Thursday, June 27, 2019

June Quick Picks and Pans

Seconds (1966) John Frankenheimer’s disturbing sci-fi thriller, based on a novel by John Ely, plays a bit like an extended Twilight Zone episode, with the central message that we must be careful of what we wish for. A jarring Saul Bass opening title sequence sets the stage for the tone of the film. Middle-aged banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is offered an enticing prospect from a shadowy organization – to leave his humdrum life and reinvent himself. Through extensive plastic surgery and physical therapy, Arthur becomes a different person with a new identity, Antiochus Wilson (Rock Hudson). He experiences life as an artist in an exclusive Malibu community and encounters a free spirit (Salome Jens). Despite months of physical and psychological conditioning, however, he finds it difficult to adjust to his current reality. James Wong Howe’s inventive cinematography keeps us on edge throughout, as we experience things from Wilson’s distorted, outsider perspective. Seconds challenges us with its relentlessly grim, bewildering vision, in which no one is quite what they appear to be.

Film fans take note: Seconds would pair nicely with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another (also from 1966), which deals with similar themes of isolation and identity.

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

Dave Made a Maze (2017) In this clever little film by Director/co-writer Bill Watterson, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns home to find that her boyfriend Dave (Nick Thune) has constructed an elaborate labyrinth out of cardboard and scraps. His handiwork becomes a prison, as he’s trapped inside, without a clear way out. Annie, Dave’s friends and a documentary camera crew soon embark on a journey inside the maze (which is much larger on the inside), fraught with many hazards, booby traps and odd creatures lying in wait. The film displays a heap of ambition, with inventiveness belying its low-budget origins (at one point, the characters transform into paper bag puppets). Dave, who never seems to finish what he starts, is best exemplified by one character they encounter in the maze, who displays a moment of clarity, “Life is a series of incomplete moments from which there is no escape.” His maze serves as an apt metaphor for the constraints we place upon ourselves as we search for meaning in our lives.

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

Blue Sunshine (1977) Writer/director Jeff Lieberman’s bonkers follow-up to Squirm (1976) raises the bar for insanity. Zalman King stars as Jerry “Zippy” Zipkin, an educated but aimless drifter, investigating the strange death of his friend. Clues point to “Blue Sunshine,” a form of LSD that causes users (10 years after the fact) to lose their hair and become homicidal. Zipkin traces the source to up-and-coming congressional candidate Edward Flemming (Mark Goddard, of Lost in Space fame), who sold drugs during college. Bad acting, bizarre characters and terrible bald caps add up to a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. You can’t lose with lines like, “There’s a bald maniac in there, and he’s going batshit!” After watching this, you might check your head for hair loss and question your own sanity. Watch it if you dare.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Starry Eyes (2014) Sarah (Alex Essoe), a 20-something aspiring actress, works at a degrading, dead-end job, while she pursues her dream of landing a big Hollywood role. She jumps at the chance when she’s offered an audition for a new independent production, but learns too late that the role comes at an awful price. Now, Sarah is forced to endure a series of indignities if she wants to stay in the running.

Starry Eyes works two-thirds of the way, with its themes about doing anything for fame and leaving one intolerable situation for another. It’s too bad the plot (think Suspiria meets Day of the Locust) devolves from psychological torment to ersatz Cronenberg-style body horror. Her ensuing bloody rampage might satisfy those looking for nothing more than a gory climax. Anyone looking for a more substantive, thoughtful conclusion to these themes might consider looking elsewhere.  

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime

Monday, June 17, 2019

The 2nd Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon – The End…Or is it?

After months of planning, Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews and I have reached the end of The 2nd Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon. Once again, I’m floored by the volume of outstanding contributions, ranging across a variety of films and subjects. As much as we love Hammer and Amicus horror, we encouraged our participants to look beyond the obvious, exploring the different genres the production companies had to offer, and you rose to the challenge. Of course, many of the old horror favorites received representation as well. I’m still catching up on all the posts, and plan to include comments for all.

Thanks to the blogging juggernaut/dynamo that is Gill Jacob for her support and helping organize this event. Her enthusiasm for blogathons is truly contagious. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend a debt of gratitude to our blogathon guest star Judy Matheson for her kind words of encouragement for our little endeavor.

On with the news: For about 12 seconds, I pondered taking a break from Hammer-Amicus for next year, but after careful consideration and deliberation (perhaps another 5 seconds), Gill I decided to go ahead with a third edition next year! But wait, that’s not all you get, because we will be co-hosting yet an additional blogathon, featuring _______ _____. Well, we can’t disclose this just yet, but believe me, it’s going to be big! We hope all of you will join us for both blogathons in 2020, and extend the invitation far and wide, to anyone else who might enjoy participating. So, tell your friends, acquaintances and adversaries…

Be sure to visit the recaps from the three-day run of the blogathon:

Day 3 

…And before the crypt door closes, please check out these last-minute contributions below:

Gabriela from Pale Writer brings us double the trouble with Twins of Evil (1971)

Rick from Classic TV Film Café discusses the continuing adventures of Professor Quatermass with Quatermass II (aka: Enemy from Space) (1957)

Amber (aka Tango in Eden) proves you can run, but you can’t “Hyde” from The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

Paul from Silver Screen Classics invites us to ride along with Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)

Hakuna Mocata from Sythetic Cinema treats us to a double dose of Hammer horror with The Gorgon (1964) and The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Saddle up for my review of the groovy space western, Moon Zero Two (1969)

Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac provides answers to the question, What Became of Jack and Jill? (1971)

Amber (aka Tango in Eden) administers a second dose of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with I, Monster (1971)