Comedies rarely come darker than Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, written by its lead actors, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. Both can be seen in The World’s End by Edgar Wright, who lends his name here as stamp of approval with an executive-producer credit. The British film doesn’t need it — it’s funnier than any of his works, for starters — but if it attracts more eyeballs to Wheatley’s little picture, mission accomplished.
Lowe’s Tina is dumpy, dowdy, living with her woe-is-me mother (Eileen Davies, Bright Star) and, for the first time in her 34 years, has a boyfriend. He’s the bearded, burly Chris (Oram), with whom she’s going on holiday via RV, over Mum’s passive-aggressive protests. Chris’ meticulously planned agenda covers national parks to museums (separate) celebrating trains and pencils, all leading to the area he grew up.
What he has not planned for — but should have — is the selfish disrespect of fellow tourists, both to one another and the sites of varying sacredness. When Chris senses the proper reverence is not being shown, Chris snaps and Ellen follows.
Sightseers‘ trick is that our travelers turns out to be hypocrites, as much of an intrusion as everyone else. It asks, “What if Clark and Ellen Griswold were psychopaths?” and the answer takes unexpected turns — not out of course correction, but deliberate defilement of viewers’ expectations. As with his previous film, the highly recommended shocker Kill List, at no point does Wheatley shy away from the edge of the ledge. Luckily, he and his star scribes know just how to play terrible acts — from dog puncture to potpourri sex — so that they come off as awfully, wrongly funny. —Rod Lott
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I’ve seen enough movies to know that if you receive a sizable sum from a bank account with the numbers “666,” Something Is Up. In The Legacy, an interior-design team gets such a deposit to the tune of $50,000 — an advance payment for a project whose particulars go undisclosed, beyond that a trip to England is required. Something Is Up.
After arriving in the UK, Margaret (Katharine Ross, The Graduate) and her partner/lover, Pete (Sam Elliott, Hulk), are involved in a motorcycle accident and taken to a remote countryside estate for a cup of tea and cleanup. The kind gesture threatens to turn into an eternity when Margaret and Pete find their every effort to leave the premises quashed, as if a conspiracy prevents an exit. Plus, a nun lives there. Something Is Up.
Worse, the other guests — The Who’s Roger Daltrey among them — start to die horrific deaths, and their host is some sort of bedridden demon with claw-like hands in need of a manicure and serious moisturizing. Something Is Up. While that may not be an individual viewer’s pulse, The Legacy nonetheless boasts several creative kill sequences, courtesy of director Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi) and co-scripter Jimmy Sangster, who specialized in penning the type of Hammer Films product (i.e. Fear in the Night) this modern-day Gothic exercise emulates, more successfully than not.
Produced at the wane of the 1970s’ satanic-panic subgenre in horror (see: The Omen, The Sentinel, Race with the Devil and so on), The Legacy is good enough to deserve not being forgotten. One cannot say the same for the sore-thumb ballad serving as the film’s theme song, warbled with MOR saccharine by Kiki Dee. What Was Up? —Rod Lott
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Originally titled Lame Ducks until it was changed (likely to avoid planting the seed of negativity), Brain Donors is both a tribute to the Marx Brothers and an unofficial remake of the boys’ beloved 1935 classic, A Night at the Opera. One wouldn’t know it from the original theatrical poster, which name-checks seemingly every other legendary act of the era except the Marx siblings. Barely released in 1992, the well-meaning farce since has found a small cult following.
John Turturro (Barton Fink) is front and center as our ersatz Groucho, Roland T. Flakfizer, a part-time ambulance-chasing attorney and full-time man-whore who woos an elderly widow (Nancy Marchand, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!) in hopes of sucking up her millions. The departed’s will, however, makes Roland’s best bet at big bucks to vie for the $500,000 salary of whoever will head a yet-to-be-established ballet company.
For some reason, agreeing to assist Roland are an overweight cabbie (Mel Smith, National Lampoon’s European Vacation) and a Dodo of a man-child (stand-up comedian Bob Nelson) whose clothes conceal a closet’s worth of all-purpose props. Rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, groan-worthy puns and slamming doors ensue, but the filmmakers’ enthusiasm and intent for the bygone style often do not hit their Marx.
Either Brain Donors is hopelessly too old-fashioned or Dennis Dugan (Adam Sandler’s director of choice) exhibits wretched timing, or both. However wrong he is for the project, Turturro is worthy of commendation for giving it his all, while Teri Copley (Transylvania Twist) makes a sexy impression as the PG picture’s sole punch of eye candy. The animated opening credits offer more verve and invention than most of what follows, although intermittent bits of amusement are there for the picking. —Rod Lott
Buy it at Warner Archive.
With pipe as prop, cinema’s undisputed godfather of gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, introduces the “lost film” of Doctor Gore in a five-minute prologue, overselling pal J.G. “Pat” Patterson Jr. as “the master of gore.” That’s not to say Mr. Patterson’s directorial debut doesn’t kick over buckets of blood; it just doesn’t carry that undefinable H.G. Lewis magic. Keeping consistent for the one and only time, Patterson oversells himself, too, by starring as the titular madman under the curious pseudonym of “America’s No. 1 Magician,” Don Brandon.
Lanky, balding, the doctor has discovered the secret to regenerating life — so complex, it entails wrapping a corpse head-to-toe in aluminum foil like human Jiffy Pop. Anxious to resurrect his dead wife piece by piece by piece, the would-be Frankenstein lures foxy women — at the beach, in a restaurant, what have you — so that he may kill them for parts. Aiding him is Greg (Roy Mehaffey), a grunting hunchback.
When Dr. Brandon acquires enough “ingredients,” we meet the lovely spouse, Anitra (Jenny Driggers). A (un)dead ringer for swimsuit model Kate Upton, she is just the way Brandon (Patterson?) likes ‘em: big-titted and baby-stupid. He sees to that, in fact, hypnotizing her to wipe her brain into total subservience: “You will not even remember what a glass of water is.” With Anitra lounging in a bikini, her hubby re-teaches her everything, from the ABCs to the smell of vinegar. His curriculum seems a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
Equally not as thought-out is Patterson’s point-and-shoot direction, inert enough to make Lewis look like a Palme d’Or contender. Shots of a two-character conversation don’t match; one scene begins with the clapboard in clear view, as if Patterson simply didn’t care anymore. His alarming ineptitude is exactly what Doctor Gore, also known as The Body Shop, has going for it. —Rod Lott
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Two Men in Manhattan is as uniquely New York as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver or Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon; it just happens to made by the French. Opening with a brassy jazz score — as American an art form as any — un film de Jean-Pierre Melville captures the Big Apple on the brink of Christmas, aka the most wonderful time of the year … unless you happen to be France’s United Nations delegate Fèvre-Berthier.
Absent without explanation for an otherwise unmemorable U.N. vote, Fèvre-Berthier is nowhere to be found, so night-owl journalist Moreau (Melville himself) is tasked with finding him. Taking sleazy photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset, Rififi) as a booze-soaked sidekick, Moreau presumes that Fèvre-Berthier can be located with ease if they can find the man’s mistress, whomever she may be.
One of the most vital artists of cinema’s French New Wave, Melville (Le Samouraï) shoots the black-and-white film with a tourist’s eye — a focused, determined one vs. easily distracted. On the night of Dec. 23, his Moreau and Delmas run all over the City That Never Sleeps, from tavern to bordello, from the warm studio of Capitol Records to the bustling heart of Times Square. Two Men in Manhattan makes for a pleasurable whirlwind of a roundabout, to a point that the picture’s noir mystery seems almost incidental — an excuse to showcase the still-nascent metropolis. It just so happens that our guide, Melville/Moreau, calibrates audiences’ collective moral compass during the excursion. —Rod Lott
Buy it at Amazon.