Tuesday 28 February 2017

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)

Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Rand Ravich and Mark Kruger, from a story by Clive Barker
Stars: Tony Todd, Kelly Rowan, William O’Leary, Bill Nunn, Matt Clark, David Gianopoulos, Fay Hauser, Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Michael Culkin, Timothy Carhart and Veronica Cartwright

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Cheesy title or not, the original Candyman was one of the underrated horror gems of the nineties. I’ve seen it a couple of times but watched it again before reviewing this, its first of two sequels, on Mardi Gras, the day on which the finalé of Farewell to the Flesh is set. It surprised me again for a whole slew of reasons. Some were little ones, like Virginia Madsen being credited above Tony Todd, the monster of the franchise; the brief presence of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam; or the fact that the score was by a major composer, Philip Glass. Others were more important, such as the way in which it’s really an African American horror film that speaks without stereotype. Four of the six leads are actors of colour, though the focus is on a white woman; that leaves only one white male, who’s by far the weakest of that half dozen, being a college professor cheating on his wife with a bimbo student. Xander Berkeley played him well, but this isn’t about Prof. Lyle; it’s about racial inequality and how things haven’t changed much in a century or so.

This sequel isn’t remotely up to its predecessor, but it’s better than many have given it credit for; unfortunately, when it’s bad, it’s really bad and that lack of consistency really doesn’t help. A great example of this comes during the prologue, right before the title card, as the Candyman shows up in the bathroom of a New Orleans bar. Before I explain this, let me explain who Candyman is. He’s Daniel Robitaille, the son of a slave who grew up in polite society after the American Civil War because his father innovated a shoe production technique that proved highly profitable. Daniel became a renowned portrait artist, but made the mistake of falling for, and fathering a child with, a white woman. Being 1890, his lover’s father promptly led a lynch mob that severed his painting hand and replaced it with a hook, then smeared him with honey to attract bees to sting him to death. For reasons left unexplained until this sequel, his soul can be summoned by speaking the name Candyman into a mirror five times, whereupon Bad Things happen.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)

Director: David Miller
Writers: Richard L. Breen and Phoebe & Henry Ephron, from the novel by Leo Rosten
Stars: Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson and Bobby Darin

Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

This week’s Dry Heat Obscurity wasn’t entirely shot in Arizona. In fact, from what I can gather, most of it was shot on the Universal lot back in Universal City, CA. However, every time we step outside, we find ourselves on the Libby Army Airfield, which is part of Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army installation at the northern end of the Huachuca mountains, fifteen miles north of the Mexican border. It’s part of the Arizona town of Sierra Vista today, though it wasn’t when this picture was shot, as they didn’t annex the post until 1971. We fly over Fort Huachuca behind the opening credits to land at Libby. Now, the Libby Army Airfield is also the Sierra Vista Municipal Airport, but this script calls it the Colfax Army Air Field, which is a fictional name. However, if we track the story back to its origins, we’ll find that it’s really pretending to be the Yuma Army Airfield, still in Arizona but located three hundred miles west, where it shares its facilities with the Yuma International Airport as a combined civilian/military operation. Are you confused yet?

Well, let me back up to the real Second World War and hopefully things will become clear. Ralph R. Greenson, best known today as a psychoanalyst to the stars, was then a captain in the Army Medical Corps, stationed at the Yuma Army Airfield, where he worked with patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. He was an early professional to associate P.T.S.D. with the experiences of soldiers during wartime, so his work became well known and highly regarded. In 1961, a personal friend called Leo Rosten, a professional humorist and retired scriptwriter, fictionalised the doctor’s wartime stories into a novel, transforming Capt. Greenson, M.D. into Capt. Newman, M.D. Hollywood quickly came knocking to adapt this success onto the big screen, even though the doctor’s accomplishments were becoming eclipsed at the time by his professional association with celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe; a number of conspiracy theories have him involved in covering up the circumstances of her death in 1962.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Behind Locked Doors (1948)

Director: Oscar Boetticher
Writers: Malvin Wald and Eugene Ling, based on a story by Malvin Wald
Stars: Lucille Bremer and Richard Carlson

Index: 2017 Centennials.

You couldn’t tell it from this film, but Lucille Bremer was a dancer, a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall at the age of sixteen and the one ‘most likely to succeed’, according to her peers. It can’t surprise that she attempted a film career, but she failed her screen test at Warner Bros. and knew it, once she insisted on going back to view it. She went back to dancing, at clubs like the Copacabana and the Club Versailles in New York and, only later, got her second shot at Hollywood, after Arthur Freed saw her dancing and had her audition for Louis B. Mayer. This time it went well and a brief career in MGM musicals ensued. A supporting role as Judy Garland’s sister in Meet Me in St. Louis led to the lead in Vincente Minnelli’s Yolanda and the Thief, opposite a star of the calibre of Fred Astaire. Unfortunately, the picture failed for many reasons and she never got another musical lead. She danced with Astaire once more in Ziegfeld Follies and also appeared in Till the Clouds Roll By, the biopic of Jerome Kern. Her musical career had lasted three years.

Mayer considered that she also had potential for dramatic roles but she was never pushed for them. Her last MGM picture was in support of Lionel Barrymore and James Craig in the final Dr. Gillespie movie, Dark Delusion; then they loaned her out to a poverty row company, Eagle-Lion Films. Her final three films were shot for them in 1948: Adventures of Casanova, Ruthless and this picture, which is short and sweet but deserves more attention than it tends to receive. It runs a mere 61 minutes, but packs rather a lot in; had it been made as an A-movie rather than a B-movie, it could easily have filled a further half hour with character development. It isn’t too surprising that, eventually, someone came back to the ideas here and made another feature along similar lines, though Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, made fifteen years later in 1963, attempts a lot more and succeeds at it too. If we compare the two, the later film wins every time, but that doesn’t mean that this one doesn’t achieve the goals that it’s set.

Monday 20 February 2017

Sole Survivor (1970)

Director: Paul Stanley
Writer: Guerdon Trueblood
Stars: Vince Edwards, William Shatner and Richard Basehart

This review is part of the Movie of the Week Blogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Café.
I’ve taken part in a few blogathons in my time, but they’ve generally revolved around people, usually actors. However, this one is a little more interesting, courtesy of Rick Armstrong at Classic Film & TV Café, who has set up a Movie of the Week Blogathon with the goal of celebrating TV movies, made between the mid-sixties and the late-eighties. He aims for this to be an annual event, so I will put a list together for next year of some more TV movies I’ve been meaning to catch up with. This year, however, I was always going to go with Sole Survivor, which was first broadcast on CBS on 9th January, 1970. I first read about this film when researching William Shatner, a man whose early movie career is utterly fascinating, with an amazingly varied selection of interesting material up until he turned into a caricature of himself in, arguably, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Many, though far from all, of those films were made for TV and this is a great example of television a lot deeper than Captain Kirk, T. J. Hooker and Denny Crane.

We don’t meet Shatner for a while. Instead we’re introduced slowly and subtly to a scene while the opening credits roll, through a combination of visuals, sound and music. We’re in the desert, which we later find out is in Libya, looking at the wreck of a bomber, a B-25 Mitchell which is strafed with bullet holes. There’s a pitcher painted on the hull, throwing a baseball with a broken swastika on it, above the name of the plane. As we realise we’re looking at the corpse of the Home Run, the desert wind gives way to strains of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, played plaintively on the harmonica. Then we hear a progression of machine gun fire, radio chatter and jazz music, as if the Home Run itself is waking up and remembering what happened to it. Sure enough, the next thing we see is a human being, one of five who are using the plane as shelter. They’re all in uniform, surely the men who flew the old bird and it’s clear that they haven’t left this remote site in the last seventeen years, not least because they haven’t aged. Yes, they’re all ghosts.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Zombies vs. The Lucky Exorcist (2015)

Director: Jaguar Lim
Writer: Jaguar Lim
Stars: Jaguar Lim, Bobby Yip, Kieran, Hidy Yu, Henry Thia, Jaguar Lim, Jaguar Lim, Jaguar Lim, Jaguar Lim and Jaguar Lim

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

If you haven’t heard of the name Jaguar Lim before now, be warned: you’re going to be repeating it in your sleep after this review because the man is like a human meme. His Facebook page is a research rabbit hole from which I may never escape and, you know what? I’m OK with that. I have no idea what planet he’s from but he seems to spend his time in Malaysia, where he runs a nostalgic chain of candy shops of all things. It’s Country’s Tid-Bits & Candies Cottage, which apparently made him a large amount of money, and I mention it here because its name is the first thing we see in the movie after the ident of the production company, Jaguar Lim Films & Productions (M) SDN BHD, and the crediting of Jaguar Lim as producer on a dedicated screen. We get no less than fourteen such dedicated screens before the title card, detailing the key members of the cast and crew, and Jaguar Lim himself has, get this, ten of them, each with a different photo. No, I’m not kidding. Sorry, Tommy Wiseau, you’re clearly not egotistical enough.

He’s less a credit and more a drum beat. Producer: Jaguar Lim. Executive Producer: Jaguar Lim. Director: Jaguar Lim. Scriptwriter: Jaguar Lim. Starring Jaguar Lim. Then we take a brief break to introduce some other folk who appeared in the film, highlighting in the process how Jaguar Lim has connections. Credited with special appearances are Bobby Yip, a prolific Hong Kong actor who has worked for Wong Jing, Tsui Hark and Stephen Chow; and Kieran, a DJ on Hot FM in Bandar Utama, Malaysia. In shorter cameo roles are Hidy Yu, a model, actress and martial artist from Hong Kong; and Henry Thia, a comedian and actor from Singapore. Then it’s back to Jaguar Lim because he has no less than five cameo appearances too, three of them in drag. By the time we get to the end of the movie, we find ourselves in the forest with our hero, played by Jaguar Lim, watching his grandparents, both played by Jaguar Lim, fly away on a giant banana. Originally called Red Haired Priest, I’m unsure as to why this wasn’t simply renamed to Jaguar Lim.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Hospital Massacre (1981)

Director: Boaz Davidson
Writer: Marc Behm from a story by Boaz Davidson
Stars: Barbi Benton, Chip Lucia, Jon Van Ness, Den Surles, Gay Austin, John Warner Williams and Lanny Duncan

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

With My Bloody Valentine being far too obvious a Valentine’s Day pick for my Horror Movie Calendar, I searched around and found this feature, which begins on Valentine’s Day and which is flavoured by it throughout. It was shot as X-Ray but released as Hospital Massacre, a much more salacious title. While the original isn’t exactly a name to reach out and grab us by the wallet, the new one unfortunately pigeonholes the movie into the slasher genre, which almost everybody seems to believe this is. I thought so too for maybe half the running time, but I gradually discarded that idea because the film makes precisely no sense as a slasher. Now, it is well within the bounds of possibility that director Boaz Davidson, who also wrote the original story which Marc Behm adapted into a screenplay, is completely inept and had no conception of how utterly ridiculous this really is. I don’t buy that and have a theory that allows everything we see to make complete sense. So settle down, kids, and let me explain.

Initially, it does follow the slasher template, right down to the flashback prologue that takes place in 1961. We’re at Susan Jeremy’s house and she’s inside playing with a friend called David and a train set. Another boy leaves a Valentine’s card at her front door, knocks to get her attention, then runs back to the window to watch her open it. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t go so well. ‘From Harold?’ David cries. ‘Oh my God!’ Susan adds. He screws it up and discards it as they laugh. So, during the brief time she leaves the room to cut a couple of slices of cake, Harold apparently sneaks in through the window, lifts David up high and impales him on a hatstand which stubbornly refuses to tip over, even with a ten year old corpse throwing it off balance. Little Susan screams and we leap forward nineteen years to 1980. Susan is all grown up now and looking rather professional in her red business suit. She has a daughter called Eva and a bitter ex-husband named Tom, but she’s off to hospital with her new beau, Jack, to get some test results.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Shotgun Wedding (1963)

Director: Boris Petroff
Writer: Larry Lee, from a story by Jane Mann
Stars: J. Pat O'Malley, Jenny Maxwell, Valerie Allen, Buzz Martin, William Schallert, Nan Peterson, Peter Colt and Jack Searle

Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

Classic exploitation flicks had a habit of overselling their cheap products but rarely do they come more oversold than this one. It’s a shocking picture, say the various posters, apparently all about child brides in the Ozarks in ‘flaming hillbilly color’. ‘Was she too old at 15?’ one poster asks, with scantily clad Jenny Maxwell front and centre a year after she didn’t land the lead role in Kubrick’s Lolita. ‘She was only 15 and itchin’ for a man,’ suggests another. Of course, such advertising can’t help but remind us of Child Bride, a 1938 film that has become legendary for all the wrong reasons. It aimed to combat the scourge of child marriage in the Ozarks by showing us an underage girl skinnydipping. Shirley Mills was twelve, while her body double, Bernice Stobaugh Ray, was thirteen. That embarrassment of a movie ran for years on the indie circuit, so perhaps the producers of this one had a deliberate eye on its audience, even though Shotgun Wedding doesn’t feature a single thing that would seem out of place on a TV sitcom of its era.

And that’s odd, because Larry Lee, who wrote the script from a story by the director’s wife, Jane Mann, appears to be a pseudonym for one Edward D. Wood, Jr. Now, Wood’s most famous movies were all released in the fifties, culminating with the legendary Plan 9 from Outer Space in 1959, but his career hadn’t yet descended to outright pornography as it would by the end of the sixties, both in books and films. However, I don’t recall anything from Wood’s pen that plays out quite so tamely and it’s surprisingly unsurprising to see Joe Blevins quote the artist Don Fellman, who said in Rudolph Grey’s biography of Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy, that Wood had written a script for The Beverly Hillbillies which had been ‘rejected at the last minute’. This does feel like Wood distilled down all the component parts of the hicksploitation genre, rendered them family friendly for television and shoehorned them all into an hour. There are no boobs and no deaths and I could hear the nonexistent laugh track over the annoying crackle of my cheap copy.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo!? (1985)

Director: Barry Caillier
Writers: Tim Noah and Barry Caillier, from a story by Tim Noah, Creed Noah, Mary Noah and Barry Caillier
Star: Tim Noah

Index: Weird Wednesdays.

Yes, that’s the real title and it’s enough to suggest that this short 55 minute feature is prime material for me to review as a Weird Wednesdays entry. But wait, there’s more! The film is a solo performance for Tim Noah, who has done almost nothing, according to IMDb, and comments there and elsewhere suggest that it’s a particularly surreal trip. ‘Try to imagine Pee Wee’s Playhouse in the Guggenheim without Lawrence Fishburne or any other entertainment value,’ writes one IMDb reviewer. ‘Is this what inspired the Just Say No campaign in the 80’s?’ asks a shocked viewer. ‘Saving it for the next time I drop acid,’ suggests another. It seemed like an utter obscurity, best appreciated by people who were already stoned by the time they pressed play. That it’s a musical comedy for children performed by a man who is far older than he should be only adds to the weirdness. And I can’t deny that it really did live up to all those expectations within the first twenty minutes. But then something strange happened: I started to dig this.

Now, I am still trying to figure some of it out, as there are some things going on that play very oddly, but I delved deeper into the history and reception of the film and found a lot that surprised me. For a start, it apparently won four Emmys, which is four more than, say, Star Trek, which was nominated for thirteen of them but didn’t win one. Now, I can’t seem to find any information about which Emmys it won because the Emmy website doesn’t mention it at all, so it’s likely that these are Northwest Regional Emmys, like the dozen which Noah won a decade and some later for a children’s TV show entitled How ’Bout That. His IMDb credits are also misleading; it’s fair to say that he’s a versatile and busy talent, merely not on the big screen, as his one feature, 1990’s Daredreamer, utterly failed to set the box office on fire. He’s recorded albums and written books. He’s toured exotic countries and even founded his own performing arts center, the Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish, WA.