Friday, May 4, 2012

Listomania: Will's Awesome April 2012 Viewings

April saw me getting back into my viewing groove a bit.  I took in 27 viewings and only 1 of those was a revisit (the cyberpunk actioner CLASS OF 1999).  Of that group, only two were on VHS.  The rest were either DVDs or DVD-Rs (most courtesy of the Simmons Museum of Modern Mayhem).

THE LOCKED ROOM (1993) – Yep, looks like I’ve caught a case of Martin-Beckitis from Tom as I took in this Sjöwall and Wahlöö adaptation after watching ROSEANNA (1993), which Tom reviewed here.  In terms of lineage, this Dutch production adapts the eighth book (Det Slutna Rummet) in the series.  This sees seasoned detective Martin Beck (Jan Decleir) returning to the force after being shot during the events of the previous novel (adapted into film as THE MAN ON THE ROOF [1976], reviewed by Tom here).  Hoping to slowly re-accustom Beck back to the rigors of police work, his chief assigns him a bit of “occupational therapy” in the form of a mysterious case of a decomposing body of a warehouse worker.  The body was found next to running heaters inside a tiny apartment with the windows all sealed and the door locked from the inside.  The police ruled it a suicide with a gun wound to the chest, but there is one problem – there was no gun found at the crime scene. Meanwhile, Monita (Els Dotterman), a recently unemployed immigrant single mother, must decide the best way to provide for her daughter – either by posing nude or resorting to crime.

Now I won’t ruin how these two storylines intertwine, but they eventually do. This was fascinating to watch right after ROSEANNA to see not only a different filmmaker’s take on the material, but also how a different actor handled the portrayal of the famed detective in the same year.  Decleir, looking like the lovechild of Gerard Depardieu and Steve Coogan, is far more cynical and gruff compared to ROSEANNA’s Gösta Ekman as Beck.  Director-writer Jacob Bijl also casts Beck as much more of a loner, who doesn’t work well with others and scoffs at his inept superiors.  The film does have one major problem when it comes to a plot point that is a HUGE matter of convenience, but other than that, it is well worth seeking out.  Especially if you enjoy seeing a actor give a different spin on an established character.

From Swedish supercops, we now got to American asskicking cops with…

TERMINAL FORCE (1989) – Renegade cop Nick Tyree (Richard Harrison) gets suspended after blowing away a liquor store robber who interrupts his alcohol purchase. Naturally, his hot headed chief wants him back when the young daughter of key witness against mob boss Johnny Ventura (Jay Richardson) is kidnapped because Tyree's law pushing ways are the only solution. Poor Richard Harrison never got a fair shake in the United States film scene. After traveling the globe from the 1960-1980s, he ended back up in America and got stuck in this Fred Olen Ray disaster. Not much really happens in this flick and Ray proves that sometimes he is only a step above Nick Millard when it comes to shoddy action. If the film is worth seeing for any reason, it is to watch the completely terrible performance by FX man Cleve Hall, currently on SyFy in his own reality series THE MONSTER MAN, as demented stooge Leonard. Sporting a GODZILLA t-shirt, ill-fitting black trench coat and teased hair, it is truly one of the worst performances I've ever seen. Troy Donahue shows up for two scenes as bar owner Slim. FOR's wife Dawn Wildsmith is the female lead and Angela Porcell, who provides the film's only nudity, is the kidnapped girl. And poor Joseph Pilato (DAY OF THE DEAD) gets one scene as a detective being tortured and has his name butchered in the credits (as Josef Piato).

THE NEW PEOPLE (1969) - A group of really annoying college students on a cultural exchange tour in Southeast Asia are called back to the United States by the State Department because, well, they've been really annoying. Flying back, their plane crashes on a remote deserted island that the U.S. had set up to use as a nuclear test site. With only one adult, Mr. Hannichek (Richard Kiley), surviving the crash, the group of around 40 kids must start society anew and it won't be easy given the number of stereotypes on display. Among them are Susan Bradley (Tiffany Bolling), the spoiled Senator's daughter; Robert E. Lee (Zooey Hall), the racist Southerner; Gene "Bones" Washington (David Moses), the self-referred "house negro"; and George Potter (Peter Ratray), the Marine who served in Vietnam who is now a pacifist. Can ya dig?

This Aaron Spelling production lasted only one season and was part of a failed experiment by last place ABC to combat the power of ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH IN. It was the second half (following a variety show called THE MUSIC SCENE) of a 90 minute viewing block that started on Monday night's at 7:30 pm. So from 7:30-8:15 pm you got THE MUSIC SCENE and then THE NEW PEOPLE went from 8:15-9:00 pm. Genius? This pilot is probably of note solely due to the fact that it was written by Rod Serling (under the pseudonym John Phillips) and tackles a lot of the social issues at the time. Most of the work is routine (did you really name your racist villain Robert E. Lee?), but there is some nice work towards the end where Hannichek stops Bones from leading a lynching against one guy ("I bet if he examined your family tree we'd find twelve branches where your relatives hang," the old man scolds). Director George McCowan did lots of TV work and would later give us FROGS (1972) and THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (1979). The episode works best in the shots of the creepy deserted town with its mannequins covered in dust and cobwebs.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) – A-No.-1 (Lee Marvin) and Cigaret (Keith Carradine) are a pair of Depression-era hobos who run afoul of a sadistic railroad conductor known simply as Shack (Ernest Borgnine). Shack prides himself on no one ever getting a free ride on his cargo train, even if it means having to brain some hapless hobo with a hammer and watch him get crushed and sliced in half on the train tracks. Hey, he takes his job seriously. This rep is threatened when A-No.-1 lets it be known that he is going ride the rails for free all the way to Portland, resulting in a game of cat and mouse in the wilds of Oregon.

This Robert Aldrich movie blew me away.  Not only is it entertaining as hell, but even works on an allegorical level with the main characters acting as different levels of society. Marvin and Carradine are both great in their roles, but the real reason to see this is Borgnine as the villainous Shack. Imagine the bastard boss he played in WILLARD with a thirst for blood. His character seems to love torturing these guys and Borgnine really brings him to life without being over the top in a role that easily lends itself to that. He is also incredibly physical in the role, insane for a guy in his mid-50s at the time of shooting. Second to this excellent performance are the gorgeous Oregon locations. Co-stars include Charles Tyner and Harry Caesar as members of Shack's train.  This film gives new meaning to the statement “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”  If Hollywood tried to remake this (seriously, we know they wouldn’t as they’ve probably never heard of it) we would get Liam Neeson as A-No.-1, Jason Statham as Cigaret, Gary Oldman as Shack (with his face half-burned for no reason), Scarlett Johanssen as Boxcar Annie (the love interest who drives the two Hobos apart) and Taylor Lautner as One Armed Willie (the kid whose arm loss at the hands of Shack inspires A-No.-1's quest).

Last but definitely not least is a film that was originally supposed to be reviewed in Video Junkie #3 way back when.  A revisit shows it still holds up.

RAGE (1995) – Crashing cars! Slamming semis! Monster explosions! Kickboxing! Blazing gunfights! Smashing glass! Have I got your attention? All this and more can be found in PM Entertainment's vastly entertaining actioner. Gary Daniels stars as Alex Gayner, a mild mannered second grade teacher (!) who becomes involved in a complex web involving everyone from the U.S. Government to illegal immigrants from Mexico. Having just dropped his daughter off at a slumber party, Gayner is carjacked by a Mexican gangbanger, who just also happened to be harvesting immigrants for some experiments. Before they get too far, both men are apprehended and taken to a secret lab. Having worked mostly with malnourished Mexicans, the docs see Gayner as the ultimate physical specimen to try out their new superman serum on. It works, but Alex doesn't cooperate and maims a dozen agents. Gayner is taken to the desert to be killed, but they underestimate the martial arts skills of a school teacher. From then on, it is non-stop chases as Gayner tries to escape from Government goons led by Tim Colceri. I might hold this up as the pinnacle of PM Entertainment, the small time studio owned by Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi. They mostly relied on big explosions and a cavalcade of crashing cars. The end also had a nice POLICE STORY style destruction of several mall stores (including a video store that only seem to stock PM movies). All of this work was done top notch by stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, who always knew exactly where a car would land and made sure to put a camera there. He started this kind of insane stunt work with William Lustig on the MANIAC COP films and carries it over here. It worked wonders for his career as he is now a top stunt coordinator on big budget films.  If this trailer doesn’t make you drool, you be crazy!

3 Reactions:

  1. Ok... Yeah, I apologize for the Awful Acting in TERMINAL FORCE. All I can say is: Seemed like a good idea at the time?! Frankly, I'm not sure what I could have done different with the dialogue I was given and was probably not the right actor for the part. I get the impression that writer Ernest D. Farino felt that way too after he called me 2 days before the shoot and said "YOU'RE playing Leonard?!" - Cleve A Hall

  2. Of those you've got listed, I've only seen EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (POLE), but I'm kind of intrigued to see THE NEW PEOPLE and RAGE from your descriptions. I saw EOTN waaaaay back in the day on late night TV and was similiarly blown away. (I could launch into a "Robert Aldrich - the most underrated and versatile American director" rant here, but I'll save that for another time.) Borgnine's "hammer on a string" tactic is something that has stayed with me for over three decades, and if I wasn't already a Marvin and Carradine fan, I was by the time the credits rolled. The ending was also quite memorable - no riding off into the sunset arm and arm here. Loved it.

  3. That RAGE trailer is beyond awesome! The MANIAC COP stuntwork is truly exceptional...


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