Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)

Article 3722 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-8-2011
Posting Date: 10-23-2011
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Featuring Barry Crocker, Barry Humphries, Donald Pleasence
Country: Australia
What it is: Wild Aussie comedy

When Barry McKenzie goes abroad with his Aunt Edna, the latter is mistaken for the queen of England by Transylvanian spies who intend to kidnap her and take her to the castle of Count von Plasma, a communist vampire. Can Barry rescue her?

This Australian comedy (an example of the current renaissance of Australian culture, or so the man tells me at the beginning of the movie) is what is generally described as “outrageous”; it’s certainly not politically correct, with its flirtations with racism and homophobia, and it’s often crude and very lowbrow (with its incessant foul language and its emphasis on bodily functions, sex, scatology, and nonstop beer-drinking). And, truth to tell, it’s only sporadically funny. But what may be more to the point is that even when the movie doesn’t work, it doesn’t annoy me; the jokes that fall flat don’t do so in a way that makes me cringe. In truth, I think, on a whole, the movie more or less works. I think it’s because it succeeds in its primary purpose, which I believe is to present a somewhat endearing yet over-the-top parody of broad Australian stereotypes. Somehow, all the cussing sounds natural when peppered with a plethora of Australian idioms, so it doesn’t grate on the ear. My favorite moments are the musical numbers; somehow, these crude ditties gain a lot of comedic value when whole crowds of people sing along with them. I do find myself wondering just how much of the budget of the movie was dedicated to creating the geyser of foam that emerges from every can of Foster’s opened during the run of the movie. Sadly, one of the things that does not work is Pleasence’s performance here; his vampire character is saddled with a bad speech impediment that simply isn’t funny.


Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985)

Article 3721 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-7-2011
Posting Date: 10-22-2011
Directed by Bill L. Norton
Featuring William Katt, Sean Young, Patrick McGoohan
Country: USA
What it is: Dinosaur film

A female paleontologist and her husband discover a family of brontosauruses living in an African jungle. When a rival paleontologist discovers them, he captures the mother dinosaur, and the father dinosaur gets killed in the process. Can the husband and wife rescue the mother dinosaur while keeping the rival from also kidnapping the baby dinosaur?

Because in my heart, I believe that dinosaur movies will always have a special magic for children, I believe that when they’re made, the filmmakers should take a certain amount of consideration of that audience. I think that’s why this movie leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth; though the basic story itself could appeal to children, the movie is peppered with touches that make it somewhat inappropriate for that audience; there are nasty and mean-spirited characters, an ugly strain of sexism, a certain preoccupation with sex, and too much violence, much of which could have been left out without harming the basic story. I also found the special effects to be a real mixed bag; the dinosaurs look more impressive in full body shots and from a distance than they do in the up-close head shots, where they look rather unexpressive. Quite frankly, the movie betrays a certain lack of care and thought. In the end, the problems sapped the fun out of the movie for me.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)

Article 3718 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-4-2011
Posting Date: 10-19-2011
Directed by Daniel Haller
Featuring Gil Gerard, Pamela Hensley, Erin Gray
Country: USA
What it is: STAR WARS-inspired TV series pilot

After being frozen aboard his spaceship for 500 years, a pilot from the 20th century is revived. He finds himself embroiled in a plot by aliens to destroy the Earth, but the Earthlings of the future think he’s a spy. Can he defeat the aliens and convince the Earthlings of his sincerity?

Despite the fact that I’m primarily covering movies for my project, I seem to brush up against TV shows quite a lot, thanks to the concepts of editing TV episodes into movies or (as in this case) making movie-length pilots for the TV shows. I was expecting something fairly juvenile at first, but the opening credits take place while Buck is frozen and apparently dreaming, and his dreams largely consist of him encountering and making out with half-dressed females, a concept which made me feel the movie was a lot closer to FLESH GORDON than to STAR WARS. Well, I understand the concept of including sexy females to attract some of the older males, but, truth to tell, I found the females on display to be of the type that I would describe as sexy in the “I’ve just spent the last fifty hours with my hairdresser and cosmetician to remove any last vestige of humanity from my looks; please don’t breathe on me or you’ll lose the effect!” way that I find distinctly unsexy. The movie eventually descends into a series of double-entendres that are reminiscent of Matt Helm at his worst, and this, combined with the lousy script and the presence of one of the most obnoxious “cute” robots I’ve ever seen (I’m sure there must have been a “Dismantle Twiki” movement somewhere), I not only found this pretty painful but I wondered just who it was intended for. On the plus side, I did find it colorful. I avoided this series when it was on TV, and now I’m glad I did. Worst scene: Buck teaches the people of the future how to dance to rock and roll. Worst double entendre: I’m not going to repeat the whole thing, but the phrase “the emperor’s seat” is involved.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

aka L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo
Article 3713 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2011
Posting Date: 10-14-2011
Directed by Dario Argento
Featuring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno
Country: Italy / West Germany
What it is: Giallo

An American writer in Italy witnesses an attempted murder, but he becomes obsessed with the scene he witnessed because there’s something wrong that he can’t quite figure out. However, the attempted murder appears to be linked to a group of similar murders… and the writer soon finds himself being stalked by the killer. Nevertheless, he embarks on his own investigation…

This was Dario Argento’s first directorial effort, and it’s remarkably well assured; already there’s a strong sense of style, an interesting and intriguing story, and some great use of music (as well as silence). Nevertheless, I wish I had seen this one before I saw some of his other movies, largely because it felt a little too familiar; I found myself hearkening back to my viewings of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET and DEEP RED, both of which struck me as quite similar to this one. Yet, because this movie predated both of them, I can’t really judge the movie on these terms; if anything, the latter movies built off what he started in this one, so this one must be really considered the innovator. As usual, the horror element is the psychotic killer on the loose, and, like FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, the title won’t make any sense until you’re on the threshold of solving the mystery. There’s a bit of black comedy to add to the proceedings as well, with characters such as an addled painter and an over-cautious stool pigeon to add to the fun. It’s less bloody than some of his later movies, but it’s still quite effective.

Basket Case (1982)

Article 3699 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-15-2011
Posting Date: 9-30-2011
Directed by Frank Henenlotter
Featuring Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner
Country: USA
What it is: Grotesque horror comedy

A young man arrives at a seedy New York hotel with a basket. What’s in the basket is small, alive, incredibly strong, and is capable of making bloody mincemeat of doctors living in the area.

The DVD package for this movie features a quote from Rex Reed in which he describes it as the sickest movie he’s ever seen, though I’m sure that I could find a few others that would get my vote instead. Still, according to the blurb on this movie in the “Fantastic Cinema Subject Guide”, the biggest critic of the movie was the director himself, Frank Henenlotter, who apparently hated it. I can only assume that the movie didn’t match his vision of it, because, frankly, he’s got nothing to be ashamed of here. If this movie was made on as low a budget as I heard it was, then he certainly displayed the directorial chops to bring it to life; it’s certainly better than anything I’ve seen from Herschell Gordon Lewis, to whom this movie was dedicated. Yes, it’s loaded with gore and nastiness, but it’s also peppered by a strong sense of humor, makes extremely good use of its seedy locations, has an interesting array of characters, moves along at a crisp pace, and features acting which, while not always what I would call “good”, is always entertaining. I love certain touches, such as the fact that the young man tells the backstory at the time when it’s most logical for him – that is, when he’s roaring drunk. I saw this one on commercial TV years ago, and I was surprised at watching it now how little it was cut – that is, until the end of the movie when the sex angle becomes more prominent. And I have to admit that the most memorable moment for me was the demise of the father, a horrible death with a funny punch line. It’s easy for me to see why this is such a cult favorite.

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)

Article 3675 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-22-2011
Posting Date: 9-6-2011
Directed by Otto Preminger
Featuring Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea
Country: UK
What it is: Mystery thriller

In England, an inspector is called in to investigate the disappearance of the daughter of a single American mother who has just moved to the country. However, when he can find no evidence for the existence of the child at all, he begins to suspect that the woman may be delusional…

Otto Preminger was an interesting if uneven director with his own set of obsessions, and at one point in this movie, I found myself pondering a certain comparison between his work and Jesus Franco’s and then was startled when the movie suddenly dropped the name of the Marquis de Sade. As a mystery, this one is really not that tricky; you’re basically given two options (the child exists or the child does not exist), and if you go with the correct option, you’ll probably sort it all out before the movie spells it out for you. The movie may seem somewhat borderline in its fantastic content; the option that the woman is delusional certainly points to the theme of madness. All I’m going to say is that madness definitely plays a big role in the proceedings before the movie winds up. If the mystery isn’t difficult, it does manage to give us some good thrills before it’s all through; in fact, this appears to be one of the better movies from Preminger’s waning period from the mid-sixties onward. The movie also features a memorable performance from Noel Coward. All in all, this one is quite satisfying.

Boogie Woogie Man Will Get You If You Don’t Watch Out (1943)

Article 3620 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-28-2011
Posting Date: 7-13-2011
Directed by Shamus Culhane
Featuring the voice of Loumell Morgan
Country: USA
What it is: Musical cartoon

Ghosts at a convention decide to update their shtick by learning to swing.

Here’s another Walter Lantz cartoon, and like yesterday’s, it probably wouldn’t get shown on TV because of a few stereotypes in the character designs. There’s no real plot to this one; it’s mostly ghosts boogieing to the title song. They also listen to the band “Spook Jones and his Creepy Crooners”, but beyond the name, there’s no real resemblance to Spike Jones and his City Slickers other than the fact they play jazz. The music is catchy and the animation is very well done. All in all, this one is quite entertaining.