Movie reviews - the accidentally weighted-down-with-Dana-Andrews edition

Well, I had to take last week off because my father passed away after a long decline, but I reckon it's time to get back to work before I get used to this being-lazy stuff (sloth is my only drug). Thanks to all who sent well-wishes, to Henry Rollins for writing A Preferred Blur (which provided some much-needed distractions at crucial moments), and the punk rock/ oi band Bonecrusher. When my dad broke his hip four years ago, I didn't have time to make a new car tape so I kept listening to an all-Bonecrusher mix tape I had in the car over and over again for several weeks when I drove back and forth between work and the hospital, and that kept me going when I felt backed up to a wall, plus sparked a major resurgence into punk rock for me. So when he went into the hospital this time, I broke out the same almost-worn-out Bonecrusher tape just to see if it'd do the trick again. It did. I'll always love this band for that, and Raybo's maybe my favorite vocalist for this type of music. It's not complicated stuff, more the blunt-object end of the musical spectrum (which is actually my favorite end, anyway), but the more you listen to them, the better they get. Check 'em out.

The last 30 seconds of "whoa" stuff in here is about as classic as anything gets for me. (imbed didn't come up for me, but you can see it on YouTube here - it's the best audio quality out of any of these clips)

One of the greatest oi choruses ever. "Just a casualty, got nothin' to say, with your hands tied back, victim of the state!"

So, that plug over, on to the movie mayhem. I didn't really plan to include such a disproportionate number of Dana Andrews movies in this one, but it just kinda worked out that way. Eh, whatdehell.


Astounding She-Monster, The (B&W, 1957) aka Mysterious Invader, The Naked Invader. A sinisterly-purring narrator tries in vain to convince us that this ultra-cheap sci-fi flick is scary. A glowing, buxom female alien who wears a skin-tight silver suit and kills with a touch crash lands in the backwoods, right where some kidnappers are going with a rich woman they've abducted. A geologist and his faithful collie Egan (the actor's actual pet) are doing experiments in the area and the kidnappers make him hide them out at his cabin, where they eventually have to join forces to defeat the alien. She's a very accommodating monster; after she crashes through a window she stands there patiently while the humans build a torch with which to attack her. People have to wait around to be grabbed by the slowly-strolling alien, who makes the mummy look like a track star. She can usually be escaped just by leaving the room. I’m not sure that constitutes “astounding,” but the 50’s were a more easily-impressed decade. Scenes swap between day and night a lot. Gets a little tedious even though it’s only an hour long, but it’s pretty funny overall.

"Here is a power that frightens the deer in the forest!"

Cleopatra Jones (C, 1973) Tamara Dobson is "6 feet 2 inches of dynamite" and a one woman war on drugs as she goes against a wildly-overacting Shelly Winters (as a crime kingpin called "Mommy") in this blacksploitation classic. Special agent Cleo calls in an airstrike on one of Shelly's $30 million poppy fields, so Shelly has a junkie rehabilitation house that Cleo runs as a charity framed for drugs (which racist cop Bill "the redneck in Deliverance who got some" McKinney is all too happy to do). That pisses Cleo off, and pissing her off is a bad idea. She keeps an arsenal in the door panel of her custom black Corvette and is skilled in martial arts. Cleo presides over loads of cartoonish action, in which she never has any trouble outfighting, outdriving, and outshooting any bad guy she comes up against. The clowns who make up Shelly's criminal empire don't have a chance. Dobson gets to wear lots of weird outfits and headgear (although her huge Afro still looks better than any of 'em) and everyone in the cast is basically just there to be impressed with her; wherever she goes crowds gather to gawk and say variations on "Ooo-WEE, that sistah is BAD!" There's a good cast full of lots of black TV talent, including Esther Role from Good Times, Teddy Wilson from That's My Mama, Antonio Fargas from Starsky & Hutch, Albert Popwell from all the Dirty Harry movies, and a cameo from Don Cornelius of Soul Train ("the hippest trip in America!") fame. Very entertaining blacksploitation that's got less violence and nudity than most; in fact, it's pretty mild, but still boasts a good car chase with that badass 'Vette and a climactic junkyard battle with a horrifically-leather-clad Shelly Winters. Written by Max Julien, who starred in The Mack, and directed by Jack Starrett. Followed by Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. You can watch the whole movie online starting here.

Or skip to the badmamajama car chase (how many times does she downshift that thing? and how many car chases have been filmed in that canal?):

Cobra, The (C, 1967) aka Il Cobra. Mike Rand (horror and Spaghetti Western star Peter Martel) is a spy who’s been disgraced, but Dana Andrews knows he’s the only agent badass enough to bring down the Cobra, a Red Chinese organization that’s dumping millions of dollars in heroin into the American market to turn everyone into easily-conquered junkies. Since they killed his ex-girlfriend, a reluctant Rand takes the case and shakes up the Istanbul underworld. A James Bond type this guy ain’t -- he acts like an asshole most of the time and looks kind of slobby. He notices black chrysanthemums everywhere, finds drugged girls used as robotic slaves, and learns the bad guys are trying to ship the drugs in an oil tanker. This gets a little hard to follow at times but leads to a huge fight at the end. It comes across as a filmed Nick Carter novel, and the Cobra bits are ironically similar to the G. I. Joe bad guys, right down to the masked “Cobra commander.” A “Never say never” line at the end anticipates a James Bond film.

Creepy Crawlers (C, 2000) aka They Nest. A doctor loses his nerve and can no longer operate, so he moves to an island off the coast of Maine to fix up an old house he bought. The local New Englandah rednecks aren't very friendly, especially John Savage, whose father's house the doctor bought for lapsed taxes, so when cockroaches start showing up all over his house he thinks they're playing pranks to run him off. But when dead bodies with their innards replaced by roach pupae start turning up all over the place, it's evident that a swarm of carnivorous African cockroaches has infested the island and is using human bodies (and not always dead ones) as incubators. Soon there are billions of these critters and they're starting to fly, so there's nowhere to hide from them. Good old-school killer bug horror reminiscent of the 70's AIP classics, but with updated special effects that lead to effectively ookie swarm scenes. Don't let the whack title or the fact that this was made for TV throw you off, it's not a bad little film.

Dark Ride (C, 2006) A group of teens on a road trip get the bright idea to break into a carnival fun house and spend the night. This particular fun house has a bad history because a psycho named Jonah killed a pair of twins there years before, while emulating some of the horror scenes on the ride. Well, wouldn'tcha know that Jonah appears to be back just in time to kill off this new batch of teens in various gruesome ways, while wearing the creepy face torn off of a mannequin? Okay slasher film on a tight budget, but not particularly scary or compelling, mostly because the film has no sense of place; characters are running around from one dark, ramshackle place to another and you never really get any momentum out of it. There are a few good gore effects (decapitation, a too-neatly split head) and some not bad attempts at creating atmosphere, but overall it's just mediocre. But, if you like slasher films and aren't too picky, it might be worth diving into Wal-Mart's five-buck bin to look for it.

Hot Rods To Hell (C, 1967) aka 52 Miles To Terror. This camp classic was planned as a TV movie but was judged to be too exploitative so it went to theaters instead. Dana Andrews (who's skittish behind the wheel after a Christmastime car accident, kind of reminiscent of his skittish -pilot role in Zero Hour!) and his ridiculously square conservative family unit head to California to run a motel... but when they arrive they find highway mayhem from an early Mad Max style gang of hot-rodding juvenile delinquents. They don't actually do much but drive around him in an obnoxious manner, but it throws the whole uptight whitebread family into a panic and no amount of horn-blowing on Dana's part will save the problem (although he certainly seems to think it will for a while). Wife Jeanne Crain stays near hysterics. The hoodlums try to seduce Dana's pretty daughter (much to the chagrin of hoodlum girlfriend Mimsy Farmer), who reacts to attention from boys like it's a hypnotic drug; she wants nothing to do with the jerks, but seems compelled to seek out "Duke," their leader, just so she can trembling to tell him to leave her alone. The hot rod kids are pissed because Dana bought the hotel that contains "The Arena," a nightclub where they hang out and listen to a band (Mickey Rooney Jr. and his Combo!) who plays rock songs with lyrics like "Do the chicken walk!" (that's the whole song), and they're sure he'll turn it into some cheesemo family restaurant. And he probably will, too. The teens are a bunch of assholes but Dana's family is so lame and easily-panicked you almost want to root for the bad guys, especially when Dana's reaction to everything is to run away or tattle. He delivers lines like "We're leaving... NOW!" or "I'll get the police!" like he's Dirty Harry holding a Magnum, and his stern lecture to the hoodlums is almost embarrassing to watch, especially since it followed a really impotent-looking symbolic beating of an inanimate object. Since Dana looks so much like FOX News idiot Sean Hannity, and his character acts so uptight and frightened like Sean, it’s kinda fun to pretend that’s who he’s supposed to be. It's hilariously corny stuff but it's well-paced and engaging enough to have been remade a couple of times (once as a made-for-TV movie called Terror on the Beach and once as The Road Killers). One member of the punk band The Dictators listed this as his favorite movie.

Hang out through the Young Runaways trailer and it'll come up.

They Don’t Cut The Grass Anymore (C, 1985) Another gory tour of the backyards of Long Island from home-movie maker Nathan Schiff. This one’s intended to be a comedy with social commentary, and it’s his goriest work, and also the most blatantly plotless, mainly because it had to be filmed in five days before his start left to work in the Peace Corps. Class warfare becomes hands-on when a couple of hillbillies from Texas (Arkansas would have been more believable for this brand of yokel) who’ve been doing yard work for New York yuppies decide to start killing them instead. One of the hillbillies has raccoon makeup around his eyes for some reason, and the other wears a rubber mask. They engage in nearly-constant, pointless mayhem, resulting in extreme gore effects of varying quality (at some points wads of cotton were used as intestines, and it looks more like somebody fishing for an aspirin than a disembowelment). There are decapitations, heads chopped open and pulled apart, one girl completely mangled to a pile of meat, and various bites, stabs, and gunshots. Many of the effects are deliberately fake-looking (such as the use of a blow-up doll) to keep the nastiness on a comic level. It’s more skillfully done than Schiff’s previous films (Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Long Island Cannibal Massacre) but that’s no endorsement, and this is mainly of interest to those who like backyard filmmaking or people who are very unparticular about where their chainsaw mayhem comes from. It’s fun for what it is.

Zero Hour! (B&W, 1957) It’s safe to consider this Airport ‘57, because it would fit into that series perfectly. Some bad fish served on a commercial flight incapacitates both pilots and many passengers. There’s a traumatized fighter pilot (Dana Andrews) on board, but he’s never flown a plane anywhere near that size and has avoided flying since the war because he caused his whole squadron to crash into the ground, but he’s still the best bet the passengers have. An old war buddy with no confidence in him (the great Sterling Hayden) has to try to talk him down (imagine Sterling Hayden trying to calm you!), but there are a lot of factors working against him, like fog, a storm, his own flashback-raddled nerves, and a time factor (the poisoned passengers -- including Dana’s son -- will die if they don’t get prompt treatment). This was the main movie sourced for parody by Airplane!, but it’s actually pretty intense stuff. It does lay the groundwork for some of the disaster movie cliches that would follow, but they’re not overbearing or silly here. Remade for TV as Terror in the Sky.

And here's comparisons with Airplane!

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