Film Review: Dementia 13 (1963)

Also known as: The Haunted and the Hunted (UK alternative title), Dementia (working title)
Release Date: August, 1963 (Indianapolis premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchell, Patrick Magee, Eithne Dunne

Roger Corman Productions, The Filmgroup, American International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“It’s nice to see her enjoying herself for a change. The mood around this place isn’t good for her…. Especially an American girl. You can tell she’s been raised on promises.” – Louise Haloran

Dementia 13 is the first film that Francis Ford Coppola directed that wasn’t a nudie cutie. It was also produced by Roger Corman, after Coppola had worked on Corman’s The Young Racers. With leftover funds and some of the same actors and being in the same country, Corman intended to shoot another quick low budget flick but he ended up giving the reigns to Coppola with the request being that he make something Psycho-like and it had to be done cheaply.

Coppola wrote a brief draft of the story in one night and gave it to Corman while also describing the most vividly detailed sequence. This impressed Corman and he gave Coppola the remaining $22,000. Coppola also raised some extra funds himself by pre-selling the European rights to the film without telling Corman.

Ultimately, Coppola’s antics didn’t really strain the relationship between he and Corman and the film has gone on to be somewhat of a cult classic. It’s hard to say whether or not it would’ve reached that status without being Coppola’s first legitimate movie but nonetheless, it’s definitely earned its money back more than tenfold over the years.

Overall, it’s not a great film and the story is kind of meh but I do enjoy the performances of Patrick Magee, a long-time favorite of mine, as well as William Campbell and Luana Anders.

Additionally, the film does create a solid, creepy vibe that has held up well.

For the most part, it is competently shot and Coppola showed great promise and a great eye with his work, here.

I think that the plot could’ve been better if there was more time to write it and refine it but Corman productions rarely had that luxury and these things were just pumped out on the cheap with the crew immediately having to move on to the next picture.

All things considered, this is still better than it should have been and Coppola did make chicken salad out of chicken shit. While it’s not the best chicken salad, it is certainly palatable and mostly satisfying with enough sustenance to get you by for the time being.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other horror films of the 1960s, as well as other very early Francis Ford Coppola movies.

Film Review: The Trip (1967)

Also known as: A Lovely Sort of Death (working title), LSD (Denmark), Os Hippies (Portugal)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Jack Nicholson
Music by: Mike Bloomfield, The Electric Flag
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 82 Minutes, 79 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“It was a heavy trip. I slept for 36 hours, man. Blind. That was my last trip on Roybal, I’ll tell you that.” – Max

The Trip… is just that, maaan…

Written by the Jack Nicholson, directed by Roger Corman and starring regular Nicholson and Corman collaborators: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasberg, Dick Miller and Luana Anders, this movie about a man’s actual LSD trip is much better than I thought it would be.

It’s not that I expected this to be bad, by any means, but most movies about drug trips aren’t that well done and they just rely on unreliable narrators, weird visuals for the sake of weird visuals and nothing making a whole lot of sense and being left open for any sort of interpretation.

The Trip, on the other hand, is very clearly written and directed in a way that feels pretty authentic to the LSD experience. Knowing that Jack Nicholson had some experience with the drug, as well as stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern, this film is able to go places that similar films can’t. I’m not sure if Corman ever partook but he had enough people around him to help steer the ship.

The film does greatly benefit from Corman’s experience on his horror films, especially his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Vincent Price. Reason being, those Poe movies usually had some sort of trippy sequence that saw their star, usually Price, go through some sort of haunted dream or hallucination. Corman, in those films, would experiment with trippy camera angles, lighting, lenses and all sorts of other tricks and special equipment that would give the viewer a sense of uncomfortable otherworldliness. He takes those skills that he developed in the few years before this and then applies them here and ups the ante quite a bit, making this his mindfuck magnum opus.

The Trip also benefits greatly from the acting of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. All three guys commit to the bit, take this all very seriously and make a compelling and thought provoking picture that with less capable actors would’ve probably just been a throwaway druggie movie for the middle class hippies of the day.

This isn’t Corman’s best picture or the best that Jack Nicholson has worked on creatively, but it is still a lot better than most of the films like it and I honestly enjoy it more than Easy Rider, which featured a lot of the same people behind and in front of the camera, as well as a hell of a lot more mainstream recognition.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time.

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, Luana Anders, 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: The Two Jakes (1990)

Release Date: August 10th, 1990
Directed by: Jack Nicholson
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Van Dyke Parks
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach, Rubén Blades, Frederic Forrest, David Keith, James Hong, Tracey Walter, Luana Anders, Tom Waits (uncredited), Faye Dunaway (voice)

88 Productions, Paramount Pictures, 138 Minutes

Review:

“I’m used to seein’ the intimate details of people’s lives, but lookin’ at a guy’s x-rays is as intimate as it gets. It’s the kind of thing most guys don’t even tell their wives about.” – Jake Gittes

I have never seen The Two Jakes until recently. I feel like I was psychologically deterred for decades because I remember people bashing it ever since it came out. It is this film’s existence that pointed me towards Chinatown, the film it is a sequel too. Sure, I would’ve eventually discovered Chinatown but I saw trailers for The Two Jakes on the big screen when I was just eleven years-old, so I wasn’t quite up on my knowledge of neo-noir or 1970s crime dramas. I was big on Jack Nicholson, however, as he wowed me a year earlier as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman.

The Two Jakes has been treated unfairly, though. Is it as stellar as Chinatown? Not really but those are massive shoes to fill. However, it is one of the best, if not… the best, neo-noir film of the 1990s. Jack Nicholson directed this sequel and while he isn’t Roman Polanski behind the camera, he still had a great eye and knew what the hell he was doing, putting this second chapter of Jake Gittes life to celluloid.

The cast in this film really makes this thing work. I loved seeing Nicholson play opposite of greats like Harvey Keitel and Eli Wallach. It was cool seeing James Hong come back too. While Faye Dunaway was obviously missing from the film, despite lending her voice to a scene, Madeleine Stowe and Meg Tilly were really good as the two top ladies in the picture. Stowe was a hot drunken maniac in the best way and Tilly was a soft yet strong women with a good presence. David Keith, a guy I have always liked, shows up a few times and gets a real moment to shine alongside Nicholson and Wallach. Rubén Blades steals the show in his scenes and after really loving that guy on Fear the Walking Dead, it was neat seeing him so young, full of vigor and not so dissimilar from his character on that AMC zombie show.

Vilmos Zsigmond handled the cinematography. He was not the cinematographer on the original Chinatown but he had a lot of experience, his most notable credit at the time being Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His management of the film’s visual allure is worth some serious props, as he and Nicholson created a very authentic and lived in 1940s Los Angeles.

I feel that this film actually does rival its predecessor in its cinematography and overall ambiance. The tone isn’t as brooding and sinister as Chinatown but that’s film’s narrative went to some places that brought out that underlying darkness. The Two Jakes isn’t a cold and bleak tale wrapped in beauty and opulence like Chinatown was, but it is a perfect visual and narrative extension of what was established in the first film without copying it. I kind of respect The Two Jakes for being its own thing and not trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice… or at least, in the same way.

Robert Towne, who wrote both of these Jake Gittes pictures and won an Academy Award for Chinatown, had plans for a trilogy. Unfortunately, this film was not the success that Paramount Pictures had hoped for. The third film was cancelled, which is a shame. It was going to bring the story of Jake Gittes to a proper close, as it was to be focused on him later in life.

If you love Chinatown and have never seen The Two Jakes, you probably should. It isn’t as bad as some people have said and its lack of success upon its release was probably more of a reflection of the time and not the overall quality of the film itself.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Release Date: August 12th, 1961
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 85 Minutes 

pit_and_the_pendulumReview:

This is the second in the long series of films that teamed up director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price in their line of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures. It also brings in horror icon Barbara Steele on the heels of her success in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

The cast is rounded out by John Kerr, who plays the other male lead opposite of Price, and Luana Anders, the female co-star who has significantly more screen time than the higher billed Steele.

Pit and the Pendulum is based off of the Poe story of the same name. It takes some creative liberties but does a good job of capturing the Poe feel. The film also borrows some elements from another Poe tale, The Cask of Amontillado.

Everything in the film eventually leads to the actual pit and the pendulum from the title. The pit itself isn’t all that exciting, it’s a pit. The pendulum, however, is the centerpiece of one of the best classic horror sequences ever produced. Even now, fifty-plus years later, it is still a chilling and dreadful sequence in the film.

Vincent Price was his typical self in Pit and the Pendulum and my only wish was that he shared more moments with Barbara Steele, who was as alluring as always.

John Kerr was fairly solid, if a bit boisterous at times. His character, like Mark Damon’s in House of Usher, was supposed to be a bit pushy and demanding, as he needed to know the truth behind the mystery that was the central plot.

Pit and the Pendulum is a really good looking picture but then, so were all of the Corman-Price-Poe collaborations. The sets were damn good for a picture with a small budget and short shooting schedule but that was always Roger Corman’s specialty.

This is one of the must-see films in Vincent Price’s long filmography. It has all of the best aspects of a classic 1960s Poe adaptation with very few flaws, other than things that were unavoidable in 1961 with limited resources.

Pit and the Pendulum is a horror classic that has done a fine job of surviving the test of time.

Rating: 8/10