The Death Kiss (1932)

The Death Kiss (1932) movie poster

director  Edwin L. Marin
viewed: 05/28/2018

The Death Kiss is a pre-code B-picture murder mystery, starring Bela Lugosi, David Manners, and Edward Van Sloan who appeared together one year earlier in the much more heralded Dracula (1931).

It’s a little meta, opening on a scene in which a woman kisses a man, marking him for execution by gunfire. A scene that is a scene on a movie set of a film called “The Death Kiss”. Only, someone set up some real bullets and killed the actor. Now we’ve got a murder mystery! At a Hollywood studio!

Frankly, it’s nonessential but not uninteresting. Outside of the notability of the cast vis-a-vis their prior, more famous grouping, and the film-within-a-film thing, it’s got little to really recommend it. There is, however, at the finale,  some kinda cool hand-tinting color of flashlights and gunfire, a reminder that odd innovations were still commonplace in the early Thirties.

And the movie poster is Deco cool.

Kalifornia (1993)

Kalifornia (1993) movie poster

director Dominic Sena
viewed: 05/09/2018

“If you looked in the dictionary under poor White Trash, a picture of Early and Adele would have been there. But I knew if I was gonna be a good writer , I’d have to ignore the cliches and look at life through my own eyes.”

Kalifornia is such a screenwriter’s film that the main character is of course a writer. And that writer is David Duchovny, perched on the cusp of The X-Files here in 1993, not yet big time famous.

Actually, Kalifornia features a cast that was pretty red hot in 1993. Namely, Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, Early and Adele, as mentioned above. Also, Duchovny’s photographer girlfriend, played by Michelle Forbes, who would also go on to lots of notability on the small screen.

Conceptually, Kalifornia has a pretty good set-up, with Duchovny and Forbes having picked up Pitt and Lewis as road trip help, driving across the country researching horrible murder scenes. Only, they’ve not just picked up cartoons of White Trash, but their own genuine serial killer.

For my money,  only Lewis is able to infuse her character with elan and esprit de corps, eclipsing the script’s shortcomings. Pitt runs into a bit of a wall with Early, hocking snot rockets, having to be vicious and cruel, and also be a decent bloke.

Is it me or is it funny that this only came one year before Natural Born Killers?

Terror on Tour (1980)

Terror on Tour (1980)

director Don Edmonds
viewed: 04/30/2018

“Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here”

These Clowns are a horror rock group, looking more like a reject gang from The Warriors than a KISS wannabe band. The real band, The Names, from Rockford, IL, is actually kinda good, sporting a sort of power pop sound rather than the metal you might guess they’d play. And the band members actually act in the film, too?

Terror on Tour is more a murder mystery than a slasher. It all starts when someone dressed up like a member of the band starts killing chicks. And since the band isn’t actually on tour, nor is the terror, all this is going down in a seedy old, but cool-looking, theater, and the detectives come in to solve the crimes.

The detective pulls in a a drug bust prostitute girl and coerces her into going undercover. Kinda cool that she’s semi-heroic, though, as in real life, the cops put her in danger and she has no power to choose.

Not the best, and not the worst.

Cardiac Arrest (1980)

 Cardiac Arrest (1980) movie postere

director Murray Mintz
viewed: 04/18/2018

Unheralded, probably because it’s not very good, Cardiac Arrest is a detective thriller on the streets of San Francisco. Going by the movie poster, it was marketed as a horror film, and sadly, that’s a guarantee for disappointment.

Clumsy writing and directing in this picture is probably a testament to why it’s one of very few Murray Mintz movies.

But one thing it does have going for it is that it’s very fucking local San Francisco crime horror picture. The locations are very neighborhoody, not places non-locals would know or recognize largely. And it’s a lot of a city that no longer exists.

The most recognizable star is Max Gail (then Detective Stan “Wojo” Wojciehowicz of Barney Miller). But it also features local actors Michael Paul Chan and Marjorie Eaton, as well as then local newscaster, David McElhatton.

It’s so local they even mention the Main Street in my neighborhood, Taraval. So it’s that local.

Yeah, it’s no great shakes, but the old San Francisco angle made it worth my while.

The Strangler (1964)

The Strangler (1964) movie poster

director  Burt Topper
viewed: 04/09/2018

The Strangler is low-rent Hitchcock with Victor Buono as a serial killer. Director Burt Topper ekes out some nicely shot sequences, and the editing is sharp.

Buono, would’ve made a good John Wayne Gacy, is here a man seething with barely repressed rage at his mouthy and harsh invalid mother (Ellen Corby). He obsesses over dolls, nurses, and young girls at an amusement park. One of which, Diane Sayer, is great as the sassy ring toss girl.

It’s a passable B-picture, relying on some more by the book police procedural and paperback psychology.

 

The Mad Dog Killer (1977)

The Mad Dog Killer (1977) movie poster

director  Sergio Grieco
viewed: 03/07/2018

Cinematography is the star in Beast with a Gun (aka Mad Dog Killer). It’s brutal and somehow quaint at the same time (The Italy of the time and all those little cars and mopeds!)

Occasionally I picked up a sort of A Clockwork Orange vibe, maybe just in the rampant sadism rather than the film style.

“Have you any money? These are all false, all counterfeit. Only good for the movies.”

Good stuff.

M (1951)

M (1951) movie poster

director Joseph Losey
viewed: 01/14/2018

A re-make of Fritz Lang’s M (1931) may have been a daunting task, even a misguided one.  Joseph Losey not only makes it work, he makes it worthwhile. In fact, he makes an excellent film noir.

Some serious credit has to go to cinematographer Ernest Laszlo and the amazing locations utilized around Los Angeles, most notably the since demolished Bunker Hill neighborhood and the still standing Bradbury Building. And the amazing cast of character actors jammed into this thing. There are a couple of notable names, but all those faces and personalities that make up the City of Angels’ mobs.

In a sense, it doesn’t seem to deserve to be as good as it is, derivative from one of cinema’s classics. But seen on its own terms, an LA film noir, tight and vivid, it’s a seriously fine film.

10 Rillington Place (1971)

10 Rillington Place (1971) movie poster

director Richard Fleischer
viewed: 01/11/2017

Adapted from Ludovic Kennedy’s True Crime book of the same name, 10 Rillington Place strives for a realism and verisimilitude in re-telling the story of serial killer John Christie. A cold, bleak reality and verity it is.

The dialogue is taken, when possible, from court records and other documentary artifacts. Even further, the film is shot largely on location on the very block (though not No. 10 itself) where these killings took place over 20 years earlier.

Richard Attenborough plays Christie, the craven, opportunistic killer, who beyond murdering 7-8 women and an infant, set up his tenant, Timothy Evans (a tremendous and tremendously young John Hurt) to die for the murder of his wife and child in one of England’s most notorious miscarriages of justice.

Richard Fleischer directs this British film with somber naturalism, and the results are as bleak and realistic a portrayal of unrepentant serial criminals as you’ll find in cinema.

The fact that this row of houses have since been torn down and lost to time is as compelling a factor in the choice of shooting the film in location as I can imagine.