July 16th, 2008

REPO MAN (1984) ***

Repo Man is a perfect example of a cult movie.  It’s wildly uneven and while it may not be quite up your alley, you can see why people love it so much.  It’s definitely the best punk rockers meet aliens movie ever made.  


Emilio Estevez stars as Otto, a teenage punk who gets a job repossessing cars.  Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) is the seen-it-all repo man who shows Otto the ropes.  When they get wind that there’s a Chevy Malibu driving around town worth $20,000, they try to get their hands on it.  Little do they know that the car is carrying a trunkload of radioactive alien carcasses. 


The second half of the movie is kinda patchy and the ending, although sublimely batshit insane just does not work, but that’s okay because Repo Man features enough random weirdness in it’s 92 minute running time to fill up three movies.  What would you expect from a movie produced by Michael Nesmith?  (At least he’s doing something productive with all of that Monkees money.) 


Estevez is pretty good in an early leading role, but it’s Stanton who steals the movie as the grizzled, cynical Bud.  While the film is crammed with too many annoying side characters, it’s Stanton who always seems to perk things up whenever he’s on the screen.  

Director Alex Cox peppers the flick with a lot of memorable imagery.  The opening scene is pretty awesome and I especially loved the generic food labels that occasionally fill the frame.  Cox (who later went on to direct Sid and Nancy) also has a keen eye for the sights and sounds of the West Coast punk scene (something that was never properly documented) and as a result, the soundtrack is great.  Besides the excellent theme song by Iggy Pop, we also get to see The Circle Jerks perform and hear several other classic punk songs during the course of the movie  (my favorites include the Suicidal Tendencies’ “Intuitionalized” and the Burning Sensations’ “Pablo Picasso”). 


Best line:  “You know how everybody’s into weirdness right now?”


Jayne Mansfield’s husband (and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite actor) Mickey Hargitay stars in this garish but fun 60’s shocker as the deranged “Crimson Executioner” who runs around his ancient castle in a red mask and cape and menaces beautiful models and hunky photographers for 75 minutes.  Since the Executioner is a student of the Marquis de Sade, he’s converted his basement into a torture chamber where he likes to use a bed of spikes, an iron maiden, Chinese water torture, and in the film’s best scene, a giant spider web to make his sexy victims suffer. 


Hargitay acts pretty nuts in this flick and his out-there performance alone is worth the price of admission.  The photography sessions are downright hilarious and there’s also a great, groovy score and some truly awful dubbing that add to the movie’s charm.  It’s a little on the tame side (all the models are only naked from the back) and some of the plot contrivances will have you shaking your head in disbelief (even though their models are dropping like flies, the plucky photographers still keep taking photos), but goddamn it this flick is a lot of fun.  Besides, any movie that goes by at least NINE alternate titles can’t be all that bad!


One doomed model gets the best line of the movie:  “Can’t you see it’s a diabolical trap!”


AKA:  A Tale of Torture.  AKA:  The Crimson Executioner.  AKA:  Some Virgins for the Hangman.  AKA:  The Castle of Artena.  AKA:  The Red Hangman.  AKA:  The Scarlet Executioner.  AKA:  The Scarlet Hangman.  AKA:  Virgins for the Hangman.


A skuzzy gangster (Phillip Van Zandt) runs a “Talent School” for naïve young girls who have hopes of breaking into show business.  A wet-behind-the-ears assistant D.A. (the square-jawed John Archer) and a nosy reporter (Astrid Allwyn) set out to find out why so many of the school’s girls end up missing and/or murdered.  It turns out that the school is just a front for some white slave trade racketeers who sell the most promising students off to their more unsavory clients.  


I love these old exploitation movies from the 30’s and 40’s that warned our nation’s youth about the dangers of drinking, marijuana; or in this case, the white slave trade.  Even the most tepid of these kinds of flicks (which City of Missing Girls would certainly qualify as) have their merits.  These movies just have a charm to them that you can’t find anywhere else.  Take for instance how even the scummiest of characters always wore finely pressed suits.  Or how the Hayes Code prohibited the use of such world as “slavery” and “prostitution”, which sometimes made it difficult to figure out what the Hell the movie was really all about. 


Although the film is rather tame and moves at a snail’s pace, City of Missing Girls definitely has its moments.  The dancer’s auditions are a laugh riot (Love those somersaulting twins!) and there’s a great dancing-girls-in-a-police-line-up scene too.  The film also suffers from having a little TOO much plot (Allwyn’s father ends up being the mastermind behind the school) but there’s still enough cheesy goodness to make it worth a look for fans of old school, low budget exploitation movies. 


Director Elmer Clifton had previously directed the anti-marijuana classic, Assassin of Youth. 


Chet (Darrell Howe) is a brooding juvenile delinquent whose brother gets sent to the gas chamber.  He starts drinking like a fish (“Easy man, it’s not going out of style!”), flips his lid, and sets out to avenge his brother’s death.  Chet gets his gang together and they put potato sacks over their heads and rough up the son of the D.A. who prosecuted his brother.  Next he burns down the house of the judge that sentenced his brother.  Then things get complicated when Chet learns that his sister is dating the son of the key witness whose testimony sent his brother away. 


Howe was yet another one of those actors who watched Rebel Without a Cause one too many times.  He tries for all he’s worth to emulate James Dean in the scenes where he wigs out and although he’s no James Dean (heck, he isn’t even Jimmy Dean), he isn’t bad and fares a lot better than most of the Dean imitators that cropped up in all these teen angst movies from the era. 


Anatomy of a Psycho was advertised as a horror film (it’s not) so some viewers will be disappointed to learn that the character of Chet isn’t really a “psycho” per se, just a misguided youth with a taste for revenge.  (I think the title was changed just to cash in on Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder and Hitchcock’s Psycho.)  It’s okay though, because it’s still a better than average juvenile delinquent flick.  Things get a little bogged down when the film switches gears and becomes a courtroom drama and the ending kinda fizzles out; but director Brooke L. Peters (who also helmed the mini-classic, The Unearthly) really delivers the goods whenever Chet is dishing out his brand of juvenile justice.

BURIED ALIVE (1939) **

The director of White Zombie, Victor Halperin was behind the camera for this slow moving prison melodrama masquerading as a horror film.  Paul McVey is the guy who throws the switch for the electric chair at a small prison.  One night, he gets into a bar fight with a crusty reporter (Wheeler Oakman) and the warden’s chauffer, a prison trustee (Robert Wilcox) comes to the rescue.  Oakman writes a smear campaign against not only them, but the prison system itself, which severely damages Wilcox’s chances for parole.  Other plot contrivances further complicate matters.   


This Poverty Row prison drama is pretty dull going and throws in every cliché in the book.  There’s even a dim-witted musclebound idiot best friend that’s straight out of Of Mice and Men too.  The performances are okay, but they can’t save this interminable bore.  The only good part is the awful rear projection car scenes that are some of the worst you’ve ever seen in your life.  Halperin also directed the much better Torture Ship (which also featured Oakman) the same year. 


Oh yeah and NOBODY GETS BURIED ALIVE in this movie.  What the Hell? 



A suave playboy (Robert Walker) meets a tennis champ (Farley Granger) on a train and draws him into an odd conversation about committing the perfect murder.  Walker suggests that if a pair of potential killers swapped their intended victims, they could get off Scot free because there would be no motive linking them to the bodies.  Granger acknowledges that he’d love to kill his cheating wife and Walker says he’s been wishing for someone to do away with his father.  After arriving at his destination, Granger brushes off the conversation and chalks it up to idle chit-chat, but unfortunately for him, Walker shows up the next day to inform him that he’s bumped off Granger’s pesky cheating wife (who was carrying her lover’s baby) and now is waiting for Granger to fulfill his part of the bargain.  What’s worse is that Granger is now prime suspect numero uno in his wife’s murder, and Walker’s constant smarmy, sinister presence doesn’t help matters any.  In the end the dueling duo duke it out on an out of control merry-go-round. 


Both leads are excellent.  Walker is great as the creepy, vaguely homosexual villain and Granger fairs well in the thankless role of the wrongly accused man.  The performances compliment Hitchcock’s unnerving knack for suspense nicely.  The sequence where Walker stalks Granger’s wife at a carnival is some of the best stuff Hitch ever did.  The way Walker (along with Hitchcock’s camera) follows her from the shooting range to the strongman booth to the carousel to the tunnel of love is intense enough, but when Walker starts to wring the girl’s pretty little neck, Hitch really dials it up.  The final shot when we see the reflection of her glasses as Walker chokes her is the perfect cherry on the top for the sequence.  


They don’t call the dude The Master of Suspense for nothing, folks.  I mean only Hitchcock could take something so mundane like a tennis match and make it seem remotely suspenseful. 


One thing that knocks Strangers on a Train down a notch is that the film lacks a strong female lead that hallmarked most of Hitchcock’s best work.  Ruth Roman is OK as the other woman in Granger’s life but her character really doesn’t add much to the film.  Really though, this flick is more about the relationship between Granger and Walker.  I said before that Walker’s character was vaguely homosexual.  Hitchcock couldn’t really come out and tell you the dude was gay because of the Production Code, but if you look close, it’s plain as day.  (The dude lives with his mother.  In the 50’s that was as good as being a designer on Project Runaway in terms of gayness.)  The film was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, who knew a thing or two when it came to vaguely homosexual psychopaths, having written The Talented Mr. Ripley. 


Hitchcock packs enough suspense into this one to put it at Number 3 on the Video Vacuum Top Ten for the Year 1951, sandwiched in between The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing from Another World.    

STONE COLD (1991) ***

Bikers were the villains in a lot of early 90’s action movies.  There was Another 48 Hours, the great Charlie Sheen actioner, Beyond the Law and this flick, which signaled the arrival (and departure) of ex-football player Brian Bosworth as an action star.  The “Boz” plays John Stone (he’s “Stone Cold”, get it?) a burned out undercover cop with a serious bleach blonde mullet who gets picked by the Feds to infiltrate the drug-dealing “Brotherhood” of bikers led by Chains (Lance Henriksen).  He impresses Chains at a beach bash where he beats up some WWF reject.  Stone is easily welcomed into the ranks of the Brotherhood and he slowly starts to take it apart a piece at a time.  When his cover is blown, Stone must stop Chains from assassinating a biker hating politician. 


Craig R. Baxley, the director of Action Jackson, was at the helm of this puppy.  He handles the action scenes competently and films the barroom brawls, fist fights, shootouts and motorcycle chases in his usual workmanlike manner.  The opening grocery store action scene is not the definitive supermarket action sequence ever filmed (that would be Cobra in case you are wondering), but it’s still pretty good.  (“Clean-up on aisle four!”) 


Actually, this scene typifies what Stone Cold is all about.  It does stuff you haven’t already seen hundreds of times before in an action movie, but it does it just well enough to keep you entertained for an hour and a half.  The ending is nothing but wall to wall mayhem with people getting mowed down by semi-automatic weapons, tossed out of buildings and blown up.  There’s also a great motorcycle-into-a-helicopter stunt (which was done before T2, I might add) tossed in there too.  It may not be great, but honestly, where else are you going to get to see Lance Henriksen dressed like a priest gunning down judges in a courtroom? 


But the best scene in the movie comes during a biker funeral in which a grubby biker is put on a pyre, propped up on his bike, covered in gasoline and then set on fire.  Man, I’ve heard of Viking funerals before, but never Biking funerals!


The thing that prevents the flick from really cutting loose and becoming a classic is The Boz.  He LOOKS like an action star but he just doesn’t have the chops necessary to carry the film.  To top it all off, he’s got the screen presence of a Chevy hubcap.  His big emotional scene is the one where he purees a Snickers bar, some potato chips, a few bananas, a couple eggs, and orange juice in a blender and feeds it to his pet lizard. That’s okay though because any movie in which Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe play bloodthirsty bikers is okay by me.   


Forsythe gets all the best lines; my favorite is when he calls Bosworth, “A grown up version of Bam Bam!”