Friday, December 27, 2013

December Quick Picks and Pans

No Blade of Grass (1970) Cornel Wilde’s cautionary, unflinching eco-disaster tale seems as plausible now as it did 40-plus years ago.  Wilde produced, co-wrote and directed this bleak vision (adapted from a novel by John Christopher) of a world that has collapsed upon itself, due to global famine, disease and pollution.  It’s all pretty grim stuff, depicting a world populated by roving motorcycle gangs, rogue soldiers and bandits, and wholesale murder and rape are the order of the day.  A small group of people band together, led by former soldier John Custance (Nigel Davenport) to survive at any cost.  The story plays a bit like Mad Max without Max.  Instead of a savior who stands up amidst the rubble and chaos, we witness regular individuals attempting to survive in an intolerable situation.  The story gets heavy handed at times, but the message is clear: if society continues on its present trajectory, the outcome depicted in this film, or something like it, is inevitable.  It’s a sobering glimpse into a possible future that none of us will hopefully ever experience.

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

Christmas Evil (aka: You Better Watch Out; Terror in Toyland) (1980) This holiday-themed oddity written and directed by Lewis Jackson was marketed as a slasher flick, but it’s really more of a character study.  In the film’s prologue, young Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) witnesses his mom having sex with Santa Claus (presumably his father), and is scarred for life.  Present-day Harry works in a toy factory, and his entire home is full of various Christmas paraphernalia.  He drives around in a van (of the Francis Dolarhyde/Jame Gumb variety), singing Christmas tunes and keeping track of the neighborhood kids with a “naughty” and “nice” list.  Not very much goes on.  Harry spends most of the movie being creepy, while plotting to reward those who have been good, and punish those who have wronged him.  It’s worth sitting through this movie, however, for the WTF ending.

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD.

Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) This train wreck of a movie provides incontrovertible proof that Gene Rodenberry lost his mind after Star Trek was cancelled.  Directed by Roger Vadim, from a Rodenberry script, it’s gleefully misogynistic in a way that only an early 70s product could be.  A high school guidance counselor, Tiger (Rock Hudson), with a Madonna-whore complex beds every attractive student he can get his hands on, while maintaining the front of an idyllic marriage.  Trouble is, the same students are dying off, and local authorities fail to make any connections.  It’s twisted and wrong, yet oddly compelling.   Pretty Maids All in a Row features an impressive supporting cast, including Telly Savalas as a police detective, Roddy McDowell as a befuddled principal and Angie Dickinson as an amorous high school teacher.  Is it a shrewd black comedy or misguided sex farce?  You be the judge. 

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD and Streaming (through Warner Archive Collection)

 World Without End (1956) This would-be sci-fi epic suffers from a hackneyed story and substandard special effects (compared to its contemporary, Forbidden Planet).  Four 20th century astronauts (including Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor) on a mission to Mars take a detour when their spacecraft flies into a space/time rift that catapults them 500 years into the future.  The crew returns to a very different Earth, transformed by global atomic war.  Savage mutants (called “mutates” in the film) rule the surface, while a peaceful culture ekes out a comfortable (male-centric) existence underground.  One of the film’s conceits is that it takes 20th century explorers to identify what’s wrong with the society – according to Marlowe’s character John Borden, the men of this time lack “guts.”  With its simplistic story and cardboard characters, the whole affair plays out like a lesser Star Trek episodes. Watch for some unintentional humor with cheap looking giant spiders and a one of the astronauts referring to the cyclopean surface dwellers as “one-eyed monsters.”  If you’re a 50s sci-fi completist like me, you might want to check it out.  Everyone else should proceed with caution.

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


  1. I am somewhat interested in seeing World Without End. Mainly because for the bad special effects you mentioned. Pretty Maids All in a Row sounds like Rodenberry showing us his perversions. Great job at finding these films

    1. Thanks! World Without End isn't too bad, but it's not good either. Your comment about Pretty Maids All in a Row sums up my thoughts about Rodenberry.