.

As can be expected with adaptations of this story, Cross is visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Future. He is taken on a journey through his life and is shown his fate if he doesn’t wise up and change his ways.

There aren’t any shocking twists or deviations from the traditional story structure of A Christmas Carol, other than setting it in contemporary times and modifying some of the smaller details to fit what was ’80s pop culture society.

The film has a good bit of crude humor but it’s nothing that’s off putting or that takes away from the spirit of Dickens’ classic story. In fact, I love the update and frankly, for the time that this came out in and the inclusion of Murray, this was probably the most palatable version of the story that had been adapted. It’s not strict to the source material but it benefits because of that while keeping the original plot structure intact.

Scrooged may feel dated to some and like a product of its time but it is a classic Christmas film for many, myself included, and it doesn’t get old. I think a lot of that has to do with the charisma supernova that is Bill Murray while the kind nature of Karen Allen, as well as the fantastic cast around Murray, make this something unique, special and entertaining.

Plus, there is just something perfect about Danny Elfman’s score in this film. It sets the tone for the picture immediately and it just accents and enhances the movie like a great musical score should.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other great non-traditional Christmas movies of the ’80s like Trading Places, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, Gremlins and Lethal Weapon.