Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mill Creek Madness: A Time to Watch Crap

Time to once again delve into the wild world of those bargain movie packs I've written about from time to time. Mill Creek Entertainment is a pretty terrific company when it comes to getting good value for the money and if you're an old school VHS buff, their releases actually replicate the VHS experience rather nicely. And by nicely, I mean that by DVD standards, the picture quality usually stinks and your chances of getting a widescreen print of whatever film you're looking at are not good (at least for the older stuff). They've also branched out into more mainstream fare for their releases (a butt load of catalogue titles from various studios that I will get into at a later date) but for now, we're sticking with the crap.

We got quite the lineup for this piece, so let's not waste any more time.

Savage Weekend is an early Cannon release (I think this was right before it was bought by Golan and Globus) that is an early slasher film that came out in 1979 (though it was filmed a few years earlier), more or less right between Halloween and Friday the 13th. A recently divorced woman and her friends go to a secluded vacation spot for the weekend only to be menaced by the obligatory psycho killer who turns out to be her politician ex-husband. The cast isn't too bad with William Sanderson and David Gale turning in decent performances (though most of the characters are unlikable as hell) but the pacing is typically slow for a 70's horror movie (nearly an hour passes in this 85 minute movie before the first person gets killed). The mask the killer wears is pretty neat though, real creepy. Savage Weekend is an undemanding little bit of sleaze with an interesting cast that's probably worth at least half a glance if you like early slasher films.

Mad Dog (not listing all the alternate titles, we'd be here all day) is an Italian crime flick along the lines of your standard "scummy criminal kidnaps a couple and they have to fight to escape" film only with that patented aura of grime and sleaze that you can only find in this sub genre. Helmut Berger is the titular Mad Dog, a slimy piece of work named Nanni Vitali who we first see breaking out of prison with three accomplices.

Berger is good in the lead role (think the average Jimmy Cagney bad guy minus the charm and wit) and B-movie vet Richard Harrison does well enough as the lead inspector hunting Vitali. The story though is pretty predictable, however. Psycho criminal escapes, cop pursues, psycho goes on crime spree and eventually gets killed at the end (in this case he's captured and taken back to jail but you get the point). Apart from Berger's unhinged performance, it's nothing you haven't seen before.

This is the R rated cut of Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978), one of the many Italian cannibal adventure/horror films to come out in the late 70's/early 80's. Like most cannibal films from the period, it's from Italy and ends up being one of the more mild entries in the genre. And by mild I mean I got, as noted, the R rated cut which chops out most of the bullshit animal abuse (in terms of the animal kingdom, this genre is essentially a bunch of snuff films), which I need to see like I need to see my own death. It also drops the running time from about 99 minutes to 81 (from the looks of it, mostly the gory stuff from the climax and a scene where Andress is stripped nude and painted which means most of the real animal torture is kept in while most of the fake stuff done to the human characters is trimmed in this version).

Fantastic! I can use that eighteen extra minutes to wash after viewing this piece of crap!

Former Bond Girl Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach star in this one as a woman looking for her missing husband and a scientist helping her out, respectively. The Andress character has also brought her brother along and of course, more potential entrees end up joining the adventure which takes them to the expected cannibal tribe. Sergio Martino directs things just fine (the animal abuse was forced on him by the producer though there some other tales that paint a less than savory picture of the man) but as tends to be the case with this genre, the film is a bit too mean-spirited to be truly fun and enjoyable. The characters are reprehensible (Keach is the most likable guy in the film and he gets offed), the violence is nauseating (the animal abuse in these films is really sick and needless) and while the film has a good jungle atmosphere, it's just a slog to get through.

Ugh, I need something at least slightly better after that.

That'll do, pig. That'll do.

Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride (also known as The Satanic Rites of Dracula) is the final Hammer Dracula movie to star Christopher Lee (there would be a final entry in 1974 without him) and if nothing else, you have to say they go out with a bang. An odd, sort of muddled, deeply stupid bang that sort of resembles a wet fart at times, I'll grant you. But a bang nonetheless.

Like the previous entry (Dracula A.D. 1972), this puts the titular count in the middle of swinging 70's London. This time it's a bizarre blend of spy thriller and horror film (think an episode of The Avengers TV series crossed with a typical cult horror movie from the 70's with Dracula and Van Helsing tossed in) as Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) gets pulled into investigating a satanic cult that turns out to be run by Dracula (posing as a reclusive Howard Hughes type with a cheesy Bela Lugosi accent for some reason) who plans to unleash a plague that will wipe out the entire population, sort of a suicide by way of mass murder.

While many dislike this film to the nth degree, I find it endlessly amusing and fun. It's silly and cheesy; Dracula takes about thirty minutes or so to show up in his own damn movie as tended to be the case with this series and to say Lee is phoning it in would be rather kind as he makes it abundantly clear that he is tired of the role and barely gives a crap. Still gives a decent performance because it's Christopher freaking Lee but still! Cushing is fun as well, giving the dialogue his usual gravitas and even though the script is actually quite shoddy, it is still fun to see Cushing and Lee squaring off against each other one last time.

Hammer never quite got Dracula just right in my opinion. While Lee and Cushing were always fine whenever they showed up, both were far too often given short shrift, especially Lee who often was hindered by bad scripts and limited screen time. It's not very shocking he finally got tired of the role and ended up returning just for the money. In the case of this film, as noted, he turns up 31 minutes in, has one or two scenes with Cushing and ends up dying in a less than impressive manner. Still, the film is watchable enough if you set your expectations low.

That's all for now. Next time I hit Mill Creek, the films will be... Well, newer at any rate. Until next time.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Esoterica XVII: Autumn Randomness

Some random items for your amusement.

 The song is solid enough, the music video is endearingly cheap as only a mid-80's music video can be but that werewolf design is just plain cool. No idea how they got Ozzy to sit still long enough to get the damn thing on but it must have taken something pretty strong.

In addition to seeing A View to A Kill on VHS, one of the big things that fueled my passion for all things James Bond was the ABC Sunday Night Movie showings of the films. The main one that sticks out for me is Thunderball. My overall favorite of the series, this cut of the movie is s;lashed to pieces with all the great bits of violence (if released today it would probably net a strong PG-13 for the underwater battle alone) and nudity and also, by default, led to my affection for edited for TV cuts of R rated movies.

To finish things off, I would like to give you the reader, a small glimpse into the awesomely, hilariously insane world of the late and lamented supermarket staple Weekly World News. I've always found it to be amusing but a post on Facebook this week inspired me.

 Probably their best known cover. This one is good, but there are two that me smile even more.

 Can't go wrong with a horny Bigfoot story, can you? Everything about this is just wonderful from the brazenly obvious photoshop job on the images to the large headline. Crap like The National Enquirer and The Globe may still be around, but this stuff is true gold.

To end, I present you with this gem from October of 2001 that inspired me to do this post today. Just about everything about this cover made me laugh so let's go story by story.
  • Up top we have another Batboy story as the little guy has finally gone out and gotten himself a real job.
  • Bottom right is fairly pedestrian for the mag as you could probably have gone to their offices and tossed a coin in any direction and knocked over a stack of morbidly obese fat people stories.
  • Bottom left makes me chuckle just for the sheer randomness of it.
  • And lastly, we have the tale of a man. An ordinary man, an Everyman who just wanted a simple tuna sandwich with extra mayo. But that is not what happened, my friends. What he got instead, was a mini mermaid. No word on whether or not he got the extra mayo. I would imagine you have to read the whole story and that issue isn't available online. No idea what they used for the mermaid photo but I gotta say it makes a huge increase in the production value when compared to the Bigfoot love slave issue. The promise that the reader can find out where to get a mermaid sandwich of their own is just the icing on the cake.
And that does it for me today. Until next time...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

VHS Memories XXXXII: The Amazon Prime Edition

I use Amazon Video for much of what I do for the blog and Amazon Prime is especially useful when there is a movie you don't necessarily want to pay money to watch. With that in mind, here is a stack of four movies that for the most part are better off watched free of charge, if at all.*

*In other words, I'll be damned if I'm gonna pay three bucks to watch New Year's Evil! I don't care how much I love old school Cannon Films! You hear me? I ain't getting paid for this at all! Not shi-!

Ahem, sorry about that. Let's get started.

 Speaking of which, our first contestant is this sleazy slasher from Cannon Films about a woman-hating maniac who promises a woman who does a show on the punk/new wave scene (ah, the early 80's) he'll kill one woman every hour on New Year's Eve, right as it hits midnight in the correct time zone. Not a bad plan as far as diabolical murder spree plots go but it never works at all in the film, nor do we ever learn why the killer is going to all this trouble. All we learn is that its her husband doing the killing and he has some serious issues with women (played by Kip Niven) and her son probably also has some mental issues (he's the obligatory red herring who we see little of ). There is a fair amount of 80's cheese on display and the killer is enjoyably ridiculous (the first scene where he taunts the lead over the phone has him using a voice scrambler that makes him sound silly and in general his murder spree sees him going from, disguise to disguise which would be done better in Terror Train) but the overall film is sloppy (see the lack of motivation for the killer which could come off as scary in a better movie), poorly acted and generally dull to watch. Cannon's later slasher Hospital Massacre is better.

 David Gale of Re-Animator fame plays another mad scientist in this 1988 horror flick which sees him as an insane TV show host who has a giant alien brain he uses to control his followers. Naturally, the only ones who can stop him are a couple of teens since this is a late 80's horror movie. This is a low budget Canadian film from the tax shelter days and it has a cheerful, spoofy sense of humor that makes it rather endearing. Performances are about one would expect with Gale coming off the best and the giant brain is a fun, cheesy special effect.

This is a really, really (deservedly) obscure British comedy from 1983 that stars Tony Curtis as an inventor who wants to sell his latest invention (a laser skywriter) and ends up having to deal with a dinner party for potential buyers put non by his wife. The buyers range from Erik Estrada as a gangster (with Peter Lawford in his last role) to Donald Pleasence as a Scottish guy to Orson Welles as a gypsy who appears in the last ten minutes. The eccentricity is through the roof in this one and in general, that makes for a rather painful viewing experience if not handled well. Sadly, in spite of having a very good director on board (Terence Young did three of the first four James Bond films), this just ends up being wacky for the sake of being wacky and its a little hard to take, really. Curtis is a mess of anxieties (he's broke and a hypochondriac), his wife is an oddball and the rest of the cast... Well, you can imagine given the short descriptions I gave how subtly they play their parts. Granted with material this bad I wouldn't blame them if they were all plastered during the shoot but still! Just painfully unfunny, it's not hard to see why it wasn't given either a UK release or an American one. I couldn't get through this one without skipping ahead.

Lastly, we have this delightfully odd, cheesy flick from the late, fairly decent William Girdler. This was his last film, sadly but boy is it one hell of a film to go out on! Susan Strasberg plays a young woman who is worried about a growth on the back of her neck that is growing and eventually turns out to be the reincarnation of a 400 year old Native American medicine man who is more than slightly pissed off at the white man. He is opposed by Tony Curtis (for some reason, my brain always wants to write Tony Randall whenever I think about the guy) as Strasberg's ex-boyfriend who is a phony psychic and Michael Ansara as another medicine man. What ensues is essentially The Exorcist with a Native American spin until the last few minutes when it turns into a bizarre light show as Strasberg starts shooting laser blasts at the evil medicine man and his spirit boss. It's quite the showstopper and one hell of a fun good.bad film. I was going to save this for a future studio seri4es piece but it's just too good to pass up.

That's all for now, until next time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Orion Files: 1986

1986 was a major step up from the previous year. Financially, the studio did very well but critically, they knocked it out of the park with several award winning movies. They also partnered up with TV production house Metromedia and beefed up their TV division the following year.

Tim Conway and Harvey Korman reunite (along with Jack Weston and Ted Wass) as a quartet of losers who end up in debt to some gangsters after using some of their money to place a bet on a horse race. This was Orion's first release of 1986 and, well, January is generally considered a dump month for movies which should give you an idea of how funny this one is. Tim Conway is a funny guy most of the time but this is just sort of dull. It's the kind of thing your grandmother takes you to when she's got you for the day and there's no way in hell you're talking her into watching Return of the Jedi for the fifteenth time, and she's not sadistic enough to subject you to the Merchant-Ivory film she can't get Gramps to take her to.

I have no idea what that means, but it's about as funny as the movie. Love the poster though. Next!

First off in the cavalcade of quality is this really, really good thriller starring Australian actor Bryan Brown as a special effects artist who is enlisted by shady justice department agent Cliff DeYoung to fake the death of a noted mobster, played by Jerry Orbach. Things get complicated (as in Brown is framed for a real murder and gets big Brian Dennehy up his arse) and the end result is a modestly stunning, twisty, exciting little thriller. I really love this one.

Woody Allen knocked it out of the park creatively with this one. this comedy/drama about three sisters and their family and love lives netted Dianne Weist a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and a Best Supporting Actor one for Michael Caine (Which he was unable to receive in person because he was making Jaws: The Revenge. Well, at least he had a nice house to put the award in afterwards). Allen also snagged a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and I have to say that while I'm not the biggest fan of the film (if not for film school, I probably would never have seen it), it's still a good movie. If I had to take a Woody Allen movie with me to a deserted island, I'd at least consider it.

Another chick flick (let's be honest folks, for all the laughs it has, Hannah and Her Sisters is a frigging chick flick), this drama deals with two friends who have to deal with tragedy. Needless to say, it didn't do so hot and that's really all I got to say about it.

Two classic nutcases (though Walken has the decency to confine those tendencies to when he's on the clock) go at it in this tense crime drama based on a true story. Sean Penn and Christopher Walken play father and son, respectively, with Walken being a crime boss and Penn trying hard to not become like his old man. In spite of good reviews, this didn't make a lot of money.

Orion handled the US distribution for this British musical that flopped quite badly and caused its production company Goldcrest to collapse. It didn't do much better stateside either.

The surprise hit of the year was this funny Rodney Dangerfield film that stars the man as a self-made millionaire who goes back to college to make sure his son doesn't drop out. The expected hijinks ensue but Dangerfield gives the film his own sense of energy and timing while Sam Kinison turns in a funny bit part as a psychotic professor.

Bit of a dry spell here as we move through the middle of the year and there's good stuff to follow so let's plow through the dross.

A divorced couple is having trouble staying the hell away from each other. It's got Teri Garr so chances are if I did see it, I'd be annoyed...

Though not as annoyed as I am when I think that this was one of the first films I saw in a movie theater. Gene Wilder (R.I.P., man. You were awesome.) wrote, directed and starred in this rather bad horror comedy with Gilda Radner as a pair of radio announcers who decide to get married in a spooky old castle/mansion only for the blessed event to be tarnished by a rampaging werewolf and Dom DeLuise in drag. Sadly, this was the last thing Gilda did before she died.

Orion went the Cannon Films route for this exploitation action film. Tom Skerrit and Lisa Eichorn are two of the elite soldiers chosen to do some heavy duty training related to enduring a POW camp. The commander in charge of the camp is played by Anthony Zerbe (slimy as usual) and things quickly take a dark and nasty turn as the training gets a little too real for comfort. This didn't get much of a release and the reviews I've read are mixed. But that is one hell of a poster.

This is a British romantic comedy about a young man from India who comes to England, poses as a doctor and falls in love with a young woman there. Overly long (111 minutes for a romantic comedy?) and fairly drab, this sort of tells you why the British film industry was flailing in the late 80's.

The year for Orion ended with four terrific films, however. Well, three legit ones and one I love, though the critics sure as hell didn't.

First off was this charming comedy starring Jeff Daniels as a banker who falls in with a cute girl played by Melanie Griffith. The film follows their burgeoning romance which is jeopardized by Ray Liotta as Griffith's dangerous ex-con husband. The film got good reviews and has became a cult hit.

Gene Hackman delivers his usual solid performance in this classic sports film, loosely based on a true story. Hackman is the coach of an Indiana high school basketball team looking to win the state championship. This got good reviews and also netted Dennis Hopper a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars, sealing the deal on his comeback.

Not too many critics liked this one, but I've always gotten a kick out of this goofy Western comedy from John Landis that sees Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase as silent film action stars who mistakenly end up defending a small Mexican village from real life bandits. Is it dumb? Oh yeah, really dumb! It's also very, very funny with great work from the three leads and Alfonso Arau as the bad guy El Guapo.

Orion ended the year, however, with another eventual Best Picture winner in Platoon. The end result of a good partnership with Hemdale Film Corporation (another studio I'll be checking out at some point, though with the redundancies it might be a one-shot deal), this Oliver Stone war film is a gripping drama about Vietnam, as seen through the eyes of a young soldier played by Charlie Sheen. Featuring a fantastic cast and a distinct lack of fun to the battle scenes (which heightens the reality and horror of war), this still stands as one of the best war movies of all time. It's tough to watch at times, but that's sort of the point.

1986 was probably the best year Orion ever had. When Oscar time came around they scored eighteen nominations with Platoon taking home the Best Picture trophy. It signaled, one would think, good times in the future. To be fair, there were, but I don't think it ever got this good again.

Next up, 1987.

The Orion Files: 1985

1985 was a financially awful year for Orion (hell, even I'm not sitting through all the films they put out for this edition), though the films got decent to great reviews for the most part (good reviews don't pay the bills, though). The company was prepping their home video label and their December release ended up being postponed till 1986, leaving them with the last two months of the year unspoken for. This won;t be one of my longer (or better if we're being honest) pieces but the show must go on.

Based on a true story, this is a pretty well regarded spy thriller about two young men who sell state secrets to the Soviets in the 70's. Good performances abound (as much of a whack job as Sean Penn can be, he does deliver the goods every time) and the film retains its solid reputation.

Kurt Russell stars as a burnt out journalist who ends up going after a killer who sends him taunting messages about his next victims. This was one of the first films released on Orion Home Video and for the most part, it's a well made, if somewhat predictable thriller with a typically good Kurt Russell performance.

The obligatory Woody Allen film for the year is this well received dramedy starring Mia Farrow as a Depression-era housewife whose one joy is going to the movies. She finds romance when one of the characters in the film (played by Jeff Daniels who also appears as the actor playing the character) steps off the screen and into reality.

Orion's lone financial success for the year is this agreeable comedy starring Rosanna Arquette as a housewife who ends up getting mistaken for a kooky local character named Susan, played by Madonna.

I reviewed this decent Chuck Norris film on the blog five years ago and while I still don't really like the more serious cop drama part of it (while it doesn't cripple the movie, it still gets in the way), it's perfectly good when it just decides to be a solid action movie. That being said, I still like Chuck's Cannon output from 1985 better.

Utterly predictable comedy about  young lovers, this one gained a bit of news earlier this year when it turned out that a Puerto Rican film basically ripped the film off completely.

A young man dies in the 50's but must work as a guardian angel before he can be let into heaven. He does so by helping out a kid whose mother turns out to be the guy's former girlfriend. Not much to say on this one, really. Have I mentioned how bad 1985 was for the studio yet?

Now this is more like it! Return of the Living Dead is the best thing Orion put out in 1985 and still holds up today as a fantastic horror comedy. Great script and direction from Dan O'Bannon, some fun f/x and of course, I have to mention Linnea Quigley because... Well, because it's Linnea Quigley! That aside, this is just plain fun.

Set in Italy, circa 1501, this Paul Verhoeven film stars Rutger Hauer in a story about warring groups of mercenaries. In spite of good reviews, Orion gave this one a limited release and it promptly tanked. The film is a pretty grim and realistic depiction of how crappy the Middle Ages were and Hauer gives a typically solid performance. This was Verhoeven's stateside debut and he approaches things with his usual sense of subtlety and tact. Not really surprised this failed but i'm also not surprised the studio didn't have much faith in it.

This satire of the advertising industry was buried at the end of the summer (lot of dump month releases for this company) but it's actually a relatively funny film. Loretta Swit plays an ad executive for a beer company (Kenneth Mars plays the owner and he's the funniest thing about the film) who stumbles upon three average guys who foil a robbery and become local heroes to the point where she decides to use them for her next ad campaign which of course ends up being a series of progressively more outrageous commercials that play up the toughness of said average guys. A good cast with likable characters and some funny bits here and there help make this obscure comedy something worth looking at at least once.

This one is about a woman possessed by a ghost from the 20's who still wants to make it in showbiz. I- I just don't have the energy to sit through something like that. Let's just say that Roger Ebert loathed it and going by the description I've read, the man was probably spot on.

I have a certain fondness for this one as I distinctly remember the poster that was in the theater where I saw Return of the Jedi (the re-release from 1985, natch). Fred Ward plays a New York cop who is enlisted (quite against his will) by a government agency headed by Wilford Brimley to become a super spy. He gets trained by Joel Grey (in really politically incorrect Asian makeup) as a Korean martial arts master and gets caught up in a plot involving a weapons program and the US Army. Grey is fun (though the character really is quite offensive) and the climax on the Statue of Liberty is terrific. The film was supposed to be the start of a series (the character is from a series of pulp novels) but the film didn't do very well (the open ending might have had something to do with it) and nothing ever came of it.

Like I said, 1985 was a rather dismal year for Orion,. A few well reviewed movies, some actually decent ones but for the most part, the year was not a good one. 1986, however, would be a different story.

Esoterica XVI: Unintentional Hilarity and Shameless Opportunism

Given the treasure trove to be found in this post, this will be a longer Esoterica post than usual. It's worth it though, trust me. This time, we're looking at some shameless opportunism at its finest as the 70's series I've been working on intermittently returns.

But first, a brief yet somewhat long missive on an unintentionally hilarious piece of crap (Though some folks feel nostalgic towards it, I've found) I came across one early morning recently. The fact that I didn't watch the entire thing (I do have some standards) is all that kept this from being a separate post.

Full disclosure, I stumbled across this awful bit of maudlin poop at four in the morning and ended up alternating between flipping channels to find something better and quietly screaming with laughter into my hand. I have not seen the entire thing but what I saw was so bad I had to write about it.

Four Friends stars Craig Wasson (one of the many next big things in movies who ended up not being very big at all) who plays a young Yugoslavian immigrant named Danny whose home life can be best described as "The basketball scene in The Great Santini, minus the affection". The other three friends are a jock, the obligatory fat kid and the girl all three of them fall for. She is played (rather poorly) by Jodi Thelan who only did a few other movies after this. There is also a dying crippled kid Danny is friends with whose family plays into the second act of the movie.

His home life is a tepid, unpleasant shambles but his love life is in even worse shape as the girl he has the hots for ends up with two of his other pals before finally getting together with him after the requisite "Oh god, the 70's nearly killed me with the drugs and all" routine these types of movies tend to trot out. He also has a wedding to a rich girl whose father kills her and maims him after the wedding before shooting himself (there are one or two other rather tasteless details I won't go into for the sake of brevity).

Lois Smith plays the mother of the bride (and the crippled dying kid who kicks off while Danny is recuperating after the shooting) and has one moment after the shooting that was supposed to be dramatic but ends up being one of the funniest things I've ever seen in an ostensibly serious movie. Loud wails of grief work just fine when there is a build. When it comes out of left field in an otherwise quiet scene, not so much. I'm also not sure she was supposed to be blind for the entire movie but she sure as hell is in her last scene.

The film is set against the backdrop of the 60's/70's turmoil and there have been many movies that dealt with that era and the troubles between the older and younger generations quite well. This is not one of them (how the hell it got good reviews when it first came out is beyond me). The characters alternate between ridiculous (Wasson's father in this movie comes off like a cross between DeNiro in Raging Bull and Robert Duvall in The Great Santini, hence the reference above) and repulsively unlikable (the audience would feel for Wasson if he wasn't such a mopey bore all the damn time). The fact that the performances are laughably terrible (some of the actors here are good in other things, must have been something in the water) doesn't help matters much.

Four Friends is one of those films that feels content to be a simple series of vignettes that show a tapestry of the lives of its characters which can work under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, nothing good happens to them at any point and the few small rays of light are quickly dimmed by ridiculous circumstances poorly written and played out. The last scene of the movie takes place at a nighttime bonfire on the beach and with the way the film played out to that point, I'm shocked the huge gust of wind that kicks up at the end didn't incinerate the rest of the cast, small children included, as the credits rolled.

Arthur Penn directed this movie and it is a far cry from the quality of Bonnie and Clyde. Hell, the film he did previous to this, The Missouri Breaks worked better and that was a rather tepid western pitting Jack Nicholson against a very bored (but admittedly entertaining) Marlon Brando.

As noted, the film plays out in the early 60's and ends up in the late 70's. For a better microcosm of that period of time, you could just listen to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire". It's about 112 minutes shorter and a hell of a lot better written. That's not a perfect analogy, I'll grant you but it makes more sense than most of the film.

 Jeez, that was so bad I need an aspirin...

Funny, Prism Video. Very funny. Going by the tagline, I'd say that four out of five doctors are going to be secretly killed by the AMA once they get to that desert island.  Actually, this is one of the many bizarre short tapes that came out during the big home video boom of the 80's and 90's. This is a bizarre 18 minute relaxation tape intended as a cure for headaches. You know, because Tylenol and Advil are the work of the man-goat or something. It's typically silly self-help crap complete with a cheesy mantra.

And with that prologue done (I know, it's like Lord of the Rings minus the budget, story, and effects but we do have an all-star cast), we can now move onto the main event.

One of the things you acquire being a movie junkie is a certain sixth sense when it comes to certain things. You know that old saying "Never judge a book by its cover"? Same goes for movies. One of the amusing/frustrating things video companies will do (and still do to this day) is take an early film of a well known actor and splash their name on the cover nice and big in order to boost hypothetical sales. Sometimes it turns out to be the actor has a leading role and the film just dropped off the radar, sometimes it's a minor supporting role and sometimes it's just complete crap. What this is a long way of saying is that this may be the most star-studded post I've done in a while.

This oddity is an offbeat sketch comedy film from 1971 presented by Richard Pryor that mainly focuses on the peace movement and other issues of the time with such 70's figures as Pryor (even when not firing on all cylinders, the man had an amazing comic mind), Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg and even John Lennon and Yoko Ono among others appearing. It's a pretty solid snapshot of early 70's culture with some interesting bits here and there and the 76 minute running time means it doesn't overstay its welcome. Doesn't make it good or anything, but as a curiosity piece it's okay.

 It wouldn't be a piece on shameless opportunism without a little something from Simitar Video. Known for horrible transfers and cheesy covers, what you see above is a double feature of two early John Candy comedies. It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time is a 1975 Canadian comedy that has Candy in a small role as an inept detective (his partner is played by fellow Canadian Lawrence Dane). He reprises the role in Find the Lady from the following year. They're... Ugh. I pity the poor sucker who bought this. I really do, because both of these are nearly perfect laugh-free zones.

 Shot in 1979 but not released until 1985 when a certain Material Girl hit it big, this is Madonna's first movie. It's a 60 minute indie film about a rape victim who kills her attacker in a Satanic ritual. Madonna isn't a fan of this one, sounds horrible from what I've read anyhow.

This is an obscure mockumentary "hosted" by Tony Randall who relays the history of a bad movie production company that strived for mediocrity. Insert joke about Cannon Films or your B-movie studio of choice here. Couldn't find anything but a trailer but if that's anything to go by, the film title might be a case of truth in advertising. And I'm being very generous with that assessment. Actually, I'd kind of like to see it for myself.

Around the same time she was about to become a moderately big movie star, Goldie Hawn made this little seen comedy in Italy in which she plays an American tourist who falls for her friend's lover who also happens to be married. That's all I got for this one, not really my cup of tea.

 Danny DeVito has a supporting role as the lead character's boss in this 1977 comedy about a young man who gets a van in order to get laid. It was the 70's, folks. What can I say? Lots of crude humor results including some really unfunny rape material (the lead character tries to rape a girl and is raped himself later) as well as a van race between the lead and his rival. DeVito is okay, though not really all that funny.

And now for the Kevin Costner portion of our show. Good old Kev just happened to hit the big time at the same time the VHS boom was really going into overdrive and as a result, his early work ended up being shoved down the throats of the consumers. Much like his contemporary stuff at the time, now that I think about it.

 Wasn't able to find much on this one but at the risk of pulling a wild guess out of my ass, I'd say it's about baseball. The film came out in 1982, six years before Bull Durham. Looks like he's barely in this which more than qualifies it for this post. The next two actually have the man in a significant role, however.

Kevin has a role in this as a poker player helping out the female lead cheat to win. His murder sets the revenge plot in motion as the young woman and a team of players she recruits look to take a ton of money off the casino that had him killed. Yeah. What really sells this for me is the bit at the top of the box touting the film as "from the producers and writers of Dances with Wolves". Now while Michael Blake did write both this and that bastard exercise in vanity that stole the Best Picture Oscar away from Goodfellas*, and Jim Wilson did direct and produce the thing, there is something wonderfully cheesy about throwing that quote up top.

*I like the film and all but Best Picture? Really?

Lastly for Costner is this one. Shot in the late seventies but not released until 1986 by Troma (after another run in 1981, apparently), Sizzle Beach, U.S.A. is about three young woman who move to Malibu in search of guys. Kevin is one of the guys they find and he's not too bad as a cowboy. Lots of nudity in this rather mild, very 70's flick.

To wrap things up, we take a look at two early works with none other than Robert DeNiro.

First off is this dark comedy from 1971 that stars George Segal as a junkie pressured by two cops (one of whom is Bobby) to rat out his fellow junkies. DeNiro is in maybe ten minutes of the film altogether but give the distributor credit, they used a shot of the guy from the 70's. I've seen DVD cases with a still from him in Cape Fear which would come out twenty years after this one. The film itself is just okay, in spite of the good cast.

Lastly is this early... thing from Cannon Films that takes footage from a dull 1969 drama called Sam's Song with DeNiro and edits it into this film, also known as Line of Fire. The end result was released in 1979 and dear lord does it ever fit into this post perfectly. In the original film, DeNiro was a documentary filmmaker who gets drawn into the inner circle of a bunch of shallow rich folks. In this re-cut version, he's a porno filmmaker who gets knocked out during the opening credits and by the time the credits are done, it's ten years later and his brother is looking into the cause of his death after being released from prison while we get flashbacks from the original film as well. Needless to say, DeNiro was less than pleased and Cannon nearly got sued over this. Both versions are pretty dire.

And with that, this epic comes to a close. Catch ya' later!

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.