January 16th, 2009

FEAR CHAMBER (1971) *

A couple of scientists wearing radiation suits that look like oversized Jiffy Pop bags go underground on an excavation and dig up a living rock.  Boris Karloff hooks the monster up to his computer and learns that the living rock needs human blood to live.  But not just any human blood will do.  You see, it needs the blood of someone who is scared out of the wits in order for it to be fully satisfied.  This means that Boris has to go all kinds of crazy, tying up chicks to gigantic Weber Grills and putting them through mock Satanic sacrifices to put enough fear into their blood so that the rock monster’s bloodlust will be sated.  Pretty soon, the rock gets really hungry and starts getting blood straight from the source by using its powerful tentacles.  In the end, Boris hits Control-Alt-Delete on the computer and kills the monster.

 

Fear Chamber was one of four quickies Boris made back-to-back-to-back-to-back shortly before his death.  (House of Evil, The Incredible Invasion and The Snake People were the other three.)  He shot his scenes in Los Angeles with exploitation guru Jack (Switchblade Sisters) Hill and another director did all the stuff with the Mexican supporting cast South of the Border.  Due to the slipshod production values, Fear Chamber is an unmitigated mess.  It’s a shoddy flick in just about every respect.  The editing is awful.  Boris’ footage is haphazardly tossed in with the action, making it painfully obvious that the rest of the film was shot in another country.  The monster costume is pathetic and even though it’s supposed to be made out of “rock”, it looked awfully rubbery to me.  Plus, Karloff doesn’t get a whole heck of a lot of screen time; so you have to make do with his plethora of lab assistants; which include a hunchback, a dwarf, and a hottie (Isla Vega from Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia).

 

Although this movie is dumber than a bag of Pop Rocks, since it had ol’ Boris in it, I just HAD to watch it.  Even with one foot in the grave, Boris still gives a pretty good performance, if you consider the circumstances.  Fear Chamber is probably the worst Boris Karloff movie ever made, but it does feature a bizarre scene where a stripper takes off her clothes in front of the monster.  No matter how bad a movie is (and let me reiterate, Fear Chamber is plenty bad), any movie that features Boris AND boobies, is worthy of my 87 minutes.

 

Best line:  “These strange frequencies worry me!”

 

AKA:  Chamber of Fear.  AKA:  Torture Zone.  AKA:  The Torture Chamber.

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) ****

Clint Eastwood stars as the mysterious Stranger who rides into the small town of Lago and promptly blows away a couple of scumbags.  The sheriff takes notice of The Stranger’s considerable shooting skill and hires him to take out three ruffians, who went to jail for whipping a marshal named Duncan (also Eastwood) to death.  Since the gang holds the town responsible for their capture, they are coming back to massacre the citizens of Lago.  The sheriff gives The Stranger a free hand to operate in the town and he quickly runs around getting new boots, free whiskey and loose women.  The Stranger even makes the town midget (Billy Curtis) the new sheriff AND mayor, just for shits and giggles.  The populace of Lago soon grows to resent The Stranger’s bizarre behavior and they even try to kill him.  Naturally, that means he’s got to bust some more heads and blow shit up.  When the gang finally gets to town, they’re in for a hellish reception as The Stranger literally paints the town red and proceeds to open up a major can of whoop ass on them.

 

High Plains Drifter is my favorite non-Dollars Trilogy Eastwood western.  It was the first western Clint directed and in my opinion, he was never better behind the camera.  The barbershop shootout is some of the best stuff Clint ever did.  In this scene, The Stranger spins around in the barber chair and plugs the trio of assholes who are mocking him.  This guy is so smooth that he can gun down people while getting a haircut.  That’s total badassery right there. 

 

High Plains Drifter also satisfies from a stylistic standpoint.  While the opening scene may make you think that Clint will be aping Sergio Leone for the next 100 minutes, the film slowly becomes something entirely unique.  Eastwood drops in hints that The Stranger may actually be a supernatural apparition, and the film’s subtle otherworldly touches are what make it stand out from the rest of the pack.

 

Now I have to say that in interviews, Eastwood always maintained that The Stranger was avenging the death of his twin brother, who is seen being whipped to death in flashbacks and dream sequences.  It’s left open-ended though, so you can infer that the guy being whipped in the flashbacks is actually The Stranger, and now he’s a ghost who is avenging his own death.  I like this interpretation better.  In addition to giving the film an eerie quality, it also explains how The Stranger can survive being shot at point blank range in the bathtub as well as his ghostlike appearances during the final reel when he’s dishing out justice with a bullwhip.  Also, there’s mention of a restless spirit not being able to find peace until its body is placed in a marked grave.  Well, during the final scene of the movie, Marshal Duncan finally gets his marked grave at the same time The Stranger rides out of town (and consequently disappears).  This seems to be concretely saying that The Stranger is actually a ghost.  Eastwood says otherwise and he’s the one that made the damn movie, so who knows what to believe? 

 

Either way you interpret the film, it’s still fucking awesome.  It works as both a supernatural gunslinger story and as a straight-up revenge piece.  In the end, it’s the ambiguity that elevates High Plains Drifter from your typical oater and makes it one of Clint’s all time best films.

 

High Plains Drifter is a solid Number 4 on the Video Vacuum Top Ten for the year 1973, just below Schlock and right above Coffy.

JOE KIDD (1972) **

Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) is this tight-lipped rancher guy who gets out of jail after being drunk and disorderly.  A smooth talking land owner named Harlan (Robert Duvall) pays Joe’s fine because he wants him to track a Mexican revolutionary named Chama (John Saxon) who claims that Harlan’s land actually belongs to the “Meh-hican pee-pole”.  At first, Joe agrees to track down Chama because he stole some of his horses, but eventually he sides with Chama and tries to make sure he gets his day in court.  This pisses Harlan off and he tries to gun down Joe and Chama on the way to the courthouse.  Joe doesn’t like that very much so he drives a train through a saloon and guns down Harlan’s posse. 

 

Despite a sturdy cast, the presence of a capable director (John Sturges who also helmed The Great Escape), and legendary author Elmore Leonard writing the script, Joe Kidd is still a flat, boring, and forgettable western.  Even though the flick runs a mere 88 minutes, it still seemed longer than The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  The problem is that not much happens in the movie.  Most of the middle section is taken up with Eastwood and Duvall mulling around and waiting to capture Saxon.  Although the flick threatens to come to life during the rousing climax where Clint drives the train off the tracks, the excitement is short lived.  It’s too little too late.

 

The usually reliable Eastwood seems to be phoning it in on this one and he fails to make Joe Kidd a memorable character.  He gets a good scene early in the movie where he throws stew in another prisoner’s face, but by the time he gets out of jail, he pretty much becomes a non-entity in the film.  If the movie belongs to anybody, it’s John Saxon.  He gives a side-splitting performance as Chama, the Mexican revolutionary.  His accent is fucking hilarious and his hysterical histrionics will leave you in stitches.  Duvall is also good as the villain.  I especially liked the way he never even bothered to pronounce Chama’s name right.  (It’s pronounced “Cha-ma”, but he always says “Chay-ma”.) 

 

The best thing about the flick is the stunning cinematography.  As mentioned in my Rogue review, I have a new DVD player that up-converts DVDs to Hi-Def quality and the player enhanced the scenic plains and gorgeous desert vistas in the movie beautifully.  You know you’re in trouble when the landscape holds your attention more than the plot.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008) *

Well, Awards Season is finally upon us and our multiplexes are slowly but surely being filled with Oscar contenders and art house favorites who are trying to scam the common filmgoer out of their $10.  Last week, Grand Torino rolled out to our local theater and it exceeded the hype; so much so that I think that even if Clint Eastwood doesn’t get the nod from Oscar, he’ll sure as shit get a Video Vacuum nomination.  This week, the critics’ darling, Slumdog Millionaire came to town, so the wife and I figured we’d check it out to see what the fuss was all about. 

 

Now you wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m actually a sucker for Oscar bait.  I love to have seen most of the nominated films so that by the time awards night rolls around I can boisterously bitch about who SHOULD’VE won, as I am wanton to do.  I’ll be the first to admit that Slumdog Millionaire isn’t my plate of curry, but I thought I’d give it a shot.  I mean it was directed by Danny Boyle, the man who made diving into a toilet chic with Trainspotting, so I figured it had some potential.  As such, I purposely avoided reading any reviews before seeing the film.  I wanted to walk into the movie cold and absorb it with an open mind.

 

Had I known that it was just a feature length, heavily dramatized version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I wouldn’t have gone to see it.  Seriously folks, I could’ve saved my $10 and stayed at home and watched that shit for free on Game Show Network.

 

Slumdog is all about this poor Indian dude named Jamal who goes on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to try to win some bucks.  Every time Jamal is asked a question, we get a flashback to his childhood, showing us exactly when and where he learned the answer.  Example:  One question asks who is on the hundred dollar bill.  Then we get a flashback of Jamal as a youngster handing a blind beggar kid $100.  Jamal asks, “Hey, who’s on the $100 bill?”  The kid replies, “Ben Franklin!”  Cut back to the television studio where Jamal exclaims, “The answer is C. Ben Franklin.  Final Answer!”

 

I shit you not.

 

And the movie goes on like this over and over again for almost two hours.  How can critics (and audiences) be falling all over themselves to praise this turd?  

 

Yeah,  yeah,  yeah, I know what the film is getting at.   They’re trying to say that Jamal’s tumultuous upbringing gave him the tools he needed to win a bunch of money on a game show while he simultaneously searched for the girl of his dreams.  It’s just the way the film handled these scenes that got on my damn nerves.  They're maudlin at best and downright stupid at worst.  The flashback scenes play out like a sort of asinine Indian variation on a Charles Dickens novel.  The drama involving the gangsta brother is tepid, the comic relief reeks of desperation (How many Oscar favorites can you think of that have their main character fall into a vat of shit?) and the framing sequences are straight-up hokey.  The cast is all amateurish, with only Frieda Pinto being any good; and that’s mostly just because she’s a dead ringer for Laura Gemser.  (Please, if they ever do a reboot of the Emanuelle series, get Frieda.  She’s hot.) 

 

And out of all the game shows in the history of broadcasting, why did the filmmakers have to center their film around Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  (To add insult to injury, they couldn’t even afford to get Meredith Vieira, OR Regis to host the show.  What’s up with that yo?)  Honestly, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  They couldn’t have picked a better game show?  I mean there are like 100 cooler game shows they could’ve based their film on.  Here are just three game shows the filmmakers could’ve used for inspiration that would’ve made the movie a lot better.  (I hope you’re taking notes, Boyle.)

 

Hollywood Slumdog Squares.  While thinking up an answer to “Who was the 17th President”, Paul Lynde has a flashback to his Thug Life childhood when he and his homeboy Vincent Price popped caps in people and fought over the affections of Rose Marie.

 

Win, Lose, or Draw:  The Movie.  Celebrities’ drawings come to life in whimsical and magical ways.  Then suddenly, Dom DeLuise’s doodling of Godzilla comes to life and eats Rip Taylor.  Burt Reynolds laughs hysterically.

 

Match Game Millionaire.  Flashbacks reveal just how dumb Dumb Dora really was.  Then, after years of lustful innuendo, Richard Dawson and Gene Rayburn finally get horny enough to double stuff Fannie Flagg while Charles Nelson Reilly tells everyone where to put their ________.

 

See how easy that was Boyle?  Don’t let me do your job for you again.