Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Quick Picks and Pans

Bad Ronald (1974) I don’t usually cover TV movies, but this one deserves its own category. Whether you use 70s or today’s TV as a yardstick, it’s one twisted and bizarre ride. Scott Jacoby stars as Ronald Wilby, a socially awkward high school senior with an overbearing mother (Kim Hunter) who takes being over-protective to an extreme. In a fit of rage, Ronald kills a neighborhood girl, and his mom does what any rational parent would do – she conspires to hide the murder from the authorities, and seals off a room in the house, which will serve as Ronald’s secret lair. As the months wear on, and isolation takes its toll, he begins to dissociate from reality, creating an immersive fantasy world (Ronald fashions himself as “Prince Norbert” from the kingdom of Atranta).

Things go from bad to worse when his mother dies, and the house is sold to another family, albeit with a secret feature (no one seems to wonder why there are four bedrooms and only one bathroom). Ronald spies on the family, and sneaks into the rest of the house while they’re gone. Meanwhile, as his delusions continue to grow, he sets his sights on the family’s youngest daughter as his princess. Jacoby creates a truly memorable, unsettling performance. Bad Ronald is a funny, creepy, and unnerving experience, which might make you wonder about the history of the house you think you knew. It’s well worth seeking out.

Note: Watch for a brief appearance by veteran character actor John Fiedler as a realtor.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD (through Warner Archive)

The Deathless Devil (aka: Yilmayan Seytan) (1972) Turkish director Yilmaz Atadniz’s mind-boggling action movie features dodgy effects, choppy editing, horrible acting, yet I somehow couldn’t look away. Kunt Tulgar (Hmm… I wonder why he never became a household name?) plays our hero Tekin, who adopts an alter-ego as the superhero Copperhead. Unlike many superhero origin flicks, his transformation is purely accidental. In an early scene, he’s confronted with the fact that his father isn’t his real father, and that his true dad was a crime-fighting superhero. Instead of going through the requisite soul-searching and intensive training it would likely take to bring him up to speed, Tekin spontaneously adopts the identity and crime-fighting skills of his predecessor after donning the Copperhead costume (In this instance, I suppose the clothes really do make the man). He’s assisted by an annoying sidekick in a ridiculous Sherlock Holmes get-up (When he’s not mugging for the camera, he’s ogling the women in the film). Add to the mix Copperhead’s arch-nemesis Dr. Satan (Erol Tas) with a giant cartoonish mustache and a paunch, a cheap-looking robot, and enough bargain-basement Bond (replete with some bootleg soundtrack snippets) action for ten other movies, and you’ve got something special. This is the stuff that other cult movies can only aspire to.

Note: Look for the Mondo Macabro DVD, which includes the equally beguiling, yet entertaining Turkish wonder Tarkan and the Vikings (1971).

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

Devil’s Express (aka: Gang Wars) (1976) Warhawk Tanzania (no, I didn’t make that up) stars as Luke, a martial arts expert. He unwisely takes his coke-snorting friend Rodan (Wilfred Roldan) on a trip to Hong Kong to sharpen his skills with the masters, and Rodan promptly steals an ancient amulet. This sparks the ire of an ancient demon, who somehow makes his way to New York City, where he wreaks havoc in the subway. The amusing premise is squandered, because of sloppy story-telling, too many scattered plot threads to mention, and execrable performances. Tanzania comes across as sort of a poor man’s Jim Kelly, sans charisma and the acting chops. It’s almost worth wading through this confusing, disjointed mess, if only to witness our gold jumpsuit-wearing protagonist battle the demon. Another mild highlight is an appearance by Brother Theodore as a deranged street preacher. This Kung Fu oddity might be worth a look if you’re in the right mood. Just be sure to lower your expectations a notch, then lower them another notch.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime

Saturn 3 (1980) Director Stanley Donen’s (yes, that Stanley Donen) sci-fi/horror hybrid tries to capitalize on the success of Alien, but the pieces don’t fit. Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett play Adam and Alex, an unlikely pair of researchers/lovers on a remote research facility on Saturn’s moon Titan. Their idyllic existence is shaken to the core when Benson (Harvey Keitel), a mentally unstable official, arrives from Earth to monitor the efficiency of their operation. Things go in predictably bad ways after Benson transfers his homicidal, paranoid persona to his robot assistant, Hector, and the deranged automaton runs amok. To its credit, Saturn 3 boasts a cool robot and some imaginative sets. Unfortunately, it suffers from a poor story, clunky cliché-ridden dialogue, choppy editing and inconsistent special effects. But perhaps its biggest transgression is that Keitel’s dialogue is inexplicably dubbed (in a monotone voice). It’s a complete misfire.

Warning: If you’ve seen enough movies that arbitrarily introduce a cute pet, you can guess the fate of the dog in Saturn 3 – another good reason to skip this movie.  

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime

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