Film Reviews by Count Otto Black

Welcome to Count Otto Black film reviews page. Count Otto Black has written 484 reviews and rated 485 films.

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Space Lesbians Stole My Jokes!

Remember "The Kentucky Fried Movie"? Back in 1977 its combination of unashamed bad taste and glorious silliness broke a few boundaries, as well as being a whole lot of fun. This is essentially the same film remade ten years later by an extraordinary combination of eighties Hollywood stars and behind-the-scenes talent, but saddled with a script that might have been written by an extraterestrial who didn't know what "humour" was but had read a dictionary definition of it accompanied by a flow-chart explaining what "jokes" and "punch-lines" were. There's even a lengthy sketch in which the entire joke is that real comedians playing themselves do their usual routines in a wildly inappropriate context, which only serves to remind us that 30 years ago, "standup" meant ageing misogynists in tuxedos saying "Take my wife - please!" That ancient line is actually used by Henny Youngman, whose excruciatingly unfunny standup routine you may remember from the nightclub scene in "Goodfellas".

Almost every sketch is that bad or worse. A Playboy model is completely naked all the time and nobody notices. That's the entire joke. Video pirates are actual pirates. That's the entire joke. And so on. As for the B-movie spoof the title refers to, I don't know why they bothered. It's as if they originally intended the whole film to be a parody of the so-bad-it's-mildy-amusing 1958 anti-classic "Queen Of Outer Space", but they couldn't think of any space B-movie jokes at all, so they shot a few minutes of pastiche so similar to what they were spoofing that they might as well have simply shown clips from "Queen Of Outer Space" (the astronauts are even wearing the original costumes, which first appeared in "Forbidden Planet"), and inserted them randomly into a film about various other things that unfortunately aren't much funnier.

I almost switched off early on, but it's rather a short film, so I kept watching just to see if this much collective talent could somehow keep the standard that low all the way through. To be fair, they don't. Not quite. A few of the later sketches almost manage to be marginally amusing, or at least not downright anti-funny, the least worst perhaps being the very last, a parody of "Reefer Madness" starring Carrie Fisher. There's even one moment - you'll definitely know it when you see it - that's so bonkers it looks as though the film may finally be getting its act together. But whereas the dud sketches drag on far too long, this one ends just as it's getting interesting, as though a good joke sneaked into the movie but it was so out of place they didn't know what to do with it.

This is a truly dismal attempt at comedy by people who have no feeling at all for the genre. If you want to see the film they were trying to make, put on "The Kentucky Fried Movie", and every 20 minutes cut to a random scene from "Queen Of Outer Space". By the way, I noticed that although John Travolta isn't in this film, it features both his wife and his brother, an "actor" whose sole virtue is being called Travolta but costing a lot less than John. There are a great many in-jokes of this kind that only real movie buffs will spot, such as the porn video supplier being played by Russ Meyer. Unfortunately spotting them is far more fun than watching the film.

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Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition!

By the late sixties Hammer was starting to run out of steam, and in one of several increasingly ill-advised attempts to revitalise the brand, they came up with the idea of a Dennis Wheatley franchise. And why not? Although largely forgotten today, he was almost the Stephen King of his era. Alas, it didn't work, mainly because the reading public finally turned their backs on Wheatley's clunky potboilers, whose manly, squared-jawed, slightly fascist heroes were as out of date as Bulldog Drummond and Biggles, at precisely the same time as Hammer were trying to launch their Wheatley Cinematic Universe.

"The Devil Rides Out" did encouragingly well at the box office, but this second instalment in the Wheatleyverse was also the last. Based on one of his lesser-known novels, "Uncharted Seas" (the fellow in the screenshot above is reading the book without noticing he's in it, which is the best joke in a film that could really do with more humour), it's strangely similar to Roger Corman's legendary "Attack Of The Crab Monsters", especially during a scene in which the increasingly bewildered cast are literally attacked by a crab monster. But unlike Corman's film, or indeed "The Devil Rides Out", it makes the fatal blunder of not introducing its truly bizarre plot elements right at the start. In fact, half the film is over before we get our first glimpse of the weirdness we paid to see.

This is a serious mistake because it gives us far too much time to get to know characters we aren't going to have much sympathy for, even when they die horribly. One of them is so unsympathetic that his own daughter is absolutely delighted when he gets eaten by a shark. As for the designated hero, the captain of this lugger isn't fit to shovel... Well, you probably know how rest of the song goes. Did I say "designated hero"? He defeats the baddies so I suppose he must be, even though he's the kind of man who will shoot dead a member of his own crew for trying to escape from a ship which is almost certainly going to explode thanks to his own suicidally stupid decisions. Later, he makes a prisoner talk by repeatedly slamming his face against a table very hard indeed. What a guy!

But eventually this C, D, and Z-list cast, which includes several faces you'll associate more with comedies than horror films, a lady with really large breasts who once sang backing vocals for David Bowie, and my uncle's old mate Michael Ripper who back in the day was in just about everything, arrive at a mid-Atlantic "lost continent" which has presumably gone unnoticed for so long because it's about the size of Rockall, where they are given a hard time by vampire seaweed, various monsters which would have been considered sub-par on "Doctor Who" in the Jon Pertwee era (one of which is obviously on wheels), and the Spanish Inquisition. Yes, really.

If the whole film was like this it would be a blast! Unfortunately the long stretches where the story isn't as fantastical as it should be, and the incredibly unsympathetic characters, especially the "hero", make it a bit of drag. I'd give it 50% if this site's rating system allowed me to, but three stars is too many because by no stretch of the imagination is it a good film. Though it's a fairly entertaining bad one that could have been magnificently daft if it had been blessed with a director who fully appreciated the absurdity of the material. Sadly it wasn't, resulting in the kind of deservedly obscure flop those ageing kidults at MST3K use as fodder for their tired old schtick. I'm surprised they haven't done this one yet, but I expect they'll get round to it.

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Film? Not Much Of Anything, Really...

To be fair, one star is less than "Film" deserves. It might perhaps merit as many as two. Legendary silent movie star Buster Keaton gives as good a performance as an arthritic old man who hides his face from the camera for almost the entire run-time can be expected to in this, his silentest movie ever. It's so silent that only once is there a briefly audible sound, which I assume was included to reassure baffled audiences that the total silence wasn't due to a faulty projector. It's minimalist in other ways too. Apart from Buster, the only characters are three people with bit-parts near the beginning, unless you count animals and furniture. And other than the opening scenes, all the action takes place in a shabby room furnished only with things that have to be there because the script says Buster will do something with them. It's only twenty minutes long, but that's more than enough time for it to run out of material, forcing it to ruin its few half-decent jokes by telling them all at least twice.

The plot, such as it is, follows Buster's desperate attempts to avoid being looked at by anyone or anything, including mirrors, kittens, and holes in furniture that vaguely resemble eyes. This paranoid slapstick reminded me of two things: Jack Nance's weird interactions with the objects in his room at the start of "Eraserhead", which may have been inspired by "Film" but if so, David Lynch did it far better; and some of Terry Gilliam's cartoons from the Monty Python TV series, except that Gilliam would have done it in two minutes rather than twenty and it would have been funny. The impossibility of Buster achieving his goal in a situation where by definition he's constantly being watched by a camera, and at a further remove by everyone who will ever see the film, is so meta-fictionally ironic that it seems more like a Pythonesque parody of pretentious arthouse cinema than the genuine article. And if the punchline surprises you, it can only be because you didn't think it could possibly be that predictable.

And then there's "Notfilm", a two-hour documentary I didn't watch very much of, but which seems to consist, as such things usually do, mainly of dull interviews where old people talk about dead people, interspersed with archive footage of dead people talking about themselves. Yes, that's right, the tedious making-of featurette you don't really need is six times as long as the actual film!

Oh, and you also get a completely unnecessary remake of "Film" without Buster Keaton but with sound and colour they didn't think they needed in the first place, which is so very, very Pretentious Seventies Arthouse Cinema that I half expected the camera to pan away from the action to John Cleese saying "And now for something completely different..." I wish it had. There are many films which wouldn't be improved in the slightest if they suddenly abandoned the plot and cut to an embarrassed chat-show host awkwardly interviewing a man with three buttocks. This is not one of them.

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My, What a Big Imagination You've Got...

As a previous reviewer points out, this movie predates the invention of CGI, therefore its animatronic special effects are somewhat crude by today's standards. If this will utterly ruin your viewing experience, don't rent it, or any other fantasy, sci-fi or horror film made before 1991. If, on the other hand, you can watch transformation scenes no better than those in "An American Werewolf In London" or "The Howling", which back in 1984 were unsurpassable state-of-the-art, without getting snippy because 35 years on they look a wee bit primitive, you might enjoy this film rather a lot.

In any case, since all the action other than a few minutes at the beginning takes place in a dream, any failures in the perfect realism department are beside the point. The nameless village and its surrounding wolf-infested woods are obviously studio sets, but it doesn't matter. This isn't the real world, it's a twisted Wonderland seething with monsters of a kind that innocent little Alice never dreamed of. Talking of whom, right at the start we meet a character who just happens to be called Alice, who, once the dream kicks in, last about two minutes before, as far as she's concerned, this particular fairy-tale has a very unhappy ending indeed.

There are plenty of other nods to classic fairy-tales, from the obvious Little Red Riding Hood references to the mischievous moment when we see the villagers working in what looks like the same mine that employs Disney's Seven Dwarfs. But the most subversive parody of them all will probably be unnoticed by younger viewers. Remember Mary Whitehouse? If not, you might want to read her Wikipedia entry before watching this film, because if you do you'll appreciate Grandma a whole lot more!

It's Grandma's valiant but inevitably doomed efforts to protect the young protagonist from her own budding sexuality, which from Grandma's point of view is so beastly that seduction by a man is literally identical to being eaten by a wolf, which are the key to the whole narrative. Nowadays any movie in which everything that happens is a metaphorical depiction of an adolescent girl's sexual awakening would be so controversial it probably wouldn't get made, any more than a pseudo-mediaeval English village wouldn't be forced to have incongruous non-white inhabitants because Diversity. However, despite the 18 certificate, which is justified only by one rather gory werewolf transformation, there's nothing problematic about its depiction of the sexuality of an underage girl. Apart from a couple of rather chaste kisses, everything she gets up to is as symbolic as the scene in which she climbs a huge tree and discovers the stork's nest where babies come from.

There's so much symbolism, all of it pointing in one very obvious direction, that at times it threatens to overwhelm the story. But as flaws go, it's a very minor one compared to the howling blunders of almost every modern attempt to scrape the Disney off fairy-tales and put the Grimm back in - looking at you, Mr. Gilliam! It's not a perfect film, but it's the kind of wildly imaginative one-off that in this age of conveyor-belt franchise clones we could do with a lot more of, even if it means putting up with a few minutes of effects that aren't quite as special as they once were. And for an incredibly strange double bill, how about this film plus "Labyrinth", a kinda sorta remake which instead of werewolves has its teenage heroine imperilled by the rampant masculinity of David Bowie?

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Pink Dead Redemption

This is one of the oddest movies I've ever seen! Though since it's from a part of the world whose homegrown cinema I'm not at all familiar with, maybe this sort of thing is perfectly normal in Thailand. If so, I've finally found a country weirder than Japan. As usual with offbeat movies, the General Info page synopsis was copypasted by somebody who knows nothing about the film and is so useless it may put people off renting it by giving them a very misleading impression. Though it's true that for a large part of its runtime it's a tragic love story about childhood sweethearts divided by various cruel twists of fate, with a bit of action.

Quite a bit, actually. The kind of 18-certificate action where bloody craters are blasted in twitching bodies by heavy-calibre machine-gun bullets, entire brains are literally blown out of exploding heads, and people are reduced to mince by rocket-propelled grenades. Which characters who appear to inhabit the 1920s shouldn't really have access to, but hey, it's that kind of movie!

Imagine a scenario where Wes Anderson wrote a script, got all the sets built, and then just as he was about to start filming he dropped dead and the only director available at such short notice was John Woo. You might end up with something like this, though the movie it kept reminding me of most was that incredibly strange animated feature "A Town Called Panic", which is in most ways completely different, but has the same air of frantic bizarreness, and the same total disregard for making its cardboard locations and plastic characters the slightest bit plausible.

From the very start, when we hear a few bars of Ennio Morricone's theme from "For a Few Dollars More" which soon transforms into an oriental melody more appropriate for the setting, but briefly pops up again every time the black-clad outlaws ride into view, it wears its influences on its sleeve while not giving a hoot about being thematically schizoid. Outrageously over-the-top acting from everybody except the three characters who are required to have believable emotions, sets that are occasionally so stylised they're two-dimensional, and a colour-scheme that literally resembles nothing on earth add to the dreamlike atmosphere, as does the director's love of the colour pink, which pops up constantly, often in places you wouldn''t expect to see it, such as the pink lipstick the dead butch and not at all gay outlaws wear, or the pink blood they spurt copious gouts of when they die.

It's not by any means a perfect film. The wildly contrasting thematic and stylistic elements never quite gel, resulting in a movie that, like the title character in "The Thing With Two Heads", sometimes gets so deadlocked trying to do two things at once that it ends up having a fight with itself. It's often a bit too silly for its own good, causing jarring shifts between fairly plausible situations involving people we're supposed to care about and totally unbelievable screaming mad nonsense. And weirdness for weirdness' sake always works best in smaller doses than we're given here.

But you know what? We need movies like this! The kind of wildly imaginative craziness that 40 years ago we hoped Terry Gilliam might still be making now, instead of that half-baked turkey about Don Quixote that nobody really wanted except him. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the one thing you won't say after watching it is: "Oh how dreary, yet another ultra-violent slightly camp Thai spaghetti western involving rocket launchers and gratuitous dwarves. Aren't you sick of them?"

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For a Few Bob More

This innocently naughty romp is from the Golden Age of the Carry On franchise, when its trademark blend of smut and slapstick had reached its apex and hadn't gotten stale yet. Most of the regulars are present and correct, and the production values are as high as they ever got, meaning that their "Wild West" is clearly not very far from London (if you're familiar with trashy British cinema from this period you'll spot some very familiar locations, such as that row of trees the Rumpo Kid rides past, just like the Witchfinder General did in a movie I saw last week), but at least they're outside the studio and the Texas town is a proper set.

Unfortunately it's not one of the truly great Carry Ons, which would arguably be "Cleo", "Up The Khyber", 'Screaming" and the underrated "Don't Lose Your Head" (not an official entry in the series, but later retitled to make it so). The British of yesteryear were infinitely more inhibited about anything to do with sex than Wild West outlaws were, so the constant embarrassment and innuendo seem a bit out of place.

There's also the problem of the acting, which is very variable indeed. In other Carry On costume dramas where the characters aren't meant to be English, they mostly don't bother with accents - who knows what the Ancient Romans sounded like anyway? This time round, Kenneth Williams makes an ill-advised attempt to sound like a Texan, and he's so stridently annoying that he nearly sinks the film single-handedly. Every scene he's in is an endurance test, and he's in a great many. This is odd, because almost nobody else tries to sound American. Sid James, who did some serious movie acting before he got typecast as a lecherous comedy character, and played a few tough guys who weren't supposed to be funny, is far more believable as the Rumpo Kid using his normal voice than he would be with a terrible cowboy accent, and Charles Hawtrey as Chief Big Heap makes no attempt whatsoever to be anything other than Charles Hawtrey in fancy dress, the very fact that he's cast as an Apache being much of the joke.

Jim Dale is his usual likably daft self as the sanitary engineer mistakenly sent to deal with an outlaw gang because his first name happens to be Marshall, though considering what his profession is, there are far fewer toilet jokes than you'd expect, and non-regular Angela Douglas, standing in for the conspicuously absent Barbara Windsor, is rather sweet as the cutie who isn't anywhere near as helpless as she seems, but she doesn't get much chance to be funny. Overall it's a bit of a formulaic potboiler that obviously owes a great deal to recent box-office hit "Cat Ballou", and even more to the earlier and lesser-known "The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw" (in which Sid James, not yet part of the Carry On team, played a low-down drunken varmint). The trouble is, those were both comedies, and when a comedy cannibalises two previous comedies, the law of diminishing returns is bound to apply.

In the end it's a decent enough Carry On series entry that does the usual stuff quite well, and far better than any of their increasingly sorry efforts from the seventies, let down by one appallingly bad performance. Though you'll need a good grasp of Cockney rhyming slang to get all the jokes, especially the ones the censor would have objected to if he'd understood them, such as when Sid James says to Kenneth Williams: "Don't you talk to me about ginger beer!"

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Joe Kidd Online DVD Rental

For A Few Clichés More

This mediocre Clint Eastwood vehicle is one of his most obscure early films, and rightly so. It's not as exciting as the "Dollars" trilogy, "Dirty Harry", "Hang 'Em High", or even "Coogan's Bluff", and it doesn't make the slightest attempt to transcend his default tough-guy persona like "Play Misty For Me" or "The Beguiled". Basically it's a potboiler about a gunslinger so indistinguishable from an older and tireder Man With No Name (who is actually called Joe in "A Fistful Of Dollars") that for the first half-hour he dresses as though he stocks his wardrobe by raiding Stan Laurel's dustbin, for no discernible reason other than to convince the audience that Joe Kidd isn't that bloke in the poncho but some other fellow with a different hat and everything.

Of course, no film in which a young Clint Eastwood, looking so much like Hugh Jackman that you keep expecting him to throw away his gun and sprout knives from his knuckles, saves the day by being the toughest hombre in town can be a dead loss, but this one comes close. Many of the cast phone in performances as two-dimensional as their characters, and Eastwood is so unengaged that only for one brief moment very near the end does he manifest the mean ferocity he should have had all along. In some scenes he looks so weary that I checked to see if there were any problems which might have affected his performance, and I wasn't surprised to find that during the production he caught bronchitis and was so run down he was having panic attacks on set.

It doesn't help that the script is clunkier than a ton of bricks. Joe Kidd might almost be trapped in a retro version of "The Truman Show", since everyone and everything in his environment seems to exist for the sole purpose of motivating or facilitating his actions, often in very contrived ways. This is of course true of all movies, but a good script camouflages the puppet strings. This is not a good script. It shoves right-on early seventies politics of the "greedy white Capitalists bad, vaguely Marxist Mexicans good" variety down our throats while the most interesting idea in the film, that the legendary champion of the downtrodden peons' rights (John Saxon in politically incorrect brown makeup) is actually a cowardly selfish creep with a massive ego, is casually thrown away and the character becomes a lifeless McGuffin who might as well have been a holy statue or a chest of gold.

There's one extremely memorable incident involving a train (Clint Eastwood obviously remembered it, because he did it again a few years later in another of his lesser movies, "The Gauntlet"), but it's so daft it feels as though it should be in a different film, possibly called "Carry On Up The Unforgiven", and anyway, the number of "good bits" in a feature-length movie should ideally be greater than one. It passes the time, but it's one of Clint's most forgettable outings, and I'd have given it the 50% it deserves if two and a half stars was a possible rating on this poorly designed site. I'm only awarding it three stars rather than two because Clint deserves a pat on the back for managing to give any kind of performance when he should have been tucked up in bed until he was all better.

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Harry Potter's Worst Nightmare

The disclaimer in this movie's closing credits that "any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental" is ironic, since many of the characters really existed, including the monstrously hypocritical Matthew Hopkins, his bestial assistant John Stearne, and the doomed priest John Lowes. And although the Essex landscape isn't technically a character, it features very prominently indeed throughout the film and hasn't changed much since the 17th. century, which is handy if you're making a low-budget movie set in 17th. century Essex. Almost unbelievably, the witch-burning scene was shot in the place where it actually happened.

Of course, it isn't a documentary and doesn't pretend to be, so its historical accuracy is patchy at best. But the use of genuine locations for all the exterior shots and many of the interiors gives it a very different atmosphere from Hammer's studio-bound horrors, which never quite seem to be set in reality as we know it, and don't try very hard to convince us that they are. One of this film's strengths is that it doesn't flinch from depicting the terrible things ordinary people are capable of, and the realism of the settings makes this even more disturbing. It's also extremely nasty for its time without ever glamourising the nastiness, whether it's the gloating sadism of Hopkins and Stearne or the increasing violence the hero is driven to. This DVD is in fact more violent than any version of the film I'd seen previously, thanks to the restoration of content cut from most prints, though I'm not sure that's a good thing, since the restored footage is of very poor quality compared with the rest of the film.

It's not quite the towering masterpiece some people would have you believe. Unless you're one of those misguided souls who can't stand Vincent Price, he's superbly horrible, toning down his usual hamminess to give Matthew Hopkins a coldness that makes him far more terrifying than the loveably evil cartoon villains Price typically played. We don't know much about the real Hopkins, whose autobiographical booklet "The Discovery Of Witches" (you'll find it at Project Gutenberg if you're interested) is a pack of self-serving lies so outrageous they'd make President Trump blush, so whatever motivation a movie chooses to give him is as good as any other. But this movie doesn't really give him any motive at all, which is a pity, as is the lack of any backstory to explain the casual inhumanity of the villagers without whom Hopkins wouldn't be able to do what, with infinite hypocrisy, he calls "God's work".

Hopkin's assistant, the almost subhuman John Stearne, is actually a slightly less appalling person than Hopkins, since at least he never pretends to be anything other than the monster he is. Robert Russell, a D-list bit-player who got a lot of work over the years as thugs and coppers but never achieved a performance like this again, grabs his one chance to shine with both hands and bites its head off, almost managing to steal the film from Vincent Price, which you wouldn't think was possible But it's slightly unfortunate that he's almost the only character we completely understand. Ian Ogilvy makes a thoroughly likeable young hero, but his descent into raving madness happens a bit too quickly and easily to be believable as anything other than a rather clumsy way of showing us that violence begets violence and evil is infectious. So overall it's a bit of a flawed and unpolished gem.

But it's still a gem, and it leaves you wondering what its extraordinarily talented young director Michael Reeves would have achieved if he hadn't died after making only three and a half films including this one. If he was alive today he'd be only three years older than Steven Spielberg. What a loss.

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Whatever Happened To Citizen Kane?

It doesn't feel right to give this movie one star, because that's in effect a score of 20%, which is far too high. Half a star seems more accurate, or maybe a quarter. Yes, it's that bad!

For starters, as with many obscure low-budget horror films made a few decades ago, the DVD itself is of very poor quality. The movie plays in a window that only fills about half the screen because if it was full-size it would be so grainy and blurred as to be almost unwatchable. As it is, the low definition, distorted colours, and fuzzy sound would make what appears to be, and probably is, a cut-price transfer from whatever crummy old VHS tape they had lying around a chore to watch even if it was a good film.

Which it very, very much isn't. From the opening scene, in which "actors" whose lack of acting skills suggest they may not be actors at all, just whichever of the director's buddies he could persuade to do it, attempt to offend absolutely everyone by ritually slashing a naked woman's breasts to bring about a voodoo abortion, presided over by a High Priest of Satan wearing what can only be described as the front end of a very cheap fluffy cow costume presumably stolen from a TV show aimed at very young children, you know this film is going to be abysmal. In that respect at least, it doesn't disappoint.

Unfortunately, despite that hilarious plush-toy devil mask, this movie couldn't accurately be described as "so bad it's good" unless you're one of those peculiar people who think that being just plain bad somehow makes a film good. The two central characters are a couple whose constant whiny bickering instantly renders them both unsympathetic and deeply annoying, one of whom is played by Pamela Franklin, who you may have seen doing some pretty decent acting in other films. Her obvious lack of enthusiasm would be thoroughly unprofessional if it wasn't so understandable.

Also giving a less-than-enthusiastic performance is none other than Orson Welles, who every second he's on screen is visibly asking himself: "I directed 'Citizen Kane'! How did it come to this!?" Though bearing in mind that in his first scene he's wearing a fluffy cow's head, it would have been perfectly understandable if he'd faked serious illness or even death to avoid appearing in any more of this film, and consenting to give any kind of performance at all was more than the director deserved.

Speaking of whom, you might like to know that Bert I. Gordon, a contemporary of the equally talented Ed Wood during the Golden Age of B-movies, is somehow still alive, and last directed a crappy no-budget horror film you've never heard of in 2014. Maybe he really did make a pact with the Devil. It's the only plausible explanation for somebody like Orson Welles agreeing to appear in wretched dreck like this. Not to mention that movie he made a few years after this one where Joan Collins consented to be chased through a mangrove swamp by giant ants for an hour and a half.

Whatever. This isn't a long film, but I didn't even make it to the half-way mark. It isn't quite bad enough to be literally unwatchable, but it is bad enough that early on I realised I'd rather be watching almost anything else, or failing that, nothing at all, because a blank screen would entertain me just as much without being positively irritating. So I switched it off and sent it back mostly unwatched. I suggest you cut out the middle man and don't rent it at all.

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Flat Cat Versus Dead Parrot

If you're thinking of renting this disc, you'll be pleased to know that those hideously lo-res discoloured screenshots above do not represent the quality of the DVD, which (unlike some this company rents out) isn't substandard in any way. That's the good news.

Now the bad news. There are a surprising number of versions of this film, two of which might be considered minor classics. One is the original silent movie from 1927, whose influence lives on in its twin legacies: the Old Dark House sub-genre, and the Universal Studios horror franchise that gave us Karloff's Frankenstein, Lugosi's Dracula, and all those other beloved monsters that seem to have been around forever. The other is the 1939 Bob Hope comedy, which cheerfully admitted that even by then this kind of plot was old-fashioned, cliché-ridden, and downright absurd, and therefore made an ideal vehicle for Hope's trademark accidental and very reluctant hero who manages not to be a cowardly waste of space, but only just.

And then there's this incredibly belated and totally unnecessary remake which doesn't seem to know whether it's supposed to be funny or scary, and tries to send itself up and take itself seriously at the same time, achieving very little of either and not much of anything else. Which is odd when you look at the list of outrageously sleazy movies its producer Richard Gordon had previously been responsible for, such as "The Playgirls And The Vampire", "Secrets Of Sex", and "Voodoo Blood Death". You expect something a bit special from such a man!

But alas, you don't get it. Cardboard stereotypes who would be more at home in an Agatha Christie novel wander around a huge country house getting on each other's nerves. Some D-list actor who bears a vague physical resemblance to Bob Hope tries to copy Hope's schtick and succeeds only in showing us why Bob Hope is a very famous comedian and Michael Callan isn't. Some D-list actress who is only there to look pretty and be threatened does both and not much else. And Honor Blackman, typecast as a lesbian because she played one in "Goldfinger" in 1964, looks and acts exactly like an ageing star doing rubbish she hates because once your looks fade you have to take whatever work you can get. Though at least Edward Fox seems to having fun.

This isn't quite a one-star movie, but since there are only two possible ratings lower than "liked it" and I'd be lying if I implied it was almost good, one star is what it has to get. Because what point is there in a horror movie which never quite manages to horrify and spends three-quarters of its runtime not even trying to, or a comedy which wouldn't recognise a joke if one came along and shoved a whoopee cushion up its ooer missus? None at all, and this flatly directed non-thriller manages to be both of those at once. If it's comedy you're after, the low-budget indie spoof "Dark And Stormy Night" parodies this type of film far better, as does that Bob Hope movie from 1939, and both versions of "The Old Dark House", especially the first. And if you want horror, you'll see a lot more of that in just about any of the several million other films involving people in a house being stalked by a nutter with a knife.

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Legends of the Witches Online DVD Rental

Dumbledore wouldn't approve...

As anyone who has seen a few "underground cult classics" will know, what that phrase usually means is "cheap and amateurish but there's more sex and/or violence than you'd expect in a movie from this era", and sure enough, this is a very low-budget and rather dull documentary spiced up with a tremendous amount of nudity, though there's no sex unless you count a few symbolically sexy rituals, and no violence at all because unfortunately it was made over 300 years too late for the Witchfinder General to show up and make things interesting.

The lengthy historical sections rely on that technique beloved of low-budget historical documentaries whereby we are shown still images, in this case mainly old engravings of witches doing their thing and the Bayeux Tapestry, while the camera frantically pans and zooms in an attempt to suggest movement. As for their far-fetched version of religious history, it derives from a handful of very biased sources only slightly more reliable than Dan Brown. And the whole farrago of revisionist pagan flapdoodle is narrated by somebody with one of those all-purpose BBC voices of yesteryear who sounds as though he ought to be doing the voiceover on a documentary about industrial zinc production, and probably wishes he was.

Tedious and wildly inaccurate history lessons aside, this film is mainly an advert for the activities of self-proclaimed "King of the Witches" Alex Sanders, who was one of those attention-seeking fantasists who found loopy cults for reasons that seldom have much to do with spirituality. Judging by the number of attractive young naked people this scrawny middle-aged wizard surrounded himself with, I don't think his motives are all that hard to guess. As for his religion, it's such a pick-and-mix ragbag of everything from repurposed Neolithic shamanism to the Black Mass as performed by bored 17th-century French noblemen trying to be shockingly decadent that I ended up very much doubting whether he believed in it himself.

The movie is not completely without a kind of Dadaist appeal, occasionally resembling "Eyes Wide Shut" if it had been made by Ed Wood, especially the utterly bonkers psychedelic ritual at the end which really should have been filmed in colour. But I'm only going as high as two stars because this useless rating system allows no other score between "unwatchably putrid" and "pretty good". By the way, the DVD info is inaccurate. The length of the film is not 113 minutes, but only 1 hour and 13 minutes. Which is just as well, because those non-existent extra 40 minutes would have been at least 30 too many.

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Confessions of a Body Snatcher's Mate

When this rental company claims that a film you've never heard of is a "classic", it's almost certainly the exact opposite of what people normally mean by a classic, but I suppose if they used a more accurate word nobody would rent it. This extremely obscure version of a much-filmed tale, with its cast of early seventies B-list, C-list, and just plain listless sitcom actors, its second-rate director whose two Hammer outings were among their least successful horrors, and its desperately threadbare production values, was never likely to be an unexpected masterpiece. And guess what, it isn't.

In a desperately misjudged attempt to reimagine Hammer's 1960 version of the tale, "The Flesh And The Fiends" with Donald Pleasance and Peter Cushing, in a way that would appeal to early seventies sensibilities, it goes for the kind of topless romping that was naughtier than Carry On but not actual porn at the expense of anything resembling horror. We get rather a lot of this, most of it courtesy of Yutte Stensgaard, an undeniably decorative young lady who is an "actress" in the same way that this film is a "classic", whose finest hour was starring in "Lust For a Vampire". Most of this has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, and is presented as a series of comically bawdy vignettes, many of them involving zany perverts in fancy dress. At one point, the story grinds to a halt while several of the cast watch through spy-holes as two half-naked people chase each other round a bedroom for no reason at all. There's even a scene in which several characters literally sit round a table telling each other rude jokes.

Though given the flat direction, performances ranging from adequate to awful, and cardboard sets so tiny that the conclusion of the story has to be narrated over the closing credits rather than actually shown because there's no way they could fit even a small crowd into the studio, it's probably just as well that we spend so much time watching irrelevant minor characters frolicking with topless women, because many of the cast are far better at taking their clothes off than acting.

The ludicrously bouncy royalty-free music playing in many scenes reinforces the soft porn vibe, though if it really was a dirty movie you probably wouldn't see so many well-known early seventies sitcom actors pretending to be Scottish. And you certainly wouldn't be treated to the movie's undoubted high point, the absurdly anachronistic theme-song performed by folk-rock funny men The Scaffold, one-third of whom was Paul McCartney's brother.

This is undoubtedly by far the worst movie about everybody's favourite incompetent Edinburgh-based 19th-century serial-killing double-act, and that includes "The Greed Of William Hart" from 1948 with Tod Slaughter, which looks even cheaper than this one. It's not even a terribly good DVD transfer. Watch any of the other versions instead, even that very peculiar one starring Andy Serkis, unless you're unhealthily obsessed with Yutte Stensgaard or Paul McCartney's brother.

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The Missouri Breaks Online DVD Rental

The Good, The Bad & The Muddled

The synopsis on the General Info page makes this sound like a thoroughly conventional action-packed revenge western starring Jack Nicholson as a ruthless desperado. In other words, exactly what a DVD manufacturer would put on the box if they wanted to sell a lot of DVDs. The truth is that it's a slow-moving character-based drama that lurches uneasily between comedy and infrequent but jarring moments of sadistic nastiness. A couple of years later Jack Nicholson directed and starred in "Goin' South", which is almost a remake of this film with all the serious content excised and replaced by more comedy, and all Marlon Brando's scenes cut so we get twice as much of Jack Nicholson. In many ways it's a more successful film (though you never hear it mentioned nowadays because it's been damned to Movie Hell for the ultimate crime against Political Correctness - a comedy rape scene), so I guess Jack learned a few things from being in this schizoid mongrel of a movie.

It opens superbly, with what seems to be an idyllic scene of men on horseback just enjoying a ride through the beautiful countryside on a lovely day, but then shocks us by turning out to be something else entirely. Unfortunately it takes these peculiar tonal shifts too far, by introducing us to a gang of exceptionally un-ruthless and mostly incredibly stupid outlaws whose ham-fisted attempts at train robbery get them into slapstick predicaments straight out of a daft spaghetti western like "They Call Me Trinity", and then showing us what you'd realistically expect to happen if these nitwits fell foul of a terrifyingly competent psychopathic assassin.

Which brings me to Marlon Brando. At one point somebody tells him in character that he's out of control, and never was a truer word spoken! Overacting wildly every time he's on camera, Brando constantly talks absolute rubbish in an incongruous Irish accent even when there's nobody else there. His costumes have to be seen to be believed, especially the scene where he's in drag for no discernible reason. And then there's that love scene with his horse... Apparently Brando really was out of control, and the director just had to try and lampshade it by having the other characters comment on his weird clothes and bizarre behaviour.

Which is a pity, because it's nearly a very good film. Jack Nicholson is splendid as the incorrigible rogue who realises he'd rather be a happily married farmer than a third-rate outlaw just when he's up against one of those things a man can't ride around. But Brando's performance is so over the top that he doesn't so much steal the movie as torpedo it from under everyone, including himself. And the balance between comedy and tragedy is so uneven that it comes across as mean-spirited when these quirky characters actually die, often in very ugly ways. United Artists never did get the hang of making high-concept westerns. They tried it again in 1980 with a modest little film called "Heaven's Gate"; and that was the end of United Artists.

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The Butler Did It

Oh dear! Despite having some big names in its cast, this very obscure and very, very early seventies movie is so muddled it doesn't even know which genre it's in. Its title and marketing imply horror, but we see precious little of the promised Satanic cult or anything else of a horrific nature, the 18 certificate being for the numerous scenes of female nudity and recreational drug use. If the idea of Oliver Reed smoking a joint scares you, this is high-octane nightmare fuel; otherwise, not so much.

Mainly it's a very clumsy social satire, presumably inspired by the fact that Longleat House could be hired as a movie location. Derek Jacobi's character seems to be a merciless parody of its real-life owner the 7th. Marquess of Bath, a mega-rich hippie with a harem of "wifelets" whose main leisure activity other than promiscuity was decorating the interior of his vast Elizabethan manor with the awful murals that feature prominently in this film (46 years on, he's still alive and hasn't changed much). As for Oliver Reed, he plays his trademark brute, dominating the entire film and everyone in it so effortlessly that his pact with the Devil seems a bit superfluous. Which is just as well, since his only magical power seems to be the ability to cause stoned or mentally unstable people to have red-tinted prophetic visions of sinister goings-on that look good on the poster but comprise about one minute of the movie.

This is the kind of film where the director can't think of anything interesting to do with the fact that his shooting location just happens to be the only house in the UK with a hundred lions in the back garden, and a fabulously wealthy aristocrat who lives in a palace serves his equally snobbish guests Bell's whisky because the prop man simply didn't give a monkey's. And although Oliver Reed's over-the-top but genuinely menacing performance is the only thing in the film worth watching, in the many scenes where he barely conceals his utter contempt for his employer under a veneer of servility about one molecule thick, he puts on that extraordinary accent used by Spike Milligan when he pretended to be a policeman and absolutely nobody else ever. It's so silly that late in the film another character actually mentions how absurd his accent is so they can pretend it was meant to be all along.

As for the subplot involving the sadistic abuse of two extremely young children, which thankfully we see very little of but hear quite a lot about, it's genuinely nasty without being the least bit interesting or even particularly relevant, except as a way to eradicate any vestiges of sympathy we might have for these horrible people. Which is hardly necessary in a film which has literally no sympathetic characters whatsoever, except possibly the children, who barely register as characters because they're so young they can't act at all and just randomly toddle about until the situation overwhelms them and they burst into tears.

I would have assumed this film to be a feeble attempt to rip off "The Wicker Man" if it hadn't been made a couple of years earlier. However, it undoubtedly does borrow a great deal from "The Servant", made in 1963 by Joseph Losey with a script by Harold Pinter and starring Dirk Bogarde. If the basic theme of a selfish upper-class man being ruthlessly outsmarted by his totally amoral employee appeals to you, "The Servant" is an infinitely superior treatment of the subject. It's not a horror film, but with a few very minor cuts, this movie wouldn't be either. It doesn't really fit into any genre, but if there was one called "slow-motion train-crash" it would be a perfect example. For devotees of deservedly obscure oddities and Oliver Reed completists only.

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