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Tag Archives: 1970s

The Devils (1971): You Have Been Found Guilty of Covenants with the Devil

The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)

The movie poster.

I feel as though my heart has been touched by Christ. photo credit: moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

N.B.: This is more of an essay than a review, and as such, some of what is contained herein could be considered spoilers. If that sort of thing offends you, enter at your own risk.

Spoiler Alert!

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Capsule Reviews, November 2014

Only late enough that December’s capsule reviews are coming next Monday…
[update 25Nov2014: and this should have been posted yesterday, but WordPress seems to be having problems with graphics uploads for some reason. I will get there, honest…]

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The Evictors (1979): Court Is Now in Session

The Evictors (Charles B. Pierce, 1979)

A dark figure carries a dead body away from a house on the movie poster.

We get ’em out the old-fashioned way!
photo credit: dailygrindhouse.com

There are a whole lot of directors at work in America today who should be sat down—with as much force as necessary—and made to watch The Evictors, which is an excellent example of how to make a stylish, effective thriller on a basement budget. But since that’s not going to happen, I can distill what they need to learn from this movie into a single sentence: look backward, not forward. Look, if you dare, at the plague of Asylum pictures and Syfy Original Movies and all that sort of dreck, and one thing you will likely notice is that everyone’s waving around CGI like it’s a brand-new toy they can’t get enough of. It’s a very loud, flashy toy, and it annoys the hell out of mom and dad five minutes after the box is opened. Now watch the opening sequence of The Evictors, which is filmed in sepia-tone; the sequence takes place in the thirties, and Pierce was going for that kind of look. It’s very well-shot, it’s obviously out of place, and it does what it sets out to do. If this movie was made in 2013, that sequence would probably be CGIed to death, and the movie would be the worse for it. This is not to say that The Evictors is a perfect film, not by any stretch of the imagination, but for what it is, it is a very good one.

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Solaris (1972): Into the Great Wide Open

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovski, 1972)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

A large circle filled with geometric forms adorns the movie poster.

If that is not a perfect seventies sci-fi movie poster, I don’t know what is.
photo credit: magnoliaforever.wordpress.com

There is endless debate among film snobs as to which of Andrei Tarkovski’s seven feature-length films is the best; for me, there’s no comparison. Solaris, Tarkovski’s compelling, gorgeous epic retelling of Stanislaw Lem’s thin (and somewhat mediocre, unlike most of Lem’s work) novel, is first among equals. [ed. note 2014: it has encountered some serious competition in the past few years from Stalker, and the two are now almost running neck and neck with me.] Clocking in at just under three hours, Solaris is the tale of Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), a psychologist sent to the spaceship orbiting the ocean planet Solaris to find out what happened to the crew. He soon finds that the planet is a sentient being itself, and that it sends visitors to the crew—beings that are for all intents and purposes human, but are constructs from the crew’s minds. The one it picks for Kelvin is his late wife Khari (Natalya Bondarchuk), and soon Kelvin finds himself in the same position as the rest of the crew: questioning everything he knows about humanity, existence, and what it all means.

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): Scream Queen

[well, this was scheduled to post on October 1, the fortieth anniversary of the movie’s release, but for some reason it didn’t. Better late than never.]

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

Leatherface starts his chainsaw in order to butcher a histage on the movie poster.

Here’s your invitation to come join Leatherface.
photo credit: Wikipedia

The first post I wrote when I started var.ev. was about my long and spotty history with Tobe Hooper’s second feature. I’ll try not to reprise too much of that here, so if this sounds disjointed, that’s why (go read the original post for all the stuff I’m leaving out here, I guess). The short answer is that I think of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as the Bob Dylan of horror films. It’s been ridiculously influential, spawning three sequels—the first of which (and the only film in the entire franchise I have yet to see) also directed by Hooper—two remakes/reimaginings/whatever, one of which also came with a sequel (that trilogy of films is considered three of the worst movies ever made by a whole bunch of people—the recent “re-imagined” sequel from 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was succinctly awarded Worst Horror Movie of 2013 by Dread Central), the careers of Tobe Hooper, Marilyn Burns, Ed Neal, and, amusingly, John Larroquette (among others), and…I like pretty much everything that came out of it better than I do the thing itself, in the same way that every cover of a Dylan song I’ve ever heard is preferable to the original article (yes, even U2’s simpering attempt at “All Along the Watchtower”).

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Apocalypse Now Redux (2001): Director’s Mutt

Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, 2001)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

The movie poster for Redux is identical to the original, except with the word "Redux" added.

Run through the jungle. For another hour.
photo credit: fansshare.com

It is a long-known fact of Hollywood life that directors and studios are most at each others’ throats when it comes time to edit a film for final release. Judging by the various directors’ cuts I’ve seen over the years, ninety-nine percent of the time, the director is right (anyone who’s seen both the theatrical release and directors’ cut versions of Profondo Rosso knows exactly what I’m getting at, and it’s hard to argue with the superiority of directors’-cut releases of such films as Aliens, Bladerunner, etc.). One percent of the time, the director is wrong. Francis Ford Coppola’s new, fifty-three-minute-longer, cut of Apocalypse Now rides right on the line.

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Instar (1977): Outplot

Ryder Brady, Instar (Ballantine, 1977)

[originally posted 26Feb2002]

A man's portrait progresses from laughter to madness and death on the book's cover.

“Don’t you laugh, damn you, don’t you laugh!”
photo credit: risingshadow.net

The first question you’ll likely ask yourself after picking up Instar is, “what kind of a name is Ryder Brady?” It pretty much screams New England blueblood at you. And, true to the name, the book takes place in the heart of New England blueblood congregation spots in (presumably, given an offhand Falmouth reference) Massachusetts. And while the text generally reads as if William Makepeace Thackeray were trying his hand at a horror novel, the book does work on some levels as a sort of odd mix of drawing-room satire and existentialist suspense work.

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Capsule Reviews, October 2014, Part 2

Normally this would be the vault reviews part, but I only have two capsule-length vault reviews left. So I filled the rest with new reviews…

 

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (Avon, 1996)

[originally posted 7Jan2002]

A portrait of a London subway tunnel heading off into the distance decorates the book's cover.

Somewhere down there, King Rat awaits.
photo credit: Amazon

Gaiman took the script from his own miniseries and novelized it, and that’s where many of the problems with this volume lay. While the plot moves along at a fine enough pace, and the pages turn quickly, there’s not really much in the way of development going on. The characters are 2-D all the way through, and we never get to feeling that there’s more than that surface. So if you’re a person who can’t find anything worth liking in a novel with badly-drawn characters, this probably shouldn’t be the first place you turn when looking for something to read.

On the other hand, if a well-realized plot and some great place descriptions are enough to make you eschew characterization, you could do a lot worse. Gaiman is quite good at coming up with new and interesting places to send his characters, most of which obviously started with the question “why in the world was this tube station named <x>?” Gaiman creates an alternate London that’s quite a bit of fun to explore. I just can’t quite shake the feeling that the miniseries would be more absorbing than the book. ***

* * *

Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Visit (Grove, 1956)

[originally posted 24Jan2002]

The outline of the protagonist is cut out of the cover's red background, revealing newsprint.

She does not stroll. She does not stride.
photo credit: Better World Books

Another excellent piece of work from Friedrich Durrenmatt. The story of The Visit takes place in a dying town in central Europe somewhere; the country is not given (the reasons should be obvious). As the town is on the verge of bankruptcy, with almost total unemployment and a pervasive sense of despair, one of the town’s local folk made good comes back, hinting that she will give the town enough money to bail it out: get the factory working again, allow the stores to restock, that sort of thing. The night she arrives, she tells the townspeople that their expectations of the reasons for her visit are true, and that she will give them the money they need. She has one condition: she requires justice in the form of a lynch mob. She wants the townspeople to kill one of their own.

The revelation of the intended victim is the major twist here; in many ways, the play’s climax is actually this scene, at the end of Act I, and the following two acts are a painfully drawn-out dénouement as we watch the townspeople’s changing reactions to the woman and her demand. Unlike The Pledge, in which we see the gradual development of one man’s madness, in this case we’re given a woman who’s arguably mad from the get-go (certainly, she’s as obsessed as The Pledge’s protagonist
is at the end of that novel from long before the beginning of this play), and we watch the way her madness, combined with her wealth, affects the town around her over the course of a few days. Durrenmatt is a master at using small details to show how the community changes its views over a relatively short period of time, and even manages to make the rather horrific journey humorous at times (the play is defined as, and works as, a tragicomedy). We find ourselves alternately sympathizing with and horrified at the actions of the townspeople, and see no conflict in the two attitudes. A wonderful play. ****

* * *

The Reeds (Nick Cohen, 2010)

A lone figure wades through human-high reeds on the movie poster.

Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink.
photo credit: scarsmagazine.com

The Reeds is not a bad little film, certainly not one deserving of the kind of calumny it has received around the Internet (4.6 at IMDB, 10%[!!] at Rotten Tomatoes). It’s nothing spectacularly original, but if you’re looking for a somewhat understated supernatural thriller, this will do as well as most of your other options. A group of young-and-beautifuls head out of the city to spend a weekend boating in the middle of nowhere…but “middle of nowhere” turns out to be a much more accurate description than they were hoping, and the reeds are home to all sorts of the kinds of noises that make people wonder just how alone they are on the desolate moor. While the climax does get a touch ridiculous, that did not, in my estimation, detract from the basic enjoyability of the movie. It’s empty calories, but it’s an easily-swallowed ninety minutes that does not leave a nasty aftertaste. ***


Trailer.

* * *

From a Whisper to a Scream (Jeff Burr, 1987)

A headless body walks around with a machete in one hand and Vincent Price's head in the other on the movie poster.

The Headless Boresman.
photo credit: youjivinmeturkey.com

I’ve said a great deal about American attempts to make horror anthology films since Creepshow, and it feels silly to reiterate it all here. From a Whisper to a Scream is another of those American anthology films where the framing device ends up working better than any of the stories therein, but unlike many movies of that stripe, the shorts in this one range from competent to pretty durned good, and the cast they dug up for this thing is pretty spectacular, with Vincent Price as the framing device’s narrator and a solid B-movie cast with names like Clu Galager, Susan Tyrrell, Larry Kiser, and Lawrence Tierney delivering the fun. I wish Burr had pushed a little harder to try and send this one into the realms of Creepshow (though in hindsight—Burr’s later output would include Pumpkinhead II and the fourth and fifth Puppet Master movies—he simply might not have had it in him), but what we got is watchable enough if you’re looking for a handful of short, sharp shocks. ***

Trailer.

* * *

La Casa de las Sombres (The House of Shadows) (Ricardo Wullicher, 1976)

The principal cast's heads loom over the titular house on the movie poster.

Teenage giallo grind, the geriatric remix.
photo credit: filmaffinity.com

Odd Argentine/US hybrid mystery that attempted to do giallo without any of the operatic cinematography or over-the-top gore scenes, with the expected result. Take away those things that make giallo what it is and you’re left with the parts that fans routinely overlook, namely the thin characters and anemic plot, with only a bit of faux-psychedelic camera trickery to give the same away (e.g., when Audrey witnesses the murder). If you’re a really big fan of seventies mystery/thrillers, this might be worth your time, but otherwise you’re better off forgetting you even know this exists. *

Not finding a trailer for it. You’re not missing anything.

* * *

Edge of Madness (Anne Wheeler, 2002)

Caroline Dhavernas looks apprehensive on the movie poster.

Can I play with… oh, forget it.
photo credit: IMDB

Historical drama/mystery set in nineteenth-century frontier Canada about a woman (Devil‘s Caroline Dhavernas) who walks into a sheriff’s office and confesses to murdering her husband (Final Destination‘s Brendan Fehr), and the investigation that follows. Enjoyable, if somewhat slight, and most of the relationships never quite rang true for me (the exception is that between the alleged murderess and the lead investigator); how much you can overlook that likely determines how much you’ll end up liking it. Would have been better with a slightly less predictable ending, but you can’t find many of those these days. ***

Trailer.

* * *

Nancy Shaw, Sheep Blast Off (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

The beloved sheep of the series head for the stars on the book cover.

Sheeeeeeep…iiiiiiiiiin…SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!
photo credit: booisforkidsblog.blogspot.com

Another of the Sheep books that doesn’t measure up to the original (cf. recent review of Sheep Take a Hike), but that has the interesting side effect of revealing another facet of the original that makes it work so well. Obviously, if you’ve got a flock of sheep in a jeep with one driving, you’re suspending a modicum of disbelief, but once you’ve gotten to that level, you don’t need to go farther; everything works, everything is internally consistent. With Sheep Blast Off, on the other hand, it seemed almost as if Shaw was trying to outdo herself with every passing page with the silliness. On the other hand, the language is consistent and fun—if your child is already a fan of the Sheep series, take this one out of the library and give it a look. Else, start with the original (and still best) book in the series, Sheep in a Jeep. ** ½

* * *

Sebastien Braun, Digger and Tom (Harper, 2011)

Digger and Tom (err, Skip) pose on the book cover.

You’re not short, Digger. You’re bucket-challenged.
photo credit: Amazon

Okay, I don’t get it. Why did the publisher feel the need to change this book, originally published in England, to have the title Digger and Tom instead of Digger and Skip? You can’t seriously think that was a cultural reference that would not be glossed over by the intended audience (or their parents, so you really know anyone who doesn’t watch at least one British import home show on TV? I mean, I don’t even have cable and I know that one). One way or the other, though, out of the whack of books (six) that came home from the library with mommy and the Bean on Friday, this was the winner (Tubby was the only other one that came close). Digger is a small backhoe who works on a construction site with a number of other machines. The dump truck Tom is his friend, but the rest of the machines look down on him because he’s kind of clumsy. When the team runs into a problem they can’t solve, Ton encourages Digger to take a whack at it, because digging is his specialty. Pretty standard stuff, but for a construction-equipment-obsessed two-year-old it seems to be the best thing ever. If your kid takes a shine to it, expect to be re-reading this one a lot. Doesn’t hold up to that all that well, but it’s short and easy, so not a huge problem. ***

* * *

Watty Piper, The Little Engine that Could (Platt and Munk, 1930)

The little engine steams down the mountain on the spoilerific cover of the book.

I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I didn’t have to.
photo credit: NPR

When I was a kid, I was pretty open to reading just about anything, really, and there were very few books I simply did not like. One of them was The Little Engine that Could. Well, a copy of it popped into our house tonight thanks to the mother-in-law, and I read it to the Bean tonight. Forty years later, my opinion of the book has not changed one bit. Repetitive prose, unlikable characters (in the engines who refuse), trite, inspirational resolution…I wouldn’t have put things in those words when I was four, of course, at that time all I knew was that I was bored by it compared to other books in my collection of which I wore out multiple copies (Big Max, The Snowy Day, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, I could go on all day), but now, with a quarter-century of analysis and criticism behind me, I can put fingers on why the book rubbed me the wrong way so badly when I was young. And it still does. I know it is beloved of millions, but sorry, folks, I have never been able to get on this bandwagon, and at this point it’s pretty obvious I never will. * ½

* * *

Kathryn and Byron Jackson, The Big Elephant (Golden Press, 1949)

The big elephant in a natty suit and yellow cap adorns the cover of the book.

All ready for his first day of school.
photo credit: Amazon

The Big Elephant is one of those Golden books from when the company was still, I think, finding its feet and trying to come upon a winning formula for pre-lit. This one doesn’t quite get there, though it’s not as bad as some of their other experiments (have you read Polly’s Pet? [shudder]). I should note, however, that the Jacksons, a year before this, came up with one of Golden’s early winners, Busy Timmy, and note in passing that experimentation is a good thing. But this book’s one big problem is its repetition, which is so pervasive, and so noticeable, it’s the only book from this batch of six that we did not finish the first time through; it took another pass the second night to get all the way to the end of the book. Would have liked to see a rewrite of this one with some of the repetition fixed to see how much the book would have been improved, but almost sixty years later, I’m thinking that’s probably impossible, at least with the original authors. **

Rollerball (1975): The Most Exciting Two Hours in Sports

Rollerball (Norman Jewison, 1975)

[originally posted 19Feb2002]

A rollerball player brandishes a wickedly-spiked glove on the movie poster.

Death Derby 2000.
photo credit: soundtrackcollector.com

One of the facts Hollywood managed to establish during the sixties and seventies was that Norman Jewison knows how to make a good movie. Every once in a while, he came up with a great one. Rollerball may not have been one of the great ones, but it teeters on the brink every once in a while.

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God Save the Child (1974): That’s Got His Own

Robert B. Parker, God Save the Child (Berkeley, 1974)

[originally posted 12Feb2002]

 

The book's title looms above a pistol on the book's cover.

Blood guts, bullets, and octane.
photo credit: ebook3000.com

One of the great enduring mysteries in the literary world—and it says quite a bit that a piece of genre writing has had such a pervasive cultural effect—is the first name of Robert B. Parker’s longstanding favorite good guy, Spenser. What short memories we have, for it’s revealed in God Save the Child, the second Spenser novel. (The book contains the one scene where someone says his first name and isn’t later contradicted. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is.) Not only that, but it also pinpoints Spenser’s age, which is something that’s come up in more than one recent review. And yes, he is getting up there. (I won’t tell you that, either. But pretty soon, the A&E made-for-TV movies will have to cast Don Ameche and Garrett Morris as Spenser and Hawk.) For any Spenser fan, those two things alone should be reason enough to go back and correct any error they may have made by not reading this at their earliest opportunity. To cap off the must-read things about this book, it’s where Spenser first meets Susan. Okay, get thee to a bookstore and get to work.

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