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Home Video Hovel: Dreamscape, by David Bax

16 Jun

1984’s Dreamscape, directed by Joseph Ruben, deserves to be better known. Not because it’s great (it drags with the introduction of a lame political intrigue plot in the second half) but simply because it’s a weird, fun movie that happens to have a jaw-dropping cast. Dennis Quaid and Kate Capshaw are the leads but they’re joined by Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert and the great David Patrick Kelly, along with minor turns by Peter Jason, Chris Mulkey and George freaking Wendt, who shows up for a clandestine meeting in the park at night wearing a bright, red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. How could you pass this one up?

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Home Video Hovel: Black Christmas, by David Bax

15 Jun

It’s pretty much impossible to pinpoint any singular origin of the slasher movie as a genre or subgenre. Its anatomy has been assembled from very nearly the beginning of cinema. It seems, though, that the formula as we now define it (or as Randy defined it more than twenty years ago in Scream) was crystallized by John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978. So there’s a delightful cognitive friction to watching Bob Clark’s Black Christmas now; so much of it seems to fit slasher expectations yet, without the firm blueprint, surprises still abound.

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Home Video Hovel: Voodoo Black Exorcist, by Alexander Miller

8 Jun

With a title like Voodoo Black Exorcist, you might get the impression that this 1974 film would be a knock-off of Friedkin’s movie that came out a year prior. In a surprising turn, this is an oddball horror hybrid pursuing more mythical hallmarks than riding on the coattails of The Exorcist.

I have a genuine, unironic love for Blaxploitation cinema, and the horror films that followed are more credible than their reputations would indicate (though Blackenstein and the Blacula series are more reliable than their reputations would indicate). Voodoo Black Exorcist is a misleading title as the film is more of a vampiric mummy variation and a blaxploitation film by name only; so in the spirit of exploitation cinema, this title is either a cut above or cut below in that it exploits the genre of its namesake.

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Home Video Hovel: Return of the Dragon, by Dayne Linford

31 May

There’s little left to be said regarding The Way of the Dragon (released in the U.S. as Return of the Dragon), the only film written and directed by Bruce Lee, as well as featuring him as its star. However, for me, as only a passing martial arts film fan, and a newcomer to Lee’s legacy, it was an engaging and excellent entrance into this nearly cultic world of film-fan obsession. When it’s this fun and this well constructed, who can blame a certain obsessiveness? I just finally got around to this one, and I’m ready to mainline the rest in one go.

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Home Video Hovel: Private Property, by David Bax

31 May

Even if you didn’t know it going in, there’d be no mistaking Leslie Stevens’ 1960 masterpiece Private Property for anything other than an independent film. There’s something about the way that it unfurls, lingering with its characters—criminals and twisted lonelyhearts—and soaking in its own sickly intoxicating atmosphere, that few if any conventional studio pictures would dare to approach. There’s also the fact that it’s just a flat out nasty piece of work that the mainstream wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

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Home Video Hovel: Dead Ringers, by David Bax

15 May

What with all the recent press around Ewan McGregor playing brothers on this season of Fargo, the whole idea of an actor in dual roles feels a bit like a gimmick at the moment. I wonder if it felt the same way back in 1988 when David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle came out. It probably did and the movie is not without its own cheekiness about the trick, at one point even pairing Irons up with actual twins (played by Jill Hennessey and her sister, both making their screen debuts). But there’s plenty more going on here beyond the hook. And even if there wasn’t, isn’t a Cronenberg gimmick worth checking out?

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Home Video Hovel: Never Too Young to Die, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi

1 May

Never Too Young to Die pits John Stamos and Vanity against Gene Simmons in a tale of action, lust, and revenge. This is both as bland and entertaining as you might suspect for a low-budget 1980s actioner. Actors playing the heroes take this nonsense without a drop of with, while actors playing the villains camp it up to the rafters. If you enjoy a bit of nonsense with your explosions, Never Too Young to Die fits the bill as a fun addition to your home video library; a droll audio commentary by playwright Russell Dyball seals the deal.

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Home Video Hovel: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Scott Nye

28 Apr

No, sorry, this isn’t the new prestige show with Elizabeth Moss and some fetching bonnets. Instead, let me take you back to 1990, when an acclaimed director, writer, composer, and cast made a very uninteresting movie. You see Volker Schlöndorff working from a screenplay by Harold Pinter, based on a major novel by Margaret Atwood, with an acclaimed cast (Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn) headed by one of the most viable young actresses on the scene (Natasha Richardson) and a score by one of the screen’s most interesting composers (Ryuichi Sakamoto) and you think…oh wait a minute, there’s probably a reason this doesn’t get talked about much anymore. There is indeed.

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Home Video Hovel: Firestarter, by Tyler Smith

13 Apr

How anybody can adapt a noted novel by Stephen King, people it with respected actors like George C. Scott, Louise Fletcher, and Martin Sheen, and then churn out a movie so uneventful, so inconsequential as 1984’s Firestarter is a bigger mystery than anything that occurs in the film itself. But, of course, the moment we see the name Dino De Laurentiis pop up in the opening credits, we really shouldn’t be so surprised by the mediocre schlock that follows. A producer with an obvious love for dumb spectacle, De Laurentiis’ involvement with Firestarter pretty much guaranteed that whatever deep material might have been found in King’s original novel would be cast aside in favor of a bunch of stuff bursting into flame, again and again.

And again and again.

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Home Video Hovel: The Executioner, by David Bax

24 Mar

Luis García Berlanga’s The Executioner is a dark comedy, all the darker for the fact that it doesn’t, on the surface, feel like one. It’s sunny and frothy, with a predilection for mild physical comedy. But make no mistake, this is a heady yet farcical look at what it means to take another human’s life.

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