Sunday, November 20, 2022

Favorites from 1978

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Several months ago, I was challenged by Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews to discuss my top five favorite movies from 1978. As many film fans know, it was such an exceptional year for movies. The plethora of choices made it difficult to narrow down my picks – so difficult, in fact, that I decided to cheat a little and list my top eight, plus a few honorable mentions. So, without further preamble, here they are, in no particular order… 

Superman - The Movie Poster

Superman: The Movie – It’s hard to top Christopher Reeve’s bravura portrayal as the Man of Steel, balancing his performance with equal measures of gravitas and “gee whiz” optimism. John Williams’ rousing score matches the scope of the lofty visuals. It’s a minor miracle that this profoundly cynical post-Watergate/Vietnam era birthed such an earnest picture, told with an abundance of heart. Superman: The Movie was just the salve that generation needed, and ours could certainly benefit from. In an era when superhero movies have become increasingly darker and grittier, current filmmakers would be wise to learn from Richard Donner’s landmark movie. No offense intended towards gritty, post-modern interpretations of beloved superheroes, but there’s room for something that purposely goes in the opposite direction.  

Invasion of the Body Snatchers Poster

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – 1978 was a banner year for scary movies, and one of the most terrifying of this or any year was Philip Kaufman’s paranoid remake of the exceptional 1956 film (based on Jack Finney’s novel). Donald Sutherland shines as San Francisco public health inspector Matthew Bennell, who along with his colleague Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), suspect that not all is copacetic with the city’s residents. Kaufman’s chilling exploration of urban angst and isolation features excellent supporting performances by Leonard Nimoy as pop psychologist Dr. David Kibner, and Angela Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum as Nancy and Jack Bellicec. Who can you trust when the world’s gone to the pod people?

Patrick Poster

Patrick – This tasty slice of Ozsploitation from director (and unabashed Hitchcock disciple) Richard Franklin and writer Everett De Roche, keeps you on edge until the final scene. Susan Penhaligon plays Kathy Jacquard, a nurse assigned to monitor Patrick (Robert Thompson), a comatose patient. As Kathy soon discovers, her patient proves that still waters run deep. This little thriller (that deserves to be better known) ratchets up the tension, despite the fact the title character remains motionless for the bulk of the film. What’s Patrick’s secret? I’ll never tell. 


The 36th Chamber of Shaolin Poster

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin – Gordon Liu stars in the role of a lifetime, as San Te. After his father is killed by a ruthless general’s henchmen, and he’s forced to flee his home, San Te is intent on revenge. He joins a Shaolin monastery, and must endure one grueling trial (“chamber”) after another on his quest to become a Kung Fu master. Each trial demands a different combination of physical and mental discipline, and with each chamber comes a new philosophical spin. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin rises above the pack, thanks to Liu’s intensity, the ingenious  trials, and expert fight choreography by a cast of performers well-versed in the martial arts. They don’t get better than this, folks.

 

Dawn of the Dead Poster 

Dawn of the Dead – Ten years after his game-changing film, Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero returned for more social commentary (this time, the spotlight is on mass consumerism). A helicopter pilot, his news anchor girlfriend, and two members of a SWAT team hole up against hordes of the undead in a huge, soulless Pennsylvania mall. Their little oasis is about to be disrupted, however, when an army of bikers (led by Tom Savini) stake their claim. Amidst the bleak story are moments of dark humor which help cushion the blow a bit. As with his previous Dead film, Romero proves to have a keen eye for observing the darker side of human nature, demonstrating there’s not as much that separates us from the zombies as we’d care to believe.

 

Halloween Poster

Halloween – No list of favorites from 1978 would be complete without John Carpenter’s suspenseful slasher that started it all. The years haven’t diluted Halloween’s impact, nor has it been surpassed by the myriad sequels, remakes and imitations. The simple story, with its seemingly unstoppable antagonist and reluctant hero Laurie Strode (played by then 19-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis), works due to Carpenter’s assured direction, Dean Cundey’s atmospheric cinematography, and a cast of believable, three-dimensional characters. Donald Pleasence shines as the determined Dr. Loomis, who in his own way, is as singularly minded as his escaped patient, Michael Myers.

 

Coma Poster

Coma – One of the movies that scared the pants off me as an impressionable youngster still holds up remarkably well today. Writer/director Michael Crichton’s (yes, that Michael Crichton) taut adaptation of Robin Cook’s novel provides an abundance of chilling moments. This paranoid medical thriller with a science fiction twist seems all too plausible today, with its depiction of a healthcare system more interested in profits than the common good. Geneviève Bujold stars as Dr. Susan Wheeler, an upstart young doctor with a predilection toward sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Despite being gaslit by hospital administrator Dr. Harris (Richard Widmark) and doubted by her ladder-climbing boyfriend, Dr. Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas), she persists in her personal investigation of a series of operating room incidents. When Wheeler discovers the horrible truth behind these events, she’s running for her life, as the woman who knew too much.

The Boys from Brazil Poster

The Boys from Brazil – Franklin J. Schaffner’s science fiction thriller (adapted from an Ira Levin novel) takes its loopy premise which wouldn’t seem out of place as a Weekly World News article, and milks it for all it’s worth. Under the guidance of Joseph Mengele (Gregory Peck), an army of Hitler clones are created, with the hope that one will eventually usher in the Fourth Reich as the new führer. Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) becomes wise to the doctor’s evil scheme. Is it nature or nurture that decides who becomes a monster? The Boys from Brazil will make you wonder. 

 

Honorable Mentions

The Shout Poster

The Shout (1978) I only discovered this one a couple of years ago, but it’s stuck with me.  Alan Bates stars as a mysterious visitor to a small English village, who wedges his way into a married couple’s lives (John Hurt and Susannah York), turning everything upside down. He brings with him a supposed Aboriginal technique (learned in the Australian Outback), with a shout that can kill. Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (who made the equally intriguing Deep End), has created a purposely ambiguous and obtuse but endlessly engrossing film that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.

Animal House Poster

National Lampoon’s Animal House – No list of 1978 favorites would be complete without director John Landis’ boisterous comedy about a bunch of misfits residing in Delta House, Faber College’s least prestigious fraternity.  John Belushi (in quite possibly his finest moment) stars as the lovable oaf Bluto. The terrific cast features Tom Hulce, Karen Allen, Donald Sutherland, Stephen Furst, and John Vernon as the man you love to hate, Dean Wormer. Although some elements have not aged well (such as a misguided scene in a blues club), many of the gags have held up. Countless filmmakers have tried to copy the formula of the slobs versus the snobs, and most have failed. “May I have 10,000 marbles, please?” will never not be funny.

Piranha Poster 

Piranha – It’s the Jaws rip-off that even Spielberg couldn’t ignore. Sure, Piranha is rough around the edges, and it may not be Joe Dante’s best, but it wears its B-movie sensibilities on its tattered sleeve. Its secret weapon is that it never takes itself too seriously, with ample doses of humor and over-the-top thrills. Its fun, skewed sensibilities are exemplified by this exchange alone: “What about the goddamn piranhas?” “They’re eating the guests, sir.”

 

Because this challenge is all about passing the baton, I’m providing some new challenges for a few of my fellow bloggers, should they choose to accept: 

Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews: Top Five Supernatural TV Movies from the 1970s or Top Five Favorite Joan Collins roles. 

John from Tales from the Freakboy Zone: Review The Greasy Strangler (2016) or Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things (1971) 

Brian from Movies from Beyond the Time Barrier: Top Five underrated/overlooked 1950s science fiction movies or Top Five underrated/overlooked 1970s science fiction TV movies

 

 

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon – Final Recap

 

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon

As George Harrison once wrote, all things must pass, and so it goes with the Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon. On behalf of Gill Jabob from Realweegiemidget Reviews and Yours Truly, we’d like to give a hearty thanks to everyone who took part, as well as our dear readers!

Donald Pleasence - The Flesh and the Fiends

I’d also like to thank Gill for suggesting this blogathon topic. It’s wonderful to see Mr. Pleasence receive his due, and I believe the blog posts did just that, covering a wide range of film and television roles (Plus a recipe!). Today’s final four offerings are no exception. I’m woefully behind, but look forward to reading and commenting on everyone’s posts in the next few days.

Donald Pleasence - The Mutations

On a slightly different note, I’m reminding everyone to stay tuned for announcements in 2023, with two more blogathons in the pipeline. Trust me, you won’t want to miss ‘em. Until then, happy Halloween!

 

Be sure to visit the recaps from days One, Two and Three:

 

Day 1  

Day 2  

Day 3 

 

Now, onto the submissions:

Prince of Darkness Poster

Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac shines a light on Prince of Darkness (1987).

 

The Devil Within Her Poster

Amber from Camp and Circumstance proves it’s what’s inside that counts in her review of The Devil Within Her (aka: I Don’t Want to Be Born) (1975).


Hell is a City Poster

Erica from Poppity Talks Classic film shows us that Hell is a City (1960).

 

The Corsican Brothers Poster

Sally Silverscreen from 18 Cinema Lane spends some quality time with The Corsican Brothers (1985).

 

 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon – Day 3 Recap

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon

Where did the weekend go? We’ve already reached Day 3 of the Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon, hosted by Gill Jacob of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Yours Truly! Tonight, we present a quartet of posts for your enjoyment.

Donald Pleasence - The Great Escape

Note: There will be a post-blogathon wrap-up tomorrow, where I’ll list any late entries (and maybe a brief announcement or two). If you still plan to join, enter a comment below, email me at barry_cinematic@yahoo.com, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

Donald Pleasence - Wake in Fright

 

Be sure to visit the recaps from days One and Two:

Day1 

Day2 


Here are Day 3’s submissions:

The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water

Scampy from The Spirochaete Trail reviews The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973).


Journey Into Fear Poster

Don’t be afraid to read Peter Fuller’s (from Vincent Price Legacy UK) post on Journey Into Fear (1975). 

The Devonsville Terror Poster

Are you frightened yet? Andrew Stephen from Maniacs and Monsters wants to tell you about The Devonsville Terror (1983). 


Circus of Horrors

And finally, I’d like to draw your attention to the center ring, where Yours Truly from Cinematic Catharsis is about to perform a death-defying review of Circus of Horrors (1960). 
 

 

Circus of Horrors

 

Circus of Horrors Poster

(1960) Directed by Sidney Hayers; Written by George Baxt; Starring: Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Donald Pleasence, Jane Hylton, Kenneth Griffith and Yvonne Romain; Available on Blu-ray and DVD. 

Rating: ***½ 

This post is part of the Devilishly Delightful DonaldPleasence Blogathon, hosted by Gill Jacob from Realweegiemidget Reviews and Yours Truly. Be sure to check out all the terrific posts, covering a wide range of films/TV appearances from his expansive career.

Schuler, Nicole, and Angela

Martin (Kenneth Griffith): “Thieves, murderers?”

Dr. Rossiter/Schüler (Anton Diffring): “Yes. Well, don’t you see? These are the people who will constitute our circus troupe. I change their faces, minimize the police apprehension. Willing subjects for my anxious hands. We hold their safety and they hold their tongue. It’s the ideal front.”

What is it about the circus that makes it such a fertile ground for tales of horror and suspense? Look no further than Tod Browning’s forays into the big top and sideshows (The Show, The Unknown, Freaks), which exploit the more lurid aspects of that colorful milieu. If nothing else, the movies have taught us that the circus is a haven for shady individuals with questionable histories and motives, on the run from the law. Director Sidney Hayers and writer George Baxt’s depiction of a circus from hell is considered the second title in a rough trilogy of films from Anglo-Amalgamated,* starting with Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and ending with Peeping Tom (1960).  Filmed in England, Circus of Horrors incorporated footage of a real, working performance troupe, Billy Smart’s Circus.** 

* Fun Fact #1: Circus of Horrors could easily be confused for a Hammer Films production, considering the fact that Anton Diffring, Yvonne Monlaur, and Yvonne Romain all appeared in movies from Anglo-Amalgamated’s competitor. 

** Fun Fact #2: Note the circus banners emblazoned with “BS” (No, not that kind of BS) for Billy Smart, which conveniently stand in for Bernard Schüler’s circus.

Martin, Angela, and Rossiter/Schuler

The story begins in 1947, with Dr. Rossiter fleeing the UK after a botched attempt at plastic surgery. Along with his accomplices, surgeon Angela and her brother Martin (Jane Hylton and Kenneth Griffith), he makes his way to the French countryside, where he adopts the name Bernard Schüler. He encounters Vanet, a down-on-his-luck circus owner circus, played by Donald Pleasence (in a small but pivotal role). Vanet’s daughter Nicole’s (Carla Challoner) face is scarred from a wartime schoolyard bombing (“There are many like me now.”), which Schüler promises to restore, for a price. After Vanet’s “accidental” death, Schüler takes on the role of Nicole’s uncle, while vowing to turn the threadbare circus into something noteworthy (“It’ll be the ideal front.”). In a move that would make any self-respecting human resources professional cringe, he combs the seedy underbelly of various European towns, searching for women with shady backgrounds and facial flaws. Once they’re a part of the circus, he fixes their appearance, and keeps detailed dossiers on them, so they won’t blab to the authorities. Any attempts to defy Schüler by leaving result in their immediate peril. Flash-forward a decade, and Schüler’s circus is a big success despite a series of questionable incidents (It comes to be known as the “Jinx Circus.” A Berlin police inspector (Peter Swanwick)* is wise to Schüler’s subterfuge, but without proof of any foul play, he’s forced to let him go. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from tipping off the British authorities, including Scotland Yard inspector Arthur Ames (Conrad Phillips), posing as a reporter. 

* Fun Fact #3: If the “German” police inspector looks familiar, it’s no coincidence. The British actor is probably best known for his role as the inscrutable Supervisor in the landmark television series, The Prisoner (1967).

Vanet

Pleasence, sporting an attempted French accent (and hair!), makes an impression as the depressive alcoholic Vanet. The only thing of value he has left is his beloved daughter, Nicole (“The war has left nothing but ruin and poverty”). He unwisely promises Rossiter/Schüler “anything and everything” if he will repair his daughter’s face. Although the operation is a success, it proves to be a Faustian bargain. In an alcohol-fueled moment of poor judgment, he antagonizes Bosco the dancing bear, getting too close to the enraged animal (okay, a guy in a not-very-convincing bear suit). The ensuing attack sequence looks more like a bear rug was draped over him, but it’s a testament to Pleasence’s skill and professionalism that he convincingly sells his violent death. The one person who doesn’t suspect any wrongdoing is the adult Nicole (Yvonne Monlaur), who only thinks of Schüler as her uncle.

Schüler discovers Elissa

Diffring paints a portrait of the perfect egomaniac, shamelessly manipulative, amoral and vain. He wields a riding crop that he inflicts on animals and humans alike, to submit them to his will. Much like Dr. Frankenstein,* he believes the means justify the ends. The performers he helps are nothing more than raw material for practicing his craft. Of all the people he manipulates, none are as pitiable as Angela, his assisting surgeon, who carries an unrequited torch for him. Schüler uses her love for him as leverage, stringing her along with declarations such as, “You are very necessary to me” (Not exactly a declaration of affection). To him, she’s little more than another surgical instrument that can help him attain his goal. He hopes to re-emerge from hiding to boast about his revolutionary medical discoveries (“I have unlocked the secrets of plastic surgery that will stagger the world.”). In the meantime, however, he has a circus to run, and doesn’t appreciate dissent or attrition among the ranks. He sits back and lets someone else do the dirty work (usually Angela’s brother Martin). Schüler is a character you love to hate – never for a moment do you want to see him get away with murder. Despite his abhorrent nature, one thing that keeps him from being a two-dimensional villain is that he genuinely cares for Nicole, while attempting to shelter her from his evil actions.   

* Fun Fact #4: Diffring starred as Baron Frankenstein in the failed 1958 Hammer TV pilot Tales of Frankenstein.

A Knife Act Gone Bad

Circus of Horrors keeps its audience on edge throughout with a series of bloody events orchestrated by the sociopathic main character.* Considering that World War II and its associated horrors had only ended 15 years before the movie debuted, the atrocities of Nazi* surgeons such as Mengele would have been embedded in the public’s consciousness. Everything about the film is slightly off-kilter, adding to the viewer’s unease. The inclusion of the song, “Look for a Star”** is more disconcerting than soothing (Like it? Great. Don’t like it? Too bad. It’s featured in the movie five times). Similarly, the troupe of clowns*** emerge as a mute Greek chorus, underscoring Sculer’s misdeeds. 

* Not-So-Fun Fact: Although frequently typecast as a Nazi (and Nazi-like characters) in numerous productions, Anton Diffring’s film roles couldn’t be further from the truth. Diffring had fled Nazi Germany to avoid persecution because he was gay and his father was Jewish. 

** Fun Fact #5: The hit song was written by Mark Anthony, a pseudonym for Tony Hatch, probably best known today for penning the Petula Clark song, “Downtown.” 

*** Fun Fact #6: Watch for Kenny (“R2D2”) Baker in an uncredited appearance, as one of the clowns.

Schüler's First Patient

One of the plot conveniences is that characters who are otherwise so street smart foolishly telegraph their intentions to leave (Why don’t they just sneak out in the middle of the night?) or blackmail the doctor. After his top star Magda (Vanda Hudson) dies in a knife act gone awry, with a little help from Schüler’s toady, Martin, high wire performer Elissa (Erika Remberg) insists that she have top billing in the show (Three guesses about how well that goes, and the first two don’t count). Also, considering the reputation of the “Jinx Circus,” it stretches believability why anyone would want to join in the first place (free plastic surgery or not). While perhaps a notch below in quality compared to some of its more notable contemporaries (Psycho, Peeping Tom, and Eyes Without a Face), Circus of Horrors is unabashedly ghoulish fun.

 

Sources for this article: “Back to the Circus: An Interview with Kim Newman” (2020), “Interview with Broadcaster Stuart Maconie” (2020).

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon – Day 2 Recap

 

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon

We’re back for Day Two of the Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon, hosted by Gill Jacob of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Yours Truly! Please enjoy today’s posts, covering some film and television titles that might have slipped beneath the radar.

Donald Pleasence - From Beyond the Grave

It’s not too late to join. If you plan to post tomorrow, or you’ve been delayed, enter a comment below, email me at barry_cinematic@yahoo.com, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

Donald Pleasence - Prince of Darkness

Check out Day 2’s stellar submissions below, and don’t forget to read all the amazing posts from Day 1. See you tomorrow for Day 3!

Manuela Poster

Lê from Critica Retro sets sail on her review of Manuela (aka: Stowaway Girl) (1957). 

Kidnapped Poster
 

You’ll be captivated by Rachel’s (from Hamelette's Soliloquy) take on Kidnapped (1971). 

 

The Uncanny Poster

Eddie Harrison from Film Authority invites us to experience The Uncanny (1977). 

The Barchester Chronicles Poster

Debbie Vega from Moon in Gemini examines the miniseries The Barchester Chronicles (1982). 


Friday, October 28, 2022

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon Is Here – Day 1 Recap

 

The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon

Welcome to Day One of the Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon! My superb co-host Gill Jacob of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Yours Truly are proud to present this three-day event, celebrating versatile, enigmatic character actor Donald Pleasence. We have a bumper crop of posts for your perusal, featuring select film and television reviews (and even a recipe!).  

Donald Pleasence - Alone in the Dark

If you’ve signed up, but your post isn’t quite ready for prime time, don’t panic. We’ll post your link on Day Two or Three (and a little bird told me there could be a bonus fourth day as well). Latecomers are also welcome (as my cohort mentioned in her post, the Halloween movies still haven’t been claimed). Post a comment below, email me at barry_cinematic@yahoo.com, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge).

Escape from New York

Here are Day 1’s submissions below, and remember to tune in Saturday and Sunday for recaps of Days Two and Three!

 

Cul-de-Sac Poster

Greg Wilcox from Destroy All Fanboys! invites us to take a ride down to the the Cul-de-Sac (1966). 

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Join Terence Towles Canote from A Shroud of Thoughts as he looks at Mr. Pleasence’s role on TV’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956-1958). 

 

Dracula 1979 Poster

Andrew Wickliffe from The Stop Button sinks his fangs into Dracula (1979).  

The Dark Secret of Harvest Home

Listen. Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell (with profound apologies to Lennon & McCartney)? Angelman tells all in his review of The DarkSecret of Harvest Home (1978). 

Columbo - Any Old Port in a Storm

Hey good lookin’, find out what’s cookin’ with Jenny from Silver Screen Suppers as she serves a heaping helping of Donald Pleasence's "No-Name Curry," along with a look at his appearance in the Columbo episode, “Any Old Port in a Storm” (1973). 

 

Twilight Zone - Changing of the Guard

With a little help from Rod Serling, Mitchell Hadley from It’s About TV takes you on a journey to a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, a look at the Twilight Zone episode “Changing of the Guard.” (1962) 

Alone in the Dark Poster

Brian Schuck from Films Beyond the Time Barrier will keep you company with his review of Alone in the Dark (1982). 

The Flesh and the Fiends Poster

It would be truly fiendish if you missed Michael Denney’s (from Maniacs and Monsters) review of The Flesh and the Fiends (1962). 

 

Telefon Poster

Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews answers the call to write about Telefon (1977).