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Month: August 2020

Mask, The / Eyes of Hell, The (1961)

Mask, The / Eyes of Hell, The (1961)

“I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t — I don’t want to!”

Synopsis:
Shortly after his client (Martin Lavut) commits suicide, Dr. Barnes (Paul Stevens) receives an ancient mask in the mail — one Lavut complained had been tormenting him. Soon Stevens — despite warnings from his kind girlfriend (Claudette Nivens) — is unable to resist the lure of wearing the mask himself, and begins to hallucinate incredibly frightening scenes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Horror Films
  • Mind Control and Hypnosis

Review:
The storyline of this low-budget Canadian horror film is fairly straightforward, and clearly designed to center around the 3D hallucination sequences, in which characters are enjoined to “Put on the mask!” and audience members to put on their “Miracle Movie Fright Mask” — a.k.a. 3D glasses. These sequences are remarkably well-done given the low budget, and effectively freaky; I can imagine accidentally catching a glimpse of this on TV as a kid and being scared for days or weeks afterwards. With that said, there really isn’t much more to the narrative than waiting for the next moment we hear “Put on the mask!” According to Joe Dante in his Trailers From Hell review, it did reasonably well at the box office, especially when it was re-released (newly entitled “The Eyes of Hell”) as a midnight drive-thru flick — which makes complete sense.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Creepy, well-filmed 3D sequences (created by Slavko Vorkapich)


Must See?
No, though the 3D sequences are worth a look. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Mysterious Island (1961)

Mysterious Island (1961)

“Aren’t we able to do anything to save ourselves?”

Synopsis:
During the Civil War, a group of Union prisoners (Michael Craig, Herbert Brown, and Dan Jackson) — accompanied by an unwitting journalist (Gary Merrill) and a Confederate hostage (Percy Herbert) — escape by hot air balloon and land on a remote island with enormous creatures and mysterious signs of human life. Soon they are joined by two shipwrecked British women (Joan Greenwood and Beth Rogan) and romance blooms between Brown and Rogan while the team struggles to survive.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Deserted Islands
  • Fantasy
  • Jules Verne Adaptations
  • Prisoners of War
  • Survival

Review:
Loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1875 novel of the same name, this sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) references Captain Nemo (indeed, he shows up late in the film as a pivotal character), but tells its own distinct tale of escape and survival on a remote island. Making the adventure much more exciting are several enormous creatures, including a crab that nearly eats one of the soldiers (Dan Jackson) before being dumped into a boiling hot geyser and eaten for supper; a huge, chicken-like bird that tries to peck away at Rogan (and is similarly roasted and eaten); a gigantic bee that seals Rogan and Brown inside a honeycomb cell; and more. Indeed, it’s these animated creatures — crafted by Ray Harryhausen — that make the film memorable and beloved by many viewers, but unfortunately, they don’t make much sense within the narrative, and weren’t part of the original novel. With that said, it’s refreshing to see the inclusion of a black actor and character (Jackson) who’s given a reasonably equitable role (at least up until the women arrive); and the opening escape sequence — as the prisoners leave their jail in a storm and sail high into the air — is genuinely exciting. Harryhausen fans will want to check this one out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The exciting opening escape sequence
  • Bernard Herrmann’s score

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Harryhausen completists.

Links:

Ice Castles (1978)

Ice Castles (1978)

“If you’re not tough enough, you’re never going to make it.”

Synopsis:
Against the wishes of her widowed dad (Tom Skerritt), a talented small-town ice skater (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is encouraged by her coach (Colleen Dewhurst) and her boyfriend (Robby Benson) to accept an offer of being mentored by a big-time trainer (Jennifer Warren) — but is fame and success all it’s cut out to be?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Blindness
  • Rise-and-Fall
  • Sports

Review:
This soaper-on-ice — about an aspiring skater who attempts to enter the big league at the ripe old age of 16 (!!!) — is well-adored by viewers of a certain age (who perhaps caught it on repeat TV broadcasts), as well as those enamored by ice skating. Indeed, there’s some beautiful skating on display here by real-life skater Johnson, who’s well-cast in the lead role. Other supporting performances are nicely played as well (I’m particularly fond of Skerritt as Johnson’s grieving father) — but the screenplay ultimately lets us down. It’s full of trite dialogue:

“If she doesn’t try, it’s going to be second-best — for us.”
“Not trying is wondering your whole life if you gave up too soon.”

and goes in narrative directions that must be seen to be believed. However, it’s all convincing enough if you’re willing to get drawn into the lure of its fairy tale charm. Indeed, this remains a sufficiently enduring story that it was remade by the same director (Donald Wrye) in 2010 — a version I haven’t seen.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Solid performances by the cast
  • Some affecting, well-filmed moments

Must See?
No, unless you remember this fondly from your youth and would like to revisit it.

Links:

Rustlers’ Rhapsody (1985)

Rustlers’ Rhapsody (1985)

“The same thing keeps happening in all these towns.”

Synopsis:
When a handsome cowboy (Tom Berenger) shifts out of a serial b&w western and rides into the colorful town of Oakwood Estates, he quickly meets a host of familiar characters: the town drunk (G.W. Bailey), the local prostitute with a heart of gold (Marilu Henner), the top cattle rancher (Andy Griffith), and Griffith’s beautiful daughter (Sela Ward). When Griffith seeks help from the local railroad boss (Fernando Rey) in killing Berenger, Berenger draws on every strength he knows he has a “good guy” cowboy — but the sudden appearance of an equally noble rival (Patrick Wayne) causes him to question his credibility.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Andy Griffith Films
  • Cowboys
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Westerns

Review:
This good-natured satire of serial westerns pokes fun at their predictability and formulaic nature — including giving the lead character omniscience about what will happen next at every turn. Unfortunately, while it’s far more enjoyable than the other western-satire released the same year — Paul Bartel’s Lust in the Dust (1985) — it doesn’t quite live up to its potential: we eventually tire of hearing Berenger say, “I knew that would happen”, and some of the ongoing jokes (i.e., Berenger gnawing on a “root” — actually a potato — as a form of old-west drug) fall completely flat. On the other hand, the actors are all invested in their roles (Henner did not deserve her Razzie nomination!), and the location shooting (in Spain) is quite beautiful.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine location shooting in Spain
  • An occasionally amusing parody of Western tropes

Must See?
No, though I think diehard western fans would have fun with it.

Links:

Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

“Some will live and some will die, before tomorrow’s sun is high.”

Synopsis:
In 19th century France, a traveling circus is invited to the castle of Count Drago (Christopher Lee), who has a keen interest in mummifying animals of all kinds — including, apparently, humans.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Christopher Lee Films
  • Donald Sutherland Films
  • Horror Films
  • Mummies
  • Old Dark House

Review:
This semi-dubbed Italian-French horror flick is notable for including uncredited early directorial work by Michael Reeves, and for featuring Donald Sutherland in his screen debut (playing both a police officer and an old hag). Unfortunately, while the film is high on gothic atmosphere, it’s slow on plot and pacing; there’s one central premise to the storyline — who will Lee and his henchman (Mirko Valentin) capture next? — and we simply watch this play out in scene after scene, in spooky settings. In terms of the performances, leading actress Gaia Germani (who often reminds one of Audrey Hepburn) is simply perpetually frightened (for good reason); Sutherland is nearly unrecognizable in his female guise; and it’s refreshing to see a dwarf (Anthony Martin) emerging as a hero of the situation.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric sets and cinematography



Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious.
Links:

Orgy of the Dead (1965)

Orgy of the Dead (1965)

“Torture! Torture! It pleasures me!”

Synopsis:
A writer (William Bates) and his girlfriend (Pat Barrington), seeking inspiration for Bates’ horror stories, visit a cemetery where they are quickly abducted by the “Emperor of the Dead” (Criswell) and his princess (Fawn Silver) and forced to watch a series of once-dead women dance topless.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dancers
  • Death and Dying
  • Ed Wood Films
  • Horror

Review:
Ed Wood, Jr. wrote the screenplay for this deathly boring (sorry) stripper flick masquerading as some kind of horror revue. The acting is terrible, the dances laughable, and the screenplay practically non-existent (the only “tension” is whether Barrington and Bates will be killed and forced to join the troupe of dancing dead before the sun rises). As DVD Savant succinctly describes it, “This is basically 90 minutes of repetitious and numbing strip acts, with poor cutaways to the presiding ghouls who bicker about how much time they have before dawn or who gets to stab who.” The inclusion of a mummy (Louis Ojena) and wolfman (John Andrews) as sidekicks does absolutely nothing to alleviate the tedium. At least the cinematography is colorful, and decent use is made of a smoke machine.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Nope; skip this one. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

  • IMDb entry
  • DVD Savant Review
  • Spinning Image Review
  • Good Times (1967)

    Good Times (1967)

    “I have a script; you have a contract.”

    Synopsis:
    When singing duo Sonny (Sonny Bono) and Cher (Cher) are handed a creaky script by an arrogant producer (George Sanders), Sonny brainstorms ways to make it more creative by spoofing various genres — including westerns, Tarzan adventures, and private eye flicks.

    Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

    • Cher Films
    • Comedy
    • George Sanders Films
    • Fantasy
    • Hollywood
    • Musicals
    • Satires and Spoofs
    • William Friedkin Films

    Review:
    Director William Friedkin cut his feature-length-narrative teeth on this amiable musical vehicle for Sonny and Cher, which did poorly at the box office but remains innocuously enjoyable escapist fare. The sets are colorful, Sonny and Cher seem to be having a good time together, and the three movie farces are fairly clever. Sanders is perfectly cast (and doesn’t seem bored out of his skull) playing “Mordicus”, a diabolically controlling producer with exactly one “rags to riches” storyline in mind; he also cleverly shows up as the villains (Knife McBlade, “white hunter”, and Zarubian) in each of the satires. Friedkin directs with a sure hand, and it’s well-edited to boot. While it’s certainly not must-see viewing, it’s not totally awful, either.

    Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

    • Colorful sets, costumes, and cinematography
    • Amusingly scripted satirical vignettes
    • A few enjoyable tunes

    Must See?
    No; this one remains a curiosity but not must-see.

    Links:

    Legend of the Lost (1957)

    Legend of the Lost (1957)

    “Nobody pays any attention to gold hunters in the desert – except the desert!”

    Synopsis:
    A Saharan desert guide (John Wayne) accompanies a religious man (Rossano Brazzi) obsessed with finding a lost city his father discovered years ago. When a local prostitute (Sophia Loren) decides to join them, interesting love tangles ensue.

    Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

    • Gold Seekers
    • Henry Hathaway Films
    • John Wayne Films
    • Love Triangle
    • Sophia Loren Films
    • Survival

    Review:
    Henry Hathaway directed, Ben Hecht co-scripted, and Jack Cardiff shot (in Technirama) this desert survival drama, shot on location near Tripoli. John Wayne plays — essentially, himself, as much of a stoic cowboy as ever; meanwhile, Loren is suitably beautiful yet sympathetic as a woman eager to turn her challenging past around, and Brazzi is an appropriately enigmatic third wheel. Indeed, Brazzi’s character shifts over time are what primarily drive the narrative, which otherwise consists of LOTS of desert-survival scenes (as well as inevitable lust for Loren). To its credit, the creaky film never quite lags, even when the characters are faced time and again with similar variations on near-death; and the ending brings some interesting surprises. However, this one isn’t must-see viewing for anyone other than die-hard fans of the stars.

    Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

    • Jack Cardiff’s cinematography and fine on-location shooting


    Must See?
    No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious (or want to see Cardiff’s work).

    Links:

    Sayonara (1957)

    Sayonara (1957)

    “I find myself becoming intrigued by everything in Japan.”

    Synopsis:
    A soldier (Marlon Brandon) stationed in Japan during the Korean War serves as best man when his friend (Red Buttons) marries a Japanese woman (Miyoshki Umeki); soon he falls in love himself with a beautiful Japanese singer (Miiko Taka). Brandon’s former fiancee (Patricia Owens) and her general-father (Kent Smith) try to warn Buttons and Brando that their actions are against military regulations, but the men’s love is stronger than the institutionalized racism that surrounds them.

    Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

    • Cross Cultural Romance
    • James Garner Films
    • Marlon Brando Films
    • Military
    • Race Relations and Racism

    Review:
    Joshua Logan directed this adaptation of James Michener’s novel about the taboo of cross-cultural romances in the 1950s. Brando’s “natural” performance (he was apparently a childish pill on set) doesn’t really fit with the overall tone of the film; faring much better is Oscar-winning Red Buttons as an “ordinary” G.I. whose love of his Japanese wife feels much more grounded and authentic than Brando’s semi-stalking (orientalist?) fascination with beautiful Taka. To its credit, the film tackles challenging topics such as institutionalized racism, reminding or informing modern audiences exactly how racist and nationalist both America and Japan were during this era. Meanwhile, the movie is gorgeously filmed in Technirama, making it a visual treat.

    Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

    • Red Buttons as Joe
    • Beautiful cinematography and sets


    Must See?
    No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

    Links:

    Renaldo and Clara (1978)

    Renaldo and Clara (1978)

    “If you follow Bob long enough, I think maybe you can translate these things.”

    Synopsis:
    While Bob Dylan performs on tour in 1975, fictional vignettes are randomly interspersed, some of which involve him played by other actors.

    Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

    • Concert Films
    • Counterculture
    • Singers

    Review:
    It’s challenging to describe exactly how tedious this hours-long experimental “cubist” film by Bob Dylan (with writing support from Sam Shepard) really is. It’s boring, illogical, pompous, and laughably amateur. The only way I can imagine finding any enjoyment in it at all would be to watch it with others and provide a continuous commentary on its ineptitude, with occasional breaks to listen to some of the actual musical performances — so, in that spirit, here are just a few of my thoughts as I suffered my way through this painful slog:

    Why is this film called “Renaldo and Clara” if those characters (played by Bob Dylan and his wife Sara) are only peripheral to the “storyline”?

    Oh, there’s the hitchhiker (Helena Kallianiotes) from Five Easy Pieces (1970)! She looks exactly the same. What’s she doing here?

    What’s the deal with Dylan wearing white face paint on stage? Is it meant to “subvert blackface”, “hide” his visage, or be a clownish homage (as some claim) to Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)?

    Who’s the dude on the pinball machine who keeps showing up to comment on how he once knew and interacted with Dylan?

    Could Allen Ginsberg’s presence and performances here be any more embarrassing?

    What is Joan Baez doing in this mess, other than supporting her former lover and singing a few songs? Why is she occasionally sporting a hideous accent while wearing a white turban?

    Why is Harry Dean Stanton subjected to a short scene in which he’s accused of trading his horse for Baez?

    Do ANY of these “narrative threads” connect back to Dylan’s actual songs in some way? Is this all meant to be an insider’s “egg hunt”?

    I could go on and on, but won’t. Just — be forewarned.

    Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

    • Occasional enjoyable musical numbers (for fans of Dylan)

    Must See?
    Nope. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book, which it may have been at one time but surely isn’t any longer.

    Links: