The Visitor (1979)

visitorthe_03Michael J. Paradise’s dueling space alien, evil child magic mushroom day tripping movie THE VISITOR is amazing. Seriously. Its a movie unlike anything I’ve ever seen. But it is a shambles, a tragic mess overstuffed with lumbering performances, hokey dialogue, and cheapo special effects.

Before talking about anything else, this cast needs to be named, the shame includes: Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, directors John Huston and Sam Peckinpah, Lance Henriksen, Mel Ferrer, and Franco Nero.  Powerhouse cast fueled by cocaine and bad decisions.

prod-db-brouwersgracht-investments-fvi-swan-american-film-dr-the-visitor-stridulum-de-giulio-paradisi-as-michael-j-paradise-1979-usaita-avec-glenn-ford-science-fiction-PP3RCHFirst and foremost, let us address Glenn Ford’s herpes sore or dog bite or whatever. It is poorly covered up with makeup, but is a distracting reminder of the frailty of the human condition in the late 1970s America. Even our most iconic heroes were conscripted into movies where children call you a pervert and filming can’t be delayed until your sexual virus clears up. But, really, disco.

Secondly, let us now address, John Huston. His entire presence in the movie consists of him walking up and down stairs and standing on roof tops with his arms spread-wide. He plays a godlike alien who returns to earth to stop the offspring of his arch enemy, a space warlord known as Saateen. Get it? Anyway, Huston manages to save NO one but does kidnap the little girl to take her back to the romper room run by Franco Nero’s Space Jesus.

If that makes sense to you, then you will enjoy watching Shelley Winters stalk around the edges of the kitchen slapping little girls. You will marvel at Lance Henriksen’s attempts to marry Joanne Nail, a single mother who was married to the muttering, strung out abortionist Sam Peckinpah. There are birds of prey and a little girl who can toss bullies through windows at the skating rink. Also, there is a fifteen minute, real time basketball game that opens the movie.

Sound fun? I know, right.

2000 Maniacs (1964)

2000Maniacs4Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 2000 Maniacs has taken on a new odiousness since 2016. That’s right. TRUMP and the re-mainstreaming of white racism and Confederate Pride.

Is that a fair reading? Well, the horror of this movie, beyond the torture and gore, is the supposed fear Northerner’s have of the South rising again.

The idea of Southern revenge for the crimes of the Northern Aggression is a well worn trope in the Lost Cause narrative.  An idea drummed home by the scariest, most horrific scenes in this movie – the folk singing trio, Pleasant Valley Boys’ awful singing. SHUDDER.

Again, the trope hicks torturing and killing uppity, sinful, and waaay too sexy northerners has become a cliche’ at this point. So much so that the over the top yelling performances of the town folk, the mayor, and the bumbling greasy baseball cap nincompoops is more annoying than humorous. Its frightening in its tone deaf offensiveness.

Ghosts of the Confederate Dead are very hard to sympathize with, but that is kinda the point. The movie casts them as a town of loonies intent on gruesome revenge. And just like Gordon Lewis’ other splatterfests, the plot gets in the way of the gore. In fact, these movies are structured just like old time porno theater porns – there is a plot but all of it is over the top filler for the special effects gore scenes. Those scenes are less effective than say BLOOD FEAST, in part because the movie had a bigger budget for the non-gore scenes.

It seems odd that such a racist loving gore porn would serve as the titular inspiration for the soft rock indie band, 10,000 Maniacs.

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

bringmethehead3Sam Peckinpah’s BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is not his best movie, but it is a good Peckinpah movie. And by good Peckinpah movie I mean you can feel the dirt heat, smell the alcohol sweats, and gag on the stale cigarette smoke.

Peckinpah used Oates as raw muscle. Warren Oates lives in the filth of his character, greasy and stained and surging toward painful insanity. He mutters his lines between sun-baked swirls of whiskey and grabs at Isela Vega with a calloused panic. The desperation of his plight underscoring the helplessness of the scuzzy loser on his last caper. So basic Oates role for the period.

The plot of BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is pretty much summed up in the title. In the quest to achieve the titular goal, there is grave robbing, nasty bikers, fist fights, and a whole wild bunch of violence. So basic Peckinpah flick.

Having said that, this movie has its definite merits. Oates is fantastic as he chews his teeth after being resurrected from the dirt nap. His madness is profound and the scenes driving alone across the Mexican desert with a decapitated head are palpably uncomfortable. Not to mention the flies and the nosy children. All amazing.

Peckinpah and Oates in the 1970s were increasingly more famous for being Sam Peckinpah and Warren Oates, than they were for the work they were producing. Wild bad boys of the cinema – hard drinking, drug taking, assholes. The storied history of these films allows them to endure to a wider audience than the movies probably deserve.

 

Big Knife (1955)

martinisRobert Aldrich’s BIG KNIFE is a heavy handed noir look at Hollywood studio system. Its an insider’s look at corruption, lust, and cover-ups. The men and women swoon around box office bruiser, Charlie Castle, played by Jack Palance. And Castle is up to his neck in it.

The plot is a slow peeling onion of lies and intrigue – which all begins with Charlie Castle wants out of his exclusive contract with corrupt and shady, Stanley Shriner Hoff (played by Rod Steiger). While Castle continuously drinks himself into a stupor, his estranged wife, his agent, the film studio’s goon, a parade of loose women, and finally, Shelley Winters thunder across the stage. Each brings with them new, damning revelations about the misdeeds of Castle. The same sins that lock him in with the sleazy, bottom dealing Hoff.

Jack Palance may be the star of this picture, it is Rod Steiger that eats the scenery out from under him. Steiger rages, twirls, and swoons as he ham-fistedly beats his cash cow leading man into submission. It is this tension between boss and employee, patron and artist, that underpin the danger and tragedy of the plot.

And the women. The long suffering, underused, and exploited women who are chased after and thrown aside at the mere whim of powerful men. Shelley Winters steals her scenes, burning with a carelessness and drunk intensity that will end up being her hallmarks.

A bit over-long, especially, in the third act, THE BIG KNIFE manages to illustrate the downfall of man very well.

Grapes of Death AKA Les Raisins de la Morte (1978)

Grapes-of-Death-3Jean Rollin does zombies, sorta, in GRAPES OF DEATH. The zombies are not technically zombies, they are the pesticide infected. Which makes this more like Romero’s THE CRAZIES than it does NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

GRAPES OF DEATH is a wild, careening ride into madness among the ruined world of a French village. Our hero is Marie-Georges Pascal, who is trying to reunite with her fiancee and vineyard owner. She is the wide eyed witness to the rolling chaos wrought by the insensitive, callous owners who did not take proper precautions with their staff before spaying the vineyard down with a new, deadly pesticide.

While Pascal never blinks her gorgeous eyes, Mirella Rancelot is completely blind. As the two stumble across the rocky terrain, Pascal silently witnesses the death and terror as Rancelot, arms in front of her, cries out for her caretaker and pleads for information.

The infected are still conscious, though, clearly insane. While they hunger not for brains or human flesh, they crowd around the uninfected subjecting them to unspeakable horrors and nasty torture.  Especially, nasty is the end of Rancelot who is nailed to the door of her house, before losing her head.

Brigitte Lahaie steals the show in so many gorgeous ways. First as a creepy squatter with a nonsensical story, then as the queen of the infected, only to finally reveal herself to the two hunters who are taking care of business, shotgun style. The fiery crash that ruins Lahaie’s face is one of the high points of the end of this weirdly entertaining movie.

One of Rollin’s more coherent and successful genre pictures, I’d say.

 

Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019)

thumpMicheal Dougherty’s GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is a brilliant addition to the GODZILLA canon. Brilliant? Really? Yes, and I will explain.

First, I must complain about the fact that these monsters (sillily called Titans) are NOT people in rubber suits. This is the singular major fault of the movie.

The rubber Godzilla suit’s appeal, to me, comes from the feeling that childhood play is brought to magical life.  Rubber suited Godzilla stands in for the child smashing through the complexly arranged bedroom dioramas of action figures.

Yet while the Godzilla costume is tactile, massive, heavy and its reality is felt in the action – it is slow, bulky, and overly static in its limited puppetry. All of which prove to be drawbacks for action sequences. Compare these two sequences:

hug 1hug 2

The older scene has none of the fluidity of the CGI. But that fluidity can be confusing to the eye, as its animation is fudged with shadows and purposeful blurring. The older scene is clearly limited by the bulky props and the coordinated timing of strings, while the CGI scene exists in a limitless canvas where everything can be expertly fine-tuned and manipulated.

Okay. Having said all that, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS gets just about everything right.

In every single Godzilla movie ever made, the human story line is usually tedious and secondary to the Main Event – making a humongous mess of buildings. The humans usually have too much to do and too many meetings and usually end up fretting and failing.

So plot-wise, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS carries on that proud tradition. The movie picks up where the 2014 GODZILLA leaves off, kinda. I mean, sure it does. There is a gizmo that can calm the TITANS down because it communicates an alpha sounding tone. That gizmo proves to be the prime mover for the human action. Ultimately, it sets up the final battle as well, ushered in by a kid. There is a side quest to help Godzilla that leads to heroic sacrifice and a super cool underwater lair, which adds a half an hour to the human screen time.

But let’s get to the stars of the movie. One by one, the iconic monsters get a great deal of screen time and each manages to squeeze in some real humor and personality. One of the problems with the newer remakes is the cold, deadness to the monsters. So seeing the sneaky sneer or a the playfully impatient snap of a head, brings back the much needed charisma to the individual monsters.

godzillaGodzilla. He is bulky, muscular, and very, very large. Again, his features are more professional boxer than adorable kitty cat. Unlike in the 2014 movie, we get to see a lot of him. Plus he has two of the best entrances of his career and neither have to do with his sniffing out the humans. But it is clear that Godzilla understands the role of the humans in his world, while he may not care, he tolerates them – like pets. Godzilla is the star of the movie and makes it known each time he is on screen. Plus there are throwback references to each of the traditional eras. Unlike previous incarnations, Godzilla powers up the atomic firebreath, often and without the traditional audience-teasing puffery.

mothraMothra. Without her fairies to wake her and a bit underused, her redesign works well. Mothra looks more insect like, which off-sets the magical splendor of her wing span and benevolent symbolic link to Godzilla. But again, I would have loved to have seen more of the inchworm larvae state squirting cocoon spray at monster and human, alike, because her awakening is excitingly promising. Unfortunately, she does not have a lot of screen time, but I do not fault the movie, since Mothra, by her very nature, is a martyr.

rodanRodan is a complete dick. I mean that in the most loving way possible. As the volcanic fire monster, his anger and painfulness seem to exude from his sharp edges and squinty orange eyes. His personality is the strongest of the monsters. He spends the most time interacting with the humans, singling them out and fighting them as one would swat at sleepy house flies. Rodan gets the best “death” scene and the best mugging bow at the end. One suspects he is currently angling for his own film, as we speak.

ghidorahGhidorah. Monster Zero. The false King. Emerging every time he snakes onto the screen, Ghidorah is a marvel. First he emerges from the ice, then sheets of rain, then thunderous bolts of lightning, then billowing storm clouds, each and every entrance calculated to obscure his size and minimize targets.  Monster Zero’s three heads interact like bickering siblings, shoving and snapping and teasing each other. His wingspan silouette is used to maximum effectiveness without getting in the way of the action. Instead the long snake-like necks dart around with a squirming deadly effectiveness. Ghidorah sees the humans and is interested enough to ponder them for a second or two. Lightning breath is finally scary and powerful, unlike the cartoon streaking randomness of the older films. Ghidorah’s storm is intentional and overwhelmingly placed.

So.

Overall, this is a brilliant addition to the canon. GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS will hold up for years to come. And may be remembered as the first Godzilla movie the American’s got right.