THE LOVE WITCH (2016) **

Of all the throwback retro-grindhouse movies that have come out in the past decade or so, The Love Witch comes closest to matching the look and feel of its original inspirations. The color scheme, costumes, make-up, and hair all feel like they came out of a Jess Franco film from the ‘70s. That is to say it’s pretty awesome. At least on the surface, that is. Honestly, it’s about as uneven and frustrating as your typical Franco flick.

Samantha Robinson stars as the titular witch who uses spells, magic potions, and other forms of sorcery to make men fall in love with her. She looks great with her long hair and clingy pastel dresses, but her acting is a bit of a problem though. Her line readings are often flat and she doesn’t have much screen presence. She certainly looks the part; I’ll give her that. Too bad the second she opens her mouth, the spell is broken.

The film is gorgeous to look at. Every frame is filled with impeccable costuming, garish lighting, and inventive set design. Since director, producer, and screenwriter Anna Biller did just about everything herself, I have to give her all the credit. She certainly proves herself to be a director to watch.

While she got the tone and look of the film just right, the script is sorely lacking such loving attention to detail. Mostly, the movie revolves around scenes of women sitting around and trash-talking men’s shortcomings before Robinson puts stuff in her date’s drinks and watches them become horny and vulnerable. All of this gets a bit repetitive and frankly, a bit boring.

The exorbitant running time of 120 minutes doesn’t help matters either. I’m sure Biller could’ve cut out whole chunks of this thing and no one would’ve ever noticed. The lame Renaissance Festival scene in particular goes on forever and the awful medieval music gets on your damn nerves.

Still, The Love Witch has its moments. The witchcraft scenes are pretty cool and the scene where she makes a potion using her pee and used tampons is rather gnarly. I just wish the whole thing was shorter, funnier, and had some actual meat to the story.

GUNSLINGER (1956) ***

Gunslinger is probably the first feminist western. It features a female lead that is just as tough and quick on the draw as just about anyone in westerns at the time. Beverly Garland gives one of her best performances as the wife of a small town marshal (William Schallert). He gets shot in the back in the opening scene and instead of grieving; Beverly immediately picks up his rifle and plugs one of the murderers. Later, at the funeral, when the other gunman shows up, Beverly pulls a pistol and guns him down right there in front of the priest! When no one steps up to be the interim marshal, Beverly grabs her dead husband’s star and proceeds to clean up the town.

What’s cool about Gunslinger is that no one really questions her. They accept Garland as a superior, or at the very least, an equal. Even though she’s a woman, they don’t even really make a big deal about it. One guy makes a comment about her wearing pants, but that’s about it. Garland is able to hold her own in the Wild West. She’s not afraid to shoot first and ask questions later.

The always awesome Allison (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) Hayes plays the villainess, a saloon owner who is plotting to take over the town if the railroad comes through. She hires John Ireland to kill Garland if she makes trouble. Naturally, Ireland, intrigued by Garland’s beauty AND her badass talent of gunning people down, falls in love with her, which complicates things.

Garland and Hayes are equals in this. They play off each other rather well and both of them get lots of opportunities to shine. In your typical western, these roles would’ve been played by men and they would’ve been fighting over the affections of a woman. Here, John Ireland is the object of their affection, and since he is just as good of a shot as Garland is, it offers a unique dynamic than your average oater.

Gunslinger is a Roger Corman movie. It’s in color and looks better than most of the films he was doing at the time. There are some admittedly rough patches here, mostly owing to the low budget. (Jeep tracks are visible on the range, the indoor sets wobble during a fight, etc.) However, the central premise is involving and the performances are engrossing enough to make it work.

FISTS OF FURY (2016) ***

Here’s another trailer compilation DVD from Full Moon Features. This one is hosted by Cynthia Rothrock and it contains nothing but Kung Fu trailers. Her host segments are kind of cheesy as it’s mostly just Rothrock giving comic karate demonstrations on a bunch of people before talking about a particular segment. The good news is that she has a winning personality and her spiels are often rather informative.

The compilation is broken up into different sections. We have segments on Badass Women (Above the Law, Deadly China Doll, Ebony, Ivory and Jade, Sister Streetfighter, Sting of the Dragon Masters, and Wonder Women), Bruceploitation (Bruce Le’s Greatest Revenge, Bruce’s Deadly Fingers, Enter the Fat Dragon, Fists of Bruce Lee, and The Return of Bruce), Deadly Weapons (Lightning Swords of Death, Master of the Flying Guillotine, Secret of the Shaolin Poles, Slash: The Blade of Death, The Damned, and Invisible Swordsman), Martial Arts vs. Guns (Ninja Blacklist, Jaguar Lives!, Shatter, Sudden Death, The Bodyguard, and The Stranger and the Gunfighter), Revenge (Chinese Hercules, Five Fingers of Death, Revenge of the Ninja, The Brutal Boxer, The Street Fighter, and Thunderfist), and Differently-Abled Combatants (Kung Fu vs. Yoga, Lucky Seven, The One Armed Executioner, The Crippled Masters, The One-Armed Swordsman, and The Story of Drunken Master). A lot of the trailers feature Lo Lieh and Angela Mao.

Some trailers go on forever, especially the foreign language ones. Still, there are a lot of winners here and very few repeats from other compilations (although I’ll never shy away from seeing the Lucky Seven trailer yet again). I do sort of wish that the trailers played out non-stop though. Before each one, there’s a little bio of the film accompanied by release dates, cast listings, posters, and a synopsis of each movie. Again, since the flick is packed with information, it’s kind of a minor criticism.

TRAPPED (1982) *

Director William Freut made this boring slog of an exploitation flick in between the slightly better Funeral Home and Spasms. It plays like a mash-up of an ‘80s Dead Teenager movie and a ‘70s Deliverance rip-off. Fans of either genre will likely walk away disappointed.

Henry Silva stars as a redneck who rules a no-horse backwoods town with an iron fist. When he catches a traveling salesman messing around with his young bride, he covers him with tar and feathers. Nicholas Campbell and his friends go camping in the woods and witness Silva murder the man in cold blood. They go to the cops, but since the sheriff is Silva’s brother, he doesn’t do anything.

Naturally, the teens are too stupid just to leave town, but noooooo…. They’ve got to go back to get their tents. Of course, Silva finds them, captures them and threatens to rape Campbell’s girlfriend if he doesn’t give himself up. This all leads to the big confrontation in which Campbell and Silva have an axe vs. crowbar fight.

Despite a modicum of promise, the movie never really works, partially due to the glacial pacing. It takes forever for something to happen, and when it finally does, the film relies on stupid characters doing dumb things to start, prolong, and sustain the (what passes for) suspense. Plus, there just isn’t enough exploitation goods here (aside from a couple of gratuitous breast shots) to make it stand out from the rest of the pack.

It also doesn’t help that Silva is sorely miscast. Yes, if you want a slimy, sleazy homicidal Mob hitman, Silva is your go-to guy. However, a slimy, sleazy homicidal backwoods hillbilly is just out of his wheelhouse.

AKA: Baker County, USA. AKA: The Killer Instinct.

THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007) *

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is kind of like a gory, fictionalized episode of one of those Discovery Channel criminal investigation shows about serial killers. We are shown snippets of videotapes a serial killer made before killing his victims. Afterwards, a team of experts analyze the footage and try to offer theories behind the killer’s motives. Detectives, forensic specialists, and even members of the victim’s families are also interviewed.

What makes this thing different than something you’d see on TV is the fact that the tapes are shown in all of their disgustingness with nothing blurred out. Well, that’s not entirely true. Director John Erick Dowdle goes a bit overboard with the post-production distortion in an effort to make the tapes look old and decrepit. By doing so, all he accomplishes is making it harder to see just what the hell is going on. It also doesn’t help that the kills on the tapes are nothing more than your typical shaky-cam Found Footage stuff. None of it works as the overall effect is more depressing than anything.

The stuff with the interviewees is slightly better. It would’ve helped if they found some better actors to sell their “critical analysis”. As it is, the acting is rather uneven. While some are able to convincingly pass themselves off as talking heads, others are painfully obvious phonies right out of Central Casting.

Dowdle went on to direct other insufferable shaky-cam nonsense with the likes of Quarantine and As Above So Below.

IGOR AND THE LUNATICS (1985) **

A cult leader kills some people and goes to jail for his crimes. He gets out fifteen years later and it doesn’t take long before he kills again. It's then up to a former cult member and his girlfriend to stop him and his bloodthirsty minions.

Igor and the Lunatics is a low budget Troma movie that feels unfinished. Whatever was finished feels halfheartedly slapped together too. It's barely eighty minutes long, but it’s still packed with long scenes of people walking around, dumb dream sequences, and one of the murders is repeated twice. Admittedly, the murder scene that is shown twice is a pretty good one, so I'll let that slide.

Of course I’m talking about the scene where the cult leader puts a woman on a sawmill and slices her in half LENGTHWISE. Other kills include heart ripping, a machete to the stomach, an arrow to the head, and a pitchfork to the stomach. Neither of them pack the impact of that sawmill scene, hence why they’re only shown one time.

Look, this is a Troma movie, so you should pretty much already know what to expect. The gore is decent, the acting is terrible (especially by the main lunatic), the production values are slim, and there's a smattering of nude females on display. As far as these things go, it’s a middle-of-the-road effort, but one that will offer up a modicum of fun for the indiscriminating Troma fan.

HOUR OF THE GUN (1967) *** ½

John Sturges, the man who gave us such classics as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape gives us his take on the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. This was actually his second movie on the subject, having directed Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral ten years earlier. After seeing this, I might have to check out Gunfight to see how it stacks up to this one as it’s one of the best Wyatt Earp movies ever made.

What is different about this film is that it starts with the O.K. Corral. This shows Sturges isn’t intent on telling a historical look at Wyatt Earp, nor is he really interested in the actual gunfight itself. Sturges wants to look beyond that. He’s more concerned with the aftermath that comes from bloodshed than the actual bloodshed itself. Of course, what comes from bloodshed is nothing but more bloodshed, but that’s sort of the whole point.

James Garner is cast against type as Wyatt. He’s quiet, morose, and far removed from his usual easygoing persona. It works though and he plays it rather well. The scene where he guns down a guy at point blank range at a train station is chilling; partly because we rarely see Garner doing something this cold-blooded, but also because he goes all-in with his character.

Jason Robards might be my favorite Doc Holliday of all time. He’s cranky and cantankerous, but is a loyal friend and will follow Wyatt to the end. The subplot about him going on his own adventure to find men for a posse is really well done. I especially liked the part where he waived the guy’s extensive gambling debt in trade for a deputy star.

What makes Doc unique in this version is that in addition to being a mere sidekick, he also acts as Wyatt’s conscience. He’s more than willing to help Wyatt gun down the people who murdered his brother, but he’s there to see that Wyatt remembers he’s a lawman and that revenge takes a backseat to the matter at hand. He doesn't want Wyatt to become a killer like him. He's the angel on Wyatt’s shoulder who's actually a devil at heart. This dynamic is what makes their relationship work so well.

Robert Ryan plays the villainous Ike Clanton in a more suave manner than what is normally portrayed. It works because he is keenly intelligent and an even match for Garner (and because he’s goddamned Robert Ryan). I also enjoyed seeing a young Jon Voight as Curly Bill, a member of the Clanton gang.

While there are a number of exciting sequences, the pacing does meander a bit towards the end. The shootouts also tend to get a bit repetitive as they go along. However, the meat of the story and the relationship between Wyatt and Doc is what makes Hour of the Gun stand out from the glut of other Wyatt Earp movies.

Garner later went on to play Earp again in Sunset.

BLAIR WITCH (2016) ½ *

You all are complaining you lost an hour because of the time change. Amateurs. I watched Blair Witch and lost ninety minutes.

I guess you all remember the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones”. Well, we learned in the first Blair Witch that they can also bore you. At least in that movie the budget was so low that that’s all they could afford to show you. In this soft reboot/sequel, they actually show the Blair Witch. Would it surprise you that she looks like a half-assed CGI monster from the Syfy Channel? Probably not.

Look. Found Footage movies are not my bag. Still, I sat through this one because it was directed by Adam Wingard, who made You’re Next and The Guest. I thought if anyone could breathe a little life into the tired franchise, it was him. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi: “I was wrong”.

Some more dummies go into the woods with cameras looking for the Blair Witch. After a half an hour of checking the camera equipment, putting up tents, and walking around the woods endlessly, we finally get to the meat of the movie. That is to say another half an hour of people looking for other people.

The thing that makes this entry different? This time out, there are a couple of local stoners that join the camera crew who act as tour guides. That is to say there’s even more people to annoy the shit out of you while they’re wandering through the woods.

I don’t know why Wingard would want to make this shit. This sort of thing is clearly beneath him. He proved with You’re Next and The Guest he can hold the camera still with the best of them. Sadly, Blair Witch features brand new ways to irritate the piss out of you in terms of shaky-cam nonsense.

You see, this is the 21st century, so now people can wear cameras on their heads to capture their footage. That means that instead of holding a camera in their hand and shaking it up and down when they run, they have a camera on their head that shakes side to side when they run. Progress.

Hundreds of imitators have come and gone since the first Blair Witch. You shouldn’t do another one unless you’ve got an interesting angle. The only potentially intriguing idea they can come up with is the camera crew’s use of drones to give them aerial footage of the woods. This admittedly decent idea is almost immediately squandered when the damn thing gets stuck in a tree. When a chick climbs up to get the thing, she dies from… wait for it… falling out of the tree. Weak.

The kills are downright stupid, other than the part where a girl is folded in half. The sole “good” part is when a girl picks at her pussy leg. As in her leg is filled with pus. Not as in her pussy is filled with leg.

The extended finale in the Blair Witch Asbestos House of Death goes on forever. It looks like the first person camerawork from Doom, except minus the guns. Or the point. (This is the second review in a row I’ve mentioned Doom. Maybe it’s time to give that flick a reevaluation.)

At least in the original once they got to the house you knew it was over. Here, it continues on and on with the heroine having to partake in a prolonged crawl through a tunnel of shit. I couldn't think of a better metaphor for this movie if I tried.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) *** ½

Kong: Skull Island is the best Vietnam Allegory by way of a Giant Monster Movie I’ve ever seen. At first, the idea of putting King Kong into what essentially is a war movie seems a bit odd. However, it makes perfect sense if you think about it. Instead of fighting the Cong, our soldiers are fighting KONG!

That’s right folks, we’re talking Full Monkey Jacket here. Bananaburger Hill. Apepocalypse Now.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wears his inspiration on his sleeve, just like Gareth Edwards did when he made the new Godzilla movie. Whereas Edwards was making a Godzilla flick as an homage to Spielberg, Vogt-Roberts is doing a clear riff on Francis Ford Coppola. That isn’t to say the film is completely devoid of Spielberg-isms. I dare you not to smile when Samuel L. Jackson does his little callback to Jurassic Park.

Speaking of Jackson and homages, I also like how his character was influenced by some of the great movie characters of all time. You can definitely see a little bit of Gregory Peck’s Captain Ahab as he single-mindedly tries to take down a giant animal. The character he’s most like though is Sarge, the character played by The Rock in Doom as he goes from being a badass to bad guy.

Unlike Edwards’ Godzilla, there is no teasing of the monster’s appearance. Once the team of soldiers arrives on the island, Kong makes short work of their helicopters. The way he swats them from out of the sky is glorious. It’s some of the finest monster mashing mayhem of the 21st century.

From then on, the movie becomes a tale of survival. The soldiers have to regroup and trek from Point A to Point B through a dangerous landscape, all the while avoiding being eaten, stepped on, or squashed by giant monsters. The monsters are pretty cool too. I liked the giant spider scene a lot. The “skull crawlers” that are Kong’s main competition are a little weak, but as with the MUTOs from Godzilla, they’re pretty much there as a punching bag for our star monster. No matter, because the scene in which Kong does battle with a giant squid is worth the price of admission. I don’t know if the scene where he eats the squid raw was a nod to Oldboy or not. I’d like to think so.

The whole “Beauty and the Beast” stuff is kept to a minimum. That’s mostly because Brie Larson isn’t your typical damsel in distress. She’s a combat photographer. Her interaction with Kong is limited, but their big scene together is rather special. It’s more like the dinosaur meeting scenes in Jurassic Park where you can have a quiet moment to ponder the wonder of a giant monster that doesn’t want to eat you.

Unfortunately, they never really find much for Tom Hiddleston to do. He gets a great introduction scene where he lists the various ways people can die on an uncharted island and we hear a lot about his legendary combat skills. Then, once they’re on the island, he basically just acts as tour guide.

The film itself is patchy in places. It’s a given that the human scenes aren’t going to be as good as the stuff with the monsters. There are also more scenes of people walking from place to place than in any given Lord of the Rings movie. The good news is that when the monsters are mashing, it’s damn good times and that’s the only thing that matters.

Let’s go back to the Vietnam allegory for a second. I was only half-joking about how silly the idea of making a monster movie as metaphor for Vietnam is. It actually sort of works though. I mean, we take it for granted that the original Godzilla is a metaphor for the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. Godzilla’s rampage is meant as a symbol for the destruction of Japan. Here, American troops are stuck in a jungle fighting a war they can’t win. The only difference is that they can clearly see their enemy because he’s a hundred feet tall.

I don’t think this is quite as good as Edwards’ Godzilla movie. It is the best King Kong flick since King Kong vs. Godzilla, so that alone is cause for celebration. I’d recommend seeing it on the biggest screen possible that had the loudest sound system to get the full effect. I’d also say to check out the 3-D version because there are tons of stuff that come out at the screen, including:

• 3-D Gun (multiple)

• 3-D Brie Larson

• 3-D Bomb (multiple)

• 3-D Shrapnel

• 3-D Helicopter

• 3-D Antenna

• 3-D Hand

• 3-D Hat

• 3-D Spears (multiple)

• 3-D Sword

• 3-D Skull Crawler

• 3-D Lighter

AKA: King Kong: Giant from Skull Island.

THE “LEGEND OF DINOSAURS” (1977) *

A woman hiking in the wilderness falls into an underground cavern and disturbs a prehistoric egg. It hatches and a plesiosaur emerges. Pretty soon, it starts hanging out at a lake and eating tourists. Before long, a pterodactyl joins in and the two eventually start a fight over who gets to eat the tourists.

I'm a sucker for a rubber dinosaur movie, but this one deserves to be placed on the lowest rungs of the ladder. As a fan of these types of films, I’m at peace with the fact that all the stuff with the humans is going to be bad. However, The “Legend of Dinosaurs” (those funky quotations aren’t mine, that’s how it appears on screen) contains some of the dullest human interaction scenes ever seen in a dinosaur flick. The romance between the leads is almost unbearable and it's made worse by the atrocious music (which often doesn't fit the scene).

I did like how the plot cribs from Jaws. We get a scene where the beaches are closed, as well as a part where some kids wear a fake fin to scare swimmers. You know it’s bad when the most memorable parts of your film are stolen directly from another movie.

All of this would’ve been okay if the film delivered on the dinosaur action. Unfortunately, these dinosaurs are pretty weak. They look alright, I guess, but the designers didn't figure out a way to make them move convincingly. Only the occasional shot of someone struggling inside the chomping jaws of the dinosaurs are worth a damn. Even then, there aren’t nearly enough of them to warrant watching it.

AKA: The Legend of the Dinosaurs. AKA: Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds. AKA: Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds.