Quick Takes: The Dead Zone, Rabid, The Brood

dead_zone_xlgThe Dead Zone (1983)

Starring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Campbell, Sean Sullivan, Jackie Burroughs, Géza Kovács, Roberta Weiss
Directed by David Cronenberg

Having just finished reading the novel, this re-watch of The Dead Zone was definitely a different experience than when I first saw this many years ago. I was struck by how episodic the book is, without any overt attempts to drive home big themes or large-scale payoffs in the third act. It’s a completely different style of writing compared to anything King had published prior, more character-driven and “small” (especially considering it was King’s novel published directly after The Stand). The movie echoes this structure, except it cuts about half of the book and condenses the rest into a very potent, but still weird and not-so-fluid film. Christopher Walken is a perfect choice for King’s everyman Johnny Smith, and the rest of the cast is well chosen, too. I can’t say that Martin Sheen really represents the Greg Stillson that’s present in the novel, but they changed his character some so it’s not hard to roll with it. It is Martin Sheen after all. As a Cronenberg film, it’s missing his unique, almost avant-garde approach to horror, but his cerebral nature fits well with this specific King tale. Definitely recommended, although I think reading the book first will make the movie a richer experience, as you’ll be able to fill in the blanks caused by the shift in medium, as well as spot the subtle details throughout that recall specific moments or scenes of the book not given their full due in the film version.

Rabid POSTERRabid (1977)
AKA Rage

Starring Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan, Patricia Gage, Susan Roman, Roger Periard, Lynne Deragon, Terry Schonblum, Victor Désy
Directed by David Cronenberg

Rabid, on the other hand, delivers a healthy dose of sick Cronenberg body horror. Rabid opens with a motorcycle accident near a plastic surgery center, and our heroine’s injuries are too much to sustain travel to a hospital more equipped to deal with her issues. No, she’ll have to go into emergency surgery, and since this place is on the cutting edge of plastic surgery, her burns are repaired via skin grafts of morphogenic skin (which can form itself into any type of body tissue, depending on where it’s grafted). Things go awry — oh, do they! — and while Rabid is definitely too abstract and low-budget for many viewers to get behind, I found it to be riveting entertainment. Marilyn Chambers may be known for her pornographic role in Beyond the Green Door, but her turn here as our skin-grafted lead is fantastic. She definitely could have had a fruitful horror career if the fates had aligned. Rabid also features FX work by Joe Blasco, and while there isn’t a ton of it, what’s here is incredibly effective. I’m being vague because it’s really better to just see Cronenberg and Blasco’s creations for yourself and revel in their fucked-up, “I’m never going to forget that” nature. Definitely seek this one out if you think you’ve seen everything a horror movie can deliver.

the-brood-posterThe Brood (1979)
AKA Chromosome 3


Starring Art Hindle, Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald, Cindy Hinds, Susan Hogan, Gary McKeehan, Michael Magee, Robert A. Silverman
Directed by David Cronenberg

The Brood was Cronenberg’s horror follow-up to Rabid (the car movie Fast Company separates them), and it is a film of markedly better quality. Cronenberg’s signature cerebral tone takes center stage right from the opening moments, grabbing hold of your attention in a way that his previous films couldn’t quite manage. Where Shivers and Rabid feel like a good director finding himself in low-budget genre films, The Brood represents the dawn of a fully formed Cronenberg, ready to unleash the full range of his talents on an unsuspecting mainstream audience. The film is a very slow burn during its first half, though, and while it is always interesting I did find myself questioning if it should be classifies as a drama with horror elements instead of straight horror. It was right about at that point in the film when Cronenberg twisted the knife and the film never let up. It’s definitely a horror film! I’m sure some modern audiences would find the premise somewhat laughable or ridiculous, but I found it to be chilling and very psychologically engaging. I’ve slowly warmed up to Cronenberg over the last couple of years, but The Brood firmly cements my place as a big fan. I guarantee you’ve never seen a movie quite like this one!

Stephen reviews: Wizards (1977)

wizards_1Starring Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, Steve Gravers, Susan Tyrrell, Mark Hamill

Directed by Ralph Bakshi

Wizards did pretty damn well at the box office for its first few weeks, and that was going head-to-head with Disney’s Fantasia. But it had the terrible misfortune of releasing just a few weeks before the premier of Star Wars (which is interesting since Mark Hamill also plays a minor character in Wizards). I’ll let you do your own research to find out which of those films got pulled from the theaters to make more showtimes available for the other. Since then, the film has developed a cult following, and I’ve been curious to see what was so special about it. It turns out that despite its obvious low budget, the film has a visual style like nothing else, and I can easily see why people became so enamored of it.

The story itself is nothing new, and it is very typical of an epic fantasy story. The good wizard Avatar is pitted against the evil wizard Blackwolf who has revived ancient war machines and is out to conquer the world. What sets Wizards apart is its use of varying art styles. The characters themselves look rather generic and ordinary, but the backgrounds vary greatly between locations and have some wildly contrasting styles to the character art. A lot of early rotoscoping is also used in this film, and not in the conventional way, either. The rotoscoping was drawn off stock footage in stark minimalist tone, and the film cuts back and forth between these stylized and mismatched animations with the more traditional line art. Straight live-action stock footage is also thrown about in the backgrounds and even spliced into the animation. The effect is truly bizarre, and if you’re into visually unique storytelling, then this is going to grab you and never let go.

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House (1977)

house_6House [ハウス Hausu] (1977)

Starring Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Asei Kobayashi

Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi

Expectations: Very high. A foreign cult movie with a Criterion release? OK!

On the general scale:

On the WTF-movie scale:

In the name of all that is right and good in the world, what did I just watch? Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is a surreal masterpiece that is constantly taking you off-guard with odd juxtapositions and abstract composition. Not to mention all the nutso goings-on.  It’s got to be one of the most unusual horror movies ever made, so much so that it barely resembles a horror film most of the time. A near-complete subversion of the genre, House is definitely a film worthy of a look, especially for those that dig surreal cinema, Japanese WTF cinema, or white, fluffy cats.

At the base of all that surrealism is one of the most traditional horror stories in the book. Seven schoolgirls are off on summer vacation, and after their initial plans go awry, they all decide to visit Gorgeous’s aunt. Gorgeous’s mother died many years ago, and she hopes that by reconnecting with her aunt she can feel a bit closer to her. When the girls arrive in the hometown of Gorgeous’s mother, they find that their destination is a huge mansion on the top of a hill. And it’s a spooky looking mansion, too.

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Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron (2002)

rawiron_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Mike Katz, Franco Columbu, George Butler, Joe Weider, Bill Grant, Ken Waller, Reg Park, Ed Corney, Matty Ferrigno, Liev Schreiber, Sylvester Stallone, Bud Cort

Directed by Dave & Scott McVeigh

Expectations: Moderate.

I’m not in the habit of reviewing DVD extras, but this one seemed juicy enough considering I’ve covered all the other Arnold-related bodybuilding films. I’m hesitant to rate it, though, as it’s hard to really quantify its quality as a film. In any case, I really enjoyed watching it, and I think any big fan of Pumping Iron or Arnold would enjoy it too. So a definite thumbs up, but I’m going to forgo the stars this time.

There were over 100 hours of footage shot for Pumping Iron, so Raw Iron takes a different approach to the “Making of” documentary. Instead of simply gathering a bunch of people to talk to the camera and tell their stories, Raw Iron actually tells its story through deleted footage from the film. These scenes were kept in the vault until Raw Iron‘s release for Pumping Iron‘s 25th anniversary. This deleted footage is mostly great, too, from an unused sub-plot with Arnold trying to teach Harold and Maude‘s Bud Cort how to pump up in the gym, to the film’s bodybuilders posing on top of a Malibu mountain while listening to Arnold pontificate about “the pump.” It’s great fun to see all this unused footage.

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Cinderella (1977)

cinderella_1977_poster_01Cinderella (1977)
AKA Cinderella: The Movie, The Other Cinderella

Starring Cheryl Smith, Yana Nirvana, Marilyn Corwin, Jennifer Doyle, Sy Richardson, Brett Smiley, Kirk Scott, Boris Moris, Pamela Stonebrook

Directed by Michael Pataki

Expectations: Very low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

[As a slight disclaimer to those who might be interested in seeking this one out and laughing at its absurdity fresh and untainted: I suggest doing so before reading the review. This movie is such that I found it hard not to reveal many of the ways it takes license with the classic tale, and that’s pretty much the whole enchilada with this one. So you’ve been warned!]

Against all odds, Cinderella, the ’70s softcore version of the fairy tale produced by Charles Band, is a memorable, enjoyable experience. I’ve purposefully held back on reviewing this and a few other films in the Band lineup, thinking that they’d be hard to get through (or perhaps impenetrable, to use a dick joke in the spirit of this movie). I also couldn’t imagine the idea that a softcore musical would be any good, but now I see the error in my thinking. Not only was it good, it was a “snapping” good time. And up front I should mention that “good” is most definitely a subjective term here, as I imagine most people would find this largely stupid and pointless.

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To Kill With Intrigue (1977)

10_gkaals1004To Kill With Intrigue [劍花煙雨江南] (1977)

Starring Jackie Chan, Hsu Feng, Sin Il-Ryong, Yu Ling-Lung, George Wang Jue, Tung Lam, Ma Kei, Kong Ching-Ha, Chan Wai-Lau, Lee Man-Tai, Chan San-Yat

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.


Coming off of one of the best early Jackie Chan films, here’s one of the worst! To Kill With Intrigue is one of the most convoluted and hard-to-follow wuxia films I’ve ever seen, saved only marginally by its grouping of fun, well-choreographed fights. The “intrigue” in the film’s title refers to the many needless and overly complicated plot points, but, y’know… To Kill with Needless and Overly Complicated Plot Points just doesn’t have that same je ne sais quoi.

And how will I sum up the gist of To Kill With Intrigue‘s plot into one paragraph? It’s just not possible, but the basics are: Jackie’s parents are murdered by the Killer Bees clan (is this where Wu-Tang got the name?), but just as Jackie is about to kill the one responsible, she outs Jackie’s father as the murderer of her parents! They spare each other, and thus begins a weird love/hate relationship that exists to further the plot where it shouldn’t be able to go, and also to overly complicate things (of course). Anyway, the real story is Jackie searching the countryside for his pregnant girlfriend who he sent to safety with his friend right before the Killer Bees attacked.

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Pumping Iron (1977)

pumping_ironStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Matty Ferrigno, Victoria Ferrigno, Mike Katz, Franco Columbu, Ed Corney, Ken Waller, Serge Nubret

Directed by George Butler & Robert Fiore

Expectations: High.


Pumping Iron is a great document of a sport once regarded as a weird subculture reserved for those crazy enough to devote their lives to pumping iron. While watching the film I couldn’t escape the similarities to Perfect, depicting people’s desire to achieve perfection through working out. I did some research and found that this isn’t too far from the truth, as Pumping Iron‘s success in 1977 helped to popularize the sport and facilitate the rise of the commercial gym, leading to the fitness craze of the 1980s. And of course, it’s also the film that catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom. He may have appeared in a couple of roles prior to its release, even winning a Golden Globe, but none of it compared to the power of Pumping Iron (which would later be eclipsed by Conan the Barbarian as Arnold’s true breakout role).

Even though Pumping Iron depicts the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition where Arnold competed for his sixth straight title, it’s not quite the raw, honest documentary it appears to be on the surface. Some of the scenes were specifically filmed to “fill narrative holes,” such as the Ken Waller football scene where he plots to steal the shirt of Mike Katz. In fact, the competition footage had already been shot and the directors came up with this scene to enhance the drama and the rivalry between two bodybuilders who were actually good friends. This makes me wonder if the touching scene in the locker room showing Katz’s crushing despair, and his subsequent, reserved happiness after hearing that Waller had won, is a fabrication also. Katz seemed incredibly genuine in that moment, though, asking the cameraman (or himself) the contemplative question of how it must feel to win. Even if this is a fake (which I don’t think it is), Katz’s intense passion to win the competition is palpable and honest.

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