Movie Reviews - Beach Red, The Beguiled, A Bell from Hell, Below, A Better Tomorrow

Beach Red (C, 1967)
Engrossing, action-packed war film following soldiers landing on an island in the South Pacific and slugging it out with the Japanese, who make them work for every inch they gain. Pretty gory for its day, showing limbs torn off and some pretty unpleasant deaths, making the point that war is hell. First they land on the beach under heavy fire, then fight their way through the fields and into the jungle. There they get a little rest, giving us a chance to see flashbacks (be sure to look for the romantic encounter that gets broken up by a father: he's probably the absolute worst actor I've ever seen - he only has about three lines and fucks every one of them up). The captain (Cornell Wilde, who also directed) has to try to keep everyone human and on track. They find out the Japanese number in the hundreds and plan to attack dressed as American troops to cause confusion, and they have to find some way to put a stop to it. Not a whole lot of plot, but other than that it's all you could ask for out of a war movie. At times it's artsy (lots of still pictures pop up to illustrate memories or fantasies) and at times it looks a little bit cheap, but I was never bored, and for that I have no reservations about recommending this one. -zwolf

The Beguiled (C, 1971)
Moody Southern gothic psychological pseudo-horror featuring the classic team of Don Siegel directing and Clint Eastwood starring. Clint's a wounded Union soldier who's taken in by a school full of Southern belles during the Civil War. They hide him and take care of him because he's stringing them along, using their loneliness to manipulate them. It works well as long as he's able to juggle them, but he's a little too horny for his own good (thanks to that hussy Carol, who's pretty hard to resist) and he gets caught by one of them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and his little Shangri-la turns into a nightmare pretty quickly. Dark-themed and beautifully shot, with some surprising twisted stuff (Clint kissing a 12-year old, school mistress Geraldine Page using one of his injuries as an excuse for some sick vengeance, etc.) Very well made and packs a chilly cumulative effect, partially due to the very underplayed theme song which Clint sings (or mutters, really). Not Clint's usual action flick, for sure, but definitely worth checking out. -zwolf

A Bell From Hell (C, 1973) AKA The Bell of Hell, La Campana del Inferno
Obscure Spanish horror about a sociopathic guy who's released from the asylum and comes home. He takes a job at a slaughterhouse, then soon quits, saying he's "learned enough." Then he begins playing a series of evil pranks. The first is a weird riff on Saki's story "The Open Window" (look it up and read it, 'cuz I'm not gonna tell ya 'bout it). Then he sets in on his aunt and his cousins, who had him committed. Supposedly he wasn't really insane and they just framed him to get access to his money, but his behavior makes you wonder if perhaps the madhouse was where he belonged. He tells one woman that he hooked a microphone to her bed, then says he'll tear out his eyes out of guilt... then does it! But it's just makeup effects to horrify her. When she faints he takes off her underwear to make her think he raped her while she was unconscious. Then he rescues a girl who actually is about to be raped, so maybe he's not all bad. But he probably is, since he soon starts outfitting his basement as a slaughterhouse and then sprays attractant on her face and unleashes a swarm of bees. While she's being stung he terrorizes her daughters. For this, one of the townspeople sets up vengeance against him involving a new church bell. The movie's great but was apparently cursed, because on the last day of filming, director Claudio Guerin Hill fell (or possibly jumped - stories vary) from the bell tower used in the film, and that may be part of the reason this has slipped into obscurity. It was once a part of WOR's great "Fright Night" package, before their station turned to crap, and the videotape (also apparently containing an edited-for-TV print) could occasionally be found in out-of-the-way video stores. Sinister Cinema currently carries it on DVD-R, which is good, because it has some creepy moments - especially at the end - and deserves a look. -zwolf

Below (C, 2002) AKA Das Haunted Boot, U-5666, Run Screaming Run Deep
Basically, a ghost story movie set on a submarine during WWII. An American sub picks up three survivors from a torpedoed hospital ship: a British sailor, a British nurse, and a wounded German who doesn't last very long. They're going along, hiding from German warships, and deciding that the sub just might be haunted... as if it's not scary enough avoiding sonar and grappling hooks and depth charges, they also have to deal with record players turning themselves on, lots of bad luck, the ship deciding to steer itself, and mysterious crew deaths. The submarine-movie aspects overwhelm the ghost stuff and some of the situations seem lifted directly from Das Boot (which may be unavoidable; U-571 also cribbed heavily from it) but the dialogue is good and it keeps moving. Not terribly original but effective and well-handled. -zwolf

A Better Tomorrow (C, 1986)
A John Woo film starring Chow Yun Fat... and that should be enough to tell you that you should watch this if you get the chance. This was Woo's first big hit (it broke box office records in Hong Kong) and looks cheaper than more-familiar Woo/Fat films like The Killer or Hard Boiled, but it's still a powerful gangland saga with incredible bullet-riddled action sequences. Two brothers - one a cop, one a gangster - get at cross purposes when some mobsters kill their father in retaliation for something the criminal son did. Chow Yun Fat is a criminal friend - he pulls of a hit that's kind of similar to one he did in The Killer, taking out a dozen or so guys, pulling pistols out of potted plants instead of changing clips. There's a lot of tragic melodrama mixed in with the mayhem as the cop brother treats the criminal brother like dirt, even though the criminal brother loves him more than anything and has changed his ways. Things pick up by the climax for sure - total gunfire holocaust. Followed by a sequel - A Better Tomorrow II, also directed by Woo - and a prequel - A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon, which saw producer Tsui Hark taking over directorial duties. A little stiffer than Woo's later films (it sometimes resembles some of those old Italian gangster films, mainly in the editing, I think) but still with all the stuff you watch Woo for. -zwolf

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1 comment:

  1. Just as an update, 'cuz these reviews are as old as my grandma and my grandma farts dust - Bell From Hell is now available on DVD. There's a good copy, and then there's a somewhat-cut copy that you can find on the cheapo Mill Creek "Chilling Classics" 50 movie box set.

    I need to remember to do a blog post on those box sets at some point. I worship those...