Film Review: The Car (1977)

Also known as: Wheels (working title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1977
Directed by: Elliot Silverstein
Written by: Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack, Lane Slate
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Elizabeth Thompson, Ronny Cox, R.G. Armstrong

Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[addressing his officers] So look… I want everybody out on the streets. I want you to remember… a young man was killed today, passing through our town… and I don’t like it… I don’t like it at all. Goodbye.” – Everett

The Car is my favorite killer vehicle movie, as it just beats out Steven Spielberg’s early film, Duel. However, unlike Duel, this one has more in common with Christine and Maximum Overdrive in that it features a vehicle without a driver.

What I really like about the film is that it’s a mystery as to who or what is behind the wheel and by the end of it, it’s still unclear other than a demonic face appearing briefly within the smoke of the vehicle’s flaming wreckage.

This is a pretty badass movie, as the meanest looking car of all killer cars mows people down without any hesitation.

Now the only real negative about the film is that there isn’t any blood or even the slightest bit of gore. This is a horror film from the late ’70s, man! Take the kid gloves off and show us some vehicular splatter porn!

I guess that the televised version of this film was heavily edited down but I’m not sure why it needed to be? This is practically PG in how it alludes to violence and doesn’t show anyone actually getting the Gallagher watermelon treatment.

What makes this better than it should be is the fact that the car looks so damn menacing. Plus, it moves like a real predator because whoever was driving it and orchestrating how its movements needed to work within key shots and scenes knew exactly what the hell they were doing.

Sure, there are some cheesy and goofy bits, like the car barrel rolling over two cop cars and the weird French horn toting pothead in the beginning but that stuff works within the framework and tone of the picture.

The character development is also good and no one really seems disposable other than the two bicycle teens that meet their terrible fate in the opening sequence.

The Car introduces you to several characters and it does a superb job of giving them life, even with limited time. For instance, the cop who dies early on didn’t have much screen time but his death hits you in the feels because even with just two small scenes, he was shown to be a good, honorable man.

Additionally, Kathleen Lloyd’s death was a real punch in the nuts. She came off as really likable and she’s definitely one of the people you hoped would survive to the end. Sure, she talked shit to the demon car and some of her disses were corny but it really humanized her and showed her strength as she stood strong against a lethal predator despite showing that she knew she was vulnerable and was very frightened underneath it all. Her death is one of the coolest scenes in the movie though.

James Brolin, Ronny Cox and R.G. Armstrong were all very good too. I’ve never seen Cox play a character that came off as kind of dopey and weak and it’s a real departure from his role as Dick Jones in RoboCop or as the police captain in the Beverly Hills Cop film series.

When I saw this for the first time, I was surprised by how good the main players in this film were. Especially for a late ’70s horror picture that seems like it’s mostly forgotten today.

I also dig the score to this film. The opening credits were eerie and ominous as hell, as they truly set the tone for something dark and brooding.

In a lot of ways, this film reminds me of Jaws, as a killer force of nature descends upon a small, quiet town and starts picking off its citizens one by one until it dies in a explosion caused by the town’s brave sheriff.

The Car is damn good. And it’s just one of those films that I can watch over and over and never get bored with it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other killer vehicle movies: Duel, Christine, Maximum Overdrive, etc.

Film Review: White Lightning (1973)

Also known as: McKlusky (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1973
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: William W. Norton
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Laura Dern (uncredited)

United Artists, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I was tryin’ to save these two buddies of mine from getting knocked up by a homosexual.” – Gator McKlusky

White Lightning is a decent movie but not anything exceptional. Yet it still holds a special place in history because it’s popularity would help it to kick off a new type of film genre in the 1970s. Without this, we might not have had all those other car and trucker movies. Hell, who knows what Burt Reynolds would have done had he not carved out his place in history with this sort of role.

This took that ’70s whitesploitation shtick and made it mainstream. This was a film put out by a major studio and had some semblance of a budget compared to the similar grindhouse pictures of the time.

Burt Reynolds, himself, referred to the film as “…the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon Line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy. It was a well done film. Joe Sargent is an excellent director. He’s very, very good with actors. And it had some marvelous people in it whom nobody had seen before. Ned Beatty for example. I had to fight like hell to get Ned in the film.”

The film had a pretty good score done by Charles Bernstein, who would make that famous A Nightmare On Elm Street theme a decade later. The score here may sound familiar to fans of Quentin Tarantino, as he reused some of it for his Kill Bill films.

Reynolds was pretty good as Gator McKlusky and he would get to return as a character in the sequel Gator, three years later.

The plot sees Gator initially try to breakout of an Arkansas prison but his attempt is foiled. He then works out a deal to bring down a crooked Sheriff, who is responsible for murdering his brother. Gator wants revenge, the system wants justice and everyone loves moonshine and fast cars.

White Lightning isn’t my favorite film in the genre it helped popularize but it is still worth revisiting from time to time due to its cultural significance and because well, Burt Reynolds is cool. Although, I prefer him alongside Jerry Reed.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: The Beast Within (1982)

Release Date: February 12th, 1982
Directed by: Philippe Mora
Written by: Tom Holland, Danilo Bach (uncredited)
Based on: The Beast Within by Edward Levy
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Meshach Taylor, Logan Ramsey

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Oral sodomy?… Well, that’s why it’s a small town… Yeah, we’ll look into it. Thank you for calling.” – Sheriff Pool

The Beast Within is what happens when someone says, “You know what would be cool? A werewolf movie but instead of a wolf, the guy turns into a cicada!” I guess, just think about the Cronenberg remake of The Fly but nowhere near as good or as cool. And certainly not featuring an awesome level of Jeff Goldblum.

However, I do have to give the film props on one thing, the transformation scene at the end is absolutely friggin’ horrifying and a great use of practical effects. Also, it is really drawn out and doesn’t try to throw in quick cuts to hide its imperfections. It is a stellar sequence that was put together by the filmmakers and still holds up well.

Also, the film’s music was made by Les Baxter, who was a pioneer of exotica music and is mostly known for easy-listening tunes. His score here is a stark contrast to his norm. It is uneasy and chaotic but in a great way.

The film itself isn’t that bad, actually. The story is a bit slow and drawn out but at ninety minutes, I can’t really complain. At least I was entertained by R.G. Armstrong, a guy I’ve always liked, and Ronny Cox, most famous as the evil Dick Jones from Robocop.

The story starts with a woman being raped by a were-cicada. She gets pregnant, has a baby and her and Ronny Cox raise it as their own. When the kid grows to be a teenager, he starts to exhibit weird behavior. The kid is the son of the were-cicada and we discover a small town conspiracy to keep a wraps on this were-cicada stuff.

It’s a strange tale and incredibly dark and while it can actually get drab, at certain points in the film, the high points make up for it. It is just a movie suffering from multiple personality disorder. The pacing is bad, the narrative execution isn’t very good but most of the effects and scares are impressive.

The Beast Within is nowhere near as remembered as other horror films of its day but it should be respected and cherished for its practical effects, especially that awesome transformation scene that kicks off the big climax.

It also has a fantastic poster. And there is something truly unsettling about a woman getting knocked up by a bug.

Film Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Film Review: Race With the Devil (1975)

Release Date: June 27th, 1975
Directed by: Jack Starrett
Written by: Wes Bishop, Lee Frost
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Swit, Lara Parker, R.G. Armstrong

Saber Productions, 20th Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“What the hell happened to your van here? Your back window is all busted up!” – Gas Station Attendant, “I don’t drive too well when I’m asleep.” – Frank Stewart

Race With the Devil may have been distributed by a major studio but it was still a pretty bad ass grindhouse-esque picture during the heyday of those movies. Maybe it didn’t quite cross the line like the harder edged grindhouse action fare but it still had gargantuan gravitas and did a great job with its build up of suspense and its truly satisfying ending.

The film mixes a few genres that were popular at the time and honestly, should always be popular: horror, thriller, action, road trip and car chase. The road trip and car chase genres need better names, by the way.

From a narrative standpoint, the film is well balanced between its genres. It does great with the dramatic aspects and builds tension while mixing in the action at the right times. It isn’t an over the top action epic, per se, but those parts of the film are finely executed. The big car chase battle in the film’s climax is superb in all the right ways and delivers something great and gritty.

Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are both manly men and while their wives can get ridiculously annoying with the dumb damsel in distress shtick, these two men hold their own and never back down from the crazed Satanic cultists that are hunting them across Texas.

It is the inclusion of the cult that makes the film so cool, not to ignore the two leads and the awesome action. The heroes witness the Satanic cult sacrificing a nude women in the wilderness. The cultists see that they are being watched and spend the rest of the movie terrorizing these nice vacationers.

There are a few negatives but nothing major.

One, when they are sacrificing the nude babe, the film sort of blurs out her bare skinned sexual bits. C’mon, you’re sacrificing some naked babe on screen and you’re going to pull punches?

Secondly, the rattlesnake battle was poorly edited and confusing. I didn’t realize that there were actually two snakes until the tail end of this battle and the whole thing goes on entirely too long with the wives screaming like cracked out banshees. Real “nail on the chalk board” type stuff. But I do love rattlesnake danger in movies.

Another thing that kind of works against the picture, is that even though it all takes place in Texas, everything just looks the same geographically. Texas is a huge state with a lot of geographical changes.

Additionally, this cult is huge, as just about everyone in Texas seems to be in on it. There is some sort of large sinister network at work here but I’m not really sure how they are tracking the heroes and communicating when all the phones are “dead”.

But this isn’t the type of film that one should sit there and nitpick. I can’t help it though. But honestly, the flaws don’t bother me. I don’t watch these types of movies expecting Oscar caliber masterpieces. I watch them to be mindlessly entertained for 90 minutes. However, if one goes above and beyond mindless entertainment, which this film does, you’ve truly got something special.

Ride With the Devil is a solid piece of work. It has stood the test of time and still plays great today. And while not truly a grindhouse film, it does carry that same vibe and is a much more approachable picture for audiences that might not want to be overwhelmed with sex and violence.

Film Review: Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

Release Date: April 25th, 1980
Directed by: Art Linson
Written by: John Kaye
Based on: The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat and Strange Rumblings in Aztlan by Hunter S. Thompson
Music by: Neil Young
Cast: Bill Murray, Peter Boyle, Bruno Kirby, René Auberjonois, R.G. Armstrong, Mark Metcalf, Craig T. Nelson, Richard M. Dixon, Brain Cummings

Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

There are very few famous people that I give a shit about. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Bill Murray are two of the very few. So if there is a film where Bill Murray plays Hunter S. Thompson, you can most assuredly guarantee that it would be something I would have to watch. Of course, I’ve watched this film at least a dozen times over the years and I would say that I play it just about annually.

I feel like this film should be looked at as a sequel to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, as it is set after those events. Actually, I now see it as the final part of a trilogy which also includes The Rum Diary, which takes place first if you care about chronology.

Out of the three Thompson films, I find this one to be the superior of the three. Again, it has Bill Murray in the lead and I like his interpretation of Hunter S. Thompson slightly more than Johnny Depp’s. Also, he provided the template for Depp to follow. I’m not taking anything away from Depp’s great performance but Murray’s was damned near Oscar caliber (and maybe Depp’s was too).

Where the Buffalo Roam is a hell of a journey and as far as story, it doesn’t follow a singular path. This movie is comprised of a series of events, all of which are entertaining and fun to watch. The only real constant in the film is Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson and the times that Peter Boyle pops up as Lazlo, Thompson’s lawyer. In fact, Lazlo can be seen as virtually the same character or companion as Benicio Del Toro’s role in Fear and Loathing. In fact, both characters are based off of Oscar Zeta Acosta, who was an attorney and politician that was close friends with Thompson.

I love this film. I have heard that Thompson wasn’t happy with it when it was released. I’m not sure if that changed over the years but regardless of his personal feelings, I think it is kind of a hidden gem that many people don’t know about. Hell, most people I know who are big fans of Fear and Loathing either haven’t seen this or haven’t even heard about it.

Is it a masterpiece? No. But it is a lot of fun and it respects the man and the work of the man it was based on.

Film Review: Boss Nigger (1975)

Release Date: February 26th, 1975 (USA)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Fred Williamson
Music by: Leon Moore
Cast: Fred Williamson, D’Urville Martin, William Smith, R.G. Armstrong

Dimension Pictures, 87 Minutes

boss-niggerReview:

A controversially titled film, sure. But it was rated PG in the 1970s when people weren’t pussies.

Plus, it is fun as hell and if you love old blaxploitation flicks, this one is certainly worth your time. It stars Fred Williamson, who is perfect in everything he does, and it is a blaxploitation western, which there just aren’t enough of.

The film follows Williamson’s Boss and his sidekick Amos (D’Urville Martin) as they make themselves the law in a mostly white town in the Old West. They are bounty hunters in pursuit of an outlaw and bide their time in the small town, as they chase women and make the bigots pay for their bigotry.

The dialogue in this film is over the top and hilarious. The blatant racism is actually refreshing, as this film exists in a world where political correctness hadn’t infected the guilt-ridden, humorless minds of society. And the blatant racism isn’t just there for shits and giggles, it is a reflection of the times when this film was made and enhanced by the historic times it represents. There is a definitive purpose for its inclusion, as it is at the heart of what drove many blaxploitation films of the 1970s – not to mention regular films and television of that era. Hell, something like All In the Family or The Jeffersons would never fly today on prime time network television.

Boss Nigger capitalizes on the vibe and attitude during the height of the Black Power Movement. It shows black characters in a role of superiority and exploits the paranoia held by many whites during this time of social change. In fact, it uses the social struggles of blacks in the post-slavery era of America as a cultural bridge to the 1970s, following the changes brought about by social reform and the battle for black civil rights. The film makes the viewer identify with and cheer for the hero, who is challenged by the rules and societal norms of a racist white America.

Fred Williamson has never not been a complete bad ass and this is him at his best. D’Urville Martin is fantastic as the comedic relief and despite its over the top blaxploitation shtick, it is a good movie on par with many of the low budget spaghetti westerns of its day. It plays like a parody of the more famous Leone westerns but has its own raw and gritty style.

It is backed by a great soundtrack that employs a lot of soul and funk, which was customary with the blaxploitation genre.

If you want to have a damned good time for 87 minutes with a bit of comedy, creative social commentary and a gun-waving bad ass, then this is your movie.