Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

Film Review: Family Plot (1976)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, Deceit, Deception, Missing Heir (working titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1976 (Filmex)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Based on: The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Ed Lauter

Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[to Fran] We’re gonna have to kill these two ourselves.” – Arthur Adamson

Family Plot has the distinction of being Alfred Hitchcock’s last film. It also proves that even in old age, the director was a true auteur that never lost his mojo. This is an engaging and entertaining motion picture that while it isn’t Hitchcock’s best, probably deserves more recognition than it has gotten over the years.

The plot is about one giant misunderstanding. Unfortunately for the nice duo, it becomes a big mess, as the other duo locked in this cat and mouse game aren’t nice people and in fact are pretty evil and dangerous.

Barbara Harris plays a fake psychic that swindles rich old ladies out of their money. She partners up with a crafty cab driver played by Bruce Dern. The two of them are given a job that will reward them with $10,000 upon completion. That job is to find a long lost heir to a family fortune and return him to the fold. What they don’t know is that this heir is a career criminal and conman. The conman thinks that he is being pursued by the duo because of something heinous from his past. The heir is teamed up with a often times reluctant accomplice played by Karen Black. The film becomes a chase where the mostly good guys keep finding themselves in over their heads and the bad guys are running in fear of what these do-gooders may have on them.

The plot is well structured and executed marvelously for the most part. My only real complaint about the film is that it seems a bit too drawn out. Hitchcock loved a two hour-plus running time and frankly, this could have been 100 minutes and been just as good.

I loved seeing a younger Ed Lauter in the movie and with Bruce Dern and Karen Black, this just has a really cool cast. The fact that these actors also got to work with Hitchcock is kind of impressive. Not because they aren’t capable, they certainly are, but because it’s a teaming of great talents from different generations.

Speaking of which, it was also really neat that John Williams got to score a Hitchcock picture. Two different artists that defined two different generations in very different ways came together and made something that worked to benefit both parties. Williams score here isn’t anywhere as well known as those that he’d do for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg but it enhanced the overall experience of Hitchcock’s Family Plot and gave it some life it might not have had with a less capable composer.

I really enjoyed Family Plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it exceeded any expectations I could have had, even if I knew more about it before diving in.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: A lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s later work from the late ’60s into the ’70s.

Film Review: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Also known as: Tales of Terror, Terror of the Doll (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1975
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan
Music by: Robert Cobert
Cast: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Cirlc Films, ABC, 72 Minutes

Review:

“This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!” – Amelia

Trilogy of Terror was originally made to be a television movie. It is an anthology horror film with three different stories, all of which star Karen Black. In fact, it is this movie that may have truly cemented her as one of the top scream queens of the ’70s.

The first story is about a timid college professor becoming the obsession of a student, who drugs her, rapes her and takes pornographic pictures of her to blackmail her into doing his bidding. It’s a pretty good story with a nice twist.

The second chapter is my least favorite of the three. It deals with two twin sisters, one of whom is like a puritan nun type of character, the other is a slutty wild child. The nun-like sister believes the other to be the embodiment of evil and decides to use voodoo to destroy her and vanquish the evil once and for all. Like the previous story, this one has a big twist. The reason why this one didn’t work for me, is that I predicted the big twist almost immediately. It may have worked well in 1975 but it’s a story horror fans have seen a dozen times.

The third and final episode in this anthology takes place in just an apartment. Karen Black’s character buys this cursed tribal doll for a guy she likes. While taking a bath, the doll comes to life. The rest of the story is about the woman trying to survive being trapped in her apartment with this insane and relentless killing machine. It sounds cheesy and strange, which it is, but the doll is so incredibly nuts that it just works. Where Chucky from the Child’s Play films could be like a great white shark, this doll is more like a school of piranhas.

Trilogy of Terror isn’t great but it is entertaining, very short and goes to show the range that Karen Black had. She could play a sweet character, a killer and really, anything in-between.

Plus, that killer doll is one of the best horror monsters of the 1970s.

This TV movie was pretty popular, developed a cult following and was one of the most traded VHS tapes that I used to see at conventions when I was a kid. These days you can stream it in HD.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Trilogy of Terror II, other horror anthologies: CreepshowTwilight Zone: The MovieTales From the Darkside: The Movie.

Film Review: Invaders From Mars (1986)

Release Date: June 6th, 1986
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby, Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle
Music by: Sylvester Levay, Christopher Young, David Storrs
Cast: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher, Tony Cox

Cannon Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry, son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!” – General Climet Wilson

*written in 2014.

This is one of those films that seems to be forgotten. Granted, it wasn’t a huge success when it came out but it was still directed by Tobe Hooper who is most famous for directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This film is about a boy who sees a big UFO land behind his house. Suddenly, his parents start acting weird, as does almost everyone else. Why? Because evil Martians have implanted some weird device in their necks that controls them.

The effects are hokey and at the same time brilliant. This is a unique looking film and is at times, part campy and part terrifying.

Horror legend Karen Black plays a nice character in this film, as the school nurse who is trying to protect the boy after his parents have become alien slaves. Louise Fletcher, best known for her Oscar-winning performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a good sport in this film and jumped into the insanity and became a stellar addition to this bizarre movie. James Karen, who I loved in The Return of the Living Dead, shows up as the Army general on a mission to wipe out the evil Martians.

Invaders From Mars is pretty much the epitome of a really good 1980s b-movie. It has horror, it has sci-fi and it is just fun as hell with very colorful effects. It’s also quite imaginative.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The original Invaders from Mars, as well as Spaced Invaders.

Film Review: House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Release Date: April 11th, 2003
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Music by: Rob Zombie, Scott Humphrey
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Karen Black, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, Erin Daniels, Jennifer Jostyn, Matthew McGrory, Dennis Fimple, Robert Allen Mukes, Tom Towles, Walton Goggins, Harrison Young, Irwin Keyes, Michael J. Pollard

Spectacle Entertainment Group, Universal Pictures, Lions Gate Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Goddamn, motherfucker got blood all over my best clown suit.” – Captain Spaulding

House of 1000 Corpses was a movie that was highly anticipated before it came out, as everyone wanted to see what Rob Zombie could do as a legit film director. I remember there being delays and it felt as if this was never going to come out and when it did, it didn’t show up in my town and was sort of sparsely released unless you happened to live in a big city. I had to wait for the DVD to drop, six months later.

For the most part, Zombie did not disappoint with his debut and while it was a strong homage to films in the vein of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, it was still very much a part of Rob Zombie in style.

Although, it mostly feels like a really long music video littered with gore and deplorable actions. Not that that is a bad thing but it sort of limits the film’s audience and narrative, as the film’s style is put in front of everything else.

House of 1000 Corpses works for what it is, even if some of the stuff is really outlandish. This style wouldn’t work as well for Zombie going forward, as all of his films after his second one are pretty awful. His overemphasis on highlighting white trash and gross shit really wears thin after The Devil’s Rejects, the only sequel to this picture.

In fact, I grew to dislike Zombie’s work so much that I hadn’t sat down and watched this movie in years. I’m glad I revisited it but I see more flaws in it now than I initially did a decade and a half ago. But it is cool seeing this ensemble cast of a lot of talented people, many of which are horror icons, playing off of each other.

Also, Zombie’s wife, who he casts in every film, hadn’t grown tiresome and grating yet. After The Devil’s Rejects she would become as unwelcome on the screen as her husband as a director.

The real highlights of this film is the amazing work of Sid Haig, who isn’t in it enough, and the role played by Bill Moseley, which is really a retread of his more famous character Chop Top from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.