Long time, no see. Yes, it’s true. I haven’t written one of these in a while. After the 31 Days of Spooky Stuff, I thought I could take it easy for a week or so. That week turned into several weeks and the situation wasn’t aided by a vacation I took, meeting up with my other friends/partners at Film Geek Central.
But I’m back now and it’s time I got back to work. So, what have I been exposing my eyeballs to lately?
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.
What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 87
FLAP (1970) – Flapping Eagle (Anthony Quinn) is a drunken Native American prone to making fiery speeches and getting involved in hair-brained schemes. He gets it in his head to lead a new revolution against the whites, which manifests itself mainly in small destruction and various con jobs.
FLAP was director Carol Reed’s follow-up to OLIVER and his penultimate film overall (1972’s THE PUBLIC EYE would be the last). If you’re expecting to see anything of the Reed from THE THIRD MAN, NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH, THE FALLEN IDOL, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY or even OLIVER!, you’d have to squint. And even then, it would be a mirage.
FLAP is a great idea for a film and even has some lofty ideals which is wears on its sleeve in the melodramatic third act. But the cast is made up of people doing “redface” and the lack of authenticity doesn’t stop there. It’s hard to take anyone’s plight seriously when the film is so intent on removing it from reality. Other segues, like a pointless bit part for Shelly Winters, seal the deal.
Other co-stars include Claude Atkins and future director Tony Bill. The music is by Marvin Hamlisch and the theme song is sung by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. Awful.
THE SLAMS (1973) – Curtis Hook (Jim Brown) is involved with a heist that lifts $1.5 million from the mob. Much to his chagrin, his partners also insist that he lift a suitcase full of heroin. Not that it matters for long. Knowing he’s about to be double-crossed, Hook guns down his partners and throws the drugs in the river. Wounded, he stashes the money and is captured. He is sent to a prison nicknamed “the Slams” where he looks at the power plays with mild amusement. On the prisoner level, mob enforcers and white power thugs tangle with militant African-Americans. The head prison guard fancies himself the real power behind the prison and seems to be the biggest threat. Every one of these groups leans on Hook to give up the money, but Hook has his own ideas of escape.
After directing two films for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures (NIGHT CALL NURSES and THE STUDENT TEACHERS), Jonathan Kaplan made his major studio debut with this film, produced by Roger’s brother Gene Corman. Right away, THE SLAMS shows its true colors as a taut and brutal action thriller with Jim Brown trying to save himself from all the people who wants a piece of him. As he tells his worried mother, “The only thing I ever did better than getting into trouble, is getting out of it.”
There are few cats in the world as cool as Jim Brown and THE SLAMS shows him at his best. The only thing better than seeing him outsmart or outfight the competition is the dialogue. Brown’s character knows what’s what and nobody shines him on. He supplies verbal beatdowns that show his intelligence, cunning and toughness. Where THE SLAMS suffers is in the final section of the film, if only because it turns into a game of stealth, with Brown unable to use many of the skills he’s been unleashing since the first scene. Recommended.
TRANCERS (a.k.a. FUTURE COP) (1985) – Jack Deth is a 23rd century cop in Angel City (Los Angeles sunk). He hunts down “trancers,” the zombie-like minions of cult leader Martin Whistler. Deth finds out that Whistler has gone back in time to destroy the descendants of the three members of the Council, which runs everything in Angel City. Deth goes back to 1985 in order to stop Whistler. But in order to do that, his consciousness must inhabit his own descendant, a playboy journalist. He convinces his descendant’s latest tryst (Helen Hunt) to help him in tracking down the Council’s descendants before it’s too late.
This mixture of TERMINATOR and BLADE RUNNER with just a little bit of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS might just be the best film Charles Band ever directed. Everything works in this one. The script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo (who would later write THE ROCKETEER and oversee the FLASH television series) is a real firecracker, moving from scene to scene with ease. The cast has the right balance of camp and charm. Richard Band’s synth-heavy score is perhaps his best. Who cares about the gaps in logic? This is a prime example of how invigorating exploitation cinema can be when everything is done right. It’s just a winner from beginning to end and a film I never tire of.
So, where’s that HD restoration, Charlie? The Best.
CELLAR DWELLER (1988) – Thirty years ago, Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs, in an extended cameo) was working on his EC-flavored horror comic when he discovered he was bringing life to the images he drew on the page. In an attempt to destroy his creations, he unwittingly burned himself up as well and stained his legacy with scandal and mystery. Years later, an artist (Debrah Farantino) ventures to the place Childress wrote, now an artist’s colony. She wants to revamp Childress’ comic, but soon finds out that her creations are coming to life as well.
Despite knowing that it didn’t have the best reputation among the films released by Empire Pictures in the mid-1980s, I had always wanted to CELLAR DWELLER. Indeed, there are a lot of things that hint at a better film. The set-up actually feels like some of the later Full Moon features. But the acting is sub par even by exploitation standards. Worse yet, director John Carl Beuchler, a real talent with makeup and animatronic effects, seems to have a budget that was much less than what he anticipated. This means that the monster of the piece is shown mainly in close up, chewing random body parts and he can’t show as much as he would have probably liked to. The set-pieces instead are largely shown through drawings, which might sound clever, but does nothing to create suspense or thrills. Disappointing.
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 360
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