Film Review: The Ice Pirates (1984)

Release Date: March 16th, 1984
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Written by: Stewart Raffill, Stanford Sherman
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Bruce Vilanch, John Carradine, John Matuszak, Carmen Filpi

JF Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid I have some bad news… well maybe its not that bad. The princess is pregnant.” – Wendon

I have weird memories of The Ice Pirates. I remember it being on TV a lot when I was a kid and I watched it all the time. But I didn’t have a nostalgic fondness for it like I do similar pictures. Watching it now, I did enjoy it but it just doesn’t connect for me in the right way.

It’s lighthearted, fun and amusing. You like just about all of the characters and it’s highly energetic. There’s not much of anything to dislike but even for all of its positives, it does fall kind of flat for me.

I guess my biggest gripe is that the pacing is really odd and sometimes you are just pulled along for the ride and it isn’t even all that clear as to what’s happening on screen. There is a disjointedness to the film that makes it hard to follow if you’re actually trying to take it somewhat seriously.

While the big conclusion that deals with rapid aging and time travel shenanigans is a neat sequence, it feels sloppily done and it feels like the gag is more important than the climax of the film itself.

Honestly, The Ice Pirates plays like a string of sketch comedy scenes, following a sci-fi theme with just a small plot thread holding them together in any sort of cohesive way.

I do like the performances though, everyone looked to be enjoying the production and because of that, it makes the movie more exciting. Plus, I’ll watch Bruce Vilanch in anything.

But, in the end, I have a hard time considering this to be a classic, as many would suggest.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Battle Beyond the Stars, The Black Hole, Spacehunter: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone, Space Raiders and Cherry 2000.

Film Review: Red Zone Cuba (1966)

Also known as: Night Train to Mundo Fine (original title)
Release Date: November, 1966 (los Angeles)
Directed by: Coleman Francis
Written by: Coleman Francis
Music by: John Bath, Ray Gregory (theme)
Cast: Coleman Francis, Anthony Cardoza, Harold Saunders, John Carradine, Lanell Cado, Tom Hanson, George Prince, Frederic Downs

Hollywood Star Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“That’s my daughter. She’s been blind and all, ever since her husband was killed in the war.” – Cliff

Coleman Francis movies are synonymous for being actual poop on celluloid. Thankfully, three of them were shown on episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which are the only versions of these movies worth watching.

Red Zone Cuba is exceptionally bad, even for MST3K standards. It is almost always featured on bloggers’ lists about the worst films featured on the show and honestly, I agree with the consensus.

There is not much redeeming value in this film, unlike other mega-schlock like Manos: The Hands of Fate or Space Mutiny. This is just a slow, boring, ugly turd.

But hey, at least it has John Carradine in it! Granted, he mostly did a lot of crap pictures after his heyday.

Anyway, to solidify my point about how bad this movie is, the voice of Tom Servo, Kevin Murphy, has often times referred to it as the worst picture he had to watch while working on and writing for MST3K.

The film’s plot sounds kind of interesting but this is Coleman Francis, so it is terribly executed and presented.

The story revolves around an ex-con that recruits other ex-cons to get involved in the Bay of Pigs while also looking for hidden treasure in Cuba.

Frankly, this is a monotonous dud. It’s even hard to watch on MST3K and I really only revisited it this time because I’m trying to review every film featured on the show and I’ve put this movie off for far too long.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other Coleman Francis schlock but watch the MST3K versions of them all.

Film Review: The Unearthly (1957)

Also known as: House of Monsters, Night of the Monsters (working titles)
Release Date: June 28th, 1957
Directed by: Boris Petroff
Written by: John D.F. Black (as Geoffrey Dennis), Jane Mann
Music by: Henry Vars
Cast: John Carradine, Myron Healey, Allison Hayes, Marilyn Buferd, Arthur Batanides, Sally Todd, Tor Johnson

AB-PT Pictures, Republic Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Time-fo’-go-ta-bed.” – Lobo

Well, at least this has two horror actors I enjoy in it. Those men being John Carradine and Tor Johnson. That being said, this is still a tough movie to get through. But luckily for all of us and the good of humanity, this was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so we can at least laugh at it along with those guys.

The story follows a doctor played by Carradine. He is experimenting with artificial glands in an effort to extend life. He has a brutish assistant named Lobo (played by Tor Johnson and not the only time he played a Lobo).

The experiments obviously have disastrous results and we end up getting gross, mutated people.

This is a plot that has been done to death, even by 1957. This feels very much like an Ed Wood film but completely devoid of Wood’s charm and character. This falls flat in every way even with Carradine in the lead and with Johnson playing basically the same character he did in the Ed Wood films Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls.

Overall, this is slow, pretty friggin’ boring and the acting, camera work and sound are all abysmal. Carradine isn’t terrible but he was at that stage of his career where he could just dial this shit in and collect a paycheck.

This really isn’t worth watching unless you want to see all of Carradine or Johnson’s filmographies or unless you have the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version in a place you can stream.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Night of the GhoulsBride of the MonsterThe UndeadThe Disembodied and Zombies of Mora Tau.

Film Review: Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula (1966)

Release Date: April 14th, 1966
Directed by: William Beaudine
Written by: Carl K. Hittleman
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: John Carradine, Chuck Courtney

Embassy Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Your bullets can’t hurt me.” – Dracula

This is a dreadful picture but the premise is bizarre enough to keep things somewhat amusing.

While Billy the Kid looks like he’s 37, at least they got an actual Dracula actor to play the Count in this film: John Carradine. I feel bad for Carradine for even being in this, however. The script is not worth his time and it serves to make him look like a dime store vampire impersonator.

Billy the Kid doesn’t feel like Billy the Kid, either. He’s too old and just doesn’t have the energy one would expect. He’s like a cookie cutter background character from an episode of Bonanza instead of being one of the deadliest and most charismatic guns in the West.

The special effects are terrible. The creepy red lighting that appears on Carradine’s face when he’s using vampire powers is laughably bad. The sets are just someone’s backyard with a double-wide outhouse serving as the entrance to a mine.

It’s symbolic though, because as obsessed as Carradine’s Dracula was with the mine entrance, it’s like he had to keep returning to it to confirm he was a part of a truly shitty experience.

At least Melinda Plowman, the girl Billy and Dracula were fighting over, was pretty cute. That’s about the only positive, however.

Of course, this must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter

Film Review: The Black Cat (1934)

Also known as: The Vanishing Body
Release Date: May 7th, 1934
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Peter Ruric, Edgar G. Ulmer
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.” – Hjalmar Poelzig

The Black Cat is a film that fits under the Universal Monsters banner, even if it was a one-off and not apart of their bigger series like Dracula and Frankenstein. But it does feature the stars of both those franchises: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

The film was also directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a guy who wouldn’t reach superstardom in Hollywood but would direct some pretty notable pictures and make a few worthwhile film-noirs.

The best part about this film is it puts Lugosi and Karloff together and not as creatures or men in heavy makeup or prosthetics. They actually get to play off of each other as humans, Karloff being the mad man and Lugosi being a heroic doctor that still exudes his Count Dracula vibe.

The name of the film comes from an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Within the film, it is a reference to Lugosi’s character and his abnormal fear of cats.

Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a difficult name to pronounce. He is an Austrian architect. Once our heroes, a newlywed couple and Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast meet on a train, they are stuck together for the rest of the film, most of which takes place at Poelzig’s lavish and futuristic looking home. In fact, the interiors resemble a film-noir set from the late 1940s. The cinematography is also similar and maybe this is what led to Ulmer directing film-noir a decade later.

The Black Cat isn’t a great film but it is a better than decent 1930s horror flick that stars the two biggest horror icons of the time. It is a pretty significant picture for films of the genre and the era.

Film Review: Fallen Angel (1945)

Release Date: October 26th, 1945
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Harry Kleiner, Marty Holland
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, Bruce Cabot, John Carradine, Percy Kilbride

20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Then love alone can make the fallen angel rise. For only two together can enter Paradise.” – June Mills, quoting a book

Fallen Angel is another film-noir that re-teams Dana Andrews with director Otto Preminger. While it isn’t quite the picture that Laura was, it is still a much better than decent noir outing that greatly benefits from the inclusion of Linda Darnell and Alice Faye. John Carradine even makes an appearance as a famous fortune teller.

The plot of this one is pretty interesting but not too different from a typical noir scenario, except it does have a fairly happy ending.

Dana Andrews plays Eric Stanton, a drifter with bad luck that gets stranded in Walton, CA because he doesn’t have the bus fare to make it all the way to San Francisco. In a diner in Walton, Stanton falls in love with the waitress Stella (Darnell), as does every man that sees her. Trying to win her over and marry her, as the movie rolls on, Stanton works his cunning and attracts the wealthy June (Faye). He leads June to believe that he loves her and the two are quickly married. Stanton plans on ending the marriage and taking half of her fortune, so that he can impress and marry Stella. Of course, as these things go, there are twists and turns and some surprises.

Otto Preminger got the very best out of his actors, even if he was sometimes cruel to Linda Darnell. Somehow, his cruelty got great performances out of her and even though she legitimately feared the man, the two worked together on several pictures for the sake of their art and creating magic together. I can imagine that it was probably very similar to how Stanley Kubrick would work Shelley Duvall into a manic frenzy in order to get real reactions out of her in The Shining.

Fallen Angel feels a bit confined, at times, with tight and cozy sets but it adds to the film tonally. Even when the characters are outside, like the scenes with the beach in the background, things are always dreary and somber. As the picture moves on, the tale gets very dark but it is a noir where there is actually a light at the end of the tunnel and the despicable main character actually finds his right place in the world and becomes somewhat heroic. The ending feels as if the tight confining grip has now released itself over these characters and the world they were living in.

Preminger did a fine job managing the narrative and the style of the picture, which greatly enhanced the film as a whole and worked in a truly symbiotic way.

Film Review: Stagecoach (1939)

Release Date: February 2nd, 1939
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols
Based on: The Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox
Music by: Louis Gruenberg, Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken
Cast: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Andy Devine, George Bancroft

Walter Wanger Productions, United Artists, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.” – Henry, the Ringo Kid

Stagecoach is a massively beloved western classic that went on to win Academy Awards and catapulted the career of John Wayne and his long partnership with director John Ford. While it isn’t my favorite western or Wayne film, it deserves its status, as it truly birthed what we know as westerns today.

When John Ford started making this picture, his colleagues warned him against it and said that making a western would be career suicide. If Ford hadn’t followed his gut and caved to the naysayers, the western genre, John Wayne and pop culture might not exist in quite the same way. This picture opened the floodgates for the genre and without it, kids might have never played cowboys and Indians and probably would’ve just stuck to cops and robbers or turned to something totally lame.

For modern audiences, this is a film full of genre cliches and it might be hard to see why it was such a great picture for its time. Everything you know about westerns, really started with Stagecoach. Every major trope you can think of is in this picture and compared to the films that came after it, there isn’t a whole lot that makes this feel original. But honestly, that is just a testament to how impactful this picture was. It set the stage for everything else to come.

It’s not super exciting and all the characters seem like cliches themselves but their differences serve the narrative well and the tension and conflict does effectively drive the plot. The action is just okay but there wasn’t a lot of great action in this era. Stuntmen existed, as John Wayne was one of them, but it obviously isn’t anything as over the top or exciting as what would come later in motion pictures.

John Wayne really carries the film with some help from leading lady Claire Trevor and the horror icon John Carradine. While Wayne does shine, he is not the lead and there isn’t as much meat in this role as he would later get to chew on.

Stagecoach is still a better than decent picture when compared to the genre, which flourished because of it. While I would recommend a slew of other westerns, the significance of this film cannot be denied.