Friday, April 30, 2010

A Vacation In Hell (1979): The Images

If there was ever a director who could pull off A Vacation in Hell, it would be the great David Greene. Thank God they hired him! He was as equally comfortable making high end drama (Roots, Friendly Fire) as he was making good old popcorn flicks (Rehearsal for Murder, Take Your Best Shot). The esoteric Vacation In Hell, which I reviewed for Camp Blood is one of those movies where the cast had to be completely on it, or it just wasn't gong to work. The mixture of swingin' 70s, coming of age sexuality, vacation gone awry horror, jungle amok violence and hippy dippy empowerment is 100% surreal, and it's fantastic. You simply can't take your eyes off everything as it unfolds, and I double dog dare you to look away when the stunning Priscilla Barnes is on screen. Even in the presence of some of the most stunning women from the 70s - Andrea Marcovicci, Barbara Feldon and Maureen McCormick (in one of the strangest dance scenes ever)- Priscilla remains completely breathtaking. And she carries this movie as the dumb blonde who ain't as stupid as you think. There's also Michael Brandon as the feckless but likable lone guy in this trek to terror. Boy I bet he was in heaven when they were making this (and indeed he did live with Maureen McCormick for a time after this film)! Vacation is all about women doin' it for themselves, and the cast deliver it all with a straight face. Vacation is at once totally trashy and completely suspenseful. It's enthralling television and a must see!

A Vacation in Hell Image Gallery:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I, Desire (1982)

AKA: Desire the Vampire
Network: ABC
Original Air Date: November 15th, 1982

Is it just mere coincidence that David Naughton’s first film after An American Werewolf in London was I, Desire? I mean, we’re talkin’ a sexy male werewolf vs. a beautiful lady vampire eons before Underworld made it all chic! I think the casting agent had both an eye for talent and a great sense of horror humor.

My kind of machismo!

David Naughton is David Balsiger, a law student who works at the local morgue to make ends meet. He’s just moved his sweet-natured girlfriend Cheryl Gillen (Marilyn Jones) into his apartment and life is Jim-dandy. Then a creepy priest (Brad Dourif) shows up to ID a dead body. David lets him into the morgue and goes back to his studies. When he goes back, the priest has disappeared and creepy shenanigans ensue. Enter Detective Jerry Van Ness (Dorian Harewood), who thinks he’s hot on the heels of a female serial killer who also likes lifting blood from the local hospital bank! No one wants to cry vampire, because you know, that would make you nuts, but the more David gets involved, the more he begins to believe the wanted femme fatale is a bloodsucker.

The horror! The horror!

Aside from a few obvious twists, I, Desire is a great little movie. I have loved David Naughton since he was a werewolf in sheep’s clothing and he doesn’t let me down as the hunky vampire hunter. He’s got a very innocent way about his performances which makes him an incredibly likable lead. Oh, and he’s hot. The supporting cast is just as good (Marilyn, where have you gone?) with Dourif stealing the diner scene with so much scenery chewing you’d think he was bulimic. While re-watching I, Desire I wondered if Dourif had taken the part just for that monologue.

Creepy, sexy, cool!

There’s also some signature TV movie-ness to be found. The foley went nuts with the vampire’s distinct cougar attack growl, which makes the actual assaults a little less than they should have been. But I love the idea of a female vampire luring her prey under the guise she’s a hooker. There’s something to be said for paying for your sins!

The master gives it his all!

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, director John Llewellyn Moxey is one of the greats! With one or two exceptions, his films remain the strongest of the era. Here, he’s added a very dreamlike quality to David’s dissent into the lurid world of streetwalking vampires (what a small world that must be!), giving the tale a heavy dose of atmosphere. I love the scenes on the seedy Hollywood Boulevard, which sort of captures a PG version of Angel. The writer Robert Foster also wrote a TV movie I’ve been dying to see called Computercide! C’mon, that just has to be good!

Harewood/Moxey Trivia: This dynamic duo worked together on two other TV movies:

Foster and Laurie (1975)
Panic in Echo Park (1977)

Read more about I, Desire at Kindertrauma

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This House Possessed (1981): The Images

This House Possessed is without a doubt, my all time favorite made for television movie ever. EVER. Yet, I have not written about it on my blog. I've reviewed it elsewhere (read my reviews here and here), watched it a gazillion times and have told anyone in ear distance just how much I love this uber-atmospheric and utterly ambiguous horror film. And it's not just because Parker Stevenson is the hottest thing since Jermaine Stewart made me realize that I didn't have to take my clothes off to have a good time (oh no). It's simply because this is one damn good movie. As a kid, I was forever haunted by Tanya's blood shower and completely entranced by Sheila's yellow wardrobe. House taught me that in a world of creepy haunted houses you could still find love with a gorgeous pop star. House made me who I am today (take it as you will). This Amanda Obsessed! Whoops, I mean Possessed!

One of the things I adore about House is that you never know exactly why the house does what it does. You know it watches Gary before he moves in, but you're never quite sure how he got him to the house, nor do you know why it chose Gary. I mean, why did it want the sexy rock singer to fall in love with Sheila (and vice versa) when the house itself was in love with her? And why did it attack Gary less viciously when he did Sheila wrong? I don't know. And in some ways I'm glad I don't. House is a movie that has more questions than answers. It's a freaking riddle wrapped up in an enigma (how I have always wanted to say that!) and if you're open to these kinds of films, House will leave you considering every option. It's the movie that keeps on giving!

And it will leave you wanting to say "Don't get so frosted!" Trust me, it will! But for now, I'll leave you with an image gallery (most of these were used for one of my reviews on another site) for the best undiscovered movie going!

This House Possessed Image Gallery:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Night That Panicked America (1975)

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: October 31st, 1975

Picture it – Halloween, 1938. Aliens have descended upon America and one radio network is broadcasting the play by play. As the story unfolds, a panic sets about the listeners. Some head towards Grover’s Mill, New Jersey where the chaos started. Others decide to flee the area and literally head for the hills. The country is in utter terror, who knows how they will react.

And the whole thing was a hoax.

This, my friends, is how you make great radio

By now, the legends regarding Orson Well’s brilliant rendering of the War of the Worlds are infamous. From stories of people running through the streets to the guys who shot a water tower thinking it was a spaceship, this night has come to signify not only how wonderful this HG Wells’ adaptation was, but also how powerful the media can be. The Night that Panicked America is a recreation of that wicked night that left America reeling.

Night is separated into sections. The first deals with the actual broadcast and features a behind the scenes look at Welles (Paul Shenar) and his cohorts creating the most suspenseful night of radio. From this standpoint, things look fiendishly clever (like creating the sound of a spaceship door opening by using the reverberation of the unscrewing of a jar inside a toilet!) but completely mundane, as actors in a bare room read from a script. The second section of the film deals with various listeners who are swept away in the realistic broadcast. Each one is facing an everyday problem, like a marriage breaking up or a young man wanting to go to war to defend his country while his father attempts to talk him out of it. This is where the movie creates some intense suspense scenes. With everyone facing uncertain doom, it’s anyone’s guess as to how each will act in response to the situation.

Wow! They made Orson Wells hawt!

Night is rife with familiar television faces who all do a wonderful job. Tom Bosley is the befuddled producer who first catches wind of the ensuing chaos, John Ritter is the young man desperate to defend his country against Hitler, Paul Shenar is the great Orson Welles, the director with a thunderous voice and an ingenious way of crafting a story, Will Geer is the reverend faced with the idea that his god does not exist and Vic Morrow and Eileen Brennan are the couple who will do anything to keep their kids away from the Martians. And I do mean anything! And I haven’t even gotten to Meredith Baxter, Granville Van Dusen or Casey Kasem!

Nicholas Meyer, who would go on to direct Star Trek II and VI wrote this excellent script, capturing both the inside and outside of a momentous occasion in our history. Joseph Sargent, who is such a stalwart in the world of television movies (Longstreet, Hustling), puts together a taut, gripping tale that encases so many stories, and the duo bring each one to a satisfying conclusion. The standout story belongs to Morrow and Brennan. I was literally covering my eyes I was so scared! That’s good filmmaking! Fans of The Mist will also catch the tribute it made to Night.

Even rich people got scared! Whoa!

As I watch the movie now and as I’m sure it was intended when it was made in 1975, Night is more than a retelling of a wondrous night in pop culture history. The film is bookmarked with the echoing, fanatical voice of Hitler, reminding the viewer that 1938 wasn’t just the year radio proved it worth as a medium. It is also reiterates the fact that we were living in the looming fear of World War II. It is suggested by this bookmark that perhaps we reacted the way we did simply because we’d been living on the edge of uncertainty and we were worn thin. Night’s ability to craft such tension with the characters is just one reason to see it. It’s also a staunch reminder of our dark history with war and what it does the human psyche, even to those of us not fighting on the battlefield.

Read More about The Night that Panicked America here:

feuilleton (John Colthart's blog)

Inner Toob

War of the Worlds: Invasion - A Historical Perspective

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mark of the Devil (1984)

Network: ITV
Original Air Date: September 5th, 1984

When I popped Mark of the Devil into my DVD player the other day I had no idea what I was getting into. My copy is called Fox Mystery Theater: Mark of the Devil, so I imagined it was a made for TV homage to the gooey cult classic of the same name starring Udo Kier. What I got was actually an episode of Hammer’s House of Mystery and Suspense, the last bastion of horror hounds' favorite British movie studio (the series was co-produced by 20th Century Fox, hence the Americanized moniker). There are thirteen episodes in this short lived UK series and Mark of the Devil ended up being my initiation into the show. I was then knocked over again when I saw it starred Dirk Benedict (the hottest Battlestar Galactica), was directed by Val Guest (Quatermass Xperiment, Toomorrow) and written by Brian Clemens, who penned every episode of the awesome 70s Brit classic Thriller. Wow, that’s kind of everything I ever wanted in a movie. But did I set my sights too far? Don’t you love suspense?

Dirk squared

Dirk Benedict is Frank Rowlett, a lowlife gambler who woos a rich and beautiful girl (Jenny Seagrove). He’s preparing to marry her and enter the world of the wealthy elite, but his gambling addiction keeps bringing him back to the underground casinos. Through some bad decision making, he ends up at a tattoo parlor trying to snake some dough and ends up killing the owner… but not before he’s stabbed once with a tattoo needle. Unfortunately, this tattoo artist is also a big voodoo freak and his needle essentially possesses Frank’s skin. At first it’s just a puncture wound, but the lesion soon becomes a tattoo that grows like wildfire across Frank’s body. This leads to even more poor choices as Frank desperately tries everything he can to rid himself of the curse (except turning himself in, of course).

Mark of the Devil is odd. I can’t imagine anyone in the US would ever have the cajones to produce such an obtuse movie. It’s simple, but wild in its ideas. Leave it up to Clemens to find a way to make it feel believable. Frank is definitely a loser, but his comeuppance feels a little unwarranted (or at least slightly over the top!), so there’s some feeling of sympathy for him. And of course, I’ve always found Dirk to be one of those great looking actors who actually possessed talent. I was so blown away by him in Sssssss and think he never really gets the notice he deserves (although he might now that he's playing Columbo!). He’s great here and the movie as a whole is a lot of crazy fun.


For those of you unfamiliar with the director, Val Guest, please try to find a copy of his movie Toomorrow, which got a small theatrical release in 1970, but has not seen the light of day since, except for a few revival screenings. It’s about rock band (led by Olivia Newton John) who are so good, aliens abduct them so they can save their species. No. Joke. And it’s incredible. I had the honor of seeing Guest speak and then later I got a chance to talk to him briefly on the phone. He was one incredible man, totally vital into his 90s. He died in 2006 at the age of 95. He’s another under the radar guy, and is well worth discovering. This episode of Hammer’s House of Mystery of Suspense is a great introduction.

Still smoking hot. How do you do it, Dirk?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dirk Benedict as... Columbo?!?

It’s true. Benedict, a much loved television star (and a lot of that love comes from me!), is hitting the stages of England as my beloved Columbo in Prescription: Murder, which was originally a one-off TV movie from 1968 (the series began running in 1971). Benedict is performing at the Middle Ground Theatre Company. I came across one review and they loved him in the part. I have to admit, I was taken aback by the casting, but Dirk is an actor who has for too long been underrated. As we all know, Peter Falk owned the role but I can totally see Dirk who is always terrific fun, bringing something new to Columbo’s ratty trench coat. If you are lucky enough to have a chance to catch Prescription: Murder please don’t pass it up! And report back here! I will live vicariously through you!

Just For Fun: here’s a few words from Columbo’s creators, Richard Levinson and William Link regarding the creation of one of my all time favorite characters. And here's a link to a short post I did on the first actor to play Columbo.

Also, keep an eye out for a review of a Dirk Benedict movie I just watched earlier this week. He’s always wonderful, looks oh-so-gorgeous (he just turned 65!!!) and is just a treat!

This is Dirk without the trench coat. Me-ow!