ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B starring Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn screenplay by William Goodhart directed by John Boorman
by Bill Chambers Possibly the worst film ever made and surely the worst sequel ever made, Exorcist II: The Heretic is the last of an uneven trilogy to hit DVD. Understand that while I would only recommend a purchase to my arch-enemy, the picture is definitely worth seeking out in the way that one likes to see the Leaning Tower of Piza or Easter Island before leaving this world--it's the greatest unnatural wonder known to cinema. I've now endured it twice (please send my Medal of Honor for self-sacrifice in the line of duty in care of this website), the second time so that I could compile a list of my favourite bits; apologies in advance if this review reads too dada for its own good.
****/***** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer written and directed by Bob Fosse
by Bryant Frazer Celebrated as an incisive, self-lacerating backstage spectacle and razzed as an indulgent and pretentious passion project, genius director-choreographer Bob Fosse's All That Jazz is one of the most ambitious American films of the 1970s. At this point in his career, Fosse had nothing to prove to the show-business establishment (in 1973, he won the Oscar, the Tony, and the Emmy, all for directing), but a 1974 brush with death--exhaustion, heart attack, life-saving surgery--put him in an introspective mood, and the results were spectacular. Not content with reaching a dazzling apotheosis in the on-screen presentation of song and dance, Fosse wove singing and dancing into a semi-autobiographical narrative chronicling the final days in the life of Joe Gideon, a genius director-choreographer whose non-stop work regimen is making him physically ill. Underscoring the threat, All That Jazz opens with a line attributed to the high-wire artist Karl Wallenda, who fell to his death during a performance in 1978: "To be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting," Joe's work is his life, and the irony is that his work--along with the pills and smokes that keep him going--is what kills him.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie ***/**** DVD - Image B Sound C+ Extras B BD - Image B Sound B Extras B starring Ray Lovelock, Christine Galbo, Arthur Kennedy screenplay by Sandro Continenza & Marcello Coscia directed by Jorge Grau
by Walter Chaw Without having to squint much, you could see the hero of Jorge Grau's The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, art-dealing Easy Rider hippie George (Ray Lovelock), trying to deliver the airplane propeller his spiritual brother, David Hemmings' mod-photog from Blowup, buys in tribute to form over function midway through Antonioni's counterculture classic. Instead, George is trying to deliver the sister of the fatal fertility juju from Arthur Penn's Night Moves through titular Manchester into the green countryside on the back of his too-cool motorcycle. He's thwarted initially by the bumper of maiden fair Edna (Cristina Galbo), then by the hungry undead stalking the countryside in search of meaty sociological metaphors, then by an ossified Scotland Yard dick (Arthur Kennedy). Luckily, there's plenty of allegorical beef for everyone, as Grau paints a vivid picture of Mod Madness in steady, deteriorating orbit around the entropy and hedonism of the time--sprinkling it liberally with a disdain for dictatorships Grau no doubt nursed whilst working under the heel of Francisco Franco's regime.
**/**** Image C+ Sound D+ Extras C starring Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart screenplay by William F. Nolan and Dan Curtis, based on the novel by Robert Marasco directed by Dan Curtis
by Walter Chaw Plodding, ugly, moribund, Burnt Offerings is bolstered by a few great campy turns from a game cast that includes Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis in a performance that runs counter to the self-loathing roles of her Baby Jane/Sweet Charlotte days. Finding its way to the DVD format just a couple of weeks before another haunted house flick (Cold Creek Manor) debuts on the big screen, veteran television director Dan Curtis's horror quickie is one of those comfortable relics that doesn't scare so much as mildly chill, offering countless opportunities to shout at the screen without any sort of discernible payoff--until the end, that is, but even that shocker of a conclusion has been telegraphed since at least the midway point of the first act, muffling its surprise.
CONQUEST ½*/**** Image D+ Sound C starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti, Guido Alberti screenplay by Ettore Sanzo and Gianni de Chiara directed by Lucio Fulci
Luca il contrabbandiere **/**** Image B Sound B starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti, Guido Alberti screenplay by Ettore Sanzo and Gianni de Chiara directed by Lucio Fulci
by Walter Chaw There's something decidedly uncinematic about the films of Lucio Fulci (excepting Don't Torture a Duckling and Four of the Apocalypse, which actually sort of rock). If not for his fascination with gore effects and his propensity for casting irritating children in irritating children parts, it'd be hard to find anything to separate his work from the grindhouse ghetto of, say, Jess Franco. As it is, the stilted claims at auteurism (he's known as the master of eye violence, mainly for a few juicy bits from The Beyond and Zombie) do more, perhaps, to relegate his work to a sort of camp gulag: the Siberia of legitimate cinema, where adolescent tools congregate for midnight showings armed with irony and a crippling baggage of disdain and contempt. I liked "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and believed that I liked it because I was sophisticated; in time, you realize that you like it because you're an officious prick who sort of gets off on mocking movies. I think a lot of people would argue that this is the role of the film critic, but I'd offer that a critic--a good one--loves film so much that he or she is offended when a movie is terrible. There's no real joy in defiling altars, particularly when they're your own.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES ***/**** DVD - Image A- Sound A- Extras C+ BD - Image B+ Sound A Extras C+ starring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace-Stone written and directed by Wes Craven
by Walter Chaw Released the same year as Star Wars, Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes boasts of its own Luke Skywalker in the character of a blue-eyed towhead named Bobby (Bobby Houston) who, at an unwelcome call to adventure, finds himself embarked against the forces of evil with a patchwork band of heroes out of their depth. Chewbacca subbed by a ridiculously Rin Tin Tin German Shepherd hermaphrodite (sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy, always a hero), The Hills Have Eyes is Craven's zero-budget follow-up to his astonishingly unpleasant (and influential) exploitation version of The Virgin Spring, TheLast House on the Left. A rough, raw, often amateurish take on the Sawney Beane cannibal family legend, the piece derives its power from the canny paralleling of its antagonistic families and its use of archetype and mythology in the telling of what is essentially a caste horror picture.
***/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie screenplay by George Lucas and Walter Murch directed by George Lucas
by Walter ChawTHX 1138 is the only film George Lucas ever wrote and directed that will and should be remembered as a mostly artistic triumph rather than a largely financial one (recalling that the best of his Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back, was neither written nor directed by Lucas). The fact that he's now tampered with it in much the same manner as he's tampered with his original Star Wars trilogy seems, then, an almost bigger crime against posterity, even if it makes a kind of ironic sense within the thematic framework of the film. THX 1138's preoccupations with dehumanization, an abhorrence of imperfection and humanity in favour of machine-tooled precision, and the corruption of human perception and emotions with mass-produced opiates find sympathy with this new stage of its own existence as a film that hasn't been just restored, but enhanced, too, by CGI that serves the same basic function for the audience as the drugged milk does for the protagonists of A Clockwork Orange. When Lucas made THX 1138, he was the prole toiling (stealing from Aldous Huxley and N.I. Kostomorov is toil, yes?) in obscurity; when he retooled the thing and went to Telluride with a streaming digital feed of it thirty-three years later, he completed his transformation into the faceless machine-priest of the film, sanctifying his zombified acolytes as good pods and ladling upon them the questionable bounty of blessings by the state.
***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A- starring Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham written and directed by Brian De Palma
by Bryant Frazer When did Brian De Palma become Brian De Palma? Some of the director's pet themes were already taking shape in his earliest films, and--following his abortive, disowned studio debut, Get to Know Your Rabbit--Sisters proved he could make something out of a lurid, over-the-top indie thriller. But only Phantom of the Paradise suggested the real scale of his outré ambition. Mixing slasher-movie tropes into a supernatural romantic fantasy with elements of rock opera, in collaboration with an actual star singer-songwriter? In 1974, apparently Brian De Palma believed he could do anything.
Herz aus Glas ***½/**** DVD - Image A Sound B Commentary B BD - Image A- Sound A- Commentary B starring Josef Bierbichler, Stefan Güttler, Clemens Scheitz, Volker Prechtel written and directed by Werner Herzog
by Walter Chaw Hias (Josef Bierbichler) is a shepherd and a prophet, and his pronouncements pepper Heart of Glass like edicts from God. He defines the structure, in so much as there is one, of a picture that drifts in tone between Werner Herzog's nightmarish, nostalgic Bavarian romanticism and a certain variety of gothic surrealism. Indeed, Heart of Glass, while hewing close to Herzog's themes of the insufficiency of myth as a means to obscure truths about horror and beauty as well as of the artist as solitary, Byronic voyager, appears to be Herzog's play at the stylization of Buñuel. After an aged glassblower dies in a small village, the out-of-time surviving villagers, reliant on the "ruby glass" that was the artisan's specialty, spend the balance of the piece spiralling in a maddening gyre to divine the secret of the formula. Like Aguirre: The Wrath of God, the story behind the scenes--that Herzog hypnotized his cast daily to create a trancelike (glassy-eyed, if you will) mien--has become almost better-known than the details of the film itself.
Apocalypse Now ****/**** starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest screenplay by John Milius and Francis Coppola, narration by Michael Herr directed by Francis Coppola
by Walter Chaw Taking his cue from Orson Welles's aborted screen translation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now sought to transplant Marlow's journey down the Congo in pursuit of mad ivory trader Kurtz to Vietnam during the war. America's involvement in Southeast Asia is, of course, a good fit with what Conrad calls "one of the dark places of the world," and Apocalypse Now, easily one of the most literary big-budget blockbusters of the modern era, is utterly faithful to the intellectual and visceral impact of Conrad's vision. Apocalypse Now is so overheated and pretentious, in fact, that the best way to explain its thematic core might be through an examination of the ways it uses three T.S. Eliot poems (The Wasteland, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Hollow Men) and nods obliquely towards a fourth (The Dry Salvages, which refers to the animalism of rivers as the "brown god").
THE EQUINOX ...A JOURNEY INTO THE SUPERNATURAL (1967) ***½/**** Image B Sound B Extras A+ starring Skip Shimer, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Boers, Jr., Robin Snider screenplay by Mark Thomas McGee directed by Mark Thomas McGee & Dennis Muren
EQUINOX (1970) *½/**** Image B Sound B Extras A+ starring Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Boers jr., Robin Christopher written and directed by Jack Woods
by Walter Chaw Four teens on a double-date venture into the hills around California in search of an old, dotty professor only to learn that the crazy old bat's unleashed the spawn of Hell with a book written by the devil. When producer Jack Harris bought The Equinox ...A Journey Into the Supernatural (hereafter The Equinox) and hired B-hack Jack Woods to partially rewrite and reshoot it three years after its completion, he would insert a new character in evil, unibrowed park ranger Asmodeus (Woods), thus imposing a weird element of pervy grope cinema while handily washing away in a wave of lowbrow mediocrity most of what makes The Equinox so exceptional. Comparing the two versions (the revamp's title streamlined to Equinox) is an example of the difference between gifted amateurs pursuing a passion and slick exploitation artists applying their own interpretations (this time the burgeoning drive-in market) of where they might grab the quickest buck. For The Equinox to endure as an underground classic despite its co-optation is something like The Magnificent Ambersons maintaining its masterpiece status despite the non-existence of Welles's original cut. It's quite a relief, in other words, that Dennis Muren's The Equinox has survived for comparison's sake.
Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes ****/**** DVD - Image A Sound B+ Commentary A BD - Image A- Sound B+ Commentaries A starring Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Del Negro, Ruy Guerra written and directed by Werner Herzog
by Walter Chaw A work of holy madness about acts of holy madness, Aguirre, The Wrath of God is a transcendent, haunting film that defies description and captures, somehow, what it means to be human in all the venal, small, sometimes grand things that being human implies. Once seen, it's never forgotten, and upon repeat viewings, it's one of those pictures that makes you want to cry for no particular reason but that it is, in almost every non-quantifiable way, perfect, a film alight with invention, love, and passion--a memoir of the worm in the gut that demands blood and glory. Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) is an under-lieutenant in the bona fide Peruvian expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés) to find the lost city of gold, El Dorado, a fiction of the Peruvian Indians meant as a suicide pill for their conquistadors. Once the expedition bogs down in the mud of the rainy season, Pizarro sends nobleman Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra) off with Aguirre on a satellite mission to scout a path ahead for the main body. Though neither party was ever heard from again, Aguirre, The Wrath of God proposes to tell the final days of Ursua's doomed men.
Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen ***½/**** DVD - Image A Sound B+ Commentary A BD - Image A- Sound B+ Commentary A starring Helmut Döring, Gerd Gickel, Paul Glauer, Erna Gschwendtner written and directed by Werner Herzog
by Walter ChawEven Dwarfs Started Small opens with a disquieting montage featuring a young girl rending live birds with her teeth that also culminates in the image of a chicken eating another chicken (shades of Magritte's 1927 painting "Pleasure"). Both actions speak to a sort of insensate savagery, the divorce between the Freudian Id and Ego so favoured by the surrealists--and in setting the film in a fictitious place populated entirely by the little people of the title, it touches on the surrealist belief that non-Western civilizations were closer to an undifferentiated nature. The story proper concerns the uprising of a "Prisoner"-like colony against an ineffectual, Kafkaesque godhead (Pepi Hermine) and the Institution he represents. Rebelling against the imprisonment of leader Pepe (Gerd Gickel, tied to a chair throughout), the rebels devolve from a semi-organized protest into bedlam, crucifying monkeys, organizing cockfights, and, in one of the most hopeless conclusions in film, watching as rebel leader Hombre (Helmut Döring) laughs until he chokes at the sight of a defecating camel.
**/**** Image B Sound B- Extras D+ starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Connors, Edward G. Robinson screenplay by Stanley R. Greenberg, based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison directed by Richard Fleischer
by Walter Chaw I've spent a lot of time in my life dancing with Richard Fleischer's dystopian Soylent Green. Sometimes it leads, sometimes I do. For everything it does well, there are some things it does badly; and if the things it does well it does extremely well, the things it does badly it, likewise, does just awfully. No half measures here. Beginning with the good, here's Edward G. Robinson tapping his mortality (he succumbed to cancer less than two weeks after production wrapped), finding in his celluloid swan song a depth of despair he rarely touched in his career proper. It's up there with Montgomery Clift's devastated cameo in Judgment at Nuremberg--enough so that when he closes his eyes in appreciation of a leaf of lettuce his long-time companion Det. Thorn (Charlton Heston) has scavenged from the apartment of dead industrialist Simonson (Joseph Cotten, in his last role, too), it actually doesn't make you want to laugh. Not so the incongruities of this dystopian, post-apocalyptic future in a Manhattan (and world) destroyed by over-population, but not to the point where the streets don't empty in observance of a curfew. It presents a future in 2022 that seems unlikely not because we're not currently on the verge of some great ecological disaster, but because rough math suggests that the Heston character would've been born the year before the film's 1973 release and thus his declaration that he'd never seen a grapefruit (or grass, or cows) should worm its way into the audience consciousness as Soylent Green's statement that it's not serious, thoughtful science-fiction, but rather soapbox and screed timed to coincide with, in 1972, the first international conference on climate change.