Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Release Date: January 30th, 1991 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Kasi Lemmons, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Roger Corman, Chris Isaak, Harry Northup, Daniel von Bargen, George A. Romero (uncredited)

Strong Heart/Demme Production, Orion Pictures, 118 Minutes, 138 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter

My memories of this film are as great as they could possibly be but after seeing this again, the first time in many years, I was still surprised by just how perfect it is. There are very few motion pictures that deliver so much and at such a high level that seeing this was incredibly refreshing and left me smiling from ear-to-ear, regardless of the dark, fucked up story.

That being said, as great as both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are as actors, I have a hard time thinking of anything else they were better in.

Sure, they’ve both had other legendary performances but man, they brought their best to this picture like their entire lives counted on it being a success. Plus, their chemistry is incredibly uncanny that in spite of knowing what Hannibal is, at his core, you almost kind of root for them in a sort of awkward, fucked up, romantic way.

I can understand why Jodie Foster didn’t want to return to the role with Hannibal, a sequel that took too long to come out, but I really would’ve liked to see this version of the characters come together again because the strange connection that they share deserved more exploration.

It would’ve been hard to live up to this masterpiece of a film, though, but I’ll save my added thoughts on Hannibal for that review in about a week.

Anyway, it wasn’t just Foster and Hopkins that were great. This film’s entire cast was perfect and this enchanting nightmare just sucks you in and doesn’t release its grip till well after the credits are over. This movie just lingers with you and a big part of that was the performances of every actor.

Credit for that also has to go to Jonathan Demme, who, as director, was able to pull the best out of this stupendous cast from the smallest role to the most iconic and pivotal.

Additionally, he really displayed his mastery of his craft in this like no other movie he’s directed. The tone, the atmosphere and the sound were perfect. This boasts some incredible cinematography, masterful shot framing, exceptional lighting and Demme employs some really interesting and cool techniques. The best being used in the finale, which sees Foster’s Clarice, terrified out of her mind, as she hunts the film’s serial killer, seen through the point-of-view of his night vision goggles, as he carefully stalks her through a pitch black labyrinthine basement.

That finale sequence in the house is absolutely nerve-racking, even if you’ve seen this film a dozen times. The tension, the suspense, it’s almost too much to handle and that’s the point in the film where you really come to understand how perfect this carefully woven tapestry is.

Plus, it really shows how complex Clarice is as a character. She’s brave as fuck but alone, up against a monster like Buffalo Bill, her senses and her primal fear overwhelm her. However, she still snaps out of it just quick enough to put him down, perfectly and exactingly. Foster is so damn good in this sequence too, that you truly feel yourself in her shoes.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine was amazing in this role. Man, that guy committed to the bit so much that it’s impossible not to appreciate what he brought to the film. It could’ve been really easy to have been overshadowed by Foster and Hopkins but this guy rose to the occasion with them and excelled in this performance.

My favorite sequence in the film, after the finale, is the one where Hannibal Lecter escapes imprisonment. This is where you finally see how cold and vile he can be. It also shows you how damn smart he is at outwitting those who tried to cage this lion but took that cage’s security for granted. He exposes the flaws in their overconfidence and careful planning and leaves this story a free man, out and about in the world.

The Silence of the Lambs was an unexpected runaway hit and it’s easy to see why. I always thought that it was funny that this was released on Valentine’s Day, as it must have shocked many casual moviegoers just looking for a film to see on a date where they just wanted to smooch their lover. It makes me wonder how many married couples saw this on their first date.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Tower of London (1962)

Release Date: October 24th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, Robert E. Kent
Music by: Michael Anderson
Cast: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Robert Brown, Charles Macaulay, Joan Freeman, Morris Ankrum

Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

“[as a ghost, showing the whip lashes on her bare back to Richard of Gloucester] Wouldn’t you rather look at my back? Is it not attractive as a woman’s back should be?” – Mistress Shore

Growing up a big fan of Vincent Price, Tower of London wasn’t really a favorite film of mine. Although, I have to say that I kind of enjoy it now.

Sure, it wasn’t as colorful and energetic as his other pictures with director, Roger Corman. However, it is well acted and showcases Vincent Price as a real bastard with a certain charisma. He takes this completely evil character and gives him life in a way that is unique, entertaining and chilling.

No, you never like Price’s Richard III but that doesn’t matter, as you’re not supposed to. He’s just a hell of a villain played by a hell of an actor and once he gets his just desserts, it’s damn satisfying.

Like all Corman pictures, this was made quickly and on the cheap. But also like many Corman pictures, the end results are much better than one should expect and that’s just a testament to the man’s skill and his brand of cinematic magic.

This is an often times unnerving story but it features ghosts, magic, murder, torture and a legitimate power hungry madman. What’s not to like?

I’m glad that I watched this for the first time in about twenty years, as my opinion on it has changed somewhat. 

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films of the ’50s and ’60s, especially those with director Roger Corman.

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: Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Also known as: Captive Women (Philippines title), Stab In the Dark (alternative title), Night Light (original script title)
Release Date: September 7th, 1990
Directed by: Sally Mattison
Written by: Catherine Cyran
Music by: Jamie Sheriff
Cast: Keely Christian, Brittain Frye, M. K. Harris, David Greenlee, Hope Marie Carlton, Maria Ford

Concorde Pictures, 87 Minutes, 75 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“I don’t wanna play this game anymore!” – Ken

The original Slumber Party Massacre didn’t need a sequel, as it was incredibly derivative of the slasher genre and also re-used the neat killer concept from the movie Driller Killer.

However, the second film was very different and had more personality and cool rockabilly charm, setting it apart and making it a unique slasher flick experience.

This third movie, sadly, is just derivative of the derivative first film and lacks the musical flair and uniqueness of the second one.

This is cookie cutter shit at its worst that’s both highly predictable and doesn’t offer up anything new to the genre or even its own series.

Although, by 1990, the slasher genre was becoming passe and horror was trying to get smarter and more introspective. I wouldn’t say that slashers were dead but they had definitely been made in abundance over the course of the previous decade and to stand out, you really needed to do something different.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike this film. I just don’t have much love for it when there are dozens of better slasher flicks to watch and re-watch.

The characters are simple archetypes devoid of real personality and the mystery of who the killer is, is made quite obvious in the film’s opening. Sure, there’s a red herring but I even found that to be predictable as hell.

Being that this was produced by Roger Corman, it probably made money. So the fact that there wasn’t a fourth one is kind of interesting. But maybe Corman saw the writing on the wall and knew that this film was one too many in the Slumber Party Massacre series.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Slumber Party Massacre series, as well as other teen slasher flicks.

Film Review: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Also known as: Slumber Party Massacre: The Sequel (working title), Don’t Let Go (Germany), Massacre 2 (Brazil)
Release Date: October 16th, 1987
Directed by: Deborah Brock
Written by: Deborah Brock
Music by: Richard Cox
Cast: Crystal Bernard, Atanas Ilitch, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Patrick Lowe, Heidi Kozak, Joel Hoffman, Jennifer Rhodes, Michael Delano

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 85 Minutes (Unrated version)

Review:

“Oh come on, baby. Light my fire!” – The Driller Killer

I dig this movie.

The thing is, it doesn’t need to make a lick of sense or even have a great story. This film features a driller killer that is some sort of singing rockabilly ghost and his objective here is to try and murder all the members of a girl band and their doofus love interests.

The film also stars a young Crystal Bernard before she would go on to greater stardom, as a core cast member of the long-running NBC sitcom Wings. She was also on the syndicated sitcom It’s A Living but I don’t think anyone, other than me, even remembers that show. But my mum made me watch it every weekend when it was on and I sort of liked it, back in the day. I was also crushing hard on Bernard because of that show.

I like that this film taps more into the realm of black comedy more than its predecessor, and while I think the original is a tad bit better, I like that this installment was more creative and lively. I love the singing rockabilly driller killer, as well as his tunes. I also love the girl band and all the female characters were fun and kind of cool in their roles, even if their characters didn’t require Oscar-caliber performances.

This film also ups the ante from the original, as it has more gore and some cool gross out moments. The big zit scene was well done and superbly executed for a film with a Roger Corman micro-budget. But this film, like so many from the realm of ’80s horror, just goes to show how great practical special effects can be over the easy-out of modern CGI.

Slumber Party Massacre II is hardly a classic but it’s still a fun romp with an energetic soundtrack, killer tunes and a much better than decent finale that exceeds the climax of its predecessor.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Slumber Party Massacre series, as well as other teen slasher flicks.

Film Review: The Wild Angels (1966)

Also known as: All the Fallen Angels, The Fallen Angels (working titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 1966
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich (uncredited)
Music by: Mike Curb
Cast: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Buck Taylor, Norman Alden, Michael J. Pollard, Frank Maxwell, Dick Miller, Peter Bogdanovich

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“We don’t want nobody telling us what to do. We don’t want nobody pushing us around.” – Heavenly Blues

While people mostly remember Easy Rider as the counterculture biker picture of its time, The Wild Angels predates it by three years, features the same star and was actually the film that kicked off a whole slew of biker and drug movies.

Directed by Roger Corman and starring two of his regulars, Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern, this picture also inspired some other counterculture films by Corman, most notably The Trip.

Overall, this is a pretty dark picture but it has some charm to it, mainly because the main players are so good. Despite the fact that they’re mostly despicable pieces of shit, there is that part of you that wants them to find the freedom and fantastical utopia they are looking for.

At it’s core, this is just a cool movie with cool stars and the film really does a superb job at manufacturing a pretty genuine feeling story about outlaw bikers and their flimsy philosophies. I think that’s the main reason as to why this picture sparked a cinematic trend that saw more films like this getting made for several years.

I wouldn’t place this among Corman’s best films but it is certainly a good one that stands on its own and showcases the director’s talent in spite of his rapid shooting style and microbudget economics.

I also wouldn’t call this the best of the counterculture pictures of its day but it is most definitely a great example of this sort of cinematic social commentary done well.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time. Especially those starring Peter Fonda or Bruce Dern.

Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)

Also known as: The Warrior (Germany)
Release Date: September 7th, 1984
Directed by: John C. Broderick
Written by: John C. Broderick
Based on: a story by John C. Broderick, William Stout
Music by: Louis Saunders
Cast: David Carradine, Luke Askew, Maria Socas, Anthony De Longis, Harry Townes

Aries Cinematográfica Argentina, New Horizons Picture, 81 Minutes

Review:

Just when the world thought that there were enough re-imaginings (or ripoffs) of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Roger Corman’s New Horizons made a sword and sorcery version of the tale.

Sadly, this is terribly boring and like many of David Carradine’s lower tier schlock flicks, he doesn’t even really seem to care too much about performance in this one.

While that is a knock against Carradine, the guy was truly great when he wanted to be. But maybe he’s one of those guys that needs good motivation from the director.

I don’t think that Carradine got that direction here and all of the other actors just sort of seem to be dialing it in. This feels more like a community theater rehearsal than a legit motion picture. That could be due to the inexperience of the director or simply because the script and story are uninspiring and overly derivative.

Additionally, the special effects are subpar, even for a foreign made Conan ripoff. Although, I did enjoy some of the sets. But to be fair about that, it really isn’t hard creating a sword and sorcery world. I have an ex-girlfriend whose house looks like half the sets in this film because she’s a witch and never cleans up after herself or her pets.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is simply boring. Yes, I already pointed that out but it can’t be stated enough. I can look past some of the faults I already listed if I can be engaged or energized by something. This film, to its extreme detriment, just drained my battery dry.

If you are a big fan of cheap-o sword and sorcery flicks, you’ll probably still want to pass on this one. That is, unless you’re a David Carradine completist. If that’s the case, I don’t envy you, as he’s starred in some really dreadful shit.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other cheap sword and sorcery movies of the early ’80s.

Film Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

Release Date: June 30th, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Howard Browne
Music by: Lionel Newman, Fred Steiner
Cast: Jason Robards, George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson (uncredited), Jean Hale, Jan Merlin, Clint Ritchie, David Canary, Harold J. Stone, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, John Agar, Joseph Turkel, Alex Rocco, Leo Gordon, Dick Miller (uncredited), Jonathan Haze (uncredited), Paul Frees (narrator)

20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Wanna know something Jack? I like a guy who can use his head for something beside a hatrack!” – Al Capone

This is definitely in the upper echelon of Roger Corman’s motion pictures. Since I hadn’t seen it until now, it was a pleasant surprise and it actually shows how good of a filmmaker he was in spite of his rapid paced productions while doing everything on the cheap.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of Corman’s more serious films. There are no monsters, ghosts or sci-fi shenanigans, this is just a gritty, hard-nosed gangster movie that features a damn good cast with Jason Robards at the forefront, as the world’s most famous real life gangster, Al Capone.

The cast also features several Corman regulars like Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Leo Gordon and Jonathan Haze. Beyond that, we also get a young Alex Rocco, as well as Frank Silvera, Joe Turkel and John Agar. This is a movie full of iconic character actors who benefit greatly from the type of characters this picture needed to make it something special and authentic.

At its core, this really feels like an exploitation picture due to the level of violence in it yet it plays like more serious cinematic art. Now I can’t quite put it on the same level as the first two Godfather films but I’d say that it is actually a lot better and more impressive than the standard gangster films that existed before it. It is also somewhat surprising that this was put out by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, as opposed to being released by Corman’s regular studio at the time, American International Pictures.

Man, I enjoyed this a lot. There are a lot of characters but they’re not hard to keep track of and this moves at such a brisk pace, it’s over before you know it. Also, 100 minutes for Corman is pretty much an epic, as he tends to like that 65-85 minute mark.

I feel as if this is a flick that has been somewhat forgotten and lost to time, as it came out well after the gangster genre peaked and a few years before it made a comeback. It’s weirdly sandwiched between the two greatest eras of the genre and despite it having a hard edge, it’s groundbreaking feats were quickly overshadowed and surpassed by films of the early ’70s like The Godfather and Chinatown.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other gangster and crime films of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as Roger Corman’s more dramatic work like The Intruder and The Trip.

Film Review: The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

Also known as: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tomb of Ligeia (complete title), House at the End of the World (working title), Tomb of the Cat (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: November, 1964 (London premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Robert Towne
Based on: Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Kenneth V. Jones
Cast: Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook, Oliver Johnston

Alta Vista Productions, Warner-Pathe, Anglo Amalgamated, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Christopher, not ten minutes ago I… I tried to kill a stray cat with a cabbage, and all but made love to the Lady Rowena. I succeeded is squashing the cabbage and badly frightening the lady. If only I could lay open my own brain as easily as I did that vegetable, what rot would be freed from its grey leaves?” – Verden Fell

While this is my least favorite of the Roger Corman and Vincent Price adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, it is still a movie that I quite enjoy, as Price is as good as always and this had some great sets and location shooting.

It feels like it is the driest and the slowest of the Poe adaptations but I wouldn’t call it boring, as the plot is pretty interesting and not as predictable as you might think, at first.

This also features one of my favorite Price performances. After having done a half dozen or so movies with Corman and in this style, he really hits it out of the park. He’s really likable and tragic and while that fits most of his characters from the Poe adaptations, there is just another layer to it here. He just feels so human and strangely relatable. Granted, I also lost the love of my life at a point and I guess it may speak to me in a way it might not to those who haven’t experienced that sort of loss.

Overall, this feels like a really refined version of the Price-Corman-Poe formula. My only issue is that it feels slower and that it’s too formulaic. Despite Price’s stellar performance, this does feel as if the creatives are sort of just running through the motions.

Still, it deserves its place alongside the other films in this series of pictures.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Edgar Allan Poe adaptation done by collaborators Roger Corman and Vincent Price.