Friday, February 27, 2009

Abbot & Costello- shorter & funnier!

I am a huge fan of the feature films of Abbot & Costello. I came to this love as most good monster film lovers do through ABBOT & COSTELLO MEETS FRANKENSTEIN and the subsequent team ups with various creatures in the Universal fold. But this lead me to their other comedies and in general its been a great thing. One bad spot has always been the miserable ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953). In it Costello plays a mildly retarded man-child who still lives in the orphanage he grew up in but mostly just he acts as he usually does in every movie. It is this character that makes the film kind of hard to take as a comedy for me. I shouldn't feel guilty about laughing at Costello's antics but as he is supposed to actually be mentally deficient I'm uncomfortable giggling at his screw ups. Add to that the fact that the film isn't one of their best anyway and you have a recipe for disaster. Add to that the fact that the comedy team goes to Venus and not Mars and you have a disappointment waiting to happen.

Years ago, before video, there was a way to watch feature films at home. Well- at least some of them- or rather part of some of them. Castle Films was a mail order company that offered 16mm or 8mm versions of movies for sale. These were not the entire movie but a heavily edited version made to keep the length to under one reel. In the case of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS they cut it down to less than nine minutes and actually made it a pretty good little short. Amazing what losing about an hour of footage will do for a movie sometimes, huh?

Here is the Castle Films version of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS. They retitled it ROCKET AND ROLL which is another improvement now that I think about it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

THE SLASHER - spoof trailer

After the dismal disappointment of the new FRIDAY THE 13TH film I found this hysterical. There is more entertainment in this two minutes than in the entire 90 minutes plus of the latest sad horror remake.

WARNING- there is some OTT violence in this.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Recent Western views

AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (1970) – This was an unexpectedly good film. Not that it breaks any new ground for a western or makes any bold statements- its just good in a surprising way. The best way to describe the movie in a brief phrase would be ‘short on story, long on style.’ The tale being told is so simple and obvious that it’s the basic plot of about a hundred other westerns as well as a number of film noir and modern crime movies. Klaus Kinski plays Guy Hamilton who is released from prison after serving ten years. He goes after the man who had him framed and eventually gets him. That’s it. That’s the story this film tells. But man- how it tells it! Director Antonio Margheriti made pretty much every type of film imaginable over his amazing career but his westerns tend to be good, not great. Both TAKE A HARD RIDE and VENGEANCE are serviceable but nothing special. This film is altogether different. Ramping up the style to 11 he has the villain’s home decked out in rich period detail that gives the interiors there a gothic flavor. Adding to the stylishness is the constant use of well placed mirrors in nearly every room of the place to give multiple reflections of each character as the camera glides around the room. Several times Margheriti uses the mirrors to show a character lying to another from two separate angles and then have that character see themselves reflected and look away as if in shame. The roving camerawork is also in evidence as Kinski stalks and kills the thirty or more henchmen trying to gain the reward their employer has put on his head. And did I mention that the bulk of the film takes place over one stormy night? Amazing stuff. Sometimes style can get you by and this is one of those cases.

ADIOS, SABATA (1971) – the ‘not really a Sabata’ movie with Yul Brynner in his only spaghetti western. Brynner’s character was supposed to be named Indio Black but the success of SABATA caused the filmmakers to change the name in the dubbing. A shame as that is the only thing I don’t like about this film. A rip-roaring adventure from start to finish it’s nearly as fun as a spaghetti western can be. Brynner is excellent in the ‘title’ role as an expert gunfighter and mercenary hired to run guns from sellers in the states to the revolutionaries in Mexico. To accomplish this he and his band of talented Mexican revolutionaries plan to steal a shipment of gold dust from Austrian soldiers to buy the guns and then transport them to the rebels. But between an American portrait painter’s hopes to claim the gold for himself and the small band’s own greed it’s a toss up as to where the gold will end. Throw in the Austrian commander’s clever plan to transport the money in secret and all bets are off. Filled with impossible pistol shots and unlikely action scenes it is exactly what I look for in a sly, clever SW. Damn! It’s a shame Brynner made only this one. And I’m glad he dubbed his own voice as his performance is great.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Keene Act

I continue to be amazed by the pre-release short films for WATCHMEN. I hope the film is as good as these things are leading me to expect.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I must see this film!

Every now and then I will see a piece of artwork for a movie and I immediately know that I must see the film advertised. Usually, as in this case, its a movie I've never heard of in my life. The director seems to have done several peplum in the 60s so maybe he had a handle on how to make an entertaining pirate movie. They are essentially the same genre, after all.

The hunt for GUNS OF THE BLACK WITCH (1961) is on! And thanks to the fantastic web-site Wrong Side of the Art for bringing so many great posters to my attention. It's a great service to film fans.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

THE WITCH (1966)

I just finished watching Damiano Damiani’s incredible THE WITCH (1966) and I can’t get it out of my mind. It is part pretentious art cinema, part horror film, part character study and all mind fuck. It's not hard to figure out what’s going on pretty quickly but it stays fascinating anyway. Richard Johnson plays a fellow in Rome living a good life flitting from hot girl to hot girl when he becomes aware of an old woman who has been watching him for a few weeks. Trying to speak to her he discovers a newspaper want ad that seems designed specifically for him. Answering the ad he learns the old woman placed it and wants him to both take the job and take up residence in her decaying mansion. But her gorgeous daughter wants him even more. There’s just one catch- he has to help get rid of the guy who had the job before him.

This is an absolutely amazing film! Certainly not to everyone’s taste but I really got pulled into this one. The quiet of the dusty old mansion and the teasing bits of information parceled out piece by piece about the old woman’s age and her desire to fend off the aging process work slowly to bring out the maximum creepiness. And the actress playing the daughter Aura is stunningly beautiful. I could have just watched her dress and undress and been completely entertained – if you know what I mean! I’m sad to say there was no nudity in the film but the shots of her bare back and legs were plenty.

Her name is Rosanna Schiaffino and I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything else. She was apparently in a couple of peplum movies and I’ve heard of TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN but the rest of her resume tells me nothing. Part of what made her so alluring is the nice black & white photography which catches her perfectly and her eyes are worth drowning in. It’s too bad the DVD I watched was a crappy dupe that looked like it was taken from a ragged video tape. I think a better print would be well worth checking out.

Worth a NetFlix rental, anyway.

Note: I've been reliably informed that this film was shot in color! That makes me hate the crappy DVD I watched even more. One day I guess I'll get the chance to see this correctly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


This was the first 3-D movie I ever saw. I wasn't too impressed by this late-to-the-party spaghetti western at the time but now I'm curious to see it again. I remember thinking the three dimensional effect was OK but not very good. With the latest return of this bizarre movie fad I once again turn to the past even though I have to admit that technology has managed to finally craft very good 3-D images for the theater. Both the recent JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH and MY BLOODY VALENTINE were solid demonstrations of how far things have come but we're still waiting for the first great movie made in this odd process.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Notes on a theatrical viewing of PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

Got out to a noontime screening of a newly struck print of one of my favorite movies today at Nashville's Belcourt Theater. I wanted to see the film on the big screen but I also wanted to show it to my 11 year old (nearly) adopted buddy as well. He has a great interest in genre fiction both in books and movies and I wanted him to see this classic before the ending was ruined for him- however accidentally that might happen.

First things first- the print was a good and complete one but it has clearly been on the arthouse circuit for a while as there were a number of scratches and blemishes especially at the reel changes. But overall it was wonderful to finally see this projected and feel the power the movie still holds in its uncut beauty.

How did the young one enjoy the movie? I'm glad to say that my desire to start him off with POTA correctly was a big success. He was leaning over to me during the opening trek across the forbidden zone and saying it was good and continued in this vein throughout. His only complaint was the ending. He had two problems- one I should have foreseen but the other was.... odd.

He didn't like the ending because he wanted to know what happened to Taylor NEXT. I understood this concern (I remember a similar thought when I was younger) and told him there were four sequels made. This brightened his outlook quite a lot and he has requested a viewing of BENEATH soon. I will be thrilled to fulfill this wish!

But his other problem was something I should have considered- he did not get the idea of nuclear annihilation. He just doesn't have the common reference of that fear of a Damocles sword hanging over him as I did as a kid. He has not lived with the threat of imminent destruction that makes the film's final revelation such a body blow. After I explained this to him he got it but I suspect it's similar to getting a joke and having it explained after everyone else is done laughing. He understands but it didn't hit him like it might have. It would be tempting to call this a shame but I can't. I'm glad this kid doesn't think about mushroom clouds sprouting over his schoolyard the way I often did at his age. I'm glad he doesn't fear his mother and himself being atomized in an instant because two nations can't agree on how to run an economic system. Yeah- it's a shame he couldn't have the same response to POTA that I and millions of others of our generation had- but I'm happy his biggest worry right now is a messed up tooth and a class report on Abraham Lincoln.

Plus- he wants to see the sequel movies anyway. What does that say about the qualities of a 41 year old movie?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Recent western views

SAVAGE GUNS (1971)- sloppy, poorly staged Spaghetti western this is at several points just plain stupid. A standard revenge story with nothing compelling about the main character or interesting about the villain it has only a few moments of entertainment. In the middle the movie has a completely pointless slow motion fist fight that serves absolutely no purpose. The main characters are not involved and the scene doesn't have anything to do with the story.Its as if the stunt coordinator took over for an afternoon and gave everyone a good workout. One odd thing I should note- Gordon Mitchell shows up as a bounty killer at one point only to be ignored and brushed aside beyond his introductory scene. And his character is named GORDON MITCHELL! What the hell was going on? Did they have him for a single day and shoot that one scene? Bizarre and skippable.

SHALAKO (1968)- I've shied away from this film for years because of the two star review in the old Leonard Maltin guide- will I never learn? Although it isn't great it is quite well done with some good performances and a series of exciting action scenes. The movie's main flaw is that the characters are sketchily drawn with little reason to care about them beyond the tension of the danger in which they are placed. I like the fact that it focuses on big game hunters who came here in the 19th century to score wild, New World trophies. Sean Connery is good and I now wish he had done more westerns when he was in his prime. Bridgett Bardot is very good and quite beautiful giving us a little side view of her breasts at one point- always a welcome sight. I even like the theme song- Shal-a-KO,Shal-a-KO!

THE HILLS RUN RED (1966)- good early revenge spaghetti that I could stand to watch again. Well done with some nice double crossing and a great turn from Dan Duryea as an unexpected ally of our central
character. Henry Silva is over the top as the main bad guy henchman
dressed in black- he has some great nasty moments and really sells it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What I watched in January

PAYBACK: STRAIGHT UP: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (1999) - 8 (much better than the watered down theatrical version)
IRON MAN (2008) - 10 (rewatch)
THE SPIRIT (2008) - 4
RENAISSANCE (2006) - 8 (French black & white animated sci-fi noir- really)
VIDEODROME (1983) - 8 (rewatch)
VALKYRIE (2008) - 7
MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957) - 6 (rewatch)
THE LAST HUNTER (1980) - 5 (not as good as I’d hoped but the ending kicks ass)
IN BRUGES (2008) - 9
THE BROKEN (2009) - 6 (slowly paced, creepy doppelganger story)
SAVAGE STREETS (1984) - 7 (nasty revenge thriller)
THE SONS OF THE GREAT BEAR (1966)- 6 (my first German western)
TIDELAND (2005)- 6 (fascinating if not great Gilliam)
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005)- 8 (the 3 hour plus cut)
DJANGO THE BASTARD (1969)- 8 (excellent Spaghetti western)
SUPERMAN REDEEMED (2007)- 5 (attempt to mash together 3 and 4 to make a good film almost succeeds)
MONSTER DOG (1985)- 4 (not as bad as I’d hoped)
MAN OF THE WEST (1958)- 9 (excellent Anthony Mann western)
THE UNBORN (2009)- 4 (limp exorcism film)
RED SONJA (1985)- 3 (rewatch) (I love this bad film!)
THE MURDERS CLUB OF BROOKLYN (1967)- 6 (Jerry Cotton G-Man film)
MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D (2009)- 6 (fun R rated 3D horror flick)
INKHEART (2009)- 5 (flat fantasy film)
THE HILLS RUN RED (1966)- 6 (average revenge spaghetti western)
SHALAKO (1968)- 6 (better than I’d read- solid)
THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1961)- 6 (Mexi-gothic combo of DRACULA and THE MASK OF SATAN)
CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966)- 8 (excellent period horror story with sharp dialog)
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS (2009)- 6 (entertaining prequel)
HOT RODS TO HELL (1967)- 6 (wonderfully bad film- square American hysteria with a straight face)

Having taken a vow to watch more westerns this year than last I came out of the gate strong last month with five. Luckily they were all pretty good with DJANGO THE BASTARD and the classic MAN OF THE WEST being excellent.

I also dove back into classic Doctor Who visiting with Hartnell, Tom Baker and Colin Baker for some retro fun.