Friday, March 18, 2016

047. Coach and 048. Horror Express

Jump to Horror Express (1972)

047. Coach (1978)
Director: Bud Townsend
Writer: Stephen Bruce Rose and Nancy Larson, from an idea by Mark Tenser
From: Cult Cinema

Olympic medalist Randy Rawlings is hired to coach the Granger High School basketball team, but everyone's shocked to find out she's a woman. Now she has to turn around the losingest team in the league while also proving all the naysayers wrong.

From the director of The Beach Girls (and thank Bob I never have to say that again), comes a hi-larious sports comedy—with a message about gender equality! Or pedophilia. I don't know, it wasn't particularly clear.

Another one of those, “this is a comedy, right?” movies that has no sense of comic timing or really any jokes at all. Five minutes into the film, I wasn't sure what tone they were going for. We open with a woman running in slow motion to the sound of heavy breathing. They're shot from the shoulders up so it doesn't seem like we're supposed to be leering at her (Listen, this is a Marimark Production. There was a better than half chance that we were going to cut to someone jerking it while watching her run). It quickly becomes clear that it's the lead runner breathing as she's finishing and winning an Olympic race.

After she gets her medal, we cut to her leading an aerobics class for middle aged and elderly women. Laughing yet? Cause that's a joke. That's what the movie thinks of as a joke. Adults doing aerobics. From there we cut to a high school locker room where a Poindexter coach is failing to motivate his team and then to the bleachers where a nerd spills a soda on the lap of a girl he likes. Comedy.

The core problem of the film is that it imagines its premise is inherently funny—a woman trying to teach a boy's basketball team. Only, the film places that sentiment squarely in the hands of the villains, so we're implicitly told not to think that and, excepting the initial encounter, the team doesn't seem to think that either. So if that's not the case, then the movie must be about her struggles turning around this demoralized team and proving what a great coach she is. To a degree that is what the film's about, but the team rallies around her pretty quick and already have the basic skills. Literally all they needed was a coach to make them operate as a team.

So if it's not a comedy about being a female coach and it's not a story about making the underdogs the champions, what's left for the movie to be about?

How about the love story between the coach and one of her players?

Yup. While The Beach Girls just toed the line at portraying pedophilia (the characters there are all off to or done with their first year of college), this is an adult having sex with a high school student. And the only way it becomes a problem is when the kid sees her kiss someone else and gets jealous, not the threat of anyone finding out that she's screwing a child.

As with all these Marimark Productions, there are hints of something better just below the surface. One of the players gets hypnotized to perform well on a test and then is hypnotized again to be a great basketball player. Wouldn't it be great if that were spun out into something larger, maybe one of a series of goofy set pieces in a sports comedy? Here's a thought: Animal House meets Hoosiers. Doesn't that sound like fun? I'd see that movie. Unfortunately, I saw this one instead.

It's a comedy with no jokes, a sports movie without any investment in the sport, and it doesn't even have a real ending. They win the game and credits roll. There isn't even any sort of epilogue or conclusion with the school owner (yeah, I'm not even going to try to unpack that part) giving her grudging respect. The movie just cuts to credits leaving us with a dull, dull 95 minutes.

Only because this movie is nominally about sports, I spent a lot of the run time thinking of Next Goal Wins which I highly recommend. It's the story of the American Samoan FIFA team and is an amazing, relentlessly compelling sports documentary—and I say that as someone who hates sports. If you want a movie where you're rooting for the characters every moment of the way, whether they win or lose, you will be hard-pressed to find anything better than Next Goal Wins. Don't waste any time trying to see Coach.

And I bet you thought I was going to mention Craig T. Nelson.


048. Horror Express (1972)
Director: Eugenio Martín
Writers: Arnaud d'Usseau, Julian Zimet
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

An anthropologist discovers what he believes to be the missing link in China. While trying to transport the frozen remains back to England, the beast awakens and proves to be an evil far older than he could have imagined.

This is a public domain classic, probably up there with Night of the Living Dead or Carnival of Souls in terms of play on midnight movie shows. If only it were at their level of quality. It's a real shame, too, because the movie has Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Telly Savalas. These are actors who know B-horror inside and out, but there's just nothing to work with here.

Lee is the anthropologist who believes he's found the missing link in China. He's trying to transport the frozen remains back to England via Russia, but is getting stymied by corrupt officials. Cushing arrives as a rival anthropologist who's much more cavalier about the rules and gets by in the bribe-based space just fine. Lee flexes his authority and they both end up getting tickets for the train.

Meanwhile, a thief tries to break into the crate holding the frozen man and is struck dead, his eyes gone completely white. A Rasputin-esque priest says the contents of the crate are evil and proves it by showing how he can't draw a cross on the box. Lee chases him away and they load the train.

Nice seed, and it plays out about how you'd expect for the first third of the movie. The monster escapes, claims some victims, and there's general fear and confusion as to what this prehistoric beast is and how it can not only be alive, but successfully navigating a moving train without being seen.

I don't know if the writers got tired of the monster-on-a-train story or if they couldn't think of a way to stretch it out for 90 minutes because the plot shifts pretty abruptly. The monster is found and shot, but not before it transfers its consciousness into the mind of a police inspector on the train. Now he's evil and sucking people's minds through their eyes trying to cobble together enough knowledge to build himself a space craft to return to whatever extraterrestrial realm he fell from.

Yeah. I'm totally down for that plot, too. I mean, yeah, that could have been the whole movie, but I'm fine with just 60 minutes of that.

Unfortunately, with about half-an-hour left, Telly Savalas enters as an alcoholic authoritarian Russian Captain who starts throwing his weight around. The monster attacks him and his soldiers, manages to kill all of them, possesses the priest from earlier and comes to an end. It has taken me, literally, years to finally make sense of the ending in an, “Oh, that's what happened” way because I could never pay close enough attention to the final moments to care.

Like I said, I've seen this movie a bunch and every time get excited and disappointed by it in the same ways. An early 70's horror flick with Lee and Cushing? Even if it's not officially Hammer, it smells like Hammer. And then there's Telly Savalas on top of it! Kojak (who is not Kolchak which I admittedly had confused in my head, but still)! Personality and class and camp and a caveman in a box! This should be fantastic and it's really dull and disappointing.

The movie never decides what its actual plot is and I keep misremembering it as three different movies each time I see it. Telly Savalas isn't really part of it and the second plot—this alien consciousness working as a mind vampire—feels like it could have been the whole movie, becoming a paranoid horror pic like The Thing. You never know who the monster is, only who they were and it's never clear who can be trusted. Instead, it's this competently acted piece of sloppiness. If you're running a Call of Cthulhu game, this certainly suggests some adventures that would make for really solid sessions. Otherwise, I'd give it a pass.

This is public domain and there are several versions on the Internet Archive. I've linked to the MPEG2 version.

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