Film Review: The Black Hole (1979)

Also known as: Space Station One, Space Probe (working titles)
Release Date: December 18th, 1979 (London premiere)
Directed by: Gary Nelson
Written by: Gerry Day, Jeb Rosebrook, Bob Barbash, Richard Landau
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall (voice – uncredited), Slim Pickens (voice – uncredited), Tom McLoughlin

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“[to Reinhardt] If there’s any justice at all, the black hole will be your grave!” – Kate McCrae

I love science fiction from this era but that’s also probably because it’s the sci-fi I grew up with in the ’80s.

The Black Hole was always one of my favorite films when I was really young and I wore out the VHS tape in the same way I did TRON, The Last Starfighter, Logan’s Run and the original Star Wars trilogy.

This is just incredibly imaginative, a ton of fun and it channels 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea quite well.

The film is about a small crew in a small vessel that come across a seemingly derelict spaceship of massive size. The ship, the Cygnus, sits at the edge of a black hole. However, the small crew soon discover that the ship is inhabited by a scientist named Reinhardt, who is essentially Captain Nemo in space. And with Maximilian Schell playing the role, he comes across with the same sort of eloquent authority as James Mason’s Nemo from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues.

The rest of the cast is also solid, especially the three male character actors: Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine. Not to mention the sweet and lovely Yvette Mimieux and the uncredited voice performances by Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who play the two good robots.

As the story rolls on, we discover Reinhardt’s sinister plan, meet his robot army and also discover that many of his robot crew are the deceased, zombie-like crew members that have been modified by Reinhardt to serve his nefarious purposes and fulfill what he sees as his destiny: entering the black hole.

Even though this came out two years after the original Star Wars, the film shows what almost all other sci-fi films of the time show, that big studios hadn’t yet caught up to the artistry and special effects mastery of George Lucas and Lucasfilm. But that’s okay, as late ’70s into early ’80s science fiction almost has its own unique style apart from Star Wars.

The Black Hole is visually similar to films like Logan’s Run and Saturn 3, as well as shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In the 25th Century. However, The Black Hole feels more fantastical and looks better than those other properties.

It is both dark and bright, it uses a lot of color in almost a vivid and vibrant giallo style while employing shadows, high contrast and the use of electronic starship instruments to accent the general cinematography. The film also does a fine job of creating an environment that feels as cold as space, despite its liveliness.

The one thing that really works in this film, above all else, is the musical score. This is my favorite soundtrack that John Barry has composed outside of his more famous James Bond work. The opening overture followed by the opening credits and title theme are stupendous and set the stage for something sinister, brooding and cool.

By the end, the movie gets really bizarre and kind of channels Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the score is really the glue that holds all the pieces together, allowing you to embrace this unique and neat motion picture.

They don’t make films like this anymore. And I don’t mean that in regards to the visual style and the dated effects. What I mean is in the way this tells a compelling story with a good adventure, some real darkness and a sort of coolness that Hollywood has lost.

I love The Black Hole because it really is cinematic magic. Modern audiences would probably disagree and think of it as a relic of the past that should probably be remade as a Disney+ exclusive movie starring Charlie Hunnam. But those people are dumb. Well, Disney has become dumb too, so this may happen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s and early ’80s sci-fi.

Film Review: Fright Night, Part 2 (1988)

Release Date: December 8th, 1988 (Australia)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace, Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Based on: characters created by Tom Holland
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Brian Thompson, Merritt Butrick

New Century/Vista, TriStar Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“It was a performance.” – Charley Brewster, “She cast no reflection!” – Peter Vincent

You know that old sentiment that sequels are never as good as the original? Well, it’s not entirely true, as many sequels have eclipsed their predecessors. However, Fright Night, Part 2 is not one of those.

While it is great to see Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale reunite, as vampire hunting friends, the film has a massive void from all the other characters who aren’t here. Granted, Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige is dead and we have a new vampire threat in this chapter but Amanda Bearse is sorely missed, as is Stephen Geoffreys, whose Evil Ed died but reappears in a tease at the end of the first movie.

We do get the additions of Jonathan Gries, a guy I love in everything, and Brian Thompson, one of the most intimidating heavies of the ’80s and ’90s. Plus, Traci Lind is really good, even if she isn’t Bearse, and Julie Carmen is absolutely alluring as Dandrige’s ancient vampire sister, seeking revenge for the events of the first film.

Sadly, this film is pretty damn boring. It has a few good momnets, here and there, but none of them really make up for the overall film being unable to even muster up just a little bit of the magic they had in the first picture. The only time you really feel anything, is when McDowall and Ragsdale are together but even then, it feels like a cheap imitation of the first movie. However, that vampire bowling sequence is fairly amusing.

Fright Night, Part 2 is neither bad nor good. It just sort of exists and isn’t all that memorable. It’s a highly sought after film, as it has been out of print for awhile but I’ve still got an old copy.

If you haven’t seen this sequel but have been dying to because you’re a fan of the first film, just be prepared that it isn’t the lightning in a bottle that was the original Fright Night. You also shouldn’t pay a lot of money just to get your hands on a rare copy of it.

Rating: 6/10

Documentary Review: You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2016)

Release Date: December 2nd, 2016
Directed by: Chris Griffiths
Music by: Lito Velasco

Dead Mouse Productions, 217 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Condensed version)

Review:

If you don’t like Fright Night, we can’t be friends. I mean, seriously, it’s a hell of a good time and was a much needed return to traditional monsters in a decade ruled by slasher films.

This long documentary covers everything you could ever want to know about Fright Night and it even goes into its mostly unappreciated sequel.

The coolest thing about this film and what I love about these modern documentaries about old horror franchises, is getting to revisit the cast and creators all these years later.

It may seem bizarre to have a documentary that is much longer than the subject matter it is discussing but a lot goes into filmmaking and this documentary doesn’t leave a single stone unturned. You get candid looks at the special effects, props making, creature makeup and how certain sequences were shot.

The interviews with the cast, the director and all the other key people were really the best part of this film though. It was especially cool seeing William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys in 2016. Geoffreys’ bits I liked because it showed the man himself and how different he is from the Evil Ed persona. He also discusses how he was apprehensive about performing certain aspects of the character.

Tom Holland, the director, discussed at length about how the whole project came to be, as well as shedding light on what lead him to it.

If you are a fan of the original Fright Night or you’re hardcore and love the whole franchise, this is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: Fright Night (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Tom Holland
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall, Art Evans

Vistar Films, Columbia Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Hello, Edward. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I know what it’s like being different. Only they won’t pick on you anymore… or beat you up. I’ll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand. Go on, Edward. Take my hand!” – Jerry Dandridge

This was one of those movies I discovered at the video store, as a kid in the 80s. Once I found it, I rented it almost monthly for a year or two. That was, until the crappy sequel came out and sucked the wind out of this film’s sails. It could have been a stellar franchise but it wasn’t. However, this picture is still a classic and always will be, in my opinion. Frankly, they should have just left the movie alone and never made a sequel or that reboot.

Chris Sarandon makes a pretty good vampire. While he is technically the star of the picture, this really is a good small ensemble piece, though.

William Ragsdale really gets the most screen time. This was before he had that cool Fox sitcom Herman’s Head and this was his most famous role outside of that show. His girlfriend is played by Amanda Bearse, who would also go on to be in a major Fox sitcom shortly after, Married… with Children.

The cast was rounded out by veteran Roddy McDowall, who is superb in this, and Stephen Geoffreys, whose character “Evil Ed” gave birth to two of the most overused catchphrases in the 1980s: “You’re so cool, Brewster!” and “To what do I owe this dubious pleasure?”

The film is an 80s teen horror romp. It exists in a similar vein to movies like Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad, albeit more violent and less child friendly than the latter.

The special effects are pretty good but this was when practical effects were at an all-time high and the effects maestros of the 80s were on a different level, especially in regards to their ingenuity and creativity. The wolf effects, at the end, as well as the final battle between the heroes and the vampire were great. There’s a reason why I love movies like this, the aforementioned and An American Werewolf In London. Even at their most absurd, they still have a sense of realism because what you see is there in the physical world on set.

Fright Night is one of the top horror films of the 80s that isn’t connected to a famous slasher. It sort of revitalized the fantasy horror genre at a time when Jason Voorhees was chopping through everything in sight.

Film Review: Laserblast (1978)

Release Date: March 1st, 1978
Directed by: Michael Rae
Written by: Frank Ray Perilli, Franne Schacht
Music by: Richard Band, Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Kim Milford, Cheryl Smith, Gianni Russo, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, Dennis Burkley, Eddie Deezen

Irwin Yablans Company, 80 Minutes

Review:

Laserblast has gone on to be a sort of cult film, mainly because it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I actually didn’t see the episode when it aired back in May of 1996, where it was the final episode of the show on Comedy Central. It moved to the Sci-Fi Channel the following season. It was also the last episode to feature Trace Beaulieu, who played mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and provided the voice of Crow T. Robot.

I didn’t first see Laserblast until more recently, when revisiting MST3K, in an effort to see every single episode that was still available.

To put it mildly, the film is absolutely atrocious in every way. Yet, somehow, they convinced Roddy McDowell to be in it but he often times would sign on to a pile of shit in spite of his talent. Luckily, he rebounded, somewhat, a decade later with Fright Night (probably best to ignore its sequel, though).

Laserblast also features nerd extraordinaire Eddie Deezen. He pretty much played different variations of the same role throughout the 70s and 80s. He’s probably most known for Grease and its horrible sequel but he was also known for War GamesCritters 2, Steven Spielberg’s 1941Midnight Madness and being a prominent voice actor.

The film also stars a bunch of other people but when I have to point out Eddie Deezen, as a casting high point, it’s probably best to ignore the rest of the people in the picture.

Laserblast is dull, it is stupid and it is a waste of the celluloid it was filmed on. The special effects are some of the worst that I have seen come out of the late 1970s. The spaceship is crap, its animation and physics of movement resemble that of an unintelligent child playing with his toys. The aliens are presented in stop motion of the worst kind in what was an embarrassing homage to the great Ray Harryhausen. The props were even worse, especially the arm-mounted laser gun that looked more like an early prototype of a t-shirt launching air cannon than anything menacing or bad ass.

There really is nothing about the film that is worthwhile. Without MST3K commentary, this would be damn near impossible to sit through. It is uninteresting, ugly and clearly displays a complete lack of talent in the filmmakers.

In reference to this motion picture, Mary Jo Pehl of MST3K said, “The lead guy, Kim Somebody, is another sterling example of how filmmaking is not a meritocracy. The fact that this film was even made proves that ‘anybody can do it.’ You can find this either inspiring or depressing.”