Monthly Archives: August 2011

Basketcase (1982)

Synopsis:

A young man carrying a big basket that contains his deformed Siamese-twin brother seeks vengeance on the doctors who separated them against their will. (IMDB).

Review:

Well, what can I say about Basketcase? It’s a very strange film which makes you feel dirty when you watch it. I don’t know whether it’s because it looks and feels much like a cheap porn film or because the subject content is so disturbing.

First and foremost, the acting in this film is terrible. But then again, the budget was only $35,000 apparently, so we can forgive this. The gore factor is pretty high and the overall special effects are not too bad – surprisingly, the make-up effects on the deformed twin are not nearly as bad as you might think. Moving swiftly on to the deformed twin – we see him far too early in the picture for me, which effectively eliminates any suspense the movie attempts to build; and whilst those on-screen are so curious about what is in the basket, we the audience already know.

Moreover, it is very difficult to watch this without actually laughing at some of the lines uttered by the players. In other ways, the film works. It is creepy and horrific at key moments and the camera’s gaze is close-up and extended on the grisly murders (borrowing from the Fulci/Argento technique). Moreover, even 30 years on, the opening sequence is still quite scary.

the lady is gonna need more than a bit of Nivea to sort this out...

The real “gross-out” occurs near the end when said deformed twin attempts to rape the butchered girlfriend of his ‘normal’ brother. I found this scene extremely difficult to watch because all we see is a disgusting heap of flesh with eyes and troll-like hands grunting, gasping and  rocking in between the girl’s blood-spattered legs – nice.

Now, a lot of horror buffs like this movie – often calling it a classic B-movie horror flick. I’m less inclined to agree. An imaginative horror film with a real underground feel to it  – but not a great one, even allowing for the budget constraints. In a nutshell, gives the whole game away far too early – and from then on, it’s always struggling to maintain audience interest.

If you do love this, there are two sequels.

hotdog rating: 5.5/10

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Hang ‘Em High (1968)

Synopsis:

After barely surviving a lynching, an innocent man (Eastwood) becomes a marshal and tracks down his attackers….whilst at the same time working for a morally-questionable Judge, who just wants to Hang ‘Em High!

Review:

Whilst this film isn’t technically brilliant, it’s a bloody good ‘popcorn’ movie full of veteran character actors. These include Ed Begley – most memorable not for a western but for his cracking performance as the racist juror in Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic “12 Angry Men” -as the cunning yet terrified lynch-mob leader “Captain Wilson” and Ben Johnson as an admirable deputy marshal. Also, look out for a Dennis Hopper cameo as the completely mental “prophet”.

The film begins in much the same way as “The Ox-bow Incident (1943)” – see my earlier review – and concerns the lynching of a seemingly innocent man by a group of excited vigilantes. Of course, Eastwood survives the unfortunate experience and seeks revenge on his assailants. Pat Hingle (“Commissioner Gordon” to Batman fans)  plays a morally complicated Judge who offers Eastwood a marshal’s badge to do just that, providing that he uphold the law.

Things all go fine for a while but soon enough, Eastwood captures 3 men accused of cattle-rustling. 2 of whom are actually teenage brothers. The other is one of the men who lynched Eastwood. Hingle’s judge, despite Eastwood’s testimony and reservations, proceeds to hang all 3. This, for me, was one of the most powerful – and longest – scenes in the film. There is a superb build up to this ‘circus’ hanging – the street-seller screaming “cold beer! get your cold beers here!” makes the whole charade seem like a football match –  and there are some excellent shots of the condemned men as each is offered a last request including a  gut-wrenching moment when all one of brothers can muster in response is a glassy-eyed “Goodbye Ben” to his older sibling.

The Marshal didn't like the Judge's coffee

The final scenes in the film involve a showdown between Eastwood and the remnants of Capt. Wilson’s gang – but I won’t give the game away as to what finally happens – all I will say is that these closing moments are very well-acted. The script is also a big positive, with some intelligent debates between Eastwood’s marshal and Hingle’s judge about what really constitutes justice in “the territory”. What is lacking throughout the picture is a bit of panache and style from director Ted Post – but I am being pedantic here – Films are primarily about entertainment, not art.

A nifty score provides the backdrop for what is a thrilling western (surprising given the notorious problems this movie had during production) – and although far from the stylistic heights of either Peckinpah or Leone – is worth repeated viewings.

If you like this you might want to try High Plains Drifter (1973), another Eastwood western which is often-overlooked.

hotdog rating: 8/10

trailer for Monkey Shines (1988)

Just thought I would post this too. It’s a cracking trailer voice-over and the image of the mechanical monkey with the symbols, sitting in that wheelchair is damn terrifying.

Monkey Shines (1988)

Synopsis:

A paraplegic former athlete is given a pet monkey named ‘Ella’ to help out with everyday tasks. Things start to go a bit pear-shaped when he realises that ‘Ella’ has homicidal tendencies and that she is willing to do anything her master desires…..

Review:

A bit of a cult favourite this one, from the director of the living dead trilogy, George A Romero. The film received mixed reviews on release.

Another great tagline too:

“Once there was a man whose prison was a chair. The man had a monkey, they made the strangest pair. The monkey ruled the man, it climbed inside his head. And now as fate would have it, one of them is dead.”

Put simply, Monkey Shines is well-directed with a rather unique plot and some solid characters. That said, it starts off quite slowly and I don’t think Romero got the pacing quite right with this movie  (that said, I think Orion pictures messed about with the final cut of the film before release). Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this film which I re-visited just tonight. Here’s why:

  • the monkey is awesome and fully develops her own character in the movie. watching the interaction between the monkey and the other characters is fascinating.
  • each character is actually rather deep, exhibiting both positive and negative qualities – there are no cardboard-cut-out cast members here. Special mention should go to Jason Beghe’s performance as the paraplegic and also to his neurotic mother, played by Joyce Van Patten.
  • the editing is very off-the-wall but in latter stages effectively builds the tension to fever-pitch levels during the final 20 minutes or so.
Of course, there are some negatives too. I have already mentioned the slow start to proceedings. Other drawbacks include a rather absent soundtrack – I think the film could have benefited from a slow pounding score – and a pretty low body count, such that splatter fans probably won’t be best-pleased. But then again, this isn’t a movie aimed at that type of audience. Monkey Shines is basically a psychological thriller with some supernatural elements – so look elsewhere if you want a gore-fest along the lines of Romero’s living dead trilogy.
The bottom line is that this is a welcome addition to anyone’s collection. It won’t knock you for six, but it’s a well-crafted horror movie which manages to be both tense and strangely novel at the same time.
hotdog rating: 7.5/10

Psycho 2 (1983)

Synopsis:

It’s 22 years since the events of Psycho (1960) and Norman Bates is released from a mental institution, apparently because he has been ‘cured’. However, ‘mother’ rears her ugly head again and people start getting butchered in and around the motel. But can Norman really be behind the killings?

Review:

I have to admit, I didn’t like the idea of a sequel in general. I couldn’t fathom how one would follow-up Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece. Yet, this film is a pleasant surprise. It’s certainly not a re-hash of the original and nor is it a by-the-numbers teen slasher flick.

Firstly, Perkins gives another career-defining performance as troubled motel-owner Norman Bates. What is really effective here is the way he manages to play the role of Norman 22 years on from his original performance – the transformation seems effortless and it’s as if Norman’s character has aged in exactly the same way as Perkins himself.

Norman, put the knife down...you know what happens and it's messy

Some may say that this film is purely a vehicle for Perkins to play his character to the hilt. But this would be a very unfair judgement on the two other things which make this film darn good; they are:

  • the supporting cast
  • the plot
Taking the supporting cast, we have the wonderful Vera Miles – reprising her role from the original as the sister of one of Norman’s early victims – and the ever dependable Robert Loggia as Bates’s psychiatrist. I loved seeing Vera Miles back on screen and she clearly is having a great time re-visiting her old character, which makes a change from the usual bland players, so often found in 80s horror movies, simply going through the motions .
Moving on to the plot. The film makers obviously went a long way  in trying to keep the audience on their toes and the plot is laden with twists and red-herrings to keep us guessing as to what is actually going on – namely, is Norman behind the new batch of murders?
Now, this is nowhere near as elegant or as stylish as the original. But if you can put this behind you for 2 hours, it’s a thoroughly pleasing horror-thriller, performed to perfection by a scintillating cast. As good a sequel as anyone could expect – and more!
hotdog rating: 7/10

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Synopsis:

Billy’s lunatic grandfather tells him that Santa Claus punishes naughty children. Billy’s  parents are then murdered by a guy dressed as Santa Claus.  Billy then goes to the orphanage where he just wants to be left alone; instead, Mother Superior torments him. Things come to a head years later when Billy is required to dress up as Santa Claus as part of his new job in a Toy store – he goes mental and starts killing ‘naughty’ people all over the place.

Review:

First up, I love the tagline for this film: ” You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas!”

Genuinely one of the more interesting slasher films of the 80s. The whole thing about Santa Claus stalking a town with blunt instruments rather than presents is just cool.

The film starts off quite well and honestly should receive some merit for attempting to put together a plot which, actually, is quite engaging. The director pulls this off because by the end of the movie, Billy is by far the most sympathetic 80s slasher maniac I can think of (I, for one, never felt sorry for Michael Myers!). In addition, there are some well-done (and innovative) death sequences – and let’s face it, most of these movies can and should be judged on these scenes – including a fantastically shot set-piece of a woman being impaled on wall-mounted antlers. Gore is ample (there is a nasty de-capitation on a sled) and the soundtrack is pretty good too.

Contrary to what you might hear about this movie, the acting is not that bad – at least when you compare it with other similar movies in the same genre. But what the film lacks is a lead character, a scream queen if you like, such as Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween (1978)/Prom Night (1980).

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) is also of interest because of the storm it caused on release. The film opened on the same weekend as Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and surprisingly out-grossed the first instalment in the Freddy series. But by the second week, an increasing number of parents were picketing the movie and protesting about the idea of a killer Santa Claus. (To express their own sense of feeling about the substance of this film, famous US critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel slated the film by reading out each cast member’s name and shouting “shame”). Tristar pictures then pulled the film from theatres in response to these protests.

In summary, a competent slasher film which some nice touches. Furthermore, of general interest for those interested in the history of horror cinema.

hotdog rating: 5/10  – but for slasher fans it has to be an 8/10

The Beyond (1981) and Dead & Buried (1981) at Prince Charles Cinema next week

 

 

 

oh good god! This looks exciting.

The Beyond (1981) is one of Fulci’s best – the ending is terrifying! Dead and Buried (1981) isn’t bad either….

http://princecharlescinema.com/events/events.php?seasonanchor=cigarette

Rare opportunity indeed.

 

 

 

 

Movie memory at the Albert Hall

I was at the Royal Albert Hall tonight to see a concert.

However, I spent most of the evening cautiously glancing at the upper balconies, just making sure there was no assassin with a pistol peering from behind a curtain. and for that Mr Hitchcock, I thank you.

if you’re puzzled – see the link below.

from the 1934 classic “The Man Who Knew Too Much”.

A Bullet for the General (1966)

Starring: Gian Maria Volonte, Klaus Kinski, Lou Castel, Aldo Sambrell

released: 1966

certificate: 15

Directed by: Damiano Damiani

Synopsis:

An american spy joins a  bandit-ring during the mexican revolution.

Review:

This really isn’t a western in the same sense as the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, it’s a movie about revolution and class struggle. If you are looking for similarities between this film and other italo-westerns then the best you could come up with would be the horses and smoking guns . Nevertheless, it’s a good little film and pleasantly enjoyable.

Volonte will be known by most as the villain in Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965), however he plays a far more sympathetic character in this picture – a bandit driven not by greed but by an ideological desire to improve the lot of the mexican poor – and it’s really quite impressive to see the other side of this most versatile of character actors.

I also really liked Kinski’s character in this film (but then again I could watch Klaus Kinski all day; his face is always so etched with raw emotion). He  plays a bandit-preacher whose idea of a baptism involves explosives rather than holy water. Although, to be frank, I did think that Kinski was slightly under-used in the movie – he seems to disappear for most of the middle of the film only to re-emerge at the end.

Damiani’s direction is pretty standard with flashes of Leone-type brilliance – the opening scene of the train ambush with a mexican general tied to the track is a good example – but it is really the characters rather than anything else which carry the movie. That said, I think Lou Castel plays the ‘gringo-spy’ in a far too passive manner and we end up not really caring about his eventual fate. Sadly, Ennio Morricone’s score is one of the weaker soundtracks to any spaghetti western I have experienced.

So, in summary, this is an entertaining western with  strong characters and some nice touches – but it is some distance from the classics of the genre. Lastly it is probably important to note that this film is a big favourite with the critics and often-cited as one of the flagship italo-westerns. Just didn’t push all the buttons for me, that’s all.

hotdog rating: 6.5/10

Fright Night (1985)

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall

released: 1985

certificate: 18

Directed by: Tom Holland

Synopsis:

A teenage boy realises that his new neighbour is a vampire and enlists the help of a washed-up horror actor to rid his town of the evil menace.

Review:

Watched this last night when I got in.

McDowall’s horror actor is a pleasure to watch – the facial expressions in particular – and Sarandon is hilariously diabolical as the evil-vampire-next-door. Ragsdale is competent and believable as the teenager stuck in the middle of it all. The script is good with some cracking pieces of dialogue and the direction pacy (Holland would go on to helm Child’s Play (1988)). All in all,  a very fun ‘popcorn’ movie  with some great special FX (the werewolf scene springs to mind), interesting characters and a generous helping of humour.

The film re-launched the sub-genre in the 1980s. So if you like this you may want to check out The Lost Boys (1987). The film has been re-made with Colin Farrell playing the vampire and David Tennant in McDowall’s role; the re-make hits UK cinemas in September.

hotdog rating: 7/10