The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

starwarsholiday_2Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, Harvey Korman, Art Carney, Bea Arthur, Diahann Carroll, Mickey Morton, Paul Gale, Patty Maloney, Jack Rader, Michael Potter, Claude Woolman, Don Francks

Directed by Steve Binder

Expectations: Super low.

twohalfstar


The Star Wars Holiday Special was once the holy grail of nerd-dom, but the Internet has diminished its luster a bit by making the special readily available for anyone who wants to see it. Shall I let this modern age of access and information sully the legend of The Star Wars Holiday Special? No! For me, this special is still quite special, regardless of the fact that I didn’t have to buy a 5th-gen VHS from a shady guy in the corner of a convention hall. Y’see, despite being a supreme nerd and lover of Star Wars for my entire life, this was the first time I saw The Star Wars Holiday Special. And boy, let me tell you, it was an experience.

For those that don’t know, The Star Wars Holiday Special was a variety show produced by CBS because… well, I don’t know why! But I do know that George Lucas approved it because he thought it would be a good idea to stave fans off waiting for him to desperately think up a story for a sequel that he never planned for hone the Empire Strikes Back script gathering dust on his shelf. Anyway, I don’t know if it really worked to tide people over like he thought it would, but people did go see Empire Strikes Back and perhaps they might not have without the good ol’ Star Wars Holiday Special! Everything happens for a reason, doncha know.

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Quick Takes: The Beyond, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Fright Night Part 2

beyondThe Beyond […E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà] (1981)
AKA Seven Doors of Death
twohalfstar

Starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale, Antoine Saint-John, Veronica Lazar, Anthony Flees, Giovanni De Nava
Directed by Lucio Fulci

I’m starting to think I’ll never completely warm up to Italian horror movies. They very rarely capture my attention fully, although when they’re good they are really good (like Suspiria). So I guess I’m trying to say that I’m gonna stick with ’em because I know — or at least hope — that there are gems to find. I definitely liked The Beyond more than City of the Living Dead, but it was still fairly uninteresting and slow for the most part. After hearing about this movie for years, it’s a little hard to understand that this is what all the hype was over. The gore, though, holy hell, so much to love there. I have to attribute the film’s reputation almost completely to the gore, because it’s pretty much worth seeing the movie just to see the nasty bits. Italian filmmakers definitely had a different approach to gore, and it often comes off as much more stomach-churning and revolting than in the films of their American counterparts.

invasionofthebodysnatchers1978Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
threehalfstar

Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle, Lelia Goldoni
Directed by Philip Kaufman

Fantastic remake that’s nearly as good as the original. I wish all remakes were like this, in that it felt sincere, artistic & in complete understanding of what made the original film so great. It’s a remake that diverges from the original plot in ways that perfectly update the film to the ’70s, while still retaining the pervasive ’50s paranoia of “the other” that made the original film pop. A lot of times remakes change things and people like me wonder why they had to change it. In this film it all clicks, in such good fashion that the film almost exists as a separate entity to the original film. In some ways you could even say that it’s a sequel to the ’50s film, and this ambiguity also helps the film succeed. The whole cast is exceptionally good, with the main four of Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright raising the movie to heights that genre films rarely reach. Sutherland is really becoming a favorite of mine, too, and for whatever reason he reminded me a lot of Clive Owen here (specifically Owen in The Knick).

frightnight2_posterFright Night Part 2 (1988)
threestar

Starring Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Russell Clark, Brian Thompson, Merritt Butrick, Ernie Sabella, Matt Landers, Josh Richman, Karen Anders
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

The original Fright Night was about as fun as an ’80s vampire movie can get, so when I heard there was a sequel I was both jazzed and sure it was doomed to let me down. But no! Fright Night 2 is super fun and surprisingly solid. It builds its story on the same basic framework as the original, except they sometimes shift the genders of characters who filled the various roles originally. This gives Fright Night 2 a distinct feel that is its own, while also feeling very familiar and comfortable. To be more specific, this mostly manifests itself as Charley’s new girlfriend, Alex (Traci Lind), having a much more active role in the plot than Amanda Bearse did in the original. The vampires are multiple, too, and they’re all very different and fun. Fantastic FX work, too. There’s a body melting that’s just incredible! If you enjoyed the first one definitely seek out Fright Night 2!

Auditions (1978)

auditions_5Starring Bonnie Werchan, Rick Cassidy, Linnea Quigley, Carolyn Burch, Robert Staats, Linda York, Alan Simons, Molly Manning, Jennifer West, William Margold, Peter Risch, Greg Travis, Adore O’Hara, Michael Hardin, Freddie Dawson, Jeffrey Lampert, Joey Camen, Tony Popson

Directed by Harry Hurwitz

Expectations: Very interested, but I don’t expect much.


Auditions isn’t much of a good film (or a film at all for that matter), but it is an interesting document of a time. Whether it is truly a documentary — as the opening of the film and its DVD intro by producer Charles Band suggests — or more of a pieced-together recreation of reality is a question ever-present while watching the players disrobe and reveal their various sexual fantasies. Regardless of the reality it may or may not contain, Auditions was made during the late ’70s, and as a low-budget film shot on 16mm in a Santa Monica office building, it captures the vibe of the late ’70s exactly how a big-budget film never could.

The premise is really where the film gets its basic attraction. Sometime in 1978, Charles Band placed full-page ads in all the Hollywood trade papers, announcing an open audition for his next film, Fairy Tales 2. They were looking for the world’s sexiest woman and man, as well as the world’s most unusual act or personality. That’ll sure get ’em to come out of the woodwork! The thing is, there never was a Fairy Tales 2, and as far as I can tell, there never was any intention of making one. That’s one way to make a low-budget movie!

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Fairy Tales (1978)

fairytales_6Starring Don Sparks, Sy Richardson, Robert Staats, Brenda Fogarty, Linnea Quigley, Irwin Corey, Robert Harris, Simmy Bow, Martha Reeves, Frank Ray Perilli, Angelo Rossitto, Bob Leslie, Jeff Doucette, Lindsay Freeman, Nai Bonet, Angela Aames, Anne Gaybis, Lee Arries

Directed by Harry Hurwitz

Expectations: Fairly high, after how surprisingly enjoyable Cinderella was.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Hot off the heels of Cinderella and her snapping pussy, Charles Band was eager to recapture the audience that craved erotic musicals based on fairy tales. But instead of picking just one and running with it, he decided to lump a whole bunch into one movie. For me, this makes Fairy Tales a far less successful film as the narrative has no drive other than to take us from one scene of nudity to the next, but I guess that’s kinda the whole point in a movie like this.

The poster and the trailer proudly display what type of movie Fairy Tales is, but as the stately opening credits played I imagined a couple of clueless parents bringing their kids along for an old-fashioned good time. “Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and this one’s going to be a lot of fun, kiddos!” I know this type of movie wouldn’t have played a general cinema in the ’70s, but just imagine! They’d storm out in a huff during the first scene when the royal doctors experts sex-perts sing the flaccid prince a song of how he must rise to the occasion and get to producing an heir by Thursday or he’ll lose his kingdom. The first nudity comes just six minutes in, but our imaginary family would be long gone by then, with lyrics ushering them out the door like, “They only make semen white and urine yellow so that you know whether you’re comin’ or goin’.”

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Piranha (1978)

piranha_1Starring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies-Urich, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Belinda Balaski, Melody Thomas Scott, Bruce Gordon, Barry Brown, Paul Bartel, Shannon Collins

Directed by Joe Dante

Expectations: High.

On the general scale:
threestar

On the B-movie scale:
fourstar


Piranha is exactly the type of movie that I love. It’s equal parts genuine horror and outlandish comedy, with a premise so over-the-top and ridiculous that no one could possibly believe it as a plausible story. But then how did stories of piranhas in local waterways filter down to the schoolyard playgrounds of my youth? Piranha is a film that captures your imagination and runs wild. Its pace is quick, rarely coming up for air. The film’s villains may never be visible for more than a fleeting few seconds, but they are ever-present in the film’s atmosphere.

Piranha opens like hundreds of other horror films: a young couple is out at night in the woods looking for a good place to be alone together. These particular kids ignore the “No Trespassing” signs on the chain-link fences they sneak through in their quest. And of course, when they find a pool of water they decide that skinny dipping is the only course of action. What they never considered was that this secluded, abandoned Army installation wasn’t quite so completely abandoned. Shoulda watched more horror movies, guys.

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Spiritual Kung Fu (1978)

Spiritual-Kung-Fu-001Spiritual Kung Fu [拳精] (1978)
AKA Karate Ghostbuster

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Mo Man-Sau, Li Tong-Chun, Lee Kwan, Dean Shek Tin, Ko Keung, Lee Hoi-Lung, Lee Man-Tai, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Lo Wei’s Spiritual Kung Fu may have been released to the public just a month and a half after Drunken Master blew up the Hong Kong box office, but it was made well-before as an answer to Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Chen Chi-Hwa’s kung fu comedy starring Jackie Chan. After many requests from Jackie to allow him to include comedy in his films, Lo Wei finally relented and let Jackie and Chen make Half a Loaf of Kung Fu. But upon seeing the finished film, Lo was furious and he shelved the film (until 1980). He didn’t find it funny at all, and he made Spiritual Kung Fu in order to show Jackie what a real kung fu comedy should be like. Spiritual Kung Fu lucked out being released after Drunken Master, because at that point the public craved anything Jackie Chan. It gave this film box office receipts that came close to equaling those of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, and which also bested many Shaw Brothers films destined to be memorable classics (such as The Five Venoms & Crippled Avengers).

So I suppose knowing all that, the big question about Spiritual Kung Fu hangs around its comedy. Is it funny? Do the laughs feel similar to the kung fu comedy of the two Jackie Chan/Yuen Woo-Ping collaborations? The answer is a resounding NO! There’s a reason why Lo Wei wasn’t known as a comedy director. The first half of the film goes hard into Lo’s idea of comedy, with things like Jackie stuffing random animals down his pants (including a snake that finds “a nice, dark place to call home,” if you know what I mean!), punishments that include writing calligraphy with a gigantic brush, a mischievous ghost that farts in a monk’s face, and Jackie pissing on the ghosts as they shrink and try to hide in a corner. You get the idea; the comedy is really low-brow. It’s kind of interesting to watch because you never know what’s coming next, but it’s a stretch to call it funny. That being said, I can imagine children getting more laughs out of it than I did, but there are better films to get your children laughing.

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Drunken Master (1978)

drunkenmaster_2Drunken Master [醉拳] (1978)
AKA Drunken Monkey in the Tiger’s Eyes, Drunk Monkey

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Hwang Jang-Lee, Lam Kau, Linda Lin Ying, Dean Shek Tin, Chiang Kam, Max Lee Chiu-Jun, Yuen Shun-Yi, Fung Ging-Man, Tino Wong Cheung, San Kuai, Hsu Hsia

Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

Expectations: High.

fourstar


To set the scene: Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Jackie Chan’s first big hit, was released in March of 1978 and sent a shock wave through the Hong Kong martial arts film world. It became one of the most successful Hong Kong films of all time, out-grossing even the mega-popular Bruce Lee films. A mere seven months later came Drunken Master, the second of Jackie’s collaborations with director/choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, and it did 2½ times as much as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow did at the Hong Kong box office. Boom! Not only was Drunken Master a mega-hit, it solidified Jackie Chan as a major player in Hong Kong film, it made drunken-style kung fu “a thing” in movies, and it further expanded the kung fu comedy genre that Yuen and Jackie had officially kicked off with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Drunken Master is one of the hallmarks of ’70s kung fu cinema, and with good reason. It’s amazing.

The one aspect that’s lacking in Drunken Master is the story, but it is a testament to the strength of every other aspect that even though this flaw is very noticeable, it never detracts from the experience. In many ways, it’s kind of a re-hash of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, starting with a mountaintop fight scene where Hwang Jang-Lee takes on a fighter and mercilessly kills him with his amazing leg work. But instead of being a negative point, the re-hash is actually more of a distillation. Drunken Master takes everything that worked perfectly in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and perfects it even more, leaving out all the rest. Which, honestly, is that film’s relatively average kung fu revenge plot. “Who needs it?” they must have said, and I agree.

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