Thursday, June 19, 2014

Video Cheese roundup

NOTE: These reviews were for a feature of called Video Cheese, and are presented here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg. These reviews were fairly shot, so they've been lumped together here:

THE MEDUSA TOUCH (1978 - color)
    "Who tried to kill the man who kills with his mind?"

   I've not seen a lot of Richard Burton's work. In high school I saw The Taming of the Shrew, and more recently I've seen some of his war movies, like Raid on Rommel. I know Burton, as most do, as a fine actor from the British Stage. Whatever problems The Medusa Touch has, none of them can be blamed on Dick. 

   The film is populated by fine performances, and the technical end of the production is expertly done. No, the problem lies within the script. Half the time I was thinking "this is pretty good" while the other half found my thoughts more in line with "I can see why Ken put this flick on Burton's 'bad' list." The film has a few really good moments, but the picture itself never rises to 'good' territory. The best it manages is 'interesting.'

   Burton plays Morlar, an anti-establishment writer who believes he has telekinetically caused the deaths of many people during his life. He is found bludgeoned to death in his apartment, but later begins to breath again. Morlar is rushed to the hospital, where we discover that his brain is incredibly active even if his body requires machines to keep it alive. 

   A French detective working with the Yard on an exchange program attempts to uncover the identity of the attempted murderer. Morlar isn't expected to survive. 

   We learn Morlar's backstory as the detective questions Morlar's beauteous lady psychiatrist. Morlar seems to have some power that causes people to die when he dislikes them. His parents were run over by the family car, his unfaithful wife and her lover were killed in a crash, a judge who passes a verdict he dislikes (Morlar was briefly a lawyer) was terrified by Morlar's fixed gaze, later suffering a heart attack with his features said to be locked in an expression of fear. 

   Morlar was beginning to become sickened, more than before that is, with the Establishment and decided to focus his powers of destruction on what he felt would be a dark blessing on humanity. There's to be a celebration at a large Catholic church to repair the cracking foundation of the historical marvel. The place will be stuffed with royalty and celebrities. He intends to further weaken the foundation and bring the building down "on their undeserving heads!" 

   Someone believed he could do it, and tried to kill him before he could follow through. And, after seeing him 'will' down a jet-liner, they had cause to....

   Well, of course his brain is still active so he's been building his mental energies. The climax of the picture is pretty good. Our detective hero tries to convince the church leaders to move the celebration, seeing the structure beginning to stagger. Too much preparation has been made, and it's assumed the building is in no danger of collapsing anyway. 

   Convincing his colleagues, the detective attempts to move everybody out with a bomb scare. Before everyone can get clear, though, Morlar's brain starts going crazy and the structure begins to fall apart. Our hero races to the hospital to disconnect Morlar from the machines. He does, but too much damage has occurred and the church building falls to pieces.

   Then Morlar's brain becomes active again. Morlar has indicated that his next target will be an atomic plant which is the scene of a protest. The movie ends as Morlar's brain activity begins soaring.

   Again, this could have been something if handled right. The theme here is certainly good for a dramatic story. The premise would have made a decent Quatermass film, I think. In the end, though, it becomes yet another tiresome poke at the Catholic church. Yawn.  

   Still, the performances here are quite good. As an actors' showcase, it isn't bad. Likewise the effects work is well done and I liked the climax. Sadly, though, the best assessment I can give the film is "Not Terrible."  For a more, well, American, take on the subject, see George Pal's much less degrading The Power. That one includes my favorite Richard, Carlson, in a supporting role.

   "The Many Rapes of Norma Jean Baker."

   Marilyn Monroe remains one of the most beloved movie stars in the world, holding her own against such powerhouses as John Wayne and Elvis Presley. As seems to be the habit, Monroe died in suspect circumstances that have given rise to countless conspiracy theories. Here are the facts as we know them.

   In 1962 the troubled starlet had been less and less reliable about getting to work. Her latest picture, Something's Gotta Give with co-star Dean Martin, was cancelled as her temperamental behavior caused seemingly endless delays which caused the budget to expand. 

   This lead to the memorable moment at the President's televised birthday celebration in which Marilyn sighed her way through "Happy Birthday to You." She was introduced multiple times before she was due to hit the stage, setting up the gag of the MC finally introducing "the late Miss Marilyn Monroe." 

   Having just reached a birthday when most actresses end their careers and still stunning as ever, friends saw Marilyn's spirits start to pick up from her recent bouts of depression. Monroe was ready to put her recent escapades behind her and start fresh. If memory serves, she even had a few scripts lined up.

  The actress was found dead one morning, lying naked in bed, her hand grasping her Princess telephone. She had made a few calls the previous night, sounding delirious and detached. The cause of death was determined to be an overdose of prescription drugs, sleeping pills I believe. 

   Almost at once the rumors began to fly. Some blamed an unknown assailant, some blamed the Secret Service, while others felt poor little Norma Jean had just reached the end of her rope. Lunacy ran in her family and, compounded with all the hard knocks she'd taken on her road to stardom, some felt her glamorous but empty life at the top had to get to her eventually. 

   The confused details of her death remain the subject of much speculation to this day.

   Larry Buchanan is a sick jerk. 

   In Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn, Buchanan lovingly details the endless sexual and mental abuses the actress is said to have endured on her road to the top. I guess I was expecting a less depressing film, more along the lines of a police procedural. 

   Buchanan had earlier directed another film about the actress, Goodbye, Norma Jean. Those used to the TV monster movies Buchanan made in the 60s will be shocked to learn that our current subject actually looks like a real movie. Technically speaking, the film is quite well made. I was a little taken aback to see the copyright tag read 1988, however, as I spent the entire movie thinking it had been made about ten years earlier!

   Basically, the film details the final hours of Marilyn's life, as related to us by her bodyguard "Mesquite." We see a pair of Secret Service agents (one female, I think to help put Monroe at ease once the interrogation begins) fish Monroe's near-dead body from the swimming pool. 

   They revive and dry off the movie star (and do a great job, her hair is perfect in the next scene), then take her to her bed. They give her an injection, then question her to see if she knows anything that might jeopardize national security, as she has announced plans to tell all in a television interview. (This is the first I've heard of such a program, how about you?) 

   This leads to some flashbacks showing how small town girl Norma Jean Baker (no relation) vowed to become a movie star, went to Hollywood, and defied the notions of every casting director to become the most famous actress in the world. And, sucking any inspirational overtones from that theme is that she gets raped every ten minutes or so. 

   This is, after all, the tragic story of a tragic figure. In the end, even after she became the dream girl of every American male with red blood in his veins, we are left with the idea that she never got a break in her life. That is, until Mesquite released her with the fatal overdose the pair had planned should she ever go off the deep end. Had this not be handled in such a sleazy manner, it might have had some substance. 

   Mesquite also tells us of how somebody found Marilyn and tried to rush her to the hospital, only to have her die along the way. So they turn back and pose Monroe's body in the position it was later found! Frankly, the conspiracy theories on display here are so muddled, I have no idea what Buchanan is trying to say!

   Playing Marilyn Monroe are two actresses. First-timer Paula Lane plays the weirdly beefy (and aged, she looks a good ten years older than she should) end-of-her-life Marilyn. Young Norma Jean is played by Playboy Playmate Misty Rowe, who looks rather more like Fay Emerson than Marilyn Monroe (but, it must be noted, looks absolutely fetching in her period undies -and sometimes less- in the scenes where she's not being violently raped). 

   Wisely, Buchanan has Rowe handle the bulk of the movie, since she's a much better actress than Lane. She jumps back and forth between perky-happy and broken-sad expertly, and handles everything in between with visible talent. One wonders why she never went very far in the business. 

   In an odd cameo, Misty Rowe at one point shares a scene, and exchanges a couple of lines, with Phyllis Coates. Coates had been a fairly busy B actress in the early 50s, most famous as being television's first Lois Lane on The Adventures of Superman. I always thought she to be the best looking of the Lanes, but she was eventually replaced by Noel Neil, who had earlier played Lois in a pair of serials.

   Far more grimy than needed, but a technically solid production. Those who like to eyeball vintage cars will find the flashbacks (parts of them, anyway) a real treat.

ALIEN PREDATOR (1985 - color)
   "Not one to watch over dinner, but better than you'd expect."

   When I popped into my VCR an 80s horror flick shot in Spain and boasting heavy gore, I didn't expect I'd actually run across a pretty good movie! Like The Deadly Spawn, Alien Predator proves to be a shockingly decent monster movie for something sold almost entirely on the fact that it's dripping with blood. 

   It shares some elements with the under-rated Mutant, though it's not quite that good (although the pair would make a dandy double bill). I was quite shocked. This film is genuinely scary, and, even more difficult, genuinely funny! (Not every joke hits the mark, but a surprisingly high number of them do.) One can easily imagine that this film was one of the inspirations for Slither.

  Three college kids are travelling through Europe in a motor-home. There's handsome Michael, prankster/loudmouth Damen, and perky gal Samantha. (The quite sexy Samantha looked familiar to me during the film and I knew I'd seen her before. She's played by Lynn-Holly Johnson, who played the jail-bait figure skater in For Your Eyes Only who tried to bed Roger Moore. Seeing 007 not want to have sex with an eager lass makes the scene stick in one's memory!) 

   Despite being stock characters, the trio is strongly etched and the actors come across as quite natural. They run into a dead bull on a lonely country road before arriving in an isolated town.

  The bull comes from an earlier scene where the animal gets sick and then (thankfully off-screen) its stomach blows out. (The use of sickening sound effects is another of the movie's strengths.) There follows a scene in which two wild dogs are feeding on the remains. The mass of flesh begins to move and the dogs back away. Seeming to think it safe, the larger of the two dogs moves in to investigate. He's grabbed by something and pulled inside the carcase after a rough struggle. The sequence is nicely edited and sets up a good mystery (although when solved, we find a dog the size shown would have a better chance of escaping).

  The trio finds the townsfolk are acting rather strange... and I'm not sure how much more to get into, as I'd hate to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it. I will say that the title is misleading, though not altogether inaccurate. 

   The film isn't a masterpiece or anything, but it holds together much better than I ever expected. Just be sure you have a strong constitution for some scenes, such as the one described above with the dogs and the dead bull. (For what it's worth, the opening sequence is probably the roughest in the picture. Most of the picture relies more heavily on atmosphere than outright gore.)

   I really liked the film. (The picture is so obscure, though, I don't know how likely a pristine DVD release will ever be -on the other hand, several equally obscure treasures HAVE been released....) 

   One thing though, when will American students learn it's a bad idea to travel across the back roads of Europe?

   "Clips from various oddball movies are hosted by comedy stars of the early 80s."

   This movie had a huge impact on my youth, as it was the only way I was able to see so many of the movies that provide clips for this entertaining quasi documentary. 

   Although the idea seems to be one of showing clips from "bad" movies, its more an assortment of scenes from all over the spectrum. We get snippets from War of the Worlds, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Deadly Mantis, House on Haunted Hill, From Hell It Came, and on down to Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glenn, or Glenda?, and the Starman movies. 

   The clips are divided into themes (Gorillas, Aliens, Troubled Teens, etc.) each introduced and/or hosted by a different performer. Though the clips could stand on their own, and were certainly what drew me to the film, we get host segments and occasional voice-over from Dan Akroyd, John Candy, Gilda Radner, and Cheech and Chong. 

   Candy is probably the funniest (with Akroyd right behind) as he hosts segments devoted to Ed Wood and Special Effects, while the least amusing is Cheech and Chong. That may have more to do with me than the picture, though, as I've never understood the draw of Cheech and Chong (though I will grant that in their era, when such pothead humor was new and different, they had their fans). Losing much of their effect on me is when the stoned duo offer their thoughts on various anti-drug movies (which, while crude, I've never been comfortable poking fun at. I hold to the notion that illegal narcotics are, in fact, a scourge and an enemy to be fought by good citizens. You can imagine how warmly I'm apt to respond to C & C).

    The assortment of clips we see are nicely edited, and there's some glimpses of some real gems in there. (There are even a number of flicks represented here I have yet to see, whereas I think I've seen every film used in the similar clip flick Invasion Earth, The Aliens Are Here!). Nearly 100 movies find snippets from themselves on display here. Helpfully, the end credits include a seemingly endless string of movie titles, even for films from which we see only a few seconds of footage (or even when the clips come from public domain trailers). It's a great show for genre movie fans.

   Sadly, It Came From Hollywood (and Invasion Earth, The Aliens Are Here! as long as I'm mentioning it) has fallen into legal complications that prevent any release on newer home entertainment formats. The various owners of the many clips each want their piece of the action, creating a pool from which, if everybody drinks, no one has their thirst quenched. 

   Paramount Pictures (who released the original film) readied a DVD release, but was never able to follow through. If any disks got pressed, and escaped the factory, I imagine they would draw a pretty penny. 

   The Paramount home video from the 80s (as well as the laserdisc) has become a highly sought-after collector's item, fetching big bucks on Ebay. Most copies command between $50 and $80, well over $100 if the tape is in mint condition, making it one of the harder titles to acquire. 

   Happily, Paramount pressed some very nice tapes for the rental market, meaning that if you can hunt down a copy it will likely play like new if in moderately good condition.

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