Film Review: The Night Stalker (1972)

Also known as: The Kolchak Papers (working title), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (long title)
Release Date: January 11th, 1972 
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: Bob Cobert
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Barry Atwater, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr.

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes

Review:

“Rumor has it that the day Anthony Albert Vincenzo was born, his father left town. The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it. The only point I wonder about is why his mother didn’t leave too.” – Carl Kolchak

I was a pretty big fan of the Kolchak television series when it was in syndication back when I was a kid. It originally aired before I was alive but I remember my granmum having it on her television set in my younger, most impressionable years.

Sadly, I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s and I never saw the two television movies that predate the single season show. So I figured I’d start with the original Night Stalker movie and go from there.

I’m glad to say that this was pretty close to my memories of the show and seeing Darren McGavin ham it up while monster hunting was a sight to behold and enjoy, once again!

More than anything, watching the original film, which I found in HD on YouTube for free (as long as that lasts) motivated me greatly to continue on with the second film and twenty-ish episode series.

McGavin is great in this and it’s my favorite role that I’ve ever seen him play. It’s like it was tailor made for his specific talents, as it maximizes his strengths and charisma. I’m not sure how close the Kolchak TV material is to the original novel but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

In this story, ace reporter Carl Kolchak is investigating strange murders that appear to be vampiric in nature. No one wants to believe what Kolchak starts to uncover and even after the vampire gets into a skirmish with police while stealing blood bags from the hospital, those in power try to suppress Kolchak’s narrative.

Eventually, we get a showdown with the vampire and the end result sees Kolchak having to leave Las Vegas or be charged with murder for killing the bloodsucking fiend.

While the picture can feel hokey and dated, I mean, it is a ’70s television movie, it’s still an energetic, charming, entertaining ride and pretty solid shit for its time and production limitations.

Plus, Darren McGavin is stupendous.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel The Night Strangler and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Film Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Release Date: November 17th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher
Based on: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Ray Park, Lisa Marie, Peter Guinness, Martin Landau (uncredited)

Mandalay Pictures, American Zoetrope, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.” – Ichabod Crane

This is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies and every time I watch it, it just makes me wish that he did more straight up fantasy horror films.

This is Burton’s take on the famous story by Washington Irving but it takes the Sleepy Hollow legend and makes it a lot darker and more badass than other adaptations. For many, the classic Disney animated version is probably the one they’re most familiar with. This Sleepy Hollow is very different.

I love that this is gothic horror at its core and you can see the influences of Hammer Films, as well as those Edgar Allan Poe movies with Vincent Price. In fact, Burton does more than homage Hammer, here, as he also includes some Hammer legends in the film: Michael Gough and Christopher Lee, to be specific.

This also features Ian McDiarmid and a visually obscured Ray Park, making it the only movie to feature Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and Darth Maul: Star Wars can’t even claim that.

Anyway, the film is led by Johnny Depp and I love him in this. He plays a sort of whimsical, awkward character and his version of Ichabod Crane shows early signs of what Depp would later create as his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow.

I love the humor in this movie and I don’t think that it would’ve worked quite the same way without Depp. Here we have a great investigator that has to get down and dirty… and often times bloody. The humorous bit is that he’s a germaphobe and winces every time he has to do something unsettling or gross. It’s a reoccurring gag throughout the film but it works every time and it isn’t overused.

Depp also has Christina Ricci to play off of and I always like when these two are together. I honestly wish that they worked together more often, as they have real chemistry and always tend to accentuate each other’s performance.

The rest of the cast is padded out with some immense talent between Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Lisa Marie and Casper Van Dien, who had just come off of the cult classic Starship Troopers.

I enjoy the look and tone of the film and my only real complaint about it is that it seems a bit too drawn out. The story is too complex and should have been refined and tweaked to bring the film down to around 90 minutes. It doesn’t really need more than that but at the same time it could’ve also used a bit more head chopping and action.

Apart from that, the only other negative is that the CGI looks cheesy in two parts but both of those moments happen really quick and it doesn’t wreck the film. I just found it a little bit jarring in those split seconds and it does pull you out of this period piece setting.

In the end, this is still pretty solid and it’s one of the highpoints of ’90s horror, as the decade came to a close and gave us a new millennium full of subpar, mostly shitty horror.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other gothic horror films around 2000, as well as other Tim Burton films with Johnny Depp.

Film Review: April Fool’s Day (1986)

Also known as: Horror Party (Germany)
Release Date: March 28th, 1986
Directed by: Fred Walton
Written by: Danilo Bach
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Jay Baker, Deborah Foreman, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Griffin O’Neal, Leah King Pinsent, Clayton Rohner, Amy Steel, Thomas F. Wilson

YCTM, Hometown Films, Paramount Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“[watching Kit and Rob through binoculars] Respectable young Quaker couple returning from a quiet afternoon of nonviolent sex.” – Chaz

I have never seen April Fool’s Day until now and that has a lot to do with the twist ending being spoiled for me at a young age by friends who were annoyed by it. While I have seen some clips and scenes over the years, this is my first time checking out the total package, as it was intended to be viewed.

Overall, this wasn’t bad but it’s really just a paint-by-numbers slasher flick with a unique ending.

If you’ve never seen the film and don’t want the ending spoiled, you might want to skip reading.

Anyway, the title sort of does give the ending away, as once we reach the climax of the film and the last two surviving teens are faced with the killer, it’s revealed that everything in the film was just a big, elaborate April Fool’s Day prank.

This upset a lot of people and others that weren’t as upset just wrote this off as dumb. I’m actually fine with it now that I’ve seen the movie, as it’s an original take on the genre, which was already exhausted to death by 1986, and because it was effective at being a decent slasher flick before the big reveal.

Plus, the ending makes it stand out in a sea of slasher clones and without it, no one would still talk about this film. While some said it killed the genre, that’s bullshit. Slashers kept being pumped out for years and in fact, they still exist today and often times have little resurgences even though Scream actually broke kayfabe on this subgenre of horror.

April Fool’s Day is a mediocre slasher movie but at least it tried something different. I get why altering the formula may be upsetting to some but it’s not like there aren’t about three-thousand other slasher pictures out there.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s slasher flicks.

Film Review: The Gruesome Twosome (1967)

Release Date: August 28th, 1967 (premiere)
Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by: Allison Louise Downe
Music by: Larry Wellington
Cast: Elizabeth Davis, Gretchen Wells, Chris Martell

72 Minutes

Review:

I have been working my way through the Herschell Gordon Lewis films that I haven’t reviewed yet, as they are currently on the Criterion Channel but they’re being pulled down at the end of the month (at the time of me writing this in September).

So this is one I haven’t reviewed and one I actually hadn’t seen until now.

It’s pretty bad, overall, even for an HGL flick.

The story is about a crazy lady that owns a wig store. The shocking thing is that the wigs are real hair from the victims that she lures in for her mentally handicapped son to kill. He then scalps them and viola!… new inventory!

I guess it’s a clever idea for the time and this film in Lewis’ oeuvre plays more like a comedy but this is still a splatter flick with terrible acting, abysmal production value and a story so boring that the only highlight is seeing the blood flow.

The effects in this are so bad, even for the time and even for a non-existent budget, that they become distracting. I’ve seen better gore and makeup at an elementary school haunted house as a kid.

I guess I get the appeal of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ work to the extreme minority that masturbates to gore porn and splatter but even this film feels like its beneath HGL’s own brand of blood-soaked schlock.

There’s really not much interesting in this other than the taxidermied bobcat.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Herschell Gordon Lewis movies.

Film Review: Grand Central Murder (1942)

Release Date: May, 1942
Directed by: S. Sylvan Simon
Written by: Peter Ruric
Based on: Grand Central Murder by Sue MacVeigh
Music by: David Snell
Cast: Van Heflin, Patricia Dane, Sam Levene, Cecilia Parker, Virginia Grey, Tom Conway

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Where were you raised? Didn’t anyone ever tell you its bad luck to whistle in a dressing room?” – Mida King, “I’m sorry miss, I… I was raised in a cattle boat, where folks whistle when they feel like it, including the cows!” – Whistling Messenger

Grand Central Murder is an example of a very early noir picture just before the style really started to take shape. It’s also a comedy and because of that, isn’t a straight crime picture but more of a tongue-in-cheek, amusing take on the evolving crime genre.

This sits just between the super popular gangster films that ruled the ’30s and the noir boom that happened in the mid-’40s. It also stars Van Heflin, who might just be the perfect guy to be featured front and center in a film that works as a bridge during this stylistic shift.

While I liked the amusing bits, I think that this would’ve been a much better and actually, really good, crime picture had it played it straight.

What I did like about this movie is that it doesn’t waste time and it moves at a brisk pace getting from point-to-point without trying to pad itself out with a bunch of filler. Even with the comedic moments, the film still flows like a steady river and picks up the right sort of momentum, leading into the climax.

Like a typical noir picture, it has a mystery that comes with some swerves. But I thought that the reveal and the solving of the crime was well done, especially in a time where this picture couldn’t be influenced by all of the other films like it. For the most part, those films didn’t exist yet.

Granted, I can’t necessarily call it an intelligent film but it’s more than competent and it certainly entertained this noir buff for 73 minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other very early film-noir pictures.

Film Review: All-American Murder (1991)

Release Date: December 1st, 1991
Directed by: Anson Williams
Written by: Barry Sandler
Music by: Rod Slane
Cast: Charlie Schlatter, Christopher Walken, Josie Bissett, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Kind

Greenwich Films, Enchantment Pictures, Trimark Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“She’s some bunny isn’t she? Great to see her again, it’s been years. But I never forget a face… especially, if I’ve sat on it.” – Decker

I actually didn’t even know about this movie until the scene I’ve linked below came across my YouTube suggestions while I was looking for some other Christopher Walken clips for something else completely unrelated.

That scene is pretty incredible and maybe the most Walken thing that Walken has ever done. Once I saw that this long lost flick also featured Charlie Schlatter and Josie Bissett with small roles for Joanna Cassidy and Richard Kind, I knew that I had to check it out.

This was a straight-to-VHS release and while it’s not a very good movie, it’s pretty entertaining for those who love Walken and late ’80s/early ’90s crime thriller schlock.

All-American Murder also dabbles into horror due to the dark nature of its plot, the crimes committed and a few sequences that almost play more like a slasher flick than a hard-nosed, gritty crime picture.

The plot is damn clunky and it became predictable pretty early on but it’s still fun to watch the absurdity of the story unfold.

Ultimately, I loved Walken in this and being that he’s one of my all-time favorite actors of his generation, I could see this bad movie becoming one of those guilty pleasure flicks that I feel compelled to revisit every few years or to show others that come over for a movie night that want some solid cheese and over-the-top Walkenisms.

Most people may be bored shitless with this movie. But those are the type of people I don’t talk to about film.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime thrillers from the era.

*instead of the trailer, I’ll just share this scene, one of the best in Christopher Walken’s decades-long career.

Film Review: The Witches (1990)

Release Date: February 16th, 1990 (Orlando premiere)
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
Written by: Allan Scoot
Based on: The Witches by Roald Dahl
Music by: Stanley Myers
Cast: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jason Fisher, Rowan Atkinson

Jim Henson Productions, Lorimar Film Entertainment, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Real witches are very cruel, and they have a highly developed sense of smell. A real witch could smell you across the street on a pitch-black night.” – Helga

While this film has grown into a cult classic over the last thirty years, I hadn’t seen it since it first appeared on VHS. Back then, no one really knew about it but I wanted to see it because Jim Henson worked on it. Plus, my mum wouldn’t take me to the theater to see it because she had some weird religious reason not to take me to anything “promoting witchcraft or Satanism.” Funny, as she ended up becoming a massive Harry Potter fan a decade later.

What really stands out about this film is how unique it is. Also, for a kid’s movie it’s damn dark. The director actually had to tone it down after he showed it to his own kid in order to get his reaction. As a kid, I wasn’t scared by it but the imagery was so haunting and over the top that it left a mark on my psyche.

My memory of the film was a fond one and I’m glad to say that my youthful opinion on the film still held up, seeing it now.

Anjelica Huston is pretty close to perfection in this and man, her performance is still damn effective. While this is adapted from a Roald Dahl children’s novel, it feels like the role was tailor made for her. It highlighted her strengths, her ability to intimidate and her intensity. She also got to ham it up and act over the top, which only benefited the movie and her role.

The kid actors are okay, nothing special, and the rest of the acting is fairly average but once the kids become mice, the film almost shifts into a state of otherworldly-ness and that’s after the incredible witch convention sequence.

The special effects in this are incredible from Anjelica Huston’s full witch makeup and prosthetics to the boys’ mice forms. Even knowing how talented Jim Henson was and how great his studio is, the effects work and puppetry still blew my mind for what they achieved here, thirty years ago.

I’m glad that this did become a cult classic, it deserves that status because of how good it is, how much craftsmanship went into it and for it’s uniqueness.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other children’s horror from the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Malibu Express (1985)

Release Date: March, 1985
Directed by: Andy Sidaris
Written by: Andy Sidaris
Music by: Henry Strzelecki
Cast: Darby Hinton, Sybil Danning, Lynda Wiesmeier, Lori Sutton, Art Metrano, Shelley Taylor Morgan, Regis Philbin, Joy Philbin

Andy Sidaris Company, Malibu Bay Films, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Did you hear that she got raped this afternoon by two homosexuals? One held her down and the other one did her hair.” – Liza Chamberlain

I’ve wanted to watch Andy Sidaris’ movies for quite awhile, especially this one and Hard Ticket to Hawaii. Luckily, I found the entire collection of his twelve films on Amazon for nine bucks. Yes, nine bucks! It’s a fucking steal! Buy it!

Well, that is unless you don’t like goofy action comedies with Playboy Playmates, cool dudes with guns and fast cars, as well as crime stories littered with bumbling, idiot criminals.

These films also feature stunts, lots of vehicles and budgets so low that over-the-top special effects have to be crafted out of chicken shit and dirt.

Malibu Express may be the biggest budget film of the lot (adjusted for inflation) and it doesn’t fall victim to as minuscule of a budget as the other films that came later but it’s definitely not “big budget” and had to cut corners and trim unnecessary fat.

Sidaris and his crew still did the best with what they had and the look of the production is more akin to a moderately budgeted action TV series of the ’80s, as opposed to looking like something made for less than the cost of a small house in the Hollywood Hills.

I love the lead, Darby Hinton. I also love all the beautiful women that are often times devoid of clothes. Plus, this has Art Metrano in it. I only really know him as Mauser from the Police Academy movies but I’ve loved that guy my entire life. Add in Sybil Danning and this is a solid mix of fun talent in a fun movie that’s amusing and high octane.

Sure, this is low brow schlock that got shoved into drive-in theaters and budget movie houses but it’s also what I would call an ’80s VHS classic. And frankly, that makes this the type of action comedy I tend to love.

I can’t say that I was impressed by Malibu Express but I can say that it didn’t disappoint me or leave me with buyer’s remorse. It’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other eleven films in Andy Sidaris’ Triple B Series, as well as the American films of Iranian director Amir Shervan.

Vids I Dig 469: Whang!: The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet – The Radio Playlist Logs

Taken from Justin Whang’s YouTube description: One of the most awaited leads in the Most Mysterious Song on the Internet, Paul Baskerville’s song playlists are here! However, the song was not found in the lists. However, the show had several other DJs whose complete song lists we are awaiting.