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Desperate Hours

A Tarantino flick before they existed
An intelligent sociopathic convict (Mickey Rourke) escapes custody in Salt Lake City and meets up with his brother (Elias Koteas) and their hulking, dull-witted collaborator (David Morse). They need a place to hide out until the mastermind's defense lawyer can catch up with them (Kelly Lynch) and so randomly choose the Cornell's abode in the suburbs due to its "For Sale" sign (Anthony Hopkins & Mimi Rogers).

"Desperate Hours" (1990) is a quirky crime thriller by Michael Cimino that updates the book/play/movie from 1954-55.

Some people don't 'get' this flick. It walks the balance beam between seriousness and parody or black humor. Lindsay Crouse's amusingly over-the-top FBI chief is a good example. The two random college girls in ridiculously short shorts is another, not to mention the big lug thug in clothes covered with blood stains. What "Timmy" (Hopkins) does to a certain character at the end is yet another. Then there's the incongruous orchestral score by David Mansfield.

Remember, director Michael Cimino's first movie was "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974), a Tarantino flick two decades before he shot to fame with "Pulp Fiction." Like those films and "The Gauntlet" (1977), "Desperate Hours" is quasi-believable mixed with glaring exaggerations. For instance, remember the shot-to-hell house collapsing in "Gauntlet"? It's similar with this one, just a little more low-key.

Shawnee Smith was 20 during shooting and looks great as the 15 year-old daughter. Meanwhile Brittney Lewis and Lise Wilburn play the aforementioned "college girls." Shorts like theirs wouldn't come into style until almost 40 years later.

The movie runs 1 hour, 46 minutes, and was shot in Utah: Salt Lake City, Echo Junction, Orem, Zion, and Capitol Reef; as well as Telluride, Colorado.



Living hell on a penal colony in equatorial South America in the 30s
Henri Charrière's account of his experiences from 1933-1945 involving the penal colony of Cayenne in French Guiana, South America, are chronicled, including solitary confinement, escape attempts, dwelling with Goajira Indians (in northeastern Columbia) and living on Devil's Island. Steve McQueen plays Henri, nicknamed Papillon (aka 'Butterfly' due to his chest tattoo), while Dustin Hoffman plays his friend Louis Dega.

"Papillon" (1973) is a realistic 'prison film' and probably more accurate than Charrière's account based on his memory, which was told to a professional writer some three decades after the events. Keep in mind that Charrière had a reputation for being a great storyteller and the authenticity of a lot of the 560-page book has been seriously challenged. The movie only offers the gist of the real-life account and no doubt got it more accurate.

Whilst cinephiles generally praise the movie other respectable people criticize it, suggesting that the viewer hopes Papillon will escape so that the film will end (lol). I suspect this is mainly due to the long solitary confinement sequences in the first half, which definitely help the viewer grasp what a living hell it would be. Speaking of which, Charrière never said in his account that he ate bugs in solitary confinement or was in total darkness.

The second half is thankfully more adventuresome so, if the miserable solitary confinement sequences tempt you to quit watching, hang in there. There are similarities to McQueen's earlier "Nevada Smith" (1966), which has a more compelling story.

The film runs 2 hours, 31 minutes, and was shot at various locations in Spain and Jamaica. For instance, the penal colony scenes were filmed in Falmouth, Jamaica. Meanwhile Steve McQueen's famous cliff-jumping stunt near the end actually took place at cliffs in Maui, Hawaii.


The Witches

Pastoral drama/mystery starts and ends with witchy horror
A schoolteacher who had been traumatized by witchdoctors as a missionary in Africa (Joan Fontaine) gets a gig at a remote English village where she starts to suspect witchcraft being practiced. Kay Walsh plays the educated matriarch of the town.

"The Witches" (1966), also known as "The Devil's Own," is obscure Hammer Horror that obviously influenced the cult flick "The Wicker Man" (1973). It's mostly a slow rural drama/mystery that opens and closes with overt witcheries.

Speaking of which, people complain about the "awful" and "laughable" conclusion, but it was innovative and no doubt shocking in 1965 when it was shot. Whilst cinema flirted with Satanism & witchcraft in the early 60s with "The City of the Dead," "The Masque of the Red Death" and "Devils of Darkness," this one went one step further by depicting a devilish ceremony more explicitly, which strikes some modern viewers as cheesy and amusing.

Sure, today it's about as scary (and choreographed) as Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video (1983), but the mundane story definitely needed something outlandish and outrageous by that point. It paved the way for the popular flicks "The Devil Rides Out" and "Rosemary's Baby," both released two years later.

Blonde Ingrid Boulting stands out on the female front as Linda. Meanwhile you might remember striking Michele Dotrice (Valerie) from "The Blood on Satan's Claw" (1971).

The film runs about 1 hour, 30 minutes, and was shot in Hambleden, England, which is a half-hour drive due west of London, with studio stuff done at nearby Bray Studios.


You're a Big Boy Now

A naïve lad goes through an awkward and quirky growth phase in Manhattan
A 19 year-old "boy" working as a low-level assistant at the New York Public Library (Peter Kastner) is encouraged by his strict curator father (Rip Torn) to move out on his own and so gets an apartment with a nosey landlady (Julie Harris). There's a quality lass at work (Karen Black) who's interested in Bernard (Kastner), but he sets his eyes on a temperamental go-go dancer (Elizabeth Hartman).

"You're a Big Boy Now" (1966) is a quirky coming-of-age comedy/romance set in the Big Apple based on the 1963 novel of the same name, except that the setting was switched from London to Manhattan along with changing the kid's vocation.

It was Francis Ford Coppola's thesis project for UCLA, but this is far from a "student film" as it has the polish of professionalism. He had already directed a couple flicks for Roger Corman with this one including a couple snippets from his "Dementia 13" (1963). Coppola made $8000 on the gig with an $800,000 budget that spiraled into about $1 million.

While critics say the movie rips off Richard Lester's "The Knack ...and How to Get It" (1965), Francis said his script was written before that one came out, but he did admit to being influenced by Lester's "Hard Day's Night" (1964).

I couldn't help think of "Village of the Giants" (1965), just without the goofy giant-formula, although there's definitely some goofiness, like the amusing rooster on the fifth floor. "The Graduate" (1967) was obviously influenced by it, but I'd watch this over that iconic film any day. After viewing, I was reflecting on the art vs. Entertainment conundrum because Coppola made a flick with obvious artistic flare that didn't forget to be entertaining.

It's nice seeing Julie Harris when she was 40 during shooting. You might remember her from Columbo's "Any Old Port in a Storm" (1971).

Elizabeth was from the Youngstown/Boardman area of Ohio. You might remember her from Eastwood's "The Beguiled" (1973). She was shy in real-life and suffered from depression, which tragically ended with her ending her life by jumping from the fifth story of her apartment in Pittsburgh at the age of 43.

The movie runs 1 hour, 37 minutes, and was shot at various Manhattan locations, including the New York Public Library, Times Square and Central Park, as well as Chelsea Studios in New York City.


The Sorcerers

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely
In London, an elderly husband & wife (Boris Karloff & Catherine Lacey) test their new mesmerizing device on a young man (Ian Ogilvy) and find that they are able to control his behavior. While this may be a scientific breakthrough, is it ethical? Elizabeth Ercy and Victor Henry play the guy's friends.

With a title like "The Sorcerers" (1967) you might it's about wizards in the distant past, but it's actually a sci-fi/horror set in modern London made by a minor rival of Hammer films. I heard a critic lambaste the flick for what he called its laughable concept, but I guess that's why they call it science FICTION.

Karloff was nearing the end of his career at 79 while you might remember Ian Ogilvy as the hero in "Witchfinder General" (1968), aka "The Conqueror Worm."

The flick scores well on the female front with stunning Elizabeth Ercy in the lead, along with a young Susan George as the protagonist's ex-girlfriend and Sally Sheridan as the singer at the nightclub.

This is a good movie to take a peek at London in the mid-60s. The protagonist is great (he's more accurately a victim), the women are ravishing, the concept is interesting, the moral is potent and there's quite a bit of action.

The film runs 1 hour, 26 minutes, and was shot entirely in London.


Curse of the Crimson Altar

Tigon's version of "The Devil Rides Out"
An antique dealer in England (Mark Eden) travels to the village of Greymarshe to find his brother, who mysteriously went missing there. Staying at a historical lodge, he romances the young niece (Virginia Wetherell) of the owner (Christopher Lee) while an aged professor voices dire rumors of a witchy cult that may still be active (Boris Karloff). Barbara Steele is on hand as a green-skinned sorceress from the 1600s.

"Curse of the Crimson Altar" (1968), also known as "The Crimson Cult" or "The Crimson Altar," is a Tigon production, a minor rival of Hammer, which explains how the movie is similar to "The Devil Rides Out," aka "The Devil's Bride," which debuted earlier the same year. Both flicks feature Christopher Lee in a tale that involves devilish rituals. The difference is that "The Devil Rides Out" takes place in the early 30s whereas this one is set in the swinging 60s. Another difference is that Lee plays the villain here as opposed to the atypical hero in the Hammer film.

"The Devil Rides Out" went on to iconic status whereas this one fell into obscurity and has historically been difficult to find, although that's less of a problem today with the myriad streaming channels. I like 'em both about equally, but give the edge to "Crimson Altar" for entertainment purposes, plus I didn't find myself caring about the protagonists in "Devil" as I did in this one.

Although the original score by Peter Knight might strike some as low-rent or dated, it's different and really distinguishes the film. I appreciate it.

There's a cartoonish opening cult ritual sequence that I found giggle-inducing, which isn't good when the viewer is supposed to take it as a scary, diabolical ceremony. Scenes like this are challenging to pull off with a straight face, which explains why "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) didn't include overt devil-worship until the climax; and wisely brief at that.

There's also a wild party sequence at the lodge near when the protagonist arrives that some armchair critics have called stupid, but I found it indicative of the mid-late 60's counterculture movement in which people were "letting go" of their inhibitions while others cajoled, often for the first time in their lives, experimenting with various forms of hedonism in the name of freedom (which ironically became bondage and ruin for many). This kind of activity of course continues to this day; spring breakers are a good example.

Blonde Virginia Wetherell stands out in the feminine department; her intelligent beauty is sublime. There are several other striking women.

I can't close without mentioning how the protagonist, Mark Eden, is reminiscent of one-Bond wonder George Lazenby from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969).

The film runs about 1 hour, 25 minutes, and was shot at Grim's Dyke House, Old Redding, which is northwest of London, as well as other parts of Hertfordshire; not to mention Tigon Studios in the city.


Devil in the Flesh

Fatal attraction involving a high school girl and her teacher
In the Los Angeles area, a teenager (Rose McGowan) has to move in with her strict grandmother after a dubious house fire kills her mother & boyfriend. At her new school she sets her sights on the creative writing teacher (Alex McArthur), who already has a serious girlfriend (Sherrie Rose).

"Devil in the Flesh" (1998), also known as "Dearly Devoted," is a coming-of-rage drama/thriller cut from the same cloth as other lethal Lolita flicks like "Poison Ivy" (1992) and "The Crush" (1993), as well as earlier ones "Summer Girl" (1983) and "The Babysitter" (1980). It's basically a variation of "Fatal Attraction" (1987) with a teenage female. This one has its nuances so it's not an exact copy.

It begins impressively with an artistic flair, so I was expecting the imaginative expertise of "Poison Ivy," but it settles into a rather pedestrian story stressing the alluring power of a beautiful young woman combined with the foolish obsession of a teenager.

Naturally, the best thing about it is sultry McGowan, who was 24 during shooting. But it has other entertaining bits, such as the catchy rock soundtrack featuring several no-name bands of the 90s.

The film runs about 1 hour, 32 minutes, and was shot in Altadena, California, which is just north of Pasadena in the Los Angeles area.


Gardens of Stone

Coppola's obscure gem about the war at home during the Vietnam conflict
In the late 60s, a cynical Korean vet (James Caan) would rather be training soldiers for Vietnam in Georgia, but instead he's stuck at Arlington National Cemetery playing what he calls "toy soldier" with his colleagues (James Earl Jones, etc.). When an old buddy's gung-ho son shows up (D. B. Sweeney), he settles for trying to keep him from becoming another statistic in The 'Nam. Anjelica Huston plays his potential girlfriend and Mary Stuart Masterson the greenhorn's girl.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the 1983 novel, "Gardens of Stone" (1987) is a worthy companion piece to all those Vietnam War flicks of the 70s-90s as it chronicles what was happening on the home front. It's a war drama, but not a war action film, yet not a dull, lifeless drama (more on this in a moment).

Caan and Jones have good chemistry as old Army buds and Sweeney works well as the "new kid" (he looks like a young Ben Affleck when he broke out ten years later). Meanwhile Mary Stuart Masterson was never more beautiful.

In ways the movie's reminiscent of Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge" (1986) with its spunkiness and a smidgen of comedy (which I wasn't anticipating), although don't expect the cartoonish character of Cpl. Stitch Jones (Mario Van Peebles). In other words, the proceedings aren't all dour. Yet there are heavy, moving parts given the topic. Coppola contrasts the beginning scene and ending scene. They're the same sequence, but it holds more weight the second time around for reasons you'll discover.

I was entertained, amused and moved. It's a necessary piece of the puzzle in understanding the era of the Vietnam War. While it's not on the level of greatness of Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" (1979) or "Forrest Gump" (1994), it's still a solid Coppola movie with a little sloppiness here and there. For instance, the war games episode could've been done more coherently and entertainingly, as was done in "The Dirty Dozen" (1967). But time means money in cinema and they had a deadline.

I've heard people complain about how this or that wasn't technically accurate or realistic, but filmmakers aren't interested in being 100% true-to-life. If they were, no one would go see their flicks. Let me put it this way, movies are real-life with the boring parts taken out, as well as exaggerations thrown in. Take "Platoon" (1986), for example. Do ya really think everything that took place in that movie happened to ONE platoon in real life? Of course not. Oliver Stone simply took many different highlights of the 'Nam experience and condensed them into one 2-hour tale of a single platoon.

The notable cast also includes the likes of Dean Stockwell, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne, Dick Anthony Williams and Elias Koteas. Bottoms and Fishburne of course worked previously with Coppola on "Apocalypse Now."

Before shooting commenced, Francis' 23 year-old son, Gian-Carlo Coppola, was tragically killed in a speedboat accident in May, 1986. The reckless driver of the boat was Griffin O'Neal (Ryan's son), who was slated to play the role given to Elias Koteas.

The film runs 1 hour, 51 minutes, and was shot at Fort Myer & Arlington National Cemetery and nearby Washington DC.


Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural

Cult flick of dreamy gothic horror with Cheryl Smith
In early 30's America, a girl (Smith) who lives with a minister is summoned by letter to the town of Ashtaroth to visit her dying father, a gangster. There she encounters horrific beings in the woods and the curiously calm and collected Lemora (Lesley Taplin), who welcomes her into her Victorian mansion. Horror ensues.

"Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural" (1973) is colorful dreamlike horror by one-shot director, Richard Blackburn, a college student who concocted the story with a pal inspired by "Count Yorga, Vampire" (1970). Blackburn, by the way, plays the minister.

An alternative title is "Lady Dracula," which is fitting since the story is reminiscent of the first part of Dracula, just exchanging a teenage blonde for Jonathan Harker and Lemora for the Count, not to mention switching the setting to Prohibition Era America. It's similar in ways to the haunting "Messiah of Evil" (1973) except with a younger protagonist and the milieu of the early 30s. Francis Ford Coppola presumably borrowed bits for his horror fantasy "Twixt" (2011).

The lovely Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith was only 17 during shooting and has a genuine innocent quality. She appeared in many 'B' flicks throughout the 70s/early 80s, but fell prey to hard drugs and contracted hepatitis, which ultimately killed her by the too-young age of 47 in 2002.

The film runs about 1 hour, 25 minutes, and was shot in Pomona, California, e.g. The Phillips Mansion, and nearby San Dimas (to the north), both a 20-minute drive east of Los Angeles.



Feminist vigilante thriller or a portrait of modern teen girl angst?
A teenager (Sarah Rich) is filled with anger over her sister's death from a year prior. Since the hands of the authorities are tied, she seeks to find the mystery man on the internet responsible. James Hetfield costars, um, I mean Marc Menchaca.

"#Like" (2019) is a drama/thriller that tackles online harassment, anger, frustration, vengeance, victimization and the problems that naturally proceed from faulty detective work. It's not just a "feminist" film because it's balanced about the struggles of life in a fallen world, whether female or male.

It's an Indie that meshes elements of "Misery" (1990), "10 Cloverfield Lane" (2016), "Wildflower" (2014), "A Dark Place" (2018) and "The Clovehitch Killer" (2018).

The open-ended climax is a bit of a letdown because it comes across as a shrug, but everything the writer/director wanted to say was successfully conveyed; and the details of how certain things pan out are irrelevant. The protagonist's lesson is the viewer's.

The worst thing about this flick is that it's strapped with a lame title.

The film runs 1 hour, 32 minutes, and was shot in Woodstock, New York.


Rumble Fish

Artsy flick about lost souls wandering the city in the Midwest, trying to find answers
In the Tulsa area, a teen delinquent (Matt Dillon) idolizes his charismatic older brother (Mickey Rourke), who had left the area a couple months prior. When his sibling suddenly returns he's no longer interested in gangs or rumbling. They wander the town with their pal (Vincent Spano) hanging out at various places trying to find meaning and purpose.

The peripheral cast includes Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper, Diana Scarwid, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne and William Smith with Sofia Coppola as the little sister.

Filmed in B&W, "Rumble Fish" (1983) was the second of two flicks based on SE Hinton's young-adult novels shot back-to-back by Francis Ford Coppola. The first one was "The Outsiders" (1983) and it was successful at the box office while this one failed to draw an audience. Unlike "Outsiders," which takes place in 1965, this one is set in the modern day, 1982, the time of shooting (or at least the late 70s). Hinton, by the way, has a cameo as the hooker on the strip that propositions Rusty James (Dillon) and Steve (Spano).

She was only 16-17 when she wrote "The Outsiders" and so that movie is from the perspective of a mid-teenager. By contrast, she was in her mid-20s when she wrote "Rumble Fish" and this is also reflected in the corresponding movie: The Motorcycle Boy (Rourke) has grown-up and is no longer interested in juvenile delinquency, which confuses Rusty James.

Both "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish" are arty, but this one is more so. It's a mix of "The Outsiders" and Coppola's experimental "One from the Heart" (1981), along with bits of "The Warriors" (1979) and "Grease" (1978). Like "One from the Heart," the story is very basic while the filmmaking is highly stylized, which results in a beautiful film that's entertaining on a visual & audio level, but not very absorbing story-wise.

What's it all about? Some answers include: The challenge of unconventional people in a conventional world, living in someone's shadow, the cult of personality, growing up while simultaneously giving up childish things, setting others free, how envy murders others (figuratively or literally), the potential corruption of authority, the resultant injustice and sacrificing oneself for loved ones.

I can't close without noting how Cage is in the prime of his life and surprisingly good-looking (speaking as a staunch heterosexual). Not that he later became Quasimodo, but I never viewed him as a handsome actor, like say George Clooney.

The film runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and was shot in the Tulsa area, as was "The Outsiders."


The Outsiders

Artsy teen melodrama in mid-60's Oklahoma from the perspective of a 16 year-old
In the Tulsa area in 1965 the rivalry between the Greasers (poor kids) and the Socs (rich kids) heats up after a gang member is killed. The Greasers supposedly responsible flee the area (C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio), but ironically end up being viewed as heroes. Matt Dillon costars while the notable peripheral cast includes the likes of Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane and Leif Garrett.

"The Outsiders" (1983) was one of two films Francis Ford Coppola shot back-to-back based on SE Hinton's young-adult novels. This one was successful at the box office while the even more artsy "Rumble Fish" (1983) failed to draw an audience.

Hinton began writing "The Outsiders," her most popular novel, in 1965 when she was 16, inspired by two rival gangs at her school, Will Rogers High School, which is about 2.5 miles west of downtown. I bring this up because the movie definitely comes across as an overdramatic tale from the perspective of a teenager. The most mundane, trivial events are presented as life-or-death happenings, like going to a drive-in theater or facing your nemeses at a park where one person idiotically brings a switchblade to a fistfight.

This explains why some people write the flick off as "the cheesiest and corniest movie ever." In its defense, you have to acclimate to it in order to appreciate it. Go back to what was happening in your life when you were in your mid- teens and how a fistfight or breakup was an earthshattering event. The movie captures this very well.

The original theatrical film runs 1 hour, 31 minutes, while the 2005 Director's Cut runs 23 minutes longer and includes new music. It was shot in the Tulsa area.


Steel Country

Secrets in a former steel town
In a small town outside Pittsburgh, an autistic trashman (Andrew Scott) is troubled by the death of a boy that he knew on his route. When he conducts his own guileless investigation it ruffles the feathers of certain people. What are they hiding? Bronagh Waugh plays his coworker, Denise Gough his ex-girlfriend and Michael Rose the Sheriff.

"A Dark Place" (2018), originally titled "Steel Country," is an unhurried drama/mystery that well captures life in an eastern American town. It's a low-key character study, social commentary and possible murder mystery. "Sling Blade" (1996) is a good comparison, but this is thankfully more succinct.

While it's true that the protagonist's amateur sleuthing acquires answers too easily, the story chooses to focus on the town atmosphere, the people and their relationships as opposed to excessive details of detective work, which works for me.

I was really appreciating this movie until the beginning of the last act when we are asked to buy something radical that Donnie does and, as far as I can tell, totally gets away with since it's conveniently forgotten. It's so ridiculous that I was hoping it was just a dream but, no, I guess it really happened. On top of this is the unsavory nature of the root issue and murky insinuations of why it's condoned.

The film runs 1 hour, 28 minutes, and was shot in the area of Griffin, Georgia, which is a half hour drive south of Atlanta and definitely looks like Western Pennsylvania.


Legend of the Lost

Saharan quest to a lost city with John Wayne and Sophia Loren
A no-nonsense guide in Timbuktu (Wayne) agrees to take a man (Rossano Brazzi) to find ancient ruins his father claimed existed. A voluptuous woman of dubious reputation joins the expedition (Loren), which naturally affects both men.

"Legend of the Lost" (1957) is a desert adventure with amusing dramatics that no doubt influenced the Indiana Jones flicks of the 80s, but not as much as Charlton Heston's "Secret of the Incas" (1954). Whilst some of the altercations during the journey seem manufactured, I've traveled with actual people who constantly create this kind of drama, so it's not exactly unrealistic.

Other than Wayne and Sophia in the cast, the best feature is the actual Saharan locations, especially the ruins of Leptis Magna (which in real-life is located an hour's drive east from Tripoli on the coast). The weak link is the dubious transformation of a certain character, which isn't properly resolved or adequately explained.

In ways this reminded me of a Conan desert yarn, just minus the sword & sorcery.

The film runs 1 hour, 49 minutes, and was shot in Libya (Zliten, Leptis Magna, Libyan Desert, etc.) with studio stuff done in Rome, which is due north across the Mediterranean Sea.


Das indische Grabmal

High adventure in India with Debra Paget as Seetha
A German architect (Paul Hubschmid) flees Eschnapur with the fiancé (Debra Paget) of the maharajah (Walther Reyer) whose reign is secretly threatened by his envious brother (René Deltgen). Into this situation arrives the architect's sister and brother-in-law (Sabine Bethmann & Claus Holm).

"The Indian Tomb" (1959) is the second of Fritz Lang's duology referred to as his Indian Epic; the first part being "The Tiger of Eschnapur," released earlier the same year.

Both films were heavily edited down into a 95-minute movie for American audiences called "Journey to the Lost City" (1960), which heavily trimmed Debra Paget's iconic dance sequences due to the Hays Office. Obviously you should see the two separate movies rather than the butchered version, but it's not absolutely necessary to see the first film in order to enjoy this one since it includes a recap at the outset. (I've personally never seen Part I, except for the dance sequence).

Anyone who likes adventure flicks such as "Legend of the Lost" (1957), "The Vengeance of She" (1968), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and "Octopussy" (1984) should appreciate either installment of the Indian Epic. They feature spectacular palaces, heroes, villains, rivalry, danger, swords, beautiful women, romantic passion, elephants, tigers, snakes, torches, caverns, dungeons, temples, honorable monks and all-around high adventure.

Each include 3-minute dance sequences by Debra Paget as Eurasian Seetha, both equally awe-inspiring, but this one features her in more revealing (non)attire (I prefer the first one since less is more). Debra's performances are just as good or better than Brigid Bazlen unforgettable dance scene in "King of Kings" (1961) and Salma Hayek's in "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996).

The film runs 1 hour, 40 minutes, and was shot in Udaipur in Northwestern India, areas normally barred from Western film crews up to that point. Interiors were shot at Spandau Studios in Berlin. "Octopussy" used some of the same India locations.


Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde

What if Dr. Jekyll morphed into an alluring woman rather than a monster?
In the late 1880s, murders of prostitutes start piling up in the Whitechapel district of east London where a professor (Gerald Sim) starts to suspect a colleague (Ralph Bates), who's working on a curious elixir of life that needs female hormones taken from fresh cadavers. Martine Beswick plays Jekyll's "sister."

"Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde" (1971) was the third Hammer film inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story from 1886. The other two were "The Ugly Duckling" (1959), a horror comedy, and "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" (1960). "Two Faces" is the best one, but "Sister Hyde" is interesting and has some highlights.

For instance, it mixes in two historical serial murder accounts: The Jack the Ripper slayings, which occurred from 1888-1891, and the Burke and Hare murders, which took place in 1828 Edinburgh. Since Stevenson based his 1881 yarn "The Body snatcher" on the Burke and Hare case, scriptwriter Brian Clemens felt it would be a fitting addition. In any case, I like the way Jekyll justifies his diabolical doings for the (supposed) greater good of humanity.

The key deviation of the story is helped by the fact that Bates and Beswick have a similar look.

As with most Hammer flicks there are a few notable beauties, whether costarring or in the periphery. Besides Martine, there's Susan Brodrick as the winsome Susan, plus a couple others.

The film runs 1 hour, 33 minutes, and was shot in Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, just northwest of London.


Beach House

A bored college lass meets a wild-and-free older guy on Long Island
An affluent couple from Manhattan and their literary major daughter (Willa Fitzgerald) enjoy a getaway to the Hamptons when the mother invites an old flame out to their beach house, a charismatic edgy artist (Murray Bartlett). What could possibly go wrong?

"Beach House" (2018) is a slow-burn Hitchcockian drama/thriller in the mold of "Swimming Pool" (2003) mixed with elements of "Last Summer" (1969) and "Something's Gotta Give" (2003). The difference is that it's an Indie with a miniscule budget, which can be observed in the opening scene/credits. Thankfully, it scores high on the writing/acting front, which is where any flick of this genre stands or falls.

Speaking of which, the script well chronicles the social intricacies of affluent leisure augmented by the too young woman/older man element and noir-style suspense. It's a movie for those who appreciate quality drama that slowly builds rather than those who require an explosion every five minutes.

While Willa Fitzgerald looks 18, she was 26 during shooting and effective in the role. Writer/Director Jason Saltiel knows how to tastefully capture women on camera without being sleazy.

The film runs 1 hour, 27 minutes, and was shot at a beach house at the far end of Long Island in Amagansett.


Terror Train

"Halloween" on a train
Pre-med students in the Northeast celebrate New Year's Eve by having a masquerade party on a train, but the festivities are hampered by a mysterious killer on board. Ben Johnson plays the conductor while David Copperfield is on hand as a (what else?) magician.

"Terror Train" (1980) came in the wake of the success of "Halloween" (1978) so you have Jamie Lee Curtis in a similar situation, except on a train. Daniel Grodnik came up with the idea after having a dream that mixed elements of "Halloween" and "Silver Streak" (1976).

Everything is here for an effective traditional slasher. The confined setting of the train is great. Unfortunately, the filmmakers fumble the ball on the writing front. The story's just not very absorbing; although, thankfully, the last act is relatively compelling, particularly the big reveal.

Copperfield did his own magic tricks, but who cares when it's a movie where magic can be done via special effects? In other words, magic tricks only work in the live forum. Still, it's a welcome addition.

Sandee Currie and Joy Boushel are highlights in the feminine department; Vanity's also on board. But the filmmakers evidently don't know how to shoot women, no pun intended.

For better examples of horror on a train, see "Horror Express" (1972) and "Train" (2008). The former is a creature feature while the latter is more realistic.

The film runs 1 hour, 37 minutes, and was shot in a warehouse at night in Montreal, except for a certain person's death scene at the end, which was done in Claremont, New Hampshire, a 3-hour drive southeast from Montreal.


Empire of the Ants

Despondent strangers are thrust into a life-or-death fight near the Everglades
A vixen selling questionable swamp land by the ocean in southeastern Florida (Joan Collins) leads a tour of potential buyers suddenly assaulted by colossal ants, evidently altered due to (what else?) radioactive waste.

"Empire of the Ants" (1977) may have been inspired by HG Wells' short story, but it wasn't based on it at all. It's basically "Them!" (1954) set in the Everglades in living color two decades later and therefore more akin to "Frogs" (1972). The milieu of cynical people struggling to survive in the Florida bog fighting sci-fi jungle creatures reminded me of Steve Gerber's Man-Thing comics from 1973-1975.

To give an idea of what to expect, it was made by the director of "The Food of the Gods" (1976), "Earth vs the Spider" (1958) and "Village of the Giants" (1965), although it lacks the goofiness of the latter.

Pamela Susan Shoop is a highlight on the female front, along with Brooke Palance (Jack's daughter).

Meanwhile stalwart Robert Lansing's acting range consists of grim and slightly less grim. John David Carson and Robert Pine are also on hand (Robert is, incidentally, Chris Pine's father).

The seriousness is appreciated, but I found the first hour relatively dull, maybe because the melancholy characters are lifeless (initially, at least). Thankfully, everything perks up in the last act for some unexpected happenings. I'm not going to give anything away.

Shooting in remote swampland naturally proved challenging. Proper restrooms were half an hour away by speedboat, which meant an hour delay if the women simply had to go to the bathroom. Joan complained about having to do the boat capsize scene in alligator-infested waters due to a delay in the arrival of their stunt doubles (who would lose the work). But she agreed to do it because the director was starting to describe her as "difficult" and she didn't want to lose future work being pigeonholed as a prima donna. Despite being a bit of a mess, Pamela stressed that it was a fun shoot.

The film runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and was shot in Belle Glade, Florida, just south of Lake Okeechobee, with the coastal scenes done at Jensen Beach, an hour's drive northeast, which is just south of Fort Pierce. So we're talking about the general region north of the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area.


Comanche Station

A principled man and woman team-up with a trio of dubious dudes on a desolate landscape
A former officer is now a lonely aging man in the Southwest (Randolph Scott). After bartering with the Comanche for a captive white woman (Nancy Gates), three outlaws enter the picture and complicate the situation (Claude Akins, Skip Homeier and Richard Rust).

"Comanche Station" (1960) is one of five Westerns from 1956-1960 written by Burt Kennedy, directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott. The others are: "7 Men from now," "The Tall T," "Ride Lonesome" and "Buchanan Rides Alone." Two additional films omit writer Kennedy from the equation: "Decision at Sundown" and "Westbound." A little cult has formed around these Westerns and most are first-rate despite not having the biggest budgets. I've seen five of 'em and the only one that's not worthy is "Buchanan Rides Alone" (see my review).

This one was shot in 12 days and is similar to "The Tall T" and, especially, "Ride Lonesome." All three were shot entirely outdoors and in the same area. "The Tall T" is arguably the best and has become a cult Western, but this one's worth checking out. Nancy Gates was 33 during shooting and quite beautiful. This was her last film, although she continued to act in television for the next ten years.

There are some nice nuggets to be gleaned, like nobility vs. Being a lucre-obsessed scoundrel, negative influence, the power of decision to determine one's destiny and how living by the gun results in dying by the gun.

Scott retired after three decades in the business, but decided to come out of retirement for one last Western two years later because the script was so good. I'm of course talking about the great "Ride the High Country."

The film is taut at 1 hour, 13 minutes, and was shot at Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, which is in south-central California, 55 miles from the Nevada border.


The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Grisly slayings in a winter hamlet in Utah
An up-and-coming Sheriff (Jim Cummings) wants to prove himself when horrific murders suddenly grip his remote town near Christmas time. Is it an animal, a human or something... else? Robert Forster plays the soon-to-retire dad and Riki Lindhome a subordinate officer. Manly Jimmy Tatro is also on hand.

"The Wolf of Snow Hollow" (2020) is a mystery/thriller with horror elements and a zippy sense of black humor. It has the setting of "Donner Pass" (2011), "Snowbeast" (2011) and "Silent Night" (2012), but a different threat mixed with clever amusement.

This is a solid piece of full moon entertainment by writer/director/star Jim Cummings. I loved the snowy locations and Chloe East is a highlight on the feminine front, along with Amanda Brown in a small role. Meanwhile the humor is amusing. Yet the flick's a little too frenetic for its own good. Cummings coulda reigned things in for some more mood, but it's his movie, not mine.

The film runs 1 hour, 25 minutes, and was shot in Kamas, Utah, which is a about 25 miles east of Salt Lake City, on the other side of the mountain range.


Grizzly II: The Predator

Lost sequel from 1983 finally released in 2020-2021
At Yellowstone National Park a colossal mother grizzly is enraged by the slaying of her cub by poachers. She goes on a killing spring, but the timing is bad because a highly publicized rock concert is scheduled and can't be cancelled just because of a rogue bear. Steve Inwood plays the chief ranger, Deborah Foreman his daughter, Deborah Raffin a bruin expert, John Rhys-Davies a grizzly hunter and Louise Fletcher a politician.

"Grizzly II: Revenge" is the sequel to the "Jaws" knockoff "Grizzly" (1976) shot in 45 days in Hungary in 1983. Unfortunately post-production was never completed due to financial troubles and the movie was forgotten by 1988. Its very existence was questioned until a workprint manifested in 2007. The only reason the film exists and was finally released in 2020-2021 is because of the dedication of producer Suzanne Nagy.

Whilst George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen are emphasized in the cast they are actually only featured in the first six minutes. But it is interesting seeing these iconic actors when they were so young and before they made it. I was never big on Laura but, wow, she's stunning here and immediately changed my opinion of her. Meanwhile Sheen turned down the starring role in "Karate Kid" (1984) for this gig (of course he had no way of knowing that "Karate Kid" was going to be a megahit).

The flick has the concept of the original movie but the look & tone of "Prophecy" (1979) mixed with a lot of energetic concert footage. Speaking of which, you'll see the kinetic performances of several early 80's acts, like Toto Coelo, The Predator, Set the Tone and KFT, but also a couple songs by the modern band The Dayz, which were added in post-production to beef-up the concert scenes and runtime.

I thought the original "Grizzly" was too prosaic as a "Jaws"-in-the-forest flick. It was okay, but nothing more. This one also contains the basic "Jaws" plot yet it's more dynamic with several highlights, including its fascinating history. Sure, its troubled production is obvious, especially at the end, and it's just another creature-on-the-loose flick, but there's enough good here to entertain those interested.

The film is streamlined at 1 hour, 14 minutes, and was shot in the area of Pilisvörösvár, Hungary, which is just northwest of Budapest. The concert scenes were filmed after a performance of Nazareth wherein the crowd wasn't aware a movie was being shot. It was the largest gathering in Hungary since the revolution in 1956. The sets were built on a Russian military base.


Il plenilunio delle vergini

Countess Bathory, I mean Dracula, uses a gaudy magic ring to draw virgins to her castle
Count Dracula is long gone in Transylvania, but a woman has supposedly bought his castle (Rosalba Neri, aka Sara Bay) and there are rumors of virgin sacrifice and lingering vampirism. Into this situation arrive twin brothers from Western Europe looking for the priceless ring of the Nibelungen, one noble and the other ignoble (Mark Damon in a dual role). Horror ensues.

"The Devil's Wedding Night" (1973) is colorful Gothic horror in the mold of Hammer's "The Vampire Lovers" (1970) and "Countess Dracula" (1971) mixed with their Dracula flicks, albeit with incoherent Italian filmmaking. It's the precursor to Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" two decades later with the difference that it was shot in a real European castle and looks it (Coppola's film was shot entirely on studio sets).

Luigi Batzella directed the film with Joe D'Amato reshooting some scenes. Rosalba said she couldn't understand Batzella and it seemed like there were two of him going in different directions, which might explain the drug-addled flourishes that some view as artistic. I call it questionable storytelling.

The uncut version naturally has more nudity. For better films of this ilk, see "Lady Frankenstein" (1971) and "The Devil's Nightmare" (1971).

The full version runs 1 hour, 23 minutes, and was shot in Castello Piccolomini in Balsorano, which is about 50 miles east of Rome, Italy.


Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things

A cabin in the woods on an island with a book of spells and a graveyard
A theatre troupe is misled by their crackpot leader (Alan Ormsby) to spend the night on an infamous isle off the coast of Miami known for its cemetery of outcast criminals. There he tries his hand at raising the dead using a grimoire.

"Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" (1972) is a horror indie by Bob Clark (director/writer) & Ormsby (writer) inspired by "Night of the Living Dead" (1968). It only cost $70,000 (about $45,000 less than "Night"), but the spooky atmosphere is effective (with eerie sounds for the soundtrack rather than conventional music), the zombie make-up is well done and the amusing characters were written & performed with personality and spunk.

Brunette Jane Daly stands out in the female department as Terry (the girl with the yellow shirt) while Anya Ormsby is reminiscent of Parker Posey as the spiritually sensitive lass (she was married to Alan at the time of shooting). Meanwhile Valerie Mamches is entertaining as the quasi-Gypsy woman.

While watching I couldn't help think of Steve Gerber's Man-Thing comics from 1973-1975. The location and vibe are similar, just without a swamp monster. He was obviously influenced by this cult flick.

The film runs 1 hour, 27 minutes, and was shot in the Coconut Grove area of Miami.


The Norliss Tapes

Dan Curtis attempts another "Night Stalker" with Roy Thinnes
A writer in the greater San Francisco area (Thinnes) is assigned to investigate supposedly supernatural happenings, which leads him to the case of a widow in Monterey (Angie Dickinson) who claims she was attacked by her deceased artist husband (Nick Dimitri). Don Porter plays his publisher and Claude Akins a skeptical sheriff.

A television production, "The Norliss Tapes" (1973) combines Noir fiction with a spooky story and is very similar to a few other Dan Curtis productions of the early 70s: "The Night Stalker" (1972), "The Night Strangler" (1973) and "Scream of the Wolf" (1974).

The story goes that Curtis was aiming for a trilogy of movies with Darrin McGavin as paranormal reporter Carl Kolchak, but McGavin wanted to turn the character into a TV series with him producing, which left Curtis out in the cold. So Dan took his production team and created this flick and "Scream of the Wolf" with Peter Graves as the protagonist, both wannabe pilots that failed to morph into series.

This one's not as compelling as those other three movies, but it's not far off and has its points of interest, such as the formidable Thinnes as the grim protagonist and the constant awe-inspiring vistas of the north-central California coast, as well as the presence of Dickinson and the stunning Michele Carey on the feminine front, not to mention Vonetta McGee.

The set-up is a little convoluted and so it takes a while for the mysterious story to become absorbing. But the second half is compelling enough and delivers the goods with an element that goes beyond clichéd vampirism. Speaking of which, you'd think Lou Ferrigno shows up in red clay but, no, it's someone else.

The film runs 1 hour, 12 minutes, and was shot in San Francisco, Carmel/Big Sur, West Hollywood (the Cort Estate) and Universal Studios.


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