Saturday, April 07, 2018

265. The Tell-Tale Heart

265. The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Director: Ernest Morris
Writers: Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard, based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe
From: Pure Terror

Edgar Marsh murders his friend Carl after seeing Carl being intimate with the woman Edgar loves. Now Marsh is haunted by the sound of Carl’s still-beating heart.

Ever want to know the “true” story behind Poe’s classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart”? No? Oh. Well. This is just awkward for all of us.

Much of this movie is very strange. It’s from 1960, but has a very 20’s/30’s aesthetic and ethic and that difference can be very jarring. For instance, there’s a scene where Edgar is sitting in his apartment looking at pornographic images. That’s fine for a movie from 1960 and is used as shorthand to communicate Edgar’s sexual frustration, but the movie is shot in black-and-white and feels very stagey, like it was made during the early period of cinema where they didn’t quite know what a movie should look like. In other words, this doesn't feel like a movie from 1960 so the dirty pictures feel very out of place.

On top of that, the movie tries to do a kind of blending of realities. We open with Poe waking up screaming. His friend Carl comes in and hands him some drugs. Poe stumbles over to a chair and starts examining some papers. Cut to the actor playing Poe going to a bar/brothel and getting scared away by a sex worker. This is Edgar Marsh who is not Poe, but I think he's called "Poe" several times despite that (?) The end of the movie makes it apparent that Poe is dreaming that he’s Marsh, but there’s no indication elsewhere in the movie. Marsh has a limp, we’re told, but it’s not visually clear at all and only mentioned, again, at the end when Poe wakes up.

As for the plot, Marsh lives alone in a big house. He sees Betty move in across the street and peeps in her window from his. He asks his friend Carl for advice about how to talk to girls and approaches Betty. She goes out with him, but he’s a bit of a damp squib and then tries to force himself on her at the end of the night. For some reason, she lets him take her out twice more, each time becoming increasingly uninterested.

Until he introduces her to Carl. She and Carl hit it off immediately and eventually make arrangements to meet at her apartment, a meeting Marsh watches from his room. The next day, he invites Carl over and murders him. From here, it’s the plot of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Marsh is hallucinating the heartbeat while Betty is trying to get the police to investigate Carl’s disappearance. They say Carl's done this before and laugh at her for being a sucker. More than that, it feels like the cops are laughing at the idea of believing a woman. Finally she breaks into Marsh’s house, finds the murder weapon, and delivers it to the police. They eventually see the blood and hair on it and only then go to question Marsh. He reveals all, gets shot, and falls off a balcony and impales himself.

Then Poe wakes up screaming. Carl runs in to check that he’s okay. Poe says he’s had a strange dream, that Carl was in it, and then looks out the window to see Betty moving into the house across the way. THE END.

This has a 5.8 on IMDB and I’m not sure why. I found it incredibly plodding and dull. The movie drags its feet getting to the killing, spending that time seeing Marsh be a bad date and watching him constantly push Betty and Carl together. Time may be a factor in my reaction. I think the movie is trying to make you sympathetic to Marsh’s situation, to see him as a “Nice Guy” that’s just not catching on, but, post Red Pill and GamerGate, I don’t have any patience or sympathy for the “Nice Guy” trope. He’s a creep who won’t take “no” for an answer and murders his only friend out of jealousy. He’s not sympathetic.

The interesting character is Betty. She’s new in town, goes on one date with a guy, and now is trapped in this murder nightmare. Marsh even says to himself after the murder that she’ll come to him eventually because she has nowhere else to go. That’s your horror story. Add the cops not believing her and you’ve got a real source of tension.

This movie is in the public domain (boy does it feel like a while since I've said that) and I’ve added an MPEG2 copy to here, but I can’t really recommend it. The movie’s boring. So much so that I forgot the William Castle-esque opening title cards suggesting that those who are squeamish close their eyes whenever the sound of a heartbeat plays. I guess it was to make people close their eyes through the “tense” parts of the movie where nothing happens and there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m sure you can make some jokes about the flick, but apart from that, it’s a dud. Skip it.

Friday, April 06, 2018

264. Craze

264. Craze (1974)
Director: Freddie Francie
Writers: Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel based on a novel by Henry Seymour
From: Cult Cinema

An antiques dealer starts sacrificing women to a forbidden idol in exchange for supernatural riches.

With a title like Craze, I expected something much closer to Panic or Romero’s The Crazies, ie. a film about a form of murderous madness or paranoia spreading through a population or at least being exercised by a group of people. Instead, this is Jack Palance with a thin porn stache murdering random women.

We open with Palance as the leader of this oddball cult that meets in his basement. A woman “sacrifices” herself to the idol by either pretending to cut her stomach open or by cutting her stomach open (it’s not clear if it’s supposed to be fake or is just a terrible special effect). After the cult leaves, a former member who’d been expelled bursts in, struggles with Palance, and impales herself upon the idol’s claw. Police come to Palance’s store to ask him questions about the missing woman, but he says he hasn’t seen her in months.

Palance runs an antique shop that’s doing poorly. He tells his assistant to sell a desk to an interested party, but they find a hidden drawer full of gold coins. Palance attributes their good luck to the sacrifice he made so, of course, he goes on the prowl to kill other women.

And that’s really the balance of the movie. There’s a bit of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die in the leeriness of Palance’s hunting. First he’s looking to hook up with someone, then kill her, but even that devolves into just Palance finding someone and killing them. The murder sequences don’t have much drama.

While all this is happening, the police keep pursuing Palance, but there’s never any explanation for why. The lead detective is suspicious of Palance and then, after another murder, is still suspicious, therefore he must be the killer. I’m not exaggerating about his logic there. No evidence connects Palance to the murders which only serves as proof for this cop that Palance is the killer.

Palance’s assistant also knows what’s happening, but is sort of caught in the middle. He’s benefiting from what’s happening, which makes him an accomplice, and Palance is threatening him every time the assistant suggests slowing down the killings.

Even that doesn’t make sense. Palance keeps killing and keeps reaping unrelated economic rewards, but he never seems driven to kill out of mania or a sense of needing the money. So the movie lacks any motive force. Eventually, Palance has a fight with the assistant and throws him through a window which leads the police to rush in. Palance faces off against them in the basement by, I’m not making this up, holding an axe and spinning around, until the cop who’d been suspicious of him the entire movie just shoots him. Palance falls upon the idol and dies. THE END.

The sweet release of farts.
It’s boring. Skip it. Yes, there’s some fun to be had laughing at the way Palance looks, but here’s the picture. Now you don’t need to see the movie. The deaths aren’t interesting and there’s no sense of tension at all, neither in the kills or the cops closing in. The kills lack tension because it’s obvious this character was introduced only to be killed and the cops lack tension because they’re never actually closing in. In that sense, it’s pretty similar to the other Jack Palance “thriller” I reviewed in this series, Man in the Attic. That movie also featured little tension and cops landing upon the killer more through luck than through any investigative action on their part. That movie at least let Palance have some character moments, though. This is just boring throughout.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

263. The Sidehackers

263. The Sidehackers aka Five the Hard Way (1969)
Director: Gus Trikonis
Writers: Tony Huston from a story by Larry Billman
From: Cult Cinema

A man seeks revenge against the people who assaulted and murdered his girlfriend.

As featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 202, which maybe tells you everything you need to know about the film. Curiously, the movie is significant because it’s the one that forced MST3k to change the way they previewed and selected movies for broadcast. Before they watched The Sidehackers, they would typically only watch the first few minutes of a movie before deciding whether or not to riff it. After The Sidehackers, they watched every movie all the way through before selecting them. Excited to hear what it’s about? No, you’re not, cause it’s about nothing.

The movie opens with an actual sidehacking race. For reference, as the movie explains, sidehacking is form of motorcycle racing where a small platform is welded onto the side of the bike. A second rider then uses his body and the bars holding the platform on to help the bike make tighter turns. Interesting enough as a niche form of racing, but if it’s going to be the plot of a movie you’re going to have to either focus on the drama of the people doing the sport and trying to make a living or the work of people trying to get the sport taken seriously.

Which is why this movie runs away from sidehacking as a plot point as quickly as it can.

Our hero is Rommel, a sidehacker and motorcycle mechanic. He’s in love with Rita and the two are planning to get married and move to a ranch in the country. One day, a member of touring motorcycle exhibition brings a bike in for repair. The boss, J.C. comes as well and starts asking about sidehacking. He takes a liking to Rommel, goes to a race that weekend, and then hangs out with Rommel that evening. While they get along, it becomes clear that J.C. is more than a bit unhinged and potentially violent. He invites Rommel to join his exhibition team, but Rommel declines.

Later, J.C.’s girlfriend Paisley hits on Rommel. He turns her down as well so she tells J.C. that Rommel raped her. J.C. and his team then find Rommel and Rita in their house, beat Rommel, and rape and kill Rita.

By the way, if you’re wondering why MST3k changed their selection procedure after this movie, that’s why. The show completely cuts the assault and make reference to it only by having Crow say, "For those of you playing along at home, Rita is dead." I watched the MST3k version, by the way.

So the movie is now about Rommel seeking revenge. He eventually gathers a team which gets infiltrated by a member of J.C.’s crew. Rommel susses out the traitor, though, and goes to confront J.C. All of J.C.’s crew gets killed, two members of Rommel’s escapes, and then J.C. and Rommel fight each other. Rommel seems to have defeated J.C. as the police approach, but J.C. pulls a gun and shoots Rommel in the back, killing him. THE END.

Now, some of you may be asking what any of this has to do with motorcycle racing. That’s the wrong question. Instead, you shouldn’t think about this movie long enough to wonder about it at all. Just let it pass through your consciousness as though it never existed because, in all the ways that count, it doesn’t.

There’s something very strange about a movie that purports to be about a unique activity that then runs as quickly away from that activity as it can. I’d say the movie could just be about motorcycle racing in general, but it really can’t. The movie’s not interested in the racing element at all. The plot is Rommel being a good mechanic and then turning down J.C.’s offer to join his team. The story is about a person having to deal with a sociopath falling into their life. Why add the sidehacking angle?

All of this side-steps the issue of assault at the core of the movie. Paisley uses a false rape accusation to get J.C. to attack Rommel and Rita, which leads to J.C. actually assaulting Rita, which then leads to the rest of the plot. Also, J.C. kills Paisley at the end so you can maybe read that as some sort of comeuppance, but she was flirting with Rommel in the first place because J.C. was abusive and she was trying to get away. Rommel, by the way, brushes her off, implying that her abuse is her own fault.

It’s just a lot to unpack and, ultimately, none of it is worth the effort. This is a boring little exploitation flick that tries to differentiate itself form the teen sport flicks of the time by having a grim core and nihilistic conclusion. None of that is clever, though. Instead, it’s cheap and manipulative. On top of all that, it’s boring. This is another movie that’s not even worth getting mad at. If you can find the MST3k version, check that out. It has some good riffs and the host segments are pretty solid. As for the movie itself, skip it.

Friday, March 30, 2018

262. Karate Kids U.S.A.

262. Karate Kids U.S.A. aka The Little Dragons (1979)
Director: Curtis Hanson
Writers: Harvey Applebaum, Louis G. Atlee, Rudolph Borchert, and Alan Ormsby
From: Cult Cinema

A pair of brothers on a trip with their grandfather witness a kidnapping. They have to use their wits and karate skills to save their kidnapped friend.

A children’s movie about children written by people who hate children. These films are easy to spot since they have kids doing a sort of “kid power” thing—setting off on an adventure to save the day after the available adults refuse to listen—only the kids all suck. They all suck. Insufferable bastards to a one.

Yeah, the movie’s a delight.

Anyway, Woody is late to his karate class and has to wait at the side until the teacher lets him in. Woody’s full of bluster and energy, but not a whole lot of ability. His older brother Zack is a student as well. That’s the full description of Zack.

Their grandfather, J.J., picks them up in his camper and tells them he’s taking them on a weekend trip to the lake. There’s no indication of whether he’s cleared this with the boys’ parents or evidence that he’s prepared for this at all since the boys are wearing their karate gi the whole movie. As they’re driving to the campsite, their dumpy little camper is passed by a bus-sized luxury camper driven by the Forbingers. The Forbingers are a family of three—an 80’s corporate type, his wife who’s mad that he doesn’t have time for the family, and their daughter Carol who exists. Inevitably, these two families’ paths will cross again.

They’ll have to since the movie switches over to the Forbingers for a good chunk at this point.

Anyway, the Forbingers go off the road and get stuck. They’re found by a pair of backwoods brothers who help them get back on the road, but not before getting a good eyeful of the expensive RV and everything in it. They tell their ma back home and work up a plan to rob the RV that night at the campground.

The two families meet again, the kids start hanging out, and they all go to the hoedown. The kids leave together but Carol ends up at the RV when the brothers are robbing it and is taken hostage. Zack follows them and sees the kidnappers take Carol into a cave. The police are useless blunderers and the FBI is called once the kidnappers send a ransom note. Eventually Zack and Woody find Carol, but Woody is kidnapped while Zack goes to get the authorities. Zack and J.J. follow the kidnappers’ path, find their home, and Zack gets his karate class to join him to rescue everyone.

The class rides as far as they can on the bikes of a motorcycle gang…

No, shut up, I’m rushing through this. THIS IS ME RUSHING THROUGH THIS!

and fight the kidnappers. Woody finally does the flying kick that he couldn’t at the beginning and saves the day. THE END.

I was going to ask how this took four people to write, but now I’m amazed that only four people were involved in this script. I mean, it’s fine as an adventure plot. You can see precursors to The Goonies in this with kids facing real threats and having to save the day. The Goonies is a good benchmark, though, because it handles the tone very well. The kids each have their own personality, the villains are distinct and sincerely threatening, and, while there’s humor, the kids and their situation is never played up for laughs. When the kids are at risk, they’re facing real harm. When they’re facing disappointment, it’s specific to that character and played seriously.

In Karate Kids U.S.A., you never get away from a smirking condescension that permeates the film. “Oh, these kids are fighting the kidnappers. Isn’t that cute!” “The kidnapper seems kind of rapey with this little girl. *hyuck*hyuck*hyuck*”

As an example of getting the tone wrong, the cops are played for laughs. Now, dunk on cops in media all you want. Play them up as hateful cowardly monsters striving to work for their own benefit before any pretense of risking anything to help anyone else—you know, as cops. Don’t play them up as lazy gormless morons with generally good intentions. The deputy that comes to get the parents’ report of their daughter’s disappearance is too stupid to write down their statement. The work is so over his head that he has to call the sheriff down to do it. The sheriff is his daddy and hadn’t come himself because the chili he’d eaten earlier was too spicy.

Remember, at this point Carol’s been grabbed in the night by two strangers and stashed on a ledge in a cave where she’s facing the possibility of falling into a deep pit. Rats are milling about her. Hilarious, right?!

So it just sucks. As I noted at the top, you can tell the writers hate children because the children are all annoying. Look at a film like A Wrinkle in Time. That’s a movie made for kids that’s trying to take kids seriously. Because of that, the children in the film aren’t teeth-gratingly insufferable. Karate Kids U.S.A. thinks kids are teeth-gratingly insufferable and so portrays them as such. The only thing that could possibly make this movie a recommend is that it’s directed by Curtis Hanson. Yes, the director of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, L.A. Confidential, and the execrable 8 Mile. If you’re a Hanson completionist or just want to see an early film by a Hollywood careerist, this exists. Otherwise, just watch The Goonies or The Karate Kid again. Don’t waste your time on trash like this.

Next up, number 263 of trash like this!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

261. Terrified

261. Terrified (1963)
Director: Lew Landers
Writer: Richard Bernstein
From: Cult Cinema

Residents of a small town are harried by a masked killer obsessed with testing the limits of terror.

Well, at least the movie wants us to think it’s about someone testing the limits of terror. In the end, it’s not nearly that interesting.

The movie starts with a cold open as Joey is laying in an open grave with wet cement being poured on him by a man in a suit and ski mask. Crazy Bill watches from the edge of the graveyard. When Joey asks the man who he is, the man replies that Joey already knows. Then Joey screams “Ken!” and we cut to credits.

After credits, we see an old couple driving at night.

Oh God, there’s going to be a lot of driving footage, isn’t there? This is going to be a movie I’m 100% sure was riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000 even though it never was.

Yup. Hero’s a useless white guy, plot doesn’t make any sense, and we pad out the film with lots of driving. And it’s only eighty minutes long.

Anyway, a car tries to run the couple off the road then they stop at a restaurant where, for no particular reason, they tell the owner, Wesley Blake, about what happened to them. Then we pan over to another table where Marge and David are sitting. Marge works as a hostess and David is one of the guys she’s seeing, though she’s not going steady. Turns out Joey is her brother and he’s been institutionalized after his encounter in the graveyard.

Ken arrives (wait, the Ken?) and we come to learn that he’s Marge’s other partner. He and Joey are classmates at the college and Ken is studying psychology, specifically terror. He argues that, after the Holocaust and Hiroshima, the primary weapon of governments is terror and that humanity, collectively, has to endure the threat of that terror on a daily basis. That’s… not a bad idea to explore in a movie, honestly. It’s just that this movie isn’t really interested in it.

Anyway, Marge wants to talk to Crazy Bill about Joey again so David drives her out to Ghost Town, the abandoned part of town near the cemetery (really an old Western set that looks like it’s about to be torn down). They find Bill murdered and then Ken arrives as we see the masked man hide in a building. So Ken’s not the killer. Dial the suspense and expectations down appropriately. Marge and David drive back to town to get the cops while Ken stays behind in case the killer’s still there.


stays behind in case the killer’s still there.

Yup, I read that right. What follows is a pretty dull cat-and-mouse where the killer keeps trying to almost kill Ken, and then runs away. Meanwhile, David asks Marge about the mysterious deaths of everyone in her family (!!) and posits that someone may be trying to eliminate everyone close to her. There’s no reason to actually think this, but since it’s the truth, it has to be mentioned somewhere in the movie. They call the cops and Marge learns that Joey has escaped the institution. Now she’s worried that he’s the killer and trying to get revenge on someone for something.

Back at Ghost Town, Ken is finally captured and held onto this time. The masked figure buries him alive as Marge and David arrive to hear his screams. They eventually find him, but he’s died of terror. Then the figure knocks out David and kidnaps Marge. He carries her to a nearby cave and takes off his mask revealing…

Wesley Blake, the owner of the restaurant?

Cops arrive, revive David, and tell him the entire story about Joey coming to his senses and telling them everything. The way the sheriff tells David leaves Blake’s identity as the killer a secret until the very end, except we’ve already seen that reveal so it’s no surprise. The cops give David a gun and they all go to the cave. Blake is trying to force himself on Marge, telling her he’s been in love with her since she turned 16 (creeper), and then the cops come in and shoot him. David hugs Marge. THE END.

Sidenote: at the end, David doesn’t shoot the villain. He does, literally, nothing in the movie apart from serve as a voice of exposition. Our “hero.”

What starts as something simple and laughably cheesy stagnates pretty quickly. The movie seems invested in not letting you wonder what the ending could be. I mean, Joey shouts “Ken!” at the start to make us think Ken is the villain. Then, when Ken arrives at the restaurant, he tells a story of being run off the road similar to the couple that came in earlier. It feels like the movie is trying to paint him as someone putting people in states of heightened fear and then constructing alibis to escape accusation. Then we clearly see that he’s not the masked man and then spend God knows how long watching him not get killed.

Elements of the movie are interesting in the sense that they carry a low-budget charm. The cinematography is done well enough that you can almost miss how cheap the sets are. Seriously, this is what Plan 9 From Outer Space would look like if Ed Wood knew how to use a light kit. Plus you have teens played by elderly adults, which never fails to delight. In the end, though, the movie loses all its steam about 30 minutes in and never picks up again.

While it’s highly riffable, watching becomes more than a bit of a slog and you can kind of guess who the villain is just from being familiar with these kinds of movies. In that sense, the movie feels like a precursor to Scooby-Doo, but without the wit or invention. If you want something to make fun of with friends, Terrified works well enough, but be ready to fast-forward through parts. If you’re watching alone, give it a pass.

Friday, March 23, 2018

260. The Hostage

260. The Hostage (1967)
Director: Russell S. Doughten Jr.
Writers: Robert Laning from the novel by Henry Farrell
From: Cult Cinema

A little boy stows away in a moving van and witnesses the drivers disposing of a man they'd murdered the night before.

I’ll admit to being really nervous about watching this movie once I saw the description. It’s not that I feared any unsavory content; I was afraid that the movie would have a bad case of TGK: That Goddamn Kid—the insufferably precious and cringe-inducing child actor whose very voice, omnipresent throughout the film, would drive me up the wall. Once “Introducing Danny Martins as Davey” popped up on screen alongside the face that sold a thousand coat hangers, I grew even more apprehensive.

Fortunately the insufferable shit isn’t in much of the movie. Curiously, for being the titular hostage, there isn’t much hostage-taking or ransoming at all.

We start with a cold open on the two movers, Don Kelly and Harry Dean Stanton, killing a third man. Kelly is committing the murder while Stanton tries to stop him. We learn later in the movie that it was due to Kelly being in an alcoholic rage. Cut to credits and then Davey, miserable little shit, sitting at the window whining. He wants to go play in the park, but it’s too cold. His family is moving to a new house, but he doesn’t want to go so he’s being a brat about it. He trips his mom when she walks into the room with a box and, when sent to see his dad, kicks a box off the basement stairs. The narrative purpose of this moment is so we see Davey learn where his dad has packed the gun so he’ll have that info later, but the practical result is we’re hoping for a re-enactment of the Lindberg baby kidnapping so this family can once again be happy.

While Davey’s on his way to the basement, he runs into his neighbor Mrs. Mabry. He says he can’t hang out with her because his mom says she fibs and likes to talk about people. When Mabry pops into the apartment to offer to help at the last minute, the mother says all the work’s been done. Mabry goes back to her apartment and watches Davey hang around out front. The movers arrive as does a tramp living in the park played by John Carradine.

At this point, I’m going to go through each plot as opposed to running through the movie as a whole. The film’s curiously structured with most of the drama happening outside the main situation with the kid.

So Carradine says hi to the kid, watches him climb into the truck, and tries to tell him to get out. Then he walks downtown to visit a church to ask for help. After getting a little money, he goes to a bar. The father, who’s been looking for him, arrives, shouts his name, and Carradine runs into the street. He’s hit by a truck and taken to the hospital in critical condition.

The father was looking for him because, once the parents realize Davey is gone, Mabry tells them she saw Davey hanging out with a tramp in the park. She’s dining out on their misery and all the gossip potential here. She never says she saw Davey go into the truck or that he didn’t leave with Carradine. When the parents get a phone call saying Davey is with the movers, they hang Carradine’s hospitalization on Mabry and leave her miserable. Curiously, the movie tries to play her up to be as much, if not more, of a villain than Kelly who’s murdered a man and kidnapped their kid.

The phone call comes from a couple of farmers. Davey escapes the movers briefly, ends up at a farm, but is handed over to Kelly when Kelly claims to the be father. The farmwoman is unsure because of how violently Davey resists Kelly and tries to call the family. Her husband belittles her for always trying to get between fathers and their sons and we learn later that their son died when the father forced him out in the cold when he was sick. They see the boy’s picture in the paper, call the family, and tell them that the movers have him. Everyone assumes Kelly claimed to be the father just to simplify things.

Now, the movers and the kid, the things that are supposed to be the plot of the movie. Kelly and Stanton load up the truck and drive back to their place without knowing the kid is aboard. They take the body from their apartment, drive into the country to bury it, and this is the kid’s chance to escape. He knows they’re disposing of a body because the corpse was right in front of him. When the truck stops and the movers are dealing with the corpse, Davey gets out, walks over to where they are, and watches.

Kill the kid. Just fucking kill him.

He’s spotted, escapes them, gets spotted again down the road, escapes again, ends up at the farm. Now they tie him up in the back and Kelly locks Stanton in with him. Stanton tries to talk Davey down, convince him that they’re on the same side. They finally arrive at the new house and start unloading. Davey tells Stanton where the gun is and Stanton tells Davey to run when he gets the signal. Stanton and Kelly face off, Davey hears and…

walks to the house to watch instead of running.

Just kill the fucking kid!

Stanton gets killed, Davey is hunted through the house by Kelly, finds a successful hiding place that he then leaves to be caught by Kelly. They leave in the truck as cops arrive to find Stanton’s body. As the moving truck is approaching a police road block, Kelly stuffs Davey down onto the floor where Davey starts kicking at Kelly’s feet, causing him to lose control and crash. Davey’s removed from the truck, merely stunned, and Kelly’s dead. Family leaves together in an ambulance. THE END.

With all this description, you wouldn’t think the movie was under ninety minutes. Not only that, the movie manages to drag. The whole thing looked and felt inert. I kept waiting for the score to rise up as the movie faded to black because it felt so much like a TV movie. Even the music was all canned cues. There was just no energy to any of it.

Which is surprising because this wasn’t a half-assed production. The flick had some talent involved. Of course, Harry Dean Stanton is very good, but this is an early role for him so the producers likely didn’t realize what they had. Don Kelly was an established television actor, but this turned out to be his final role before dying. Then you have John Carradine who shows up in a lot of the movies on these sets, but was a qualified name when this movie came out. Plus, it was based on a book by the author of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It didn’t need to be this bad.

And it’s not bad like the movies in this series that are a real pain to watch. It just constantly, in its own weird way, doesn't work. One factor, that I mentioned earlier, is that so much drama is happening outside the situation with Davey. That structure could work in a novel, a picaresque of different people’s pain as witnessed by this child running from his own situation. Everyone’s blinded to his need because of their own. That’s not communicated well in a movie, though, especially when it’s being structured as a thriller/chase. I mean, we have a digression of the farmers mentioning how their son died and that the wife now hates her husband. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that in a Wim Wenders movie, but it felt so out of place here. My only reaction was, so are we watching this movie now?

I don’t recommend it. The movie at least avoids the pitfalls of having the kid on screen too much, and maybe recognizing that he was terrible forced them to reconsider a lot of the movie. In the end, though, it’s boring, and not in any interesting way. It’s a just a movie whose parts didn’t come together.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

259. Trip With the Teacher

259. Trip With the Teacher (1975)
Director: Earl Barton
Writer: Earl Barton
From: Cult Cinema

A group of young women on a road trip are held captive by a pair of sadistic bikers.

Tthe “teacher” (she’s not their teacher, more like a slightly older woman in the community that put together this “educational” summer trip) is taking four young women to interesting sites in the American Southwest. The bus they’ve rented passes a trio of bikers—two brothers and a hobbyest who looks like Micky from the Monkees that stopped fix their flat—who notice the girls and follow them to a gas station. After the bus leaves, the psycho brother, Al, kills the attendant for insulting him.

The bus breaks down, the bikers catch up, flirt with the girls, then tow the bus to an abandoned lot in the middle of nowhere. To make that sound less calculated, it was a farm the brothers had passed the year before where a guy had been working on a tractor and they thought they could find help. When they arrive, it’s no longer in use. The bus driver insults Al, Al kills him, and everyone realizes the situation has escalated. As Micky tells one of the girls, Al and his brother will either have to kill all of them or try to outrun the cops.

Can you guess what happens? Which blog are you reading? They sit in the abandoned shack and not a whole lot happens—both to the good and the bad. Micky noted that if one of them gets away, as far as the brothers are concerned, they may have all gotten away. They just need to wait for their moment.

In an order that I can’t remember, Al rapes the teacher, Micky escapes but is driven off the road by the brother, and one of the other girls escapes only to be caught and killed by Al. The next day, Micky returns and kills the brother. He faces off with Al, but the teacher runs Al through with a piece of pipe. After everyone gets cleaned up, Micky leaves on his bike promising to return with help to fix the bus. THE END.

Considering the kinds of movies on these sets, and that the film has sexual assault, it’s not as uncomfortable as what I initially thought it was going to be which was some ill-conceived sex comedy about a teacher hooking up with his students.

Hey, I didn’t say it was good, I said it wasn’t as bad as I feared it could be.

A lot of the movie is sitting around waiting and, it feels strange to say this, I wanted more violence. None of the women are tied up and there are periods where four of them are alone with Al when he’s unarmed and having some strange scenery-chewing episode. I kept thinking, just start beating him. It’s four-on-one; you’re going to fuck him up. Instead, they sit and wait. Enough happens to keep the movie from being excruciatingly dull, but not quite enough is going on to keep the tension running.

The sexual violence in the movie has to be mentioned as well. Again, it’s not as bad as it could be, but is bad enough. One of the girls tries to seduce Al to get him into the other room so that maybe the rest could overpower his brother. To make that less uncomfortable, she’s the girl who was flirting with him before everything went bad. Rather than go into the next room, though, Al tells her to strip in front of everyone. She does, but with her back to us. The audience doesn’t see her nudity, which is a good thing. Exploitation is always walking that thin line between titillation and horror, but you want to maintain that line. Nudity in the context of fun sexy times? Fantastic. Nudity in the context of someone’s suffering? No. So I was willing to give the movie credit for making that choice.

And then the scene of the teacher being sexually assaulted immediately follows and it’s the only nudity in the movie.

“Oh, hey! You got it… wrong. You got it completely wrong. You almost had it right, and then got it completely wrong.”

There’s another incident of forced sex later in the movie and, again, damning with faint praise, the way the film chooses to do it is not the terrible way I thought it was going to. Earlier in the movie, the girls get into a fight because it’s that kind of movie. They’re talking about sex and one reveals that she’s a virgin and calls another a “horny little bitch.” I was dreading a terrible Chekov’s Gun situation where, since this woman said she was a virgin, we were going to see her get sexually assaulted. And we don’t. It’s just a regularly uncomfortable scene of sexual assault.

So it’s not a recommend on a whole host of levels. If the sexual assault isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s also just not that interesting. To the film’s credit, it never tries to portray the assaults as anything but unpleasant, as things that the audience is supposed to be horrified by instead of enjoying on some level. However, there’s just a paucity of imagination here. In many respects, it’s a less-ambitious version of The Sadist starring Arch Hall, Jr. And, let me tell you, it’s a rare day where I can say something’s a poor version of an Arch Hall, Jr. vehicle. Trip With the Teacher, though, felt like it only had the keywords for a story, the genre checklist without any of the additional material to make it a complete movie. Even the title feels like a half-assed attempt to suggest the content instead of actually reflecting the content of the movie. Doesn’t Trip With the Teacher sound like it’d be a racy exploitation film? Then there’s no need to make one, the title does it all. Give it a pass, it’s not worth your time.