Thursday, February 9, 2017

From Avco to Dino: Resurgence

Now this is the era of Embassy I truly love. Gone are the attempts at making real art, the bad adaptations of crappy novels and Oscar wins (though those films that did win are uniformly excellent). When the company started back up in 1977 with Robert Rehme at the helm, it was a full on deep dive into low budget genre goodness all the way till the end of '81 when he left the company Having American International Pictures out of the picture (no pun intended) helped matters dramatically too as they quickly became the rulers of the roost when it came to solid horror movies. In a way, they were a higher class version of Roger Corman's New World Pictures only with better budgets and a little less sleaze.

This is a big one (though there a few I am skipping just because I have nothing to say about them) so let's not fart around.

 Kicking things off is this pseudo-reworking (as in I'm probably the only dude making this reference in regards to it) of a classic French horror movie called Eyes Without a Face that sees a deranged plastic surgeon kidnap a young accident victim and alter her face so that she looks like his long lost daughter who ran off after seeing him kill her mother (in the French film, this is not the case). It turns out to be an inheritance scam and as far as starting points go, this one was a sick, twisted way for Embassy to renew itself.

 Up next was the U.S. release of this late entry in the disaster movie sub genre. A British/Italian co-production, it puts your standard cast of 70's character actors on a train carrying a Swedish terrorist infected with a rather nasty case of the plague. Not a great flick and the only thing I find interesting about it is the director went on to direct Rambo: First Blood Part II and Leviathan.
Gene Hackman is roped into an assassination plot by the mysterious group that helped him break out of prison. It starts poorly with a cheesy narrator bloviating the viewer into an alleged state of paranoia and while Hackman is always good, the film is just another 70's conspiracy film right down to the downer ending. A later film in this post will tackle similar themes in a more interesting manner.

WWII drama from Sam Peckinpah about a rivalry between two German soldiers. One working class man who covets a medal and his CO who dislikes him. Well regarded but not successful, this has all of the staples of the director: brutal violence, interesting characters and a good story.

Action film about motocross racing that I wish I could find more info on.

Teen sex comedy (they multiplied like rabbits in the late 70's) starring Steve Guttenberg as a young man hell bent on getting laid with a popular cheerleader.

Billy Crystal plays the world's first pregnant man in this poorly received comedy directed by Joan Rivers.

I reviewed this one recently so in short, it's quite the entertaining bad movie.

Interesting Vietnam War film (released five years after US involvement ended no less) that stars Burt Lancaster and Craig Wasson in a story about a doomed platoon in 1964. While it was ignored when first released, it has since gained some measure of popularity when it comes to anti-war films.

Interesting but not entirely successful martial arts fantasy film about a young student sent on a quest to find a wise man. David Carradine is good in his four roles (originally intended for Bruce Lee who came up with the idea for the film) and there are small roles for Eli Wallach, Christopher Lee and others that are solidly entertaining. At the end of the day though, it is more of an interesting look at Eastern philosophy than a really good movie.

Typical action/comedy about two friends who mistakenly acquire a car filled with money and drugs. They are naturally chased by the criminals who put the stuff in the car as well as the usual dumb cops.

Biopic about former Nixon administration lawyer Charles Colson and his life during and after the Watergate scandal.

Wonderfully put together and quite dark fantasy film about a bunch of rabbits looking for a new place to live after their home is destroyed. Embassy handled the US distribution for this British classic.

Probably the best film in this period from the company. I've already written tons of words about how awesome this horror film so in the interest of not repeating myself, I will simply direct you to my review of it here.

If The Domino Principle was the conspiracy thriller at its most rote and basic, Winter Kills is probably the most inventive and defiantly odd entry in the sub genre. Jeff Bridges stars as the younger brother of a slain US President who is looking for the hows and whys of his older brother;s sad fate. Standing in his way are a shady government man played nicely by Anthony Perkins and his own father, played with charming malice by John Huston. The cast is fantastic and while the film has rather obvious parallels to the JFK assassination, it is still a reasonably entertaining dark parody of the entire genre even with the needless romance subplot, the rather spastic pacing and overall lack of focus.

The production of the film was rife with problems (to the point where the backstory is almost more interesting then the film itself) such as production being shut down several times; one of the drug dealing producers ending up murdered and the other getting 40 years in prison, a truncated final cut and theatrical release. It's not often a film suffers from studio interference (to the point where Embassy basically dumped it unceremoniously in theaters) and anyone associated with it could rightly say "That's just the tip of the iceberg, pal!"

James Coburn stars in this film about a mad scientist who turns his daughter into a perfect physical specimen who can compete in the 1980 Olympics. One of the stranger sports films out there, this is one I'd actually like to try and track down.

Another release at the tail end of the disaster film craze, this has an all-star cast as usual and was featured on MST3K when it was just seen locally on KTMA in Minnesota.

Based on a true story and the novel by Joseph Wambaugh, The Onion Field is a solid drama about the murder of one police officer and the subsequent hunt for the killers as well as the surviving cop's issues after the trauma. James Woods is great as one of the killers.

Embassy wrapped up 1979 with this heist film from Canada. All in all, this period was great for the studio as its new direction gave it focus and a sense of urgent purpose. This would carry on into the next two years, to say nothing of the next installment of this series.

Coming soon: 1980 to 1981

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About Me

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