Film Review: Night of the Lepus (1972)

Also known as: Rabbits (working title, Germany, Austria)
Release Date: September th, 1972 (Ireland)
Directed by: William F. Claxton
Written by: Don Holliday, Gene R. Kearney
Based on: The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon
Music by: Jimmie Haskell
Cast: Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley, Paul Fix, Don Starr

A.C. Lyles Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!” – Officer Lopez

This movie, in my opinion, has a lot of unjustified hatred towards it. People have trashed it for years and talked it down like it’s a blight on early ’70s cinema.

Well, those people don’t have taste, a real appreciation for killer animal horror and don’t have the keen eyesight to spot a diamond in the rough.

Okay, this isn’t a great film and maybe it’s not even a good one by the ridiculous standards of hoity-toity film critics. However, it’s damn entertaining for fans of the right kind of well-aged cheese and it boasts some practical special effects that just work… well, for the most part.

This film is about giant rabbits that have overtaken a small town in Arizona. It employs a lot of force perspective shots, as well as miniature models to help give regular sized rabbits some scale. While these techniques may seem outdated by 1972 (they really weren’t yet), they were actually well done and effective. And seeing this in modern HD didn’t really ruin the magic, which is something that happens way too often with movies from this era.

Honestly, the only real effects that didn’t work were probably the same ones that didn’t work in 1972. Those are the scenes where a large killer rabbit has to interact with a human actor in the same shot. These scenes are very obviously just some stuntman in a furry costume batting his fists at the victims. It’s hokey and the attacks look too human but luckily, this isn’t used too much. But I understand why they had to do it, as you had to show some flesh-on-flesh mauling because it’s the early ’70s and no one wanted the violence to be implied offscreen. The ’70s were edgier, the Hollywood Code was old news and horror got to throw some gore on the big screen.

The film isn’t well acted, despite having Janet Leigh in it, as well as Stuart Whitman, Rory Calhoun and DeForest Kelley alongside her. None of the key players are terrible but they do seem like they’re just going through the motions and dialing it in, as low budget, B-movie horror apparently didn’t require their A-game.

Still, I dig this film quite a bit and I do think it’s better than what the filmgoing consensus has led the world to believe for nearly fifty years.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal horror movies of the ’70s; the cheesier, the better.

 

Film Review: Act of Violence (1949)

Release Date: January 22nd, 1949 (New York City)
Directed by: Fred Zinnemann
Written by: Collier Young, Robert L. Richards
Music by: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor, Phyllis Thaxter

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Sure, I was in the hospital, but I didn’t go crazy. I kept myself sane. You know how? I kept saying to myself: Joe, you’re the only one alive that knows what he did. You’re the one that’s got to find him, Joe. I kept remembering. I kept thinking back to that prison camp. One of them lasted to the morning. By then, you couldn’t tell his voice belonged to a man. He sounded like a dog that got hit by a truck and left him in the street.” – Joe Parkson

The more I watch of Van Heflin, the more he becomes one of my all-time favorite actors. The first few times I saw him, I wasn’t too keen on the roles he had. He always seemed to be a sort of scuzzy character. But since my first few experiences, I’ve seen him play a whole myriad of character types and he just lures me in. Act of Violence is one of my favorite performances I’ve seen of his. And really, I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh here, as well.

In this noir tale, we see ex-POW Frank Enley (Heflin) being honored as a war hero. At home, he is just a young family man just trying to live a normal life. However, a strange character (Ryan) starts showing up and pursuing him. The mysterious man even tries to murder Enley while he is fishing on a lake. Enley gets wind of something awry and is pretty sure he’s in trouble. A car starts stalking Enley and his wife (Leigh) by parking in front of their house. As the tale progresses, we learn that there is something dark that Enley is hiding and maybe this mysterious stranger isn’t actually the bad guy.

This is a simple and straightforward noir without a lot of extra twists and turns. The story has some layers to it but not so much that it is difficult to recall all the details as more present themselves. Some classic noir pictures got bogged down in swerves and overly elaborate details, Act of Violence is actually refreshing in that it does not.

Ultimately, this is a film about a cowardly man redeeming himself through a last act of heroism. You think its a basic revenge story but it isn’t, it’s deeper and more genuine than that.

Van Heflin and Robert Ryan were great opposites in this and both men also had great exchanges with Janet Leigh. The acting is very good for all the main parties involved.

Act of Violence is a better movie than I expected it to be. The scene on the lake was suspenseful and actually pretty breathtaking from a visual standpoint. It is a good mixture of nice cinematography, a good story and talented actors.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Release Date: August 5th, 1998
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Mom, I am not responsible for you. That’s it, I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore mom. He’s dead. Michael Myers is dead.” – John

When this film came out, I didn’t even want to see it. It looked awful, I assumed it was awful and when I did see it on video, a year later, I was left unimpressed. However, my tune has changed somewhat, seeing it almost twenty years later.

It isn’t wholly awful and in fact, it has some pretty strong positives.

On the negative end of the spectrum, the opening segment is decent but then the film drags and drags until you finally get to see Michael Myers hunt down his sister. You don’t really get some good Myers action until the last twenty minutes or so of the picture.

Then there is the issues with the Myers action itself. That issue being that half the killing, if not most of it, happens off screen. The majority of the film shows people getting cornered and then it cuts away. A few minutes later, someone stumbles across their dead friend. I assumed this had to be rated PG-13 but nope, it has an R rating but apparently no balls. Strangely, even though it cuts away from real violence and gore, the film is capped off with a decapitation that is actually shown. The way violence is handled in this movie is really friggin’ baffling.

Also, there are just so many bullshit jump scares that it was more irritating than surprising.

The cast in this is also pretty weak. There are really well-known stars in the film but this was before most of them broke out. Michelle Williams would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards and receive lots of other awards nominations but in this, she’s just teenie bopper eye candy. LL Cool J didn’t seem to have much to do and Josh Hartnett didn’t serve much of a purpose other than being the son of Laurie Strode (Curtis) and giving her a reason to finally hunt down Michael Myers herself.

But lets get to the positives.

Jamie Lee Curtis kills it in this. This is her best outing as Laurie Strode and twenty years later, she finally gets that Ellen Ripley moment, where she has had enough, grabs a weapon and hunts the hunter trying to kill her and her child. The final showdown between her and Myers is absolutely fantastic and it is the best final battle out of any Halloween film. She truly was Michael’s match in this and it was damn cool to see. It actually makes up for the boredom I felt for the first two-thirds of the picture.

Also, we get a nice cameo from Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis’ real life mother. She’s even got a car like the one from Psycho.

Halloween H20 may have an incredibly stupid name and fall victim to being a standard 1990s slasher, lacking the gravitas of the films from the previous two decades, but that final act is stellar. The moment where Laurie and Michael come face-to-face for the first time in twenty years is actually chilling. I wish they wouldn’t have wasted that shot by putting it in the trailer.

So I no longer have a severe dislike of this film, I actually like it a lot. Especially the final moment between Laurie and her murderous brother.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Halloween films.

Film Review: The Fog (1980)

Release Date: February 1st, 1980
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Buck Flower

Debra Hill Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.” – Stevie Wayne

I was never a huge fan of The Fog but for some reason, I like this film a lot more now. I did enjoy it when I was younger but it wasn’t something I felt the need to revisit as often as the typical slasher films of the day. This has slasher elements to it but it certainly is not a clone of HalloweenFriday the 13th or anything else similar.

This is a quintessential John Carpenter flick. It also stars just about all of his top dogs except Kurt Russell and Donald Pleasence. You do have Adrienne Barbeau, in what is my favorite role of hers, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins and Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis. The cast also boasts Hal Holbrook, who starred with Barbeau two years later in Creepshow. We also get to see Janet Leigh, Curtis’ real mother who is most remembered for Psycho.

The threat in this film is a mysterious fog that rolls into a small coastal California town. The fog carries some swashbuckling zombies that want their gold back. The nautical zombies don’t actually swashbuckle, instead they use their blades like a slasher would.

Barbeau plays a single mother who owns a lighthouse where she broadcasts over the radio. From atop the town, she can see the fog rolling in and tries to give the town a play-by-play on what is happening but ultimately, the ghosts come to haunt her as well.

I like this film a lot and I think it is underrated, even if it did get a crappy remake in 2005.

Unfortunately, the swashbuckling ghost zombies aren’t the most unsettling thing about the picture. Something about the Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis hookup was just bothersome to me. I like both actors but when this was made Curtis was 21 while Atkins was 44. As a 38 year-old man, I can’t even talk to a 25 year-old girl and find anything in common with her, just sayin’.

The Fog is a solid movie. It also has one of the best scores that John Carpenter has ever produced. It uses its fog and lighting effects perfectly and the monsters are damn cool.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Touch of Evil (1958)

Release Date: February, 1958
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor

Universal International, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes, 111 Minutes (restored cut)

Review:

“A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.” – Ramon Miguel ‘Mike’ Vargas

Touch of Evil wasn’t a roaring smash when it came out but it got the respect and the recognition that it deserved as time marched on. In 1993, this motion picture was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Over the years, it has become recognized as one of Orson Welles’ greatest bodies of work.

While the appearance of Charlton Heston as a Mexican is a bit bizarre and would have all the people up in arms today, once you get beyond his pencil thin mustache and brownface, you realize that beneath the visual stereotype, he is at least playing the Mexican character heroically. Plus, Heston’s not a bad actor anyway and he does his best to make the character of Miguel “Mike” Vargas work.

The cast also includes the eternally alluring Janet Leigh and Orson Welles, who wrote and directed this thing. Zsa Zsa Gabor even shows up in a strip club but this is the 1950s and boobies weren’t allowed to be seen in legitimate motion pictures.

Watching Heston and Welles play off of each other was a magnificent sight. These two men truly felt at odds with one another and their rivalry developed flawlessly on screen. The tension between them was so strong and overbearing that it really drove the picture. Janet Leigh and her character’s situation also added an extra level of suspense that made this one of the most powerful film-noirs I have ever seen.

The story takes place on the Mexican border in Southern California. A bomb explodes in a car near the border gate and it brings in the American detective, played by Welles, and the Mexican detective, played by Heston. As the story rolls on, Heston’s Vargas realizes that Welles’ Quinlan is a crooked and racist prick. As Vargas delves deeper in trying to solve the mystery, Quinlan fights back and takes action against Vargas and his wife. Ultimately, the film paints the white American police force as bigoted and corrupt while painting the Mexican detective as just and true with many of the Mexican characters being victimized by the corrupt white cops. I can see where this would have ruffled some feathers in the 1950s.

While not quite the masterpiece that Welles’ Citizen Kane is, Touch of Evil still greatly showcases Welles’ ability as a filmmaker and an auteur. He has a dark and brooding style that is remarkable and stands tall, in a way that is very uniquely his own. Truthfully, Welles was using a noir visual style before the genre even cemented itself into 1940s Americana.

Touch of Evil is a magnificent picture. It challenged social norms and still provided the world with a solid film-noir, as the genre was coming to its end. It doesn’t feel derivative or like something we’ve seen before, which is pretty impressive, nearly two decades into this genre’s peak in popularity.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Psycho (1960)

Release Date: July 16th, 1960 (DeMille Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh

Shamley Productions, Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

psychoReview:

I’m a pretty big Alfred Hitchcock fan but it has been quite some time since I have watched Psycho. As a teenager, I watched it a lot, along with many of his other classics. Revisiting it now, I think I have grown to appreciate it even more.

Psycho is a masterpiece of suspense, maybe even more so than Hitchcock’s other work. Suspense is what he was known for, other than being an incredible artist. With Psycho, the suspense just builds and builds until that climactic moment and the big reveal. Even then, it delves even further as things are further explained and the real backstory is uncovered.

Alfred Hitchcock was absolutely meticulous in the creation of this motion picture. Every shot is damn near perfection, the editing is astounding, the sound is pristine, the music is magnificent and the acting is superb.

Every single scene that features Anthony Perkins is a delight. The scene where Perkin’s Norman Bates talks to Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane is a playful and unsettling back-and-forth that most other filmmakers will never come close to eclipsing. The conversation between Bates and the inspector, played by Martin Balsam, is equally as good even though it has a completely different dynamic. Watching it now, even though I have seen it dozens of times, makes me feel like Anthony Perkins was grossly underutilized throughout his long acting career.

The rest of the cast was spectacular too. And frankly, I’m not sure how anyone other than Janet Leigh wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. The fact that Perkins or Miles weren’t nominated is baffling to me. At least Hitchcock was nominated as director, but he didn’t win. Alfred Hitchcock not receiving the respect of the Academy was something that plagued him his entire career.

Psycho also features one of the most iconic scores in motion picture history. However, Bernard Hermann also got the Oscar snub. Looking back at 1960, how many people remember the music of the Oscar winning Song Without End? Furthermore, how many people remember the music of the other nominees: Bells Are RingingCan-CanPepe and Let’s Make Love?

It is quite possible that Psycho was ahead of its time. Before the film, there were very few great horror pictures. Horror has always been considered a lowbrow genre of film, maybe even more so in 1960 when studios were opposed to Hitchcock even making this picture. However, he bucked the trend and created a scary movie that became legendary. He also paved the way for other filmmakers with real talent to try their hand at horror.

Psycho is one of the greatest movies ever made. It deserves its later accolades and it certainly deserves the accolades that it didn’t get at the time it was released. It is better than the film of the year, The Apartment. And honestly, I really like The Apartment.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Scaramouche (1952)

Release Date: June 27th, 1952 (USA)
Directed by: George Sidney
Written by: Ronald Millar, George Froeschel
Based on: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 115 Minutes

scaramoucheReview:

Scaramouche was a pretty well-renowned film in its day. However, it isn’t one that you hear a lot about anymore. When looking back on those old swashbuckling movies, people tend to remember those that starred Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power: two giant names in film history. Many don’t seem to remember Stewart Granger in his role as Andre Moreau, a sword-wielding French revolutionary that disguises himself as the clownish Scaramouche.

The film is based on Rafael Sabatini’s book of the same name. It was one of many Sabatini works that was adapted for film. Actually, it is the second Scaramouche picture, as there was a silent version released in 1923.

This is one of the top swashbuckling films of all-time. It is kind of cool that it flies under the radar, waiting to be discovered by those who are curious about the genre.

The film is beautiful, from the French countryside to the opulent interiors. The wardrobe is magnificent and the attention to detail was astounding. The final duel at the end, is one of the most visually pleasing sword fights I have ever seen on film. Not to mention that the fight choreography was some of the best, up to the point of this movie’s release.

Granger was great as Moreau and Mel Ferrer was equally enjoyable as the villain, Noel, Marquis de Maynes. The contrast in character between their personality, style and beliefs created a solid dichotomy that made their hatred for one another very believable. They were a great on-screen pair.

Eleanor Parker and Janet Leigh were both good as the female leads of the picture. The rest of the supporting cast also carried their weight.

It is unfortunate that good swashbuckling pictures like this aren’t made anymore. Sure, we have those Disney Pirates of the Caribbean films but they’re more over-the-top fantasy blockbusters that have more in common with modern summer movies than swashbucklers of old.

Scaramouche isn’t just a great movie, it is a reflection of a time when films like it could exist without computer generated bells and whistles. It is a much simpler film than the modern action-adventure outing, yet it is just as exciting.

Rating: 8/10