Film Review: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Also known as: Colonization of the Planet of the Apes (Germany)
Release Date: June 15th, 1973
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Paul Dehn, John William Corrington, Joyce Hooper Corrington
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Lew Ayres, Paul Williams, John Huston, Austin Stoker, Paul Stevens, John Landis

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 93 Minutes, 96 Minutes (extended)

Review:

“Ah, if only my mother and father, whom I was too young to remember… If only they’d lived, perhaps they would have taught me if it was right to kill evil so that good shall prevail.” – Caesar

Maybe it’s weird that I prefer the last three Planet of the Apes movies to the earlier ones, even if I can admit that the first is the most superior of them all, as far as artistic merit. There’s just something about the story of Caesar and his parents that resonates with me but I also think that has a lot to do with the great performances Roddy McDowall gave us over these three pictures.

This one takes place several years after the uprising of the apes in the previous movie. In fact, this takes place after mankind has essentially destroyed themselves with nuclear bombs.

Now there are two types of humans in this story. There are the normal humans who live with the apes but are dealing with prejudice and treated like servants. The other group of humans are survivors from the nearby metropolis that was ravaged by war. These humans are disfigured from radiation and are hellbent on destroying the ape civilization because humans gonna human.

This film, due to its post-apocalyptic vibe, almost feels like the first Apes film mashed up with a Mad Max movie, as the bad humans use decrepit vehicles when they bring war to the apes settlement.

I like the story, though, and really, this film is mostly about Caesar trying to figure out what it means to be a leader. A lot of trouble emerges and Caesar is challenged from different sides. He has to learn from his parents’ words and the wisdom he gains through his experiences in this story, as well as his interactions with his trusted allies and advisors.

While this recycles the ape versus human story, it’s more about the making of a great, noble king.

The story is multi-layered but it’s also very straightforward and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. It moves at a swift pace, features good action, great tension and solid twists, even if they are fairly predictable.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: The Dark Mirror (1946)

Release Date: October 18th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Nunnally Johnson, Vladimir Pozner
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Lew Ayres, Thomas Mitchell

International Pictures, Nunnally Johnson Productions, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Not even nature can duplicate character, not even in twins.” – Dr. Scott Elliott

For a B-movie film-noir, this motion picture is quite impressive. While I love a lot of B-movie noirs, there are many more that are just mediocre or outright shit. But I think that this film’s quality has a lot to do with its director, noir veteran Robert Siodmak, as well as its star, the great Olivia de Havilland, who won an Academy Award the same year for her role in To Each His Own.

Watching this film, I was kind of reminded of Brian De Palma’s Sisters from 1972. Both films deal with a good twin and a killer twin that tries to frame (or destroy) their better half.

The films are very different but I can see where De Palma may haven taken some cues from this picture. But honestly, which young filmmaker wouldn’t between the great split performance by its leading lady, as well as the visionary style of its director, a true auteur and master of the noir genre and visual storytelling.

This is a superbly acted film and not just by de Havilland, who plays two roles, but also by its top two male stars, Lew Ayres and Thomas Mitchell.

Everyone in this film is believable and pretty close to perfect. Siodmak got truly great performances out of the three top stars and they had immense chemistry.

I also love how this was shot and for a film from the mid-’40s, Siodmak did a stupendous job in the composite shots that feature both of the twins on the screen at the same time. These sequences go off without a hitch or any visual or audible hints that may wreck what you see on the screen. There’s no obvious Patty Duke Show trickery.

The film’s story is also really good. It pulls you in and you’re never really sure which sister you’re seeing from scene to scene. While the ending and the darker sister’s plot is kind of obvious, you still don’t fully know how it will conclude and whether or not tragedy will befall the good sister or the decent male characters that just want to help them.

That being said, the picture builds up suspense well. The movie does a great job of not coming off as too formulaic or cliche while telling a good, compelling tale that leaves you unsure till the final scene.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures that were directed by Robert Siodmak.

Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

Film Review: Stranded In Space (1973)

Also known as: The Stranger (original TV movie title)
Release Date: February 26th, 1973
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Written by: Gerald Sanford
Music by: Richard Markowitz
Cast: Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker, Lew Ayres, George Coulouris, Steve Franken, Dean Jagger, Tim O’Connor

Bing Crosby Productions, Fenady Associates, 100 Minutes

Review:

This movie exists as The Stranger and as Stranded In Space. The only real difference is that Stranded In Space was re-released on VHS in the ’80s and it had a new credits sequence that looks very ’80s. This was kind of confusing for the era this was made in and for the overall look of the picture. That credit sequence wasn’t even made up of shots from The Stranger, instead, it was made up of footage from a low budget 1983 sci-fi film called Prisoners of the Lost Universe. I have no idea why the film’s distributor did this, as both movies are completely unrelated.

The reason why I watched the Stranded In Space version of this terrible film is because it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, even with the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots, this was a real bore to get through.

But if I’m being honest, the concept and the plot weren’t bad. A NASA astronaut wakes up in a hospital after a mission that saw his crew get killed. He is told that he has to stay under observation and isn’t allowed visitors or even a newspaper. Eventually, he escapes but soon discovers that the planet is very different because he’s not on Earth.

There’s a lot of cool territory to explore with the plot but this film doesn’t care about being an interesting or engaging film, it would rather take a good idea and then throw it into a shredder.

Like several films from this era that MST3K featured, this one was actually a television show. It wasn’t, however, a couple of random episodes strung together, it was a TV movie used to serve as a pilot. But it falls flat, even if it is more coherent than similar MST3K selections.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: a lot of the other sci-fi films riffed on MST3K.