Every Monday I watch and review a randomly picked movie I've never heard of before. I usually skip the more normal movies and pick the oddballs. Here's my latest batch.
SILENT MADNESS (1984)
Thoughts before watching: How did this movie slip under my radar? My best friend and I went to see FRIDAY THE 13TH: 3-D on opening night for his birthday. (His older sister worked at the theater and would let us into R rated movies.) The theater was packed. The audience was screaming and laughing together at all the right spots. The 3-D was amazing and blew my mind.
After that, I rushed out to see every 3-D movie that came out. JAWS 3-D and, AMITYVILLE 3-D. Even the lesser known ones like SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS, and THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE. (Not the Coen Brothers one, the shitty Steve Guttenberg one.) They were all bad movies, and the 3-D was awful.
This came out right at the end of the 80's 3-D trend. Still, had I known about it at the time I would've tried seeing this in the theater.
Dr. Joan Gilmore (Belinda Montgomery, Mother of DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D.) is a psychiatrist at an overcrowded, understaffed mental hospital. She notices on the DOS computer logs that the hospital accidentally released maximum security psychopath, Howard Johns, instead of the harmless John Howard.
Howard Johns killed a group of sorority girls in the fifties. Dr. Gillmore tries to warn the heads of the mental hospital that she believes Johns is heading to the sorority house to wreak havoc again. The hospital heads, led by Dr. Krueger, try to cover it up. They even provide a phony death certificate to try and show that Johns has been killed and cremated. Before this movie is over, the hospital is going to go to some ridiculous lengths to keep this mistake covered up.
And yes, Howard Johns is on his way to the sorority house. But first, he stops to kill a couple in a van down by the river with a sledgehammer and a hatchet. When he arrives on campus, he snatches a girl off a skateboard and brings her down to the boiler room of the sorority house and crushes her head in a vice.
The boiler room under the sorority house is the size of a shopping mall. It's interconnected with the whole college and even has its' own security guard.
Dr. Gilmore shows up in town and tries to warn the local Sheriff (character actor Sydney Lassick, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) of the madman on the loose. When she tells him the mental hospital has a death certificate, the Sheriff dismisses her as a whacko, and decides to just sit on his ass and stare at the wall.
Gilmore, left with no other options, decides to infiltrate the sorority house posing as a former alumnus needing a place to stay for the weekend.
While she's there, she meets the elderly Sorority House Mother (veteran screen actress, Viveca Lindfors, Aunt Bedilia of "Where's my cake, Bedilia?" CREEPSHOW fame) who tells her the tragic origin story of Howard Johns.
This is hands down my favorite part of the movie. It wouldn't be out of place in a slasher parody movie.
We're treated to a black and white flashback from the 1950s. A nineteen-year-old Howard John's is a worker at the college. While in the boiler rooms he stumbles across a sorority hazing of the girls paddling each other. When caught spying, the girls call him over and begin pouring liquor down his throat. They get topless and tease him. Then one of the girls starts spanking him with the paddle. Humiliated, young Howard picks up a nail gun and shoots down all the sorority girls. (With 3-D nails flying at the camera.)
I'm sorry, Howard Johns, but I have no sympathy for your tragic backstory. Boozing, and getting spanked by topless sorority girls sounds like my idea of an amazing Saturday night.
Jason Voorhees drowned. Freddy Krueger was burned alive. Howard Johns got a spanking.
So, the Sheriff calls the mental hospital and tells them Dr. Gillmore has been snooping around. The mental hospital really wants to cover their tracks, so they send two sadistic orderlies to retrieve Johns and Gillmore, the latter who they plan on drugging and committing to the vegetable ward of the hospital.
So we have Howard Johns chasing sorority girls. Dr. Gillmore, who's chasing Howard Johns. And two orderlies who are chasing both Johns and Gillmore.
There really should have been a long hallway shot with all groups chasing each other across the hall, and through different doors. At fast forward speed. With Yackety Sax playing.
For a movie about a guy escaping from a mental hospital and killing sorority girls, that's a whole heaping helping of the plot. I didn't even bring up the romantic sub-plot between Dr. Gillmore and a local newspaper reporter.
The killer is generic. The sorority girls are all cardboard cut-outs lined up for slaughter — no suspense or tension. The killings are tame, with no special make-up effects. Aside from a few shots of boobs, it's almost a made for T.V. movie.
It could've been just another bland slasher clone, but the script throws in a few curveballs. Implausible ones, but it keeps things interesting.
Afterthoughts: After writing this, I searched up reviews from people who have actually seen the 3-D print. Supposedly, this is one of the better looking 3-D films of the era. I would definitely watch this again if I ever have the opportunity to see an original 3-D print.
Also, I recognized this movie once I saw the VHS box art.
I've seen that box in the horror section of dozens of video stores. I've always passed it up. Maybe if they would've used the poster art, I might have seen this movie years ago.
SQUAD 77 (2006)
Thoughts before watching: This is a movie I was supposed to watch last month but couldn't find, so I ordered a physical copy online.
It's a Christian THE DIRTY DOZEN type movie, and I genuinely wanted to watch it. It could be an unintentionally hilarious gem. Or it could be a flaming bag of feces.
Yeah, it's a flaming bag of feces.
The movie starts when Allen Davis, former leader of the elite squad of missionaries known as SQUAD 77, is contacted by a Recruiting Guy to go on one more dangerous mission. Allen tells him he's going to need a team. So Recruiting Guy goes out and does what he does best. Is he going to find mercenaries and ex-military badasses for this perilous mission? No, he's going to go to a local soccer game and pass his business card around to random twenty-somethings. Then he's off to the local youth group to recruit a few girls.
He enlists a rocket scientist, and we know she's really smart because she's wearing a lab coat and examining the contents of a beaker. I bet she's going to use her intelligence to help the team save the day.
Then he recruits a couple of gamers playing original Xbox in their Mom's basement. How he even finds these guys is never explained. I bet these guys are going to use their video gaming skills to help the team save the day. Maybe piloting a remote-controlled helicopter with explosives.
Next up is a nerdy kid who lacks strength, but makes up for it with a ton of heart. I bet he's going to do something really courageous to help out the team. Nope. None of these set-ups are going to have any payoff. The rocket scientist, video gamers, and brave nerd aspect will never even be brought up again.
Recruiting Guy rounds everything out by recruiting Homeless Runaway Girl and Token Black Guy. It's SUICIDE SQUAD for Jesus.
So now their training starts. And train they do. First, we get a training montage of push-ups and sit-ups set to Casio keyboard music. Then a scene of the squad complaining about how sore they are. Then we get a montage of wall climbing and rope course training set to Christian rock. A small scene between Soccer Guy and Homeless Runaway Girl. Then a montage of an obstacle course, wall climbing, and push-ups set to Casio keyboard music.
Six back-to-back montage sequences! Almost half the movie is made up of training montages. Damnit movie, a montage is supposed to show progress being made quickly so you can get on with the story when you show thirty minutes of montages you kind of defeat the whole purpose.
So, training is finally over, and we go to some unspecified country for some unspecified mission by boat. It's not an ocean liner, and they're not fooling anyone, it looks like a ferry in the Pacific Northwest.
When they get to the shore of this country, they find it heavily guarded by armed wholesome whitebread twenty-somethings. They make their way to a missionary couple that has been in this country for a while. The couple needs Squad 77 to go and retrieve a cache of bibles in a crate that has been dropped off, and the couple can't get to them because of the armed soldiers in the area.
So SQUAD 77 sets off and gets the crate of bibles. As they're carrying the crate, the cringiest scene in the movie happens. A couple of armed soldiers run across the group and demand to see what's in the crate. Token Black Guy steps up and says he's a famous rapper on his way to a show, and the crate has his equipment being carried by his roadies. He busts out a Christian rap and the soldiers, and everyone starts dancing.
After the soldiers leave, the squad finally decides to open the crate and take a look inside, but instead of bibles, they find packets of powder. Soccer Guy thinks it's sugar, but Token patiently explains to the slow cracker they've been carrying drugs.
The movie hasn't had any use for logic thus far, but now it goes completely off the rails. So they've discovered they're carrying drugs. Do they ditch the drugs and walk away? Nope. They complete the delivery — a Christian film where the heroes willingly participate in drug trafficking.
After they deliver the drugs to a concrete bunker they have to fight their way out then they make their way to the actual crate they were supposed to pick up. It contains eight bibles. Eight bibles? All this recruiting, and training was to get eight bibles to this missionary couple? Why didn't they bring bibles with them from America? What the fuck movie?
If you couldn't tell this movie chunks logic right out the window. But it's not just the story, every aspect of this movie is inept. The camera work is horrible. Some scenes cut actors out of frame while they're talking. A couple of scenes are out of focus. It was edited with a rusty butter knife. The audio is so bad I couldn't hear certain lines. (Not that it would have made any difference.)
This movie should be shown to film school students as an example of what not to do.
Now I own one of the worst movies ever. Usually, I give my watched movies to the local thrift store. This movie is way too bad to inflict on someone else. I'm just going to take it out back and do to it what it did to me for an hour and twenty minutes.
Thoughts before watching: Not to be confused with the 1996 Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito movie. This one's about a boxing kangaroo.
So, Billy "The Kid" Baker, (Clive Revill, the original Emperor in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), former welterweight champion of the British Isles, moves to New York City with his pet kangaroo Matilda. After a skirmish with a food vendor, Matilda is taken to animal control. Needing to come up with cash to get Matilda back, Billy seeks the help of a local boxing promoter. He offers the promoter the services of Matilda as a boxer in exchange for bailing the kangaroo out of animal jail. He laughs him off and offers him to his loser, brother-in-law, Bernie (Elliott Gould).
Bernie runs a talent agency and is currently managing a knife-throwing act. He decides to bail out Matilda and takes him (Matilda is a him) to the local boxing gym for a test run. One by one, Matilda begins punching boxers out of the ring. Boxers are lining up to jump in the ring for a shot at punching an animal in the face. Bernie gets a huge money boner and immediately books Matilda at a circus, where the person who volunteers to fight Matilda and win gets five hundred dollars. With a little finagling, and a whole lot of unlikely coincidence, Bernie manages to get the heavyweight boxing champion to be there and step in the ring with the marsupial pugilist. Matilda quickly lays him out flat. Local sportswriter Duke Parkhurst (Robert Mitchum, he must be buying a new house, or owe someone a favor), also happens to be there and reports the win.
The heavyweight champ is currently owned by local mob boss Uncle Nono. (That doesn't sound like the name of an Italian mob boss, it sounds like something you would say to a gropey uncle.) Duke has been waiting for a chance to write a story on the corruption of boxing and expose Uncle Nono. He calls Bernie to his office and suggests setting up a big heavyweight fight, but while he does that he needs Bernie and crew to go out of state for a bit.
So they drive around the country in a van going from state to state having Matilda box local champs. While they're touring, they're followed by an animal rights activist, Kathleen (Karen Carlson, THE OCTAGON) who is protesting all their shows. When Bernie finds out, they're staying in the same the same hotel he goes up to her room to seduce her. His seduction techniques are very suave. First, he grabs her, and forcibly starts kissing her. After she pushes him off her and slaps him, he grabs her for another forced kiss. When she demands he get out of her room, he throws his shoe at her.
Soon Kathleen calls him to come back to her room, causing Elliott Gould to make this face:
Yeah, I can't believe it either.
After this, she never brings up animal cruelty again. Who cares about all this animal rights bullshit when you can have sexy time with Elliott Gould instead.
Meanwhile, Uncle Nono wants to take Matilda out. We know Uncle Nono is a bigtime mafia boss because every time he's onscreen a rip-off of THE GODFATHER theme plays. He sends his Italian cartoon stereotype thugs out to kidnap Matilda. They try to kidnap him by throwing a net over him. After that fails, Uncle Nono sends them after Matilda with a hatchet to cut off his tail. (Goddamn!) This results in a weak THREE STOOGES routine with cartoon sound effects.
We get to the big fight in Reno with The Champ. Backstage, Billy tells everyone that if a kangaroo is punched, it will stop fighting for the rest of his life. I have Google, and this isn't true.
But let's just roll with the movie and pretend it's true. Why would he wait so long to tell everyone? Matilda's toured the country and been in at least twenty fights. Why is he bringing up this important fact now? Damnit Clive Revill, if it were up to me, just for this, you should be taken out of the movie and replaced with Ian McDiarmid.
After the second round bell of the fight, Matilda is walking back to his corner and is given a cheap shot to the back of his head causing him to fall forward and crack his neck on the ring stool. Later Bernie comes to the hospital to visit Matilda, who is paralyzed from the neck down from the spinal injury. Matilda begs Bernie to end his suffering. After going home and contemplating Bernie comes back to the hospital and injects Matilda with adrenaline, then walks out of the hospital while Morgan Freeman narrates.
Alright, that's not the real ending of MATILDA. I really wish it was though.
Before I critique it, let me address this. Matilda isn't a real kangaroo. It's a MAN IN SUIT! MAN IN SUIT! MAN IN SUIT!
Not a very convincing suit. Actually, it's ill-fitting and ratty looking. The most unsettling thing about it to me, though was the eyes. The yellow, dead, soulless eyes.
"The thing about a kangaroo, it's got lifeless eyes, like a doll's eyes. When it comes at you, it doesn't seem to be livin'...until he punches you, and those yellow eyes roll over white."
I honestly believe, even with the bad kangaroo suit, this movie could've worked. It has a really fun premise. They should've just had goofy fun with this movie. Instead, the movie takes itself way too seriously. It has plotholes out the ass. A romance that is cringey, and illogical. The movie even stops in its tracks twice for McDonald's ads. The first time Matilda and crew stop at a McDonald's restaurant and they're greeted by smiling cashiers and given their food. The second time during Matilda's training, Bernie walks up to Matilda with a tray of perfectly arranged McDonald's food and says, "Here, you deserve this." Ugh, up yours movie.
The only time I laughed during this was when the guy in the kangaroo suit stumbled and almost face planted, but saved himself by grabbing the back of an actor in front of him. They left it in the movie. I watched it at least five times.
And Clive Revill was the best actor in the movie. I would never replace him with Ian McDiarmid.
If you haven't seen it yet, and you want to see a boxing movie with fantasy elements, check out REAL STEEL. I unapologetically love this movie. I wish I would've seen this movie with my Dad when I was a kid. If you're a Dad reading this and you have a son between five and twelve, do yourself and him a favor and watch it together.
Afterthoughts: Here's Robert Mitchum being a good sport and promoting MATILDA on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON. Matilda comes out at the end and stumbles a bit going to Johnny's desk.
Thoughts before watching: I don't know what this movie's about. But judging from the poster, this is a movie about a head floating in the ocean during a lightning storm, surrounded by a ring of fire, shooting lightning from his mouth, with powers that are terrifying.
Nick Rast (David Hemmings, BARBARELLA) is an Australian senator whose son, Alex has terminal leukemia. During Alex's birthday party, he's entertained by a clown magician that can perform non-standard party tricks like summoning thunder on cue.
That night Alex begins bleeding from the mouth, and the doctor comes to the house. The Doctor tells the Senator and his wife Sandra, (Carmen Duncan, ASH VS. THE EVIL DEAD) that Alex can't handle anymore chemo and treatment needs to stop. While the parents are in Alex's bedroom, the party clown, sans make-up, pops in from the bedroom window. This is the lightning shooting poster boy, Gregory Wolfe, (Robert Powell, THE ITALIAN JOB). Gregory grabs Alex out of bed stands him up, shakes him and yells, "Do you want to die? To rot?". And just like that little Alex is healed.
After this, Gregory becomes a regular fixture in the Rast household, he even starts a relationship with Sandra. Senator Rast is alright with it, they have an open marriage, and he has a girl on the side. The Senator's fellow politicians are suspicious of Gregory, and his position in the household.
During a party at the Rast estate Gregory is called a hoax, so he livens up the place by levitating a piano, making a dove appear on a bald man's head then flinging a cymbal at it slicing it in half, and also ridding an elderly woman of a tumor.
Upstairs, the housekeeper accuses Gregory of rape, so he's tackled by several men and dragged off to jail.
While he's in jail the upper politicians of the Senator provide him with a dossier on Gregory Wolf proving he is indeed a hoax. The way he supposedly cured Alex is by slipping him steroids, making him think he's healthy. The other tricks are explained away as simple parlor tricks any magician can pull off. Really? Please explain the floating piano then.
Gregory Wolf escapes from jail and heads back to Senator Rast's home. For revenge, or something else?
Also, he does shoot lightning from his mouth.
This movie is basically a twisted version of MARY POPPINS. I liked this movie to a certain point. I really liked it when the movie was ambiguous about whether or not Gregory Wolf was the real deal or a charlatan. The movie has its own agenda, and it ends in a way that serves the story it was trying to tell. But, it really does leave quite a few loose ends that really don't add up. Also at the end, Gregory starts doing a Michael Meyers thing that's really out of character for this movie.
Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I realized this just wasn't going to have a satisfying conclusion. (Go ahead with your GAME OF THRONES season 8 jokes.)