Wednesday, May 21, 2014

1978: The Best, Worst and Everything In Between

1978 was a rather eccentric year for film, so sit back, relax, and take in the sights.

The Best

10. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

I love this spoof of 50's monster movies more than I really should, to be honest.  It's dumb as hell, chock full of bad jokes but damn it if it doesn't work like clockwork!

9. Hooper

It's probably more of a condemnation of the overall output for the year than anything else, but I really do enjoy this character driven, stunt laden comedy.  Burt Reynolds' second film with Hal Needham at the helm is a fairly solid example of the sort of film the star used to do before getting bogged down in crappy car chase movies (ironically directed by Mr. Needham).  Reynolds is fun as a veteran stuntman, Sally Field, for the last time really, is cute and likable and the stunt work is outstanding.  It's not a classic by any means but it's still a fun film to revisit every now and then.

8. Piranha

I really dig this Joe Dante Jaws cash-in released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures.  Fun f/x and cast, an agreeably stupid story and a brisk pace make this quite enjoyable.

7. Superman: The Movie

While not perfect by any means, the first Superman movie is still the best of the franchise.  Well directed by Richard Donner and sporting fine work from Christopher Reeve as the man of steel, this is an endlessly entertaining superhero movie with a solid cast and a great John Williams score.

6. Up in Smoke

While the rest of their movies are strictly guilty pleasures for me, the first Cheech and Chong film entertains me enough to give it a spot here.  I honestly don't have a hell of a lot to say about it except that it made me laugh and sometimes that's all you need.

5. Every Which Way but Loose

This is probably the only top ten list for 1978 that has this one but I gotta say that it's not often you come away from a movie where the man character's sidekick is an ape saying "God am I glad I saw that!"  Clint Eastwood is funny as hell in this one, doing a Burt Reynolds style movie better than Burt ever could.  Most of the Eastwood 70's crew is here and in addition to the silly, lowbrow comedy there are actually some pretty solid character moments.  It's a real gem.

4. Drunken Master

Jackie Chan's breakout film is really something to behold.  While his earlier movies had tried to shoehorn him onto the being the next Bruce Lee, this one is closer to what you generally expect from the man with a blend of comedy and awesome kung-fu action.  Just fantastic all around.

3. Halloween

John Carpenter really came into his own with this seminal slasher movie.  Great prowling camera work, Jamie Lee Curtis, really not much more to say about this one that I haven't already outside of it's really good.

2. National Lampoon's Animal House

I love this fantastic slobs vs. snobs (literally) comedy that really made John Landis a popular director.  Tons of funny scenes but the real joy is in watching John Belushi go through the movie with no other purpose other than making you laugh yourself silly.  One of the best comedies of the decade with an awesome cast.

1. Dawn of the Dead

My favorite horror movie of all time is also the best movie of 1978.  George Romero crafted a brilliant piece of cinema here with a relatively subdued bit of commentary (for him at least), a solid quartet of actors for the leads and some fun Tom Savini gore.  Just pure, simple perfection.

Honorable Mentions:

Amusing follow-up to Neil Simon's previous comedy Murder by Death that spoofs Casablanca and Bogart movies in general.  Peter Falk is the best reason to watch the film as he gives a very funny performance and the humor is wonderfully un-PC at times.

Brian DePalma's adaptation of the John Farris novel is a gory, suspenseful bit of fluff revolving around psychic powers, Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes trying to kill each other and some of the most over the top gore scenes you are likely to find in a big studio film from the era.  Rick Baker is the real star of this one, delivering the goods including a spectacular end for villain Cassavettes.

Amiable enough comedy with Chevy Chase as a cop trying to protect Goldie Hawn from a mysterious killer.  Most of the charm comes from the two leads who exhibit solid chemistry with each other.

I rather enjoy this low budget haunted house movie.  It's got a decent Richard Crenna performance, some nice horror set pieces and a fun twist at the end.  Roger Corman's New World Pictures distributed this one, it's worth checking out.

The Worst:

Possibly the worst thing Chuck Norris ever did that wasn't either put out by Cannon or directed by his brother Aaron.  Insufferably dull and poorly acted, this spy thriller has pacing issues out the ass and only wakes up on the rare occasion Chuck breaks out the karate.

This early effort from Charles Band should be one of my guilty pleasures with a small town setting, some cheesy stop-motion aliens and a great cast but it just falls flat thanks to listless direction and bad pacing.  Not the worst thing MST3K ever tackled but it's still pretty damn bad.

Guilty Pleasures:

The 70's weren't an especially good time to be Richard Burton as his film choices became as poor as his health.  After Exorcist II (might have to do a special post just for that), he made this rather overwrought psychological horror film based no a 1973 novel.  Burton is John Morlar, a rather dour, misanthropic writer who has the ability to cause disaster and death by sheer force of will.  The film sports good production values, a solid cast and a complete lack of ability to really go for the throat, at least in the way they probably intended.  The pace is a little too stately and apart from a rather horrific plane crash sequence it doesn't generate much in the way of suspense and terror.

Much of the film deals with Morlar's amazingly crappy life which makes for some nice bits of dark comedy (the bit where he more or less compels his neighbors annoying wife to kill herself is quite funny and creepy, as is the way his parents die) and a race against time... actually more of a lazy stride than a race, before the comatose Morlar (he's bashed in the head in the first scene by his shrink as we later learn) can cause another disaster.  The only real reason to see this is Burton who carries the film.  He's not great as one would hope, but he certainly commands your attention.  It works pretty well as a dark comedy, actually.

I really have no excuse here for enjoying this one.  Basically a tired riff on the original, it nevertheless makes it here simply because they turn the shark into Jason frigging Voorhees two years before Friday the 13th.  Hell, they even scar it up a bit to make it more scary!  How am I not gonna laugh at that?

By all rights, this should be right on the worst of the year list but for some ungodly reason, I find this pseudo-sequel to Death Race 2000 to be hideously watchable.  Cursed by a bad production, this one has David Carradine and Claudia Jennings as post-apocalyptic Jedis more or less who are forced into a battle with a warlord and a renegade from their order played by Richard Lynch.  Full of blood, boobs and explosions, this is one of the most enjoyably bad films I've seen.

1978 was quite the year for film.  Maybe the last sort of up and down one for a while, in my opinion.

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About Me

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