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Month: July 2006

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins (1984)

“They’re watching Snow White. And they’re loving it!”

Gremlins Poster

Synopsis:
A cute, furry creature bought at a Chinese curio shop spawns a breed of evil Gremlins who take over the town of Kingston Falls.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Although this Joe Dante-directed film (a “summer box-office sensation”) was marketed squarely at my age group when it was released (I was ten at the time), I never did see it. Truth be told, I used to be deathly afraid of horror movies (five minutes of Carrie gave me nightmares for years), and suspected that Gremlins would be a bit too scary for me to handle. Seeing it now for the first time as an adult, I have to say I think I was right; as Peary notes, the young kids who would most enjoy the nifty special effects and muppet-like “Gizmo” (the original Gremlin) probably “shouldn’t see this movie.” At any rate, about halfway through watching it recently, I suddenly realized that the perfect word to describe it might be “surreal”: it’s sort of like The Muppet Movie meets Dawn of the Dead meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets E.T. meets Alien meets The Karate Kid meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Wizard of Oz meets It’s a Wonderful Life — and I could go on!

Many scenes are truly bizarre — like the one where Kate (Phoebe Cates) explains to Billy (Zach Galligan) why she hates Christmas (her father died while stuck in the chimney dressed as Santa Claus!), or the one where the Gremlins take over a movie theater and gleefully watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. None of it really makes a whole lot of sense — and just when you think things couldn’t be cozier, they suddenly turn, as Peary puts it, “vicious and cruel”. A deeper analysis of Gremlins kept creeping up on me as I was watching it — are these ugly, perversely hedonistic reptilian buggers meant to represent a Pandora’s box of the world’s evils, everything most obscene about humanity which lurks just beyond our naive grasp? Hmmm…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Amazing puppetry work
    Puppetry
  • Gruesome special effects
    Special effects
  • A truly surreal, eclectic plot
    Surreal

Must See?
Yes. This classic ’80’s blockbuster should be seen by any true film fanatic.

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What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

“It is written: He who makes the best egg salad shall rule the heaven and earth.”

Synopsis:
Dubbed Japanese spies will do anything to find a secret egg salad recipe.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, the novelty of this one-joke spy spoof by Woody Allen — in which he “appears at the beginning to explain that he has taken a Japanese spy film, Kagi no Kag, and had American actors dub all the dialogue with absurd comedy” — “wears off long before the end”, but it still makes for fun watching. Peary argues that “the film footage is wild to begin with”, and thus “the ridiculous inserted dialogue works”. Naturally, not all the dubbed lines work, but a surprising majority are hilarious, and lovers of Allen’s left-field non-sequitors will be especially thrilled. Just for kicks, Peary recommends “substituting your own silly lines to see if they better Allen’s” (!).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cool opening credits
    Opening Credits
  • A woman seductively asking her lover to “name three presidents”
    Presidents
  • Woody Allen simply responding “No” when an interviewer asks him to clarify what has happened so far in the movie
    No

Must See?
Yes. As Woody Allen’s first feature film, it’s worth watching for historical purposes alone, and you’re guaranteed at least a few chuckles.

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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

“With most grievous dispatch, I shall open the latch to get at her snatch!”

Synopsis:
Seven humorous vignettes poke fun at a famous sexology book.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that critics at the time were divided in their response to this early Woody Allen film, which “severely tested audience’s embarrassment level much as Lenny Bruce did years before”. These days, of course, we’re so inured to discussing anything and everything related to sex that the vignettes will hardly get a rise out of most audience members — with the possible exception of “What is Sodomy?”, in which a doctor (marvelously played by Gene Wilder) falls in love with an Armenian sheep named Daisy. I think this may be the most thorough (albeit satirical) treatment that zoophilia has ever received on the big screen…

As with every episodic film, some segments are more amusing than others — for instance, “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?”, in which a middle-aged man (Lou Jacobi) dresses up in women’s clothing, falls completely flat. But the rest have at least a few moments of hilarity, with Allen managing to satirize multiple genres — including television game shows (“What’s My Perversion?”), space exploration (“What Happens During Ejaculation?”), sci-fi/monster flicks (“Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research Accurate?”), medieval historical dramas (“Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”), and Italian cinema (“Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?”) — within the space of just 87 minutes. Although he’s made some real clunkers in the past few years, Allen’s early comedic genius is indisputable.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The truly hilarious final vignette, in which a group of white-clad sperm (the ever-neurotic Allen among them) get ready for blast-off
    Sperm
  • Gene Wilder’s performance as the sheep-loving doctor
    Gene Wilder
  • Lynn Redgrave adding “-st” to the end of nearly every word she says
    Lynn Redgrave
  • Woody Allen as a too-cool Italian lover in spiffy shades
    Allen Italian
  • “What’s My Perversion?” game show spoof
    What's My Perversion?2
  • An enormous milk-spouting breast roaming the country and wreaking havoc
    Breast

Must See?
Yes. Although not all segments are equally funny, this is an unusual entry in Allen’s oeuvre, and well worth checking out.

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Story of O, The (1975)

Story of O, The (1975)

“O wondered why she found her terror so delicious.”

Synopsis:
At the request of her lover (Udo Kier), a woman (Corinne Clery) is given the pseudonym “O” and trained to become a willing sex slave to men.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Unfortunately, there’s little to enjoy and much to be offended by in this dull, slowly-paced, lushly photographed erotic classic (based on the French novel by “Pauline Reage”). As Peary notes, the pain “O” suffers at the hands of the “debonairly repulsive” men around her is rarely mitigated by any signs of overt pleasure; we hear her voicing her consent, yet it’s hard not to feel like she’s got some serious psychological issues for agreeing to this kind of torture. Equally disturbing is the fact that, other than in the final, extremely brief closing shot, it is uniformly women who are abused by men in this film, rather than an equal interplay existing between both. Indeed, as pointed out in the MediaScreen.com review — the only recent review I could find online that seems to corroborate my distaste for the film — in an age of increased awareness about the dire situation for women in many countries around the world, it’s especially disturbing to see women abused at the hands of dominant men.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Corinne Clery’s surprisingly nuanced performance as O
    Corinne Clery
  • Beautiful soft-filter cinematography
    Walking
  • Sumptuous, elaborate sets
    Set

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a brief look simply for its place in erotic cinema history. But don’t expect to enjoy it.

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Zombie Island Massacre (1984)

Zombie Island Massacre (1984)

“I think I can safely promise you a tour you’ll never forget!”

Synopsis:
A group of tourists in Jamaica are knocked off one after the other by a mysterious killer in the dark.

Genres:

  • Caribbean Islands
  • Horror
  • Serial Killers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this cult horror flick — which possesses the dubious distinction of being the last title reviewed in his book — is (or was) primarily notable for starring Rita Jenrette, ex-wife of Congressman John Jenrette (involved in the notorious ABSCAM scandal). Rita — who also posed for a Playboy spread — has an enormous bosom, which she gets to show off several times at the beginning of the film. Unfortunately, she and nearly everyone else in the cast are given inane, cliched dialogue, and the acting is mediocre at best. About halfway through, I finally realized that this film is actually camp in disguise — and that if it had been played up a few notches, it may have been mildly amusing. Unfortunately, everyone takes themselves far too seriously, and thus the story falls flat. An annoying final note: there are no “real” zombies in this flick.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some genuine suspense, as well as a surprising (if unsatisfactory) plot twist

Must See?
No. Any notoriety this film once had is long gone. It’s only worth watching if you’re a true fan of slasher flicks.

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Alice, Sweet Alice / Communion / Holy Terror (1977)

Alice, Sweet Alice / Communion / Holy Terror (1977)

“God always takes the pretty ones…”

Poster3

Synopsis:
When 10-year-old Karen (Brooke Shields) is murdered right before her first communion, everyone suspects her raincoat-clad, jealous older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) — but is Alice really the killer?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This cult murder mystery (notable as Brooke Shields’ debut film, though her part is small) is indeed “guaranteed to keep you tense”. Paula Sheppard is pitch-perfect in the title role, skillfully portraying a juvenile murder suspect who is either deeply misunderstood or deeply troubled; meanwhile, director Albert Sole effectively “uses the horror genre to attack Catholicism” (which does little, as Peary notes, to help its “confused, guilt-ridden, emotionally misunderstood church members”). Full of “offbeat touches and characters” — as well as many truly creepy scenes (who can forget the yellow raincoat?) — this is a surprisingly dense and satisfying horror flick.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paula Sheppard as Alice
    Paula
  • Brooke Shields in her first silver-screen appearance (albeit a short one)
    Shields
  • Effective use of bleak New Jersey locales
    Rain
  • Quirky characters
    Offbeat
  • Many creepy scenes, and a surprise ending
    Mask
  • Stephen Lawrence’s atmospheric score

Must See?
Yes, as a beloved ’70s horror flick.

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Adventures of the Wilderness Family, The (1975)

Adventures of the Wilderness Family, The (1975)

Poser

Synopsis:
Tired of the smog and pressure of city life, the Robinsons — Skip (Robert Logan), Pat (Susan Damante-Shaw), Jenny (Hollye Holmes), and Toby (Ham Larsen) — head out to live in the wilderness.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this popular film — which showed up repeatedly on cable television stations in the 1980s — may be relatively innocuous “family fare”, but is guaranteed to get on the nerves of most reasonable adults. As one user on IMDb puts it, the Robinsons seem to be saying, “We have no idea how, but let’s go camping permanently!” This is actually too bad, because there are presumably some families who have chosen a rural lifestyle after years of dissatisfied city life, and I’d love to see how they realistically manage the logistics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some beautiful scenery, but that’s about it

Must See?
No.

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Long, Long Trailer, The (1954)

Long, Long Trailer, The (1954)

“It’s a fine thing when you come home to your home and your home is gone!”

Synopsis:
Newlyweds Tacy (Lucille Ball) and Nicky (Desi Arnaz) find their marriage on the brinks as they travel in their brand-new, “long, long trailer”.

Genres:

  • Comedy
  • Keenan Wynn Films
  • Lucille Ball Films
  • Marital Problems
  • Newlyweds
  • Road Trip
  • Vincente Minnelli Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
I’m pleased that Peary refers to this “delightful comedy” as “strangely neglected”, because I feel the same way. As Peary notes, there are countless moments of hilarity and romance, with both Arnaz and Ball turning in wonderfully comedic performances. Fans of “I Love Lucy” definitely won’t be disappointed, and others should find themselves laughing in sympathy as well. Plus, as a recent newlywed myself, I can attest to the authenticity of how exasperating road trips can be for couples. Some of my worst arguments with my husband have occurred while we’ve been on vacation, so I have nothing but empathy for poor Tacy and Nicky, as they try to recapture the spark of love in the midst of their chaotic travails.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ball vainly attempting to cook as their trailer bounces back and forth across the bumpy road
  • Ball’s collection of enormous rocks, which dangerously weighs down their new home
  • Arnaz steering the enormous trailer along perilous mountain paths (a truly scary scene)

Must See?
Yes, as Ball’s best film.

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Adventures of Robinson Crusoe / Robinson Crusoe (1952)

Adventures of Robinson Crusoe / Robinson Crusoe (1952)

“Being the third son of a good family, and not educated to any trade, my head began to be filled early with thoughts of leaving England, to see the world.”

Adventures Robinson Crusoe Poster

Synopsis:
Slave trader Robinson Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy) is stranded on a desert island, and must learn to survive on his own — until the arrival of “Man Friday” (Jaime Fernandez) provides him with company and assistance.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, Luis Bunuel’s “peculiar” film adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s classic adventure novel is “beautifully shot”, yet “static and thematically ambiguous”. While O’Herlihy’s “haughty slave-driver” initially “feels humbled as he must consider his helplessness and man’s insignificant place in God’s universe”, once ‘Man Friday’ (Jaime Fernandez) arrives on the island, O’Herlihy [arguably] begins to see “himself as God in this new domain”. Suffice it to say that no steps are taken to mitigate the assumed hierarchy between master and slave; as Peary points out, this is not the film to watch if you want to see a “defiant” black man. Peary concludes his review by noting that “adults will watch this film mostly as a Bunuel curio”, while children “may respond to the colorful adventure and magical setting and [simply] be unaware of the religious themes”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Beautiful, lush Technicolor cinematography
    Scarecrow
  • Dan O’Herlihy’s commanding performance as Crusoe
    Dan O'Herlihy
  • Snippets of surreality, providing evidence of Bunuel’s continued fascination with this stylistic approach

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply as a curio in Bunuel’s oeuvre.

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Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971)

Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971)

“Nine killed her… Nine shall die… Nine eternities in doom!”

Abominable Dr Phibes Poster

Synopsis:
A disfigured concert organist (Vincent Price) seeks Biblical revenge on the nine surgeons who accidentally killed his wife years earlier.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this “campy Vincent Price British horror film with a revenge motif” isn’t “as well made or as lively” as Theatre of Blood (1973) but remains “reasonably enjoyable”, thanks in large part to “stylish direction” by Robert Fuest and “a funny, tongue-in-cheek script by James Whiton and William Goldstein”. As gruesome as the murders are (Peary points out they’re “too grisly” for children — though would young kids really be watching this film?), there’s something undeniably fascinating about witnessing a series of calculated, predictable killings taking place. We quickly get caught up in serious count-down mode, with the poor detectives (Peter Jeffrey and Derek Godfrey) assigned to the case suffering repeated ridicule for the sake of heightened drama. As the “methodical, obsessed” Dr. Phibes, Vincent Price is “well-cast” and as effectively macabre as always; his performance here is reminiscent of his equally serious and violent role as Matthew Hopkins in The Witchfinder General (1968).

Note: This would be interesting as a double feature with the more recent, infinitely “grislier” Se7en (1995) — also based on “Biblical” vengeance, but without any of …Dr. Phibes‘ black humor.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes
  • Outrageously over-the-top sets
  • Highly “creative” murders (based upon the seven Biblical plagues against Egypt)
  • Creepy, effective make-up

Must See?
Yes; this enjoyable horror flick shouldn’t be missed.

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