Friday, August 18, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Duel (1971)

A few thoughts: A motiveless chase thriller wherein a man gets on the bad side of a crazed trucker who proceeds to stalk him and threaten his life over the course of an afternoon. Shot almost entirely on the road, the two drivers never have a face-to-face moment, which only adds to the disarmingly simple and creepy vibe of the movie. It's weirdly terrifying the way they shoot the truck/trucker, presented as this daunting figure without reason, without a face, and totally relentless in his resolve to torment. Though some of the tension does become defused when they choose to throw in voice-over narration to spell out exactly what the character is thinking and feeling. It's distracting, but never enough to take you out of the story. Although it's a simple thriller on paper, the way it's shot and skillfully choreographed is anything but. Dennis Weaver does a great job in the lead, playing off the situation and nothing else in an appropriately paranoid way. The feature film debut of Steven Spielberg, and one of his greatest and most focused achievements.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Horror Performances

This is one of the toughest top 10s I've ever tried to put together, which means by the time I hit "publish" I'll remember 5 other things I wished I'd put on it. But oh well. All lists I make are temporary, and that's part of what I like about them. Just seeing how much my opinion changes as time goes on makes this stuff as entertaining for me to read as I could ever hope it would be for anyone else.

I've mentioned this before, but horror is one of my very favorite genres. And while it doesn't often contain the greatest acting around, there are some obvious exceptions to this rule. This list, as the title may suggest, is by no means an attempt at being objective in any way. These are just my favorites, and when condensed to only 10 total performances, a very small list indeed. Cutting it down to only 30 was tough enough, so you can only imagine how sad it is for me to leave some of these things off. So I guess I'll just toss out a few honorable mentions now, because it would be sad to ignore them completely:

200 Items Or Less: The Day Of The Triffids (1962)

A few thoughts: Witness a walking pot farm zap itself on an electric fence! A meteor shower causes most of the population of Earth to go blind and drops a sort of alien flower/spore that spreads and kills people. How about that for a campy sci/fi horror premise? By causing this mass blindness, the movie finds a way to demonstrate how panicky and selfishly exploitative people can be, which I found very clever and well done. But let's talk about what brings people in and makes the movie special: the giant killer alien flowers. They're pretty cheesy, but I mean, what else would/could/should you expect? This isn't high art, it's a movie about evil alien plants that walk around (or I guess "scoot" would be more accurate) and kill people. The plot meanders at times, but the special effects work is great in that goofy '60s sort of way, so I can forgive a few pacing issues. This movie delivers on its promise and doesn't leave the audience feeling cheated by a lack of triffids. There are plenty of triffids, don't worry.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

A few thoughts: Boris Karloff plays a scientist on the verge of a life-enhancing breakthrough when he is convicted of a murder he didn't really commit -- at least not in the traditional sense. To go much further in describing the plot would mean giving away a great deal of the bulk of the film, so I'll just leave it at that. This isn't exactly new territory for Karloff, as he played his fair share of crazed, genius scientists, but that doesn't make this any less entertaining to watch. Well-paced at under 70 minutes long, the plot moves along at a steady clip and never goes stale. I like how the story shifts focus and - to an extent - changes genres as it goes along, culminating in a very fun sequence wherein characters are creatively killed off one by one. As is often the case with his movies, the main highlight here is Karloff. Though he winds up becoming a fairly stereotypical maniac, he still goes through changes that - as crazy as they may be - are partially understandable. Not essential Karloff, but well worth the watch.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Top 5 Jeffrey Combs performances

One of the greatest cult character actors of the past 30 years, Combs is often overlooked by mainstream audiences and awards, but has a huge following of loyal fans who appreciate him for the talented performer that he is. These aren't meant to be wordy or deeply detailed, so no more introduction, it's list time.

5. From Beyond (1986)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Cash On Demand (1961)

A few thoughts: As much as I love Cushing's iconic horror performances (Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes, etc.), this movie proves more than anything that he was an incredible actor with tons of dramatic range outside of his horror wheelhouse. His nervously stoic performance is one of the best of his entire career, as you see his character change and naturally develop over the course of only an hour or two. As far as genre credibility, I suppose this doesn't fully fit inside my usual parameters, but as a Hammer production with a small cult following, I suppose that's all that's needed for me to write about it. Very intense and cleverly written, this movie is a fantastic acting showcase for both of its leads, but the acting never overshadows how sharp the story is. I loved the finale, which threw me off-guard and left me continually anticipating twists that I wasn't able to predict. Heist movies are often thrilling, but rarely this emotionally satisfying and cleverly character-based. It's only 80 minutes, and doesn't waste a moment, but somehow never feels rushed. A pretty great movie, and one that makes me wish Hammer produced more like it.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Corruption (1968)

A few thoughts: I've been pretty clear in the past that I'll watch anything with Peter Cushing in it -- he's my favorite actor, after all. So, naturally, I went digging into some more obscure stuff of his and came across this one. So being the Cushing fan I am, even the lousy script, nonsensically exploitative subject matter, and campy presentation couldn't take away from the joyous experience of watching my favorite actor let loose and give a totally unhinged performance. Aided by an equally psychotic performance from Sue Lloyd (who miraculously manages to hold her own beside Cushing), this is not a movie you watch for anything other than the acting. It's gory, stupid, has a pretty distracting swingin' '60s soundtrack, and doesn't care even remotely about telling a good story. But still, thanks to these two leads, it manages to be entertaining in its own right. Mix in some pretty disturbing and intense scenes with a whole lot of tooth-gnashing, and this is what you get. I cold never say it's good, but I certainly wasn't bored. Also, it's got a hilarious poster.

Friday, August 11, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Baby (1973)

A few thoughts: About an hour into this cult film about a grown man who behaves and is treated like a baby, I found myself thinking I may have just wasted my time on a pretty worthless and overtly weird movie. But then the finale hit and I found myself laughing and throughly engaged in a ludicrous and truly unexpected conclusion. The result is a bit uneven, for sure, but an oddly gratifying experience nonetheless. As I was watching it, I got a distinctly John Waters-y vibe (specifically the egg lady from Pink Flamingos), but by the end it was more like a more depraved Sam Peckinpah. The acting is hammy, the story is incredibly strange - almost aggressively so - and it's by no means the most well-produced or easy movie to watch. But much like the aforementioned Pink Flamingos, this movie has a sleaziness to it that fans of low brow cult films of the '70s are likely to enjoy, but most everyone else will dislike and find too bizarre and gross. I was very close to feeling that way myself, but like I said before, I had a lot of fun with the ending.

Top 5 Terry O'Quinn performances

I know I need to see more of him, but Terry O'Quinn is an actor I always look forward to seeing in anything (though it's been nearly 15 years since he's even appeared in a movie) and consider extremely underrated in a mainstream sense. I'm trying to avoid using too many TV performances for this list, but there are a few that are just hard to ignore. So I'm compromising and going with quality over quantity. Anyway, here are my top 5 favorite Terry O'Quinn performances.

5. Pin (1988)

200 Items Or Less: The Flesh And The Fiends (1960)

A few thoughts: Burke and Hare are a popular subject of horror (and horror-comedies), but with two leads like Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence, it should be pretty obvious why this particular adaptation caught my eye. Obviously, there are a good deal of comparisons that can be made between this and Frankenstein, especially when you consider Cushing is playing essentially the same character here as in the Hammer series, but even in a similar role, he brings something new to the table here as a deliberately confrontational and charmless doctor -- with deep humility by the film's conclusion. Pleasence is pretty great as a slimy murderer who sells bodies, but the third focus of the story involving a younger doctor and his always-drunk girlfriend is a bit tedious and feels a lot like filler. They make it work into the main story though, so it at least wasn't pointless. As a whole, this movie definitely seems like an attempt to capitalize on the popularity and success of Hammer's Frankenstein movies, but it still has its appeals -- and unsurprisingly, those appeals are mainly Cushing and Pleasence's performances.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

A few thoughts: Not only one of the most important horror movies ever made, but one of the most important movies ever made, period. Sadly, even with masterpieces, there are some chinks in the armor. With this one, it comes down to the characters. Apart from the lead, there isn't a single intelligent or rational person in the entire cast, and frankly it becomes incredibly annoying. I hate people as much as the next guy (probably even more), but this makes me hate people far beyond the normal levels. I don't really need to go into how dark and claustrophobic this movie is, and how it ushered in a new wave of horror, but suffice it to say this movie's influence can still be felt almost 50 years later. The ending is one of the most frustrating in film history, but that only assures you'll never forget it. I can't say it's totally flawless (like I said before, the characters mostly suck), but the frustration our lead feels only adds to the doomed tone of the rest of it. Not even my nitpicking and pessimism can prevent me from considering it one of the greats; this is an absolute classic that still holds up today.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Comedy Of Terrors (1963)

A few thoughts: Not only is this movie not very good, it's not even the best ensemble horror comedy of 1963. That's a very specific thing to not be the best of, and The Raven owns that title by a landslide. Vincent Price is usually much more entertaining than this, and the same can be said of Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. For being a comedy, I don't recall laughing a single time, with a majority of the "jokes" slipping by without me even realizing if was supposed to be funny. Basil Rathbone is pretty much the only one here who has any decent material, and he does what he can but isn't in the movie enough to make it worthwhile, and a majority of his "funny" moments come from his recitations of Shakespeare. My kidneys just may rupture from the outpouring of laughter. With a cast this great, a talented director (Jacques Tourneur), and a writer as prolific as Richard Matheson, I expected more. And that's right, the same Richard Matheson who wrote the book I Am Legend, over a dozen Twilight Zone episodes, The Incredible Shrinking Man, House Of Usher, and oh, whaddyaknow, The Raven. What a horrible waste.

200 Items Or Less: Low Blow (1986)

A few thoughts: I enjoy B-Z grade movies, so I like looking for the really entertainingly absurd ones from time to time. While this definitely wouldn't be near the top of my list of so-bad-it's-good movies, I still laughed a fair amount and was every bit as baffled by it as I could have hoped. This is that sort of movie where things happen, and then other things start to happen, and then you forget about the first thing. A string of events that technically move the plot along, but you'll never see the logic behind any of it. Leo Fong drives drunk (presumably) and kicks a lot of people, Cameron Mitchell sits on a fluffy chair dressed as the Emperor with shades and monologues about the weather, and '80s porno music blares throughout 90% of the movie, drowning out virtually every line of dialogue. It's every bit as incompetent and funny as it sounds, but you definitely have to be in the right mood and with the right people in order to fully enjoy it. It's not as funny if there's no one there to laugh along with. But if you like crappy action B-movies from the '80s, here you go.

Monday, August 7, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Black Room (1935)

A few thoughts: Seeing Boris Karloff share the screen with Boris Karloff is a rare treat, and while this movie could have easily gotten by on that gimmick alone, it actually has a pretty cool story to tell. Karloff plays a pair of twins, the younger of which is prophecized to kill the older in a particular room in their castle. One brother is evil and the other is good, but they switch it around so the good is meant to be the killer. While the movie could have taken this and went in a more outrageous route, I was impressed by how they handled it, and Karloff does a fantastic job as both of these characters. As I said before they use some trickery to have Karloff appear twice in single shots, something that genuinely surprised me: I expected strictly over-the-shoulder shots with body doubles. As could be expected of a '30s Karloff mystery/thriller/horror(?) this movie isn't terribly long, and at just over an hour long they managed to tell a complete story. This may not be the best of his career, but it's still really solid and has a cool castle setting.

200 Items Or Less: Destination: Outer Space (2010)

A few thoughts: A hodgepodge of ill-conceived and/or stolen ideas, this movie feels very much like the writer (Christopher R. Mihm) had a dozen or so incomplete thoughts for his movies and elected to smash them all together instead of trying to flesh them out. It's like being told the start of 5 different jokes and never being given a punchline. Usually Mihm's movies are fairly well-done parodies, but not here at all. The poor attention to detail makes it less like a tribute to classic sci/fi tropes than a complete misunderstanding of them. Instead of just having stilted dialogue and poor acting, this movie chooses to draw attention to how bad these aspects of it are without ever finding a way to make it humorous. Out of place and distractingly obvious and bad references to popular movies (like Star Wars) take it out of the supposed '50s setting, resulting in "jokes" of the caliber of the most poorly thought out leftover Family Guy material. There are a few fun moments, but this mess is just...well, a mess. Easily my least favorite Mihm so far, and a major disappointment -- especially since I consider him one of my favorite modern directors.

200 Items Or Less: Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

A few thoughts: One of those rare movies with a single image far more well-known than the movie itself, Mr. Sardonicus fits nicely into William Castle's filmography as a fine example of the charms of his gimmickry. Gleefully cheesy and in poor taste, I can't go so far as to say this is a very good film, but it's an entertaining one regardless. Filled with hilariously cornball torture scenes and close-ups on some very poor prosthetics work, this movie tells an outrageous story that's just goofy enough to be funny and just serious enough to not be a comedy. I enjoy the opening and closing bits featuring Castle himself, moments during which you can tell this was a man who absolutely loved what he did. Were his movies silly? Absolutely, but the way he tried to have his audiences participate in the experience was infectiously charming. As far as his movies go this wouldn't be at the very top of the list, but if you enjoy the look and feel of black and white horror from the '50s and '60s, this is a competently made movie with a cool setting and creative presentation.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Top 5 Best Episodes of Adventure Time (Season 3)

Being arguably the most consistent season of the entire show (which is really saying something), the best of and worst of lists for it were incredibly hard to make. On the top end, some of my very favorites of the entire series were in thus season, with a dozen or so more that I also really liked. On the bottom end, there wasn't a single "bad" episode to be found, with the worst ones more often than not just simply being forgettable. So with that out of the way, don't be surprised if your favorites or least favorites aren't on this list. There were too many good episodes for me to choose from, making it very hard to narrow it down to just 5. So let's get on with this, my top 5 favorite episodes of season 3.

5. What Was Missing

Saturday, August 5, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Escanaba In Da Moonlight (2001)

A few thoughts: I normally wouldn't write a 200 Items review of a comedy, but seeing as how this is the only movie I've ever seen that feels quite like this, I figure I'll let it slip in as a sort of campy cult fantasy hybrid. But as any true cult movie should be, the intended audience for this movie is so damn small and specific, it's a wonder it was even made in the first place. This isn't the kind of comedy you burst out laughing during, but the quotable lines and memorable characters will stick with you regardless. By the third act, you'll feel like you're watching a completely different movie, but that bizarreness only adds to how truly exceptional this movie is to experience. My family picked this up on a whim when a video rental store was clearing out their VHS tapes, and honestly, that's kind of perfect for it. I've never really known anyone to have seen this, but that obscurity only works in its favor. It's not very "good", but it's remarkable nonetheless, and a worthwhile bit of wacky, superstitious, paranoid nonsense. Even if you don't like it, odds are you won't forget it.

Friday, August 4, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Showgirls (1995)

A few thoughts: The term "worst of all time" gets throws around an awful lot these days, so I'll try to avoid such hyperbole when I say this movie is definitely one of the worst movies I have ever seen. By the time this movie finished, I felt like it had become part of my personality. After experiencing something so horrible for so long, how could it not find a way to creep into my brain and tug some wires loose? Elizabeth Berkeley gives one of the most astoundingly inept lead performances I've ever seen, and a good portion of the supporting cast is almost as bad. The major exception being Kyle MacLachlan, who actually does a solid job. But it's not just horrible acting, the story is predictable and the dialogue/content of the movie as a whole is purely vile. This is a repulsive movie. With the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness Verhoeven movies usually have it's almost remarkable how much he missed the mark here. I laughed at times from the horrible acting, but cringed for a majority of the movie: not even seemingly endless nudity could make it bearable.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Planet Of The Vampires (1965)

A few thoughts: Who could've guessed Mario Bava - director of some of the moodiest and most visually groundbreaking horror movies of all-time - would make one of the silliest sci/fi films I've ever seen. But this is by no means an insult. Being a Bava film, obviously the sets, lighting, and cinematography are wonderful. With tons of fog and brightly colored lights shining on strangely shaped background objects, this very colorful and imaginative scenery helps make every frame of this movie just fun to look at. The costumes are goofy full body suits with stripes (sort of like Tron without the lights), adding to the campiness this sci-fi/horror/fantasy already has in spades. A sort of vampire/body snatcher/zombie hybrid set on a bizarre planet, this is one of those catchy movie titles that doesn't at all disappoint. Much like with 'Hercules In The Haunted World', Bava knew how to deliver on a promise. No, it isn't a particularly scary or creepy movie, with the sci-fi/fantasy aspects definitely taking precedence, but with all the awesome visuals and cool atmosphere, it never felt lacking to me. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Andromeda Strain (1971)

A few thoughts: Slow, methodical, understated, and oh-so atmospheric, this may not be Robert Wise's best ever sci/fi attempt (remember, he directed The Day The Earth Stood Still), but is still a pretty fantastic #2 -- as it would be for anyone. Scientific research doesn't often make for the most compelling entertainment, but watching the scientists in this movie slowly discover the truth about a deadly virus that's wiped out an entire town and threatens life on Earth is not only intriguing to watch, but immensely satisfying. Utilizing split-screen and unconventional narration, this movie pumps out information at a remarkable rate and really rewards people who pay close attention. The sets are designed in that wonderfully stark late-'60s, early-'70s sort of way that only adds to the alien nature of the story. I love the setting, visual design, realistical scientific approach, and the tense and unsettling atmosphere. It plays like a mystery, but not one that diminishes upon rewatch or disappoints if you go in already knowing the outcome. It's a little long (130 mins), but utilizes its time well. A top-notch Crichton adaptation.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Adventure Time - Season 3 (episodes #14-26)

Season 3 (episodes #1-13)

★✯✯✯✯ - pretty bad
★★✯✯✯ - not so good
★★★✯✯ - pretty average
★★★★✯ - good
★★★★★ - pretty great

Episode 14:

200 Items Or Less: Dark And Stormy Night (2009)

A few thoughts: Larry Blamire is the kind of director that you either love or just don't understand. While not on the same level as The Lost Skeleton Of Cadavra (one of the greatest parodies ever made), this old dark house send-up is filled with hilarious characters, one-liners, and the perfect balance of absurdity and spot-on imitation of the subject matter. This is the third parody by Blamire and his crew of regulars, and you can definitely tell how familiar they are with each other, as their chemistry and comedic banter is top notch. This familiarity is infectious, and by the end of the movie you'll be so wrapped up in the fun they're clearly having, there's no way you can't picture behind the scenes moments of them all bursting out laughing in between takes. If you aren't familiar with old dark house movies, you probably won't get all of the jokes, but the humor is so rapid fire and off-the-wall, odds are you'll still find plenty to laugh at. It's an affectionate parody of a subgenre that's faded into obscurity, and the production is detailed and clearly produced with great admiration.

Top 5 John Carroll Lynch performances

John Carroll Lynch, much like many great character actors of our time, is someone everyone is familiar with, but no one has ever heard of. All it takes is a picture and people instantly recognize him. And odds are, most movie fans have enjoyed his performances at least once or twice. He's often given small roles, but always brings something to the table no matter how little he has to work with. An actor as versatile as he is underrated.

So, being the kind of snob that I am, I've decided it's time I highlight some actors like him, and make top 5 lists for my personal favorite works of these underrated actors. So here we go, these are my top 5 favorite John Carroll Lynch performances.

5. Fargo (1996)