January 8th, 2008

MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1946) ** ½

Richard Dix returns for the fifth entry in the popular Whistlers series. This time out, he plays an unscrupulous detective who puts a sexy moll up to pretending to be an heir to a valuable record collection. When an antiques proprietor ends up dead, Dix investigates further, but when the real heiress shows up, things get even more entangled, which leads to the requisite double crossings and of course, more murders.

Director William (House on Haunted Hill) Castle’s fourth and final outing in the popular Whistler series is one of the franchise’s best. Even when Castle was working with a low budget and a limited schedule, he could still churn out an effective movie. His films in the Whistler series were more often than not the most atmospheric, if not the best and Mysterious Intruder is no exception. While it eschews the usual supernatural trappings inherent in most Whistler movies, it’s nevertheless a fast moving and efficient little film noir detective flick. It’s not without it’s faults (the plot is paper thin, there’s too many superfluous supporting characters, the femme fatales are relatively weak, etc.), but these problems are easily overlooked if you’re a fan of the series.

Like most Whistler films, the scenes featuring The Whistler’s eerie narration are easily the best. Dix once again delivers a solid performance and Mike (Dr. Renault’s Secret) Mazurki has a small but memorable role as a knife wielding psycho.

At this time Columbia for whatever reason stopped using their character’s names in their serials (Boston Blackie was in The Phantom Thief and The Lone Wolf starred Passport to Suez), but they restored the Whistler moniker for the next entry, The Secret of the Whistler.

THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER (1946) * ½

The popular Whistler radio series spawned several films (this one is number six) of varying degrees of quality.  The Secret of the Whistler is one of the lesser outings in the series, mostly because it plays more like a syrupy melodrama than an out and out suspense picture.  (The fourth Whistler movie, The Voice of the Whistler suffered from a similar fate.)

 

Series regular Richard Dix plays an artist whose wife is a terminally ill millionaire.  He becomes infatuated with a beautiful model played by Leslie (The Scar) Brooks and asks her to pose for him, which leads to a whirlwind courtship.  Predictably Brooks is only using him for his lavish gifts, and when his wife’s health improves dramatically, it leads to even more complications and eventually murder.

 

Director George (Big Jake) Sherman makes effective use of The Whistler’s brief appearances, but there’s really little here to recommend about this limp mystery, unless you’re a diehard fan of the series.  It’s pretty much devoid of the franchise’s signature chills and the plot twists you’ve come to expect from the series are more or less nonexistent.  Dix gives another fine (albeit thankless) performance and Brooks is quite fetching as his love interest, but their work is all for naught.

 

Dix returned the next year for his seventh (and final) appearance of the series in The Thirteenth Hour. 

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD (1995) ** ½

 

Sharon Stone kept her legs crossed for this over the top western from Sam (Army of Darkness) Raimi.  She plays a loner female gunfighter (called “The Lady”) who goes to the town of Redemption for a quick draw competition ran by the evil Herod (Gene Hackman).  Since Herod killed her father (Gary Sinise) when she was a little girl, naturally she wants revenge.  Also in the competition is “The Kid” (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is Herod’s illegitimate son, a preacher/reformed gunfighter (Russell Crowe) and a gambler named “Ace” (Lance Henriksen) who carries around a deck of cards filled with aces, one for every man he’s killed.

 

The cast (which also includes Tobin Bell, Pat Hingle, Keith David, Woody Strode, and Roberts Blossom) is spectacular and Raimi’s visuals are pretty amazing, but they do little to disguise the fact that the plot is thinner than Hackman’s hairline. 

 

The main problem with the film is that it’s essentially just a series of gunfights.  Even Raimi’s patented visual pizzazz does very little to spice the gun battles up (although the scene where a gunfighter gets a hole blown through him and daylight creeps through his wound is effective) and they go from being mildly amusing to repetitive to monotonous to quite frankly, boring. 

 

Stone doesn’t exactly register as a badass (she doesn’t seem “tough” per se, it’s more like she’s just PMSing) but Crowe and DiCaprio are very good and it was obvious that they’d go onto bigger and better things based on their work here.  Hackman fares nicely as the lecherous villain, but the impressive names in the supporting cast, while colorful, aren’t given a heck of a lot to do. 

 

Even though the film is something of a disappointment given the fact that Raimi is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, The Quick and the Dead still remains fitfully entertaining.  Indiscriminate western fans will eat it up, no doubt about that, but I was expecting a little more from Raimi besides unnecessary zooms, cartoonish violence, and Sergio Leone cribs.    

DEATH MACHINE (1995) NO STARS

Well I didn’t think it could be done.  Many days and nights I thought that I’d NEVER see a movie as bad as The Cell.  Unfortunately for me, I have found it.  It’s name is Death Machine and it’s the worst of the worst. 

 

How bad is this movie?  Jesus, where to begin?  It makes Manos look like The Godfather.  It makes Unbreakable look like Superman.  It makes Transformers look like The Empire Strikes Back.

 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg folks. 

 

Okay, first a little back story on this puppy.  Sherman, set the Way Back Machine to the early 90’s.  You remember the early 90’s don’t you?  Grunge was all the rage, the kids were all wearing flannel and we all watched movies on a VCR goddamn it.  In short it was a time of carefree innocence. 

 

That innocence died when Death Machine was released. 

 

Death Machine was one of those annoying “cyperpunk” movies we saw a lot of during the early 90’s (like Freejack, Johnny Mnemonic or Hardware) that featured stupid post-modern assholes spouting a lot of nonsensical jargon while “cautionary” technology runs rampant.  You remember those flicks.  They came out at the same time when William (Neuromancer) Gibson was being hailed as the next Stephen King. 

 

Thank God THAT didn’t happen.

 

If you were one of those idiots that actually bought into the concept that “Virtual Reality” was going to be the “future”, you may in fact like Death Machine.  Any other sane person will want to avoid this thing like it’s a syphilis ridden one-legged hooker with a hair lip. 

 

Okay, the plot of this pile of doggie doo-doo is that Brad (Child’s Play) Dourif is this long haired hippie computer programmer who works for a high-tech weapons manufacturer who gets fired by his hot boss.  To get back at her (as well as some stowaway “revolutionaries” hiding in the building), he lets loose his latest creation, a crazed robot that looks like a cross between the Terminator, a T-Rex and an industrial meat grinder that turns people into shredded wheat (known as a “Frontline Morale Destroyer”) on her. 

 

To combat the machine, one of the moronic freedom fighters hops inside the ridiculously goofy looking Robo-SWAT gear that looks like a cross between ED-209 and a Remington electric shaver and starts yelling at the top of his lungs unintelligibly. 

 

At this moment, you can officially kiss your sanity goodbye. 

 

If you thought the get-ups in Future War were bad, wait till you see this.

 

Stephen Norrington, the writer and director, later went on to direct Blade, a personal favorite, but honestly, if any sane person saw this movie, there is no way that they’d ever allow him to get behind a camera again.  Ever. 

 

First off, Dourif goes WAAAAAY over the top, easily giving one of the worst performances to ever grace the silver screen.  Running around with his stringy hair hanging in his face incessantly spouting off about how much he wants to “interface” with the heroine (if you know what I mean), Dourif is incredibly pathetic and should have been reduced to doing nothing but voiceover work after appearing in this film.

 

Secondly, all the characters have in-joke names like “Raimi”, “Dante” and “Carpenter” which gets a little annoying after a while.  I have nothing against using other (better) director’s names as your characters (like in Night of the Creeps), but it’s a sad thing when THAT is the limit of the filmmaker’s creativity.  Norrington also tosses in oodles of pop culture references which seem rather odd (not to mention stupid) since this movie after all takes place “in the future”.  People say, “Who do you think you are, Stallone?”, “Did you ever see Scarface?”, “I’m being protected by The Three Stooges!” and one moron even says “I’ll be back” just like Arnold.  The lamest (and most dated) reference comes when one of the half assed commandos says “Shyruken” (just like in the Street Fighter 2 game) before shooting at the monster.

 

But the scene that totally encapsulates what an utter piece of shit this is comes at the end when the cops FINALLY show up. 

 

A cop pulls a gun on the hero.

 

Cop:  Freeze!

 

Hero:  But I’m the one who called you!

 

Cop:  I don’t care!

 

With this, the cop shoots him in the leg!

 

WHAT.  THE.  FUCK. 

 

Death Machine scarred me in so many horrible ways that by the end of the movie I looked like a self-mutilator in a razor blade factory.  If I went bobbing for apples in a vat of battery acid, it couldn’t scar me as bad as Death Machine did. 

 

William (Batman) Hootkins and Andreas (The Living Daylights) Wisniewski co-star and embarrass themselves thoroughly, if even you care. 

 

In summary, I’ll leave you with the TOP 5 WORST LINES OF DIALOGUE FROM DEATH MACHINE as further testament to the film’s place as the All Time Worst.

 

5. Dourif:  You can’t do this to me!  I’m dangerous!

 

4. Dourif:  There is a Psycho Death Bot on the loose!

 

3. Hero:  Go fax yourself!

 

2. Hero:  The arrogant dragon will learn to repent my friend!

 

1. Cop:  Holy donuts!

 

FIREFOX (1982) **

Clint Eastwood stars (as well as directs) as a jet pilot prone to stock footage filled flashbacks who is hired by the government to sneak into the Soviet Union and steal their experimental thought control (!?!) plane called Firefox.  He dresses up like a moustached heroin smuggler (!?!) in order to get through Russian customs.  Once behind the Iron Curtain, he teams up with the Resistance and meets with the scientist who built the plane.  Since the plane is controlled by thought and was built in Russia, naturally that means that Eastwood has to think in Russian (!?!) in order to fly it.  Of course he hops in that baby and flies away while the Russia Air Force follows in hot pursuit.  In the end, Clint does battle with ANOTHER Firefox in a showdown in an icy cavern that looks suspiciously like the Death Star trench from Star Wars.

 

You have to love the logic of this movie.  I mean the government KNOWS Eastwood’s got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but they think he’ll be okay because he’ll only experience haunting flashbacks AFTER he’s finished his mission. 

 

At least that makes SOME sense, but there’s a lot going on in this movie that makes ZERO sense.  Like how come if the plane is thought controlled, why the heck would Eastwood need to push a button to fire his missiles.  We also never learn how you can walk around a hanger wearing a conspicuous black helmet and flight suit without being noticed by the dozens of soldiers guarding the plane.  

 

All of this nonsense COULD have been fun if Eastwood had played things with a sense of humor, but then again, that’s never been his strong suit.  Ultimately though, Firefox is too drawn out (it runs well over two hours) for it’s own good.  Far too much of the movie’s running time is taken up by Eastwood wandering around the USSR while looking over his shoulder for KGB agents.  When Eastwood FINALLY hops into the cockpit of the Firefox, things do improve, but sadly it takes FOREVER him to get sky high.  But, if you ever wanted to see Dirty Harry play Top Gun with a bunch of Commies, this will certainly fit the bill. 

 

A who’s who of familiar English faces such as Freddie (Dune) Jones, Kenneth (The Empire Strikes Back) Colley, Ronald (Raiders of the Lost Ark) Lacey and Nigel (Demolition Man) Hawthorne co-star.

THE BEST OF TROMADANCE FILM FESTIVAL VOL 1. (2001) ** ½

The Tromadance Film Festival is held every year at the same time and city as the Sundance Film Festival.  It is run by none other than Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Studios; the purveyors of bad taste.  Unlike Sundance, Tromadance doesn’t charge entry fees for the filmmakers and there is more of an emphasis on blood and guts, which is Troma’s bread and butter.  This collection of short amateur movies that debuted at the film festival is kinda like most Troma offerings:  crude, cheap, and gross, but those aren’t necessarily bad things. 

 

The quality of the short films is highly erratic, but there’s a few here that are definitely worth a look.  Easily the best is “The Strange Odyssey of Richard Chase”, which is like a City Confidential episode played with Barbie dolls.  “H.R. Pukenshette”, about a stoner loser whose vomit turns into a French hand puppet is closest to Troma’s sensibilities and is a lot of fun.  Probably the most interesting short though is “Please Kill Mr. Kinski”, which is kinda like a low rent My Best Fiend, in which director David Schmoeller recounts his difficulties with the deranged (albeit brilliant) actor Klaus Kinski during the filming of Crawlspace. 

 

The rule of thumb we learn from watching these shorts is that shorter is better.  Some films (like “Harry Knuckles”, a James Bond parody) run over a half an hour long, and are so boring that it feels like you’re watching a two hour movie.  Some are so bad that it’ll give prospective filmmakers courage to submit their own work to the festival.  

 

All in all, if you’re a Troma fan with a short attention span, you’ll probably groove to this uneven, but sporadically entertaining compilation. 

 

RAW NERVE (1991) * ½

The first and last ten minutes of this low budget thriller from director David (Mankillers) Prior are the best.  Everything else in between is thoroughly worthless.

 

The director’s brother, Ted (Day of the Warrior) Prior stars as a race car driver who has visions of girls being murdered, but of course, nobody believes him except for a sexy reporter played by Sandahl (Conan the Barbarian) Bergman.  Jan-Michael (Airwolf) Vincent and Glenn Ford (in his last role) co-star as two grizzled cops on the case, and Traci Lords has a supporting role as Prior’s med school sister who dresses like a hooker.

 

After the excellent opening scene in which the killer stalks a pair of twins, Columbine style in a Hall of Mirrors, things pretty much go into the shitter fast.  But along comes the jaw dropping Chinatown inspired twist ending (“I’m her brother AND her father!”) which at the very least confirms Prior’s erratic behavior (like they way he and Lords make cute answering machine messages).

 

Lords is still the greatest actress to come from porn, but unfortunately she isn’t given a whole heck of a lot to do besides scream and hang out with 35 year old dope smoking teenagers.  She doesn’t take her clothes off in this one (which means she’s trying to be taken “seriously” as an actress), but she does wear a variety of slutty outfits though.  Ford does what he can with the feeble material, but the best performance comes from Randall “Tex” Cobb from Raising Arizona as Prior’s mechanic.

 

The rest of the cast is pretty pathetic.  The biggest problem with the movie is that there are way too many extraneous characters that don’t have much of an effect on the plot.  Bergman’s only purpose is to be the standard issue reporter/nominal love interest who says, “I never thought I’d do this on the first date.”  Vincent looks stoned out of his gourd and can barely put a sentence together as the cop who also doubles as Bergman’s ex-husband who says:  “One thing we got on the killer is that he likes to shoot young girls in the FACE!”

 

But the worst acting prize goes to Ted Prior, who does some of the lamest overacting you’ve ever seen, especially when having one of his telepathic episodes.  (“I got a lot on my mind… murderous visions.”)

 

I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the killer’s identity for you because that’s about one of the only worthy things the movie has going for it.  When the murderer finally is revealed, though, he gets all kinds of crazy dialogue like “I’d really prefer to blow off your face, but we’ll just have to make do!” that almost makes this mess worthwhile. 

 

Note to David Prior:  You may actually have a good movie in you if you keep your brother off the screen. 

 

POISON IVY (1992) *

 

Drew Barrymore played up her bad girl image by starring in this lousy “erotic thriller” as Ivy, a slutty tattooed girl with a nose ring who moves in with a rich classmate played by Sara (Roseanne) Gilbert and tries to seduce her father (Tom Skerritt) and replace her pill popping hypochondriac mother (Cheryl Ladd).  She plays the family like a boom box and one by one they fall for her seductive charms.

 

Barrymore’s Lolita-style antics are fun to watch at first, but ultimately she makes for kind of a bland femme fatale.  It’s not so much that she’s a sex starved sociopath, it’s that everyone else around her is gullible enough to fall for her trickery.  The script is thoroughly predictable and some of the characters’ behavior is dubious at best.  (When Gilbert first meets Barrymore, she witnesses her euthanizing a dog for kicks.  Something tells me that’s not the best “friend” material.)  Skerritt is okay as the grieving, boozy dad, but some of Ladd’s over the top theatrics (“Aren’t you afraid of catching death?”) are pretty unbearable.

 

Without a credible femme fatale the movie more or less falls apart and the crappy ending doesn’t do it any favors either. 


Then again, if you ever wanted to see Tom Skerritt’s bare ass, this movie’s for you.

 

Barrymore emerges more or less unscathed and quickly went on to bigger and better things.  She also gets all the movie’s best lines like, “Energy never dies, it just changes form” and “Fuck you with a limp dick!”

 

The film spawned two sequels with two different actresses (Alyssa Milano and Jamie Pressly) that upped the more exploitative aspects (i.e. sex, sex, sex) and are a lot more fun.

 

Director/co-screenwriter Katt Shea Ruben got her start acting in Roger Corman movies and went on to direct The Rage:  Carrie 2.   

HAVOC (2005) * ½

 

Allison (Anne Hathaway) is bored by her teenage existence and rebels by hanging out with her wigger boyfriend and smoking chronic and getting drunk.  One night they try to be “gangsta” and cruise the hood for drugs and her wimpy boyfriend gets beaten down by a thick skinned cholo played by Freddy Rodriguez of Planet Terror fame.  She decides she doesn’t want to be with her poseur boyfriend anymore and starts hanging out full time with the crack rock selling thug.  Things get out of hand one night when Allison and her friend (Bijou Phillips from Hostel 2) get initiated into his “crew” by getting gang raped which leads up to the infuriating non-ending. 

 

Let me get this off my chest real fast:  This movie ONLY exists if you want to see Anne Hathaway’s titties.  After the thrill of seeing the chick from The Princess Diaries boobs wears off (she only pops her top twice in the whole movie), there’s nothing much else in the movie except irritating wiggers doing drugs and trying to act hardcore.  Celebrity Skin fanatics will have a field day with this, but anyone else with half a brain will be bored stiff.  Now I have nothing against watching adolescents partake in raunchy sex (I happened to like Kids a lot), but there’s nothing really graphic or mind-blowing about Allison’s rebellion.  It doesn’t help her predicament any when the filmmakers treat her with zero sympathy either.  For the most part, her and her friends deserve everything that happens to them because they’re all stupid, obnoxious kids that try to act O.G.

 

Stephen Gaghan, who once upon a time wrote Traffic, was responsible for the insipid screenplay.  Maybe after this dud and the lackluster Abandon, he’ll do us all a favor and take a break from the typewriter awhile.

 

And didn’t we put a moratorium in the 90's on irritating film school characters that film everything with a video camera?  What the Hell are characters like this still doing in movies? 

 

Michael (Terminator) Biehn and Laura (Pretty Woman) San Giacomo co-star as Hathaway’s emotionally distant parents.