Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Orion Files: 1982-1983

Orion continued to do well in 1982, expanding outwards a little with Orion Classics, a division dedicated to showing international films stateside as well as smaller independent productions. The division would stay fairly consistent until the company's financial troubles ended up drying out the division. I won't be covering those releases but I wanted to mention it here. They also bought out the struggling company Filmways and set up a TV distribution branch which had its first hit in Cagney and Lacey.

This is also where some of their problems as a company start to come into play. Orion was always sort of an odd duck when it came to their output. They tended towards more mature, adult projects (nothing wrong with that and they certainly kept Woody Allen busy for a good ten years) but whenever they ventured out into the more commercial realms of film, they either failed or were rather sheepish about any success they had to the point of not really bothering with setting up their own home video division until the late 80's (I think around 1987 or thereabouts). For the most part, their stuff ended up being released by either Warner, Thorn EMI, Embassy or Vestron. This led to other companies making more off their movies than they were getting and, as tends to be the case, things added up and they eventually got into financial trouble.

Now for 1982.

This is the first in a batch of collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope studio and is an obscure coming of age story that was one of the last gasps for Coppola's studio. Not much to say about this one, really. It sort of flew under the radar and has remained there since 1982.

This, however, represents probably the most successful partnership Orion ever had. Starting with this movie, Woody Allen would spend the next ten years making films for Orion. In this case, it's one of the many films Allen made that were inspired by the works of Ingmar Bergman, though in this case its an actual comedy.

German director Wim Wenders directs this middle of the road riff on classic film noir/pulp fiction detective stories with a fictional version of author Dashiell Hammett (Frederic Forrest) ends up helping an old friend for the obligatory "one last case". A good cast and decent idea, this ended up being almost entirely re-shot by the studio and the end result is uneven and fairly uninspired.

Really sleazy prequel to the 1979 hit, this comes to us from Dino DeLaurentiis and purports to tell the tale of the family who lived at the Amityville house before the events of the first film. Spoiler alert: they end up dead for the most part. Chock full of unpleasantness, this is one of the crummier sequels to a hit movie to come around. Burt Young is fairly repulsive as the abusive father of the family, the overall tone of the film smacks of sleazy exploitation and while there are some nice special effects at the end where the possessed older son of the family undergoes an exorcism after offing his family (the f/x work is nice, I never said the film made any sense), you have to wade through a pretty scummy buildup to get to it. There is crap from the same period only shown in grungy 42nd Street theaters (the kind that makes you realize why janitors have a union) that was less unpleasant than this one.

Drama about a young man who gets involved with a cult and his family's attempts to get him out. Interesting cast, that's all I got for this one.

I've written tons about this already in my Carolco Files post so let's just say it's awesome and move along to 1983.

Ditto for this one, the best thing Chuck Norris ever did. Great action, fun cast and my review can be found here.

Richard Gere stars in this remake of the 1960 Jean-Luc Godard classic that reverses things a bit by having a young French woman get infatuated with an American criminal as opposed to the original which had the reverse happen.

A band of comedy all-stars comes together for this massive flop of a pirate comedy. Yellowbeard stars former Monty Python alumni Graham Chapman as the title character, a massively over the top character who escapes prison to take possession of his massive treasure. What ensues is an occasionally funny, frequently vulgar comedy as Chapman learns he has a son (Madeline Khan is okay as his wife); tons of well known comics (Peter Cook, John Cleese, Marty Feldman in his last role, Cheech and Chong in... not their last roles) do what they can with the sloppy, thin script they are given. The end result is a dark, uneven, sometimes amusing comedy that understandably bombed horribly at the box office.

The tagline on the poster tells you all you need to know about this poorly reviewed comedy/drama.

This may be my favorite Woody Allen movie as it not only dials down his usual neurotic stuff (Annie Hall is really the only time that version of Allen really worked for me), it also adapts a clever mockumentary style while essaying the role of a man who becomes a literal chameleon and a national sensation. I also enjoy the way Allen splices himself into newsreel footage, an idea later refined by Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump.

Rodney Dangerfield is an irresponsible slob of a man who stands to inherit a large fortune from a dead relative if he can clean up his act for a year. A fairly routine plot is livened up by Rodney (who is always good) but the film is about halfway over before the plot kicks in and to be honest, most of the folks involved with this can and have done better.

I get a real kick out of this charming, thoroughly entertaining love letter to 50's science fiction movies. It has a neat premise (aliens landed in a small town in the 50's but never moved forward with the times for some reason); a good cast and some nice alien designs though the end sequence probably has too many scenes of them revealing their true selves. Still, Strange Invaders is a eminently watchable little flick.

Interesting political drama based in Nicaragua with a solid cast and a good reputation.

Utterly cheesy third entry in the haunted house series, this time taking full advantage of the rebirth of the 3-D craze. Probably the best film in the franchise (that says more about how bad the other films are than anything else), this does the usual routine with haunted house films as a team of investigators is beset by horrors. The difference is that this time, the effects are cheesy 3-D shots.

Orion ended 1983 with this solid thriller starring William Hurt as a Soviet police officer investigating a brutal triple murder and Lee Marvin as a shady American businessman. Performances are good across the board, though none of the Russian characters sound even remotely Russian (a few sound straight out of London and Hurt sounds like he's auditioning to be the next James Bond), except for Joanna Pacula who is Polish but still sounds more Russian than anybody else in the film. It was a conscious choice by director Michael Apted but that doesn't make it any less odd. The mystery is interesting and different (not too often the fur industry gets mentioned in a thriller); the characters are agreeably watchable and the scenery is very nice to look at. Overall, Gorky Park is an underrated gem that should probably be better known than it is.

1983 was an okay year for the company with a few surprise hits films that got mostly acceptable to good reviews. The next year though, would be a little less than stellar.

Coming soon: Orion in 1984

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About Me

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