Ha ha!

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

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Burl reviews She-Wolf of London! (1946)



Ralston-Purina, it’s Burl, ha ha, here to review you a she-wolf picture; and right off the top I want to let you know that I’m going to tell the ending! Ha ha, yes, the ending of today’s picture, She-Wolf of London, features a twist! It’s one that I didn’t bother trying to guess, because I never really try to guess, but when it came along after sixty-one chatty minutes, I couldn’t say I was surprised!
Well, dateline London! A fragile young heiress lives in a big house with an aunt who isn’t an aunt, a cousin who isn’t a cousin, and a jolly but slow-on-the-uptake maid! I can’t recall why they all live together or what the relative relationships are, but all these things are explained, I believe! The ersatz aunt is a real old sobersides, and boy howdy, the cousin is pretty!
Our heiress, played by June Lockhart from Strange Invaders and Curse of the Black Widow, is troubled, because the house is next to what must be a really enormous park, and within that park something unnatural is prowling, putting a fatal scritchscratch on anyone foolish enough to be wandering this Yellowstone-sized park at night!
Because of The Allenby Curse, the heiress – who bears the distinctly un-heiressy name of Phyllis – assumes she herself is the culprit! Circumstantial evidence – blood on her hands, mud on her slippers – confirms the suspicion, and Phyllis isolates herself in her chambers and refuses to see her young lawyer fianc*e! Ha ha, the f*ancĂ©e, Barry, is played by Don Porter from White Line Fever, and here he is, young!
I hope you’ve realized what’s going on! It was a real disappointment for me, I can tell you! Because there’s no she-wolf! No, of course it’s the maniacally status-seeking aunt, donning Phyllis’s shawl and putting the chop to police and civilian alike! Even Martin Kosleck, whom you might know from The Flesh Eaters, gets roughed up by the old gal!
It’s too bad about The Allenby Curse, or Phyllis wouldn’t have fallen for it! Ha ha, I wonder if my old high school chum Bruce Allenby suffered from The Allenby Curse? He never mentioned anything about it! Anyway, I really think they should have done a double twist, where Phyllis really is a werewolf, but it required a shock so great as Aunt Martha has delivered to set off the transformation! Ha ha, that would have been a great ending!
I found the movie similar to Crimson Peak in some ways! As with that picture, it all comes down to a womano-a-womano fight and a climactic bonking! Although here, ha ha, the day is saved not by the heroine’s shovelsmanship, but by a clumsy accident! Ha ha, the pursuing Aunt Martha, waving her knife, simply trips and falls, and it’s altogether less like the climax of a horror-mystery and more like a scene from an educational film on the importance of safety in the home!
Sara Haden from Mad Love plays Aunt Martha, and she does a pretty good job! Everyone else is adequate, with Kosleck’s Lorre-like performance a bit of a bright spot! The movie looks pretty good; not as nice as the top-drawer Universal horror pictures, but better than the PRC stuff, like The Devil Bat, made by the same director, Jean Yarborough! There are a couple of effective moments (the inspector’s death-shuffle, for instance), but it’s mostly disappointing and lacklustre! Altogether, and factoring in the disappointment, I’ll give She-Wolf of London one and a half lanterns hung at the window!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Burl reviews Crimson Peak! (2015)



Booga-booga, it’s Burl, here to review the latest work from that portly master of the McBare, Guillermo Del Toro! We last heard from him with the battling robots and beasts of Pacific Rim, and now here he is down in the spookhouse, showing us some ghosts, but, ha ha, not too many ghosts!
Because, you see, this is not really a ghost picture, we are told, but a Gothic romance in the vein of Jane Eyre or Rebecca! Fair bananas, say I; but I can tell you what it really is, ha ha: an updated, much overextended version of one of Roger Corman’s old Poe pictures! Shortened by half an hour, and with the insertion of Vincent Price, or even Ray “Premature Burial” Milland, into the part of the plummy Cumbrian baronet here played by Tom “Only Lovers Left Alive” Hiddleston, this would be virtually indistinguishable from one of those crushed-velvet-and-ground-fog epics! Ha ha!
Mia Wasikowska, well-known from Stoker, plays a young lady novelist from Buffalo who meets and subsequently marries the aforementioned baronet, who, with his grumpy sister, is abroad searching for investors in his clay-digging machine! The sister is played by Jessica Chastain from The Tree of Life, and her performance is the best in the picture, or at least the most in tune with its demands! Ha ha, it’s funny that del Toro hired an Englishwoman to play an Americaness, and an Americaness to play an Englishwoman! And it was all shot in Canada, which I suppose makes sense too!
Anyway, the young American, named Miss Cushing of course, has met ghosts before, so when some turn up at her ludicrously dilapidated new abode, she exhibits about as much alarm as others would on espying a doodle bug scurrying across the floor! Ha ha, I’d sure be a little more alarmed than she is! Eventually just about everything you suspect is happening proves to indeed be happening, while no further plot wrinkles are explored! The only thing that really is explored is the old mansion itself, which has an open roof through which snow gently falls, and floorboards which ooze the red muck for which the crumbling old pile, and the picture itself, is named!
While the ghostly elements are a bit lacking and the scares few and far between, the romantic material is pushed as far as it can go! That’s not terribly far, but still, del Toro does weave an atmosphere of genuine tragedy, present and past! It’s just too bad it plays out in such a narritavely dull, if pictorially attractive, manner! A little bit of gore spices up the brew, ha ha, though this could easily have been elided for that important PG-13 rating, I suppose! I’m impressed with del Toro for sticking to his guns on that one, as I’m sure there was considerable pressure on him to stay in the tween-safe zone - the demographic for which the picture is ostensibly intended, remember! - and the disappointing box office is probably being held against him now!
I’m always rooting for the success of original horror projects, even ones so imperfect as this, so I was hoping it would be a hit! Ha ha, I want more R-rated big-screen scare pictures! It’s a pretty perennial genre though, so I’m not too worried! In the meantime, I guess I’ll give Crimson Peak two big vats of tomato paste and urge young Mr. del Toro to go full-throttle horror next time! Ha ha!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Burl reviews Lifeforce! (1985)



Ha ha! Burl here, returning to the Tobe Hooper well so soon after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2! In fact I’m staying within the Cannon Years, that period in which Hooper made films for the Golan-Globus boys! Today’s picture, Lifeforce, was the first and surely the most expensive of the three!
Now, I’ll say up front that I don’t have what you might call a f*tish for this picture, exactly, but I find myself hugely tickled by its weird, self-serious craziness! In other words, ha ha, I like it! Nobody else does, but I do! You’ve found the one person! And what’s more, I like all the acting in the picture! And boy, is there a lot of acting in this picture!
Now some of you may not have seen Lifeforce, so I’ll give you an idea of the story! Ha ha, it actually hews pretty closely to Dracula! There’s a multinational space mission to go check out Halley’s Comet, and the captain is probably the last person who would be put in charge of a spacecraft in real life, none other than Steve Railsback from Armed and Dangerous! Near the comet is a behoimeth of an alien ship, and inside that are some dead giant bats and three n*ked people - two fellows and a pretty lady - reposing in crystal coffins!
Commander Railsback falls for the lady instantly, and who can blame him; but on the way back to Earth, everybody else on the ship dies of energy depletion! Earth people find the derelict floating in orbit, and the space people, and then, back at Space Headquarters in London, there are incidents involving nak*d ladies rising, blue swirling lights, an extreme case of wrinkleface, and running through doors, oh so many, many doors! Ha ha!
The escape pod lands and Commander Railsback joins the brain trust: A thanatologist played by Frank Finlay; SAS man Peter “The Hunt For Red October” Firth; and ever-sleepy Michael “For Your Eyes Only” Gothard in the role of some kind of doctor who catches a half-suck from the space lady! And the chase is on before the space vampire plague destroys the city and the very planet itself!
Ha ha, this is one nutty movie! It all seems to stem from one decision: casting buggy Steve Railsback in the lead! That’s a very strange decision, and seems to me it could have easily gone another way, if, for example, Golan and Globus had decided “Ha ha, we’re spending so much on this picture, let’s get a star! Let’s get Steve Guttenberg!” I see you shiver, but it could have happened! Anyway, I think Railsback gets it completely right! He’s totally bonkers, but when you discover what his character’s been going through for almost the whole film, you realize there was no other way he could have played it!
The other actors all do their own thing, which normally might be considered a criticism, but here somehow works just fine, like a crazy orchestra that plays random notes off tempo and out of tune but comes up with a mad, atonal masterpiece! I particularly like Frank Finlay’s performance, the pleasures of which for me are best exemplified in the moment he says “I seem to… sense it!” If you notice that moment, you’ll know what I’m talking about! Firth, with his authority and clipped delivery, makes a terrific policeman, and Gothard, who was always effective and is again here, really sells the idea that he’s ready to b*rf and fall fast asleep, in that order!
There are yet more fine actors to enjoy! Patrick Stewart from Dune shows up as a possessed asylum keeper who gets first sat on and then kissed by Railsback; and the creepy headmaster from A Clockwork Orange plays Britain’s foreign minister! (It seems like a questionable bit of casting until you recall the s*rdid tales from the ‘70s that are now coming up in UK media!) And behind the scenes we have such heavyweights as Alan Hume, the cinematographer who was shooting the Bond pictures and Return of the Jedi around this time; and Henry Mancini, who provides a score of ludicrous but I think admirable bombast!
Then there are the trick effects, which are splendid! There are lovely green spacescapes, bubbly ship interiors, and I’ve always liked the twinkly blue slit-scan light effect that is so frequently used in the picture, though I associate it more with Douglas Trumbull than John Dykstra! Plenty of Special Makeup Effects too, which for me were again mainlined through Fangoria, creating an instant vampire-like hunger to see the film! Ha ha!
It’s a demented and stupid movie in so many ways, but the simple unlikelihood of such a thing ever being made draws me to it! I surely do recognize its weaknesses, but uniqueness is a quality to be valued and I know of no other movie quite like Lifeforce! It’s at once a sci-fi adventure, a psycho-s*x thriller, a zombie apocalypse and a totally crazy goofshow, and I’m going to give it three handy-dandy leaded-iron swords!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Burl reviews Pumpkinhead! (1988)



In an Octobery frame of mind, it’s Burl, here to review you a corn-pone backwoods Gothic tale of curses and hullabaloo! Yes, of course it’s Pumpkinhead I’m talking about, the original one I mean, the one that opened exactly twenty-seven years ago today! Ha ha, I’ve yet to see any of the others they made, the blood wings or what have you!
But this one I saw at the picturehouse, the same cinema in which I saw Child’s Play just a few weeks later! But, ha ha, when they were screening this one, the theatre was in the midst of some kind of renovation; they had taken out the entire huge middle section of seats, leaving only a thin strip of seats, rows of six or eight perhaps, up each side! The floor was clean, so naturally my friends and I, the only ones in the theatre, sat on the deep grade and watched from there! We had our big coats to recline on, so it was very comfortable!
And I was excited to see the movie, for I had been primed by the stills in Fangoria magazine and by the mere fact that the picture was directed by famed trick effects man Stan Winston! Ha ha! And indeed the trick effects were very fine, and the backwoods atmosphere with its big fake pumpkins was artificial but thick, and although it wasn’t a case of discovering my new favourite movie, I did not come away disappointed!
That, however, was in 1988; how does the movie stack up these days? Ha ha, glad you asked! The story of course has quite purposefully the feel of a rural fairy tale, of the sort meant to ward off bad behavior! It seems that in some unnamed but remote region of the United States, a pumpkinhead is running around! Or at least, he’s running around once someone commissions him to commit some vengeance!
That someone is Wally Schirra himself, Lance Henrikson, well-known from The Quick and the Dead, Nightmares, Aliens, The Horror Show and of course The Visitor! Some citified young folks happen by and go dirtbiking, and before you know it, Henrikson’s beloved little son, who looks a lot like the kid from Death Valley, has been run down! This part of the picture made me sad! Anyway, most of the city folk aren’t bad sorts, but Lance doesn’t know that, so he visits an old crone and gets that gosh darn pumpkinhead on their tails! Ha ha! Watch out, kids, it's a pumpkinhead!
From there it hews closely to the structure of a slasher picture, with the pumpkinhead taking out the city kids one by one! Lance has a change of heart and decides blood vengeance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it turns out that he and the pumpkinhead have a closer relationship than either of them would be comfortable admitting, which makes sense because Lance and the pumpkinhead don’t look all that dissimilar! The pumpkinhead has bigger shoulder blades though, that’s for sure! Ha ha!
I like the multiple layers of backwoodsiness in this picture! Ha ha, Henrikson already seems to live in the backwoods, but when he goes looking for vengeance, he has to travel further still into the backwoods to find George Buck Flower, whom we know from The Fog and Teen Lust and who’s always a welcome presence even in all the crazy cornpone sk*n flicks he did; and there he is told he’ll have to go further into the backwoods to find the old crone, who tells him that he’ll have to travel still further into the backwoods to dig up the pumpkinhead!
Anyway, it’s still a pretty charming little picture! It looks nice and moves fairly quickly, and, like its contemporary Scarecrows, it’s reasonably Halloweeny! It could stand to be a bit gorier though, I think – it has a bit of tomato paste, but a couple of Rawhead Rex-style head pullings would have gone a long way! Ha ha, and though I think Stan Winston did a fair job for a neophyte, it never really gets as creepy or scary or hillbilly weird as you want it to! Still, an enjoyable fricassee, and I give Pumpkinhead two and a half extra-big shoulder blades!

Monday, 12 October 2015

Burl reviews Hot Tub Time Machine 2! (2015)



Howdy howdy, it’s Burl, and today I’ve got a review for you of a picture that, ha ha, I can’t believe I watched all of! It was so bad, I’ve got to tell you, and not just bad, but sort of ugly and desperate! But I’m getting ahead of myself: the picture is Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and you now may feel free in joining me in my bewilderment: ha ha, Burl, just why did you watch it? And why are you reviewing it?
Ha ha, I have no proper answer, but we’ll see if I can find one! Now, I did see the original Hot Tub Time Machine in the moviehouse way back in 2010, and, perhaps because I saw it in optimal conditions, which is to say with a group of pals and under certain, ha ha, herbal influences, I enjoyed myself!
I can’t say the same about the sequel! I can hardly bring myself to describe the nonsense plot, but it has something to do with a reworked present involving the loathsome character Lou (played by Rob Corddry from In A World… and The Way Way Back) who stayed back in the mid-80s and has used his knowledge of the future to become a wealthy tech giant! Nick, the more likeable character, has himself stolen future pop songs from the likes of Lisa Loeb and become a famed pop crooner! The babyfat teen who was in the first one is now a butler for some reason, and John Cusack has, evidently, vaporized into nothingness, or been reduced to a singularity, or caught in a moebius whirl, or some other time travel-related affliction! Anyway, he’s nowhere to be seen!
Lou falls victim to a shotgunning, well-deserved, and the race into time is on so that he may be saved! Ha ha, why? Anyway, they end up in the future, where they meet Adam Scott from Our Idiot Brother, who is some relation to Cusack’s character, and wears a grey skirt! Chevy Chase, well-known from Fletch and Christmas Vacation, shows up briefly to deliver puzzling dialogue! Then there occurs a vast number of pop-culture jokes and a lot of movie references! Ha ha, The Terminator is mentioned of course, and pictures like National Treasure and even The Lawnmower Man, just for no real reason!
But seventy-five percent of the gags revolve around the human wil*is, and injuries to the human w*llis, and places in which the human will*s may be ins*rted! Ha ha, it gets pretty wearing! It would be okay if the gags were funny – after all, ol’ Burl’s got nothing against the human wi*lis, or ribald gaggery in general – but they’re not! And, as I mentioned, there’s a strange air of desperation floating over the whole thing, like when drunks shout jokes they believe to be witty into your face at a party!
The only thing worse that the humour are the sad attempts to jiggle our emotions! Ha ha, it just doesn’t work! Almost nothing works, in fact! I’ll admit that a couple of the future technology ideas were clever, and I liked the vengeful car even though that subplot really went nowhere, and there may have been one wan smile in there somewhere, so all in all I’m going to give Hot Tub Time Machine 2 one half of an electric jumpsuit and then never think about it again! Ha ha!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Burl reviews The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2! (1986)



Hi, it’s brrrr-brrrr-Burrrrrrrrrrl here to review a chainsaw picture! Ha ha! Did you like my chainsaw sound effect? Pretty convincing! Anyway, that’s because I’m here to give you a review of a chainsaw picture that isn’t exactly the best of them, but far from the worst either! Ha ha, it’s that odd codfish from ’86, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2!
Now, Dennis Hopper had a long (though not long enough) career in pictures, and he had a few peaks and maybe more than a few valleys, if that combination is geographically possible! But I think it’s fair to say that, between Blue Velvet and his Oscar nomination for his part in the popular hayseed picture Hoosiers, 1986 was among the peakiest of his career peaks! And there, resting comfortably in this Reagan-era aerie, sits his role as Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright, a man on the hunt for the chainsaw killers that, twelve years earlier, had run through his invalid brother Franklin with a Stihl!
Well, he’s about found them, finally! It seems to me it shouldn’t be so hard to track down an entire family of cannibal killers who apparently take care to never leave Texas, which is admittedly a large state, but still! Anyway, the cannibal family’s latest outrage, which is really more of a public service, involves taking down two gun-totin’ bros on their way to the big football game! Their demise, set on the world’s longest truss bridge, is recorded by radio DJ Stretch, a good ol’ gal in unflattering jean shorts; she, powered by the same urge to “do something real” that we find in The Dark’s Cathy Lee Crosby, hooks up with Hopper and tries to team up with him to find the killers!
But events escalate before this can happen, and Stretch’s days of playing The Cramps, Concrete Blonde and Oingo Boingo on some backwoods Texas station are over! (Ha ha, the highly idealized playlist of this station is one of my favourite things about the picture!) Anyway, before all is said and done there will be a good deal of screaming and the sad demise of a great character, LG, played by the marvelous Lou “Last Night at the Alamo” Perryman!
Bill Mosely from The Blob and The First Power, turns in a highly entertaining performance as a plateheaded cannibal brother (“I know what you’re thinking! ‘This is weird, but I can handle it,' right?”), and Bill Johnson from D.O.A. takes on the fairly thankless role of Leatherface! Old Jim Siedow, the only holdover from the original picture, is the cook of the family! All of these actors ham it up very nicely for the movie, and make it better than it otherwise would be for sure! And they live in a seemingly endless rabbit warren of tunnels and bonerooms beneath an abandoned Alamo-themed themepark! Pretty nice!
But is the movie any good? There are differing schools of thought on this, ha ha! Certainly there are some scenes that are staged in a breathtakingly inept manner: the opening truss-bridge slaughter is one such flubup! The script, despite coming from the fellow who wrote Paris, Texas, is full of bananas and bulberries!
However, it’s also full of hilarities and glittertainments! Ha ha, when Hopper invades the family’s lair, screaming “Bring it all down!” and “I am the Lord of the Harvest!,” the cannibals assume he’s from a rival catering business, possibly a vegetarian one! Ha ha! There are plenty of quotable quips all throughout, though few of them make sense out of context! Meanwhile, the picture is full of trick Special Makeup Effects, courtesy of our old pal Tom “The Burning” Savini; these are alternately goofy (the spurting half-head) and impressive (poor old LG)! There are also plateheads, extreme oldman makeups, a big fat grandma corpse and other non-gore trick effects!
Altogether, it’s a weird and unexpectedly fun picture, if not quite a good one! But as you know, weird goes a long mile with ol’ Burl, and I give The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2 two and a half little fry houses!