Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Spirit of ’76 Month Quick Picks and Pans


Mad Dog Morgan Poster

Mad Dog Morgan (1976) Dennis Hopper plays Daniel “Mad Dog” Morgan, an Irish immigrant turned outlaw in 1860s Australia. He roams the countryside with his trusty indigenous companion Billy (played by the always reliable David Gulpilil), robbing from the settlers. Despite a reportedly troubled production (due to a problematic Hopper), co-writer/director Philippe Mora’s outback western is a fascinating but sympathetic portrait of one of Australia’s most notorious criminals. In stark contrast to his pursuers and local lawmakers, Morgan possesses a code of honor and sense of fair play, transforming him into a cult hero of sorts. 

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

Who Can Kill A Child Poster

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976) Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Spanish horror-suspense film is a potent mixture of Lord of the Flies with Children of the Damned. English tourists Tom and Evelyn (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome) decide to leave the hustle and bustle of a crowded Spanish coastal town, for the promise of peace and quiet on a nearby island. They soon discover the conspicuous absence of adults in the island village, which seems to be populated by roaming packs of sadistic children. We never learn what causes their vicious behavior (Is it a social or biological disease?), but the implication is that some sort of judgment day is at hand for the grown-ups. It’s a truly relentless, unnerving experience that will stay with you long after you’ve watched it.

One warning: The film’s only sour note (and it’s a big one) is the opening credit sequence, presenting a tasteless litany of atrocities against children (including concentration camps and famine). My recommendation: fast-forward through it. 

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

Black Magic 2 Poster

Black Magic 2 (1976) This Shaw Brothers sequel to the 1975 original promises more sex, gore and sorcery than you can shake a severed limb at. An 80-year-old practitioner of the dark arts keeps his youthful appearance by drinking the breast milk of young women under his spell. He keeps an army of zombies in his basement, who obey his every whim. When three doctors investigate the veracity of claims about him, they try to stop his reign of terror. Can they stop him, or will they join the ranks of his victims? Watch and find out. 

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

Creature from Black Lake Poster

Creature from Black Lake (1976) This low-budget independent production, filmed in Louisiana, is surprisingly engaging, thanks to colorful characters and a terrifying beast.  Pahoo and Rives (Dennis Fimple and John David Carson), two grad students from Chicago, travel to bayou country in the hopes of tracking down a legendary missing link. Although the scenes with the redneck sheriff (Bill Thurman) won’t surprise anyone, it’s a notch above many of its contemporaries (I’m looking at you, Legend of Boggy Creek) thanks to better acting (featuring appearances by stalwart character actors Jack Elam and Dub Taylor) and (for once) a decent view of the enraged hominid.   

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

The Human Tornado Poster

The Human Tornado (1976) Rudy Ray Moore returns as everyone’s favorite kung fu-fighting pimp Dolemite, in his sequel to the character’s eponymous 1975 debut. Dolemite and his pals flee a trigger-happy hillbilly sheriff with an axe to grind for the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles. He runs into more trouble when he tries to rescue his pal Queen Bee (Lady Reed) from the clutches of a local kingpin. It’s cheap, with iffy acting, fake kung fu, and a scene that stops the plot cold, solely for an opportunity to showcase his routine in front of an audience. Is it good? No, but that’s not the point. The Human Tornado was made to entertain, and entertain it does, with Moore’s signature one-liners and over-the-top mayhem. 

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


Death Machines Poster

Death Machines (1976) Madame Lee (Mari Honjo) manages a trio of unstoppable assassins (aka: the “Death Machines”), while the bumbling cops attempt to thwart a series of contract killings. Meanwhile, a survivor of a karate studio massacre vows revenge against the people who killed his master and left him for dead. Filled with laughable dialogue, questionable acting, and haphazard directing, Death Machines is a textbook example of a film that’s so bad it’s good. Enjoy. 

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


The Town that Dreaded Sundown Poster

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) This odd pseudo-documentary style thriller (and I use the term “thriller” loosely) chronicles a 1946 murder spree, by a killer with no apparent motive. The tone is wildly inconsistent, ranging from a serious police procedural to slapstick hijinks. Probably the most annoying aspect of the movie is its reliance on unnecessary narration, which either describes what already happened on screen, or provides exposition that could have been dialogue. You’ve been warned. 

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


Futureworld (1976) This forgettable sequel to Michael Crichton’s 1973 film manages to underwhelm at every turn, lacking the novelty or suspense of its predecessor. The Delos Corporation picks up the pieces from the disaster depicted in the first film, rebuilding their resort and replacing their problematic androids with new models. In an effort to boost public relations, they invite TV reporter Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) and newspaper reporter Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) to an all-access experience at the luxury theme park. All isn’t as it seems at the new, “improved” resort, as the snooping reporters discover a sinister conspiracy at work (a theme that would be beaten to death in the exasperating HBO TV series). The cut-rate Samuel Z. Arkoff production fails to impress, riding the fumes of the original (Yul Brynner revises his role as the Gunslinger, in an ill-advised dream sequence cameo). The seemingly endless scenes of Chuck and Tracy running around in the underground bowels of the resort are an apt metaphor for the film, running in circles with nowhere to go. Yawn. 

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



  1. A nice sampling of films from 1976, vBarry!

    I've been curious about creature from black lake, so I think I'll give it a chance now and I agree with your assessment of the town that dreaded sundown. I was seriously disappointed with that film, especially for what I call it's dukes of Hazzard moments.

    I'm cautiously curious about who can kill a child, but it sounds truly unsettling.

    1. LOL! Thanks, John! Once again, there's something for everyone, and a couple things for no one. ;) "Dukes of Hazzard moments" is a perfect way to describe some of that movie's more cringey scenes. Who Can Kill a Child isn't for everyone, but if you can get past the pre-credits sequence (which is admittedly in terrible taste, if not reprehensible), it's quite good.