Monday, March 31, 2014

"Coonskin" (1974) d/ Ralph Bakshi

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Nobody ever asks me who's the guy responsible for my favorite animated features of all-time, but if anyone ever did, I'd tell 'em it's obviously Ralph Bakshi, once I'd gotten over the initial shock of someone actually having asked me an interesting question. Tonight's review, Bakshi's third such feature, and second to mix his highly stylized animation with live-action sequences, is an urban update of Uncle Remus' beloved children's stories starring a pre-Miami Vice Philip Michael Thomas, Scat Man Crothers, and even Barry "Can't-get-enough-of-yo'-looove-baaaybuh" White, that drew mixed reviews upon a limited initial theatrical release due to it's satire-heavy portrayal of the frustration of life in the inner city. Bakshi lays waste to racial stereotypes of all sorts here by giving them center stage, in all their absurdity (the main characters' looks are based on the black faced make up of the travelling minstrels of yesteryear), for the audience to interpret as they will, though it should be noted that any mafiosi in attendance will surely feel the sting of the piss-take herein. Just don't take it personally, Sollozzo, and may your first child be a masculine one. Here we go...

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You never see brunettes in this kinda predicament. Just sayin'...
Somewhere down south, we see Randy (Thomas) and Pappy (Crothers) in the midst of a daring midnight prison escape, and while camped out against a high wall out of the line of sight of any guards and waiting fo' the getaway whip, Pappy tells the funky story of three cats who remind him a lot of Randy and his ambitious homeboys: Brother Rabbit (Thomas), Brother Bear (White), and Preacher Fox (Gordone), who relocate north to Harlem, home to every Black man, when the bank forecloses on their southern digs, effectively turning it into a whorehouse ( you know, the kind that a racist sheriff's daughter would get caught turning comical interracial tricks at ). Upon arrival, they meet up with Black Jesus' cousin, Simple Savior, a black separatist who shoots up images of Elvis, Nixon, and John Wayne while hoisted atop a light-up cross on stage in the nude, ferchrissakes. Needless to say, Rabbit and Bear pull his card, making Rabbit the new boss of all of Harlem's underworld action, but he soon finds that with notoriety comes with a high price tag...

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Don King or Al Sharpton? You be's the judge, baybuh.
Rabbit goes head to head with Madigan (Frank DeKova), a badge-wearing palooka that's on the mafia payroll, who gets his drink dosed, gets duped into a homosexual interlude, and ultimately gets taken down by his fellow officers while on a black-faced shooting spree while coming down off acid. Meanwhile, the Godfather (Al "Grandpa" Lewis) puts a hit on Rabbit from the underbelly of the sewers, but when his only straight son, Sonny (Richard Paul), shows up to ice the hare at his nightclub, decked out in blackface, he's pumped full of lead then abruptly blown to smithereens, before his ashes are sent home to his bawlin' mama. Bear visits Fox, who's been running a brothel for the mob, is hastily married to one of the tricks, and talked into boxing professionally for the crime family. Rabbit builds an explosive-laden tar facsimile of himself and plants it at one of Bear's prizefights, where the remaining mafiosi unwittingly all get stuck while trying to off the bunny. Our heroes escape in the nick of time as the venue blows up with their cartoon enemies inside, as we switch back to the daring live-action bullet-riddled, broad daylight escape of Randy and Pappy, who are equally successful in the end. Credits...

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"C'mon, take the noose off, I promise I won't do any more James Taylor covers..."
Despite multiple title changes (Harlem Nights, Coonskin no more..., Street Fight, Bustin' Out, etc.), an undeserved demise at the box office, and much controversy along the way, you're bound to be entertained here. If you're the rare type of individual that equates racism with names like Ted Nugent or Steven Colbert, there's a good chance you'll be too highly offended by the exaggerated ethnic stereotypes on display here to ever pick up on the social commentary within. Those of us who live in the real world, on the other hand, will find a lot to love about Coonskin, a visually dazzling time capsule of the tumultuous and turbulent seventies, as edgy as it is funny. On the scale, it earns an impressive three Wop score, and comes highly recommended.

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"You mobsters feelin' some type of way up in that tar right about now."
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R.I.P. Kate O'Mara

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                                   08/10/39 - 03/30/14

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010) d/ Sam Bayer

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Yeah, I know, I know. Freddy Krueger review. I'm a big fat liar whose flame-enveloped 501's are putting third-degree burns on my admittedly elephantine cazzies, on this end. After seeing 'nuff  net-gativity towards the 2010 reboot, which I hadn't bothered catching (like most of the original series...ziiing), coming from hardcore fans of he of the finger-knives, floppy fedora, and ugly sweater-fame (a character personified for three decades by character actor and genre fave, Robert Englund, for better or worse), I decided that I ought to give the remake a look. I'd always felt that Wes Craven had some solid ideas on his pioneer excursion to Elm Street back in '84, if handled differently, for lack of better words, and a fresh approach might work in the remake's favor in this regard. First of all, casting Jackie Earle Haley, who's made a career out of playing ugly little creeps (dating at least as far back as the friggin' Partridge Family), as Krueger is a genius move, away from the familiar wisecracking horror cornball favorite for ages eight and under.

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Shakey-shake...shake it. Come on, pilgrim, you know he loves you.
Russell's at the diner, waiting for his girlfriend Kris to show up, when he dozes off, and is seemingly dispatched in his dream by a horribly burned yet somehow familiar man wearing a fedora, gaudy Christmas-colored sweater, and a glove full of finger knives, though outwardly, it appears that he's slashed his own throat and committed suicide. Kris witnesses in horror, begins to dream about the same mysterious man, then suffers the same fate one night as she's invisibly tossed around her bedroom and slashed to death in front of her ex-boyfriend Jesse's eyes. Jesse runs to Nancy's house to tell her his story, to find that she, too, has been dreaming the same dreams, before being arrested and jailed for Kris' murder, where he also falls victim to the shadowy sleep murderer. Nancy (Rooney Mara) begins to notice a pattern in the teen slayings, eventually discovering that she attended a preschool with all the victims, and that the man she's been dreaming about was a quirky little gardener there named Fred Krueger (Haley) that abused all the children before being run out of town...

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Freddy transforms a tittilating teen into a forgotten chocolate bar left in some fat kid's pocket.
When Nancy's friend Quentin (Kyle Gallner) falls asleep during a swim team practice, he envisions his parents among the angry mob that corners a terrified Krueger and burns him alive, leading the teens to believe that they'd perhaps lied to their parents about the abuse as children, and that Freddy has been infiltrating their dreamscape to exact bloody revenge from beyond the grave for their lies. Except, in the climactic showdown at the preschool, they discover that Freddy really wants to kill them all for telling the truth, as his secret toddler-torturing room is stumbled upon, complete with kiddie crayon drawings and half-fabricated finger knives. Drawing upon a piece of sweater that Nancy managed to pull out of an earlier dream, the two devise a plan to do the same to Krueger involving syringes full of adrenalin, finishing him off when he emerges into reality. Believing they've done just that, Nancy sets the preschool ablaze with Freddy's corpse inside, ending the incredible nightmare, once and for all. At home, Nancy notices Krueger in a mirror's reflection, just as he slams his finger knives out of the mirror into the back of her mother's unsuspecting head. Roll credits.

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Snarky captions to Elm Street screen caps seem a bit redundant, don't they?
I even thought about laying three wops on this one, but let's face it, that's just crazy fucking talk, man. Still, where I experienced corny non-scares throughout my encounters with the original series, I experienced some real menace and tension in the remake, with Fred's trademark wisecracks wisely toned down for atmosphere's sake. I can go on for days on end with comparisons, which favor the remake for me, or we can simply cut to the chase, as tackling three reviews in one evening has left me slightly burnt out at this point, by summarizing that most of the gripes of the Nightmare fan base towards this ninth installment comprise a lot of the reasons why I prefer it to the original, which I'd probably score roughly the same on the rating scale. For the silent minority out there, who grew to despise all things Freddy over the years, check this one out, you might end up feeling the same way about it as I do when all's said and done. Two wops.

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" One, two...Kelly let the grounder roll through..."
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"The Devil's Men" (1976) d/ Kostas Karagiannis

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Despite the promise of the mint-looking advance poster and it's unquestionably Mentor-esque imagery (yeaaaasssh), tonight's review, edited and released in the States as "Land of the Minotaur", is more of a drag than it ought to have been, with silver screen legends Donald Pleasance and Peter Cushing, appearing together for the first time since 1960's excellent The Flesh and The Fiends, good and evil-style posturing against a bevvy of blonde beauties with a score by the legendary Brian Eno, but a hapless script, oafish pacing, amateurish direction, and an outrageously inept male lead performance by one Costa Skouras, who kind of looks like a less likable Greek Jay Leno, anchor this piece of late night tv filler as the second feature on a dreary drive-in double bill, and I don't know about any of you, but I'd usually be in the back seat, pistoning into some weepy young devotchka's gutty-wuts like Bill Laimbeer with two fouls, by that time, and not inclined to pay much attention to whatever the hell was going on up on the big screen outside. Therein lies my beef here, you see, as a lifetime horror nut, I would have waived the backseat time on Pleasance and Cushing alone, only to witness...

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"But your eyebrows bring me to squirting climax..." quips Milo's squeeze (Jane Lyle).
On a remote Greek isle, nosy couples have been going missing while monkeying around some delapidated ruins, leading local priest, Father Roche(Pleasance), to surmise that something or someone sinister has orchestrated the disappearances. When three more visiting tourists vanish, Roche sends off a letter to New York, where his dubious detective pal, Milo (Skouras), is shacked up with a gorgeous blonde (Lyle), urging him to drop his metropolitan affairs and fly to Greece immediately and assist him in investigating the strange goings-on. When Milo inevitably arrives on the scene, he naturally slags off Roche's every suggestion as superstitious rubbish, causing the padre to wildly overreact to Milo's imaginary lead foot while driving (shoddy editing shows the car barely coasting). Then there's Laurie (Luan Peters), the distraught girlfriend of one of the missing men, who classically catches an ill-timed backhander across the face-piece when Milo misses his mark in a dramatic exchange gone awry.

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"But I don't wanna 'come on and zoom-ah-zoom-ah-zoom-ah-zoom'!"
Enter Baron Corofax (Cushing), on exile from the Carpathians and heading a really splendid Minoan cult of Satan-worshipping pagans (eh, like I said earlier, the script is foggy) who wear satin robes and hoods and enjoy sacrificing people by the two's to an over-sized golden minotaur statue that talks and repeatedly blows flames out of it's nostrils. So there's that. Corofax also enjoys being chauffeured around the island in a limousine and bullying non-believers with a shotgun. Of course, Roche and Milo get themselves captured and dragged off to the cult's fancy subterranean digs, where the priest's visual premonitions of being shanked in the armpit on an altar nearly come true, except that he's equipped with a gaudy homemade-looking cross and container of holy water, which just so happens to be the only effective weapon against these nearly invincible evil-doers and their full moon-only time frame. You could almost predict exactly what's gonna happen in the climax, if you gave enough of a shit, that is...

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"That is correct. Write a proper screenplay and I shan't be forced to blow your head off."
You'll remember Jane Lyle as the impossibly hot blonde lead in the Greek-lensed Island of Death the previous year. In fact, Bob Behling and Jessica Dublin, both also from the cult classic cast, are aboard here, but forgive my momentary lapse into a fucking caveman at the prospect of Ms. Lyle and her seldom seen-but-breathtaking physical endowments for a second, when I say yes, yes I most certainly would. She was a Top Five dish of the decade in my book. You're all entitled to your own personal favorites, but she was sweetly pretty, and I want to protect her. In my hypothetical drive-in trip earlier, I'd opted out of the back windshield steam for the sake of the big names involved, and ultimately, that particular sacrifice would not have been worth it, given the failure of the motion picture to generate little else but unintentional laughs. On the scale, Men manages a mere single Wop. Approach with caution.

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Dig Donald's "I'm about to be shivved for Satan" expression.
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"Cat People" (1982) d/ Paul Schrader

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I remember rolling with the pre-release buzz around this one, a loose remake of the 1942 original, in all the genre mags of the day,  yet coming away from my first screening feeling pretty underwhelmed by it all somehow. By 1982, I guess I must have expected full-blown FX-dripping transformation sequences and gory murders abound, a much harder nut to crack in my early teens on monster-based matters than most. I like it a lot more now, and it's easy to see why: A superb cast built on familiar names like Malcolm McDowell, Nastassja Kinski, Lynn Lowry, and Ruby Dee, an engaging screenplay written by Alan Ormsby, who had a hand in some of my favorite movies of the prior decade (Deathdream, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, Deranged), some effectively minimalist makeup and gore work from Tom Burman, and competent direction from the guy who brought you Blue Collar(1978) and American Gigolo(1980).

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Lynn Lowry can be a scratching post in my pad anytime.
Irena (Kinski) meets up with her long-lost brother Paul (McDowell) in New Orleans, having been separated since the death of their animal trainer parents in early childhood. He leaves his sibling with Female (Dee), his Creole housekeeper, while he slips off to maul a leggy prostitute (Lowry) after having taken the form of a melanistic leopard, as he sometimes enjoys doing. His feral indiscretions lead to an abrupt capture by the local police, aided by the hearty tranquilizers of some nearby zoo-hands, who transport the feline Paul to his new permanent res: a smelly, undersized zoo cage. His sister, also a were-leopard, though unrealized as yet, sniffs him out at the zoo, with her feline sensuality even attracting Oliver (John Heard), who hires her for the gift shop on the spot. For Paul, sex with humans transforms him into a big cat, but only by murdering one can he change back. Enter one poor bastard named Joe (Begley, Jr.), who gets a little too close to Paul's enclosure while carrying out his zoological duties, and eats arm-torn death because of it.

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Watch Ed Begley, Jr. become less arm-ly, and thus, considerably more leg-ly.
As it goes, Paul suggest that he and his sister begin an incestuous relationship, as it is the only physical contact that either sibling can experience without metamorphosis occurring. A blech-worthy proposal until you factor in that the entire were-cat race is based on incest and your sister just so happens to be Nastassja Kinski. Well, Irena's more interested in having sex with Oliver, who's holding Alice (Annette O'Toole) at bay just for a chance to have sex with Irena, who would transform into a leopard if she had sex with...yeah, you get the idea. Paul's jealousy lands him on an autopsy table, where he ultimately disintegrates, leaving the oft-nude Irena to ponder the difficult decision between a sex-less romance with Oliver or life as a huge jungle feline. I'll leave the finale for you to discover when you check this one out for yourselves...

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That's an odd-shaped fur ball.
There are some notable cameos from Dan "Night Court" Larroquette and Ray "Twin Peaks" Wise to mention. The always adorable Kinski is perfect here, exuding feline sensuality throughout the nearly two hour running time and bare-assed nearly as long, and I suppose McDowell is equally cattish, leaping about and preening himself when he isn't trying to slip 'Tass the brotherly bone. Speaking of sexies, Lynn Lowry also gets semi-nude for the cinematic cause, as per usual, as does O'Toole, who's in possession of the most impressive breasts of the lot, flat-chested McDowell included. Needless to say, the Giorgio Moroder score and familiar title track by Bowie are equally impressive. It's an odd, little movie that carves it's own erotic were-leopard thriller niche in the genre-drenched decade of the eighties, and holds up pretty well over thirty years later. Altered states will heighten your experience. Just sayin'. You'd do well to add a Shout! Factory copy to your collection immediately, if it isn't already there, that is. On the scale, People purrs it's way around my leg to three wops. Recommended.

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Animal whisperer that I am, I'd put out a saucer o' milk for a sweet little stray like this one.
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Monday, March 3, 2014

"The Pack" (1977) d/ Robert Clouse

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In a world gone to the dogs, as Prospero and Jacopetti so eloquently stated back in the tumultuous sixties, it was only a matter of time before "man's best friend" finally turned the tables on us in the form of a couple of marginal survival horror/thrillers released towards the middle of the following decade. So what transformed these furry tail waggin', leg liftin', tongue waggin' pals o' ours into snarling, pack-minded, frothy-jawed biters of human meat? Prolonged exposure to Mason Reese's infernal Underwood deviled ham commercials / Paul Lynde musical numbers that feature Roz Kelly in a tune-carrying capacity / disco-themed action slacks ? Come to think of it, all of those things induce bloody rabies madness with billowing froth like a volcano o' violence, no matter how the frig you look at it. Tonight's review, the better of the aforementioned pair of killer dog movies (The less-satisfying 'Dogs'(1976) being the other), was written and directed by the guy responsible for Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon four years earlier, and stars Joe Don Baker, still riding a wave of "Walking Tall" popularity four years later.

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"Now, you want me to make out with her? Can't I just bat her in the face instead?"
Right from the outset, we see how Seal Island's titular feral pack grows in number, as a vacationing family abandons their summertime pal, leaving the whining collie tied up in the woods, as they depart for home with fall weather on their heels. Apparently, lots of folks discarded their pets after a satisfying holiday together, culminating in an apex hunting party of flea-bitten mutts led by a particularly ornery-looking mongrel-beast, driven by equal parts hatred and hunger in dispatching adult horses, and even local blind hermits. Enter Jerry (Baker), the local widowed marine biologist(!) growing roots on the island with his young arm candy, Millie (Hope Alexander-Willis) and their two sons. In between some slobbery make out sessions and upright parenting, Jerry begins to notice the looming canine threat when the pack punks the family dog out of his junkyard rabbit chase and later terrorizes Millie in her Volkswagen, forcing him to alert the remaining islanders to the danger of the murderous reverse-Lassie's with a vicious storm impending.

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...just as the car's eight track player chewed up her new David Soul album.
Among the sitting ducks-turned-human chew toys are a grizzled old angler (R.G. Armstrong), a local merchant (Richard Shull), a banker named Dodge (Richard O'Brien), his girl Marge (Bibi Besch), his drape son, Tommy (Paul Willson), and a happening chick named Lois (Sherry Miles) that Dodge has brought along in an attempt to "man" his withdrawn wallflower of a son up a bit. Naturally, the dogs whittle down the survivors' numbers; sending Tommy to plummeting cliff death (a seventies favorite, for sure), eating Lois alive in a barn, and tearing ol' Dodge up like he was one of your good loafers safely tucked away in the back of the closet, before Jerry and company can orchestrate a dramatic final showdown with the killer pack in one of the abandoned houses. His meticulous study of shrimp must have included classes on pyrotechnics and stunt falls, as he manages to set the house ablaze with the majority of mad dogs inside, impaling the main mongrel, Tepes-style on a sharpened radiator pipe (!!) after rolling off the roof, and even winning back the trust of the surviving abandoned collie from the first reel before the end credits finally roll. I think everything's gonna be alright here, afterall...

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"I SAID...Roll that motherfuckin' beautiful bean footage..."
Though you'd rightfully expect to come away from tonight's movie mostly underwhelmed by the final product given the 'Meh' factor of the anti-Benji subject matter and much of the supporting cast, the performances of Baker, Besch, and an underutilized R.G. Armstrong, meshed with the film's realistic dog attacks, prove effective enough in raising tense vibes throughout to elevate this one out of the decade's prolific celluloid heap. Probably the best killer dog movie this side of 1983's Cujo or Wilderness (2006), it's available on dvd-r through Warner Archives. On the scale, a respectable deuce.

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Luckily, we've kept the island's damage to a minimum...
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