Film Review: The Amityville Horror (1979)

Release Date: July 27th, 1979
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
Written by: Sandor Stern
Based on: The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton, Don Stroud, James Tolkan

Cinema 77, Professional Films, American International Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

GET OUT!” – The House

The Amityville Horror was a fairly terrifying picture when I first saw it. I was probably seven years old, give or take. It’s always had an effect on me ever since and that’s probably because I saw it at such a young age.

While it’s not a movie I revisit often, I still always like it and get somewhat enchanted by it whenever I revisit it.

It’s a slow movie but the more serious horror films of this era were. It uses its time to build up both suspense and dread and this film does that exceptionally well. It’s a slow burn to a pretty terrifying and effective payoff.

This is also a movie that is enhanced greatly by its atmosphere. That atmosphere is really thick and brooding. The house has the right look, as does the area around it. But watching this and being immersed in it, it almost feels like it’d be hard to breathe in that house once the supernatural shit really kicks up.

The movie is also helped by the actors. All of the key players are immensely talented and they really threw themselves into this picture. James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger, especially, gave their all in this and because of that, this was elevated from just a simple, run-of-the-mill haunted house story to a film that’s become moderately iconic and is still sequelized and remade to this day.

I also think that Lalo Schifrin’s musical score helps with the atmosphere and the growing dread.

The Amityville Horror had a bigger impact than what the filmmakers probably could’ve predicted. That impact, still felt today, has helped shape horror and the haunted house subgenre of horror ever since this was released.

Modern franchises like The Conjuring and all its spinoffs, owe a lot to The Amityville Horror and its effect on filmgoers over forty years ago. 

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: 1941 (1979)

Also known as: The Night the Japs Attacked (working title)
Release Date: December 13th, 1979 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, John Milius
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Penny Marshall, Nancy Allen, Eddie Deezen, Slim Pickens, Dianne Kay, Wendie Jo Sperber, John Candy, Frank McRae, Lionel Stander, Michael McKean, Joe Flaherty, Don Calfa, Elisha Cook Jr., Mickey Rourke, John Landis, Dick Miller, Donovan Scott, James Caan, Sydney Lassick (uncredited)

A-Team, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, 118 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 142 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“You get me up in that plane, then we’ll talk about forward thrust.” – Donna Stratton

Considering that this was directed by Steven Spielberg and is loaded with dozens of stars that I like, having not seen this until now seems like a crime. But honestly, it came out when I was a year-old and it wasn’t something that I saw on TV growing up in the ’80s. Frankly, it flew under my radar for years and even if I saw the VHS tape in a mom and pop shop, the box art wouldn’t have piqued my interest.

I have now seen the film, though, and while I enjoyed it, I can see why it wasn’t held in the same esteem as Spielberg’s other work at the time.

This features a lot of characters and ensemble pieces like this can be hard to balance. With that, this felt more like an anthology of separate stories that don’t really come together until the end, even if there is a bit of overlap leading to the climax.

Everyone was pretty enjoyable in this but at the same time, they all just felt like tropes and caricatures, as none of them had much time to develop. That’s fine, though, as this isn’t supposed to be an intense dramatic story about war coming to US soil.

One thing I will point out as great in this movie is the special effects and being that this featured World War II military vehicles, it almost felt like Spielberg’s test drive before directing the Indiana Jones ’80s trilogy, which employed some of the same techniques and effects style that this film did.

The miniature work was superb and I loved the sequence of the airplane dogfight over Hollywood, as well as the submarine sequence at the end. The action was great, period.

I also generally enjoyed the comedy in this. It’s almost slapstick in a lot of scenes and it kind of felt like Spielberg’s homage the comedy style of Hollywood during the time that the movie takes place in.

That being said, the costumes, sets and general design and look of the film was great and almost otherworldly. This felt fantastical but in the way that the films of the 1940s did. There was a cinematic magic to the visuals and the film should probably get more notoriety for that.

What hurts the film, though, is that it just jumps around so much and it’s hard to really get invested in anything. There’s just so much going on at all times that your mind loses focus and starts to wander.

The story, itself, isn’t hard to follow but nothing seems that important, other than the Americans need to defend their home from this rogue submarine that appeared off the coast of Los Angeles.

In the end, this is far from Spielberg’s best and I’d call it the worst film of his uber successful late ’70s through early ’90s stretch. However, it’s still an enjoyable experience.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi or other Saturday Night Live cast members of the era.

Film Review: Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Release Date: December 28th, 1982 (TV)
Directed by: Steven Hilliard Stern
Written by: Tom Lazarus
Based on: Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe
Music by: Hagood Hardy
Cast: Tom Hanks, Wendy Crewson, David Wallace, Chris Makepeace, Vera Miles, Murray Hamilton, Kevin Peter Hall, Susan Strasberg

McDermott Productions, Proctor & Gamble Productions, CBS, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Jay Jay, that was really stupid, jumping into the pit without using your sonar first!” – Kate Finch

This film is categorized as drama and fantasy, officially. There really isn’t any fantasy in it and the fact that it considers itself a fantasy movie is misleading and disappointing for someone expecting to see the film come alive in that way. The only fantasy elements in the movie are the fact that the four main characters are playing a game similar to Dungeons & Dragons and that one player hallucinates and sees monsters and other wacky shit.

Once it hit VHS, this was sold as a Tom Hanks movie, even though he starred in it when he was a virtual nobody. Not to knock Hanks, he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time, but this is definitely below his level of talent and being dragged into this muck even made his performance pretty terrible. Luckily he found Splash and Bachelor Party, two years later.

In all fairness, this was a “made for television” movie. It was also based on a novel that was trying to demonize the culture of the kids who played games like Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe the author was a religious nut or she had a son who was obsessed with killing make believe goblins. But the way the culture is represented in this story, is laughable. This is really a tale about mental illness and not being obsessed with D&D.

Come to think of it, maybe my mum watched this movie because she was pretty adamant that I couldn’t play Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins. My mum also believed all the religious propaganda about pop culture when I was a young lad, so I wasn’t even allowed to look at a picture of Ozzy Osbourne in a magazine because he bit heads off of bats and fornicated with demons every time he was on stage. Now my mum is all into Harry Potter, so go figure.

This film looks horrible and it hasn’t aged well but it was a bad movie to begin with, so how else would it age? The cinematography and camera work look like this is a bad soap opera. The music is equally atrocious and doesn’t, in any way, reflect what college kids in 1982 were jamming out to. It’s 1982 but this movie sounds like a television ad for tampons in 1972. They couldn’t throw some Devo in the party scene?

Mazes and Monsters has nothing going right for it. So as is customary with shitty movies, I must run this boring turd through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Nothing really. It’s an odd and pretty terrible film.

 

Film Review: Jaws 2 (1978)

Release Date: June 16th, 1978
Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Written by: Carl Gottlieb, Howard Sackler
Based on: characters by Peter Benchley
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“But I’m telling you, and I’m telling everybody at this table that that’s a shark! And I know what a shark looks like, because I’ve seen one up close. And you’d better do something about this one, because I don’t intend to go through that hell again!” – Martin Brody

Jaws 2 has its fans and its detractors. I’m more in the fan camp, as I think it is a pretty good sequel, all things considered. Besides, it is nowhere near as bad as the two Jaws films that followed.

For a sequel that lost its original (and legendary) director, two of its lead actors and the benefit of using mystery over a full reveal of the monster, Jaws 2 does pretty good with the pieces of the puzzle it still has.

Roy Scheider is back, as is Lorraine Gary, who plays his wife. Additionally, Murray Hamilton returns as the sleazy town mayor, who apparently learned nothing from his greedy follies in the first Jaws picture.

This chapter in the franchise is much more action heavy. You see the actual shark more often, which is fine. After the big reveal in the first movie, there isn’t much reason to hide him in this one, as the building of suspense in Spielberg’s “less is more” technique wouldn’t work a second time around and in the first movie it was employed to hide the fact that the shark robot never worked properly.

While Jaws 2 is not the near perfect masterpiece of its predecessor, it is a worthy sequel in that it builds off of the first film. It gives you more time with the Brody family and gets more personal than the original movie. The fact that Capt. Brody’s children are in direct danger, makes the tension and the finale work quite well.

Also, the finale has Schneider’s most bad ass moment in his long career. The scene where he finishes off the shark by feeding it an electrical cable is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen a manly man do on film and it tops the killing of the shark from the first movie, even if me saying that pisses some people off.

Jaws 2 is not a perfect picture but it is still a fairly strong outing and a good companion piece to the original. Granted, everything in the franchise just goes off the rails after this.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Jaws (1975)

Release Date: June 20th, 1975
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Based on: Jaws by Peter Benchley
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

Zanuck/Brown Productions, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” – Quint

Jaws is considered to be one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. It’s usually found in top ten lists and a lot of people I have met throughout my life call it their favorite movie. While it’s not my favorite film nor my favorite Spielberg picture, it holds a special place in my heart.

I wasn’t born when this came out so I never got the big screen experience until this past weekend. However, when I was a kid, it’s VHS box art haunted me in the aisles of every single mom and pop video shop. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I had the balls to watch it. Well, that and the fact that I did it on a dare from my older cousin.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t scared of the film once I saw it. I know that a lot of people were but I was more interested in dangerous wildlife and developed an obsession with sharks and other deadly sea creatures. I also grew up on the Gulf of Mexico and saw sharks all the time, whether at the beach or in my uncle’s boat.

Jaws did spark my interest and love in these type of films. A love that would continue and be further cultivated throughout the 1980s, as Jaws really gave birth to a genre of knockoffs that still exist today. Hell, as I saw this in the theater, right across the hall was 47 Meters Down, another shark attack movie.

Steven Spielberg truly made a masterpiece with Jaws and it would be his first of several. This is the film that put him on the map and led to a series of fantastic and imaginative pictures that he still directs and produces today.

Jaws had a myriad of serious issues during its production but Spielberg still churned out a near perfect picture. The robot shark never really worked right but the film utilized the “less is more” technique in regards to seeing the aquatic beast. Had there been more shark, this film might not have worked as well and thus, not launched Spielberg into the heights he reached. Maybe the production problems were a blessing of sorts. In any event, a lot of unforeseen good came out of those problems.

The film is accented by stellar acting from just about everyone in the cast. Roy Scheider is perfect in just about everything but this is his most famous and iconic role for good reason. Richard Dreyfuss is spectacular and this role led to a lot of great things for the now legendary actor. It is Robert Shaw, however, that really steals the show. Being cast mostly as villainous heavies, earlier in his career, Shaw carved out his own niche later in life and the character of Quint is not only his most famous but one of the most famous in movie history. There are very few characters that could even come close to Quint’s coolness and toughness.

While the film has a few spots with strange editing or strange shot framing, I can’t nitpick about those things, because the positives about Jaws are why it is a classic motion picture that will be cherished till the end of time or until human beings evolve some higher form of consciousness.

Despite those issues, the picture is generally well shot and the cinematography is absolutely awesome. In fact, a lot of the techniques that are employed in this film were “borrowed” by directors and cinematographers for years. In fact, they’re still common techniques used today. The use of shadows, silhouettes, the underwater work, all have been “borrowed” to death. Realistically, it just goes to show how much of an impact Jaws had on the future of filmmaking.

Few movies leave a lasting impression as strong as that of Jaws. There are dozens of motion pictures that have won Picture of the Year at the Oscars that most people wouldn’t even know today. But there is hardly anyone that doesn’t know Jaws.

Rating: 10/10