Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is on Netflix…

Which would have been nice to know before I purchased it on Amazon yesterday, but whatever. It’s worth just about any price of admission anyway.

I always like lighthearted documentaries about the audacity of B-movie making, particularly Machete Maidens Unleashed and Corman’s World. Electric Boogaloo fits nicely with those films, never shying away from the hilariously politically incorrect film clips. Seriously. This documentary has a ton of awesome clips, including one in which Marina Sirtus sword-fights topless in a period piece. How I didn’t know that movie existed until now, I’ll never know.
Lots of former A- and B-movie talent agreed to be interviewed: Franco Nero, Bo Derek, Sybil Danning, Robert Forester, and an actress who showed up just to set fire to her only copy of the movie she was in. “This is what I think about Cannon Films,” she says as a puny flame spreads across the corner of the VHS.
You’ll learn how Over the Top came to be. You’ll finally know why Superman IV is the cheapest looking entry in the franchise and why Missing in Action 2 is a prequel to the “original” film (answer: because it was supposed to come out first). Above all, you’ll find out how such a gigantic, multi-million dollar studio came crumbling down.
Good times.
* * *
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention A Very Murray Christmas, which began streaming on Netflix this weekend. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life, period. I have no idea how the project came about, other than Sophia Coppola directed it (her Lost in Translation is probably in my top ten or twenty favorite films of all time, so maybe that’s why I liked this so much) and that it’s just about the most charming thing in existence.
The title is dead on: it is very Murray. My favorite thing about the guy is his ability to be funny without jokes, which very few actors can do. There are no setups, no punchlines. Just Murray out-Murraying himself. My face still hurts from smiling so much, particularly when Clooney showed up towards the end.
As far as TV goes, Netflix is probably the reigning king of entertainment. Here’s a project that couldn’t exist anywhere else because it’s somewhere in between a television show and a feature length movie. I love the idea Netflix is abandoning arbitrary time limits—it’s 56 minutes long and has more in common with a 90s independent film than the variety show it wishes to emulate.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said broadcast TV will be dead by 2030. I’m not sure I believe the absurdly powerful media conglomerates will let that happen; personally, I predict the decency regulations are going to ease in the future so they can reasonably compete with premium offerings like GOT, but Netflix is certainly giving ’em a run for their money. At the very least, here’s hoping Netflix won’t try to do too much in too little of a time period and end up collapsing much the same way Cannon Films did.

Western Wednesday: Django (1966)

I figured if I’m going to start a weekly feature on the western genre, I might as well kick it off with one of the best. Django is among the finest spaghetti westerns that doesn’t have Leone’s name on it. I was also disappointed that last Monday’s midnight movie (The Visitor) didn’t have more Franco Nero in it, so here’s to rectifying that problem. (I have a feeling a lot of the movies in this feature are going to have Nero, Lee Van Cleef, and/or a director named Sergio.)
The story of Django opens with the gunslinger himself (Nero) dragging a coffin through all manner of mud. Later, when he finally makes it to a saloon, someone asks him if there’s a body in the box. Django replies, “Yeah. His name is Django.”
I won’t spoil who’s actually in Django’s coffin, but you’ll find out for yourself less than a third of the way into the movie. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
Seconds after the opening credits, Django happens upon a gruesome scene: a gang of bandits are preparing to bludgeon a prostitute to death. You expect Django to intervene, but he doesn’t. Instead, he watches from afar as a second gang swoops in and lays waste to the first. You think the prostitute’s life has been spared until you realize the men are only untying her to retie her to a cross, which they intend to torch. “Burnin’s a lot better than getting beaten to death,” they assure her.
You get the feeling Django has been praying he doesn’t have to get involved with this bullshit. By then it’s clear it’s no longer his decision to make. He’s operating on autopilot when he approaches the men and says in his surreal, dubbed voice, “If I bothered you, would you accept my apology?” A split second later his pistol comes out, blazing hell-fire, and drops the five men in the blink of an eye.
Eduardo Fajardo as Major Jackson
It sounds a lot more clichéd than it is. Django’s the real deal—a character of such popularity and charm he’s kind of been portrayed by a dozen different actors in dozens of movies (although a lot of those movies just slapped “Django” onto their titles for commercial reasons). Like a lot of legends, the details change depending on who’s telling it, but overall the important stuff remains the same if not outright ripped off.

No, Django doesn’t merely have clichés, but employs them to leverage the action forward. Director Sergio Corbucci is well aware his audience already knows everything we need to know about saloons, hookers, and bandits, so there’s no time wasted on introductions. Besides, the character himself is a consolidation of only the finest elements that gave the clichés staying power in the first place. 

Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and General Hugo (José Bódalo)
After saving the prostitute’s life, Django takes her to town, finds a room, and meets the leader of the local Klan, Major Jackson. Jackson gets his rocks off on hunting innocent Mexicans for sport. After gunning down over forty of Jackson’s men, Django finds himself at the center of a war between Jackson’s gang and General Hugo Rodriguez’s bandits. Hugo’s an old friend of Django’s, so the two of them team up.
Everything I’ve described is enough to fill a routine western to the brim, but in Django all this happens in the first third of the movie. Sure, it’s mostly style over substance, but Django is tragic, shamelessly entertaining, and absurdly violent. If you’ve never seen it before, be prepared to get amped.

Outland: High Noon in space?

You frequently hear Outland (if you’ve ever heard of it at all) being described as High Noon in space. That’s misleading. The first three-quarters of the film is a mash-up of a serious science fiction movie and a somewhat routine (but solid) 80s cop flick. Sean Connery plays a space marshal who’s been assigned to a mining outpost on IO, one of the moons of Jupiter. Early on his wife, frustrated with Connery’s job, leaves him because their son hides pictures of Earth rather than the kinds of pictures boys usually hide at that age.

Peter Boyle plays the operation manager who is obviously mixed in with the drug-related subplot. When Connery introduces himself to the crew he’s welcomed warmly. That is until Boyle’s character has something to add: a thinly disguised warning to look the other way every once and a while. Everyone picks up on it. And, instantly, we know Boyle is the villain even though the clues are subtle.

Jumping back: the film opens during an otherwise routine mining job on the surface of IO. One of the miners (John Ratzenberger, nearly unrecognizable in a space suit) begins screaming about spiders. He’s hallucinating, but the other miners think he’s just joking around until his suit is depressurized and, well, his head explodes. Yes, this is one of the many science fiction films which believe human bodies explode in a vacuum and space habitats magically provide Earth-like gravity. You know what? This one gets a pass. There will be many more head/body explosions and each one is as dazzling as the last. The fact that, within the colony, there is seemingly one gee of gravity is probably less of an oversight and more a restriction of the budget.

It’s not the first instance of a miner going berserk in the colony. Sean Connery quickly discovers an imported drug may be to blame. As the investigation unfolds, he makes friends with the outpost’s head doctor, played by the extremely likable Francis Sternhagen. The way the banter flies between these two is as real as it is entertaining. It’s a bit flirty and often very funny. Peter Boyle (also very good in the movie) doesn’t like what Connery’s up to and tells him something along the lines of “If you’re after more money, you’re very smart. But if you’re serious, you’re very stupid.” Connery isn’t after more money, of course, and we wonder why he’s being so suicidal in his plan to bring Boyle down. There isn’t a clear answer, yet it doesn’t seem like a cheat, either. Connery, like Gary Cooper  before him, just has to be the hero. We, as an audience, are above questioning that.

Later on the film changes gears. Boyle hires some hitmen to kill Connery. They’re on the next shuttle from the nearest space station and there are clocks placed throughout the colony, counting the hours down until its arrival. Naturally, Connery tries to recruit some of the miners and other policemen to help him, but everyone’s too cowardly to stand up to Boyle’s regime. One of the miners says, “Don’t you have men to help you do that?” Connery replies, “My men are shit.” Yes, it’s very much like High Noon and it’s unashamed that it is. That the last quarter of the film plays like the classic western isn’t a detriment, it’s the entire point.

But there’s a plothole here: Boyle wants to kill Connery so he doesn’t tell corporate about the drugs. However, the comms aren’t severed. All Connery has to do, in theory, is call corporate and let them know what’s going on before the hitmen arrive. Hell, that’s all anyone has to do to put an end to Boyle’s rule, but not a single person thinks to do it. Doesn’t matter, though. Outland is still a very fun movie, especially if you’re a Sean Connery fan. And really, who the hell isn’t?

The best thing about Outland is its set design. The civilian quarters look more like a prison than a comfortable place to sleep, which is pretty accurate to what living in space will really be like, at least when compared to other movies: oxygen is going to be relatively rare out there. There’s no reason to think a real mission in space will afford privacy to each of its crew members, not to mention haul around so much extra oxygen for something so nonessential. It really grounds the film in reality by relating the miners with real-life offshore oil workers.

I say the movie is routine, but not as a critique. High Noon itself was quite routine in terms of script development and it’s still a classic. Director Peter Hyams is quite good at routine. Plot has always been one of his strong suits and his technical abilities get him steady work in Hollywood. Some artists are good at working within the system. Some can only exist outside of it. Both are equally admirable, at least when they manage to produce something as good as this. Think about it: Hyams later made a pretty decent sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a feat which was all the more likely to fail miserably than be good. That alone is an indication of his talent.

Yet another thirteen of my favorite horror films (fourth part)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. I’ll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.  

And so it’s Halloween.

I’ve already given you thirty-nine of my favorite horror films and here are thirteen more. I had fun shifting over to horror this month (I plan to do it again next year), but I look forward to getting back to this blog’s usual topic: science fiction. William Gibson’s got a new novel out and so far it’s pretty awesome. And don’t forget Interstellar releases in a little over a week. Hopefully I can scrounge up thirteen more horror films for next year, but for now, this is the last one.

Spider-Baby

Here’s a wonderfully kooky film with Lon Chaney Jr and a surprisingly young Sid Haig. Even if you’re one of the misguided poor souls who think “Ew, black and white movies are yucky!” you’ll probably enjoy this movie. It’s just plain likable. If I had to guess, I’d say this is one of the films that make Tim Burton hard. The End ?

Chan-wook Park’s Thirst

This is the guy who made Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy, and Mrs. Vengeance (my favorite of the Vengeance trilogy). Much like Let the Right One In, Thirst came at a time I was so sick of vampire flicks I couldn’t see straight, which means this one had to be extremely likeable to make this list.

Hostel

I’ve long defended Hostel for not being as pointlessly insulting as the Saw films. Hostel really has an interesting “what-if?” premise with tones of adventure, which were absent from other torture films. Now, I don’t know why the hero thinks snipping an optic nerve is the best thing to do for a woman whose eye has been popped out, but all that matters is what happens next.

I’m an unashamed Eli Roth fan and I’m hopeful we’ll get to see his take on the cannibal genre sooner than later.

The Ninth Gate

I’m trying to only choose one movie per director for these lists, but since I let Clive Barker onto the list more than once, I might as well let Polanski slip in twice. The Ninth Gate has been pretty much disliked by critics and audiences since the beginning, but I always found it to be strangely compelling. For one, it puts a cool but despicable book dealer (Johnny Depp) in the shoes of a traditional detective role. I don’t know why, it’s just cool. Then it gives us a very creepy version of Frank Langella, who turns out to be a devil worshiper. Langella hires Depp to track down an antique book written by The Devil. The camerawork is good, the somewhat-classical soundtrack gets stuck in your head, and the “hero” of the film is refreshingly unheroic.

It’s just one of those movies that doesn’t deserve the hate it gets.

The Tingler

Everyone has their favorite William Castle film. This one’s mine. Castle was known for screening his movies in theaters rigged for real-life theatrics; The Tingler’s tour involved vibrating seats, which were designed to startle audience members and stimulate screams. Unfortunately the gimmicks is something that’s lost when watching Castle films on video, but the cool thing about The Tingler is the more important gimmick is built in, even when you watch at home: if you don’t scream, the tingler is gonna kill ya because the tingler lives inside of us all. Not that the movie is scary enough to make even children scream these days, but it was a great example of the kind of guy Castle was. (If you’re unfamiliar with Castle, John Goodman played a character like him in Joe Dante’s Matinee and John Waters has plenty to say about him in interviews and such.)

Frailty

Here’s another creepy movie with unusually good acting and direction. Supernatural films typically don’t scare me… although Frailty is not actually a supernatural film (or maybe it is… I don’t want to spoil it), it makes me uncomfortable during the final reveal because it makes you question everything it has shown you beforehand. It also makes you question the sanity of at least one of its characters. It may not fit into the neat little box most people label horror, but any movie that has axe murders deserves the designation.

The Toxic Avenger

The only reason The Toxic Avenger didn’t appear on this list sooner was A) it’s really not horror and B) it’s really, really not horror. I know I was just talking about horror being a neat little box that people use unfairly, but I’m admit it: I’m guilty of doing it, too. So to make up for that, I’ll include this—one of my all-time favorite films in general, genre not withstanding. And let’s face it, if you like horror movies, you’ll probably like this.

Basket Case

I’m kind of slapping myself in the forehead for not remembering this one sooner. I loved this movie as a kid. It’s probably what prepared me for the mind-fucking awesomeness of Raimi’s Evil Dead series. I wish I could say more about it, but I’m beginning to realize I need to watch it again, this time on something other than an aging VHS that’s been rented a million times.

The Blair Witch Project

I was hesitant to include this one on the list, but then I remembered just how enjoyable I found the movie when it came out. I think a lot of horror fans disliked the movie simply because it’s annoying when something like this gets crazy attention from the mainstream while better horror films usually don’t, but that’s no reason to hate it. It wasn’t the first found footage movie, either, but we should be honest with ourselves: it was probably the first one that was worth a shit.

Bride of Frankenstein

I always liked the original Frankenstein, but it wasn’t until my teenager years I realized that the sequel to the original was kind of like the sequel to Evil Dead: the humor was cranked up a few notches and shit just got plain weird. I love the addition of Dr. Pretorius, whose bizarre presence makes the film superior to the original. Speaking of Franken-stuff….

Frankenhooker

Here’s yet another film I can’t believe I forgot when I wrote the other lists. Like Basket Case, I haven’t seen it since well before DVD became an option, so I’m overdue for another viewing.

Return of the Living Dead

I must confess: I saw Return before I ever saw any of Romero’s zombie pictures, which would be pretty sad if Return of the Living Dead wasn’t such an awesome movie. I was so young the first time I saw this movie, I couldn’t even speak in complex sentences. I just called the movie “Braaaains!” This is the movie equivalent of punk music and the soundtrack is one of the coolest in the history of film. The casting is downright excellent, too.

The Slumber Party Massacre

Of all the nightgown-sleepover-slasher films (and I’ve seen way more than any sane individual should), The Slumber Party Massacre is my favorite. It’s funny, it’s wittingly ridiculous, and unlike meta-horror flicks like Scream, it’s not so damn wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Here’s the thing: the movie’s parody elements are so subtle, people unfamiliar with horror will probably think it’s just another horror film. Instead of a guy with a knife you get The Driller Killer, a psycho-murderer whose power tool of choice must have the world’s longest and most discreet extension cord. The film is also notable for being written and directed by women, including a well-known feminist. And The Driller Killer doesn’t get many lines, but when he does, they’re hilariously memorable for the bizarre deliverance alone. “I… love!… you?” I can’t think of many times I laughed so hard.

Thirteen more of my favorite horror films

It’s October. Time to talk horror. I’ll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.  

Here are thirteen more of my favorite horror movies to complete yesterday’s post. By the time this posts I should be deep into Civilization Beyond Earth. Which makes me wonder why you’re reading this crap instead of playing that crap. (In case you’re wondering, there will eventually be a third list of thirteen, so don’t give me shit for not having Mario Bava or some such director on here yet.)

In no particular order….


From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn was the first movie I ever had on DVD. Because of this, I saw it way too many times. It wasn’t until I saw it again, recently with a drunk crowd, did I realize just how special it is. Now, how ’bout some apple pie pussy?

John Carpenter’s Halloween

Come on. You know I love John Carpenter films. This is the film that created the slasher flick as we know it and it has never been done better.


John Carpenter’s The Thing

See above reasoning. Add in the fact it’s a real monster movie, which is so frustratingly rare. Shake. Chill. Enjoy.

Nightmare on Elm Street 3

I know. You’re supposed to prefer the original. But this one improved on the mythology while pretending the second film in the series never happened. I would also like, as a society, to pretend the reboot never happened as well. Agreed? Good.

Opera

As a fan of horror, I should like a different Dario Argento film more than this one, but this is the one that always struck me, from the insane crane shot to the beginning to the use of both opera and heavy metal music. The scene involving a knife and a chin (you’ll know it when you see it) is so simple, but effective you’ll never forget it, even when you see a lesser film rip it off. Suspiria is a close second to me, but I haven’t seen either one in more than a decade, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Silence of the Lambs

If you don’t think Silence of the Lambs is horror, I feel bad for you, son.

What’s scary about Silence of the Lambs is not that Hannibal is running amok, but that he’s able to get into your head from within his cell, even if he’s bound to a handcart. Psychics and mind readers don’t exist in real life (seriously, don’t be a baby—they really don’t), but Hannibal just might. I think I could outrun any zombie, outsmart Jason and Freddy, but the last person I want to meet is Hannibal Lector. My redneck love for beer and titty movies would be so utterly at odds with his sophisticated tastes he’d probably be eating my liver in a matter of minutes.

The Human Centipede

I’ve noticed most of the people who declare they hate this movie haven’t actually seen it. Well, fuck ’em. Ten years from now, people will look back on this one and realize that A) it’s not nearly as disgusting as they thought it was and B) it’s a classic. Okay, maybe classic is going too far, but the film is remarkably well made considering all the negative hype. With the news that Tom Six is making a third film in the franchise, I can only hope it does enough business to get to the point we see The Human Centipede in Space. Because I really want to see a human centipede in space. Imagine filming that on the vomit comet.

Alien

When I was a kid, I preferred the sequel. Now that I’m older, I come back to this one more frequently. I’m not saying this one is better (wait… yeah I am), but it’s the difference between a soft fuck and a hard fuck: sometimes you prefer one to the other, but they’re both pretty damn good.

Lord of Illusions

Again, another movie that gets points just for being about adults and, surprise-surprise, it’s also by Clive Barker. In case anyone’s wondering, yes: the CGI looked just as laughably bad back then as it does now (I was twelve when it came out and we were ripping on this movie’s CGI so, so hard). Thankfully, Barker limited his use of it so it’s not a complete wash.


Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight

Here’s a goofy, but very fun picture. It’s also the only Tales from the Crypt Presents film worth watching. Billy Zane is hilarious in it, as is the Crypt Keeper’s bookends.

Interview with the Vampire

Goddamn, this movie is good. Sure, I’m partial to Neil Jordan movies, but that’s not the only reason I like it. Or maybe it is… I’ve never been able to get into an Anne Rice book.

The Re-Animator

No! I gave him life! What’s not to love about Jeffery Combs and, again, my all-time favorite scream queen, Barbara Crampton? Speaking of these two…

From Beyond

This is almost a non-sequel sequel to The Re-Animator and it’s certainly a lot better than Bride of Re-Animator. No, I’m not just choosing it because Barbara Crampton goes all dominatrix in it.

Thirteen of my favorite horror films

It’s October. Time to talk horror. I’ll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes. 

Okay, I’m phoning this one in. Civilization Beyond Earth comes out in about ten hours and I know this blog will likely suffer. Here’s a bullshit list that doesn’t mean anything. I know, lists suck.

If there’s a remake by the same title, I’ll use the director’s name to differentiate between titles. Also, none of this is in any particular order other than Dawn of the Dead, which just happens to be first.


George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead

This is my favorite horror film ever. Tom Savini goes nuts and there’s not a lick of CGI in the entirre feature, so anyone who complains it looks dated needs to be grounded because they’re obviously not old enough to deserve such a farthead opinion. It’s the gold standard by which I judge all other horror films, not just zombie films. Whereas I typically enjoy horror-comedy films more frequently, it’s only because good straight-up horror (which I prefer) is so damn hard to come by. Dawn of the Dead is straight-up horror. There are laughs in it, but it’s not jokey or poking fun at the genre as if the filmmakers are above horror. (See: nearly every mainstream horror film after Scream… actually, don’t see that shit. My bad.)

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have gone mainstream despite being genre fiction because they’re infused with believable characters and drama. That and they not only make you wonder about who dies next, but they make you care. Dawn did all that way before the newer stuff did. It’s not just horror, it’s adult drama. But above all, it’s a fantasy film: everyone wonders what they’d do in a Shit-Hit-The-Fan situation, but Dawn exploits that fantasy better than any other zombie and/or apocalypse feature by shacking its main characters up in a shopping mall. On top of that, Romero makes us wonder why living in a shopping mall should be a fantasy and what that means about our culture. The zombies in the film, of course, are drawn to the shopping mall, but they don’t know why. Yes, it’s a social commentary on American consumerism, yatta-yatta-yatta… but seriously, living in a shopping mall would kick ass.

The movie is all about contrast: on one hand you have this intentionally goofy elevator music scoring the scenes of dead roaming the mall. This is offset by dread-inducing music by Goblin (frequent collaborator of Dario Argento, who also worked on the picture), which reminds us how fucked everything is the second we hear it. I’ve said this before on this blog, but it should be repeated: my favorite thing about the movie is, once they’ve cleared the mall of zombies, the main characters are allowed to relax. This is something so many horror movies fail to do that even the 2004 remake missed the mark. What it all comes down to is the absolute most spectacular climax in horror film history.


Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby

This (or John Carpenter’s The Thing) is probably my second favorite horror film for the fact that it, like Dawn of the Dead, also taps into a disturbing fantasy almost all westerners have: Who are your neighbors? I mean, really? Who is the person you sleep with every night? Do you really know? And, the most obvious question it asks: Who will my children be?

Again, this is why I hate younger “moviegoers” out there. They miss the humor. They call it boring. But me? I personally don’t understand why The Exorcist is considered such a classic and this one isn’t. I don’t mean to spoil it, but what ultimately happens to the main character is probably the absolute worst thing that could ever happen to somebody, but she takes it in stride in an ending as bizarre as it gets.

Hausu

I don’t even know how to summarize this picture, but I would probably say it is, hands down, the most insane ride a horror film has ever given me. I mean, sure, a lot of movies try to be insane, but Hausu really is. Here’s what I wrote about a while back when it was a little fresher in my mind.

You’re Next

Here it is, the newest movie you’ll see on this list. Look, I liked Cabin in the Woods as much as the next guy (I really did), but You’re Next dropped the meta-horror angle and suckered us into thinking it was going to be a routine horror film before jerking the carpet out from under our feet. It’s violent, it’s funny, but above all it’s fun. It also has Barbara Crampton in it, my childhood crush, not to mention the greatest scream queen who ever lived. People are always going on and on about how an aging movie star has kept her looks, but here Crampton really has.

Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers 

Yes, I do mean the remake, not the original, and I think that opinion is becoming a lot less controversial these days. This one is the definitive snatcher film (there have been many including one with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig), at least until someone makes a proper adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s Puppet Masters. This one had a scene so memorably scary that South Park riffed on it more than twenty years later. (I won’t spoil it, though.) 


David Cronenberg’s The Fly

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Yes, remakes usually suck, but not always. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Cronenberg flick I didn’t like and I’ve seen them all. The one I think doesn’t get enough credit is Videodrome.

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 1 & 2

I reviewed the remake here. As should be expected, I hated it. The original films are two of the funnest horror films ever made. Never mind the fact Evil Dead 2 is, in fact, the first remake of the original. And when Sam Raimi left Spider-Man to give us Drag Me to Hell, I couldn’t have been happier. Long live horror Raimi.

Toby Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Every time I see a camera flash in real life, I somehow hear the sound effect from this film. While I inexplicably enjoyed the first sequel and the latest reboot (I know, I know), nothing had me more shocked than when one of the very realistic hillbillies suggested, “We should let grandpa have this one!” That’s the kind of thing no flesh and blood human should ever forget. The movie’s look is the kind of raw power you just can’t duplicate in the digital age, which is another reason I dislike movies made on anything but pre-80s film.

Deliverance

I’ve said before that the seventies was the absolute best time for movies. Here’s the proof in the pudding. While Deliverance doesn’t throw nonstop gore at the viewers, think about this: how often have gore movies actually been scary? Not very often, right? Well, this one is scary. Isn’t that what horror is supposed to be about?

Candyman

Look, I love slasher films as much as the next guy, but you don’t watch them expecting anything new. You just want to see young people die on camera while other young people have sex. That’s only to satisfy the “okay, let’s have fun” craving for horror. That kind of horror has its place, but man, it gets old most of the time.

But every great once and a while there’s a film that totally fucks your brain right out of your head before it kicks you in the ass. Clive Barker’s Candyman did it for me. No young characters here: these are adults in a pretty frightening situation. Maybe it’s not as realistic as I remember it being when I was nine years old, but it’s still refreshing. And that Philip Glass theme gets stuck in my head even though I haven’t seen the movie in over a decade. That’s the true definition of “haunting,” a word too many overuse.

Audition

This is just one of those films. You can almost sympathize with the bad guy (girl) because she’s obviously not right. You can almost convince yourself the main character deserves it… well, some of it. To say anymore gives too much of it away and, unlike a lot of the other films on this list, I’m not so sure the shocking stuff has been widely spoiled yet. Speaking of spoilers most people have discovered before seeing the actual movie….

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

There has never been a stabbing so subversively brutal. And there has rarely been a character as creepy as Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates. I think it’s a shame that most people who see this for the first time will go into it knowing the mid-movie shock, because that was something so ahead of its time it’s still avoided to this day. Although it may not be my favorite Hitchcock film (I’m partial to his more adventurous outings like North by Northwest), it is undeniably horror and therefor it belongs on my list of favorites.

Pontypool

This movie came so far out of left field for me I never would have expected it would end up on this list before I saw it.

Thirteen more of my favorites will post at midnight (Oklahoma time).

How I became a fan of Highlander 2: The Quickening… stop laughing at me

Highlander 1986

Don’t get me wrong. I loved Highlander when I was a kid. I even followed the film series enthusiastically up until part three, which came out when I was eleven. Eleven was apparently too old to enjoy Highlander sequels anymore. Or so I thought….

You know the tagline even if you don’t know the movies: There can be only one. Why can there be only one? When the French Christopher Lambert (playing a Scot) asks questions like that, the Scottish Sean Connery (playing an Egyptian) replies with another question: “Why does the sun rise?” That’s a cheat—in reality we all know why the sun rises, but we’ll never really know why Immortals have to fight. Probably because someone thought it would be pretty bad ass.

To outsiders—and for nearly twenty years I was one of them—Highlander’s popularity can be a bit mystifying. Let’s get some of the bad stuff out of the way. Here’s the biggest problem with the original Highlander: there are no answers. None. Zilch. The sooner you accept that the better because there’s a decent movie lurking beneath the cheese. And who doesn’t like sword fights that produce roughly as many sparks as a bumper car grid?

Yesterday, I watched the original film. The Queen music was awesome, the beheadings were satisfying, and the bad guy (played by the grossly underrated Clancy Brown) is a totally bad ass “seven-foot tall lunatic.”

The rest isn’t Shakespeare. Let’s say you’re a Trans-Am-driving gun nut who happens to pass a dark alley in which two strangers are sword fighting. Do you A) drive to the nearest payphone and call the cops or B) get out and shoot at these people? If you chose B, you belong in this movie.

The pacing is a bit rough, too, while the acting is just good enough. Even so, you’re going to be scratching your head and making MST3K quips throughout. So when the movie was over I popped in the Blu-Ray edition of Westworld and all but forgot about Highlander. Then I went to bed where distant memories of the infamous sequel began to haunt me.

I remembered Sean Connery was in it and (minor spoiler coming up) just had to know what kind of movie magic they spun to bring his character back to life. I had frequently read how awful the movie was, which was at odds with how much I enjoyed it as an eight year old. So this morning I shelled out four bucks to rent it on demand.

I may never be able to enjoy another movie again.

Highlander 2 (1991)

See, other movies are not as good because other movies aren’t Highlander 2. Other movies don’t have the mysteriously likable Christopher Lambert, Michael Ironside, and Sean Connery—the trifecta as far as I’m concerned. Other movies are too logical, make too much sense, and have way too much taste, which is ultimately their undoing.

Every movie I have seen since I watched Highlander 2 has fallen flat.

I’ve said before I enjoyed Johnny Mnemonic in spite of how badly it managed to butcher its source material. Turning Molly Millions into a damsel in distress was unforgivable, but come on: it’s the film that both managed to bring cyberpunk to the mainstream and kill it at the same time. I just take enormous pleasure in the 90s’ ridiculous vision of the future. (See: everything from Van Damme’s Cyborg to Billy Idol videos.) None of this stuff could even come close to holding a candle to the set design in Blade Runner, but it’s as comforting as an old sweater nonetheless.

Highlander 2 is set in such a dismal future world. For the most part it’s a pretty convincing one, though a little on the rich side, and it looks like they got more bang out of their budget than Freejack and Johnny Mnemonic combined. Some of the movie was even set on an alien planet at one point, but those versions of the film have been buried. All this jumping around takes the series out of the domain of fantasy and ushers it into science fiction, where I’m most comfortable.

When we first see Lambert’s MacLeod, he’s elderly and speaks in a hilariously phony voice. Why is it so high-pitched? Chalk it up to a brave yet misguided acting decision if you must, but never mind that. Just look at how big budgeted this all feels. The opening crane shots in and around the grand opera house are like nothing you’d see in a typical B movie.

That’s because there was a shit ton of money spent on the production. Rumor has it the people who put up that money are partially to blame for the film’s “problems.”

The theatrical cut, the version I saw on Pay-Per-View when I was eight, corn-holed the entire mythology of the original film within the first few minutes. It accomplished this by asserting two things: one, the Immortals were (surprise!) aliens all along and two, MacLeod and Ramirez didn’t meet for the first time in the original Highlander, but a long, long time before that.

Luckily for the director, this bit of contradictory dialogue had been filmed with characters who spoke telepathically, without moving their lips. The obvious fix was to phase out the original version and rerecord the dialogue. In the subsequent versions, and I’m not sure if I saw the director’s cut or the newer “Renegade” version, all verbal references to the aforementioned alien planet are edited out of the dialogue… but the visual references remain. That way audiences are led to believe, if they’re still paying attention, that it’s not an alien planet, but Earth a long time ago.

The changes didn’t really help the film, though. If anything, they made it a little more confusing. But hey, that’s part of the reason I love it. I’m really not being ironic here. I fucking loved this movie.

beginning at 1:30, Siskel & Ebert don’t agree with me

I’ve never seen anything like it before. That’s probably the best compliment I’m capable of giving any movie. Look, it’s not so bad it’s good—it’s so good it hurts. Seriously. It hurts in a way that it makes your stomach knot from tickled laughter, some of it intended, a lot of it not. Yet I found a lot more to make fun of in part one because this one didn’t bore me for a second, while engaging from one end of the film to the other.

Highlander 2 shows absolutely no restraint in its crusade to not only give you what you expected, but absolutely everything you could possibly want. You get hover boards. You get bad guys who look like they’re straight out of a Hellraiser film. There are jet packs with unfolding wings. There are numerous sword fights and awesome beheadings. And you will never see a hero have sex with the heroine so quickly after meeting and, ahem, I do stress the word “quickly.”

Guess what. All of that awesome stuff happens in the first thirty minutes.

Adding to the plot’s confusion, the world’s ozone layer has deteriorated. MacLeod himself helped create an artificial layer of atmosphere to deflect the sun’s radiation. I know he’s immortal, but it must have been very busy life to go from warrior to antique dealer to world-renowned scientist.

Meanwhile, Virginia Madsen’s character and a group of environmentalists break into the shield generator’s complex and discover the real ozone layer may have repaired itself in the time since the artificial one went up. Madsen is so surprised by the discovery I have no idea why she broke into the complex in the first place—for shits and giggles? With MacLeod’s shield in place, the world is constantly dark now and if her findings are correct, it’s all for nothing. Madsen, by the way, is one of millions of people who have never seen a blue sky. You’ll think, “Oh, the blue sky is going to be the payoff at the end of the picture.” Yet it’s not.

This movie is too insane to even follow convention.

Here’s where the alien planet retcon screws up the current version: so the Immortals from the past watch the events in the future unfold as if they were being broadcast on live TV. Think about that for a moment. They’re watching what’s happening in the future from the fucking past. They also have teleporters time travel on their planet in the past. So you wonder why the villain didn’t just travel to the point before MacLeod remembered he was an Immortal (I forgot to mention: our hero had amnesia at the beginning of the film) and chop off his head then. On second thought, it really doesn’t matter at this point.

What matters is the film feels like the result of people who were legitimately crazy. Remember when I said I was dying to see what kind of movie magic they would use to bring Connery’s character back to life? The answer is none. They used no magic at all. MacLeod screams the character’s name and, inexplicably, Ramirez appears on a stage in Scotland during a performance of Hamlet. I’m not kidding or exaggerating here. That’s literally how it happened.

The bulk of Ramirez’s screen time is making the journey to America while acting not like an Egyptian, but an older James Bond whose flirtatious jokes have gotten a lot raunchier. “I don’t eat anything I can’t identify,” he tells a flight attendant before looking to the woman beside him and adding, “Well, that’s not entirely true.” A pussy-eating joke!

And man, does Connery look like he’s having fun or what? Meanwhile, you catch glimpses of Lambert’s frustration with the doomed production. You occasionally see a flicker of How the hell did I end up in this turkey? in Virgina Madsen’s eyes, particularly when she has to deliver a stupidly complicated piece of exposition. But Connery is having a blast and it shows. I’ve always been a fan of Connery, but I think I like him more than ever now. What grace. What charm.

Highlander 2, as it exists today, just doesn’t deserve its sour reputation. It’s too damn entertaining for its countless inclusions on “worst movies of all time” lists. Mediocrity is much more offensive than terrible. Highlander 2 tries—I mean it really fucking tries. It gets an A for ambition alone.

Young, fun, and dead before 31: Logan’s Run

I recently read that you can’t excuse a science fiction piece’s lack of science by emphasizing the word “fiction.” It’s like calling a story “detective fiction” even if it doesn’t have a detective in it. By this definition Star Wars isn’t really science fiction and it’s really not even a science fantasy, either. Space fantasy is a better classification for it, but if we’ve got to label it at all (and we really don’t), I think fantasy, period, works.

The same can be said of Logan’s Run. It takes place in the future, sure, but it has about as much science in it as a wet fart. It shares a lot of concerns of science fiction and even superficially appears to be science fiction, but upon closer inspection: nope—not really science fiction. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a movie that’s impossible to explain, really. I can tell you what it’s about, but that doesn’t even scuff the surface. They could hardly explain what to expect in the trailer without resorting to intentional vagueness:

Don’t worry: that shot of the sun actually isn’t the end of the movie

Logan’s Run is one of my favorites. The first time I saw it was probably around the time the Encore cable station was new. Seeing it again, this time after the age of thirty, casts it in a new light. (The fact it’s on Blu-Ray now certainly doesn’t hurt.) The idea that a society would murder anyone who reaches the age when the human brain finally begins working objectively is nothing short of terrifying. But I remember thinking as a kid, “live in luxury, die at thirty? Sounds good to me!” The main character seems to think of the big Three-O as a long time off, too, even though he’s only got a few years left as indicated by the color of the crystal implanted in his palm.

Yeah. Everybody has crystals in their palms. When it turns red, it’s bye-bye life.

Here’s the deal: Logan Five (Micheal York) is a sandman in an otherwise utopian city in which citizens are executed at the age of thirty. What’s a sandman, you ask? Why, he’s the guy paid to track down runners who attempt to escape their thirtieth birthday spankings. Logan in particular loves the chase. He and his partner toy with their terrified victims before violently dispatching them. The glee on Logan’s is truly vile. The way he dispenses the word “runner” is analogous to the way a white supremacist screams racial slurs in a hate speech: “Run, runnah! Run!”

Another thing the movie wants to get off its chest: people under thirty are stupid. That’s true, for the most part. The twenties is that awkward age where people still believe A) they’re smarter than everyone else, B) old people are yucky, and C) all that shit about changing the world they heard at graduation. The film’s young and insanely attractive citizens carelessly mill about their city, the last city left on the war- and pollution-torn planet, in slinky costumes and sex-crazed mindsets. There’s not a bra in sight because hey, they’re young and fun! And fun is the key word here because, like so many would-be science fiction films of the era, it’s out of its fucking mind. I can’t think of many films more insane than this, but Zardoz comes to mind.


I’ve got this in my Netflix queue, but unfortunately it’s not going to be on Blu-Ray

There is, however, a second option for thirty year olds who don’t want to die. All they have to do is ride The Carousel… and now that I’m tasked with explaining this device, I’m not sure I can. Basically it’s a big machine in which thirty year olds go topless, wear hockey masks, and get magically levitated into the air where they’re exploded spectacularly. Meanwhile a crowd gathers to cheer the midair detonations of their loved ones as if it were merely a fireworks show.

God, I love this shit. As far as movies go, it’s the closest you can get to the kind of pulp science fiction that writers like Philip Jose Farmer and Roger Zelzany unleashed upon the world. You’re going to see a lot of analog future technology, an unbelievable amount of sex, violence, and nudity for a PG-rated film, and a shit-ton of sheer awesomeness in the truest sense of the word.

Get this: the very first time we see citizens “riding” The Carousel, Logan shouts gleefully at their deaths like a crazed soccer fan. Then he gets a call on his 70s-futuristic walkie-talkie, which informs him there’s another runner for him to terminate. At first you think Logan and his partner are really bad shots, but it soon becomes apparent they simply love torturing the shit out of this poor guy, whose only crime is he doesn’t want to die. After disposing of the runner, the sandmen wonder, “Why do they run?” It’s obvious it’s not the first time they’ve wondered that and it won’t be the last.

Upon inspecting the remains, Logan finds an ankh charm in the runner’s pocket. Then he goes home to unwind by channel surfing on The Circuit. The Circuit is like the internet, only instead of browsing porn, you’re browsing actual people who have teleported into The Circuit. You choose the person you find attractive, he or she physically steps out of the device, and then the two of you have sex. Simple, right? At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. That night, Logan’s pick turns out to be a curious woman, a trait which is dangerous in such a society. It turns out she only wanted to see how a sandman lives (the answer: lavishly). At one point she questions, “Why is it wrong to run?” Naturally, Logan doesn’t understand the question and considers shooting her for asking.

The following day, Logan goes to work, but there’s a problem. The super computer at headquarters has discovered the ankh in his pocket and identifies it at as a symbol of those who run. An interrogation follows, presumably to make sure Logan isn’t a runner himself, and he’s forced to go undercover in order to find Sanctuary, the place where runners attempt to go. The only problem is, Logan’s partner thinks he really went on the lam so Logan really does have to run, in a way that Spielberg’s Minority Report undeniably owes homage. The next thing you know there’s an oddly placed and perhaps pointless cameo by Farrah Fawcett, a lot of fiery deaths because the sandmen use flare guns instead of lasers, and a “big reveal” that pales in comparison to the one at the end of Planet of the Apes, and not only because that film did it sooner.

It’s a hell of a spectacle, yes, but not a seamless one. Exteriors of the city look about as realistic as a hobby train set, which detracts rather than adds to the already goofy nature of the film. There’s a robot effect so painfully obvious you can actually see the lips of the actor beneath the costume. The lead female (Jenny Agutter) starts out in an extra tiny wardrobe that gets so quickly shredded down to nothing that the production crew had to put panties on her mid-movie—which you’ll see purposefully in many, many stunts. Okay, that last one wasn’t a complaint.

The thing is, the film’s far too fun and goofy to ever be taken too seriously, and I’m not sure it should be considered a classic, which means I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to a remake. Look, we all know a remake would likely suck, but there’s a good message here, buried underneath all the fun. There’s a moment towards the end when the young meet the old and I’ve got to admit it’s strangely touching. I love movies that make me grin like a bit goof, and few movies do it as well as Logan’s Run, despite how dark and/or silly it is at times.

Why The Omega Man is better than ever

Seeing Charlton Heston in glorious high definition reminds us that tough guys dominated the movies long before meterosexuals like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon. Man, I miss tough guy movies and The Expendables franchise isn’t really filling the void for the real deal. The Omega Man is among the first tough guy films with witty one-liners, which is pointed out not only in the special features, but by Tim Burton. In one scene Heston crashes his car and decides to take another. He has a humorous conversation with an imaginary car salesman who, in Heston’s lonesome mind, is trying to screw him over. Later, after being captured by the bad guys, Heston asks, “Are you fellas really with the Internal Revenue Service?”

The film opens with Charlton Heston’s character driving a convertible through deserted Los Angeles. It’s a pleasant day and he’s listening to Theme from a Summer Place on the vehicle’s 8-track player. Nothing can be mellower than this, one thinks, shortly before Heston spots movement in a window, which he immediately and recklessly riddles with machine gun bullets. (This is one reason the other survivors have stayed clear of him.) We instantly know then that we’re in good hands: competent direction which fully understands the importance of contrast and a cool, hip style, all announced right there in the span of sixty seconds or so.

The film’s so hip, in fact, the villainous ghouls wear mirror shades with their sacramental robes. Sure, it was silly in the 70s, maybe even distractingly so, but today it’s just awesome. Outside of vampires, have you ever seen non-humans try so hard to be cool? At first you think they’re wearing the sunglasses only because they’re sensitive to light, but once they reveal their white irises at a convenient plot point, they more or less ditch the shades for the remainder of the movie. Which kind of makes you feel bad for the actors who had to deal with the painful contact lenses back then, but I digress.

While Charlton Heston isn’t exactly the last man on Earth (an unfortunate cheat of which all three I Am Legend adaptations were guilty), it seems the last woman really is sassy black Rosalind Cash, who’s not the only prominent character in the film who wears an afro. The first time she meets Heston it’s with hilarious and humiliating timing, when he’s caressing the curves of a female mannequin, unaware of Cash’s presence. Naturally, she plays hard to get in the beginning, but we already know they’ll end up in bed together sooner than later.

Like I said, it’s all very cool, all very hip, and Cash’s character makes it all the more fun. Whereas most post-apocalyptic films feature torn and tattered wardrobes, the characters in Omega Man are shown “shopping” on a daily basis in abandoned stores. And man, are their clothes cool or what? Even cooler: they refer to their shotgun as their “credit card.”

The 70s cool factor is both the reason the film will remain too dated to be a classic and much more fun today than it ever was in its own time. The first words shared between Heston and Cash are at gunpoint: “My name’s Robert,” he says. She angrily replies, “Your name’s mud!”
That’s the kind of dialogue that makes me love movies like this, but I’m sure it was already feeling played out by then, what with racially tense dialogue dominating each and every exploitation film of the era and then some. Even though Heston shares one of the first interracial kisses in a major film, it feels like the screenwriters only put it there so they could get away with saying “right on” at predominantly white parties. That makes it all feel less about the changing times they were living in and more about the exploitation element alone.
And shit, I ain’t complaining. Anyone who’s ever read this blog knows I love me some gratuitous exploitation. The Omega Man’s chock full of it. To try to enjoy it on any other level means not to enjoy it at all. Pull your head out of your ass and just let it entertain you.
As for how to watch it, the Blu-Ray edition looks great, although it’s painfully obvious when motorcycle-driving Charlton Heston magically transforms into a stunt double with a very bad toupee. Also shitty is the inclusion of the same, bare bones special features which appeared on a DVD version ten years ago. Nonetheless, I haven’t enjoyed the picture more. Watch it before Tim Burton inevitably remakes it.