Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE CAR 1977

Big 'ol Hunk of Evil Detroit Rollin' Iron Terrorizes James Brolin & Kathleen Lloyd !!


"Is It A Phantom, A Demon or the Devil Himself ?
"There's Nowhere To Run, nowhere to hide, no way to stop..."

    One of the many off-shoots of 70's horror is the "killer vehicle" sub-genre which had its roots in Steven Spielberg's 1971's made for TV thriller DUEL and was kicked into high gear with 1974's JAWS (ironically also Spielberg) which brought the menacing animal (or thing) into popularity. Another piece of this puzzle is 1974's KILLDOZER , which is based upon a 1944 short story by Theodore Sturgeon (and might be considered ground zero for the possessed mechanical thing genre) - and arguably reached its zenith with Stephen King's CHRISTINE in 1983 and the subsequent John Carpenter movie adaptation.

    The film opens ominously with a quote from Anton La Vey's THE SATANIC BIBLE and Le Vey is also has a credit as "Technical Advisor", which probably translates to the producers throwing some money at 'ol Anton to give themselves some satanic street-cred & publicity. Like most movies of this ilk and time period THE CAR was labeled a JAWS knock-off (“JAWS on wheels!”) and is one of those movies that a lot of people have heard of without actually seeing, as its mere title (and the premise that title puts forth) has turned into a parody of 70’s horror.

    Although woefully underwritten in some areas, there is an atmospheric creepiness underlying the story. This is due in no small part to the vast open desert scenery, beautifully shot in widescreen by cinematographer Gerald Herschfeld (for whatever faults THE CAR might have it is a gorgeous looking film). Often put on lists such as “most enjoyable bad movies” its reputation makes it sound like Mystery Science Theatre fodder, which is a shame as its lot better than that. The plot keeps a minimalistic approach to some areas of the story , such as the origin of the car – it just shows up and starts killing people (which I sort of liked) while minor subplots are drawn out in some detail (and often left dangling at the end).

   There is some talk of Indian mysticism (“evil winds”) and veteran character R.G. Armstrong as a wife abusing lowlife is hinted at in the beginning of the film as being linked to the car, but neither of these theories are expanded upon.  Plus there’s a bit of philosophical meandering about, with critic Jim Knipfel writing “If Ingmar Bergman had made a horror movie about a murderous automobile, he would have made THE CAR” (!?). Although it seems doubtful that’s what director Elliot Silverstein and the writers were trying to accomplish (and even more doubtful in regards to the finished product), there is a sense of the supernatural & wonder of the unknown present here instead of just the crude exploitation that you’d expect.
   After a wonderfully atmospheric opening sequence of two young bicyclist being stalked and killed by the car we’re introduced to Sheriff Wade Parent (James Brolin), a single dad of two young girls who’s romantically linked to local school teacher Lauren (the very busy & cute Kathleen Lloyd from THE MISSOURI BREAKS) with their relationship shown in a way too long initial sequence - which does however illustrate the sometimes schizophrenic proceedings of the plot. After a French horn playing hitchhiker (John Rubinstein) is knocked-off by the killer automobile the local sheriff’s office (which seems to consist of an inordinately large amount of personal for a small Idaho desert town) begins investigating and is headed up by familiar face John Marley (probably best known from THE GODFATHER as the producer who ends up with a horse head in his bed).

    In another one those unconnected subplots Marley’s character is shown to have a past relationship with Amos Clements (R.G. Armstrong) abused wife and soon afterward he's chalked up as car fodder which puts Brolin in charge of the investigation (which mostly consists of him racing around on his motorcycle and starring bug-eyed at the car). Ronny Cox appears as an alcoholic deputy and there is some rather oddball humor inserted into a scene with Lloyd and her class trapped in a cemetery by the car (which for a reason never fully explained it cannot enter - although there is some talk of "hollowed ground"), with her shouting insults at the car while it gets more & more pissed while almost throwing temper tantrum in the process. Plus with stuntman and all around movie heavy Roy Jenson (who in a few years would battle a possessed hand in DEMONOID) and Kim Richards (NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR & THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS), who along with her real life sister Kyle play Brolin's children.

   The solid black driver less car (a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mk III customized by George Barris) is used to great effect in the attack scenes - whether just getting a glimpse of flickering chrome on the desert horizon or the headlights appearing outside a window at night (with a slowly rising wind heralding its arrival) and the weird orange glow that's shown from the interior. Plus there's some pretty good stunts and special effects including the car rolling over a couple of speeding police cars
   One of the things that made JAWS great was that even when the shark was off screen, everybody was talking about the shark. THE CAR goes a little off track at some points with unrelated plot detours and at times because of its lack of those 70's staples blood & nudity it plays out like a TV movie - but its still a solid little movie with some of the little quirks adding to its charm. In a nice surprise this was released on region B blu-ray from Arrow in a packed special edition with interviews, a documentary & director commentary (although this review and screen captures are from the U.S. DVD). In one of the more bizzare movie tie-in toys ever released Kenner marketed an "action" game of THE CAR (which I would love to find).


Friday, March 21, 2014

Rosalba Neri News # 13

     A company called One 7 has just announced a couple of DVD releases for May 6th with one of them being 1972’s REAL DECAMERON. Starring Rosalba, this was released under a variety of titles including TALES OF VITERBURY & THE SEXBURY TALES and was one of many (with most being painfully unfunny) Italian sex comedies that flooded the international markets during the 1970’s (with many of them having DECAMERON in the title after Pasolini’s huge hit in 1971).
   Based upon a series of novellas published in 14th century Italy by Giovanni Boccaccio, they were a series of short love stories told by a group of people taking refuge in villa to escape the Black Death (with the movie versions no doubt playing up the more bawdy aspects in the form of undressed Italian starlets). It’s advertised as being presented 1:85 and widescreen. The above screen caps of Rosalba in the film are from an Italian TV broadcast which was obtained from Cinemageddon (and they do illustrate some definite ..."highlights" of the plot).

    The other DVD being released is a LA MALDICION DE LA BESTIA (CURSE OF THE BEAST). One of the Paul Naschy Waldemar Daninsky wolfman films, it was originally released in 1971 and is also known as WEREWOLF AND THE YETI & NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST (although this DVD release looks to be simply titled WEREWOLF). One of the more gorier & nudity filled entries in the series mixing in pirates (!), vampire women (!!) and best of all a yeti (!!!) with the Spanish Pyrenees mountains filling in for the Alps.
   Although depending on their presentation these might both be welcome releases, however the legality of the WEREWOLF DVD has been called in to question on several internet forums and there are rumors that it's simply going to be a “borrowed” transfer from a recently released Spanish DVD.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


"Filmed In Cranium - Cleaving Color !"

     When you watch an Andy Milligan film is not like your entering a different world, you’re pretty much stepping into another dimension. Working out of a ramshackle Victorian mansion on 1960’s Staten Island and along with a semi-regular cast of freaks & weirdos he cranked out low budget sexploitation & horror films (with many of them now considered "lost") and often working on budgets less than $10,000. Staring out with soft-core sex features he turned to horror in the late 60’s when the hard stuff began to creep into the sexploitation market and 1968’s THE GHASTLY ONES was his first foray into horror gore and his first color feature.

    As was most of his horror movies this was a period piece, taking place in Victorian times. Milligan said that he liked to shoot period pieces as then it would be harder for the film to become dated as with a contemporary setting. However as with most of his “period” pieces THE GHASTLY ONES seems to exist in some kind of weird Victorian alternate universe where thermostats & and light switches are plainly visible (most times on hideously ugly frocked wallpapered walls) along with modern bathroom fixtures and the men wear BVD underwear & boxer shorts while women parade about in slinky see-thru nighties.
    Basically THE GHASTLY ONES is Milligan’s take on the standard “relatives gather to read the will and they start getting bumped off” plot infused with Andy’s usual percent for dysfunctional marriages (with the all women portrayed as backstabbing conniving bitches & men as spineless weasels) along with religious hypocrisy(here in the form of a pervert priest) with everything scored by overwrought library music.
    In addition there are his tacky & often ludicrously garish costumes (which Andy made himself) and everything framed by his handheld WWII vintage 16mm Auricon camera (which can often be heard whirring away in the background). Because he filmed in long continuous takes moving about with his camera you end up with many “WTF” close-ups including actors pimply backs and inanimate objects such as bedposts. To add just one more bit of lunacy to the proceedings you can actually hear Andy in several scenes giving directions in the background or prompting actors that had forgotten their lines.

    Opening with a man and a woman traipsing thru the woods while carrying an insanely large paper parasol, they are then brutally killed by a knife welding maniac. THE GHASTLY ONES then introduces us to three couples with the three wives being sisters (with husbands including Richard Romanus – later in Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS) who are each shown in some of the most un-erotic love making ever filmed. After being summoned by the straight outa Charles Dickens family lawyer the couples learn that in order to partake of the sister’s late father’s estate they all most spend three days on his secluded island estate. As the father had a rather unhappy marriage he instructs the couples they must fill the house with “sexual harmony and marital love” (?!).
    Upon arriving on the “secluded” island (complete with the late 60’s neighborhoods of Staten Island plainly visible in the backgrounds) the couples meet the servants including snaggle tooth imbecile Colin (Milligan regular Hal Borske) and a couple of women one of them being Maggie Rogers, another member of the Milligan stock company. Colin was the first of many simpletons that Borske would play in Andy's epics and Rogers with her very distinctive angular face was probably the best actress in his troupe. As the completed film only about 60 minutes the producers insisted Milligan film the prologue of the two early victims (although by this time Broske had lost the fake teeth that were used throughout the film and there was no money to buy new ones).

    The various killings include pitchforks, band saw dismemberment & beheadings (among others) and in which the effects range from barely competent to almost laughably bad, are interspersed with long stretches of meaningless meandering dialogue. Although their bottom of the barrel schlock Milligan's movies are always a fascinating experience to set thru - even more so when you find out more about his background and the story behind his movies (of which there are many).
   For anybody interested in the world of Andy Milligan (a homosexual who frequented the NYC S&M scene) its well worth seeking the now OOP book The Ghastly One : The Sex Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan by Jimmy McDonough. A vastly entertaining and interesting read not only about Milligan, but the entire 60's early 70's NYC grindhouse industry along with the earlier underground theatre troupes that helped spawn it. There is fairly compelling evidence that he was involved in a murder at one point and although not a pleasant read (especially toward the end with his death from AIDS in 1991), its still a great book.
   THE GHASTLY  ONE is available on one of those loaded Something Weird double feature discs (along with Milligan's SEEDS OF SIN). Although loaded with scratches and green emulsion lines they help add to the overall tackiness and seediness of the proceedings. The DVD features a hilarious commentary track by Hal Broske and BASKET CASE director Frank Henenlotter including Broske relating the story behind the dead rabbit scene & other Andy stories. Something Weird also has put out Milligan's weirdly creepy THE BODY BENEATH. Fun stuff and well worth a look !

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hicksploitation Movie Night # 8 - THE LAST AMERICAN HERO 1973


     It’s probably not all together fair to tag THE LAST AMERICAN HERO with the ”hicksploitation” label as although it contains moonshining and car chases in the course of the plot (and was marketed as such by Fox), it’s an excellent character driven drama that features wonderful work by its leads (and a veritable “who’s who” cast of 70’s character actors lurking about). Based upon on an article written by Tom Wolfe in March 1965 issue of Esquire titled The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson ( later re-printed in his book THE KANDY KOLORED TANGERINE FLAKE STREAMLINE BABY), in which Wolfe traveled to North Wilkesboro Speedway in N.C. and profiled stock racer/ ex-moonshiner (and future racing icon & team owner) Junior Johnson.

   Johnson served as technical advisor on the movie and although highly fictionalized (with Johnson’s characters name changed to Jackson and the story brought forth to contemporary times), the movie is helped immensely by actual North Carolina locations and an audience friendly script that contains a hugely “Americana” story with the notion that celebrates individualism and going one’s own way. In many ways its also a fascinating time capsule of rapidly disappearing piece of America & the lower rung roots of modern day racing in the form of the hundreds local dirt tracks that once dotted the south.

   Released at a time when stock car racing (except for the occasionally showing on THE WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS) was essentially a south of the Mason-Dixon line pastime, it had a rather checkered initial release (surprisingly doing better business in northern theatres). Re-released several times (at one point re-tilted HARD DRIVER) it later gained a cult following thru T.V. showings and a growing audience from the “gear head” fan base – such as what happened with John Frankenheimer’s GRAND PRIX from 1966.
   Jeff Bridges was an Oscar nominee for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) and had just come off John Houston’s excellent FAT CITY (1972) and the now sadly forgotten western BAD COMPANY (1972). Here he plays backwoods North Carolinian Elroy “Junior” Jackson Jr. who as result of running a police blockade in his 1968 Mustang fastback compels the local sheriff to throw his moonshining father (Art Lund) in jail. Although Junior is basically a hothead and showoff (ultimately which is what caused his father to land in jail), like most of the characters Bridges had played over the years he brings a real down to earth personality to the role (along with a slight goofiness – and plus there’s that grin) which makes it impossible to not to root for him from the opening minutes. In addition William Roberts script plays up the “small guy vs. corporate big guys” aspect well in the form of big time racing team owner Burton Colt (70’s slimy/evil guy Ed Lauter).

    Initially seeing racing as a means to help his family out financially (including brother Gary Busey & mother Geraldine Fitzgerald) he enters a demolition derby at the local track run by promoter Hackel (Ned Beatty), but soon begins clawing his way up the racing ladder (“Stars cost money Hackel !”). Entering a race at Hickory N.C. he meets up with promoter Cleve Morley (Clint Eastwood regular and PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE’s Gregory Willcott) and wry veteran driver Kyle Kingman (the great William Smith- here billed as William Smith II), who’s wonderful here as the current top of the heap driver with one eye cast warily over his shoulder at the up & coming youngster. An almost achingly pretty Valerie Perrine plays Marge a racing groupie with a heart of gold who while always aligning herself with the current hot driver takes an immediate liking to Junior, perhaps seeing in him a future champion and someone and although initially attracted to her (and later hurt) she is another one of life’s lessons for Bridge’s character.

    Although at its core THE LAST AMERICAN HERO is a basic one dimensional script (Who will win the big race at the end?!), it is blessed with wonderfully drawn three dimensional characters with only actress Geraldine Fitzgerald somewhat oddly cast as the mother. Although she’s fine here (and looks the part) her Irish accent comes thru rather strongly at some points. As with a lot of movies from this period (and as mentioned before) the supporting cast is filled with familiar faces including Erica Hagen who would have a memorable bit part later in THUDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT and additionally appear in about every TV detective/cop show during the 70's. Director Lamont Johnson shows up as an oily hotel desk clerk.
   Bridges is superb in the title role such as the scene where he makes a recorded letter to his family in one of those do-it-yourself record booths and later the closing shot where he waves a greeting to his friends while brandishing the first class trophy before disappearing into the winners press conference as he says good-bye to his past. Although the DVD is OOP this is rumored to be a future blu-ray release from Twilight Time.