Jul 24 2017

Reading Material: Short Ends 7/24/17

Fresh from editing last summer’s Klaus Kinski: Beast of Cinema book, Matthew Edwards follows up with another winner in McFarland & Company’s Twisted Visions: Interviews With Cult Horror Filmmakers. Just shy of two dozen directors sit for probing, lengthy Q&As; none are household names, unless your household is adorned with Nekromantik merch. (And if that’s the case, I politely decline your invitation for a sleepover.) Among the highlights: Alfred Sole reveals one of his actresses tried to kill herself during the Alice Sweet Alice shoot; Don’t Go in the House’s Joseph Ellison recalls facing the loaded rifle of the owner of the house they shot at; Rodrigo Gudiño traces his path from founder of Rue Morgue magazine to full-fledged filmmaker; and, in arguably the most interesting chapter, Jack Sholder spills the details about what an asshole Michael Nouri was throughout the making of The Hidden. Edwards is a strong interviewer, posing questions that have genuine thought behind them, which shows in the subjects’ passionate, candid responses.

In a summer when the overdue Wonder Woman has reigned supreme, one wonders if Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise didn’t give the Amazon princess a boost to smash the multiplex’s glass ceiling. In commemoration of the 1991 Oscar winner, Becky Aikman chronicles every step in its making — and subsequent leaps of influence — in Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge. I only wish the Penguin Press release were at least half as compelling as the film it commemorates. While Aikman is a fine writer, initial chapters focusing on screenwriter Callie Khouri alone tend to overstate the stakes or create drama when there appears to be none, assumedly to support one exec’s quote that all the planets aligned for this one-in-a-million moonshot. Her you-are-there approach works once the film’s tortured, elongated, barrier-strewn development process begins, including Scott not in the director’s chair, Goldie Hawn lobbying hard for a lead and failed sitcom supporting player George Clooney auditioning for the small, shirtless role that eventually made a star out of one William Bradley Pitt. One of the strongest parts of Aikman’s book is the epilogue, in which Hollywood remains a boys’ club, despite T&L‘s Zeitgeist success. No argument there.

Another McFarland trade paperback, this one from Lyndon W. Joslin, gets a fresh coat of blood-red paint for its third edition: Count Dracula Goes to the Movies: Stoker’s Novel Adapted. More than half of the book finds the author comparing Bram Stoker’s 1897 epistolary classic to 18 subsequent screen adaptations, to see how faithful (or not) the likes of Tod Browning, Francis Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog, Jess Franco, Dario Argento and Mel Brooks are — or, as the case often is, are not. While Joslin knows Stoker’s text inside and out, reading scene-by-scene beats of each film is tiresome; I quickly found greater enjoyment skipping these synopses and diving straight into his commentary. Later, less-exhaustive chapters focus on the Universal sequels, the Hammer cycle and notable vampire flicks that owe more to the Hollywood matinee than the Gothic text, from AIP’s Count Yorga to the Wes Craven-presented Dracula 2000. This book inadvertently makes a terrific companion to the publisher’s recent Vampire Films of the 1970s. —Rod Lott

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Jul 23 2017

Those Redheads from Seattle (1953)

Hubba-hubba! The carpetbaggers match the drapes when Agnes Moorehead takes her four single and ready to mingle (mostly) carrot-topped daughters (Rhonda Fleming, Teresa Brewer, Cynthia Bell, Kay Bell) from the titular city of Seattle to Gold Rush-era Alaska for some snowbound romance and minor Klondike mystery-solving, as the gals try to find their newspaper publisher father’s murderer whilst pitchin’ woo with the fool’s gold worth of lonely prospectors that permeate the Arctic climate.

In between the absolute roster of wonderfully misplaced musical numbers by the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and Ray Evans, these flame-maned fillies are a vivacious trio of backtalkin’ spitfires that are always sampling scandalous cosmetics like “rouge” and high-kickin’ them glammy gams to tunes that uses words like “Alabammy” and “honeylamb,” with momentarily blonde sister (and all-around pesky tomboy) Nellie the constant brunt of gender-fluid ribbings because, even at 12 years old, she’s not a hot-to-trot redhead ready for marriage like her flame-retardant hermanas.

Mother Moorehead, years away from her role as the shrewish Endora on TV’s Bewitched, tries to keep a tight leash on the foursome, but those 1950s-era hormones are running wild and free in 1900s Yukon Territory. With a liberal amount of ankle skin and hand-holdings, all gloriously filmed in 3-D, you actually feel like you’re right there in the parlor, courtin’ one of those interchangeably gorgeous sisters to a badly timed and ill-fitting Jerry Livingston and Mack David tune! If only IMAX had been around then …

At 90 minutes, director Lewis R. Foster’s effervescently buoyant Those Redheads from Seattle is a fun Technicolor throwback where two-fisted men engaged in fisticuffs over the ownership of women in general, and these dames not only like it, they fall madly in love with the big galoots and/or palookas because of it, with a finale full of comically ribald weddings to back it up. If we walk away from Seattle with any lessons learned, it’s that gentleman might prefer blondes, but everyone loves a redhead.  —Louis Fowler

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Jul 22 2017

Out of the Dark (1988)

As if a serial-killer thriller in which the targets are phone-sex workers weren’t ludicrous enough, Out of the Dark went one further by making said killer a former circus clown named Bobo.

And that, my friends, is why I miss the ’80s. Sigh …

The L.A.-based Suite Nothings is the dial-a-gasm operation in question, run by the blowsy, Jolt Cola-swilling Ruth (Karen Black, Airport 1975). For a reason that’s not really a reason once All Is Revealed at the end, her employees start to get killed after leaving the two-bit office for the night. First to go (unfortunately enough, because she’s strikingly beautiful) is a naive blonde (former Playboy centerfold Karen Witter, Popcorn) who meets Bobo in the park and plays invisible baseball with him until he cracks her on the noggin with a very real bat. Bobo commits his murders in full clown mask and while dancing jigs. The effect is bizarre, to say the least.

The investigating lieutenant (Tracey Walter, 1989’s Batman) suspects the girls’ headshot photographer, Kevin (Cameron Dye, Fraternity Vacation), but he’s the boyfriend of adorable Sweet Nothings employee Kristi (Lynn Danielson, Ghoulies IV). Besides, there’s that drunken photographer (Geoffrey Lewis, The Lawnmower Man) making threats because he’s jealous of Kev’s success. And how about that creepy CPA (Bud Cort, 1987’s Bates Motel) in the same building as Suite Nothings who tries to get close to the ladies …

While Bobo-hunting around a cheap motel, Kevin tells Kristi, “You have to think of this as an adventure in sleaze,” and that advice holds true for the viewer. Full of boobs and blood, Out of the Dark is exactly the kind of un-PC exercise in watching pretty girls die that revolted critics, yet churned many a rental dollar. For a flick this sordid, writer/director Michael Schroeder (Cyborg 2) sure assembled one hell of a cast! Aside from those previously mentioned, the B-movie all-star team includes bits by Tab Hunter (Grease 2), Lainie Kazan (The Delta Force), Divine (John Waters’ muse in his final role) and executive producer Paul Bartel (Chopping Mall), in a wig that makes him look like a bloated Chris Elliott. This one’s not for the humorless, although somehow, Bobo antics aside, it is played arrow-straight. —Rod Lott

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Jul 18 2017

Jack the Ripper Goes West (1974)

First things first: Jack the Ripper Goes West is a bullshit title. Second things second: I concede it is infinitely more marketable than the film’s original title, Knife for the Ladies, which simply sounds like the misheard end result of a kindergarten game of Telephone.

In the desert town of Mescal, the men and women are all agog and abuzz over losing yet another perfectly good prostitute to murder! The latest victim had her throat slashed not only horizontally, but postcoitally. Now that somebody’s homicide spree has hit the magic number of three and the cantankerous sheriff (Jack Elam, The Cannonball Run) has no cotton-pickin’ idea who’s responsible, Mescal looks yonder to St. Louis to hire curly-haired detective Edward R. Burns (Jeff Cooper, Circle of Iron), basically a Hercule Poirot for cowpokes. Investigatin’ begins; stabbin’ continues.

There’s nothing wrong with grafting the Whitechapel legend of London onto the dusty landscape of the American Western; mixing and melding of genres is encouraged. But director Larry G. Spangler (The Soul of Nigger Charley) and his writing team (one-third of which is Academy Award winner Seton I. Miller, screenwriter of such classics as Here Comes Mr. Jordan and The Adventures of Robin Hood) have no idea how to lasso that into a compelling story. Evidence of this shows in the picture’s schizophrenic nature, undecided if it should go whole-hog mystery or horror or whathaveyou. No amount of eye candy from Diana Ewing (Play It as It Lays) or glee gained from the bonkers performance of Ruth Roman (The Baby) can make up for Spangler’s cattle-drive pacing, which is why the funny ending isn’t worth the sit to get there.

If you’d like to see a true Ripping yarn with equally psychotronic leanings, watch Jess Franco’s Jack the Ripper instead. Heck, or just watch the one with David Hasselhoff. Either leaves this in the dust. —Rod Lott

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Jul 16 2017

The Day of the Wolves (1971)

Seven criminals are recruited to pull a job. They are known to one another only by an elementary code and sport the same cool-guy disguise. Sound familiar? There’s no way that a TV broadcast of The Day of the Wolves managed to escape the eyes and psyche of a young Quentin Tarantino.

As ringleader, No. 1 (Jan Murray, 1967’s Thunder Alley) assigns his assembled men numbers instead of names, instructs them to don fake beards and black gloves, and runs them ragged through two days of training for a three-hour job he promises will net each of them no less than a $50K payday: robbing the entire desert town of Wellerton, population 7,420. When questioned how such a small group can pull off such a big heist, No. 1 explains with a shit-eating grin, “One wolf can maul a whole flock of sheep. Imagine what seven can do.”

Unbeknownst to the crew, their otherwise perfectly planned crime coincides with the forced resignation of the town’s longtime chief of police (Richard Egan, The Big Cube) for purely political reasons; just because he’s lost his badge doesn’t mean he’s lost his will to protect and fight. Imagine what one can do.

If only it weren’t so obscure, the Arizona-lensed Wolves would be taught as a textbook case of what a resourceful filmmaker can do with the barest of resources. Although I’m sure writer/director Ferde Grofé Jr. (The Proud and Damned) would have stacked the deck with marquee names if he could have afforded it, the homogeny among the criminals doesn’t require it. Indeed, it seems almost deliberate that only one of the hired guns, No. 4 (Rick Jason, The Witch Who Came from the Sea), bears a discernible personality. What the film lacks in finesse, Grofé mitigates with an inventive setup, a crackling pace, a corker of an ending and action action action. Imagine what one can do. —Rod Lott

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