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August 31, 2010

The Midnight Warriors' List of THE MOST ESSENTIAL CULT FILMS OF THE 1970s!

Twenty-five fine souls - OK, twenty-four and me - took time over the past two weeks to formulate a personal list of what they think are the Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s.  I've compiled all of those lists and/or links to those lists in those few posts.  Now, the time has come for all of those lists to merge, creating one huge list of the 76 (Seventy-Six!) different "Cult" Films of the the 1970s that were listed by these fine folks.

Here's how it works:
Each list was given an equal total value going into the final list.  Ranked lists of five were scored with the #1 spot earning 5 points, the #2 spot earning 4 points, and so on - totaling 15 points.  On lists that were not ranked, each listed film received 3 points, which meant that the list in total was worth 15 points.  One list offered 10 choices, thus each film on this list received 1.5 points - again totaling 15 points.

I offer no tie-breakers, nor did I edit any lists.  Some people chose to list films that may not be "cult" films in the eyes of others, some people chose to list films from the '60s or '80s.  Because I believe all lists should count the same, I am perfectly fine with these inclusions, which have a minuscule effect on the final product.  The only thing I ask of anyone reading this list is that they do not, for any reason, attack those who have submitted their votes for these films.  This was their right from the beginning of the project; if you have a problem with that I'll be glad to take their share of blame for whatever wrongs you feel have occurred.

The Participants (In no particular order) are:
Petunia Scarem of Deadly Serious; Morgan of The Kid In The Hall; Jinx of Totally Jinxed; Joe Monster of From Beyond Depraved; Stonerphonic of Borderline; Brandon Sites of Big Daddy Horror Reviews; B-Sol of The Vault of Horror; BJ-C of Day of the Woman; Fred The Wolf of Full Moon Reviews; Dave S of Bloody Terror; Liam of Less Than Three Film; Carol of Craftypants Carol's Fancy Crafty World; Bill of Radiation-Scarred Reviews; Emily C. of The Quest to Watch Every Movie Ever; Detector of The Real Stuff Cats Like; Joe of Oduction Productions' Midnight Time Warp; Christine Hadden of Fascination With Fear; Schtoffer of Spasmo Mixtape; Zombie Mom of Poetic Zombie; LJ of A Racing Mind; Nicki Nix of Hey! Look Behind You!; T.L. Bugg of The Lightning Bug's Lair; Jenny Spencer of Italian Film Review; R.D. Penning of Dead End Drive-In; and me, The Mike.

And now...the List...Counting down from Number(s) 66 through the undisputed Number 1!

The Midnight Warriors' Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s!

 (Note from The Mike: This first part gets a little muddled, but I wanted to recognize each film that was voted for.  If you want to get to the films that received at least three votes, you can skip ahead to the poster from The Wicker Man.)

66) 11 films tied for the #66 position on the list - Assault on Precinct 13, Bless the Beasts & Children, The Car, Corvette Summer, Decoy for Terror, Electra Glide in Blue, The Getaway, The Poseidon Adventure, Roller Boogie, Trog, The Wanderers.  Each of these films received 1 point.

63) In a three way tie for the #63 spot are - A Clockwork Orange, Deep Throat, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Each of these films received 1.5 points.

53) Ten films scored 2 points, tying for #53 on the list.  They are: Dark Star, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Mad Max, The Manitou, Slap Shot, Straw Dogs, The Streetfighter, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Vanishing Point, and Westworld.

52) One film held its own in the #52 spot.  Faces of Death earned 2.5 points.

36) A whopping 16 films tied for the #36 spot on the list, including: Car Wash, Coffy, Daughters of Darkness, Deep Red, The Devil's Rain, The Fog, Halloween, Land of the Minotaur, Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural, The Other Cinderella, Silent Running, The Stepford Wives, Supervixens, Taxi Driver, Tourist Trap, and Willard.  Each of these films earned 3 points.

35) Enter the Dragon, starring the late Bruce Lee, kicked its way into the #35 spot, with 3.5 points.

28) At the #28 spot, seven films earned 4 points.  They are: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Last House on the Left, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Martin, Over the Edge, Phantasm, and Ruby.  (Note from The Mike:  I gotta admit, I'm a little surprised to see LHOTL and Phantasm way down here!)

18) There's a ten film logjam at the #18 spot.  At this point, we're up to the films that may have only received one First Place vote, or may have appeared on multiple lists.  These films are: The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Bloodrage, Caged Heat, Duel, Logan's Run, Massacre at Central High, Midnight Cowboy, Rock 'n Roll High School, Stone, and Zombie.
17) The #17 spot is where we start to see films separate from the pack.  The holder of this spot is The Wicker Man, which used a late push to earn 5.5 points, appearing on three different lists.
16) Also making a late push - and benefiting greatly from being my own #1 pick - was Death Race 2000.  It earned 6.5 points to hold the #16 spot.
13) We've got a three way tie at the #13 spot, as three very different films - Jaws, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Pink Flamingos - each earned 7 points.  I challenge you to find that trio anywhere else!
12) At #12, earning 8 points, is the X-Rated, animated, double-nominated, Fritz the Cat.  I gotta say, I was a little surprised to see this one so high on the list, but it earned high votes from those who loved it.
11) While Halloween may have earned the mainstream love, Bob Clark's Black Christmas becomes the second film on this list (the first was The Wicker Man) to be listed by three different voters.  It earned 9 points, cementing itself in the #11 slot.
10) I will admit that, aside from hearing of the weirdness of Jodorowsky's films, I know nothing about El Topo.  That didn't matter to The Midnight Warriors, who placed it on three different lists and awarded it 9.5 points, good enough for the #10 spot on our list!
9) As we roll into the Top 10, we get the cult classic romance, Harold and Maude!  This one also appeared on three different lists, and earned 10 points to reach the #9 spot.  (It's also the second film in the Top 10 I haven't seen. :(  I won't make that mistake again!)
8) You want rape and revenge?  The Midnight Warriors suggest I Spit on Your Grave/Day of the Woman!  Camille Keaton's tour-de-force performance and a bit of brutality earned this one 10.5 points, and the #8 spot on the list. It's also the first film to appear on four separate lists!
7) The '70s were a big decade for rock and roll musicals - more on that later - and Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise is no exception.  The tale of Swan and Death Records' own Phantom earned 11.5 points - appearing on four different lists - to earn the #7 spot!
5) OK, we've got a tie for the #5 spot, between two films that each earned 16 points.  George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (4 lists, two #1 ranks) and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (5 lists) will have to battle for the #5 spot for the rest of time!  (Note from The Mike: After this, there's no more ties!) 
4) Coming in with 17 points and appearing on 6 lists (yet never making a #1 ranking!) is Dario Argento's Suspiria.  I expected this one to crack the Top 3, but it was not meant to be; #4 is still an OK place to be.
3) This one's a big surprise to me.  David Lynch's Eraserhead - backed by 5 different voters and earning one #1 ranking - pulls the #3 spot from Argento with 18 points!  I actually just watched this one for the first time...and was mostly just confused by it.  But, the voters never lie!
2) Coming into this project, I was about 90% certain the top two would be these two films.  I thought the voting would be a little closer - and it was for a while.  In the end, The Warriors - Walter Hill's gangland epic - earned 22 points, appearing on 6 lists but only earning one #1 ranking.  That was good enough to give it a strong edge on the #2 ranking.
1) We all saw this coming, and I find it hard to debate the final result - The Rocky Horror Picture Show can rightfully be called "The Citizen Kane of Cult Movies".  Four voters had it in their #1 spot (the only othr film to earn multiple top rankings was Dawn of the Dead), and three of the seven who listed it didn't rank their lists!  It pulled in a whopping 29 points, and can officially claim its title as THE Most Essential Cult Film of the 1970s, as chosen by The Midnight Warriors!

One last time: THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who took the time to participate in this project!  It means the world to me that so many people out there have a passion for these movies like I do, and bringing everyone together in one place gives me warm fuzzies!

Hope you all enjoy - and that you all thank the contributors, too!  In the meantime, I'm gonna take a couple of days off - this project has been a lot of awesome work - and I'll be back Friday with another Midnight Movie of the Week!

Until, next time, Midnight Warriors!  You complete me.

August 30, 2010

Next to Last '70s Cult Project Update! More Lists From You, The Readers! Double Exclamation Point!!

I'm not gonna sugarcoat it - I've been completely blindsided by the amount of interest in FMWL's '70s Cult Project over the past week.  Last week I brought you seven lists sent in by readers/bloggers.  Tonight, I offer a whopping SEVENTEEN more lists of what people deem The Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s!  Including my own list, that's a gigantic 25 total lists that are going into the pool to determine The Most Essential Cult Films of the '1970s!

And, since there are so many freaking lists to get through, let's get straight at it!  (By the way, I apologize for not posting a poster for each list...I didn't want this to be the longest blog post of all-time!)
First up is the marvelous Ms. Horror Blogopshere herself, BJ-C from over at Day of the WomanShe's put together a fine list, topped by The Rocky Horror Picture Show!

Also joining in is one of the coolest bloggers I had some how missed reading for far too long, Fred the Wolf over at Full Moon ReviewsFred's list also favored The Rocky Horror Picture Show!

Next up is the groovy Dave S from the cool Bloody Terror blog!  He provides a wickedly unique list, led by David Lynch's mind-game Eraserhead!
Liam of Less Than Three Film - a fine blogger, by all accounts - is the next to chime in.  He provides a detailed listing that includes a couple of films I hardly knew of, and tops it all off with Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat! 

The '70s Cult Project didn't just reach horror bloggers, as Carol from Craftypants Carol's Fancy Crafty World bravely answered this call to action!  Her list offers some fascinating choices, and is topped off by 1979's Bloodrage!

Though he usually sticks to in-depth & mind-rocking reviews, Bill from over at Radiation-Scarred Reviews graciously joined in, and offered a list that was topped by Vincent Price's fabulous The Abominable Dr. Phibes!
Emily C. from The Quest To Watch Every Movie Ever has long been a great friend of FMWL, and her list doesn't disappoint!  She tops it off with Bob Clark's first Christmas film - Black Christmas!

The last list I received (but not the last list I'll be mentioning), came from Detector over at The Real Stuff Cats Like!  It's another cool and unique list, and it's topped off by Midnight Cowboy!

There were also several bloggers who chose to participate, yet chose not to rank their Top 5 films.  They are:

Joe from Oduction Productions Midnight Time Warp, whose list, like himself, always represents the MIDWEST!
The fabulous and wise Christine Hadden of Fascination With Fear (I totally almost f'd up and typed Rear...awkward).  I highly recommend her list, partially because it comes with cool horror themed music.

A new acquaintance to FMWL is Schtoffer from Spasmo Mixtape!  He put a lot of thought into his list, which expands to look at the entire decade of cult cinema!

Another new blog that I quickly loved is Poetic Zombie, hosted by Zombie Mom.  She offers a cool list of five films - one of which contains SHATNER!!!!!!
Another new Midnight Warrior is LJ from A Racing Mind.  She zooms her way to this list, which offers five totally wonderful choices!

Last but not least in this category is Nicki from Hey! Look Behind You!  Nicki has created a wicked Top 10 listing of essential cult flicks of the '70s.  While I know I asked everyone for five, Nicki was the first person I really met in the horror blogosphere, so I'm gonna break my own rules and count all 10 of these, because she's awesome!

(If anyone who was listed in this category wants to rank their Top 5 for the final listing, feel free to do so and let me know!  If not, I'll count each vote as one point, so the films will still be recognized as I compile the final list!  Either way works for me, thanks for participating!)

THAT'S NOT ALL!  Along with those lists at other blogs, a few fine folks emailed me lists of their Top 5 Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s!  Those fine folks are:

T.L. Bugg from The Lightning Bugg's Lair, who offers the following Top 5:
1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show - Love it, hate it, it's the epitome of cult.
2. Fritz the Cat - It doesn't get better for X rated toons, R. Crumb, and Ralph Bakshi.
3. Coffy - It's Pam Grier. It's Jack Hill. It's near perfect.
4. Thriller: A Cruel Picture - All the sleaze, action, eyepatches, and inappropriate porn moments you could want.
5. Phantasm - The original baller. 
Jenny Spencer, who is a new friend of FMWL, and who writes for Italian Film Review, offered up this Top 5:
1) Dawn of the Dead
2) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
3) Suspiria
4) Mad Max
5) The Last House on the Left

And last, but never least, is the man who - aside from myself and my Masha - has to be considered FMWL's biggest fan, R.D. Penning from Dead End Drive-In!  Mr. Penning offers up this fine list:

#5 Decoy for Terror (aka Portrait of Fear or Playgirl Killer) 
#4 Duel
#3 Willard
#2 I Spit On Your Grave
#1 Dawn of the Dead

That, my friends, is a lot of Cult Movies from the 1970s.  In fact, I've still got some work to do in regard to finalizing the votes.  As of now, I know that at least 75 different movies have been listed on these 25 lists!

So, tomorrow night....The FINAL list of The Most Essential Cult Films of the chosen by YOU, The Midnight Warriors....will arrive!  Until then, enjoy the heck out of these fantastic blogs, and start jotting down all the titles you need to add to your Netflix queue!  

I keep repeating it, but THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who has taken time to participate in this project.  I never dreamed of this many people getting involved, and each of you has helped make a simple idea into a great reality!  

See you all tomorrow night, Midnight Warriors!

August 29, 2010

The Mike's Top Five Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s!

By my accounts, which may be muddled, I've watched at least 14 "cult" films from the 1970s since starting FMWL's '70s Cult Project two weeks ago.  At that time, I had a list of five films that I would list here set up in my mind.  Well, maybe it was a list of about 10-12 films, but there were definitely a few I was certain would be on this list.  Now, Some of those movies are now not on this list.  So, I'm gonna pull my host card out, and give you all a quick look at a few honorable mentions (in alphabetical order, as i do not want to make them mad at each other):

Assault On Precinct 13 - John Carpenter's sophomore film has long been one of my favorite action films of all-time, and few antiheroes compare to Napoleon Wilson in my eyes.
Enter the Dragon - It was extremely hard to leave Bruce Lee of my list.  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
Shaft - This one almost got in on reputation.  Haven't seen it in several years, sadly.  Need widescreen DVD, stat!
Soylent Green - Everyone knows the ending, but it's one of my favorite "future's gone down the drain" films.  The suicide clinic scenes are some of the most beautiful things on film.
Suspiria - This, along with the next film I'm going to mention, was the hardest film to leave off of my list.  Argento's masterpiece has a rabid following, and doesn't seem to have aged much.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - This is probably the film that most deserves to make my Top Five based on its reputation, and that rep is well deserved.
Zombie - Fulci's film is perhaps my favorite exhibition of gore, and has a lot of followers, thanks in part to the infamous zombie vs. shark scene.

I had a lot of trouble leaving these films behind, but the five films I'm about to list left me no doubt.  With no further dilly-dallying, these are the five most essential cult films of the 1970s according to your host, The Mike.
5. The Wicker Man (1972, Dir. by Robin Hardy)

Despite its fine cast and fantastic gutpunch ending, The Wicker Man is a film that was doomed to never succeed with mainstream audiences (Just ask Neil LaBute.  Or don't, since I doubt he ever saw this movie).  But The Wicker Man has held a place in the hearts of many a film fan for nearly 40 years, thanks to the fine work of Hardy, writer Anthony Shaffer, and the strong performances of Edward Woodward and Chrisopher Lee, among others.  It also boasts plenty of significant imagery, including the titular Man, Britt Ekland's bum, and Christopher Lee's crazy hair.

What really gets The Wicker Man a place in my heart is its unflinching look at religion and the occasional closed-mindedness that comes with.  Woodward's Sergeant Howie is one of the most fascinating characters of the decade to me, because one could argue him as a protagonist or antagonist based on his beliefs.  That's another story for another day, for now I'm just gonna say that The Wicker Man is an essential view for any fan of cult cinema.

4. Vanishing Point (1971, Dir. by Richard C. Sarafian.)

When I devised this project, I had Vanishing Point on my mind.  That's pretty common for me, and I was set to name it as my pick for #1 on my list.  Though I ended up bumping it down a bit, I certainly believe that Vanishing Point is the finest existential car chase movie out there, presenting a simple hero who just wants to get across the southwest in a 1970 Dodge Challenger. That hero, Kowalski (played by Barry Newman), seems to be an enlightened soul whose only goal is to drive.  To drive freely and without interference, I might add.

Vanishing Point plays off of the social climate of the early decade, presenting Kowalski as a representation of the quest to be free from repression that spilled out of the late '60s.  It also features some of the best car chase scenes put on film (the whole film is basically one long car chase), a groovy soundtrack, and one of the most famous cars ever put on screen.  Many expect a film like this to bring thrills, but Vanishing Point has always hit me as a peaceful and serene example of what many filmmakers from this era believed about the world we live in.

3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, Dir. by Jim Sharman.)

There was no way I could make this list and not mention The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which a majority would argue is the biggest cult movie of all-time.  It's a polarizing film in many circles - most lists I've seen it on have it listed as number one or have not listed at all - but its cultural significance can't be doubted.

Personally, I've never been a card carrying member of the Rocky Horror cult, but my admiration for the film and its unrelenting madness has grown each time I've seen it. (However, I do still wish there was more Meat Loaf.)  Tim Curry's gender-bending lead performance is one of the bravest in cult cinema, and the supporting players each seem to lap up their juicy roles.  The music needs no defense, it's simply fantastic.  With the combination of its own merits and the fans who love it, I didn't dare think of leaving The Rocky Horror Picture Show off of this list.

2. The Warriors (1979, Dir. by Walter Hill.)

If anyone is ever having a debate that hopes to find the "coolest" movie of all-time, I'd have a hard time not mentioning The Warriors.  Walter Hill's gangs-facing-a-gauntlet epic is one of the most unique films I've ever seen, creating a real world scenario that involves leagues of surreal characters battling for survival.

A film that seems like a precursor to the video games of the future, in which a hero (or group of heroes) faces a series of increasingly difficult battles to reach a safe objective, The Warriors is always exciting and full of intrigue.  Like Vanishing Point, it's almost existential as it focuses on its characters facing all challenges only to reach their freedom (and, like Vanishing Point, features a seemingly omniscient disc jockey who guides our hero/heroes).  Though these characters may be villains in society's eyes, they most certainly are simply trying to survive the only way they can - which is a common theme for all of these films, actually.

1. Death Race 2000 (1975, Dir. by Paul Bartel.)

When it came down to it, with the game on the line, I had to pick the cult movie that I personally find to be the most fun to watch as my number one pick on this list.  That film, without question, is the Roger Corman produced killers with cars film, Death Race 2000.  Led by David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, who are supported by cult favorites like Mary Woronov, "The Real" Don Steele, and Roberta Collins; Death Race 2000 is the perfect combination of action, gore, babes, laughs, and cheese.

And yet, inside Death Race 2000 there's a shocking bit of truth about our society and the future, in which "reality" overtakes our TV sets - and also our minds.  Though we don't live in a society where events like these actually do occur, it's easy to look at today's society and wonder if we're almost to the point where something like Death Race 2000 could play out 25 years from now.  And when I put all those pieces together, I can't think of a better, more relevant, and more fun cult movie from the '70s that's out there.

So, there it is.  FMWL's '70s Cult Project is coming to a close, which means my list and all of the lists submitted by you readers will soon be tallied up to create one final list of the Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s as chosen by us all.  If you still want to join in, get a list posted or emailed to me by 8 PM Central tomorrow (Monday, 8/30)!  In the meantime, thanks for reading, and I can't wait to see what all you Midnight Warriors have in store for us tomorrow night!

The Last Exorcism

2010, Dir. by Daniel Stamm.

I feel like I should write a sermon, not a review, about The Last Exorcism.  The latest entry in the "homemade horror" subgenre that has polarized viewers for more than a decade, it's a film that seems completely devoted to itself; a film that believes in what it's putting on screen.  I'm not necessarily saying the film has a religious message, or that it has a message that speaks to the contrary.  I'm saying that the film feels like it has been put together by people who have complete faith in the project they are involved with.

I feel obliged to tell all of you that, if we're putting it all on the line, I fully believe there is a God out there.  This is partially because I was raised that way, and partially because I can't fathom a world in which there isn't some kind of driving force behind the things that go on in our lives without becoming a bit depressed.  With that in mind, it was incredibly easy for me to relate with the character who is our protagonist through this film, Reverend Cotton Marcus.  Played by veteran character actor Patrick Fabian (who I immediately knew as that creepy professor from the third season of Veronica Mars), Cotton Marcus is presented to the viewer as a showman who is more interested in entertaining his congregation than he is in spreading the beliefs of his church.  Some, including the documentary crew who follow him throughout the film, would label him a fraud, but that's not his word or mine.  Reverend Marcus believes in the healing power of the idea behind religion, he simply doesn't have a connection with it as a tangible and visible force.  In a way he reminds me of Fright Night's Peter Vincent, one of my favorite horror characters, because Marcus is a character who possesses all the knowledge and charm necessary to complete his mission - he simply doesn't have the real-world experience.  We can safely assume, based on the title of the film and its marketing, that this is going to change during these 87 minutes of footage.  Reverend Marcus does not share that belief.

The parallel to Cotton Marcus is young Nell Sweetzer (played by Ashley Bell), the girl who may be possessed by a demon or devil.  Early in the film we learn that Cotton was 10 years old when he performed his first exorcism, and it's quickly established that he never really had any choice as to where his life was headed in a spiritual sense.  The same can be said for Nell, who lost her mother at 14 and was quickly thrown into home schooling by her father.  These two individuals, whose paths were determined by those who controlled their youth, face off as conduits on opposing sides of the biblical war between good and evil.  There are doubts on both sides of their chess match - on one side we don't know if Cotton really believes any of what he says, on the other we don't know if Nell has mental or demonic deficiencies - but the weight of the situation seems to land squarely on Cotton's ability to determine the truth of the predicament.

Even though I instantly recognized him from Veronica Mars (one of the best shows ever, man), Fabian immediately became that Reverend in my eyes.  His lead performance seems almost effortless, as if he were born to fill the role.  The rest of the cast is also spot on, with Bell owning the role of Nell.  She steals some scenes with her innocence, which is offset when she later presents an intimidating physical presence that rivals any possessed girl on screen.  Louis Hurthum and Caleb Landry Jones, as Nell's father and brother, also hold their own in director Daniel Stamm's film, which preaches simplicity while keeping its goals lofty as it barrels toward a shocking finale.  Some may call the ending abrupt, but in retrospect it feels like every event of the film was leading directly to this event, and I felt it answered every necessary question.

The Last Exorcism won't set all audiences on fire, but that's to be expected.  Like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and other docu-horrors before it, my screening ended with a frustrated tween loudly proclaiming that it was "the worst movie ever".  You can almost set your watch by the backlash these films get from audiences who have no idea what they're getting into when they go to the theater.  Most of the time, these are the viewers who simply cannot let go of their skeptical attitudes, and who don't want to get caught up in a movie by giving up their control over the situation.

As one who believes, both spiritually and cinematically, I found it very easy to lose myself in The Last Exorcism.  I can't attribute this to anything less than the complete devotion to the project by the people who made the film.  Like Cotton Marcus to his flock, these actors and filmmakers are willing to put aside everything else and become what the open-minded viewer wants to see.  The result, in simplest terms, is a horror film that convinced me to believe in it.

If nothing else, I'll never think of the Christmas Carol "What Child Is This?" the same way I used to.

August 28, 2010

Final Girl Film Club! Chuck Norris is Hellbound!

So it's totally time for another installment of the Final Girl Film Club over at that wonderful Final Girl place on the internet.  I missed the last go round, and when I saw that the next option was the soft-R-rated quasi-episode of Walker: Texas Ranger that pits Chuck Norris vs. Satan; I was kinda afraid I was being punished.  Alas, I rode forth, undeterred, crashing headlong into the following review.

1994, Dir. by Aaron Norris.

As you can tell by the poster to the left, Chicago cop Frank Shatter is a tough-as-nails fellow who's a lot like Chuck Norris.  He's also got a dreadlocked partner named Jackson who loves to make jokes about playing "good cop, bad cop" (which basically makes him that one friend that every one of us has who picks one joke that they think is hilarious and rides it for the rest of eternity).  Speaking of eternity, an evil force - Prosatanus, who is kinda a spawn of Satan and kinda Satan himself (Yeah, like anyone'd ever believe that argument) - who's survived some random events of 1168 and 1951 and randomly shows up in present day Chicago.  I think this is only because he wants to disrupt Jackson's ability to see the Bulls' playoff games. 

Anyway, the evil dude (who's extraordinarily creepy looking and portrayed by Christopher Neame) partakes in a bit of ripping out hearts and throwing them at Chuck Norris..errr, Detective Shatter.  Then, he disappears, and the cops head to Israel to track him down, with the help of that big haired blonde lady from Walker: Texas Ranger.

For a tough-nosed cop versus demonic-apocalypse-bringer film, Hellbound struggles to succeed at any of the things you'd expect to see.  In fact, there aren't even enough roundhouse kicks for my tastes, and the film stars FREAKING CHUCK NORRIS.  It seems that the Norris clan, with little brother Aaron in the director's chair, didn't quite want to sell out and make a dark satanic film, as this plays like a cross between that Walker show and what I'd imagine an Asylum produced version of The Mummy would have looked like.  In the action star vs. devil subgenre, Hellbound makes End of Days look like a masterpiece.  (Although, you don't have to sell me on End of Days, I kinda have a guilty love for it.  There, I said it.)

That's not to say there's not fun to be had at the expense of Hellbound.  Norris' beard is as fantastic as ever, and when the roundhouse kicks do hit, they hit hard.  Jackson, the sidekick played by Calvin Levels of Adventures in Babysitting fame, is truly a horribly written character (with Whoopi Goldberg's hair, to boot) that provides some laughable dialogue.  I already mentioned his "good cop bad jokes", but there are also plenty of awful "stereotypical yelling and being sarcastic" moments where the timid sidekick gets to say things like "Why don't you just cut my nuts off with a dull-ass butter knife?"  Oh, there's also the obligatory "it's a dark castle, so let's make a Dracula reference" moment, too.

Hellbound succeeds most - in a bad way - when making Norris and friends question the ludicrous plot.  When they finally meet a priest, the tough detective gets to deadpan a question about "this Prostanus, or whatever you want to call him", and when he's told that the return of said Prosatanus could bring about judgment day, Norris then chimes in "Judgment Day?", which allows the priest to ramble more about Armageddon and "hell on earth" - which then allows Jackson to make another snide comment.  The fact that this police sergeant has to put on a puzzled face and question what Judgment Day might mean plays right into one of my favorite things about B movies - "smart", heroic characters expressing no knowledge of concepts that most humans learn about at age three. 

The problem is, when the person making those silly remarks is Chuck Norris - who spends less than five of the film's ninety minutes roundhouse kicking demons or demonic heralds - it adds up to missed potential in my mind.  Such a shame.

(But don't take my word for it!  Head on over to Final Girl on Monday the 30th, and check out some other takes on the film from some of the best bloggers/writers in the history of ever!)

August 26, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #34 - Raw Meat

If you plan on reading the rest of this review - in which I will talk about what's most definitely my favorite underground cannibals in the London underground movie of the 1970s - I strongly recommend scrolling down to the bottom of this post and clicking play to hear what's most definitely one of the most funktastic horror themes of all-time.  Believe me, it'll set the mood.  Then come back up here, of course.

Now that we've established that, and now that you've been soothed by some pulsating tones and a tangy cymbal, let's talk about Raw Meat, aka Death Line.  The directorial debut of Gary Sherman - who went on to direct two other midnight movie faves of mine (Dead and Buried & Vice Squad) - tells the tale of an American student and his girlfriend who insist upon being inside London's tube stations late at night.  They forget to mind the gap, however, and this gap happens to be inhabited by those underground cannibals I mentioned above.
Also involved in the plot is an eccentric tea-loving Inspector, played by Donald Pleasence, assisted by a detective sergeant played by Norman Rossington.  While I love Pleasence in almost everything, I feel very comfortable saying that this is the most fun I've ever seen him having on screen.  It's a goofy persona - offset by a cameo by the great Christopher Lee as a mustached rival MI5 agent - that allows Pleasence plenty of opportunities to ham it up.  There's a lot of comedy involving his character, and it adds a lot of charm to the film.

The meat of the film - pun intended - comes in the methodical and sweeping scenes where we follow the hungry residents of the underground caverns; modern day cave dwellers who have to trap their food to stay alive.  These segments are filled with silence, as the camera slowly tracks the scenery and uncovers the grisly scenes of their crimes.  The images captured are bloody and graphic, setting a dark tone for the film.  (Click here for a prime example that I think is a little too graphic to throw up on this PG-13 site).
The rest of the movie follows that American student and his girlfriend, who are relatively oblivious to the possibilities below them.  They're entitled people in an entitled land - the type of people who don't want to see The French Connection because it's "too violent" - who have no idea that there's anything unsettling living below them.  The duo - played by David Ladd and Sharon Gurney - aren't the most interesting characters (though Gurney's huge hair is fantastic) but their part of the story is essential to set up the doubt in Pleasence's inspector's mind.

As the film slowly moves to its final act (if there is a complaint that can be made against Raw Meat, it's the film's pacing) the paths of the Inspector, the teens, and the cannibals - of course - cross paths.  The finale, like the earlier scenes in the underground, builds quietly and slowly to a likeable final moment. 
Raw Meat is an odd duck in the '70s horror scene.  It's not Hammer, it's not Amicus, and it's not Hollywood or grindhouse.  But there's a charm in it that catches my eye, which starts with that groovy theme and spreads through Pleasence and Lee's performances and the underground darkness.  I can't entirely defend the film as a horror masterpiece, but I always find some kind of connection with its unique chills and laughs.  As far as '70s Cult movies go, this one's my funky brethren.

And, just in case you need it after that awesome theme, here's the trailer

August 25, 2010

Midnight Top Five - Why Hasn't That Clockwork Orange Movie Been Mentioned in FMWL's '70s Cult Project?

When FMWL's '70s Cult Project began as a simple discussion on a social networking site, one of the first films that came up when I asked others for the most essential cult films of the 1970s was Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.  I must admit, I'd have never thought to consider this film on my own.  The reason for that, as awful as it is to admit, is because I hadn't ever gotten around to seeing that movie.

You hopefully noticed the past tense in that past statement, because tonight I - finally - resolved that issue.  While I admit that Kubrick just isn't entirely my thing (not to cut on the guy, who had immense talent...I'm just a Hitchcock guy...this heart's not big enough for both of 'em), I was taken by the nightmarish qualities of this one and found myself enthralled for most of the film's second half.  And yet, at the end of the day, I wondered...why aren't we listing this among the cult movies of that decade?  To answer, let's take a look at five factors I've come up with.

(By the way, I have to admit that this is one of those few movies that I've intentionally avoided reading about throughout my career as a film fan.  I wanted to go into it fresh, and I definitely achieved that.  So I apologize if anything I say here is a bit obtuse. I am completely a Clockwork N00B.)
The Director - I don't think I'm breaking new ground when I call Stanley Kubrick one of the most respected, lauded, and loved directors in cinematic history.  And there aren't many who initially connect that with the "cult" film scene.  Like some of the most popular '70s films - Taxi Driver comes to mind - the director's name and long-term reputation has lifted this one out of that conversation.
The Beethoven - I don't know, maybe I'm wrong on this one.  But Kubrick's use of Ludwig Von as a plot point seems to give the film some instant credibility.  Plus there's the Singin' in the Rain bits added in later, too.  To some, the use of such lauded mainstream music could be seen as a subversion, which moves the film more toward a cult audience, and I get that.  But it still reminded me of the "big time" forces behind the movie, particularly the fact that studio giant Warner Bros. was behind this whole thing the whole time.
The Cast - Or perhaps the lack thereof.  While Malcolm McDowell has become a minor cult figure over the decades, A Clockwork Orange has a cast that pales in comparison to many of the cult classics of this decade.  I have to wonder - what if Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, or Peter Cushing were added to this cast?  Would it have more of a cult following?  I think it probably would.  Without any of the beloved B-Movie A-Listers of the era, Kubrick's film again slips into a different conversation.
The Competition - The easiest argument to make in regard to most bloggers disregarding Kubrick's film in this discussion is the one in favor of the films it's competing with it.  This is a near two-and-a-half hour film that's an event to watch, while the '70s are full of 80-100 minute audience pleasers with similar amounts of violence, sleaze, dystopia, and sex.  A Clockwork Orange does play like an essential film, but it doesn't seem like the film a rabid fanbase would pick as their fallback favorite when there are so many other options.
The Reputation - OK, maybe this point is a sum-up of what I've discussed so far.  But the fact remains.  A Clockwork Orange might have been viewed as a cult sensation when it debuted, but its legend has grown exponentially during the past 40 years.  Like Taxi Driver or the unstoppable force known as Star Wars, this is simply a film whose influence and presence in the story of cinema grew too big for the cult label.  While the cult shoe might fit Kubrick's film's plot, the final product is expected to wear something a bit more classy these days.  It's a cinematic rags to riches story.  That's not a bad thing (it's a fantastic film that's worthy of the praise it receives), and I can understand and respect these reasons for fans of genre cinema to slip away from it and into some less known favorites. 

Did I miss your reasons for feeling the same way?  If so, you know where to comment!  Meanwhile, at The Mike Cave, I'm gonna ponder this one further.  Be well, my droogs.

August 23, 2010

'70s Cult Project: Part Two - To The Devil a Switchblade Sister Who Dreaded Sundown with a Kansas City Bomber

Wait, what?  I know, I know.  Quickie review posts are so lame.  But I've been watching way too many "cult" flicks from the '70s lately to give them each their own review.  So, let's move forward with some capsule reviews of the flicks I've been making sweet love to lately.

(Ok, maybe there was no sweet love making. But they're at least flicks I've been watching lately.)

Kansas City Bomber (1972, Dir. by Jerrold Freedman.)

There are some really obvious reasons to love a movie in which Raquel Welch wears the outfit you see in that poster (there is soooo no good reason for the zipper to be that low, and I love that about it) while skating and fighting.  Plus one of my favorite fellows, Piranha/Invasion of the Body Snatchers/UHF star Kevin McCarthy co-stars as the snaky owner of the roller derby team which Welch dominates (which, in the interest of full disclosure, is in Portland - not Kansas City).

But really, I kinda love Kansas City Bomber's brand of cheese.  It's got overly dramatic subplots which include, but are not limited to: an overly aggressive yet simple minded and sweet brute, a "this town's not big enough for both of us" feud, and a commentary on the sensibilities of living on a teammate's houseboat while the owner makes the moves on you.  Oh, and it all starts with Welch facing off with an overweight, mullet-sporting woman in a "match-race" that turns into a fist fight.  Yeah, really.  Let me reiterate -  If you ever wanted a movie where Raquel Welch fights a fat woman with a mullet on skates, this one's totally for you.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976, Dir. by Charles B. Pierce.) 

Despite its rather modest reputation (I honestly only knew about it because of that one line of dialogue in Scream), I had really high hopes for this one.  So, I must admit, I was slightly disappointed when I saw the final product.  It was just one of those things that could just never really live up to that pedestal that the gnomes inside my mind had placed it on.

That said, I liked this movie.  At times it felt like I was watching a feature length re-enactment from Unsolved Mysteries (narrator Vern Stierman deserved an Oscar, or something), which - to me -  is a good thing.  Ben Johnson chews up the scenery as the police officer leading the charge against this bagheaded killer, and it was nice to see Gilligan's Island babe Dawn Wells (Side note: I'd still pick Ginger.  I mean, how could you not pick Ginger?  I've never understood that.  Mary Anne is nice.  Ginger is to hotness as The Blob is to blobness.) show up as one of the victims.  

The most interesting thing about The Town That Dreaded Sundown is most certainly its connection to the slasher films that would follow in its footsteps in the decade that followed.  The killer's image certainly draws comparisons to Jason's look in Friday the 13th Part 2, and there are some weird and inventive moments (I do not understand the purpose of that trombone scene, except that it's awesome) that remind of films like The Prowler or Graduation Day.  One of the final attacks, involving a window surprise, will stick with me for a long, long time.  

It's sad that the whole thing just doesn't seem to click thanks to some pacing issues and some weird attempts at humor (what was the deal with Keystone Cops wannabes in the '70s?).  But it's really good at times, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Switchblade Sisters (aka, The Jezebels) (1975, Dir. by Jack Hill.)

There are many dilemmas in a man's life.  One of the most difficult of these is the dilemma that occurs when a badass female lead character in a film is both a) cute and b) grating.  Thus is the case with Robbie Lee, who stars in Switchblade Sisters as the hard-nosed leader of "The Dagger Debs", Lace.  Luckily, she's challenged by a street smart babe in short shorts named Maggie (Joanne Nail) who is both a) cute and b) NOT grating.  Plus, she's backed up by an eye patch wearing pal, adequately named Patch (Monica Gayle).  (Personally, I was most interested in the tortured "fat" girl of the gang, Donut, played by the saucy-named Kitty Bruce.)

Attractiveness of alleged teen gang members aside, Switchblade Sisters offered a large dose of '70s cheese, complete with a ton of cool music and clothes.  But Ms. Lee's whiny voice and temper tantrums kind of drove me crazy at times.  Hill had made better bad babe movies in the '70s (Coffy and Foxy Brown come to mind) with the assistance of THE Pamela Grier.  While Switchblade Sisters is fun most of the time, it never clicked like those movies did for me.  And Lee's whinnies will keep me away from revisiting this one for a while, as sad as that sounds.

To The Devil A Daughter (1976, Dir. by Peter Sykes.)

These movies keep getting worse as this post goes on.  Tragic, really, because considering how much I love Hammer's adaptation of The Devil Rides Out (totally the most underrated horror film of all-time, I kid you not) by Dennis Wheatley, I was hoping this adaptation wasn't going to be as bad as its reputation.  For those who don't know, To The Devil a Daughter was - until their recent revival - the last film produced by the legendary Hammer studios. 

The film starts, shockingly with Christopher Lee - Dracula himself - wearing the robe of a priest.  I must admit, I checked my pulse.  Alas, it turns out Lee's priest is involved in "the black arts", and he ends up feuding with an author (Richard Widmark, totally slumming it) over the fate of a young girl (16 year old Nastassja Kinski, who goes full frontal anyway).  The film also features Indiana Jones' Denholm Elliott and Honor Blackman, which makes it one of the few films I've ever seen that features both full frontal nudity and Pussy Galore.

And, despite all's terribly boring.  Where The Devil Rides Out had cheesiness and campy performances, this one has Widmark and Lee blabbering on and on about the demon Astaroth and some silly scenes in which winds come out of nowhere.  Yes, deadly winds inside a church.  Boo hoo, not scary.  I'm so glad Hammer came back, because if this had been their final hour, I might have just cried a lot.

So....that's where I'm at in the '70s Cult Project after a very eventful weekend.  Will any of these movies make my list of The Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s?  Will my list be able to stand up to the awesome lists posted recently by bloggers from all corners of the cyber-globe?  Stay tuned to FMWL all week for these answers, and more!

August 22, 2010

'70s Cult Project Update! The Lists are Rolling In! Exclamation Point!

Last week, I laid down the Midnight Warriors challenge to readers and bloggers everywhere, and I'm ecstatic to say that my cries for help haven't gone unnoticed.  Through the first week of what's now become known as FMWL's '70s Cult Project, several fine folks have posted and/or sent in their own lists of what they find to be The Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s.  I could keep blabbering about how great it is to see these lists before me, but I'll let them do most of the talking from here on out.

First, here's a list of the fine folks who've created lists at their own blogs, complete with links so you can all see how awesome they are!

First up is the wonderful Petunia Scareum, aka Trick or Treat Pete, from Deadly Serious.  It's clear to see that she took this challenge...well...deadly seriously.  Head on over to check out her list, which leads off with Walter Hill's gang-battle classic The Warriors!
Next up, returning for another tour of duty as a Midnight Warrior, is the fabulous Morgan of The Kid in the HallCheck out her list, which plows straight into my heart with that dose of PJ Soles and The Ramones known as Rock 'n Roll High School!
Another repeat Midnight Warrior, and all around rockstar, is Jinx from Totally JinxedShe's got a supreme list up at her blog, which leads with John Waters' still-unseen-by-me (insert shame here) Pink Flamingos!  (I will see this some looks totally Devine!)
If those lists aren't sick enough for you, here comes a fella whose depravity knows no bounds!  That's right, it's Joe Monster of From Beyond Depraved, who has his own list of cult treasures up, with that Time Warp treasure The Rocky Horror Picture Show taking top honors! 
The last blogger to post their own list thus far (that I know of, if you've done this and I missed you please let me know!), is the wicked cool Stonerphonic of Borderline!  Unlike myself, he saw those '70s happen, and has prepared his own detailed list which is headlined by another movie I know little about (insert more shame here), Stone! (After reading his post on it, I gotta see it!)
I know, I know.  That's A LOT of awesome '70s cult movies for you all to read about thus far.  BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!  People can email me their lists too!

Such was the case for the extremely thorough Brandon Sites of Big Daddy Horror Reviews (who just celebrated his 1000th post!!), as he emailed me this listing of his five picks:

5. George A. Romero's Martin - This is the film Romero has said he is most proud of. Has finally started to get a following all these years later due to Lionsgate giving the film a good DVD push.
4. Black Christmas - A classic with horror fans, but people who aren't die hard fans of the genre don't know about this film, even after the remake!
3. The Stepford Wives - It's hard to believe, but yes this film does fit the definitions of a cult movie to a T. The film was originally a flop when it was released and took a beating from critics. After a ton of TV followups, the Stepford Wife moniker has become a modern day pop culture reference, which has ensured this film a loyal following from a select audience.
2. Ruby - The film was forgotten about for the longest time as the film's producers re-edited the film several times behind the director's back. With the DVD release of the uncut version, the film has started to build a following again with genre fans. It was Piper Laurie's followup film after Carrie. I think this film featured elements that helped define 70's horror - a sleazy kind of quality to the film, drive-ins, possession plots, the supernatural, revenge, respected film stars of the past turning to horror to keep their career alive, etc.
1. Massacre At Central High - Fell by the wayside, because the film's distributor had no idea how to market the film, despite critical praise and it being embraced by genre fans. Heathers went on to rip this film off.

The last fine fellow to partake of this challenge thus far (again, to my knowledge, smack me upside the cyber-head if I missed you!) is the phenomenal B-Sol of The Vault of Horror, who sent me this simple, yet-effective, listing of some cult films he finds essential:

5. Faces of Death
4. Slap Shot
3. Eraserhead
2. Harold & Maude
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

So, we've got seven lists thus far, and seven different picks for the Most Essential Cult Film of the 1970s!  Luckily, there are still EIGHT MORE DAYS to get your own lists posted or sent in!  In the meantime, you should thank all these fine folks for their help with this little project by hitting up their blogs and enjoying their respective brands of awesome!

While you all do that, I'll be continuing my own journey through the '70s Cult Project here at FMWL all week, so stay tuned for a bunch of stuff on a bunch of films (including my personal Top 5, which should be posted next weekend)!  Again, many thanks to all these fine folks for chipping in!