Friday, August 10, 2018

LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSY 1970




     Marketed as "biker" movie to latch on the then still popular drive-in genre, LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSY is actually less of a motorcycle movie then a road movie/character driven film involving male bonding and friendship of guys that just happen to race motorcycles.  Playing a totally unremorseful a-hole it's probably Robert Redford's best role and thankfully has recently made a long overdue appearance on home video. Directed by the prolific Sidney Furie (DR. BLOOD'S COFFIN), it was written by Charles Eastman (who played bit parts in Monte Hellman's 60's counter-culture westerns RIDE THE WHIRLWIND and THE SHOOTING). Character actor Brad Dexter (the one member of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN that people always forget) was the executive producer. Immediately preceding his big box office hits of the mid/late 70's this film has always been the odd man out on Redford's resume and its frequent showings on TV after he become a big star reportedly rankled him.
    Opening on beautiful long shot of motorcycles racing through a vast expanse of empty desert while Johnny Cash's title song plays over the credits we're introduced to Fauss Little (Michael J. Pollard) and Halsy Knox (Redford) two participants in a motorcycle race. Immediately we're shown the two distinct personalities of the pair as Little clumsily falls over his bike and ends riding in the wrong direction while a bare-chested Redford arrogantly strolls about the track and steals a sandwich from a vendor who happens to be Fauss's mother & father. The parents are a pair of delightful performances by Noah Berry Jr. THE ROCKFORD FILES and Lucille Benson who along her numerous credits played the owner of the roadside zoo in DUEL as you can really picture them being Pollard's parents. 




   Halsey catches the eye of a photographer (ubiquitous TV character actor Ray Ballard) who notices a long scar down Halsy's back which we're shown in a long pov pan shot in close-up. The scar figures into Redford's character in that he gives various stories to its cause and adds to his shifty personality while also adding a touch of sympathy for someone who can never be completely honest. Using his girlfriend (Erin O'Reilly THE BABY 1973) to seduce the photographer the next morning Halsy steals his wallet and camera while sneaking out on the sleeping pair.
    Hooking up with Fauss, Halsy convinces him to go on the road together with Fauss acting as "tuner" or mechanic while Halsy races under Fauss's name as Halsy in banned from racing as we in leaned in an overheard conversation "that's the guy that was boozing it up in the pits". At first the pair seem to bond as Fauss looks up in awe to the womanizing braggart Halsy including an encounter with Linda Gaye Scott (THE PARTY 1968). The pairs journey takes them on what seems like endless miles of barren road with the only other encounter with other people being when they stop to race.
    They meet up with wondering hippie Rita Nebraska (Lauren Hutton in an early role) whose introduced in a long shot as she runs naked through shimmering heatwaves appearing like a mirage to a group of open-mouthed men. Although both men are dismissive of her when she hitches a ride, they both slowly become attracted to her which leads to clashes and Fauss slowly distancing himself from Halsy. Rita while initially coming across as bit spaced out eventually becomes the most mature of the trio while still being attracted to Halsy sees him for what he is while still felling some sympathy for him and at times treating him like a child.




   It's to Redford's credit that he makes Halsy a compelling figure that the audience does feel something toward especially during a couple of his monologues where he relates conflicting stories of his back injury. Michael Pollard is an actor that although always playing basically the same type of character also has that magical quality to quietly steal whatever movie he's in and reportedly Redford and he did not get along on the set.
     A great example of the road movie genre that proliferated during the 70's (starting with 1968's EASY RIDER) LITTLE FAUSS AND BIG HALSY like many those other films is set in the barren landscapes of the American west and with its scenes of dilapidated roadside buildings, seedy highway motels and greasy diners most of which have disappeared that make these films snapshots of a vanishing landscape.
     Long unavailable on any form of home video (I had an old VHS taped from Speedvision that I kept for years) it was only available via bootleg from random TV broadcasts that all but destroyed the widescreen cinematography, it's been released on Blu ray by Olive.





















   

Friday, June 8, 2018

THE TOUCH OF SATAN 1971



     One of the countless low budget Satan based occult films that proliferated in the 70's this slow- moving oddity was released numerous times over that decade under various titles usually meant to cash in on whatever movie was popular at the time such as 1973's THE EXORCIST. It's best remembered today as an early work for cinematographer Jordan Cornenweth who later shot BLADERUNNER and had just completed BREWSTER MCCLOUD for Robert Altman. Director Robert Henderson also directed the Crown drive-in classics THE BABYSITTER (1969) and WEEKEND WITH THE BABYSITTER (1972) and there've always been persistent rumors that it's Tom Laughlin (BILLY JACK) working under a pseudonym.
    In a prologue where shown what appears to be an elderly woman with a horrifically scared face killing a farmer with a pitchfork and setting his house on fire. Stumbling home, she's meet by her family consisting of an elderly couple and a young girl who argue over the best course of action and allude to the fact that this has happened before.



     Nice guy Jodie (Michael Berry) is rambling about the USA in his new Ford Mustang when he stopping to eat he meets Melissa (who was the young girl from the prologue and his played in all sorts of beguiling 70's cuteness by Emby Mellay (BLACK JACK 1972). Instantly attracted to each other Melissa explains that she lives on a nearby "walnut ranch" (??) and invites him home for dinner.
     Her parents (the couple from the prologue) while initially hesitant about his presence soon warm to and discuss among themselves how it'll do Melissa good. Jodi who's under pressure from his father to settle down accepts their invitation to stay on for a few days with the burgeoning romance with Melissa also factoring in. His first night there the elderly woman from the initial killing scene wanders into his room and warns him to leave after which Melissa explains her away as her grandmother.
     There's a flashback sequence showing the burning of a with during the 1800's which ties into modern times regarding Melissa and her "grandmother" which shouldn't be too hard for most viewers to see coming, but the ending does have a bit of a twist and 70's downbeat vibe. The juxtaposition of New England folk-horror and witchcraft into sunny California is an inter sting idea but the movie spends way too long on the romance between Jodie and Melissa and too little in the witchcraft side of things. The script is full of odd little phrases and asides including the above mentioned "walnut ranch" and Melissa pointing to a pond and saying, "That's the pond where the fish lives".



     Some more fleshing out the supernatural/witchcraft elements would have helped, and if you want to see just how effective a story of an outsider blundering into a modern witchcraft setting can be just watch 1960's CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) or THE WICKER MAN (1973) - although to be fair the British do have a knack for this type of thing. Several bloody killings help elevate it above 70's TV fare and Emby Mellay is good in her role as the mysterious child-like Melissa. Although she has zero chemistry with Jodie,  it's easy to see how a young man could fall for her. Not a great movie (or as some would argue not even a good one) it consistently falls into one of those "worst movies ever made" discussions and it even had the requisite MST3K drubbing. I find those low budget oddities from the 70's & 80's endlessly fascinating and there always seems to be one more of these weird little "gems" waiting to be discovered with each having their own little charms.
    Cornenweth's work as DP helps elevate the film a bit including some beautiful shots of the sun dappled California countryside (in was filmed in Santa Ynez which is near Santa Barbara) and an impressive 360 degree shot as it circles Melissa when she slowly realizes the true horror of her grandmother.
    Under various times this has been released as THE TOUCH OF MELISSA, THE CURSE OF MELISSA, PITCHFORK and it even popped up in the early 80's as NIGHT OF THE DEMON (not to be confused with the 1957 Jacques Tourneur classic or James Wasson's 1980 bigfoot gore film). It's been released on various budget labels and is paired with James H. Kay weird SEEDS OF EVIL (1974) on a Code red DVD with the colorful, but emulsion scratched TOUCH OF SATAN (bearing a NIGHT OF THE DEMON title card) looking like it was dragged through the parking lot of a drive-in which does add a nice bit of grindhouse flavor to the proceedings.











Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Rosalba Neri News # 29 LADY FRANKENSTEIN On Blu


 

    While I've been eagerly awaiting the Nucleus Films release of this classic slice of Rosalba Italian Gothic, I-Catcher Media have released a packed to the gills mediabook edition. Packaged in a choice of two covers in a limited edition of 499 each it's still available on Amazon DE as of this posting. I went for the top one which features some beautiful Italian poster art that has nothing to do with the actual movie as it looks like something from a bodice ripping romance novel. 
   Along with a 32 page German text booklet the package also includes the uncut 99 minute version of the film (the same length as the upcoming Nucleus release) on Blu along with a boatload of extras spread across the Blu and two DVDs. The audio based extras including a commentary from actor Herbert Fux and interviews with Fux, Mel Wells and Rosalba (among others) are not English friendly but there's also scans of 100's of poster, pressbooks and assorted promotional material from around the world. Audio on the the disc is German/English with optional English subtitles. 
   Also included are scads of trailers, TV spots, alternate openings and extensive filmographies for Fux, Rosalba, Joeseph Cotton and Mickey Hargitay. Numerous Easter Eggs are also included in the filmographies which pull up trailers for the respective films. 
  Sadly the Blu while colorful contains a healthy dose of DNR slathered over the image resulting in a waxy look which is especially evident on the faces. While I'm happy with this purchase for my Rosalba collecting obsession & the extras, I'm still eagerly awaiting the Nucleus edition which I'm sure will be the definitive release.

















All above screen caps are from the I-Media Blu