• Big Screen alerts

None

The Manipulator (1971) - Directed by Yabo Yablonsky, starring Mickey Rooney, Luana Anders, Keenan Wynn. An insane Hollywood makeup man kidnaps a woman keeps her prisoner in his warehouse full of props.

I've been awfully curious about the The Manipulator, a 1971 flick with Mickey Rooney as a has-been movie makeup guy who kidnaps an actress and forces her to reenact movie scenes. That's what it says on the box, anyway. Rooney did some wacky evil roles, in Night Gallery (as a mob boss) and Twilight Zone (the jockey who wished to be "a big man"), so I decided to checkitout.

Since I found it on one of those dicey Mill Creek "50 Movie" multipacks, I should have known I'd be falling waaaaayyyy down the rabbit hole....

There are almost no words to describe The Manipulator -- could be the trippiest movie I've ever seen. More trippy than The Trip! Somewhere between the psychedelic non-sequiturs of Wonderwall and crazed movie geek Eric Binford in Fade to Black -- it's mostly just Rooney, imagining stuff and people, all distorted with psychedelic sound FX and insane soliloquies.

Sometimes, Rooney is seen in slowmo, sometimes sped up, and frequently surrounded by pulsating hallucinations...this movie just seemed drenched in LSD. And bipolar disorder. Just...wow...

None

Halloween (1978) - Directed by John Carpenter, starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran, Nancy Kyes. A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood kills a lot of people.

Worth noting are groundbreaking aspects like, say, spawning the birth of the "holiday themed" horror movie (future slashers would stalk Mother's Day, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Prom Night, even one schlocky Aussie entry called The Day AFTER Halloween…). Or the then-novel notion of an indestructible human (as opposed to mutants, vampires, witches, zombies, blah blah). Or the innovative marketing that blew up Halloween into a virtual Hollywood franchise that still churns 'em out to this day.

Or how the epically low budget was overcome by doing things like hand painting paper leaves to make a California summer look like a rural autumn (requiring the cast to gather up all the leaves in bags after each shot, lest they loose their "fall" atmosphere).

Though not classic cinema by any means, Halloween was still innovative and, at the time, more riveting than just about anything else touring drive-in theater screens (which was, after all, the intended market from its very conception).

And also worth citing are the performances of genuinely gifted thespians like the late Donald Pleasance (who returned for several sequels) and Jamie Lee Curtis, not to mention cult cutie PJ Soles, fresh off the film's kindred precedent Carrie and soon to all-but-steal Rock 'N' Roll High School from headliners the Ramones.

I admit that Halloween isn't the kind of movie I'd ever want to watch more than once. But that one time certainly made its mark on my movie-going psyche. I'd counter several IMDB commentators' single star with three more, for a total of four. Let's not besmirch that rating, tho, by mentioning the mostly abysmal (and seemingly endless) sequels ----

None

Death Watch (1980) - Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, starring Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton, Thérèse Liotard. Roddy has a camera implanted in his brain, to secretly broadcast the last days of a woman dying, in a world where illness is all but wiped out.

Death Watch is a French sci-fi cult flick that turns out to have been Romy Schneider's last movie (playing a dying woman, no less), and features another can't miss turn from Harvey "has never done wrong" Keitel (seriously, from Taxi Driver to the vastly underrated and fantastic TV show Life on Mars, the guy always rocks).

It's of the Secret Cinema/Truman Show variety, ie "Everybody knows you're on TV/in the movies except you," tho even more cynical, ala 1970's Cover Me Babe with Robert Forster, another vintage show that predicted almost exactly what's since become reality TV programming.

None

The Funhouse (1981) - Directed by Tobe Hooper, starring Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin, Jack McDermott. Four teenage friends spend the night in a carnival funhouse.

A somewhat marvelous surprise, this 1981 Tobe Hooper film unexpectedly turned out to be the most watchable thing I've ever seen of his, other than an ep he did for Masters of Horror (I'm no fan of Chainsaw or anything else he's ever done, at least that I've seen). It had such colorful sets and a great sideshow feel, and such better-than-average performances, that it may be the only "slasher" type film of that era I'll ever watch twice.

I recall bits of Lifeforce (1985) and not hating it - not sure I realized it was a Hooper film. He's one of the directors whose career completely baffles me - can't stand his films, other than one lone episode of Masters of Horror, which is why I was so surprised at Funhouse. I know a lot of people like Poltergeist, but it was rumored for years that it was secretly directed by Spielberg (whether true or not, that show too is a total snooze for me).

(Aimless aside: David Cronenberg is another "filmmaker" I can almost always count on hating. I won free tickets on the radio to see Videodrome when new, and I STILL walked out on it. There are about 15 minutes of Scanners that are watchable, but almost nothing else he's done is palatable to me. Just this week watched one of his first, They Came From Within, a horrible Canadian cheapie that gets astoundingly positive praise on IMDB, despite some of the worst acting I've ever encountered and countless ridiculous scenes of horny/possessed apartment dwellers humping and killing, on laughable sets that look struck from old Three's Company episodes) ---

How Hooper and Cronenberg stay employed is a mystery worthy of one of those E True Hollywood Stories ---

None

Night Train to Terror (1985) - Directed by John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, starring Barbara Wyler, Jamie Scoggin, Stacey Lyons, Linda Maderas. God and Satan are on a train.

So this is where homeless bits of claymation go to die, eh? This crazy 1985 movie starts with a "Let's Get Physical" style popmusic video, then goes to God and the Devil sitting on a train and arguing over souls (?!).

So then there are several anthology-style segments, which seem like unfinished home movies that someone strung together. Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court) appears in two segments, one as a mad butcher and in the other as an author who writes a book stating that God is Dead.

The craziest interludes (and that's saying a lot!) involve several stop-motion animated monster segments! None of which seem related to anything else in the movie - a giant killer wasp, a demon that pops out of the ground and pulls someone to Hell - they just pop up out of nowhere and then vanish. Then the cheezy music video keeps appearing, with ugly people in spandex jumping around...just absolutely awful, awful, and inexplicable.

None

Reflecting Skin (1990) - Directed by Philip Ridley, starring Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper, Sheila Moore. A young boy tries to cope with rural life circa 1950s while a murderer is killing off his neighbors.

Reflecting Skin was - intriguing. Not really a horror movie, but more of a subtle inside-the-mind-of-a-disturbed child show. There are a few really striking looking scenes, especially of the rural outdoors, and it held my attention. But it's probably too weirdly hallucinogenic for most people. I'll probably watch it again.

I read the IMDB comments and came across this quote that describes it perfectly: "Michael Weldon in the Psychotronic Encyclopedia nails it on the head when describing it as Days of Heaven as if directed by David Lynch." BTW, if you're a fan of genre flicks and don't already have the Weldon book, you'd diggit - I've written a few articles for its newsstand spinoff Psychotronic Film/Video Magazine.

None

Pit and the Pendulum (1991) - Directed by Stuart Gordon, starring Lance Henriksen, Stephen Lee, William J. Norris, Mark Margolis. The Inquisition aims to save souls.

Pit and the Pendulum is the version with Lance Henriksen - far better than I expected! He's fantastic as the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. It's a Stuart Gordon movie, who I feel has gone downhill since Re-Animator and From Beyond, his best works. This one is somewhat of a return to form for him, and it even has roles for Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) and, believe it or not, Oliver Reed!

Pendulum actually weaves several Poe stories into the mix aside from the titular reference, and with a fair bit of imagination and humor! I may actually like it as much or better than the classic Roger Corman/Vincent Price flick (tho the two have little in common) --

None

Office Killer (1997) - Directed by Cindy Sherman, starring Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Barbara Sukowa. A mousy office worker accidentally kills one of her co-workers.

Office Killer is like a John Waters horror movie! If you liked American Psycho with Christian Bale, or other dark comedies like Ruthless People (Danny Devito, Bette Midler), Educating Mona (Danny Devito's masterwork), or Heathers, you'd diggit! Carol Kane's best role I've seen her in, and other stars like Molly Ringwald are playing far against type.

None

Vanilla Sky (2001) - Directed by Cameron Crowe, starring Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell. A successful publisher finds his life taking a turn for the surreal after suffering a disfiguring accident.

I've never understood the hostility toward this flick. For movies rooted in both lucid and unconscious dream therapy, it's FAR better than What Dreams May Come, the Matrix trilogy, Total Recall, Brainstorm, and the like.

A second viewing is almost demanded, as the final twists continue to provoke thought long after the movie wraps up. In this, it's akin to flicks like Memento, Donnie Darko, and Sixth Sense --- it gets under your skin and keeps you tossing around bits and pieces of it in your brain, ironically/appropriately just as you're trying to get to sleep that night -----

All the songs are part of the storytelling (even the Monkees’ “Porpoise Song”!), plus, if you watch the visuals, you'll see they recreate a bunch of classic album covers in various shots throughout the film. Some are very subtle indeed, like Cruise and Cruz walking arm in arm in a shot straight off a Bob Dylan record.

Tho that's never directly addressed, once the mystery of the movie is revealed, it's fun to go back and pick out all the music and visual clues. The movie flopped, but probably only because it takes some concentration and attention to keep tabs on - not a movie to watch while doing other things.

None

Atonement (2007) - Directed by Joe Wright, starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn, Saoirse Ronan. Fledgling writer Briony Tallis, as a 13-year-old, irrevocably changes many lives by telling a tale that may or may not be true.

Even tho it was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, I knew nothing about Atonement - it's very "masterpiece theater" compared to the grindhhouse and genre fare I usually screen. But the opening scene of a young girl typing her first play on an old ribbon typewriter (whose tapping sound became an important percussive part of the soundtrack) caught my attention, and I ended up putting aside my work and giving it all my attention, which rarely happens with the TV (other than the Sunday night Fox cartoons).

In case you haven't seen it, I won't ruin with spoilers - part of why I enjoyed it so much was because I knew nothing about it and had no idea what to expect. Suffice to say Keira Knightley, whose only other movie I can recall seeing is the first Pirates of the Caribbean (which I didn't like well enough to watch any of the sequels) is a far better actress than I gave her credit for.

And there’s an astoundingly long and complicated single-shot panoramic scene that defies description, capturing a moment on the Dunkirk beaches with a bit of directorial and cinematography brilliance that rivals even the mighty Orson Welles…

None

Star Trek (2009) - Directed by J.J. Abrams, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Leonard Nimoy. The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father's legacy.

The first Trek reboot was a good sci-fi movie, but didn't feel much like Trek. I think part of the problem is all the pains that Abrams goes thru to make things look both realistic and futuristic. The original series, aside from the psychedelic colors no Trek has since adopted, threw together crazy costumes and sets that made no sense whatsoever - dresses falling off with fabric or fur wrapped around one leg (for no particular reason), aliens with lopsided horns or paper mache noses, upside down potted plants for alien landscapes, Adonis' giant hand snatching the Enterprise from space, violent reptile Gorns wearing little glittery blouse-dresses, Vulcans battling to the death with giant Q-Tips, effin Abe Lincoln floating in space sitting in his Monument chair (?!), a piano-playing Halloween-themed sadist (or a midget Roman-themed sadist), the gunfight at the OK Corral (!!) - just crazy fever dream imagery behind thoughtful, funny, and occasionally downright deep stories.

None

Twixt (2011) - Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin

Promo blurb: A writer with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl. That night in a dream, he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V. He's unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. Ultimately he is led to the truth of the story, surprised to find that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated.

I read the IMDb reviews of Twixt and can only tsk tsk at the many people who wholly dismiss it as not worthy of FF Coppola, comparing it so unfavorably to his "great" works. How small minded - I bet most of them, if shown the film cold and with no idea it was by the mighty Coppola, would have found much more to love about it. Few other Hollywood directors have played with videography and the attendant video lighting and color spectrums - I found it a joy to see such brand new toys in the hands of an old past master.

But I would have liked it just the same had it been directed by some lunch lady auteur that nobody ever heard of - the film's the thing, at least it should be. It's not all about the director, even when it's THAT director!

It's an odd, little, personal film, that unfortunately is neither fish nor fowl nor liquid lunch. Is it about witches? No, then vampires? Maybe ghosts? No, it's a plain murder mystery then? Or is it about lucid dreaming, or simply about growing old, weary, and increasingly weird (as most aging writers are wont to do)?

It's got a unique look to the lighting, especially when the nearly translucent glowing girl first shows up and all the colors start to shift toward monochrome. I knew I was gonna like where it was going as soon as the writer implored Edgar Allan Poe for help, "Show me the way"...and Poe appeared!! Some great scenes like Kilmer inside the screwy clockworks, and how about that scene where he fights his writer's block by doing movie star impressions. Including a very funny impression of Marlon Brando, who of course Kilmer co-starred with in that wonky Island of Doctor Moreau remake of a remake (and who Coppola directed in Apocalypse Now, from which Kilmer's impression-dialogue is loosely lifted). Cool and weird little film

The show does have problems, mainly with Kilmer never raising his character's burnout above a slow simmer and with the utter lack of a linear ending that feels anything like the end.

But neither glitch comes close to sinking an otherwise fresh and otherworldly bit of cinema exploration. I may watch it again next weekend -



Previous Grindhouse Movie Reviews and DVD/Cable TV Roundup columns:

None


"Lost gems of the ‘60s: Gates to Paradise (1968) with Jenny Agutter, Pauline Challoner: Obscure 13th century Christian Children’s Crusade as twisted teen road trip to Jerusalem" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

None

"Walkabout, Roeg's 1971 acid/aboriginal trip" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

None

"Dark Shadows FANATIC Reviews the New Burton/Depp DS" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Black Caesar (1973) and Cover Me Babe (1970)" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Donnie Darko Sequel Doesn’t Deserve Bad Rap" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Queen of the Damned: Anne Rice Offshoot Doesn't Deserve Bad Rap" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Cult Movie Review: Forbidden Zone (1982)" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Cult Movie Reviews: Andy Warhol's Bad & The Sentinel" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Movies Shot in San Diego: Wicked Wicked (1973)" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Movies Shot in San Diego: A Force of One (1979)" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Phantom of the Paradise and the Day the Ken Cinema Made Cult Movie History" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Velvet Goldmine Channels '70s Glam and Oscar Wilde" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "They’re Rebooting the Crow?! 4 Remakes Good as (or Better) Than the Originals" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Wonderwall w/ George Harrison: Lost 1968 Psychedelic Gem" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Iron Man vs Watchmen" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Pan's Labyrinth vs. The Devil's Backbone" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "John Waters Newbie Screens a Waters Marathon" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "We Asked 25 Local Celebs What's Your Favorite Twilight Zone?" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "What Do YOU Think? Does the Walking Dead Stink, Or ?" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Dateline: May 1959 - Elvis Movie Causes Mexican Riot" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Do You Remember: The Midway Drive-in" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Local Celebs Who LOVE Star Wars!" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Former Local Co-Creating Newest Star Trek Adventures" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Punk Rock Dads Docu: Blink, Red Hot Chili, Pennywise, more" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Local Drummer Featured in New Documentary" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Local Singer & Ramona Footage in Quiet Riot Documentary Film" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Why Porn Movies Deserve To Die Out" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "American Artifact Documentary DVD Celebrates Concert Poster Art" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "DVD Documentary Features Local Cult Star Gary Wilson" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Locally Shot Transvestite Documentary on DVD" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "La Paloma Debuts Local Steve White Documentary" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Locally Produced Hollies Documentary" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

  • Big Screen alerts

Comments

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close