June 9th, 2014

THINGS (1989) ** ½

At the end of this movie there is a title card that reads, “You Have Just Experienced Things”. And that’s pretty accurate. You don’t watch this flick. You experience it. Since it’s an experience and not a motion picture, assigning it a star rating is sort of beside the point. I’m just gonna give it ** ½, but that in no way is an indicator of its “quality” (or lack thereof).

Things is a relic of the ‘80s. It’s an extremely low budget horror flick (I’d almost say it was “no budget”, but I’m sure porn star Amber Lynn got paid something to appear in it) that is more watchable because of the DIY inspiration (or maybe desperation) of the filmmakers than because it’s actually a good movie. I hate the cliché “so bad it’s good”, so I’ll refrain from using it here. But if any film challenges the concept of that tried and true cliché, it’s Things. Just know that somewhere, Ed Wood is smiling.

The “plot”, such as it is, revolves around a couple of guys hanging out in a house in the middle of nowhere. After a lot of sitting around and drinking, they are attacked by giant termite-like creatures. To give any more of the “plot” away would be a disservice any potential viewer. I’m not entirely sure I comprehended what was happening most of the time because the editing and overall storytelling is so shoddy.

Stuff just kind of happens in this movie, and you’re forced to deal with it. Characters’ loved ones die horrible deaths and they just sit around making sandwiches and acting goofy afterwards. Guys spontaneously combust and then reappear with no explanation. There are also long scenes of people cleaning up blood with paper towels. There are so many of these scenes I began to suspect that it was bankrolled by Bounty.

Most of this is entertaining. However, when the filmmakers actually try to go for genuine laughs, the movie falls flat on its face. In fact, there’s a long stretch of the film that plays like a silent movie comedy that is fairly excruciating. Seriously, you guys were funnier when you weren’t trying.

But more often than not, Things keeps you chuckling. I think my favorite scene was the opening where our hero tried to seduce the hot babe in the devil mask. And while there are some definite lulls in between the lunacy, Things will surely be one of the great party movies for decades to come.

HOT ROD GIRL (1956) ***

Lori Nelson is an unsung actress from the ‘50s that should have more of a following. I guess the reason she never caught on was because she was usually found playing strong female characters (in films like Revenge of the Creature and Untamed Youth) instead of the usual bimbo roles that were offered to women her age. In Hot Rod Girl, she plays a tough, but well-spoken gal that has a lot more dimension than the token female leads found in hot rod/juvenile delinquent movies of the time.

And Hot Rod Girl is a bit different from most genre films from the era too. The big difference is how the law handles the hot rodders and hooligans. Cop Chuck Connors isn’t the bad guy. He understands that teenagers need to blow off a little steam, so he arranges for them to have their own dragstrip. He figures it will be safer for them to race there instead of in town.

The theme of the cops seeking to understand and coexist peacefully with the teens sets Hot Rod Girl apart from its counterparts. The Blob and The Giant Gila Monster also had similar subplots where the local law did their best to befriend the teenage heroes, but Hot Rod Girl predates both of those films by a couple years.

Nelson plays a hot rodder whose boyfriend (John Smith) is an ace mechanic. His hotheaded brother dies in a car wreck while street racing, and it sends him into a deep depression. While he’s been off sulking, a new hot rodder has come to town and has begun causing trouble. It’s then up to Nelson to snap her boyfriend out of his funk and show the new guy in town what’s what.

Hot Rod Girl is better at nearly every turn (no pun intended) than it needs to be. The performances by Nelson and Connors are excellent and they help elevate the material. A young Frank Gorshin is also on hand as one of the young racers and he does a great James Cagney impersonation. He later reteamed with Hot Rod Girl director Leslie H. Martinson for Batman: The Movie.

If Hot Rod Girl has a detriment, it’s John Smith’s performance. Like his nondescript name, his acting style is bland and he’s lacking the chops needed to carry the film. Some also may be disappointed by the fact that Nelson limits her hot rodding to the opening credits sequence, but overall, Hot Rod Girl is a pretty sweet flick; one that will definitely appeal to fans of hot rod movies and juvenile delinquent pictures.

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY: POLICE TACTICS (1974) **

Nearly twenty years after the end of WWII, Japan is experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The good, hard-working people of Japan organize and force the cops to crackdown on the yakuza gangs. A stronger police presence causes tensions between the gangs to boil over, and pretty soon, things escalate to all-out war.

There are a couple of good moments of bloody violence to be found in director Kinji (The Green Slime) Fukasaku’s fourth Battles Without Honor and Humanity flick. We get all of the assorted shootings and stabbings you’ve come to expect from the series, plus there’s a pretty great scene where a guy gets his nose cut off. However, the violence is about the only thing this entry has to offer as it’s missing the resonance that the previous films had.

Like Deadly Fight in Hiroshima, series star Bunta (The Tattooed Hit Man) Sugawara gets pushed to the background for much of the movie. And unfortunately, no one else in the cast has the screen presence to adequately carry the film in his absence. Since much of the flick is missing his patented badass charisma, it’s hard to care what happens to the (too many) gangster characters. And many of the scenes of the various yakuza members wheeling and dealing with one another get repetitive and monotonous after a while.

AKA: The Yakuza Papers: Vol. 4: Police Tactics. AKA: Police Tactics.

SOLOMON KANE (2012) **

Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is a 17th century scoundrel who goes around looking for treasure. After narrowly escaping Death himself, he tries to atone for his many sins while going around the countryside helping people. When a young girl is kidnapped by a demonic villain, Solomon vows to rescue her.

Solomon Kane is based on Robert E. (Conan) Howard’s pulp hero of the ‘30s. He’s a pretty cool and interesting character too. It’s just a shame that this adaptation doesn’t do the character justice.

This movie sat on the shelf for three years before getting a pitiful release. And it’s easy to see why. Much of the CGI effects are pretty bad (especially the giant lava monster in the finale), and the pacing is erratic

The flick does get off to a rollicking start. The opening action sequence reminded me alternately of Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Shadow, and The Mummy (1999). After that, things kinda go down the drain. And while the occasional action scene perks things up, for the most part, the film is a tough slog during its dialogue scenes.

Part of the problem is the casting of Solomon Kane. James Purefoy just doesn’t have the chops necessary to play a likeable roguish anti-hero. The flick needed someone like Hugh Jackman to pull it off. (And speaking of Hugh Jackman, the movie often plays like a DTV Van Helsing sequel.)

Director Michael J. (Silent Hill: Revelation) Bassett handles the action in a capable enough manner. And he delivers a couple of OK horror moments too (like when a preacher tries to feed Solomon to his mutant “flock”). It’s not terrible or anything; I just think the flick was lacking the budget and star power to put it over the top.

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) ** ½

I pretty much stayed away from this movie for the longest time; mostly because of the annoying Deep Blue Something song. Now that I finally have seen it, I have to admit it wasn’t bad. In fact, if I knew it was all about whores, I would’ve given it a chance ages ago.

Hannibal Smith from The A-Team stars as an author who pays the bills by being a man whore. Audrey Hepburn is this chick who hangs out with rich guys to mooch off their money. They don’t come right out with it and call her a slut, but they do suggest that she gets $50 every time she powders her nose, so you tell me. Anyway, Hannibal Smith falls in love with her like a dummy and throws away his big meal ticket for her. But predictably, Audrey is going to marry this Brazilianaire and winds up breaking his heart.

The good news is that Breakfast at Tiffany’s wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting it to be. I guess as far as Chick Flicks go, this one is tolerable. As far as Blake Edwards movies go, it’s no Blind Date, I know that much.

The big stumbling block is that Hepburn’s character is pretty grating, and her erratic behavior and bizarre past would make anyone mighty suspicious of her. (She was previously married to Buddy Epsen, a sure sign that she’s not capable of making important life decisions on her own.) I thought Hannibal Smith did a decent job throughout. I can clearly see why he left her scrawny ass to hang out in a van with B.A., Face Man, and Murdock though.

FASCINATION (1979) ***

A dude that looks like the lead singer for Men Without Hats swindles some gold from some unsavory characters and holes up at a seemingly uninhabited chateau. Luckily for the audience, Brigitte Lahaie and Franca Mai are lurking about the premises. After Brigitte gets it on with the Men Without Hats dude, she offs the thieves who were looking to kill him. Before long, a gaggle of hot women are hanging around the chateau looking to put the bite on him. Franca eventually starts getting attached to our dopey hero and decides to save him from the bloodthirsty babes.

Fascination is one of director Jean Rollin’s best. It’s an atmospheric and sexy horror flick filled with art and class and tits and ass. And while it’s not exactly a vampire flick, the way Rollin teases the women’s true identity and motives are a lot of fun.

There are some rough passages along the way, sure. And the flick feels a lot longer than the 81 minute running time too. But whenever the flick is working, it’s a thing of beauty.

Speaking of beauty, Brigitte Lahaie is the big reason the film works as well as it does. She is simply breathtaking in this flick and is enchanting as the sexy seductress. Fewer women in motion picture history have looked hotter wielding a scythe while wearing nothing more than a cape than Lahaie. Seriously, if that is what Death looks like, I’ll gladly meet the reaper.