Manhattan Baby (1982)

Manhattan Baby (1982) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 07/27/2017

The opening of Manhattan Baby gives fans a glimpse of what a Lucio Fulci Raiders of the Lost Ark might have been. But alas, it’s cut more from the Poltergeist and Exorcist cloth, and assembled in a patchwork far more patchwork than patterned.

It’s been written that this was the final collaboration between producer Fabrizio De Angelis and Fulci, a fraught collaboration, particularly here where the budget apparently tanked. Writers Elisa Livia Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti apparently had something more far out in mind and it seems that nobody was particularly happy with the results.

But it’s Fulci so it’s not a total wash. Disjointed and weird editing gives the film a pace full of weird disjunctures and there are some really nice shots and moments alongside some strange dialogue and weird moments of unintentional hilarity.

Fulci is, at the very least, always entertaining.

Ruby (1977)

Ruby (1977) movie poster

director Curtis Harrington
viewed: 07/26/2017

Curtis Harrington does the Southern Gothic by way of a drive-in movie theater in 1977’s Ruby. Piper Laurie plays the titular gal, a one-time crooner, now owner-operator of the aforementioned drive-in in the swamps of Florida. She’s a lush, haunted by her dead lover, though she also employs all of his former gang members who shot him to death. Does this make any sense?

Her daughter is teenage Leslie (played by the interesting-looking Janit Baldwin). She’s a mute and an oddball, and eventually the vessel for her dead father’s return and revenge.

It’s decidedly middling in quality, but somehow, something about it sort of transcends itself. No single quality stands out, though there are a lot of interesting touches like the drive-in lady of the night and the drive in itself. It’s set somewhere in the 1950’s when Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was all the rage (and plays out extensively through the film).

Ultimately it plays its Exorcist card, one that ends in a sentimental twist. Rather unusual.

Hitchhike to Hell (1941)

Hitchhike to Hell (1941) movie poster

director Pat Carlyle
viewed: 07/25/2017

“Going My Way, Mister?” so ask a number of dames, thumbing a ride in one sequence in Hitchhike to Hell. One of its cuter and funnier bits.

Going My Way, Mister? is another name for the film, as are Highway GirlsHighway HellHitch-hike to Hell, and Honky Tonk Girl. But by any name, it’s not as trashy, sleazy, or fun as behooves a good Exploitation flick.

Rather, it’s more on the preachy side, most of which comes out of the mouth of owner of a little bar on the road, whose son is seduced by the broads and their shifty pimp.

But it’s the little things that charm. Like the “Going my way, Mister?” montage, there’s a cute scene of how each of the gals downs her whiskey, everybody a little different. It’s the little things that give this film its small level of merit. Though the movie posters are also pretty sweet.

Demonoid (1981)

Demonoid (1981) movie poster

director  Alfredo Zacarías
viewed: 07/24/2017

When a movie poster should have been a pinball machine.

Alfredo Zacarías’s Demonoid is moderate fun. Dull and not too compelling, it leads from Guanajuato, Mexico (and some cool real life mummies) to Las Vegas and beyond. Really, this is a “possessed hand” movie and is at its most entertaining when the hand is doing its thing, squishing faces and attacking people.

Samantha Eggar and Stuart Whitman try to keep plausibility alive, but outside of some decent moments and flashes, Demonoid only achieves mild levels of trash fun. Not utterly unworthy, not fully worthy either.

The Super Inframan (1975)

The Super Inframan (1975) movie poster

director Hua Shan
viewed: 07/23/2017

I wish I’d seen The Super Inframan when I was a kid. I would have loved the heck out of it.

I grew up on  Shōwa period Godzilla, loved The Space Giants and Ultraman and even sort of enjoyed Spectreman (it seemed cheaper than the others).

Super Inframan is wall-to-wall, non-stop action and monsters and fighting and hilarity.

It’s purely sublime.

All hail, Princess Dragon Mom!

Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk (2017) movie poster

director Christopher Nolan
viewed: 07/23/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Dunkirk is a pretty impressive bit of filmmaking by one of the more interesting and ambitious directors working in the Hollywood mainstream today. Eschewing his trademark headtrippy convolutions, Christopher Nolan poses the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 through a somewhat experiential lens, following three main story sites with differing timelines and interweaving narratives and cross-cutting action throughout the film.

The aerial scenes, centered around Tom Hardy as a flying ace picking off German aircraft as they can, capture the vistas of the sea and air and the beaches, are the film’s most stunning elements. Many potent scenes play out almost wordlessly, sometimes entirely so.

I’m a bit at a loss for what more to say. I sense that Dunkirk will be regarded as Nolan’s best film. I also sense that it may go into the pantheon of great war films ever made. At least, these seem likelihoods.

Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1995)

Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1995) DVD cover

director Erica Benedikty
viewed: 07/22/2017

O, Canada! Your Shot-on-video sci-fi is a wonder!

Erica Benedikty’s DIY Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments is quite remarkable. I truly love that more and more of this no-budget regional homemade cinema is surfacing for our viewing pleasures.

Phobe is certainly derivative of both Predator (1987) and The Terminator (1984), with a little Star Wars thrown in. Its gloriously schlubby cast, clad in sweats and mullets, are such ultimate Canadians (am I stereotyping here?).

Really, Benedikty shows some chops and skills here, having utilized film equipment from the local television station that she worked at. But it’s really the less polished things in the film that make it so much fun, such as the cast, the performances, and the monster design. The only thing I really didn’t care for were the cheap CGI, though apparently Benedikty didn’t want to limit her vision if she didn’t have to, cheap or not.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) movie poster

director Matt Reeves
viewed: 07/22/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

War for the Planet of the Apes is the final in the prequel trilogy, a surprisingly decent threesome of films. Though the creators are apparently discuss additional films in this line, so who knows?

I have to say that this film didn’t quite work for me as well as it has for others. Director Matt Reeves isn’t the least bit subtle in his homages and cultural references. And though Andy Serkis and the technology team do a great job with Caesar, the emotional heft of the story was sort of limited.

The Steve Zahn chimp? The film is very dour and dark, but throwing in a stock comedy character is so Hollywood playbook, I don’t know what to say.  For all the good in it, and it is good, the film shows its weakness in Woody Harrelson’s scene that does all the explication and backstory.

There is a lot to appreciate too, I don’t mean to sound harsh. But I didn’t find it as good or interesting as the others and in trying to tease out why, these are the things that I come upon, clichés and other storytelling weaknesses.

 

Blood Sabbath (1972)

Blood Sabbath (1972) movie poster

Director Brianne Murphy
viewed: 07/21/2017

As noted elsewhere, Blood Sabbath is about a Vietnam vet who falls for a water nymph and sells his soul to a witch.

It has a little post-Manson vibe. Those hippie witches are sex-crazed and blood-thirsty. But it’s also somewhat romantic and tragic.

What’s most interesting is the director herself, Brianne Murphy, the first female cinematographer in Hollywood. She sounds like she led a pretty amazing life, born in the UK, then came to America and worked the rodeo and circus circuits before finding herself in Hollywood. She married schlockster Jerry Warren and worked on a bunch of films in various roles: director, producer, actress, editor, production assistant, script girl/supervisor. She went on into television and became best known for her breaking the glass ceiling in the cinematographer union.

Blood Sabbath may be no masterpiece, but I’m sure it’s better than anything Jerry Warren ever made.

Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970)

Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970) movie poster

director Al Adamson
viewed: 07/19/2017

For Horror of the Blood Monsters, Al Adamson took the Filipino caveman battle movie Tagani (1965),  a sprinkling of creature effects from One Million B.C. (1940) and Unknown Island (1948), and then shot footage of vampires on Earth and John Carradine and crew flying into outer space to find a cure for the rampant vampirism.  The black-and-white footage from Tagani was tinted many different colors (the effect of the atmosphere on this strange planet of cavepeople and creatures).

It’s indeed some seriously crazy bad stuff, but I’ll be doggoned if I didn’t kind of like it. Science fiction on a budget means for some cheap-o set designs, but I really liked the weird spaceship in space animation or whatever it was.

And the creatures: some shots you know you’ve seen elsewhere, but some of them are amazingly awesome, particularly the bat guys and the crawdad men. But as well, there are some weird shots of an elephant thingy that I really couldn’t figure out.

Tagani looks like it’s pretty fun and weird on its own. The bad cavepeople have fangs and are vampires? And the guys with snakes growing out of their shoulders? Suddenly Adamson’s Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972) makes more sense. He realized he could Frankenstein a movie out of parts of others!