Films I Enjoy (But Most Do Not Or Have Never Heard Of)
This is the first appearance of what I hope will be a series of articles about movies, or films as they are sometimes called, that pleasure me highly upon viewing, but don’t necessarily tickle other people’s fancies (if they have even heard of these celluloid expressions at all.)
From 1975-1982 Burt Reynolds was the undisputed king of the box office. This fact is hard to fathom now, but at one point in time Burt’s films were the epicenter of cool… then he did Stroker Ace… and Cannonball Run II. Those two movies, in addition to the long forgotten buddy cop/period piece/gangster flick City Heat co-starring Clint Eastwood(!) brought Burt’s meteoric film career crashing down to Earth. (That and a staggering debt to his toupee maker and an injury during a stunt sequence in the above mentioned City Heat that caused everyone to think he had AIDS.)
By 1986 Burt had resolved SOME of his financial woes and had healed himself up enough to begin working again. Needless to say however the plum roles weren’t being offered, so he had to take what he could get. Between 1984 and his big comeback in 1997 with Boogie Nights Burt starred in over a dozen films and a TV show. Out of everything Burt made during that time period about the only films anyone remembers are The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1985) and Striptease (1995.) I will concede that a lot of Burt’s films from his “Non-Golden Age” are less than memorable, but some of them are quite good and Heat (1986) is one of the best.
In Heat, Burt lives in Vegas, and plays Nick Escalante a boozed up, washed out, gambling addicted, street saavy, hard boiled hired “heavy.” His dream is to save up a big wad of “fuck-you money” and live out the rest of his years in Venice. Burt seemingly gets a shot at his dream when he is hired by a shy millionaire (played by Peter MacNichol) to be his bodyguard during his stay in Vegas. However a great big cog gets thrown into the works when one of Burt’s closest friends (a cocktail waitress played by Karen Young) is sadistically raped by a local thug (Neill Barry.) Burt reluctantly agrees to help his friend get some revenge, but he knows deep down that it will most likely end poorly for everyone involved, but especially him…
Heat suffers a bit in the style department due to an obviously low budget, but is still a very solid dramatic action flick. The direction by R.M Richards is slick and gritty. The cast is chock full of character actors (including Diana Scarwid, Howard Hesseman and Deborah Rush in supporting roles) very much putting forth their best efforts, especially Peter MacNichol. The score is also surprisingly well done for a mid-80’s affair, lots of sultry saxophone and resonant strings, giving everything a bit of a film noir vibe. But, most importantly Burt is at the top of his post “golden-age” game. Burt gives a tough, world weary, yet witty performance that has a very “Elmore Leonard” quality to it.
If you like Burt, if you like manly-man movies, if you like solid action flicks with a decent sense of dark humor check out Heat.
Blind Fury (1989)
Essentially this is an american take off of Zatoichi (various films from 1962-2003) starring the always wonderful (and woefully underrated/underused) Rutger Hauer as Nick Parker, a blind swordsman. Blind Fury also has an impressive cast of character actors that includes Terry O’Quinn, Meg Foster, Noble Willingham, Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb, Sho Kosugi and a young Nick Cassavettes turning in great performances all around.
Hauer and O’Quinn play former friends who served in Vietnam together. One day during a particularly nasty assault Hauer was blinded and left abandoned by O’Quinn. Hauer was captured as a POW and over time he learned to overcome his handicap… and handle a sword with deadly precision. Years later O’Quinn is being forced to make designer drugs for a rich thug (Noble Willingham) who holds his ex wife and kid (Meg Foster and Brandon Call) over his head as incentive. Eventually though O’Quinn gets fed up with his arrangement and decides not to cooperate any longer. Thusly, Willingham sends a team of goons to kill O’Quinn’s wife and child. Fortunately Hauer has shown up in town to bury the hatchet with his former friend and is able to at least save the kid from a horrible fate. Hauer then fights his way through man after man trying with all his might to reunite father and son…
Despite how semi-serious the plot summary may sound Blind Fury is very much a comedic action film. The movie has a wickedly funny sense of silly humor, particularly when it comes to dealing with Hauer’s blindness. Never the less, the body count is high, the action scenes are furious and the dramatic scenes are often poignant and touching. Blind Fury moves along at a brisk pace and is slickly shot by the always reliable Philip Noyce. Hauer is great as usual, seemingly having a hoot in his role and the rest of the cast, including child actor Brandon Call, work well together and deliver fine performances.
So if a blind, wise cracking Rutger Hauer driving through rush hour traffic, slicing through hoards of goons and doing battle with Sho Kosugi near an electrified hot tub sound appealing to you, please do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy of Blind Fury.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
One of the very few terrifying, true horror films in the semi-classical sense to come out of the 90’s. (Referring of course not to thrillers like Silence of the Lambs or Seven, or hip neo-horror flicks like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.) In the Mouth of Madness is an epically underrated film and certainly the last all around great movie John Carpenter has made.
The film tells the story of an insurance investigator (Sam Neill) looking into the disappearance of famed horror novelist Sutter Kane (Jurgen Prochnow.) Kane’s novels have been driving his fans crazy (literally, murderously, violently crazy) and the publishing company NEEDS to get Kane’s latest manuscript out to the increasingly disturbed masses. Neill begins putting the pieces of Kane’s whereabouts together and heads off to find him, winding up in the most hellish trouble anyone could possibly imagine…
I don’t want to detail too much of the plot here as it really is something that just should be experienced while watching the film. So I will just say that In the Mouth of Madness is an unrelenting assault to the senses. The film plays with reality, surreality and unreality in a mesmerizing and horrific way. There is psychological terror, there is gore, there are nightmarish Lovecraftian monsters and just genuinely bone chillingly haunting moments that will stick in your mind long after the film has ended. And, as is always the case with Carpenter’s films the movie looks immaculate and is put together as only a master can. The acting in the film is also brilliant all around, especially from Neill who turns in a high caliber performance usually not associated with horror films, especially more modern ones.
Student Bodies (1981)
I love Student Bodies because it is a mostly hilarious parody of slasher films made during the peak of the slasher film’s popularity. Like most slashers not set on Halloween or Friday the 13th (although according to the opening sequence Student Bodies takes place on both Halloween and Friday the 13th, which happens to be Jamie Lee Curtis’s birthday) Student Bodies is starred in and directed by “nobodies.” The only well known person associated with the film is Richard Belzer and he isn’t even in the movie (he provides the voice of the lecherous, wheezing, constantly narrating killer, known as The Breather.) And as with most non-major-series slasher films of the time period the budget of the film is non-existent. None of these factors detract from the film however, they merely enhance it’s satirical similarities to the films it’s skewering.
In a sentence, Student Bodies is about a homicidal maniac running about the grounds of Lamab High, killing off the members of the student body one by one.
The film however takes this tried and true genre narrative and turns everything intentionally silly. From the opening sequence that effectively parodies both Halloween and When A Stranger Calls, to the hallucinatory “Final Girl” showdown in the halls of the school where the virginal heroine is chased not only by the killer but the zombies of all the victims, Student Bodies is a warped, hilarious little lost film. Throughout the course of the film you’ll get drooling phones, a meowing dog, death by paper clip, odd obsession with “horse head bookends”, a creepy janitor seemingly made out of rubber, death by eggplant and a multitude of hilarious blink or you’ll miss them non-sequitors; such as a line about how “taking a shower wont get rid of herpes.” Student Bodies also helpfully provides the audience with an on screen “body count” meter!
If you like “classic” styled slasher films and didn’t think Scream did them too much justice check out Student Bodies and let the laugh count begin!
The Black Hole (1979)
A team of scientists is sent out into the far reaches of space on a pseudo-rescue mission to find out what happened to a long missing giant spacecraft, all of it’s crew and the genius who created it. What they find shocks and repulses them and sends everyone involved into a hellish descent into madness and the unknown, the likes of which they could never imagine…
NO I’m not reviewing Paul W.S. Anderson’s underrated “The Shining in Space” Event Horizon (1997), I’m talking about Disney’s darkest hour 1979’s The Black Hole.
Aside from a couple of kid friendly talking robots (voice by Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens) The Black Hole is a surprisingly bleak and adult affair. The cast is made up of Robert Forster, Maximillian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimeux, Joseph Bottoms and Ernest Borgnine, and each of them turn in great performances; particularly Forster, Perkins and Schell. The Black Hole is directed with great visual flare by Disney veteran Gary Nelson.
The true stars of The Black Hole however are the special effects (which although old fashioned even for the time, hold up exceedingly well today), the intricate and awe inspiring design of the massive spaceship “Cygnus” and the heartless killer robot Maximillian (who, in a much shocking move at the time of the film’s release, brutally murders Anthony Perkins on camera in full Technicolor glory.)
The exterior shots of the gigantic Cygnus, all angular metal beams, crosshairs and backlit menace are impressive and remind one of the cold, impending doom of The Nostromo from Alien (also 1979.) The titular Black Hole itself is a swirling paint void of psychadelic color constantly spinning away in the background of the film, shadowing over everything like a dark sun. The interior of the ship too is grandiose and imposing, filled with endless metal corridors, dark cloaked wordless cyborg crew members and askew, sharp angles. When the Cygnus begins to make it’s move into the Black Hole we get an extended and striking (if implausible) sequence of glowing meteors cutting through the hull of the ship, destroying everything in sight. And of course, the finale, which I wont spoil, but lets just say, whether you end up loving or hating the film, the ending will stick with you the rest of your life.
While a bit long winded at times I consider The Black Hole my favorite Disney film, mainly because it is so nightmarish and dark (and it was for the longest time the ultimate black sheep in Disney’s stable, even going so far as to briefly selling the rights off to Anchor Bay.) I understand however that The Black Hole is getting the “revamp” treatment from the director of “Tron Legacy.” I can almost guarantee The Black Hole Version 2 will have about 1/100th the darkness and originality of the original film. And those who derided the semi-cute robots of the original will end up with nothing but that this go around… And probably The Rock in place of Robert Forster… and score by Ashley Tisdale instead of John Barry… *shudder*
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