Monday, August 31, 2020

August Quick Picks and Pans


The Oily Maniac (1976) Eight years before Troma’s The Toxic Avenger, the Shaw Brothers unleashed their own grimy champion of justice. This entertaining hybrid horror/action film, directed by Meng-Hua Ho (Black Magic), is allegedly based on Malaysian folklore. Danny Lee stars as Shen Yuan, a disabled man who discovers the secret (from his death-row uncle) to transforming into a virtually unstoppable supernatural creature. Using his newly discovered superpowers, he exacts vengeance against all who have wronged him. In order to become the greasy creature, he has to periodically re-charge (in one scene, he covers himself in tar from a bubbling oil drum, and in another, he plunges into a vat of hot coconut oil). Although some of his choices leave something to be desired, it’s undeniably fun to watch him beat up the bad guys. It’s too bad this unconventional monster movie never spawned a series.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD (Region 2) and Amazon Prime

Cold Eyes of Fear (1971) This would-be thriller from director Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors), set in swinging London, is all talk and little action. An ex-con and his lackey invade a judge’s house looking for the files of the court case that sent him to prison. The judge’s nephew (who’s also a judge) and his lady companion are caught in the middle, and must gather their wits to survive the night. Outside of a hallucinatory courtroom scene and a gallery of questionable hair styles, there’s not much reason to recommend this snoozer.

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

Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966) Prolific director William Beaudine’s follow-up to Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter proves to be just as baffling as its predecessor. After deciding to end his thieving ways and settle down, Billy the Kid (Chuck Courtney) goes to work as a ranch hand, where he falls in love with the rancher’s daughter Betty (Melinda Casey). But fate throws a monkey wrench into his plans when Dracula (John Carradine) rolls into town, posing as Betty’s long-lost uncle. If this sounds more like the synopsis for a bad sitcom than a horror/western movie, you’re not alone. The leads are miscast (Carradine plays an anemic-looking, perpetually bewildered count, and the actor playing Billy the Kid is about 15 years too old for the part), and the story is bereft of action or chills. Throw in some bad Native American stereotypes, generic “Old World” European characters, and one of the least convincing bats you’ve ever seen, and you’ve got the makings of an evening of so bad-it’s-good entertainment. It’s unfortunate that the end result is so dull.

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

The Lost Continent (1968) This Hammer production, directed by Michael Carreras, bears no connection to the 1951 Cesar Romero film with the same name, although it covers some similar ground. The story is a confusing jumble, with lots of ideas thrown into the mix, but nothing really gels. A merchant ship carrying a small group of passengers and a cargo of illegal explosives meets rough seas. The passengers and crew endlessly bicker for an hour before we finally get to anything remotely interesting. They eventually wind up on a fog-shrouded island in the middle of the ocean, although calling it a “continent” is a bit magnanimous. The inhabitants are a mixture of Spanish conquistadors and British shipwreck survivors, who must contend with an assortment of prehistoric creatures, man-eating plants, and a kid who’s established himself as a demigod. It might be worth a look as a curiosity or if you’re a Hammer completist; otherwise, don’t bother.

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

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Just Don’t Do It

It seems as if independent filmmakers/distributors of the 1970s and early ‘80s were obsessed with including “Don’t” in their movie titles. But wait a minute… This wasn’t simply a cheap way of riding the exploitation bandwagon, but a public service to warn us about the dangers of seemingly mundane actions. We’re reminded that the simple act of going outside and mingling with fellow humans could be a potentially life-threatening proposition. Perhaps we could learn a few timeless lessons from these films from the not too distant past, instructing us about the perils of not maintaining social distancing.

I think it’s only fair to warn you, dear reader, this isn’t a comprehensive list of every movie ever made with “Don’t” in the title.* Instead, for the purposes of this article, I confined my survey to theatrical horror/thrillers from the aforementioned era. I suffered (Ahem! I meant watched) through seven examples, to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff so you don’t have to.  

* Note: I previously reviewed Don’t Look Now (1973), which doesn’t quite fit thematically with the other films listed here. I excluded Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), because A), It was produced for television; and B), I’ve previously seen this title, and wanted everything to be a first-time watch. And before anyone says, “But you didn’t cover Don’t Go Near the Park (1979),” this wasn’t streaming anywhere, and I wasn’t about to plunk down a $300 deposit at my local video store to rent their out-of-print copy.

Don’t Look in the Basement (1973) Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik), a naïve young nurse, accepts a position working at a private sanitarium run by staunch Doctor Geraldine Masters (Annabelle Weenick). Nurse Beale eventually discovers that everything isn’t as it seems in the asylum populated by colorful patients, including an elderly lady with a secret, a homicidal would-be judge, a nymphomaniac, and a man in a state of arrested development. It’s best not to ask why she’s so slow to catch on to the doctor’s secret, or why she didn’t leave early on. While short on logic, or a grasp of ethical mental health practices, S.F. Brownrigg’s low-budget, filmed-in Texas wonder features some interesting performances, and seldom fails to entertain.  

Rating: ***. Available on DVD, Blu-ray (on combo disc w/Chaos), Amazon Prime and Tubi

Don’t Go in the House (1979) After his domineering mother dies, Dan Grimaldi (Donny Kohler) a mentally disturbed man, hears voices telling him to cleanse the evil lurking inside people of the opposite sex. He lures women into his house and incinerates them in a fireproof room, and has conversations with their charred corpses. Kohler is effective as the delusional, socially awkward lead character. Director/co-writer Joseph Ellison does a good job of building tension, and depicting the main character’s psychological disintegration, which leads to an unnerving climactic scene. The film is somewhat undermined by its dubious explanation for Grimaldi’s motivation, reinforced in the final scene, suggesting a cause and effect relationship between parental abuse and homicidal behavior. Warning: prepare yourself for a gratuitous disco scene, bad polyester fashions, and the non-hit song “Boogie Lightning,” which plays twice.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Tubi

Don’t Open the Door (aka: Don’t Hang Up) (1974) S.F. Brownrigg strikes again! This one’s a step down from his previous effort, Don’t Look in the Basement, lacking the same level of uniquely eccentric characters and  demented sense of fun. A young woman (Susan Bracken) returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing grandmother. She squabbles with a judge about her inheritance, and argues with a doctor about her grandmother’s care. Meanwhile, she’s harassed by a perverted museum curator. Don’t Open the Door shamelessly steals from Psycho and Repulsion in equal measures, but somehow manages to fall short of generating any real suspense.

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

Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980) Writer/director Robert Hammer’s sleazy effort (based on a novel by Michael Curtis) stars Nicholas Worth as crazed Vietnam vet/photographer Kirk Smith, who stalks and strangles women in Los Angeles. He makes anonymous calls to a psychologist’s (Flo Lawrence) radio show, which become increasingly disturbing as he acts out his fantasies. The psychologist’s efforts are undermined by smug, mansplaining police lieutenant McCabe (James Westmoreland), who inexplicably becomes her lover. Don’t bother trying to link the misleading title to the story, since answering the phone isn’t really part of the killer’s modus operandi. Worth is appropriately creepy as the killer, who photographs his victims in their final moments, but there’s not much else to justify sitting through this film, featuring a protagonist just as misogynistic as the bad guy.   

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


Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) A serial killer targets men dressed as Santa Claus, while inept Scotland Yard detectives scramble to find him. In one scene, the killer strolls into the police station and visits the lead detective, but he somehow manages to elude capture. If you’re looking for a slasher movie with a high body count, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for a coherent story, competent lead characters, or a compelling plot, you should probably steer clear.

Rating: **. Available on DVD

Don’t Look in the Attic (1982) A cursed Italian villa brings death and calamity to several generations of a family in Turin, Italy. The current heirs to the property bicker and scheme, providing lots of opportunities for talky scenes that pad out writer/director Carlo Ausino’s supernatural mystery film. The 77-minute running time is mercifully short, but seems much longer, thanks to the film’s sluggish pace and loathsome characters. It’s such a confusing, boring mess that you probably won’t care what’s in the attic or likely be awake for the conclusion.

Rating: **. Available on DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi

Don’t Go in the Woods (1981) Campers are dispatched one-by-one by a deranged mountain man (the film never delves into where he came from or why he kills everyone that crosses his path). The film is a showpiece for bad acting, bad dialogue, and terrible makeup effects. It’s also dreadfully short on scares, tension or nocturnal amorous activities typically associated with most movies of this ilk. And just when you think the film has reached new lows, there’s a scene with a man in a wheelchair struggling to navigate a dirt trail (accompanied by goofy music). A better title would have been Don’t Watch this Movie. On a side note: There’s a disproportionately inordinate amount of cast members wearing bright pink ensembles, leading me to wonder if the costume designer had a surplus of the cloth lying around.

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

Friday, August 7, 2020

Who, Me? It’s Awards Time

First, I’d like to thank the wonderful folks who double-nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award and my first-time nomination for the Blogger Recognition Award: Ernie Fink from Until the Lights Go Up, Paul Batters from Silver Screen Classics, and Gill Jacob from Realweegiemidget Reviews, respectively. I apologize that it took so long to acknowledge these accolades. It means more to me than you’ll ever know.

As I would imagine is the case for many, these past several months have been difficult emotionally, physically and financially, making it especially hard to stay motivated and focused. Also, as you may have noticed, I’ve refrained from further blogathon announcements for the moment. After discussing things with my blogathon partner Gill, from Realweegiemidget Reviews, we decided to postpone the next installment of the Hammer/Amicus Blogathon until next year. On the other hand, the blog is still chugging along after all these years, albeit at a slower rate. Right now, any progress is good progress.  

I’ve never been much of rule follower, so I’ve modified them for the purposes of this overly verbose appreciation post. Nah, who am I kidding? I’ve thrown them out. Instead, here are my responses to Ernie, Paul, and Gill’s questions…

 Ernie’s Questions 

1.     What topic do you blog most about?

This is a film blog, so I try to keep things as movie-related as possible. I keep an emphasis on horror and science fiction, although I’m not strictly confined to those genres. While I’ll blog about the occasional blockbuster, my mission is to discuss the movies that somehow slipped through the cracks. 

2.     Do you only blog about one topic, or do you blog about other things, even occasionally?

Movie reviews, long and short, are my bread and butter, but my blog is peppered with the occasional rant about pets in film, physical media, star ratings, or whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. 

3.     Do you have someone or something you love to write about more than others? If so, why?

Anyone who knows my Twitter presence probably associates me with Mad Love-era Peter Lorre. I’m not sure exactly when I adopted Peter Lorre (Or should I say he adopted me?) as the official Cinematic Catharsis mascot, but it was love at first fright. Why? I’m not quite, sure, but I think it might have something to do with the old TNT promos for the 100% Weird show. 

4.     Is your blogging by a schedule, or done as ideas come to you?

I try to adhere to a loose schedule, averaging a minimum of four posts per month. These normally consist of a few longer reviews and a collection of capsule reviews, Quick Picks and Pans (as of this post, I’ve done 118 of ‘em). 

5.     What subject would you never blog about? Why?

I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a Rom Com, but I wouldn’t rule it out if the right one came along. I stray from religion and politics, and anyone who’s read my posts over the years probably knows that I have no tolerance for intolerance (see #15 of my Film TwitterSurvival Guide). 

6.     Do you get comments from your readers?

I always look forward to comments from my “regulars” as well as new visitors to the blog. Sure, there are the odd spam messages and a few irritating comments now and then, but keeping an open (albeit moderated) forum is worth it. 

7.     How do those comments affect you?

As mentioned above, I invite and enjoy comments from my readers. While most comments have been overwhelmingly positive and respectful (which doesn’t mean that my readers always agree with me), I recall a few comments (always from “randos”) that irritated me (lecturing about their take on a film). I’m still baffled by one reader who once took offense when I joked that a movie (Whisper of the Heart) had too much John Denver music. 

8.     Was there a time when you considered giving up blogging? Why?

Nope. I love doing this, and even if my output slows, I’m glad to do what I’m doing. 

9.     Has blogging led to other writing activities? Or is it the other way around?

Blogging has definitely opened doors that were closed before. I’m a semi-regular contributor to The Dark Pages newsletter, and I’m currently researching a book project, which will be a direct offshoot of my blog. 

10.  How important are pictures to your blog?

I believe screenshots and posters are essential for readers to get a taste for the movie I’m writing about. I try to keep things PG-13 around here, so even if the movie is of a more (ahem) adult nature, I purposely refrain from posting more explicit pics. I figure readers know what they’re getting into when they read one of my reviews, and can just watch the movie if they’d like to see more. Besides, there are already plenty of other places on the web if they really need to see that sort of thing. 

11.  Do you have any wisdom that you'd like to pass along about blogging?

Don’t write for other people. Write what you enjoy, and your audience will find you.


Paul’s Questions 

What British or International film would you recommend to a friend who has never seen one?

Japanese cinema continually fascinates and baffles me, so much so that I devote an entire month each year, and could probably write about it until the end of time. Here’s a handful of suggestions… Animated: Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988) or Spirited Away (2001) are simply magical gateways to the world of anime; Takashi Miike’s extensive filmography is well worth investigating. Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) is one of his most fun and accessible titles; If you’re looking for more classic fare, you can’t go wrong with Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring (1949) or Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Oops! I guess I recommended more than one.

Which classic film director do you prefer and what is your favorite of their films?

The works of Fritz Lang continue to entrance and inspire. I’m still exploring his diverse filmography, and finding hidden treasures. Any director who could make Metropolis (1927) and The Big Heat (1953) demands my attention. 

Which character actor or actress do you think would have made a great lead?

Dick Miller was a favorite of Roger Corman and Joe Dante, but rarely got his due. Although he proved he could carry a film with A Bucket of Blood (1959), he should have headlined many more. 

What child actor do you believe should have had success as an adult but didn’t?

Haley Joel Osment. After his breakout roles with The Sixth Sense (1999) and A.I. (2001), he seemed to fall into a black hole. I hope his recent appearance in What We Do in the Shadows will be the shot in the arm his career deserves. 

What film do you love, but dislike the ending?

Unbreakable (2000) always keeps me captivated with its performances and low-fi approach to superhero movies, but oh, what a corny ending. That final caption (about Elijah Price’s fate) before the end credits has got to go.   

Whose onscreen wardrobe do you covet and would like to claim for your own?

Do costumes count? I’m not much of a clothes-horse, but I think it would be a hoot to wear one of Raymond Massey’s “future” outfits from Things to Come (1936) for a Halloween costume party. 

Which original film do you think could be improved as a remake and who would you cast?

Damnation Alley. If the filmmakers stuck closer to Roger Zelazny’s 1969 novella (which has more in common with Escape from New York than the 1977 film), I might cast Michael B. Jordan or Christian Bale (played by Jan Michael Vincent in the original) as the lead, or perhaps for a gender switch, Charlize Theron. 

Which classic film actor or actress do you think would be successful in today’s film industry?

Katherine Hepburn, who often portrayed tough and savvy, yet vulnerable characters. She held her own against her contemporaries, and would easily measure up against anyone today. 

What film trope do you never tire of seeing?

Sure, it’s a tired trope, but I always enjoy seeing the hero knocked down, only to rise up to fight another day (Hey, it works for Godzilla and Gamera). 

If you could adapt a piece of classic literature that has not yet been made into a film, what book would you choose and who would you cast in the main roles?

John Kennedy Toole’s posthumous novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. After some consideration, I thought it would be amusing to cast Mark Proksch (the guy who plays Colin Robinson in the What We Do in the Shadows TV series) as Ignatius J. Reilly, and Kathy Bates as his long-suffering mother, Irene Reilly. 

Which of today’s modern actors or actresses do you think would have been successful in classic films and why? 

With his fast-talking persona and unique features, Steve Buscemi would be ideal for a 1930s screwball comedy or 1940s film noir. 

Gill's Questions

Share the reason you started your blog. 

Cinematic Catharsis started as a byproduct of completing my master’s degree. I had grown so accustomed to writing for numerous assignments that I felt I didn’t care to stop. The blog’s title refers to how movies have always been a release for me, my refuge from the rest of the world. I love watching them and sharing my thoughts. As of October, this will be my 10th year blogging, and I have no plans to stop!


Share two pieces of advice for new bloggers. 

First (and I can’t stress this enough), write about what you love. Don’t write for pageviews, Twitter retweets, or because you hope to gain some modicum of notoriety. Write about the things you enjoy the most. It’s good to have an audience in mind, but write for yourself first. I’ve seen too many blogs come and go, and the main reason cited (if the blogger decided to write an epitaph) was that it just wasn’t fun anymore. Blogging should never seem like a chore. If it seems like it’s heading that way, this is the perfect time to reevaluate why you’re doing this in the first place. So, go forth and create the kind of content you want to see! 

Second, set reasonable goals for yourself. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and no one knows when this crazy ride is coming to a complete stop. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet all your goals. One of the secrets to blog longevity is pacing yourself. Pushing yourself to post when you’re not ready is the quickest road to burnout. By all means, post on a regular basis, however many that means to you. Depending on your comfort level, you can always go up or down from there.

 Because I like to do things a little differently, I’m taking this opportunity to present The Cinematic Catharsis Hall of Fame – A rotating list of notable blogs you should check out!




Talesfrom the Freakboy Zone 


Untilthe Lights Go Up 

StatelyWayne Manor 

SilverScreen Classics 

TakingUp Room 

TheOak Drive-in 

AShroud of Thoughts 

Filmsfrom Beyond the Time Barrier 

Nuts4 R2 

Maniacsand Monsters  

Shrine of the Missing (but not forgotten)

StabfordDeathrage Shoots His Mouth Off  – Wherever you are, Mr. Deathrage, I hope you’re doing well, and look forward to reading more of your inimitable musings someday soon.