More Fun Than A Ventiloquist In A Morgue!

Actually, it's just more movie reviews, but "more movie reviews" is such a boring title and after doin' so many of these gahdamn't things I gotta trick you into coming in some way or 'nother. I don't know why I'm doin' a twofer this weekend... I guess I just watched Viva Knieval! and wanted to share the magic.


Battle Beyond The Sun (C, 1963) aka Neboy Zovyot, The Heavens Call, The Sky Calls, The Sky Is Calling. Another Roger Corman Russian-sci-fi paste-up. He bought a 1959 Soviet film called Nebo Zavyot and re-wrote the dialogue (which was Cold War propaganda in the original) and -- because the movie is stiffer than last month’s biscuits -- shot some space-monster battle footage to keep the thing from being a total bore. Unfortunately that’s saved for the end, so you have to sit through a lot of non-event tedium to get there, with scientists from a globe that’s been divided into rival hemisphere-nations wanting to get around politics and share technical secrets, via awkward, stilted dubbing. And even the monster-fight payoff wouldn’t be so much, except they look like peepees! yes, it’s a giant penis-monster and a giant vagina-monster, battling for a piece of asteroid! The penis one’s slightly subtle, with a scrotum-like body and penis-like arms, but the vagina beast is right out of Hustler magazine and is the biggest, nastiest cunt seen on TV ‘til Ann Coulter showed up on FOX News. (Yeah, I said it, fuck you!) Their appearance is brief and maybe not reward enough for sitting through the rest, but there ya go.

Cop Killers (C, 1973) aka Copkillers, Sweet Mean and Deadly. A couple of scuzzy long-haired drug dealers pick up a five-key bundle of cocaine in the desert, and while driving away (in a Rolls Royce! Wow, what an inconspicuous choice for crimin’ cars) they run into a roadblock, panic, and gun down about five cops. They head on to town and ditch the Rolls for possibly the only more noticeable getaway vehicle possible: a stolen ice cream truck! They toss the ice cream out the moving truck onto the highway (I guess to leave a trail to follow, the frickin’ geniuses) then blast a motorcycle cop. Then they rob a gas station (37-cent gas! Man, I miss the 70’s!), steal another car, and kidnap a girl. They quarrel over how badly to treat her, and the mayhem continues. Exemplary grindhouse fodder (complete with a near-perfect trailer) with a totally nihilistic attitude and some nasty gore effects (early Rick Baker work), including spurting jugulars, shotgunned faces, and a sizeable chunk stomped out of a guy’s face. If Grindhouse had been a triple feature, they could have stuck this in there and it would be perfect. Delivers everything you’d expect from this kind of movie, and the DVD print is suitably blown-up-grainy and scratched. Stars Jason Williams from Flesh Gordon.

Crime Wave (B&W, 1954) aka The City Is Dark. Double-tough film noir with a toothpick-gnawing Sterling Hayden trying to track down some cop-killing jail-breakers (one of them Charles Bronson) who are loose in L.A. An ex-con named Steve Lacey gets mixed up in it even though he’s gotten married and tried to go straight; his former pals force him into it, mainly because he can fly plaines and help their getaway, after they pull off another big crime with some dangerous friends of theirs (check out crazily-grinning Tim Carey! He’s only got a few minutes of screen time but you’ll remember every second of ‘em!). Very hard-boiled with excellent casting, taught direction, punchy dialogue, realistically-gritty cinematography, and some surprising bursts of violence. The DVD has a great commentary track with James Ellroy and Edie Muller (who get very distracted talking about Timothy Carey). Content is basically average, but form is amazing. Whole thing's on line starting here, definitely worht your time.

Eliza's Horoscope (C, 1975) Weird, annoying, overlong hippie pseudo-art film in which an infuriatingly naive hippie girl with cheesy teeth and the stunned gaze of a freshly-tipped cow goes to the city to find her "love." She strongly believes in astrology and stays in a decrepit boarding house full of oddballs while an old lady does a reading for her. Her roommate is an over-the-hill showgirl who may be turning tricks on the side, and there's a revolting, sluglike, smirking grey man who lurks around, petting a cat, plus obnoxious cowboy Tommy Lee Jones. Tommy is a wanna-be eco-terrorist, planning to blow up a bridge because he thinks that will get him in touch with his Native American roots. Eliza wanders around timidly in antique clothing and various kinds of paint on her face, striking embarrassing poses, meeting lots of strange, morbid-looking people ( a lot of grey people show up who may be some kind of zombies) and going into fits of idiot ecstasy whenever anything related to astrology hoves into her view. Tommy tries to romance her but she's a Piscean and he's a conflicting sign, plus he's too violent for her near-vegetative passivity. There are flashbacks of clowns and lots of pointless dialogue as Eliza rattles on about astrology and Tommy goes on about Native American beliefs, and the old showgirl argues for Jesus. Eliza plays with a dirty pair of baby shoes and longs to have a baby, even though Tommy says it's a bad idea, and his grandmother complains about pollution and civilization. Eliza meets artists -- sculptors and composers -- and joins a cult, which shows her all the zodiac animals and then has a weird orgy where people in zodiac masks wander around while the cult leader whips a girl with a tree branch (too violent for Eliza). Tommy gets shot trying to blow up a bridge and Eliza starts hanging out with mimes as the movie gets more nightmarish and surreal. People who are really into spirituality might really get excited about this pretentious nonsense, but I found it imbecilic and very boring, despite having lots of interesting visuals. All the symbolic stuff may add up to something, but nothing worth figuring out. The casting director must have been a big Fellini fan, because there are lots of creepy, grotesque people in the cast. You're left wondering if Eliza's not just deranged and this is all in her head, or if some Carnival of Souls thing might be going on. But she's just too much of a hapless flake to care about. Available on the "Box Office Gold" 50 movie DVD set.

Man on Fire (C, 2004) Mexico is overrun with kidnappings and in order to get insurance a rich businessman has to hire a bodyguard for his daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning). Denzel Washington is a former military CIA operative who's hunted by past failures and is drinking his life away until his buddy Christopher Walken recommends him for the job. Denzel is a sad guy who doesn't want to get involved in friendships, but despite his best efforts to resist he finds himself growing very fond of Pita, so when she gets kidnapped he takes it very personally. He's wounded and in trouble for killing two cops who were involved in the kidnapping, but works to recover as quickly as he can once the ransom deal goes bad and the kidnappers say they killed Pita. Devoting himself to the total destruction of anyone who was involved in the plot or who profited from it, Denzel hits the warpath hard. He's incredibly ruthless, torturing and killing as many as he needs to to bring the whole criminal network down. Powerful action film with heavy depth, and Denzel is great as always, although the extremes he goes to here are a little surprising; he's so cold-blooded that it's definitely anti-hero stuff instead of the usual Denzel Washington good guy. His targets are more than deserving, though, so sensitive viewers might be able to handle him slicing off fingers and shoving explosives up people's asses. Long -- 2 1/2 hours -- but seems shorter due to the pacing and tightness of the plot. Even though Denzel underplays it, there's a strong character study hidden in all the action. "Forgiveness is between them and God... it's my job to arrange the meeting."

Monster (C, 2003) Charlize Theron, bravely showing herself at her most unglamorous, plays hagged-out prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Perpetually down on her luck, Theron finds sort of a soulmate in lonely, friendless young lesbian Christina Ricci, and tries running away with her and starting a new life. She doesn't have much luck, since she's uneducated and has no skills other than turning tricks. But she learns a new vocation when she kills one of her customers (who totally deserved it, since he was beating, raping, and probably going to kill her). After that traumatic experience she can't stand turning tricks anymore and finds it easier to just kill the guys and take their money instead, and since she's desperate to maintain her relationship with Ricci by being a provider, she starts doing quite a bit of murder. Soon Ricci gets dissatisfied with their outcast bond and starts trying to make new friends, and Theron feels left out and the relationship grows more miserable, causing things to get sloppy. Very well-done, gritty film, with powerhouse performances from both ladies. Similar in some ways to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but a little less cold since the killings aren't as graphic or motivated by thrill-seeking. Theron manages to be repulsive yet somehow sympathetic, despite her deeds; a little pity will probably be mixed with your abhorrence, although a monster she certainly is.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade (C, 1963) aka Nerumi Kyoshiro 1: Sappochio, Enter Kyoshiro Nemuri the Swordsman, Enter Kyoshiro The Swordsman. First in a samurai series also known as "Son of Black Mass" with wandering laconic cynic Nemuri Kyoshiro (played by the "Japanese James Dean" Ichikawa Raizo) taking on assignments just out of boredom and misanthropy. Some criminals want to get rid of a Chinese kung fu expert (played by Tomisaburo Wakayama from the Lone Wolf and Cub series -- with his head shaved and fighting without weapons!) so they get a girl to tell Nemuri that Wakayama is trying to kill her and she needs his protection, since he and his notorious "Full Moon Cut" sword style are the only hope in defeating Wakayama's kung fu skills. It's all a secret plot by the criminals to get all their enemies out of the way so they can get their hands on a statue with a secret inside of it, which could bring down a lord. Nemuri and Wakayama are perfectly willing to fight each other, but they're not dumb and they know it's a set-up, so first they join forces and slaughter hoards of ninja the criminals have sent after them both. They wait until they have possession of the statue and all the drama surrounding it is settled before they have their duel. If you're looking for buckets of blood ala Lone Wolf and Cub you'll be disappointed, but if you're looking for great samurai drama and some kick-ass fight scenes, you'll do well to seek this out.

The guy disabled embedding, but you can see some footage here.

Viva Knievel! (C, 1977) aka Seconds To Live. If you see only the first five minutes of this heartwarming chunk of narcissistic wank it'll still be a legendary part of your cinematic life, because the film opens with a scene of our egomaniacal stuntman hero (and human toy commercial) sneaking into an orphanage in the middle of the night to hand out toys of himself, and one crippled child is so inspired that he flings aside his crutches and begins to walk! Who needed to jump the Snake River Canyon when you could probably just walk across it? Anyway, the love story continues as Evel charms everyone he meets, even antagonistic feminist photographer Lauren Hutton, who eventually becomes won over by his chauvinistic jackassery (which includes taking her on a ride up and down a set of bleachers, trying to terrorize her into liking him like some fourth-grade kid). Bad guys Leslie Nielsen and Marjoe Gortner plan to get Evel killed in a jump in Mexico so they can smuggle drugs into the States using his truck, reasoning that "nobody'd stop a hero's funeral procession to look for drugs." Just so we know how bad drugs are, Evel gives an anti-drug speech about nitro-burning cars and their relation to drug-crazed 70's teens. Then he has a crash and thinks about quitting, but then decides to do his Mexico jump after all, because people remind him, "You're Evel Knievel!" In the meantime he tries to make his burned-out alcoholic mechanic (played by Gene Kelly, who must've been thinking "what happened to my life?!" during the whole film) be a father to his son, Tommy. Red Buttons and Cameron Mitchell are also on hand to compromise their resumes. Evel's hair changes color from scene to scene, but perhaps that's just another manifestation of his miracles. In Mexico, he has to jump over a flaming pit, not knowing his motorcycle's been rigged to crash. And Leslie Nielsen's betrayed Gortner as well, pus he's taken Hutton and Tommy hostage, too. Luckily it's the kind of situation that can be avenged by crazy motorcycle stunt riding! I saw this in the theater when I was ten and thought it was pretty cheesy even then, but by that time the shine had kind of worn off Evel for me, since he'd failed to clear the Snake River Canyon in a freakin' ROCKET SHIP. Then a while later, Evel used a baseball bat to smash a reporter's hands while one of his friends held him down, and that's when I retired my Evel Knievel lunchbox. Still, this is classic 70's cheeseball junk; from the filmmaking you keep expecting Wonder Woman or The Hulk to show up. And if you have a band, you should cover the "Viva Knieval" theme song -- what a crowd pleaser! *clap!* *clap!*

Here's the opening credits with the theme song and the boy casting aside his crutches.

The Worm Eaters (C, 1977) Amazingly stupid and bizarre supposed-to-be-comedy geek act featuring the eating of real live nightcrawlers. A crazy old German hermit named Ungar (writer-director Herb Robins) lives in a shack by the lake, where he raises experimental earthworms, feeding them meat and DDT. A land developer and his goons (who mostly scream all their lines at the top of their lungs and always seem to be in the middle of a fit) want Ungar's land so they c an build condominiums on it, but Ungar won’t sell. The bad guys put on Klan hoods and trash his house, and he’s pestered by an obnoxious woman who thinks she’s Marlene Dietrich. There’s also an insufferable family of campers nearby. Ungar tricks most of them into eating worms (in close-up) and then they mutate into worm people (basically, they lie around in greasy sleeping bags), whom he then cages up. Other worm people live in the lake and want to mate with the ones Ungar is keeping. After a while they quit even having a pretense of a plot and just have everyone in sight eat worm-laden food; I could live without close-ups of people eating with their mouths open, even without earthworms in the mix. There’s frequent idiotic kazoo music that tries to convince you you’re watching a wacky comedy instead of something that’s just stupid. Producer T.V. Mikels shows up in an arm-wrestling scene, and provides probably the most useless DVD commentary ever recorded: he sits there silently, only saying something every ten minutes or so, and that’s usually just to chuckle and say, “They’re eating worms!”

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