Ha ha!

You certainly never know what movie he'll review next!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Burl reviews Drive-In! (1976)

Dancing like a hot dog wiener, it’s Burl, here to review a picture for you that exemplifies the 1970s as much as any movie I’ve ever seen in my life! Ha ha, the picture is called Drive-In, and of course much of it takes place at the titular institution, but not all of it!
It’s your basic one-night-in-the-life-of-a-small-town movie, like Hometown U.S.A. or any number of others – the sort of picture, in other words, that probably wouldn’t have been made had it not been for American Graffiti, though this one isn’t a nostalgia piece, or at least wasn’t intended as such when it was made! Now the fact is that I like this sort of picture, so I was predisposed to thinking kindly upon this one; and I like intentionally plotless movies, which is a feature Drive-In has in common with Malibu Beach and other favourites; and on top of this I like the 1970s, perhaps because the decade is so far back in the rear-view mirror!
Let me tell you, Drive-In has one of the densest and most concise collections of Seventiesania I’ve ever seen on film! You’ve got your drive-in, of course (not an exclusively 70s institution, but one which fits very comfortably within that decade); and you have a long scene at a roller rink with plenty of great roller rink details; and we have boogie van culture richly represented; and best of all, the movie playing a the drive-in this night is Disaster ’76, a fine send up of the Airport pictures and The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure and Jaws! (There are several Jaws references in Drive-In, actually, ha ha!)
As mentioned, there’s no plot to tell you about, but there are characters! The most like a protagonist is Orville, an average-guy ginger in the tradition of R. Howard, and strongly anticipating your Gary Hershberger types who would come along later on in pictures like Paradise Motel! Orville’s tubby brother is played by Engelberg himself, from The Bad News Bears! There’s a pair of very small-time crooks played by Trey Wilson (Nathan Arizona from Raising Arizona, don’t you know!) and a guy I thought must be Lou Perryman from Last Night at the Alamo, but turned out to be Gordon Hurst from The Sugarland Express! There’s Glowie, the young lady who’s taken a sh*ne to Orville now that she’s dumped the unpleasant Enoch, the stringy-haired big boss of the Widow Makers, a violence gang with a fondness for orange windbreakers!
There are many more too: a doctor and his wife, a fellow who wants to marry his girl, a nasty theater manager, some other ladies, a whole other gang called the Gear Grinders, a fetching young candy-counter lady, and others upon others, and that’s not even counting the characters in Disaster ‘76! Ha ha, most of these people speak almost entirely in homespun idioms, which is a big part of the movie’s charm! another part are the great songs, which are over-used perhaps, but well-chosen! You can't beat the Statler Bros.' "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?" Ha ha!
Let me tell you, like Last Night at the Alamo, Bottle Rocket and Fandango, this is one of those little pictures that make you think fondly of both Texas and Texans - a mighty achievement! The movie is so easy-going for most of its length that you just want to hug it and thank it for being so kindly! There’s a little too much plot intrusion toward the end – the would-be robbers making their move, the gang warfare heating up and so forth – but for the most part this is one of those pictures you gently absorb rather than watch!
It’s a ten-bug picture as far as ol’ Burl is concerned, and a great watch! You’ll probably be able to find a copy if you try a little bit, and ha ha, I urge you to do so! I’m going to go ahead and give Drive-In three Texas Chainsaw Massacre posters and my most Burlian recommendation! And watch for the scene of the burly Hell's Angels observing a punch-up between Orville and Enoch! "Gang violence," one of them says! "It's frightening," another says mildly! Ha ha!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Burl reviews The Fugitive! (1993)

In pursuit of the one-armed man, it’s Burl, here to review one of those solid, middlebrow action pictures from the 90s! This one is of course The Fugitive, and I place it in the same round basket as In the Line of Fire and Heat!
Of course the picture is an update of that old TV series starring David Janssen, whom we know from movies like Cult of the Cobra, Moon of the Wolf and several Francis pictures too! Ha ha, I’ve got to check out one or two of those Francis movies and see if they’re as good as everyone says!
But anyway! We have Harrison Ford, famed from his role in The Long Ride Home, in the role of Dr. Richard Kimble, famous sawbones, who one night returns home to find his wife (Sela “Steele Justice” Ward) dying from a severe bonking, and a vicious unibracch lurking in the closets! The unibracch gets away and Kimble is accused of the crime, convicted and sent to the pokey! But wouldn’t you know it, on the way there his prison bus crashes and there’s a spectacular train crash sequence, very well pulled off by director Andrew “Above The Law” Davis!
Next thing you know he’s on the run from dogged U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard, played by Tommy Lee Jones, the actor well known for his performance in Black Moon Rising! Kimble uses all his considerable smarts to evade Gerard and his posse (which includes that beret-wearing individual Joe Pantoliano, best known from The Final Terror and The Mean Season), and the film depicts evasion after evasion in an episodic style! Kimble is apparently being helped along the way by his colleague Jeroen “The Living Daylights” Krabbé, but there may be hidden agendas at work! The unibrachh is played by a wild-haired Andreas Katsulas, whom we know from Next of Kin, and I won’t tell for sure, but there may be some connection between Krabbé and Katsulas – the K gang, ha ha!
It’s a fast-moving, entertaining, solidly-made picture with plenty of fine actors and suspenseful setpieces! There are a few memorable moments (the bus crash, the confrontation in a huge dam), but otherwise the movie doesn’t linger long in the old memory banks! As middlebrow Harrison goes, though, it’s more satisfying than Presumed Innocent, ha ha! It’s a good Hollywood production, and I give The Fugitive two and a half fake beards!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Burl reviews Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff! (1949)

Ha ha, numbskulls, it’s Burl! No, I don’t really mean to call you numbskulls! I’m just reviewing an Abbott and Costello picture, that’s all! And you know, I haven’t actually seen too many Abbott and Costello pictures, now that I come to think about it! Oh sure, I’ve seen The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock – ha ha, who hasn’t? – but not very many of the classic, actual movies featuring the two of them doing their routines!
But now I’ve seen this one, ha ha, and with a title like that, who could resist? I’ll watch anything with Boris in it, though his last few pictures are a little depressing, ha ha! But he was a great actor, and, I have it on good authority, a great fellow as well!
Now of course this picture belongs not to Boris “The Man They Could Not Hang” Karloff, but to Abbott and Costello! And these two jokesters do it up pretty well, I must say, especially Costello! He’s really pretty funny in his role as an accident-prone bumbler of a hotel porter! Abbott plays the house dick, and that makes me wonder if hotels still have detectives like they used to! Anyway, the two fellows work at the Lost Caverns Hotel, and when eminent attorney Amos Strickland comes in one night on the eve of the release of his memoirs, has Costello fired and then gets murdered, the stage is set for all manner of slamming-door shenanigans!
There are plenty of murders, and all the corpses pop up in Costello’s closet, so it looks pretty bad for him, ha ha! Karloff is lurking about as a menacing swami, and the scene everybody mentions is when Karloff tries to hypnotize Costello into committing suicide, but the tubby bellboy is simply too stupid to accomplish the task! But, ha ha, there are funnier scenes than that, or at least I thought so! I did enjoy when they finally made it into the caverns below the hotel (for what seems like forever, ha ha!) and Costello became a human drain-plug! You’ll have to see it to know what I mean, and it’s a pretty impressive feat of floor effects!
Costello’s delivery is often hilarious, particularly whenever he underplays! Abbott is pretty much the ideal of the straight man! On the other hand, the movie is pretty repetitive, and lots of the jokes are flat bananas! Costello is on the border of being a character like Bill or Sam or Radio, and I can’t say that his slow-wittedness didn’t get annoying!
I got some laughs, and the foreground matted caverns are really impressive and beautiful! Great stuff! But it goes on a little long and doesn’t make quite as much sense as it should! I’m going to give Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff two coffin-shaped laundry trollies!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Burl reviews Night Moves! (1975)

Workin on a' night moves, dum dum dum, working on a' crazy downtown moves… it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I’m here to review one of my very favourite 1970s private eye pictures! This is a group of pretty marvelous pictures – movies like The Long Goodbye, Chinatown and The Late Show, ha ha – but the one I’m going to review today is Night Moves!
Now this is a real pistol-packer if you ask me! There’s a lot going on in the picture, and not all of it is clear, but the easy-but-effective visual metaphor in the movie’s closing shot assures us that if we don’t quite understand what we’ve just seen, well, neither does the protagonist!
The protagonist in this case—ha ha, “case!”—is Harry Moseby, who once was a championship f*otball player before becoming a private eye, and is played with perfection by Gene “The Quick and the Dead” Hackman! He’s one of your small-office dicks, the fellows who do the seedy, sniffing-around kind of work! Like all movie private eyes, he quietly revels in his status as anachronism! But his lady wife, played by Susan Clark from Porky’s, is not faithf*l to him (her unlikely b*yfriend is the judge from Ghostbusters II!), and as a result he immerses himself in his current missing-persons case rather more profoundly than he should!
He’s looking for a peppy teenage girl, the daughter of a Hollywood semi-starlet, and the trail takes him first to a movie set and thence to Florida, where it’s all going down! There he meets Jennifer Warren from Mutant, a glib and sassy blond with a gift for badinage, and a salty fellow who is the missing girl’s stepdad, and then the missing girl herself, played by a sixteen year-old Melanie “Fear City” Griffith!
From there things get complicated and opaque, and people are killed, and the mystery that Hackman thinks he’s uncovering is never quite where his focus should actually be! The plot is in the end not so much impenetrable as open to interpretation!
To me the big clue Harry misses is that everybody he talks to seems to know everyone else he wants to talk to, and that the connections are never hidden, but still remain murky! Harry himself is easily able to ingratiate himself with all these people, due to his charm and his footb*ll celebrity, but he should be suspicious of their instant affability! “Knowing people” is really the dominant theme in this picture, as the other thread of plot involves Harry and his wife, who’ve been married for years but still don’t really know one another!
The movie works many wonders, and one of them is that it feels blessedly like one of those quietly marvelous, low-incident character studies the 70s filmmakers were so good at, while at the same time containing fistfights, n*dity and plane crashes galore!
The picture looks good, being well-shot by Bruce “Out of Bounds” Surtees; and Arthur Penn does a commendable job directing it! You know, Penn made plenty of great pictures, but this might be my favourite! Ha ha, I certainly prefer it to Target! The script by Alan Sharp (who also, believe it or not, helped with the script of Damnation Alley!) is just that, sharp, and the supporting cast includes many fine performers, from James “Videodrome” Woods to Kenneth “For Keeps?” Mars, to even Rags himself, Max Gail from Curse of the Black Widow!
It’s a movie both shaggy and sharp, and maybe that’s one of its great accomplishments too! (And one it shares with The Long Goodbye!) I think you ought to have a look at this fine movie if you haven’t already seen it! I’m going to give Night Moves four bonks with a conch, ha ha!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Burl reviews Sorcerer! (1977)

Careful… careful… careful… it’s Burl! Ha ha! Yes, today I’m reviewing a movie that will have you handling things very carefully for several days after watching it! It’s called Sorcerer, and it’s William “To Live And Die in L.A.” Friedkin’s remake of the Henri Georges Clouzot classic The Wages of Fear!
Now, if you’ve never seen The Wages of Fear, by garr, run out and find it! Great picture! It’s a classic, and a superior film to Sorcerer, but not by that much! I saw the Friedkin version years ago and liked it, but I was affected by the general impression that it was bad, so for years never made any effort to see it again! Until recently, ha ha! And let me tell you, I enjoyed it!
It’s really the type of picture that could only have been made in the 1970s and by someone coming off of two massive hits, which in Friedkin’s case were The French Connection and The Exorcist! And I do tend to like that sort of picture, the ones that beat the odds, that could not have been made but under extremely specific circumstances! As you all know, I also like fugitive expat pictures, movies in which a group of desperate strangers from around the globe are exiled in some dingy, purgatorial backwater! The Lost Continent was such a picture, in spirit at least, and this one is too, in spades! On top of this it’s a very manly picture, with lots of guys sweating and working hard and acting tough, and virtually no ladies to be seen! That it gets from Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a movie to which this one is certainly indebted!
You all know the story, ha ha, but it takes a while to get to! First we meet our characters: Roy “Jaws” Scheider is Jackie Scanlon, a functionary in the Irish mob fleeing from a New Jersey church heist gone wrong! Bruno Cremer plays Victor Manzon, an investment banker from Paris whose shady deal went just as wrong! Francisco Rabal, whom we know from Treasure of the Four Crowns, is Nilo, a hit man, whose latest hit doesn’t seem to have gone wrong, but from which he flees anyway! And Amidou, a one-name-only actor whom we know from Ronin, plays Kassem, a Palestinian whose Jerusalem bomb-blast plot very definitely goes wrong!
All of these fellows end up in some unnamed South American jungle town where an oil company is plying its trade! A well blows up and suddenly they need explosives to blast it out, but the only explosives around are dynamite sticks which have leaked and become terribly unstable! The slightest jolt can set it all off, ha ha! Why they can’t order some explosives in from somewhere else is a mystery, but the upshot is that these four desperate fellows must drive two big trucks many miles through the jungle to the well site, and they will be amply rewarded for their efforts—if they survive!
What follows is all sorts of sweaty suspense, with all of these fellows demonstrating what I assume are previously untapped wells of resourcefulness, mechanical knowledge and driving prowess! The cooler-looking of the two trucks is named ‘Sorcerer,’ so I guess that’s where the movie got its rather misleading title! (I think people back in the day were expecting another blood-and-thunder horror picture like The Exorcist, and when they heard it wasn’t that, they just went to see Star Wars again instead!)
But the movie’s great, and it gets as violent as any horror movie in parts! It looks marvelous of course, all electric jungle green and burnished charcoal grey, and the pillar of orange-red flame that is the oil well fire; and the supporting cast, all playing very realistically, includes ringers like Ramon Bieri from Grandview U.S.A. and Joe Spinell from The First Deadly Sin! The performers are terrific and Friedkin does a terrific job with the suspense and the physical details! (Pity about all that fake superimposed rain in the one scene, though, ha ha!)
There are some explosions and some gunshots, and a crazy scene on a lunar landscape, and it can’t wrap up without the most nihilistic 1970s ending since The Parallax View! All of it is scored with thumpy, frowny Tangerine Dream music, which really works for the picture! There might be better meditations on the caprices of fate out there, but Sorcerer is still utterly unique, which is high praise for a remake! I give it three and a half of the unluckiest blown tires in memory!

Burl reviews Deep Star Six! (1989)

Blub blub, it’s Burl, here to review one of the several underwater movies that were released in 1989! These titles included The Abyss, Leviathan, and this one, Deep Star Six! Ha ha, I did my duty by seeing each one of these in the theatre, though I missed out entirely on their waterlogged little contemporaries, Endless Descent and Full Fathom Five!
Of the big three, Deep Star Six is the closest to being something Roger Corman might have made! It’s a killer crawdad picture after all, as a creature resembling a v*gina dentata with google eyes invades an underwater facility and wreaks – well, not quite as much direct havoc as you might hope, but he certainly causes problems! Ha ha! And the movie was directed by Sean S. Cunningham, he of Friday the 13th fame, so you know B-movie goofiness is a distinct possibility!
Deep Star Six is set in another one of your standard-issue seabottom complexes, this one some sort of military-industrial operation involving undersea missile platforms! It doesn’t really matter what they’re doing down there, because whatever it was, it would probably have lead to the same thing: the reckless opening of a cavern and the release of the crabby creature!
Ha ha, he’s no mere Island Claws-style giant crab – more of a close cousin to one of the grabby varmints from The Lost Continent, I would say! It’s what the monster from Blood Beach probably should have looked like, ha ha if we were ever given a proper look at him! But the hardshell in Deep Star Six, as irate and hungry as he is, doesn’t create nearly as much trouble for the characters as they give themselves! One of them, a Hudson figure played by Miguel “Robocop” Ferrer, is about the whiniest fellow ever seen on screen, and his tenure on the undersea platform is a catalogue of fatal blunders! It’s really just one fatal blunder after another with this guy, ha ha, and of course he saves his last one for himself!
The boss of the platform is, if you can believe it, the guy from The Gods Must Be Crazy! Ha ha, no, not N!xau, but the other one! (I wish it had been N!xau, though -  that would have been great!) His staff includes B.J. from that terrific program B.J. and the Bear, and, in another unfortunately abbreviated role, a neckbearded Thom Bray from Prince of Darkness, also known as the nerd from Riptide! (Or was it Simon & Simon?) There’s also a Russian guy who reminded me so strongly of Yakov Smirnoff I thought I was watching Brewster’s Millions again! Really, most of the cast are TV actors willing to get wet, and they’re a game bunch!
As I’ve implied, the monster doesn’t get all that much to do in the picture! I don’t think he puts an actual biting on more than two of them, though one of these incidents, the guy in the metal diving suit who gets chomped like a Jolly Rancher, is memorable! Ha ha! The rest is blunders, poor judgment and faulty equipment! Of course this is all indirectly caused or helped along by the crustacean’s presence, but still, he should have got those big flappy jaws working away more, and not just to emit roars like the Creeping Terror carpet monsters! The movie as a whole takes too long to get going, and there’s some soap opera stuff that might have been dropped!
A final scene, shot in a studio tank so obvious it lends an air of poetic unreality, brings us just the sort of shock moment Cunningham supplied at the end of Friday the 13th, and thus is the movie concluded! It’s a real beezer, though I kind of like the look of it, and was amazed to think of myself at an age where movies I saw first-run at the theatres have trick effect shots that now look like something you’d have seen in Irwin Allen’s Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea! For being number three but trying harder, but also for not showing as much pep as it could have, I give Deep Star Six one and a half nonsense vector-graphic radar screens!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Burl reviews The Great Outdoors! (1988)

Ha ha, time to go deep, deep into the piney north woods with Burl to review The Great Outdoors, a picture from John Hughes and Howard Deutch, the same team that brought us Some Kind of Wonderful just one year earlier! This time it’s not a teen angst fest though, but, purportedly, a goofy family comedy!
It’s another movie where John “The Silent Partner” Candy goes on vacation, just like he does in Summer Rental, and again it all goes hooky-pooky! Because, wouldn’t you know it, just moments after he and his family (wife, two boys) install themselves in a fantastically huge lakeside cabin owned by Robert “Christine” Prosky, along comes his brother-in-law Roman, uninvited, to mess up the week! Roman is played by funnyman Dan “Ghostbusters” Aykroyd, and he’s a slickster investment-banker type with a wife and two daughters modeled after the twins in The Shining! (Twilight Zone music plays whenever they appear on screen, which I suppose is slightly better than using the shower cue from Psycho! But not much!)
From there the movie is mainly plotless! Candy’s Chet and Aykroyd’s Roman have a mildly antagonistic relationship, which plays itself out shaggily through the first two acts, then suddenly becomes more heated largely so the picture can move into its final act! The other members of their families mainly just sit around and watch, though Candy’s older boy finds time to strike up a romance with a pretty local girl (which supplies the teen angst we expect from Hughes, ha ha!), and the two little girls get themselves lost in a dynamite-filled bear cave so the picture can have its climax! (Some Chekhovian law or other is brazenly flaunted by the unbelievable fact that this dynamite never goes off!)
The best part of this picture comes near the beginning, when Chet tells the story of a bear encounter he’d had in that very cabin, years before on his h*neymoon! He’d fired a shotgun at the bear and, while failing to wound it, had taken all the hair off its head with his buckshot! Towards the end of the picture this very same baldheaded bear returns, and I was astonished to find by watching the credits that the picture’s Special Makeup Effects, which credit I assume is in reference mainly to the bear’s glabrous pate, had been created by none other than Rob “The Thing” Bottin! Ha ha! The bear itself is of course played by Bart, and not to be a name dropper, but he’s a celebrity I’ve actually met! At a certain distance of course, ha ha!
But aside from the bear and an opening set to “Yakity Yak,” most of the movie is pretty dire, and I say this as one who appreciates the comedy stylings of both Candy and Aykroyd! Ha ha, it’s just not a very funny picture! I suspect director Deutch is a man without much of a sense of humour, and that what hilarity could be gleaned from Grumpier Old Men came only in spite of his work! As for Hughes, well, he provides a few bon mots, but this feels like something he tossed off over a weekend at his own lakeside cabin! There’s a certain country coziness to it, but it’s too episodic and ramshackle even to provide 80s comedy-level amusement! So in the end, it’s my sad lot to give The Great Outdoors one set of bear butt*cks!

Burl reviews Indian Summer! (1993)

Ha ha, it’s Unca Burl here to review a summer camp picture for you! It’s a particularly late-season example of the genre, and I really should have waited until at least late August to even watch it, let alone review it for you! The picture is called Indian Summer, and it’s a real batstacker!
That term, "batstacker," may be unfamiliar to you, but hopefully this review will provide, if not a proper definition, at least some context! Indian Summer takes place at a summer camp in Ontario, just like Meatballs, and even features one of the stars of that venerable production, Matt Craven, who I believe played the glasses nerd in that earlier film! Here he plays a completely different part, a vain, irritable, utterly shallow ladykiller, one of the most annoying characters ever seen on screen!
He’s just one of several in this ensemble cast: former campers who’ve returned to good old Camp Tamakwa at the request of Unca Lou, their old head counselor, who figures on retiring and closing up the camp for good! Unca Lou is played by Alan Arkin, whom we know and love so well from Catch-22 and Heck’s Way Home, and I can tell you he’s a welcome sight!
Bill “Weird Science” Paxton plays a character meant, I think, to be an edgy, Walkman-wearing neo-hippie, who was once kicked out of the camp by Unca Lou for Some Mysterious Reason! Kevin Pollock, of Grumpy Old Men and its sequel, is a put-upon twerp! Diane Lane from Streets of Fire plays one of the ladies, and there are several more, and I think one or two other fellows, including, of all people, Sam Raimi, the director of Evil Dead II, playing a comedy dogsbody! None of them except Raimi are particularly likeable, and they all spend the bulk of the movie interacting with one another in a variety of ways, and there are some conflicts, ha ha, but nothing of much consequence happens!
I assume this is by design: that Mike Binder, the director, went to one of these camps, loved it, and decided to make this picture as a tribute to his experience, while being careful not to blemish the memory with too much drama! Fine, except he’s made one of those movies which those of us who never went to this particular camp (or any summer camp) will watch and wonder why on earth anyone would bother expending the effort on such a film! Ol’ Burl understands as well as anyone the powerful grip of nostalgia, also the urge to dramatize formative adolescent experiences, but this particular result is about as substantial and satisfying as a puff!
The location is very nice though, very lakey, and as I mention, it’s always nice to see The Bean himself (or was he Freebie?) acting in his laid-back, homespun Unca Lou style! Ha ha! I appreciated Sam Raimi’s efforts too, because he clearly relished the opportunity to perform some of the slapstick comedy he loves so well! For a non-actor he’s not bad (most directors are well able to act, I find!), but why he’s in it at all is nevertheless as much a mystery as why the thing was ever made! I'll tell you, this is a summer camp movie where you wish and wish it would suddenly turn into Friday the 13th or The Burning, just to be rid of some of these characters!
Ha ha! Well, you can see that I didn’t think much of this picture, though it’s not all bad, and they play “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” over the end credits! If you want an ensemble nostalgia picture you could probably do worse, but you could for sure do a whole lot better! I give Indian Summer one long-buried boxing trophy!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Burl reviews Strange Invaders! (1983)

Attention earthlings! Ha ha, Burl here, with a review of another spaceman picture for you! This one is called Strange Invaders, and in my own personal taxonomy it fits in with other movies I find it difficult to believe I saw in the theater! Ha ha, I’m talking about pictures like Time Walker, Witchboard, Deadtime Stories and Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot! It’s hard now to remember a time when pictures like that actually got any big-screen exposure at all, let alone in my neck of the woods, but they did, and I have to admit there’s something genuinely thrilling about the idea of (and the memory of) seeing a cheap and resolutely B picture at the cinema!
Ha ha, clearly I’m easily thrilled—but remember: I’m Burl! Anyway, Strange Invaders! Yes, this comes from the director of Strange Behavior, and I guess being the director of movies about strange things is as good a trademark as any! Behavior is probably the better of the two pictures, but this one has its charms – charms I would put into the same category as, and assign roughly the same value to, the ones in Remote Control!
We have a pretty game cast though! Paul LeMat, whom we know so well from Death Valley, plays a professor of entomology whose ex-wife disappears when she returns to her hometown of Centerville, Illinois, leaving the couple’s daughter behind! We know there’s something screwy about the town, because we were shown as much in a 1958-set prefatory sequence! LeMat and his woofing dog follow her trail, but soon Le Mat’s investigation becomes a catalogue of bizarre happenstances! Everyone in town acts weird; the woofing dog disappears and woofs up and down the street several times as an ether; his car is zapped by horizontal lightning and explodes; he sees a weird-looking man; is zapped again, blowing the doors and trunk off his stolen car! Ha ha, and I started laughing to myself most heartily at this point, imagining him telling people about his trip!
Of course it’s all about alien takeover! Le Mat takes his bewildering tale to different people, hoping they can help! But Louise Fletcher, who runs a UFO drop-in center which turns out to be a government front, can do nothing for him; and when he goes to a tabloid editor played by Nancy Allen from Robocop and Poltergeist III, he receives only mocking! But the bizarre happenings continue, and Nancy’s building superintendent, played by none other than Wallace Shawn from My Dinner With André and The Princess Bride, is zapped too, and apparently killed! Michael Lerner from Class Reunion shows up and tells the tale of woe that betided him when his family was shriveled before his eyes and transformed into glowing blue balls that fly away from him! This triumvirate return to Centerville and face off against the aliens!
You can see what I mean about the cast! Ha ha, and there’s more – we get appearances from such familiar faces as Kenneth Tobey from Innerspace and The Long Ride Home, June Lockhart from Curse of the Black Widow and Charles Lane from Twentieth Century and a few other movies besides, ha ha! It really is a marvelous group! It’s got some dodgy acting at the same time, though – both Nancy Allen and Diana “Psycho III” Scarwid, who plays the ex-wife with a secret, are pretty bad!
But the movie itself is very endearingly goofy! There are some good trick effects – the alien masks and the shriveling is all done nicely, and there’s a shot of a hovering alien craft which, in both design and execution, hits some kind of rare sweet spot; and at the same time, as with Deep Star Six, I’m astonished that I’m of an age to have witnessed something like this, with its 1950s-level model spaceships!
I found it pretty entertaining despite and also from its vast panoply of flaws! It’s crazy nonsense, but it looks nice and has that terrific cast, so why not have a look yourself? I give Strange Invaders two and a half disembodied woofs!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Burl reviews Death Valley! (1982)

Haw haw cowpoke, it’s Burl, here to review a rootin’ tootin’ slashin’ gashin’ tale of the wild fronteer! It’s one of the high-tone maniac killer pictures of 1982, Death Valley! Now, even though I haven’t contributed to it for some time, my growing taxonomy of slasher pictures is an ongoing project, and this particular one is of the sort you’d expect everyone connected to it would prefer was called a suspense thriller, ha ha!
Oh, you know the type! There are usually a couple of name actors in there, and certainly someone visiting from the television world! Think of Happy Birthday To Me with Glenn Ford and Melissa Sue Anderson, or Visiting Hours with William Shatner and Lee Grant, or The Initiation with Vera Miles and Daphne Zuniga, or even Too Scared To Scream, with Touch Connors and Ian McShane! Not many murder scenes (except for Happy Birthday To Me), nor much blood when they do occur (the exception once again being Happy Birthday To Me), and they usually run five or ten minutes longer than a slasher movie should!
Death Valley shares many of these qualities, though at 87 minutes it isn’t too long – just feels that way sometimes, ha ha! The picture begins with a long scene of frolic between young Billy – that is, The Dirt Bike Kid himself, bespectacled Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story – and his dad, bespectacled Edward Herrmann from The Lost Boys! Of course dad and mom are divorced, and mom, Catherine Hicks from Child’s Play that is, is taking Billy out West, back to her home country and her high school beau Mike, played by a drawling Paul LeMat, the actor well-known for his parts in Grave Secrets and Strange Invaders! (Ha ha, I always thought LeMat and Jeff Fahey must be cousins or something!)
But there’s a slasher killer about, played by a fairly young Stephen McHattie, though not so young a McHattie as we saw in Moving Violation! After taking out an RV of teenagers – a promising beginning – McHattie must hang his mchattie and wait it out with the rest of us while Billy and Mike get to know each other while mom fusses in the background! Luckily a walrus-whiskered cop played by the one and only A. Wilford Brimley (from The Thing, of course) adds some spice to things briefly, but only briefly! Ha ha, he and Scatman Crothers, and Richard Farnsworth too for that matter, could swap stories about heroics interrupted by sudden sucking chest wounds!
The rest of the picture involves western-themed stalking and chasing, then there’s some fisticuffs and some maniacs get offed, and I think one of them is impaled on a cactus! Ha ha! (That’s right, ha ha, I said maniacs – there’s two of them, just like in Just Before Dawn!)
It’s not always a very peppy picture, it’s true! Why, a good half hour or so of screen time is dedicated to showing a hefty babysitter eating snacks! And there’s lots and lots and lots of relationship stuff, scenes of friendly Mike reaching out to the young lad, with poor LeMat being wrestled to le mat each time by Billy’s apple-cheeked stoicism! The picture kind of stacks the deck against LeMat by having Edward Herrmann as Billy’s real dad – you can see he’d be hard to compete with! They clearly did that on purpose, because it successfully gives the Billy-Mike relationship a genuine, if pedestrian, arc, from which not even a scream escapes!
Even though it’s slow and uneventful, it retains the capacity to entertain! The cast is strong (semi-familiar faces like Jack “Sweater Girls” O’Leary and Mary “Weird Science” Steelsmith fill out the supporting roles), it’s got more stolid craftsmanship to it than most of these things, and the locations are nice! It’s got a little bit of tomato paste (impalings don’t you know!) and a pretty mundane story! Ha ha, altogether I’m going to give Death Valley one and a half shower caps filled with a product compote!