Film Review: The Black Hole (1979)

Also known as: Space Station One, Space Probe (working titles)
Release Date: December 18th, 1979 (London premiere)
Directed by: Gary Nelson
Written by: Gerry Day, Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Barbash, Richard Landau
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall (voice – uncredited), Slim Pickens (voice – uncredited), Tom McLoughlin

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[to Reinhardt] If there’s any justice at all, the black hole will be your grave!” – Kate McCrae

I love science fiction from this era but that’s also probably because it’s the sci-fi I grew up with in the ’80s.

The Black Hole was always one of my favorite films when I was really young and I wore out the VHS tape in the same way I did TRON, The Last Starfighter, Logan’s Run and the original Star Wars trilogy.

This is just incredibly imaginative, a ton of fun and it channels 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea quite well.

The film is about a small crew in a small vessel that come across a seemingly derelict spaceship of massive size. The ship, the Cygnus, sits at the edge of a black hole. However, the small crew soon discover that the ship is inhabited by a scientist named Reinhardt, who is essentially Captain Nemo in space. And with Maximilian Schell playing the role, he comes across with the same sort of eloquent authority as James Mason’s Nemo from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues.

The rest of the cast is also solid, especially the three male character actors: Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine. Not to mention the sweet and lovely Yvette Mimieux and the uncredited voice performances by Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who play the two good robots.

As the story rolls on, we discover Reinhardt’s sinister plan, meet his robot army and also discover that many of his robot crew are the deceased, zombie-like crew members that have been modified by Reinhardt to serve his nefarious purposes and fulfill what he sees as his destiny: entering the black hole.

Even though this came out two years after the original Star Wars, the film shows what almost all other sci-fi films of the time show, that big studios hadn’t yet caught up to the artistry and special effects mastery of George Lucas and Lucasfilm. But that’s okay, as late ’70s into early ’80s science fiction almost has its own unique style apart from Star Wars.

The Black Hole is visually similar to films like Logan’s Run and Saturn 3, as well as shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In the 25th Century. However, The Black Hole feels more fantastical and looks better than those other properties.

It is both dark and bright, it uses a lot of color in almost a vivid and vibrant giallo style while employing shadows, high contrast and the use of electronic starship instruments to accent the general cinematography. The film also does a fine job of creating an environment that feels as cold as space, despite its liveliness.

The one thing that really works in this film, above all else, is the musical score. This is my favorite soundtrack that John Barry has composed outside of his more famous James Bond work. The opening overture followed by the opening credits and title theme are stupendous and set the stage for something sinister, brooding and cool.

By the end, the movie gets really bizarre and kind of channels Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the score is really the glue that holds all the pieces together, allowing you to embrace this unique and neat motion picture.

They don’t make films like this anymore. And I don’t mean that in regards to the visual style and the dated effects. What I mean is in the way this tells a compelling story with a good adventure, some real darkness and a sort of coolness that Hollywood has lost.

I love The Black Hole because it really is cinematic magic. Modern audiences would probably disagree and think of it as a relic of the past that should probably be remade as a Disney+ exclusive movie starring Charlie Hunnam. But those people are dumb. Well, Disney has become dumb too, so this may happen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s and early ’80s sci-fi.

Film Review: Convoy (1978)

Release Date: June 28th, 1978
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Written by: B. W. L. Norton
Based on: the song “Convoy” by C. W. McCall
Music by: Chip Davis, C. W. McCall
Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Franklyn Ajaye

EMI Films, United Artists, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Piss on you, and piss on your law.” – Rubber Duck

Convoy came out during the heyday of car and trucker movies. While it isn’t as remembered as the iconic Smokey and the Bandit, I think that it is a better movie. It’s less comedic and more serious and therefore, not as marketable as Smokey but it has something to say, where Smokey was just a fun time.

While we don’t have Burt Reynolds or the always great Jerry Reed, we do get Kris Kristofferson playing a badass trucker with a trucker army. We also get Ernest Borgnine as a sheriff so evil he would probably frighten Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice. Plus, Burt Young is also in this and I have to say, it is my favorite role he’s ever had after Paulie from the Rocky movies.

I would have to say that this probably popularized the use of CB radio outisde of the trucker community. It showed it as a cool sort of trucker subculture thing where everyone talked shit and had cool nicknames like “Rubber Duck”, “Love Machine” a.k.a. “Pig Pen”, “Spider Mike”, “Widow Woman”, “Big Nasty”, “Pack Rat”, “Cottonmouth”, “Old Iguana”, “Lizard Tongue”, “White Rat”, etc. I had friends well into the ’90s who were still using CB radios as their form of social media back before the Internet was bigger than AIM and Geocities communities.

Convoy follows Kristofferson’s Rubber Duck and his trucker buddies, who get harassed, entrapped and bullied by a crooked sheriff (Borgnine) and his cronies. The sheriff is literally mad with power but is always upstaged by the truckers he has targeted. Things escalate, the truckers take a stand against the crooked lawmen and we get a socially and politically conscious movie. However, Rubber Duck doesn’t even really know what he wants or even what to say when he becomes a leader to a growing convoy of pissed off truckers.

This is a film that’s message is very much a reflection of 1970s America, where we were in a sort of cultural limbo where authority wasn’t to be trusted and society started to question itself. This was just after Nixon and the Vietnam war and major racial tensions accented by riots and police brutality. But the film, like society, had no real answer for any of it. It shows us a group of people who are just sick of it all and pretty much say “fuck it.”

It’s funny though, because we do live in a world where people once again worship the police and the military. Sure, America is socially and politically segmented and not everyone blindly swallows the propaganda but films like this are a reminder that maybe we should question what the majority just accepts without any real thought. Or maybe I am seeing Convoy as a much deeper film than it was really intended to be but I don’t think so. Unfortunately, it is a message that seems lost today but should resonate just as loudly with police brutality being in the media so much more and with the countless wars we keep getting involved in.

But however you feel about these issues, this film does tap into that sentiment and when compared to Smokey and the Bandit or those other fun trucker and car movies of the ’70s, Convoy has something more to offer and is a more important film, even if a solution seems lost.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Devil’s Rain (1975)

Release Date: July, 1975
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Written by: James Ashton, Gabe Essoe, Gerald Hopman
Music by: Al De Lory
Cast: William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, John Travolta, Eddie Albert, Anton LaVey, Ida Lupino

Sandy Howard Productions, Bryanston Distributing Company, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Think yee to destroy something stronger than life by ending life? As the cock will crow in the dawn, after my body burns, so too will the sun rise and cast my shadow over this town, again! and again! You fools!” – Jonathan Corbis

This was a weird ass movie. That’s coming from a guy who spends a lot of time watching weird ass movies.

However, Ernest Borgnine actually plays his role in goatface for a few scenes. He actually looks like a damn goat and is supposed to be Satan or something.

The film also has William Shatner, John Travolta and Tom Skerritt in it. It even has Ida Lupino and she was a good director and a pretty solid actress back in her film-noir days.

Man, this is a strange mix of some well known people and an even stranger mix of witchcraft, a Satanic cult, melting people without eyes, weird goo and rain possessed by the friggin’ devil. Truthfully, this sounds like the coolest f’n movie of all-time.

In reality, despite all the great things within the 86 minutes that is this picture, The Devil’s Rain is truly horrendous. Even Borgnine in goatface makeup can’t make up for this thing being a complete mess of nonsensical madness and a lot of gross scenes.

My hopes for this were extremely high because of all the cool shit I mentioned but I was let down harder than a six year-old sick kid waiting for John Cena to grant his wish, only for Cena to be detained by the TSA all day for yelling, “You can’t see me!” while in the body scanner. Yeah, they could see him but Cena insists he’s an invisible Superman. Maybe this movie would have been better if John Cena was in it and he put goat-Borgnine in the STF. What am I even talking about at this point? This paragraph is about as nonsensical as this stupid movie.

Captain Kirk teams up with Vincent Vega and the sheriff from Picket Fences and takes on the old man from Airwolf, who can transform himself into a goat and turn people into eyeless rubber beings that ooze green goo. Again, sounds friggin’ cool. Yet, it isn’t.

This was an ugly looking, boring picture in the worst way. I don’t even know how it can be boring with all this cool shit in it.

In the end, this Satanic turkey must be shoved into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3.5/10

Film Review: Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders (1996)

Release Date: 1996
Directed by: Kenneth J. Berton
Written by: Kenneth J. Berton
Music by: Ron Goldstein, Todd Hayen, Frank Macchia
Cast: Ernest Borgnine, George Milan, Bunny Summers, John Terrence, Patricia Sansone, Mark Hurtado, Rick Hurtado, Nicholas Noyes

Monarch Video, 91 Minutes

Review:

This was a film released on video in 1996. Despite its name and its video cover, it is not really a family friendly fantasy film, it is more of a horror anthology. In any regard, it isn’t a good movie whatsoever. Nor is it scary.

Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders has Ernest Borgnine in it but this was during the lowest point of his career. No one else in the movie is even remotely recognizable.

This was featured in a very popular episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Regardless of my love of the show, I find this movie to be such a horrible bore that even the great riffing by the MST3K crew isn’t enough to make this enjoyable. I really only revisited it because Netflix just released this for streaming to get people pumped for the return of MST3K. Also, I had to rewatch it to review it. Part of me had hoped I could find something in it that I didn’t notice or appreciate before. But no, I still hate it and feel like it has absolutely nothing worthwhile to offer.

The acting is hokey and comes off as something made for a kids’ movie. The special effects are incredibly unimpressive. The cinematography resembles a 90s Spanish language novella. The costumes are of the generic Halloween aisle at Spencer’s Gifts variety. It feels more like the first performance of an inexperienced community theater than a motion picture featuring an Academy Award winner.

I have always loved and enjoyed Ernest Borgnine but he couldn’t carry a picture this bad and he isn’t the leading man type. Well, at least not since he won an Oscar for 1955’s Marty.

This isn’t a film worth watching unless you are a lover of MST3K. Even then, it is a chore.