December 3rd, 2008


Wow, I’ve been staring at my computer screen for about ten minutes now trying to come up with the words that would describe the notorious cult flop Myra Breckinridge and the only word I can think of is BAD.


The studio system from the Golden Age of film was crumbling by the late 60’s and they were starving for any kind of “hip” and “edgy” product they thought could reach the flower power generation.  Sometimes this desperateness worked.  In 1970, 20th Century Fox released the immortal classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  On the other hand, the same year they also unleashed this turd.  It’s a sloppy, unfocused, unfunny and offensive mess.


What happens in the movie (since I hesitate to use the word “plot”) is that film critic Rex Reed gets a sex change to become Raquel Welch and goes on a mission to shake up the establishment by turning straight people gay and by teaching subversive techniques at her uncle John Huston’s acting school while Mae West fucks a lot of men.


Or something like that.


This movie is just straight-up awful.  Seriously, Rex Reed is in no position to give a movie a bad review EVER after starring in this shit heap.  There are a lot of scenes that are supposed to be funny that drag on without a punchline and several more that are just too stupid for words.  You can get some satisfaction from watching a parade of guest stars like John Carradine, Jim Backus, and Buck Kartalian and up-and-coming folks like Farrah Fawcett and Tom Selleck too.  That will only do so much for you though.  Still I guess if you ever wanted to see Raquel Welch rape a dude with a strap-on, then this is the movie for you.


The 77 year-old West (who also sings a dynamite version of “Hard to Handle”) gets the only laughs in the movie with her patented array of one-liners, only about half of which are even funny.  My favorite was when a cowboy told Mae that he was 6 feet 7 inches tall and she replied:  “Never mind about the 6 feet, let’s talk about the 7 inches!”


Bruce Dern is the unstable space gardener who along with his three callous crewmembers and three robot pals (named Huey, Louie, and Dewey) mans a spaceship that contains the last remaining environmental habitat left in the universe.  When the crew receives orders to blow up the domed botanical enclosure and return home, Dern snaps, kills the crew and hijacks the ship.  He soon finds out that being marooned in space with three robots isn’t nearly as much fun as it is on Mystery Science Theater 3000, so he blows himself up.


If Silent Running has a message, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be.  Is it pro-tree hugger or anti-tree hugger?  I mean are the filmmakers trying to say that a tree’s life is more important than a man’s?  Or are they saying that all tree-huggers are crazy and eventually self destruct? 


The early scenes hold a lot of promise.  Dern is fantastic, especially when he chides the other crewmembers for not eating organic food.  However once Dern is flying solo with the cute little robots (who were all played by multiple amputees) things slow down to a crawl and get downright boring.  Like Dern, you’ll be suffering from space madness long before the end credits.


The special effects by director Douglas Trumbull are incredible.  Trumbull had previously done the effects for 2001 and he does a great job working on about a tenth of that film’s budget.  The ships are all great and I liked the way that 20th century companies like Coke were supporting space missions well into the future. 


Unfortunately in the future, people still listen to Joan Baez.  Her constant folksy warbling on the soundtrack will drive you positively bat shit insane and will make you wish that Dern blew up his CD collection before blowing up his crew.


It took Trumbull 11 years to finally get back behind the camera again with the ill-fated Brainstorm.


Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) holds a séance at his pad for a bunch of scoffing unbelievers but gets his revenge when he puts the bite on the unsuspecting Erica (Judy Lang).  Her concerned boyfriend (Michael Murphy) gets a doctor to investigate and they learn that Yorga is actually a vampire (DUH!) and they set out to ram a stake through his heart.


Count Yorga, Vampire was a big hit back in 1970 although I can’t for the life of me tell why.  (It was popular enough to spawn a sequel, The Return of Count Yorga, two years later.)  The film doesn’t really add anything new to the vampire legend except for a tad more blood and suggested sexuality (including an implied lesbian scene) than what audiences of the day were used to.  Also, the scenes of horror are few and far between and director Bob (Scream Blacula Scream) Kelljan paces the movie in a plodding manner.  There were also far too many eye-rolling scenes where the doctor explained the rules of vampirism to some incredulous idiots who’d say shit like “But vampires don’t exist!”


The silver lining of the film is a strong performance by Quarry.  He manages to be menacing and mischievous, even though the script doesn’t exactly give him a whole lot to work with.  Despite the languid pacing, there is one perfectly awesome kitten munching scene that has to be seen to be believed.  If Kelljan had whipped up a few more shocks like this baby, Count Yorga, Vampire could’ve been a classic.


AKA:  The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire.


Sinbad the sailor (Kerwin Mathews) arrives on a mysterious island where a cloven hoofed horned Cyclops dwells.  He saves the life of a devious sorcerer who inadvertently leaves his magic lamp (which contains a somersaulting juvenile Genie) on the island.  When the sorcerer begs him to go back, Sinbad says no dice because he’s got to marry his hot tamale princess.  This cheeses off the sorcerer so he shrinks the princess down to the size of a Barbie doll (this sorcerer dude also has the power to turn old hags into four-armed serpent women, so what he says goes) and blackmails our hero into heading back to the island.  There Sinbad dukes it out with a giant two-headed bird, a ferocious dragon and a sword slinging skeleton before finally rescuing the princess and saving the day. 


Kerwin Mathews is OK as Sinbad and everyone else in the cast is pretty bland and unmemorable.  All of the stuff involving the human actors is thoroughly ho-hum and all the various drama that doesn’t involve stop motion monsters (like the mutiny of Sinbad’s crew) is tedious. But you don’t watch a Sinbad movie for the performances; you watch them for the awesome effects and the mythical monsters, and in that respect, the film is damn good times.


Ray Harryhausen’s magnificent special effects are quite dazzling and still hold up five full decades after the film’s release.  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad remains the best showcase for Harryhausen’s work and while the film itself may not quite be a classic, the effects sure as shit are.  I mean try not to revert back to a childlike state of awe when the badass Cyclops starts mopping the floor with Sinbad’s men.


Director Nathan Juran also directed the immortal Attack of the 50 Foot Woman the same year.

THE LOST WORLD (1960) ** ½

Before directing a rash of disaster movies in the 70’s, Irwin Allen helmed this remake of the 1925 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic.  Claude Rains stars as Professor Challenger, a kooky scientist who returns to London from an Amazon expedition claiming to have seen dinosaurs on a mysterious plateau.  Although he’s ridiculed to no end by the scientific community, he’s given a second chance to clear his name by taking a big game hunter (Michael Rennie), his daughter (Jill St. John), and a sneezing reporter (David Hedison) back to the jungle to prove the existence of dinosaurs.  Once on the plateau, the expedition encounters man eating vines, giant petunias, a sexy native girl, a humongous Day-Glo spider, angry cannibals, a raging volcano, and of course, forced perspective lizards.  (I mean “dinosaurs”.)


Rains gives an awesome scenery chewing performance as the blustering Challenger and St. John, Rennie, and Hedison do some fine work as well.  I also enjoyed seeing Fernando Lamas (Lorenzo’s dad) as the macho helicopter pilot too.  The real stars of the movie however are the forced perspective lizards that are supposed to be dinosaurs.  These effects are cheesier than the state of Wisconsin but dammit, they’re a lot of fun.


Now would I have preferred that the special effects be of the stop motion variety and not the goofy giant Gila monsters with horns glued to their heads?  Sure.  Did I wish that the flick wasn’t filled with annoying stalling tactics like moronic songs and idiotic love triangles?  Uh-huh.  Was I peeved about the stupid diamond subplot?  You betcha.  Was I disappointed that Challenger didn’t take a full grown dinosaur back with him to civilization and let it rampage through the city, like he did in the original film?  Damn skippy.  But even though the movie has its share of faults, it’s not that terrible and I still kinda dug it despite of everything.


While I may prefer the stop motion special effects of the original film, I didn’t really mind the fact that the dinosaurs were actually just overgrown lizards because that one scene where the Komodo fought the baby alligator (sorry, the brontosaurus fought the tyrannosaurus) was kind of tight.  Say what you will about this scene (PETA would definitely not approve), it’s still a heck of a lot better than the shitty CGI effects used on countless similarly themed Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies.  Besides, how can you completely hate a movie in which a forced perspective Gila monster gobbles up a G.I Joe action figure?


A bored wealthy couple invites a man into their home to play intricately plotted games involving sex and murder.  The man takes a liking to the rich man’s wife and together they plot to murder him for his money.  But it’s just a game, isn’t it?


The only good thing about Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator is its title.  Sadly the title has nothing to do with the movie as the chick’s name isn’t Stephanie (it's Casey) and nobody ever does get stuffed into the goddamned incinerator.  They should’ve stuffed the director in the incinerator instead.


The endless “games” the couple plays with their kidnapped guest gets monotonous after awhile and none of the actors are good enough to pull off any of their “characters” convincingly.  The movie had an OK idea but it plays all of its cards too soon and becomes increasingly predictable as it wears on.  (You’ll be able to see the “twist” ending coming from a mile away.)


Also, for a couple that gets off on kinky sex games, all the sex stuff happens off screen and Stephanie (err... Casey) wears some of the baggiest, ugliest, most unsexy lingerie I’ve ever seen.  Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator is especially disappointing considering that it was released by Troma, the purveyors of tasteless sleaze.  I mean what else can you say about a PG-13 Troma flick? 


AKA:  In Deadly Heat.