Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Documentary December Quick Picks and Pans


Night and Fog Poster

Night and Fog (1956) 10 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, French filmmaker Alain Resnais revisited the grounds of the infamous concentration camp. The bucolic, tranquil surroundings (filmed in color), belie the fact that this was once the backdrop for some of the greatest atrocities perpetrated in the 20th century. The buildings are dilapidated and covered in overgrown foliage, but the stories remain, like a wound that refuses to heal. Through archival footage and stills, Resnais illustrates through visuals and narration (written by concentration camp survivor Jean Cayrol) how the Nazis set out to systematically extinguish the people they deemed undesirable. The film’s scant 30-minute length tells a sobering, heart-wrenching true-life horror story that no imaginary tale could ever match. It’s a difficult, but all-too-necessary watch, filled with imagery that will remain burned into my cerebral cortex forever. 

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

Paris is Burning_Poster1a

Paris is Burning (1990) Director Jennie Livingston’s film about the drag pageant scene in 1980s New York is joyous and depressing in equal parts. Amidst poverty, abuse, and bigotry, there’s one place where the African American and Latino LGBTQ+ community can live out their fantasies. We meet the members of several “houses,” getting acquainted with their differing styles and philosophies. Despite the myriad conflicts and personal tragedies, the overarching message is a positive one, depicting people embracing their true selves. While it’s a snapshot of a different era, the issues and themes are still just as salient now. Although fashions change, hate and discrimination, unfortunately, never seem to go out of style. In an era of increasing divisiveness and diminishing compassion, this should be required viewing for high school students (and anyone who wants to expand their consciousness). 

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


Anvil! The Story of Anvil Poster

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner (no relation to that Rob Reiner) started a heavy metal band as teenagers and toured with some of the biggest names in the business in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Fame, however, has always eluded them. Now in their early fifties, they’re desperately trying to gather the cash necessary to produce another album, and hopefully another shot at the big time. Their disastrous European tour and squabbles in the recording studio beg inevitable comparisons to This is Spinal Tap, but their story rises above mere self-parody. Above all else it’s about persistence in the face of numerous setbacks and personal hardship; sticking with their childhood dreams, when common sense dictates they should have quit long ago. Director Sacha Gervasi hits all the right buttons in this surprisingly nuanced, sympathetic profile. While it might not make you a fan of their music, it’ll make you a believer in never abandoning your ideals. 

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


The Howlin' Wolf Story Poster

The Howlin’ Wolf Story: The Secret History of Rock ‘n Roll (2003) This low-key, informative documentary covers the life and career of blues legend Chester Burnett, best known as “Howlin’ Wolf,” told through interviews with the people who knew him best. The film chronicles his humble childhood beginnings in the South, followed by his rise to fame in Chicago. One thing that sets this documentary apart from many others is that it doesn’t just play snippets of his music, but complete songs, allowing his work to speak for itself. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime (Freevee)

Sickies Making Films Poster

Sickies Making Films (2018) This film’s eye-catching title comes from a quote by Mary Avara, who led the locally appointed Maryland State Board of Censors (the last state in the U.S. to have such a committee). We hear recollections from scholars and filmmakers (including Baltimore-based filmmaker John Waters) about some of the struggles with the board’s decisions, many of which were often arbitrary. It’s a fascinating examination of artistic expression versus artistic hindrance.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Kanopy


Lucha Mexico Poster

Lucha Mexico (2016) Documentarians Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz follow the colorful world of Lucha Libre, the professional wrestling circuit in Mexico. We learn the good, the bad, and the ugly about the wrestling scene, through interviews with some of the heavy hitters, including Shocker (aka: 1000% Guapo), Blue Demon Jr., and Sexy Star. It’s a profession that many pursue, but few succeed, exacting a tremendous mental and physical toll. If you thought everything in the ring was fake, this might change your mind. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD, Tubi and Kino Cult 


Diving Into the Unknown Poster

Diving into the Unknown (2016) Director Juan Reina provides an exclusive glimpse into a hidden part of our world that most of us will probably never see. We meet a Finnish group of divers who participate in one of the most hazardous sports on the planet: exploring underwater caverns. After a tragic incident in Norway that left two of their friends dead, the remaining team of divers embark on a perilous (and illegal) mission to recover the bodies. Diving Into the Unknown benefits from some claustrophobic cinematography, giving us a taste of what it must be like to enter these dark, foreboding, underwater crevices. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Tubi

Filmed in Supermarionation Poster

Filmed in Supermarionation (2014) Lady Penelope and her faithful butler Parker host an affectionate look at Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s puppetry process, dubbed “Supermarionation.” From the late ‘50s to the late ‘60s, their television shows (including Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet), became a ubiquitous fixture on British television, featuring increasingly innovative and elaborate effects. Gerry and Sylvia (along with several of the cast and crew members who collaborated with them) share their memories about the numerous challenges of their productions. As an officially sanctioned documentary, Filmed in Supermarionation glosses over some of the behind-the-scenes drama, but it’s an amusing, informative tour for casual and die-hard fans alike. 

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

Heavy Petting Poster

Heavy Petting (1989) Obie Benz and Joshua Waletzky piece together attitudes and recollections about sex from children of the ‘50s. David Byrne, Sandra Bernhard, Abbie Hoffman, and others recollect their early (and frequently awkward) sexual experiences, contrasting the “wholesome” Hollywood image of the era. Interspersed between the interviews are clips from several vintage instructional films that reinforce the push-pull between antiquated morality and the exploration of sexual boundaries. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Amazon Prime 


Project Grizzly Poster

Project Grizzly (1996) This is the story of one-of-a-kind Canadian eccentric Troy Hurtubise,* on a quest to build the perfect grizzly-proof suit. At great personal expense (and physical risk), he puts the latest iteration, the “Ursus Mark VI,” through its paces. Sporting a stylized mullet, red beret, and buckskin jacket, the fast-talking Hurtubise comes across as something between a shyster and a shaman. If you crossed a goofy inventor with a would-be commando, and a used car salesman, you might get something like him. Whether he succeeds or fails is less relevant than getting the chance to spend 90 minutes with this one-of-a-kind crackpot. 

* Not-So-Fun-Fact: Hurtubise survived the death-defying exploits with various versions of the Ursus suit (including a confrontation with a grizzly in 2001), only to meet his demise in a car crash in 2018. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Burden of Dreams


Burden of Dreams Poster

(1982) Directed by Les Blank; Written by Michael Goodwin (Narration); Narrated by Candace Laughlin; Starring: Werner Herzog, Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Mick Jagger; Available on DVD 

Rating: ****½ 


Werner Herzog

“When I came back to Germany, and I had to hold all the investors together, they said to me, ‘Well, how can you continue? Do you have the strength or the will or the enthusiasm?’ And I said, ‘How can you ask this question? If I abandoned this project, I would be a man without dreams, and I don’t want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project.’” – Werner Herzog (on continuing with the film after production came to a halt) 

There are times when the story behind the film eclipses the film itself. Les Blank’s remarkable documentary Burden of Dreams is such an example. Much more than a “making of” feature, Burden of Dreams chronicles the arduous journey that Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) took, from pre-production to shooting. It’s a tale of obsession, hubris and persistence, as Herzog faces every imaginable conflict along the way: man against the elements, man against man, and man against himself

Mick Jagger and Jason Robards

Fitzcarraldo was plagued with problems from the start, with the filmmaker setting up camp in the wrong place at the wrong time, amidst a tribal land dispute in Peru. Tensions reached a critical point, due to mistrust by the indigenous population of Aguaruna people, which fueled baseless rumors of atrocities committed by Herzog and crew. Fearing for their safety if they remained in the region, the team of filmmakers were forced to flee, and their camp was burned to the ground by the tribe. But the problems didn’t end there. Production eventually resumed in another Peruvian location, with Jason Robards* in the title role of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (aka: “Fitzcarraldo”), and Mick Jagger as his sidekick Wilbur. With 40 percent of shooting completed, Robards contracted amoebic dysentery, again, forcing everything to a screeching halt. Jagger, due to other professional obligations (i.e., The “Tattoo You” album and tour), left the project. Herzog and crew returned to the Amazon for another attempt to film his story, now with Klaus Kinski*/**/*** in the lead (his fourth collaboration with Herzog). 

* Fun Fact #1: At one point, Herzog considered Jack Nicholson for the main character, but considered other options after 20th Century Fox made too many demands (including shooting in a studio and using a model for Fitzcarraldo’s ship). 

** Fun Fact #2: According to the film’s editor, Maureen Gosling, the ever-mercurial, self-centered Kinski, became jealous over the attention given to his co-star, José Lewgoy, and sequestered himself in his hut. 

*** Fun Fact #3: As a last resort, Herzog considered casting himself as Fitzcarraldo.


Herzog and Ship

A new camp was constructed when production eventually resumed two years later in northeastern Peru. Members of the Machiguenga and Ashaninka (or Campa) tribes provided labor, while many served as extras. Filming in a remote jungle location, far from the vestiges of urban life, presented many logistical challenges. Supplies were flown in by small airplanes, and on-site medics provided first aid – a necessity when two indigenous extras were hit by arrows fired by members of a rival tribe. By far, however, the biggest hurdle was Herzog’s insistence on pulling a real steamship up a mountain (which Herzog asserted was the central metaphor of his film).* Two vintage turn-of-the-century ships stood in for the SS Molly Aida – one would endure the treacherous Amazonian rapids, while the other was slated to be dragged uphill. Convinced that the attempt to drag a 100-plus-ton ship up a mountain would end in tragedy, the Brazilian engineer left the project, and was subsequently replaced by a Peruvian engineer (Mini spoiler: Thankfully, the feat was accomplished without serious injury or loss of life). 

* Fun Fact #4: Herzog wanted audiences to be able to “trust their eyes again,” rather than be fooled by effects trickery.

Worker with Travolta Shirt

Unlike the film’s colorful subject, Herzog (who often placed himself front-and-center in his own documentaries), Les Blank chose a more unobtrusive style, preferring to stay out of the frame. Suiting his more introverted nature, Blank tried to keep interference to a minimum, allowing the behind-the-scenes drama to unfold, rather than forcing conflict. According to Herzog, Blank seemed to intuitively recognize when a significant, filmable moment would emerge.

Woman with Knife

Considering the mental and physical toll on Fitzcarraldo’s cast and crew, one might wonder if any movie is worth the strife. Seven people died during the production, although none of those deaths (including a plane crash and a drowning) were directly related to filming. As three months turned into six months, spirits soured among the indigenous laborers and cast members,* many of whom were away from their families, and unfamiliar with living in such close quarters over a protracted amount of time. All the while, living conditions, with regard to food and sanitation continued to erode. In a 2005 interview Herzog lamented being vilified by some human rights groups and critics for exploiting the indigenous people.** He attested that he paid three times the going rate for indigenous workers in Peru (which was undoubtedly a pittance, compared to workers performing the same jobs in the U.S. and Europe). In the end, it’s open to debate whether he provided gainful employment or just wanted to benefit from cheap labor. 

* Fun Fact #5: As most of the indigenous extras/workers were male, the filmmakers hired female prostitutes to (ahem) elevate the morale in the camp. 

** Fun Fact #6: To Herzog’s credit, he was instrumental in helping the Machiguengas secure a land title.

Ship Pulled Up a Mountain

Werner Herzog’s excellent 1999 documentary My Best Fiend (which incorporated some footage from Burden of Dreams), covered his often tumultuous professional relationship with actor Klaus Kinski, and clearly paints the director as a victim. Blank took a more balanced approach, with Herzog’s endeavors as the central focus, but there are many other factors at play. Burden of Dreams at once paints a nuanced portrait of a filmmaker bordering on megalomania and a man going to great lengths to realize his vision (much like the character, Fitzcarraldo). Whether you consider Herzog schlepping a ship up a mountain an engineering marvel or folly, it crystallizes the Sisyphean struggle that most creative people face to some extent. Similarly, negotiating the Amazonian rapids (the “Pongo de los Muertos”), symbolizes an uncompromising artist navigating his way through a world of meddling studio executives, Hollywood sycophants and diminished expectations. Herzog asserts that we need to embrace our dreams to make ourselves whole. Without them, we are merely shadows of ourselves.


Sources for this article: Criterion DVD commentary by Les Blank, Maureen Gosling and Werner Herzog; “Dreams and Burdens,” 2005 interview with Werner Herzog 


Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Third Man

The Third Man Poster

(1949) Directed by Carol Reed; Screenplay by Graham Greene; Based on a novella by Graham Greene; Starring: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Paul Hörbiger, Ernst Deutsch, Erich Ponto; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: ***** 

“Carol Reed is the kind of director who’ll use any ideas – anything that’s going. I had notions for the dialogue, and Carol liked them. Except for my rather minor contribution, the story, of course, was by the matchless Graham Greene. And the basic idea – though he took no credit for it – was Alex Korda’s.” – Orson Welles (excerpted from This Is Orson Welles, by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich)

Harry Lime

Not every monster has sharp teeth and claws, or glowing red eyes, yet they’re monsters all the same. The Third Man features a monster of a different sort – Harry Lime. As portrayed by the incomparable Orson Welles, man and monster are inseparable. While Lime doesn’t even make his appearance until an hour into the film, his presence is felt throughout. As preparation for his novella and subsequent screenplay adaptation, Graham Greene visited Vienna for a first-hand view of the city’s people, culture and nightclubs. Director Carol Reed shot the film mainly on location,*/** except for a sewer set*** that was built in Shepperton Studios. 

* Fun Fact #1: Shooting was divided into three units, day, night and sewer, which ran nearly 24 hours a day, six days a week. Reed insisted on directing all three, and would spend Sundays catching up on sleep. His secret? Benzedrine. Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t “Carol Reed on Speed” make a terrific band name?   

** Fun Fact #2: James Bond fans, take note: Bernard Lee (Q) co-stars as Sergeant Paine, and Assistant Director Guy Hamilton went on to direct several films featuring Agent 007. 

*** Fun Fact #3: Welles was reputedly so disgusted after a day of shooting in Vienna’s sewers, that he refused to return to the damp (and rank-smelling) location, necessitating the construction of an elaborate set in England.  

Holly Martins

Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten),* an American writer of pulp novels, arrives amidst the ruins and rubble of postwar Vienna (a city under the shared jurisdiction of American, British, French and Russian troops) to meet his friend, Harry Lime, who promised him a job. Unfortunately for the penniless Martins, he’s arrived a day too late, as he learns that Lime was killed in a freak pedestrian accident – Or was he? Plagued by doubt, and fueled by Lime’s evasive friends and business associates, he sets out to find the truth. One palpable link is Lime’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), who seems to know more than she’s telling. The more he learns about Lime’s shady dealings (thanks to the unflappable Major Calloway, who oversees the British sector of the city), the less allegiance he feels toward his old chum. As the weight of his conscience bears down, Matins is faced with the unenviable task of helping to turn in his best friend to the authorities. 

* Fun Fact #4: Reed reportedly wanted James Stewart to play the role of Holly Martins.


Harry Lime

Although The Third Man is arguably Joseph Cotten’s movie, it’s impossible to downplay Orson Welles’ significance in the film. Outside of the role of Charles Foster Kane, Harry Lime is among Welles’ most memorable performances. When Lime finally appears in the film, what an entrance it is, as he emerges from the shadows, with a roguish gleam in his eye, grinning like a cat who devoured a canary. Behind that amiable façade, however, is an amoral, calculating profiteer who ghoulishly preys on the city’s most vulnerable residents (dealing in diluted penicillin). When Martins confronts Lime about the ramifications of his business dealings, Lime (in the film’s most chilling speech) glibly defends his actions. From their vantage point atop the city’s giant Ferris wheel,* Lime casually gestures toward the people below, wandering the amusement park’s macadam. To him, they’re insignificant “dots,” who signify money and nothing else. It’s only fitting that he trades his lofty position for the sewers **/*** in the film’s climactic chase scene, emblematic of the depths that he’s sunk. 

* Fun Fact #5: The historic 212-foot Wiener Reisenrad Ferris wheel was built in 1897, and refurbished in 1947. The enduring Vienna landmark is still operating today.  

** Fun Fact #6: One of the most popular (and unlikely) tourist attractions in Vienna is the guided tour of the sewers, appropriately called, “The Third ManTour.”  

*** Fun Fact #7: In the famous shot of Lime’s fingers poking out of the sewer grate, the writhing digits belonged to director Reed, not Welles.

Anna and Holly

Anton Karas’ infectious zither score is arguably just as iconic as Welles’ famous entrance. Discovered in a Vienna heuriger (wine tavern),* the diminutive musician and his instrument captivated Carol Reed. Despite studio objections, the director insisted on ditching the conventional symphonic score, in favor of Karas’ music. The results bring an immediacy to the story, evoking aural imagery of old, pre-war Vienna. At the same time, the score, alternately mournful and joyous, captures the flavor of a present-day city divided physically, ideologically and morally. 

* Fun Fact #8: The formerly unknown zither artist rose to the top of the charts in the U.K. and U.S. with his “The Third Man Theme.” He used some of his newfound riches to open up his own wine tavern, appropriately named Zum Dritten Mann (aka: “The Third Man.”).

Major Calloway and Holly Martins

Ambivalence is a driving theme that runs throughout The Third Man. Not only Lime, but all the principal characters operate in shades of gray, tipping the balance between selfishness and altruism. The people of postwar Vienna act out of desperation and necessity, with many residents resorting to all sorts of schemes and petty larceny to get by. Lime’s friends embody this prevailing cynicism, with no one’s motives entirely pure. It’s easier to look away than get involved. But some crimes are far from victimless. Martins is presented with a grim reminder of the stakes he’s playing by initially defending Lime. En route to the airport, Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) takes him on a detour to visit a ward full of children dying from meningitis – collateral damage from Harry Lime’s scheme. In this heart-wrenching scene, the children are never seen, but their pain and suffering are felt through the dour expressions of Martins and Calloway. A pile of discarded teddy bears drives the message home.

Harry Lime, on the run

So, who is Harry Lime? He’s a profiteer – no, an entrepreneur. He’s a loyal friend – no, your worst enemy. He has all the answers – no, he has none of them. He’s cold-hearted – no, he’s a realist. But let’s not belabor the point. Above all, he’s a charmer. The thing that makes him so appalling is that he’s so appealing. His friends and acquaintances are ready to accept whatever he says as fact. His casual air of authority provides no time to question the veracity of his claims. Perhaps the most monstrous thing about him is that he makes it too easy to see a little bit of ourselves, at our darkest. While you won’t likely find The Third Man on any lists of monster movies, perhaps it should be.


Sources for this article: Who Was the Third Man? (2000 documentary), “Insider Information,” Criterion DVD supplement; This Is Orson Welles, by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich (1992); The Amusement Park, by Stephen M. Silverman (2019)



Sunday, November 27, 2022

November Quick Picks and Pans


Don't Bother to Knock Poster

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) This gripping thriller from director Roy Ward Baker takes place over the course of one tense night. After being dumped by his lounge singer girlfriend Lyn (Anne Bancroft, in her first feature film), airline pilot Jed Towers (Richard Widmark) looks for some rebound action with an attractive woman (Marilyn Monroe) across the hotel courtyard, and finds much more than he anticipated. On the recommendation of her watchful uncle Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.), Nell is entrusted with babysitting the daughter of a couple of well-to-do tenants (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle). All eyes are on Monroe’s nuanced performance as the deeply disturbed Nell, with her character running the gamut, from sultry, to childlike, to clingy. Widmark is also good as the cocky, emotionally stunted Towers, who’s suddenly confronted with a situation beyond his control. 

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray (Out of print) and DVD


The Big Clock_Poster1a

The Big Clock (1948) Ray Milland stars as George Stroud, a publishing executive working under demanding CEO Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), a man obsessed with time and punctuality. Suddenly, Stroud is forced to prove his innocence, after Janoth murders his mistress in a fit of rage. The Big Clock is filled with colorful characters (including Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric artist) and moments of humor that momentarily relax the tension. Maureen O’Sullivan co-stars as Stroud’s long-suffering wife, Georgette, and Harry (Henry) Morgan provides chills as an unblinking henchman. 

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

The Young Poisoner's Handbook
The Young Poisoner’s Handbook (1995) Based on true events (with some artistic embellishment), this darkly comic movie focuses on Graham Young (Hugh O’Conor), as a brilliant but warped teenager. He delves into the mysteries of molecular compounds (with the aid of his chemistry set and some forbidden library books), on a quest to create a fast-acting but undetectable poison. He methodically chronicles his experiments in his handbook as his unwilling subjects (including his best friend and stepmother) succumb to his experiments. O’Conor is terrific in the main role as a quiet, strangely sympathetic psychopath. While we never exactly want him to succeed with his plans, we can’t look away as he carefully carries out his antisocial activities.   

Rating: ****. Available on DVD



Get Crazy Poster

Get Crazy (1983) Director Alan Arkush (Rock ‘n Roll High School) aptly described his frenetic musical comedy as “1,500 punchlines and 1,000 jokes.” It’s an ‘80s update of the classic “let’s put on a show” movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s (but with hallucinogens). The cast includes Malcolm McDowell as Reggie Wanker, a self-infatuated, over-the-hill cross between Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, and Ed Begley, Jr. as a soulless music promoter. The eclectic soundtrack features some fun performances by McDowell (singing “Hot Shot”), Lou Reed (parodying himself), and Lee Ving (as an Iggy Pop-like figure). It’s 90 minutes of barely controlled chaos (according to Arkush, the original title was Hell’s-a-Rockin’) that must be experienced to appreciate. How this movie wasn’t a big hit is beyond my comprehension. 

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

Island of Terror Poster 

Island of Terror (1966) Terence Fisher’s sci-fi/horror set on a remote island village provides ample thrills and atmosphere on a meager budget. A reclusive scientist working on a cure for cancer accidentally unleashes deadly organisms that consume the bones of everything they touch. The so-called Silicates (due to their silicon composition), multiply at an exponential rate, and are virtually indestructible. Drs. Brian Stanley and David West (Peter Cushing and Edward Judd) fly to the island to investigate. Can they find a solution in time, or is this the beginning of the end for humanity? Watch it and find out.

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



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, 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:



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).