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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Cathy’s Curse

(1977) Directed by Eddy Matalon; Written by Myra Clément, Eddy Matalon and Alain Sens-Cazenave; Starring: Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen, Dorothy Davis, Mary Morter and Roy Witham; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ***

“How can a film be a successful film if you have no stars, no production values? It can if it is a genre film. A thriller with car chases is a much too expensive affair. But a suspenseful film is easier to shoot, and it’s a genre I like.” – Eddy Matalon (from the featurette “Tricks and Treats: An Interview with Director Eddy Matalon)

One of the most eagerly anticipated blogathons of the year is the O Canada Blogathon, featuring a wealth of cinematic offerings and talent from my friendly neighbors to the north. Before I delve into this year’s cinematic offering, I’d like to give a hearty thanks to the co-hosts with the most, Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy. For my fourth O Canada Blogathon appearance, I’ve dipped deep into the well to dredge up the Canuxploitation shocker, Cathy’s Curse (not to be confused with the Everly Brothers’ iconic 1960 song, “Cathy’s Clown.”).

Cathy’s Curse (aka: Cauchemares, French for nightmares) is a mostly forgotten relic (re-discovered, thanks to the recent Severin Films Blu-ray/DVD release) from the notorious era of Canadian “tax shelter” films,* which spanned the 1970s and 1980s. During this prolific period, many filmmakers found license to go wild, and thanks to generous government tax breaks, low budget genre films flourished. This French/Canadian co-production was shot in Montreal with a mostly French crew and Canadian actors. The tight six-week schedule was made worse, thanks to the involved parties struggling to understand each other. The end result borrows heavily from such esteemed films as The Exorcist, The Omen and The Bad Seed, but manages to retain a style all its own.

* Learn more about the weird, wild history of Canadian underground cinema and tax shelter films here.

In the film’s opening scene, a father drives off into the night with his daughter, in search of their wayward wife/mother. It proves to be a short drive, as he narrowly avoids a rabbit, but veers off the road. The car bursts into flames, as cars that gently land in a ditch are prone to do, taking father and daughter with it. Several decades later, one of the surviving descendants George Gimble (Alan Scarfe), along with his family, move into the house that belonged to the man from the initial scene. Things start to get loopy as George’s daughter Cathy succumbs to the dark forces that reside in the home. Neighbor kids, the caretakers, the family dog,* and anything that crosses her path is fair game. So, is it a curse on Cathy, or is it a curse that Cathy brings upon the other family members? Well, I suppose it’s a little bit of both.

* Fun footnote: In the film, the characters refer to the dog Sneaker as “she” when it’s obviously a “he.” In the unfortunate tradition of pets and horror movies, you can probably guess the poor canine’s fate. But fear not, pet lovers, as we can see it breathing at the end of the scene.

Okay, let’s not mince words. Most of the acting is bad. How bad? Scarfe, who was apparently accustomed to working on the stage, plays family patriarch George Gimble as if he’s a character in a Shakespearean play. His theatrical gestures and cadenced intonation are all wrong for this sort of movie and setting. In one scene, he recalls a beloved childhood memory of a nude statuette, and in a later scene he handles the piece of artwork a bit too lovingly, to the point where – look, if he weren’t already home, I would have asked him to get a room. Beverly Murray plays his emotionally unstable wife Vivian. I’m not sure what sort of direction she was given, but Murray makes sure she injects histrionics into every scene. The only one who does a halfway decent job is Randi Allen as Cathy, in her first and only film role. She feels the call from a creepy doll in the attic which harbors the spirit of her long-dead aunt Laura (the girl in the opening scene). But the fact that her deceased relative’s spirit inhabits the doll doesn’t exactly provide the motivation for Cathy to go on a murderous rampage or spout hateful dialogue. Judging by the first scene, there was no indication Laura was evil, unless dying in a fiery auto crash somehow transformed her into a malevolent force. In a scene reminiscent of Linda Blair’s demonic tirade in The Exorcist (sans the theological gravitas), Cathy spews a litany of profanity that elicits more laughs than scares.


The filmmakers attempt to enhance the film with some not-so-special effects. In one of the movie’s lo-fi highlights, the evil doll flies across the room, into Cathy’s hands. How was this example of movie magic achieved? According to the director, it was simply some monofilament and a fishing rod. In another scene, there’s a ghostly portrait of Laura with glowing eyes. Instead of an optical effect, we can clearly see it’s been doctored with green lights. When Cathy uses telekinesis to shatter George’s beloved statuette into a million pieces, this was achieved by a marksman and a rifle (Actually, this effect works quite well). When the elderly groundskeeper gets liquored up (with a little help from Cathy – Who else?), Matalon and company simulated the effects of delirium tremens with all manner of creepy crawlies.*

* According to Matalon, “We went to a pet shop and asked for the weird stuff.”

I’m hesitant to employ the overused phrase, “so bad it’s good.” First of all, Cathy’s Curse, by just about any definition, is not a good movie. Is it entertaining? Sure. Also, keep in mind this was made on a shoestring budget, for a fraction of a Hollywood production, and frankly, it’s more fun than most of the stuff that comes out of Tinseltown. Sure, the dialogue and over-the-top scenes are laughable, but this is exactly what makes it such an enjoyable romp. While it might be a stretch to call this movie a lost treasure, you could do a lot worse on a Saturday night.