Archive for the Nothing That Should Concern You Category

TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING: No Truth. No Justice. It’s the American Way.

Posted in Blu-ray, Movies, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos on June 27, 2022 by Robert Morgan

The last truly great film from director Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen), Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a bleak white knuckle thriller constructed out of corrosive political drama and wire-taut tension. A box office flop when it was first released in early 1977, Aldrich’s powerful exercise in crafting suspense and character is ripe for reevaluation in an age where the political and social climates are on the verge of bursting into flame.

Aldrich spent his career gravitating between star-driven smash hits and stranger personal projects that only someone with a decent track record could get away with making. When Twilight, an adaptation of the 1971 Walter Wager novel Viper Three, came to his attention, it was a standard action-thriller lacking in the substantial thematic elements that films of the 1970’s were bringing to audiences virtually on a weekly basis. Aldrich took the script by Ronald M. Cohen and Edward Huebsch and refashioned it into a dialogue-heavy drama that proceeded at a leisurely pace but offered up a four-course buffet of scenery chewing opportunities for a primarily male cast loaded down with some of the old Hollywood’s finest acting talents and a few choice up-and-comers talented enough to hold their own and occasionally dominate the legends.

Burt Lancaster toplines this amazing cast as Lawrence Dell, a disgraced former Air Force colonel sent to prison on trumped-up murder charges for defying his superiors who teams up with fellow prisoners Powell (Paul Winfield) and Garvas (Burt Young) to break out of the slammer with a dastardly scheme on his mind. The trio (initially a quartet until Dell is forced to violently dispose of a psychotic fourth wheel played by Conan the Barbarian’s William Smith) infiltrate a Montana nuclear missile silo and take complete control of its nine ICBMs with the intention of launching each one at the Soviet Union unless the U.S. government complies with their demands. Powell and Garvas think they’re in for a multi-million dollar payday, but Dell has another special request he expects President David Stevens (Charles Durning) to honor without question.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming could have been a bigger hit than it ultimately was, but it was released at a time when audiences were rejecting these eerily relevant political conspiracy thrillers in favor of the opulent widescreen fantasies of Jaws, Star Wars, and Superman. Realism was out, escapism was in. Aldrich’s passion project might have been a little late to a party that had already crowned The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor as best and second-best in show, but the message it delivered was no less chilling the more you thought about it, and the thrills no less effective. The “Operation Gold” sequence, in particular, is one of the most riveting hold-your-breath-and-don’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-the-screen moments in the history of cinema, on par with the rope bridge crossing in William Friedkin’s Sorcerer and the “call it, ‘friendo’” scene from No Country for Old Men. It’s certainly among the greatest action set-pieces Aldrich ever brought to the screen, and this is the guy who turned a commando raid on a Nazi chalet into one of the classic silver screen third acts.

The film takes place primarily on two sets, with each one commanded by a separate group of performers as if we were watching a pair of interconnected stage plays. First, we have the action happening in the missile silo control room with Dell and his cohorts fighting back the necessity to prove how far they’re willing to go to see their demands met. Lancaster is battered righteous perfection as the disillusioned patriot simply wanting the system he once believed in to take responsibility for their misdeeds instead of carefully sweeping their crimes against humanity under the carpet and leaving the scars that war inflicts on a nation’s soul to never properly heal. It ironically falls to Winfield’s character – the face of every downtrodden black man torn away from his family and friends to go fight a rich white man’s war – to prevent this once-proud military officer from crossing over into madness and devastation. Both men are positively electrifying in their respective roles.

Then there’s the conflict that plays out inside the Oval Office with Durning’s competent statesman forced to match wits with members of his own cabinet who possess secrets about this great nation of ours he never even begun to consider. The late Durning gives one of his finest dramatic performances in the service of a meaty character arc that is spectacularly executed inside a single room, with terrific assists from such hallowed silver screen icons and character acting legends as Joseph Cotton (The Third Man) as the businessman-like Secretary of State, Melvyn Douglas (Being There) as Stevens’ fatherly Secretary of Defense, and Blacula himself, William Marshall, as the Attorney General. The sharp dialogue and excellent support given by these men only serve to enhance Durning’s performance and make his slow-boiling fury at the horrors revealed to him even more credible when he finally blows up during one of the film’s most compelling dramatic scenes.

Gerald S. O’Loughlin (In Cold Blood) is one of the true MVPs of the supporting cast as a brigadier general and the president’s closest confidante who must act as the leader of the free world’s conscience during his greatest moment of personal strife. Solid work is also provided by the always dependable and watchable Richard Widmark, isolated from the rest of the main players while remaining a critical figure in the ongoing crisis, as well as Aldrich veteran Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen), Roscoe Lee Browne (Logan’s Run), and Morgan Paull (Blade Runner). Eagle-eyed fans of the Star Wars cinematic saga will be excited to single out cameo appearances from Garrick Hagon, William Hootkins, Shane Rimmer, and John Ratzenberger. In a development that should surprise no one, Jerry Goldsmith contributed a score that is equally melodic and menacing and always knows exactly when to apply the tension and ease off both the characters and the audience. Sharp and pristine widescreen cinematography is supplied by Robert B. Hauser (Soldier Blue, Willard), and Aldrich, along with an editing team that includes frequent collaborators Michael Luciano (The Flight of the Phoenix) and Maury Winetrobe (The Frisco Kid), heightens the onscreen suspense and surprise with a terrific use of the split screen technique.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a marvelous political suspense piece enriched by great ensemble acting, focused storytelling, and split-screen editing that puts the audience in the thick of some nail-biting action sequences. One of Robert Aldrich’s finest films, I could not recommend this long-neglected classic more.


Posted in Blu-ray, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews, Videos on June 23, 2022 by Robert Morgan

In the Boston underworld, Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is known as a stand-up guy. His colleagues call him “Eddie Fingers” because he once got his hand slammed in a drawer by some unsavory associates, giving the old timer a new set of knuckles in the process. Coyle must be a jack of many trades in the Beantown mob, but his primary business is supplying guns he procures through his younger partner Jackie Brown (Steven Keats). His current best customers are a gang of bank robbers led by Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco) and Artie Van (Joe Santos) that must abandon their arms after every holdup. He’s done his share of prison time and has no intention of going back now that he has a wife (Helena Carroll) and three children to look after, but when he gets busted driving a truck full of stolen Canadian Club whiskey in New Hampshire, Coyle is forced to become an informant for ATF agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) in the hope that he can avoid a sentence that could stretch to five years.

In order to keep from getting sent back to the clink, Coyle must sell out both Jackie and the Scalise gang, but his life – whether it be on the outside or in – isn’t going to mean much once word gets to the elusive Boston crime boss known to everyone as “the Man” that this low-life nobody is informing on his fellow criminals for the law.

One of the greatest necessities of effective storytelling is that the characters must define and propel the action, and not the other way around. Based on the novel by the celebrated crime novelist George V. Higgins (whose work was last adapted for the screen in 2012’s Killing Them Softly, one of that year’s best and most underrated films in spite of its odd retitling), The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of the most realistic depictions of blue collar criminal life and the strained and mendacious, but regrettably necessary, relationship between the right and wrong sides of the law. Best known as the director of the stellar Steve McQueen action hit Bullitt, Peter Yates is at his absolute best here, crafting a bleak and merciless thriller where the outcome only becomes certain once you grow to understand the people involved in the story. Working with screenwriter Paul Monash, who also produced, Yates brings the world of Higgins’ novel to vivid life and places greater emphasis on creating an immersive and authentic working-class landscape where the characters could plausibly exist than on delivering the thrills that audiences crave.

This is a story where relationships are important, but loyalties buckle easily when the slightest pressure is applied, and Yates and Monash understand this all too well. The Boston where Eddie Coyle goes to work every day trying to make ends and keep his nose clean is one anyone from the city could recognize and connection to because Yates and cinematographer Victor J. Kemper (Dog Day Afternoon) shot the film on location in several areas around the actual city. They take the production to the nondescript banks, grocery stores, train stations, and public parks where criminal activity is often going on with average ordinary citizens blissfully unaware. Monash’s adaptation of the Higgins novel retains the author’s gift for dialogue that sounds natural and genuine and doesn’t serve to merely advance the narrative, but to give the viewer a window into how these people think, operate, and relate to one another.

The houses mostly have wood-paneled interiors and could have burst hot water heaters and a lack of food in the fridge. Art director and production designer Gene Callahan (The Stepford Wives) did a fantastic job bringing a sense of hard-edged kitchen sink realism to the sets. Dave Grusin’s (The Nickel Ride) jazzy score, infused with a healthy dose of streetwise funk, pulsates with the rhythm and poetry of the world of dangerous and doomed men, and the expert editing by documentary veteran Patricia Lewis Jaffe keeps the pacing razor-taut and furious with respect to the characters and the dilemmas in which each person finds themselves. There are several memorable set-pieces that positively rack the nerves because we are never quite sure what the outcome could be, but the possible threat of violence and death hangs over everything the characters say and do; one false move, one misspoken sentiment, and that could be all she wrote. It’s rare when a movie can keep you on the literal edge of your seat, but The Friends of Eddie Coyle is never short on such suspenseful moments.

Yates’ film starred iconic cinema tough guy Robert Mitchum in what is undoubtedly his finest performance, and at the point in both his life and career when this project came along, the man was ready to play Eddie Coyle. The role required an actor who embodied Coyle’s world-weary resignation, aged wisdom, and stringent devotion to a moral code that has kept him alive and employed in criminal activity with strength and authenticity. Mitchum, growing weary of being typecast as the laconic badass in every generic crime and western picture that got tossed onto a studio development exec’s desk, brings a battered authority to the role and really nails down the character’s Boston accent by incorporating it into his own whiskey-aged vocals with nuance. Coyle isn’t an action hero, but an old man who has long comprehended the choices he has made in life and the people with whom he has to do business on a regular basis and must exist in that world without rocking the boat. Mitchum gives what may be the best performance of his storied career.

Coyle’s fatal mistake is overestimating the value of the experience and intelligence his years in the underworld have brought him. When he finally realizes that he’s a small-timer for a good reason, it’s far too late. In a more conventional film, Eddie and ATF agent Foley – played by Richard Jordan, one of American cinema’s most unsung and underappreciated character actors, in one of the best performances of a distinguished career that should have made him a star – would have bonded early on, developed a trusting relationship, and teamed up in the finale to battle the forces of the mob in a showdown full of pummeling fists and blazing fists. This is not a conventional story.

To Foley, a low-level slob like Eddie Coyle is a nobody who might have some useful information, and that’s if the Feds don’t already have it (which they usually do). Foley isn’t a cold-blooded bastard, but a man trying to do his job to bring down the mob. He’s the good guy in this scenario, and if a tip from Coyle can bring him a good arrest with an easy conviction on the side, so be it. That doesn’t make these men friends or even allies with overlapping motivations. That’s the nature of this business, one that the film never tires of reminding us – sell out your friends, and the same could very well happen to you. Coyle is expendable. If he goes down, someone else will take his place and life will go on as if nothing ever threatened to derail it.

Mitchum and Jordan are surrounded by a gangbuster of a supporting cast comprised of unsung acting talent that it took years, and for some even decades, for audiences to truly appreciate. Peter Boyle (Taxi Driver) is terrific as a syndicate man and another of Foley’s informers put in a very difficult position in the finale. Alex Rocco (The Godfather) and Joe Santos (The Rockford Files) impress greatly as the leaders of the stick-up crew with whom Coyle does regular business. One of my favorite performances in the film was given by the late Steven Keats, probably best known to contemporary as Paul Kersey’s son-in-law in the original Death Wish, as Coyle’s cocky, but canny and vigilant protégé Jackie Brown.

The cast is rounded out by smaller turns from Mitchell Ryan (Electra Glide in Blue) as Foley’s superior, James Tolkan (Back to the Future) as a mysterious representative of “the Man”, Matthew Cowles (Shutter Island) and Margaret Ladd (Mozart in the Jungle) as a pair of impulsive kids trying to secure weapons from Jackie for their own robbery, and Michael McLeery (Mother’s Day) as a nervous punk who shows up in the final scenes to serve a purpose I dare not spoil but will easily become clear to you once he makes his first appearance if you understand what must be the logical conclusion to The Friends of Eddie Coyle….the only conclusion that could make any sense.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a masterpiece of 1970’s downbeat crime cinema and a feast of terrific acting, writing, direction, music, and cinematography. Peter Yates’ best film as director is also a timeless classic that would be difficult to make in this day and age.

In Need of a Gory Getaway? Plan Your Escape to BLOOD ISLAND Today!

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Independent Cinema, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2022 by Robert Morgan

Six decades ago, a group of Filipino filmmakers and a few English-speaking actors in need of an easy payday birth one of the wildest and bloodiest franchises in the history of exploitation cinema. I am referring, of course, about the infamous “Blood Island” series – a quartet of insane low-budget horror flicks that delivered to audiences around the world a non-stop parade of slime, sex, and slaughter.

The beginning was a little rough.

1959’s Terror Is A Man, a lo-fi riff on H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, sowed the seeds for the monstrous mayhem to come. But the movie itself is an overly talkative affair about a shipwrecked sailor (Richard Derr) whose lifeboat lands on an island in the middle of who-the-hell-knows where scientist Dr. Charles Girard (Francis Lederer) and his wife/assistant Francis (Greta Thyssen) have transformed a panther into a sort of Man Panther (Flory Carlos), or Panther Man if you will.

Nothing much happens for the first hour of Terror outside of Francis falling in love with the sailor and a surgery scene with less blood than a papercut. For that scene, the producers added a warning bell to cue the audience for mondo disturbing stuff about to happen. That bell sounds like a telephone ringing and when I first heard it, I half-expected Girard to shout, “Will someone answer that damn thing already?” By the time Panther Dude finally breaks free from bondage and goes on a very mild rampage in the movie’s last twenty minutes, you may or may not care one bit. The laughable make-up on the misbegotten mutant does not help either.

Terror was co-directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero, with only de Leon getting screen credit, and produced by Kane W. Lynn. During World War II, Lynn was a pilot in the U.S. Navy stationed in the Philippines. Once the war ended, he decided to settle down there, and it was then that he met Romero and the two men became friends and formed Lynn-Romero Productions. Back in the States, Lynn met up with producer Irwin Pizor, and together with Romero they founded Hemisphere Pictures to ensure American distribution for their Filipino projects.

Out of the partnership between Lynn and Romero came several other movies including The Scavengers (which played on a double bill in the U.S. with Terror Is A Man) and The Raiders of Leyte Gulf, the latter a staple of exploitation trailer compilation DVDs. Few of these did well at the box office, compelling the producers to make a return trip to Blood Island in 1968 for Brides of Blood.

After the sleep-inducing Terror, there was nowhere for the series to go but up. Introducing color and upping the ante in terms of sex and violence made Brides a vastly more entertaining movie. It also one of the Blood Island quartet’s most enduring staples – actor John Ashley. At the time he received the offer to star in Brides, Ashley’s marriage to Deborah Walley had ended and he needed immediate escape. He enjoyed the experience of working in the Philippines so much that he stayed on long after the Blood Island series concluded and produced several exploitation movies in the country that saw release in the U.S. through distributors like Dimension Pictures and Roger Corman’s then newly-formed New World Pictures.

Shot for a meager $75,000, Brides found Ashley playing Peace Corps member Jim Farrell, who escorts Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor, another B-movie veteran) and his wife Carla (Beverly Powers, credited as “Beverly Hills”) to investigate evidence of atomic radiation at the tropical paradise nicknamed “Blood Island” by the fearful natives. There they encounter Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro), a 50-year-old man who looks half that age, mutated vegetation with life of its own, and a hideous monstrosity who terrorizes the islanders unless it is offered two naked female sacrifices.

Once again, de Leon and Romero co-directed, but Romero was able to minimize his colleague’s artistic intents behind the camera while amping up Terror Is A Man’s few memorable aspects and frosting the finished cake with plenty of fake blood and a plethora of nude women. When Hemisphere released Brides in the U.S., publicity representative Sam Sherman came up with a marketing gimmick that offered a pair of cheap plastic engagement rings to female moviegoers so that they become Brides of Blood themselves. Sherman’s idea to include fake marriage licenses in the ring set was vetoed because of the potential legal nightmare they could create.

A year after the release of Brides, the series hit its peak big time with Mad Doctor of Blood Island, the most entertainingly lurid and trashy of the quartet. Ashley was brought back to play a different character, pathologist Dr. Bill Foster, while voluptuous film and television actress Angelique Pettyjohn supplied the sex appeal. Foster and Pettyjohn’s character Sheila have come to Blood Island for different reasons: the doc is investigating an outbreak among the natives of a chlorophyll disease, while Sheila is hoping to find her estranged father. Their host Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy) stays mum about mysterious happenings on the island, which includes people bleeding out green before perishing with faces covered in mossy infections. And once again, there is a rampaging monster in the area and this one both bleeds green and randomly murders islanders.

Mad Doctor opens with a prologue, filmed at an Air Force base in Manila, inviting audiences to take part in the “Oath of Green Blood” by drinking “of the Mystic Emerald fluids herein offered” and becoming ravenous for either sex or murder. Packets of green liquid were handed out to paying patrons during the movie’s American release, another Sam Sherman marketing innovation, though one he later claimed made him sick to his stomach when he tried the stuff himself. Following the oath, we get a cold open with a terrified native woman running naked through the jungle before the chlorophyll beast rips her face to shreds. We are clued into the monster’s presence with a series of wild, repeated zoom-ins. This flick wastes no time whatsoever.

The third and best entry in the Blood Island series boasted its best trailer, narrated with frothing, cackling hysteria by the German-born actor, monologist, concentration camp survivor, and frequent David Letterman guest Brother Theodore (The ‘Burbs).

With de Leon opting out of 1970’s Beast of Blood, Romero returned to bring the series to a close. Picking up immediately after the end of Mad Doctor, Ashley returned as the heroic Dr. Foster, the sole survivor after the previous movie’s green-blooded creature murdered the others and destroyed their boat. Months later, he returns to the island (because some people just never learn) with reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnall) and they find the still-alive Dr. Lorca (played this time by Eddie Garcia), now sporting an eyepatch and continuing his diabolical experiments. He also has the monster from Mad Doctor in his lab, its disembodied head kept alive on machines while its body lays strapped to Lorca’s surgical table.

Though it rarely hits the delirious heights of Mad Doctor, Beast of Blood – which marked Ashley’s debut as producer – has enough sleaze value to justify its existence even as it retreads familiar territory with little inspiration. Severin Films released all four movies on Blu-ray in an attractive box set in late 2018. The set is now out of print and fetching ludicrous prices online, but you can still purchase individual releases of Terror Is A Man, Brides of Blood, and Mac Doctor of Blood Island. If you are in the mood for a cavalcade of carnality and carnage, plan your escape to Blood Island today!

GRINDHOUSE: Schlock of Ages

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews with tags , , , on December 24, 2015 by Robert Morgan


Once upon a time, more than eight years ago, the mighty filmmaking team of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaborated yet again on a project that paid homage to the drive-in exploitation movie memories of their youth. But this time instead of Rodriguez directing a Tarantino script or Tarantino doing a cameo in one of Rodriguez’s movies, the two teamed up to bring us a rare cinematic experience: an old school night at the movies, two features for the price of one, complete with fake trailers directed by the cream of the genre cinema crop sprinkled between the main attractions.

For inspiration, Rodriguez and Tarantino reached back into the past to the days when VCRs and DVD players were only gestating ideas and the only way to experience true B-grade cinema was to go to your rundown neighborhood grindhouse to catch a double or triple bill of the latest blaxploitation thriller, chop-socky adventure, and gruesome horror extravaganza.

In a grindhouse theater you got more than a few movies, you got the whole enchilada: trailers for coming attractions, cartoons, short films, restaurant ads, and a reeking ambiance that you can’t replicate in the privacy of your own home unless you want to get kicked out.

The aptly-titled Grindhouse turned out to be much more than a movie; it was both a love letter and the ultimate tribute to the forbidden fruits of cinema by a pair of adoring fans and first class filmmakers.

There’s a lot to take in here so I will break down the features one by one.


Machete– True to form, we open with a trailer for a 1970’s-style action flick starring Rodriguez staple Danny Trejo as a Mexican day laborer hired by a mysterious well-dressed man (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a US senator. Sure enough Machete is set up for the big betrayal and left for dead. After recovering he sets out to take revenge on those behind the frame up with the help of a former comrade (Cheech Marin) who has since become a priest. Turns out our boy Machete is a former federale with expertise in guns and explosives, and is proficient in throwing his trademark machetes like a distant cousin to Trejo’s character in Desperado.

The gods of manly action classics would surely welcome Machete into their fold. The man’s a jack of all trades and Trejo looks and plays the part like a true master of adventure. From nailing two topless babes under a waterfall to leaping over an exploding barricade on a motorcycle blasting a Vulcan cannon, Machete brings the excitement. As it goes with any good trailer, this one leaves you wanting more. After the release of Grindhouse Rodriguez began talking about making a Machete feature for the direct-to-video market, but three years later it was released theatrically with Trejo fronting a truly mind-frying ensemble cast that included Jessica Alba, Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, and none other than Steven fuckin’ Seagal as the Mexican villain.

Rodriguez incorporated some of the footage he shot for the trailer into the full-length feature and though Machete was hardly a box office blockbuster it did well enough to spawn a belated sequel, the inferior (but still fun in its own way) Machete Kills. That one just bombed outright at the box office, making the chances of this gonzo action saga’s third installment, Machete Kills Again in Space, ever being made slim enough to fit into one of the crevices in Trejo’s face.


Planet Terror– Rodriguez’s half of the Grindhouse power twosome is a unabashedly balls-out tribute to the sci-fi horror action movies of such genre greats as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, James Cameron, and Stuart Gordon. Set in a small Texas town over the course of one night, Planet Terror begins with the attempted sale of a deadly biological weapon known as DC2 (aka “Project Terror) to a Marine platoon led by the uncaring Muldoon (Bruce Willis). The sale goes south and in desperation military scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews), the man responsible for brokering the deal, shoots the canisters containing the virus. Project Terror is on the loose.

large planet terror blu-ray7x

Meanwhile, frustrated go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) has just quit her job and is sitting in a roadside BBQ shack owned by J.T. (Jeff Fahey…again!) when her old flame, the mysterious El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), walks in. Clearly the two have a complicated past. Wray offers to give Cherry a ride home. On the way Wray swerves his truck to avoid hitting something in the road and the truck flips over, crashing off the road. Cherry is pulled out of the truck by a group of shadowy figures and taken screaming into the night. Wray grabs a rifle and goes looking, and when he finds Cherry alive she’s missing a leg. The people who took her ate her leg. Wray takes her to the nearest hospital, presided over by cynical doctor William Block (Josh Brolin) and his anesthesiologist wife Dakota (Marley Shelton).

Dakota is currently planning to leave her husband and run away with her lesbian lover Tammy (Stacy Ferguson, aka Fergie), but her attempts to keep it secret from the good doctor aren’t working. Not to mention Tammy’s car has broken down and in trying to flag down someone to help her gets attacked and eaten by more people infected by the rapidly spreading DC2. Block attends to his friend Joe (Nicky Katt), who has a strange bite on his arm and some rather disturbing lesions on his tongue. Fearing the worst Block advises Joe to have his arm severed so the infection won’t spread to his vital internal organs. The local sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) and his two deputies Tolo (gore god Tom Savini) and Carlos (Carlos Gallardo, the original El Mariachi) arrest Wray for Cherry’s maiming not believing his wild story of the sickos who actually ate her leg.


Back at the hospital Block discovers Dakota’s infidelity when the paramedics wheel in Tammy’s partially-devoured corpse. The sinister doctor attacks his wife with her own needles, numbing her hands, and locks her in a closet. In the midst of all this the infected start pouring in. Hague and his men are attacked at the police station but get some unexpected assistance from a more than capable Wray, who decides to head for the hospital to retrieve Cherry with Hague and the deputies riding along. Block finds Joe has become one of the infected and becomes one himself when his diseased former friend spreads virus-ridden goop all over the doctor’s face. Dakota manages to escape from the hospital but is forced to drive with two numb hands to pick up her son Tony (Rodriguez’s son Rebel) currently being watched by the Crazy Babysitter Twins (Electra and Elise Avellan, Rodriguez’s former stepdaughters).

Wray finds Cherry and sticks a table leg in the spot where her real leg used to be and the two of them flee the hospital, rendezvousing back at J.T.’s place with the sheriff, his deputies, and several uninfected townsfolk. With the number of infected growing by the hour, this disparate group must band together to fight the ravenous hordes hungry for their flesh and survive the night while trying to unlock the mystery of Project Terror’s origins.


Planet Terror, much like his previous film Sin City, is Robert Rodriguez unleashed. This is the kind of full tilt boogie lurid and ultraviolent action splatter-fest that used to pour out of drive-in movie screens on hot summer nights and crowd the horror rack at your local video store. If this movie had been released in the 1980’s England would’ve proudly placed it on their “Video Nasties” list. Rodriguez has said before in interviews that he sees Planet Terror as “the lost John Carpenter movie between Escape from New York and The Thing” and that just says it all. He even composes, with a little help from his musician friends, a terrific musical score that recalls the great synthesizer scores of Carpenter’s earlier films.


This is not a movie that plays by normal rules. Every person in the movie has the license to give free rein to become their inner superhero. People run up walls, shoot syringe guns, and use a rocket launcher on their leg to propel themselves into the air in order to blast a waiting group of pustule-oozing zombie Marines on the other side of a building. This is Rodriguez’s own comic book universe, his every cinematic fantasy made flesh, and it’s amazing. KNB EFX pulls out all the stops to provide the grisliest effects they have ever produced. This is one of their finest hours.

Rodriguez chose a fine cast to bring his B-movie archetypes to bold, colorful life. Rose McGowan gets one of her best roles in years playing the tough but gentle Cherry Darling. Cherry is given a clever running joke throughout the movie as she expresses her desire to become a stand-up comedian and tries to prove to an unconvinced Wray that she’s funny. But when her old boyfriend attaches a modified machine gun to her lonely leg stump Cherry enters the pantheon of iconic action heroes. She’s a goddess of destruction, and McGowan gives the part her all. Freddy Rodriguez (no relation) is not everyone’s first choice to play an unlikely action superhero, but as the versatile El Wray he certainly impresses. Running up walls, wielding some wicked knives, and keeping his ex-girlfriend calm and encouraged is all part of a night’s work for this pint-sized badass, even if that bit of peach fuzz on his chin doesn’t fool me.


Marley Shelton, another member of Rodriguez’s ever growing repertory company, gets her fair share of moments to shine as the anesthetic gun-sporting wonder woman Dakota Block. At certain times she’s bears an uncanny resemblance to Uma Thurman, and that’s okay because I love Uma. Michael Biehn gives a commanding comeback performance as the hardened Sheriff Hague, all action and no bullshit. Jeff Fahey gets to play his role of grizzled barbecue gourmet J.T. with a welcome sense of humor. He has a great bickering chemistry with Biehn, who turns out to be J.T.’s estranged brother. Bruce Willis gets to play himself once again as the cold and cynical Lt. Muldoon, but why complain when he plays himself like a fucking pro? Naveen Andrews subverts the serious television persona he built on “Lost” with a cutting wit as the obligatory scientist who provides handy exposition, but he’s given a rather twisted character trait and Andrews is clearly savoring the opportunity to play such a useful bastard.


The Avellan sisters are wonderfully gonzo as the sexy but goddamn insane Crazy Babysitter Twins. Tom Savini provides more comic relief as the dumbass deputy Tolo, but he gets his own shining moment when he dispatches a zombie with a brilliant gun move. Josh Brolin is a long way from The Goonies playing the sadistic Doc Block (“His prescription….pain!”), a role he sinks his teeth into with disturbing glee. Michael Parks returns to reprise his role as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw and gets to unload his six-shooter on a few zombies like the manly man he is.

Planet Terror is pure fun for lovers of two-fisted action flicks and blood-and-guts horror alike. Lock up your inhibitions and have a great time.


To this day Planet Terror remains my favorite half of the Grindhouse double bill. I had the pleasure recently of watching the extended cut on the Blu-ray that was released nearly two years before the full experience finally made its way to the format. It’s some of the purest exploitation cinema made since the sleaze pit bijous and drive-ins were permanently shuttered and converted to flea markets and cost-free motels for squatters. It’s also the last truly great feature Rodriguez made. The spectacular box office flame-out of Grindhouse impacted him more than it did Tarantino; from that moment on the majordomo of Troublemaker Studios had to search for work at other studios or outside independent financing for his projects that held limited mass audience appeal.

His collaborator bounced back from Grindhouse‘s failure to connect with modern moviegoers by making two of the best and most successful films of his career, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. In comparison, Rodriguez’ Planet Terror follow-up was the episodic kiddie flick Shorts, released theatrically around the same time as Basterds in August 2009. The next year he made good on his promise to convert Machete into a feature and the result was a hugely entertaining B-action thriller on Terror‘s level that was cheaper to make and thus able to turn a profit during its theatrical run. But other films Rodriguez desired to make, like updated adaptations of Barbarella and Red Sonja, never made it out of Development Hell.


Now for more trailers.


ThanksgivingEli Roth’s contribution to the Grindhouse fake trailer reel is his homage to gruesome 1980s slasher flicks and a diseased little corker that lets loose some quality holiday-themed carnage. Using available members of his Hostel Part II cast and creating a small Massachusetts town in Prague, Roth lets loose his nasty and vicious imagination to give us a hint of what a funny gorefest he would make out of Turkey Day. The gore gags on display are priceless.


Werewolf Women of the S.S. – Melding horror and Naziploitation flicks like Love Camp 7 and the infamous Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S., Rob Zombie creates the trailer for his ultimate grind house epic with the help of several members of his Halloween remake cast including Sheri Moon Zombie and Bill Moseley. Routinely dismissed as the least of the Grindhouse trailer collection, Zombie’s contribution is still a lot of fun complete with an out-of-left field cameo from Nicholas Cage as….Fu Manchu!


Don’t – Last but not least is the jewel of the Grindhouse trailer reel, an uproarious send-up of ineptly marketed European horrors directed by Edgar Wright and starring most of his Hot Fuzz cast (you bloody well know who). A rapid fire anthology of intense horror mainstays underscored with an announcer (Will Arnett) screaming “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” Wright’s contribution is a twisted delight.

An explosive crash from Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (Grindhouse)

Death Proof – Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse pays unabashed tribute to the four-on-the-floor car chase epics of the 1960s and 1970s like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. Split into two tonally-different acts, the first focuses on a group of young women out for a night on the town: Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), visiting from New York; Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), a beautiful but occasionally insensitive local disc jockey; and Shanna (Jordan Ladd), their hard-partying friend.

At a bar they encounter Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a former movie and TV stuntman who enjoys hanging out in bars practicing his rusted pick-up techniques on the younger women who frequent the joint. Mike offers to give wisecracking hippie chick Pam a ride home, and this is where we the stuntman’s true colors. It turns out he likes jumping into his “death proof” stunt car and running down the ladies who don’t buy into his masculine wiles. After giving Pam her last ride, Mike turns around and speeds off after Arlene and company.


Act two takes place sometime later. Mike is now in Tennessee stalking another small group of women, this particular bunch in town working on a cheerleader flick: actress Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), make-up artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), and stuntwomen Zoe (Zoe Bell) and Kim (Tracie Thoms). Zoe drags her friends up to the house of a creepy rancher who’s selling a 1970 Dodge Challenger. Ever since seeing Vanishing Point Zoe has always wanted to get behind the wheel of one of these mean machines. Leaving Lee behind to keep the creep company, Zoe and her two friends take the Challenger out for a test spin.

With Kim at the wheel and Abernathy riding in the backseat, Zoe climbs onto the hood to play “Ship’s Mast”. As the Challenge roars down the empty country highway, Stuntman Mike decides to join the ladies and give them a time to remember. Barely surviving, the ladies take it upon themselves to turn the tables on the fleeing stuntman. This time Mike isn’t getting away that easy.


Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s idea of a chick flick. We are in the company of a group of fiercely-independent and intelligent women out for a good time who know very well how to take care of themselves. It’s a lot of fun to spend time with these lovely ladies because each group has their own authentic chemistry, aided by Tarantino’s trademark knack for meaty dialogue. Even if you’re a guy you can’t help but be carried along and feel like you’re part of each group.

That’s when Kurt Russell walks in. A true silver screen icon known for his defining roles in John Carpenter’s films Escape from New York, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China, Russell returns to the type of badass character that he built his career on. Stuntman Mike can go from affable and charismatic to cruel and violent when he gets behind the wheel of his “death proof” car to pursue his attractive quarry. Endowing his auto psycho with his trademark charm and good humor, Russell gives one of the best performances of his career.


The true heart of Death Proof is Tarantino’s wonderfully-drawn female characters and the actresses he wisely chose to play them. Vanessa Ferlito is great as Arlene, the friend who finds herself simultaneously repulsed and intrigued by Mike. Sydney Tamiia Poitier, daughter of screen acting legend Sidney Poitier, has a ball playing the hot and slightly catty Jungle Julia who has no patience for people she sees through immediately. Jordan Ladd’s character doesn’t get much focus but she stills acts her heart out playing a lovable character. Making her second appearance in Grindhouse is Rose McGowan, playing a character whose sad beauty and endearing cynicism could almost make her a distant cousin to Cherry Darling, but does in fact serve her up as easy prey for the cool Stuntman Mike.


In my opinion the actresses who turn up in Death Proof’s second half are the true stars of the movie. Rosario Dawson plays Abernathy as another in her staple of sweet and adorable heroines. It’s a wonderful role given personality and life by Dawson. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s vaguely naïve actress Lee is the “Shanna” of this act but she still gives a good show and doesn’t annoy. Tracie Thoms gives her character Kim a loving demeanor with a “don’t fuck with me” attitude on the side. She’s awesome.

The breakout performance of Death Proof, and indeed all of Grindhouse, comes courtesy of veteran stuntwoman Zoe Bell, a New Zealand native making her acting debut here. If you’ve ever seen Zoe in interviews then it doesn’t come as a surprise that her cute and friendly superwoman is essentially an extension of her own personality, and she does all of her own stunts to boot. Bell is the true star of this movie and deserves a long and fruitful career. How can you not love her?

Death Proof finds the equally admired and maligned Quentin Tarantino indulging in his fetishistic love for insane car chases, old school tough guys, and the bare feet of beautiful women. Recalling the good ol’ days when CGI was a laughable pipe dream and the stunts were done for real, the stunt work in Death Proof is first class, the real deal all the way. The car chases are thrilling and intense as the director puts you in the driver’s seat to experience the action first hand. The movie is an honest-to-Buddha rollercoaster ride that fully engages you on a visceral level with no breaks. Death Proof is a much different film from Planet Terror but it yields more than its fair share of rewards.



In the years since the release of Grindhouse Tarantino has been brutally honest about Death Proof‘s place in his filmography, even referring to it as the worst movie he has ever made. Personally I would assign that dishonorable honor to Kill Bill V.2, but I digress. The filmmaker bounced back from the failure of his epic collaboration with Rodriguez by making two of the biggest hits of his career, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Prior to making Death Proof Tarantino had been working at a Malickian pace, but watching Grindhouse go down in flames at the box office seemed to have motivated the notoriously combative but gifted enfant terrible of cinema to get busy directing or get busy dying.

At first Death Proof appears oddly constructed in terms of its story, but that unconventional structure serves the film well if you accept it as two short films each with their own three-act layout melded together instead of as one film split into two distinct halves. The first half, set in Austin, TX, is set mostly at night and is designed visually to be a nihilistic slasher flick with a conclusion as inevitable as any scuzzy blood horror that spilled onto the movie screens in the genre’s heyday. The second, shot in the broadest of daylight with rural California standing in for rural Tennessee, is a full-speed rape revenge movie centering on a group of wronged women getting some wondrously cathartic payback against the perverted psychopath who tried to take away everything they had. Only in this case the rapist is a crazed ex-stuntman using his custom killing machine to batter what he perceives to be a lesser car driven by a lesser gender into nothingness and then bend them all to his sickening will.

It’s like Death Proof was one of those cinematic Frankenstein monsters that guys like Al Adamson and Sam Sherman used to stitch together out of pieces of movies that started production but fell apart and were left unfinished or were released but did absolutely no business. We accept that Russell is still playing Stuntman Mike in the second half, but he’s never referred to by that name (not even by himself) and he even drives a different car than in the first half. Is it possible then that we’re watching two different movies edited together to become one, with the scene with Shelton and the Parks men added to bridge the distinct narratives? Go into Death Proof with that mindset and it starts to make a little more sense. I feel a revisit is in order soon.

When you add every single element of this sucker up you have a cinematic experience unlike any other. Grindhouse is a movie made by film fans for film fans. I love it, and so will you.

THIS IS SPINAL TAP, Mark 2: The Elusive 4.5 Hour Workprint

Posted in Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2015 by Robert Morgan


Once a film is finished shooting, the post-production team begins to assemble most of the printed footage into what is often termed a “rough cut” to give them a better idea of the editing task that lies ahead. The next step is usually to create a “workprint”, which pares down the rough assembly a bit and adds in cards indicating missing scenes and special effects footage and utilizes a “temp track” of music taken from other films for the soundtrack. From there the director and their team really go to work to whip the film into its final shape as the time counts down to its premiere.

Workprints are occasionally shown at test screenings so that audience reactions to what has been assembled so far can be used by the studio to impact the final cut in ways that can sometimes be positive, but are more often that not detrimental to the vision of the filmmakers. Sometimes, in the case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a workprint for a major Hollywood tentpole blockbuster wannabe gets leaked to the Internet days or weeks in advance of its theatrical release.

Even with the advancement of cutting edge home entertainment technology that allows deleted scenes to be included as extra features on DVDs and Blu-rays of the films they were cut from, these alternate cuts are highly sought out by collectors and hardcore film buffs for the footage they contain that has never been publicly released. You can typically find workprints for many a classic work of cinema hiding out on the web among the torrent sites and bootleg DVD retailers.

Every so often, a workprint manages to find its way onto a legitimate video release, such as the collector’s edition DVD and Blu-ray editions of Blade Runner. But most of the time you have to search high and low to find one that is snatched from the clutches of the studio that financed it, digitized, and set free for all eternity online. Case in point….the four-and-a-half workprint of This is Spinal Tap.

Few filmmakers make their directorial debut with a bonafide masterpiece, but that is exactly what Rob Reiner did when he made Spinal Tap. It was released to critical acclaim in 1984 and over the years became a highly quotable cult classic. There are good comedies, great comedies, and comedy classics. Spinal Tap is all three and then some. It was truly a collaborative effort between Reiner and his stars/co-writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. The characters had been developed for years even before the film was made, and by the time cameras the actors were so ensconced with their respective creations that they were able to ad-lib most of their dialogue.

Comedies, especially ones that rely heavily on improvisation, are often the most difficult kinds of films to edit unless they are rigidly scripted and performed from the very beginning. The final running time of Spinal Tap is 82 minutes, but there was enough material resigned to the cutting room floor to make a pair of sequels. None of the deleted footage ever saw the light of day until the 1990’s when the Criterion Collection released Spinal Tap on a special edition laserdisc that included about an hour of outtakes among their generous selection of supplements. This material also made the cut when the laserdisc extras were ported over for the DVD edition, one of Criterion’s earliest on the format. Both the Criterion laserdisc and DVD releases of Spinal Tap went out of print and became collector’s items that fetched high prices on sites like Amazon and eBay.

When MGM unveiled a digitally-remastered edition of Spinal Tap on VHS and DVD in 2000, both versions featured cut scenes from the film as a bonus feature. The VHS edition only contained around ten minutes’ worth, but you could find over an hour on the DVD. The same outtakes ended up as special features on the subsequent Blu-ray edition. To this day, no home video release of Spinal Tap has included all three hours (and change) of the deleted, extended, and alternate scenes from the rarely-seen workprint, but you can find a few excerpts floating around the web somewhere (I’ve included a few uploaded to YouTube here below). You may even be able to find the whole bloody thing.

I’ve seen it and it’s a shapeless mass of celluloid that only resembles the legendary comedy at the rarest of moments. There are plenty of moments that work, scenes that go on far too long, and jokes that land with a deafening thud. But a workprint is always far different than the final product. Watching one such as the 4.5 hour Spinal Tap gives you an insight into how crucial the editing process is when it comes time to reach deep into a miasma of improvisational comedy and pull out a classic of the genre that anyone who sees it will quote to their grave.

Just think of the workprint as the film equivalent of “Jazz Odyssey”.

This is Spinal Tap is now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment. Purchase your copy HERE.