Witchcraft (1964)

Witchcraft (1964) movie poster

director Don Sharp
viewed: 05/08/2017

 

“It’s witchcraft, wicked witchcraft,
And although I know it’s strictly taboo…”
— Coleman/Leigh

The 1964 British horror film Witchcraft flirts with a Mario Bava-style aesthetic and eeriness at times, but can’t really keep up that level of quality throughout.

Yvette Rees rises from the grave as a mute and spooky witch, the most interesting and creepy thing this picture has going for it. Her sleep was disturbed by some ill-advised redevelopment of a graveyard by a family with longstanding issues with a known devil-worshiping clan. And old and seriously pissed off Lon Chaney Jr is on hand for cachet.

This black-and-white witchery, devil worship picture starts out promisingly, and is well-shot, but it peters out in middling ways.

Gorilla at Large (1954)

Gorilla at Large (1954) movie poster

director Harmon Jones
viewed: 05/06/2017

Fully B-movie in concept, Gorilla at Large is strangely star-studded and gorgeously filmed (originally) in 3-D Technicolor.

You’ve got Lee J. Cobb, Anne Bancroft, Cameron Mitchell, Raymond Burr, and Lee Marvin all crammed into this picture. And a guy in a gorilla suit. And a guy in a gorilla suit who is also actually supposed to be a gorilla.

Also interestingly, it’s shot at Nu Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California, another long lost boardwalk on California’s coast. It’s hard not to look at the scenery and not wish yourself back in time for that.

But it is a B-picture and the whole script and concept never arises out of the junk drawer. Still, with all these other elements, it’s an interesting document if not a particularly great movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) movie poster

director James Gunn
viewed: 05/06/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

In 2014, James Gunn performed a magic trick, turning an obscure Marvel Comics entity into a major Marvel Studios franchise in Guardians of the Galaxy. Shareholders and fans thrilled.

No longer obscure, but rather hotly anticipated (by my 13 year old daughter among many), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes shooting out of the gate of summer fare 2017. Like any sequel, more is more, when it comes to the stuff that fans loved the first time: comic banter, AM radio tunes, stunning sci-fi visuals, and baby Groot.

But as is also common in sequels, more is not always more.

Guardians 2 is more, 136 minutes more.

The real flaw though is in the script. It’s nowhere as sharp and funny as it should be. And then the whole “daddy” or “family” issues theme. It’s heavy handed. It’s cliché as cliché  can be and super-tiresome. And here it really sucks the life out of the movie.

Favorite elements: David Bautista as Drax gets the best lines and moments, nicely paired with opposing counterpart in Pom Klementieff as Mantis. And most of the visual design and character designs are stunning and super-fun.

Least favorite element: Bradley Cooper’s Rocket.

Coming out of the movie, my son was unsurprisingly unimpressed. My daughter was not nearly as enthusiastic as I would have thought, considering she laughed through much of it.

I don’t know if all of the fans will be happy, but I’m pretty sure the shareholders will be.

Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

Ride the Pink Horse (1947) movie poster

director Robert Montgomery
viewed: 05/03/2017

Ride the Pink Horse is an unusual name for a film noir. Despite the fact that I’ve recently read the Dorothy B. Hughes novel from which it was adapted, its oddity still stands out, even knowing contextually from whence it comes.

Hughes’s novel is set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during a fiesta in the small town that has drawn locals from all over the state for the festivities, still somewhat pagan in their origin. Director/star Robert Montgomery and screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer change the setting vaguely to San Pablo, a stand-in for Santa Fe, even though some shots seem to indicate that Santa Fe also stands in for itself.

As an adaptation, it’s quite deft, tightening up some parts of the story, softening others, developing some of its own designs and ideas. Though Hughes’s novel was published in 1946, Montgomery and crew shift this noir into more specific post-war haze. Montgomery’s character is no longer a thug turned blackmailer but a veteran turned blackmailer. And his pursuant lawman, no longer a local Chicago cop, but a federal agent straight out of D.C.

A couple of the best things about the film are some character actors: Wanda Hendrix as Indian waif Pila, Thomas Gomez as immensely affable Pancho the owner of the litte carousel, and Fred Clark as the big villain with a hearing aid. All three are excellent in their own ways (Gomez even became the first Latino-American actor nominated for an Oscar for his role). Hendrix may not look the least Indian or Latina herself, but she’s very beautiful, and young and small, really embodying the spirit of the character.

I liked this much better than Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947). Hughes is an excellent crime novelist of her era. She also wrote the amazing In a Lonely Place, which was also turned into a a classic film noir. I was surprised to see this was a Criterion production, but glad to see it gets recognition.

Night of the Seagulls (1975)

Night of the Seagulls (1975) movie poster

director  Amando de Ossorio
viewed: 05/02/2017

I find Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead films remarkably eerie. Aside from the weaknesses of The Ghost Galleon (1974), it’s a remarkable series of films. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it has echoes of the uncanny about it. Something I cannot fully comprehend or express.

If I had seen these films as a child in the 1970’s, I’m pretty sure they would have blown my mind. The slow-motion Knights Templar skeleton dudes on their ghostly horses strike me even now almost as they would have then, suggestive of weird darkness, a strangeness unspeakable and untied to much more logical, real world horrors. They pick at my imagination in ways that virtually nothing I’ve seen in recent years has begun to do.

And it’s not that the movies are themselves such works of perfection. But they transcend themselves for me.

This one, might be my favorite of the four, though I’m also not quite sure why. The Night of the Seagulls might not be the eeriest of titles, but it’s an eerie flick.

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972)

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972) movie poster

director Al Adamson
viewed: 05/01/2017

Director Al Adamson’s Blood of Ghastly Horror (great title that has no real relationship to the film) features a zombified killer, a bank robbery, a guy brain-damaged in Vietnam turned psycho-killer after botched brain surgery, and revenge for that by the Vietnam vet’s dad. And John Carradine as semi-mad scientist.

It’s pretty difficult to figure out what’s going on, when it flashes backward and forward and suddenly 1972 looks a lot more like the mid-1960’s. But when you learn that Adamson frankensteined this movie out of his own Psycho A-Go-Go (1965) and The Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1966) plus some new materials(?), you’ll forgive yourself for your confusion and really wonder that Adamson thought he could pull this off.

Actually, it’s the Psycho A-Go-Go pieces that kind of resonate, with psycho-veteran Joe Corey (Roy Morton) as a loathsome lug with a penchant for violence. It’s all roughie crime flick, sleazy and unsettling.

And then the ending, which is gloriously terrible nonsense. I don’t know. Maybe I need brain surgery myself cuz I kind of liked it.

Free Fire (2016)

Free Fire (2016) movie poster

director Ben Wheatley
viewed: 04/30/2017

The latest from Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump is a throwback’s throwback, a Quentin Tarantinoesque gunfight that runs almost the duration of the film. It’s a “Mexican stand-off” but where everybody has lost their cool and the shooting never stops.

From that perspective, Free Fire is all meat, no veggies, and coming in at 90 minutes, it’s a rare treat in these days of overlong movies. Everyone is a character, or at least a caricature, not exuding depth but a simple set of characteristics to allow them to stand out from one another. Setting it in the 1970’s allows the fashions and styles to add an air of retro to the whole shebang.

This should be fun, I thought. And it is fun. But not as fun as it should be.

Why? If anything, it should probably be funnier. It is comedic, grimly so, but I don’t know. It could be bloodier, too. That might have added something. Generally, I don’t find it worthwhile trying to figure out what a movie was missing.

Rumble Fish (1983)

Rumble Fish (1983) movie poster

director Francis Ford Coppola
viewed: 04/29/2017

Francis Ford Coppola’s artsy, avant-garde approach to an S.E. Hinton novel gets the Criterion treatment. And fair enough. For the Hollywood mainstream, this was avant-garde in 1983.

A beautifully stylized aesthetic runs over every frame of Rumble Fish, which Coppola made on the heels of a more conventional take on S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (also 1983). Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and Coppola channel Orson Welles, Expressionism, and aspects of European cinema of the 1950’s and 1960’s, turning Tulsa, OK into abstracts and back again into storefronts, alleys, and dirty back roads.

This is a teen film, but so set-back and removed that it’s an aesthetic experience before anything else. And it’s gorgeous.

Mickey Rourke, right off Diner (1982), and as fresh-faced as you can imagine, is Motorcycle Boy, older brother and legend in younger brother Matt Dillon’s mind. While all Dillon can think of is fighting and becoming his own minor league legend, Rourke’s Motorcycle Boy is somehow already broken inside after a trip to California, seeing the mother that abandoned them, and winding up in a magazine. What tortures Motorcycle Boy is never really fully named, though the metaphorical colored fish that he tries to dump in the river are a clear and colorful metaphor.

I watched this with my 13 year old daughter, who found it a bit confusing, but like it.

A Taste of Blood (1967)

A Taste of Blood (1967) movie poster

director Herschell Gordon Lewis
viewed: 04/28/2017

I don’t know if it’s really true that this was Herschell Gordon Lewis’s favorite of his own films or not, though it’s hard not to notice that it runs nearly 2 hours and that it shows flashes of ambition. One note in imdb suggests that Lewis made this film in response to Roger Corman, and whether he did or not, it does sort of feel like a half-assed attempt to make a more serious picture a la Corman’s Poe films.

It’s a vampire flick, in which it starts with drinking some aged brandy from an ancestral home and then goes full-on vampire.

It’s not bloodless, but it’s a lot less crazy gory than other films from “the godfather of gore”. And even with more apparently invested in the movie, it never rises above the schlocktacularly and lovably terrible acting. A real highlight of which is Lewis himself turning on a wonderfully awful Cockney accent as an able bodied seaman.

Some of the attempts are cinematic artistry here aren’t awful, per se, but the whole thing winds up being more of a slog than it should be. Surely another of his films is truly his best.

Pervert! (2005)

Pervert! (2005) movie poster

director  Jonathan Yudis
viewed: 04/26/2017

Come for the boobs, stay for the penis.

Pervert! is a throwback style sex comedy-cum-horror flick. Made in homage to Russ Meyer, you can probably gauge your likelihood or the opposite of enjoying this stuff. Patently and intentionally lowering the brow and showing buxom women, most notably star Mary Carey.

The stop-motion animated penis is emblematic that this is not pure Russ Meyer stuff all the way through, rather something of its own.

Hardly deft, it’s also hard to totally dis.