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Larry Cohen Collection: “Special Effects”

Special Effects

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Next up in the Larry Cohen Collection is 1984’s “Special Effects,” a murder thriller starring Eric Bogosian.

“Special Effects” was both written and directed by Larry Cohen, his twelfth feature to both helm and write.

One of the producers for “Special Effects” was Paul Kurta, who frequently produced Larry Cohen movies such as “Q: The Winged Serpent” and “It’s Alive III,” and has more recently produced the hit television shows “Hell on Wheels” and “Veronica Mars.” Another one of the “Special Effects” producers was Barry Shils, who also produced “The Stuff,” “A Return To Salem’s Lot,” and the notorious Nicolas Cage movie “Vampire’s Kiss.”

The score for “Special Effects” was provided by Michael Minard, who also contributed music for “A Return To Salem’s Lot” and a film called “The Mutilator.”

The cinematography on “Special Effects” was provided by Paul Glickman, who also worked on Larry Cohen films “God Told Me To,” “The Stuff,” and “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover.” He also worked on a handful of other productions, such as “Frankenstein vs. Dracula” and the incestuously-named “Sex Family Robinson.”

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The editing for “Special Effects” was once again done by frequent Larry Cohen collaborator Armond Lebowitz,  who cut “Full Moon High,” “The Ambulance,” “The Stuff,” and “Q: The Winged Serpent” among others.

“Special Effects” assistant director Jenny Fitzgibbons was a regular Larry Cohen collaborator as both an assistant director and as an accountant / auditor. As the latter, she has also worked on such movies and television programs as “The Tree of Life,” “Limitless,” and the remake of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.”

The cast of “Special Effects” includes Eric Bogosian (“Talk Radio,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Wonderland”) in his first major role, Brad Rijn (“Perfect Strangers,” “A Return To Salem’s Lot”), and the late Zoe Lund (“Bad Lieutenant”) in two roles. Zoe Lund sadly died very young due to a drug-related heart issue, which isn’t particularly surprising given her advocacy of heroin use. Bogosian is now a recognizable television character actor as well as a regular stage performer, whereas Brad Rijn mostly only appeared in Larry Cohen movies in his brief film career.

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The story of “Special Effects” centers around the murder of a young actress by a declining director, who appears to get away with the crime. The director, seeing an opportunity and the inspiration to right his sinking career, decides to make a movie about the murder, going so far as to enlist the aide of of the deceased actress’s husband, the lead investigator on the murder case, and a doppelganger of the victim.

“Special Effects” is not a particularly well-remembered movie, and there aren’t a whole lot of reviews of it out there. It currently holds a 5.2 rating on IMDb, as well as an average rating of 2.9/5 on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Despite the mixed reviews, I found a lot to like about “Special Effects.” Bogosian in particular is great, and portrays a thoroughly manipulative and very creepy character. I’m a big fan of his acclaimed performance in “Talk Radio” (which he also wrote), and it is clear in “Special Effects” just how talented of an actor he is. He has bounced around between crime movies, comedies, and even action movies over his career, and I can’t say that I have ever seen a performance of his that I wasn’t impressed by. All of that said, this is one of the best performances of his that I have seen, next to only “Talk Radio.”

“Special Effects” is a very slow-paced movie, particularly for a thriller, which I am sure turned a lot of people off. I do wish it moved a little quicker, but the pacing didn’t bother me all too much. It seemed to fit with the atmosphere, which is more like a dark, looming presence than the conventional high-strung tension found in thrillers. The tone is really off-putting and unconventional, but I am tempted to say that it is that way by design.

Of the problems with “Special Effects”, the most notable are the weak performances from many in the accessory cast, which is not particularly deep. I also wasn’t particularly impressed with Zoe Lund, though a lot of that probably has to do with the way her characters are written. In particular, I found the character of Mary Jean to be nearly unwatchable. The review of “Special Effects” over at “The Obsessive Movie Nerd” captures my thoughts on her pretty well:

Unfortunately, Elaine is a very wishy-washy character. She proceeds to kinda-sorta fall in love with Keefe (even though she thinks he’s guilty), she kinda-sorta flirts with Neville (even though she thinks he’s a jerk), and she fully commits herself to playing the part (even though she doesn’t want to be an actress). I suppose Cohen felt that giving Elaine such contradictions would make her a more fully formed character in less screen time–after all, her character is introduced nearly halfway through the film. Maybe in the hands of a better actress, these character turns would have made more sense, but Tamerlis (famous in certain circles for her amazing performance in Abel Ferrara’s disturbing revenge flick, Ms. 45) just isn’t very good this time around. While she’s more comfortable as brassy New Yorker Elaine, she completely misses the mark as Mary Jean, playing these early scenes like the world’s funniest Cat on a Hot Tin Roof spoof.

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This isn’t so much as complaint as an observation, but all of the character in “Special Effects” are just awful people, there isn’t anyone to pull for. The whole movie is generally cynical, which oddly reminded me of Larry Cohen’s comedy “Full Moon High.” Despite the two movies being polar opposites of each other tonally, they both share a certain cynicism about the world that occasionally rises to the surface in Cohen screenplays.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the score for “Special Effects.” The synthesizer-heavy background feels like it is aiming for a John Carpenter style, but comes off feeling like an obvious knock-off. Michael Minard doesn’t have a whole lot of film music credits, and there might be a reason for that. At the same time, the style fits the movie in a lot of ways, but it certainly could have been pulled off better.

“Special Effects” undoubtedly has a really cool and interesting concept behind it, and has flashes of being Hitchcock-esque. That said, they are definitely just flashes. Overall, I can definitely see why it didn’t resonate with a lot of people, and why it is one of the many obscure entries in Larry Cohen’s filmography. Still, there are some very redeeming elements that make it worth checking out, not the least of which is Bogosian’s performance. If you are a Larry Cohen fan, look into digging this one up. Otherwise, “Special Effects” probably won’t have much draw for general audiences.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Cellular”

Cellular

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The next feature up in my spotlight on the career of Larry Cohen is 2004’s “Cellular,” starring Chris Evans and Jason Statham.

The story writing credit for “Cellular” went to Larry Cohen, while the screenplay credit went to Chris Morgan, who has gone on to write the vast majority of the sequels to “The Fast and The Furious.” Eric Bress (“The Butterfly Effect”) and J. Mackye Gruber (“Final Destination 2”) reportedly did uncredited rewrites of the script as well.

“Cellular” was directed by David R. Ellis, who has had a long career as an accomplished stunts guru, and is probably best known as a director for doing “Snakes on a Plane.”

The cinematography for “Cellular” was provided by Gary Capo, who has done work on such films as “Blood Diamond,” “McHale’s Navy,” “Final Destination 2,” and “The Thin Red Line.”

One of the key producers on “Cellular” was Dean Devlin (“Stargate,” “Independence Day”), who supposedly initially wanted to direct the movie, but instead decided to take a back seat creatively. He does appear in a small role in the film as a cab driver, however.

The music for “Cellular” was provided by John Ottman, who has provided scores for films like “Lake Placid,” “The Usual Suspects,” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”.

“Cellular” was cut by Eric Sears, who has done editing work on such films as “Into The Storm” and “D2: The Mighty Ducks.”

The cast for “Cellular” is led by Chris Evans in his days before becoming an Avenger and a household name. Kim Basinger (“L.A. Confidential”), Jason Statham (“Revolver,” “The Transporter”), and William H. Macy (“Fargo,” “Edmond”) also have significant roles in the film, and the accessory cast features recognizable faces such as Noah Emmerich (“The Truman Show”) and Jessica Biel (“Hitchcock,” “The A-Team”).

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The plot of “Cellular” follows a young man who receives a mysterious call on his cell phone from a kidnapped woman who needs his help to save the lives of her and her family.

Chris Evans reportedly did his own car stunts for “Cellular,” training for weeks as a stunt driver to become proficient enough to handle the workload safely.

Larry Cohen worked on the concept for “Cellular” concurrently with “Phone Booth,” and sees them as fundamentally opposite concepts. Both lead characters are stuck on a phone throughout the story, but one is trapped in one place whereas the other can go anywhere. Understandably, the similarities have led the films to be compared to each other extensively.

The dirty cops plot in “Cellular” was reportedly inspired by the LAPD Rampart scandal, and certainly bears a lot of similarities to the real life corruption in that case (police executions, drug dealing).

Apparently, Seann William Scott was considered for the small comic relief role of Chad, which ultimately went to Eric Christian Olsen.

“Cellular” was not received particularly well at the time, and currently has a score of 6.5 on IMDb along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 55% (critics) and 59% (audience). In spite of the negative reception, “Cellular” managed to gross nearly $57 million in its worldwide theatrical run on a budget of $25 million, making it a financial success.

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One of the first things I noticed about “Cellular” is that there is lots of product placement throughout the movie, particularly from Nokia. However, plenty of other brands are prominent throughout the film, to the point that it is a little bit distracting. Judging from some of the reviews I have seen, this left a bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and I can’t really blame them for that.

The central cast of Jason Statham, Chris Evans, and William H. Macy is really solid in this movie, and they all play their roles quite well. Kim Basinger wasn’t nearly as impressive in my opinion, but most of her performance was literally phoned in (ha). In all seriousness, her role kept her in one gear throughout the whole film, so she didn’t really get to show off any acting talent in the movie.

“Cellular,” by nature of being a tech-based story, feels really out of date now. I feel like “Phone Booth” got around that problem in the way it acknowledged the way technology was changing, which isn’t something that is done in “Cellular.” It is almost comical now to think that it wouldn’t occur to a police officer that phones can take video, which is integral to a major plot twist in the story. All of that said, the story of “Cellular” hasn’t aged nearly as bad as any of the 1990s cyber-thrillers.

One of the biggest criticisms I have seen of “Cellular” is that the story repeatedly goes beyond what is believable, but honestly, who cares? I don’t understand what was expected of this action movie for people to be so harsh on it for being unrealistic.

One of the staunchest supporters of “Cellular” against the wave of negative reviews was Roger Ebert, who wrote highly of it in his 3 1/2 out of 4 star review:

The plot of “Cellular” sounds like a gimmick, and no wonder: It is a gimmick. What’s surprising is how convincing it is, under the circumstances, and how willingly we accept the premise and get involved in it. The movie is skillfully plotted, halfway plausible and well acted; the craftsmanship is in the details, including the astonishing number of different ways in which a cell phone can be made to function — both as a telephone, and as a plot device.

This is one of the year’s best thrillers. Better than “Phone Booth,” for my money, and I liked that, too.

Personally, I don’t think “Cellular” holds a candle to “Phone Booth,” but it is serviceable and interesting as a concept and for simple entertainment. Some seem to think that it slows down too much, but I think it maintains a steady pace throughout that will keep most from getting distracted. It is a little better than middle-of-the-road as an action movie, which I think is good enough for most people. If you really like Statham or Evans, this is one worth checking out. If you were a big fan of “Phone Booth,” I’d say it is a must-see.

Larry Cohen Collection: “It’s Alive” (2008)

“It’s Alive” (2008)

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The next installment in the Larry Cohen collection is the little-seen 2008 remake of the cult classic “It’s Alive.”

The screenplay credit for “It’s Alive” is not given just to Larry Cohen, but also to two other people: Paul Sopocy, who has no other major writing credits (outside of a few episodes of “Elvira’s Movie Macabre”), and producer James Portolese (“The Ledge,” “Simon Sez”). It is unclear exactly how much input Cohen’s screenplay draft had into the ultimate film product, but at one point he had planned on writing, directing, and producing the remake according to an oft-quoted interview. He has also openly and bitterly denounced the film in interviews since the release, claiming:

I did give them a script and they, more or less, ignored what I gave them completely. I did make a lot of money on the deal, so I really can’t complain. I certainly didn’t want to give them their money back, so I’ll just have to live with it. I would advise anybody who likes my film to cross the street and avoid seeing the new enchilada.

“It’s Alive” was directed by Josef Rusnak, who also worked on such features as “The Thirteenth Floor” and “Godzilla” (1998), the latter as an assistant director.

The effects team for “It’s Alive” included makeup artist Timothy Huizing (“Smokin’ Aces,” “Scary Movie 2,” “Jack & Jill”), as well as such visual effects workers as Simeon Asenov (“Shark Attack 3: Megalodon,” “Drive Angry,” “The Legend of Hercules”), Velichko Ivanov (“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”), and Silviya Mariyanova (“Olympus Has Fallen,” “The Expendables 3”).

The cinematography for “It’s Alive” was provided by Wedigo Von Schultzendorff, a German director of photography who has worked on films such as “Igby Goes Down” and “Pandorum.”

The producers for “It’s Alive” included Mark Damon (“Mac and Me,” “Monster,” “Orgazmo”), Moshe Diamant (“Timecop,” “Simon Sez,” “Double Team,” “Dark Angel”), Boaz Davidson (“The Wicker Man,” “Mansquito,” “The Iceman”), Danny Dimbort (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Rambo,” “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”), and Robert Katz (“Stuck,” “The Ambulance”), among others.

alive083The “It’s Alive” score was contributed by Nicholas Pike, who also composed music for other features, including “Captain Ron” and “C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.”

The editing of “It’s Alive” was done by James Herbert, who has cut a number of Guy Ritchie films such as “RocknRolla” and “Revolver,” and Patrick McMahon of “The Shining” mini-series and “A Nightmare On Elm Street.”

The cast for “It’s Alive” includes Bijou Phillips (“Almost Famous,” “Choke”), James Murray (“Primeval”), Owen Teale (“Game of Thrones”), and Todd Jensen (“The Mangler”). The collection could generously be called “low-rent,” and honestly be called “weak,” something that is immensely clear from the peripheral performances.

alive082The story of “It’s Alive” centers around two young parents and their newborn child. At the child’s birth, the doctors and nurses are mysteriously murdered during the delivery, with no suspects or apparent motive. As the child becomes rapidly stranger and more violent, the parents are forced to confront the possibility that their baby is a serial killer.

“It’s Alive” was released straight to video by First Look Pictures, but was apparently given a very limited theatrical run specifically in the Philippines. In any case, I would be shocked if it made any money on its estimated $10 million budget.

“It’s Alive” was received very harshly, particularly by fans of the cult classic original. It currently holds a score of 3.5 on IMDb, and a Rotten Tomatoes audience rating of 6%. Larry Cohen himself went on record saying that the film was “a terrible picture…just beyond awful.”

There frankly isn’t a whole lot positive to say about “It’s Alive.” It features some inexplicably dreadful character and plot writing, which I assume is due to the inexperience of the two primary writers. There are also some awful performances as you get deeper into the accessory cast, such as the E.R. doctor who is slaughtered at the beginning of the film. I will say that Bijou Philips is not terrible, but her character’s writing just doesn’t make any sense. She never seems as disturbed as she should be by the events that happen throughout the film, and takes way too long to descend into panic over the baby’s violent outbursts. The effects overall are pretty cheesy (the baby is both ridiculous and wildly inconsistent), but the film doesn’t particularly look awful from a production standpoint, which is about all I can say for it.

alive081Overall, “It’s Alive” is just way off the mark from what it should have been. It lacks charm and thought, two qualities that distinguish Cohen’s films from most of the rest of the b-horror pack. I’m not sure what happened over the course of the production, but Cohen’s creative lock out seems like it doomed the effort out of the gate. There are a few decent deaths in the film, but the overall experience just isn’t fun or memorable enough to recommend.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Full Moon High”

Full Moon High

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Today, I’m going to be kicking off my coverage of the career of writer/director Larry Cohen with 1981’s “Full Moon High”: a horror parody movie which he wrote, directed, and produced.

The cinematography on “Full Moon High” was provided by Daniel Pearl, whose career goes all the way back to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” and includes a handful of other Larry Cohen films such as “Deadly Illusion,” “A Return to Salem’s Lot,” and “It’s Alive III.”

The score for “Full Moon High” was composed by Gary William Friedman, who is probably best known for providing the music to the television program “The Electric Company.”

“Full Moon High” features makeup effects by Steve Neill, who also worked on such b-movies as “Laserblast,” “God Told Me To,” “The Stuff,” “Battle Beyond The Stars,” and “Saturday the 14th.”

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The art director for “Full Moon High” was Robert Burns, who also worked on such iconic horror movies as “Re-Animator,” “The Howling,” “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” and “The Hills Have Eyes” over his career.

The editor for “Full Moon High” was Armond Lebowitz, who was Larry Cohen’s go-to editor for many of his most well-known features, including “The Stuff,” “The Ambulance,” and “Q: The Winged Serpent.”

The cast for “Full Moon High” is led by Adam Arkin in his first major film role, who is best known as the son of acclaimed actor Alan Arkin. It features a lot of familiar faces in the accessory cast, including Ed McMahon (“The Tonight Show”), Kenneth Mars (“The Producers”), Pat Morita (“The Karate Kid”), Bob Saget (“Full House”), Demond Wilson (“Sanford and Son”), Roz Kelly (“New Year’s Evil”), and even Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Argo,” “Catch-22”).

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The story of “Full Moon High” follows a high school football star who, while on a vacation to Romania, becomes an immortal werewolf. After he discovers how little control he has over his abilities, he leaves his hometown to wander the Earth. 20 years later, he decides to return home under the guise of being his own son in order to win the big high school football game that he never got to play.

“Full Moon High” was dedicated to the memory of Fenton Hamilton, who was Larry Cohen’s cinematographer and director of photography for “Black Caesar,” “It’s Alive,” “Hell Up In Harlem,” and “It Lives Again.”

The reception for “Full Moon High” was generally negative: it currently holds a 39% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a 4.8 rating on IMDb.

The premise for “Full Moon High” is primarily a parody of “I Was A Teenage Werewolf,” a notorious 1950s horror movie. Most viewers now would probably assume some connection to the movie “Teen Wolf” with Michael J. Fox, but “Full Moon High” actually predated it by a number of years.

There are definitely some brilliant moments here and there throughout “Full Moon High,” but it is really uneven in its quality. As many reviewers have pointed out, the film starts really strong, and then slows down and loses its comedic edge after the first half hour. It feels like a clever movie that didn’t get to percolate long enough to be really outstanding, like it may have been rushed through production too quickly.

That said, there are a number of golden and clever moments interspersed throughout the film. For instance, the use of spinning newspaper transitions, which is one of the most overdone elements in old movies, is poked at brilliantly. There are also other horror and teen movie tropes that get put over the fire, like the overuse of dramatic violin music as a cue.

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Personally, I think that one of the biggest issues with the movie is that Adam Arkin isn’t quite strong enough to carry the film from a comedic point of view. It certainly doesn’t help that his character is pretty inconsistently written: sometimes he is a bit of a moron, and other times he seems pretty sharp.

The style of humor in “Full Moon High” is also a bit perplexing. It is generally dark and sexually charged, and fairly biting with satiric elements. At the same time, it is also very traditionally goofy, which makes for a weird combination. It also doesn’t help that it has a few awkward moments of jokes that don’t land, which might be due to Cohen not having comedy writing experience previously, and still deciding to write it on his own.

Here are a couple of the memorable quotes from “Full Moon High” that have stuck with me:

“I’m not the type to believe in vampires, werewolves, or virgins. I’ve never seen any of those.”

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“They got me Joe. The commies turned my son into a wolf. I don’t know how they did it…might have been something in the water? Fluoride…they say fluoride is good for your teeth. Did you get a load of his teeth? I’ve heard about being long in the tooth, but that’s just too long. Oh Joe, why didn’t they listen to you back then when they had a chance?”

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Overall, “Full Moon High” certainly isn’t is good as it could be, but it is undoubtedly more daring and clever that “Teen Wolf.” For big fans of Larry Cohen’s work, it is worth checking out, but it isn’t quite solid enough to recommend to general audiences.

Bargain Bin(ge): Tape Ape VHS Swap Meet

Tape Ape VHS Swap Meet

Yesterday, I decided to check out a local VHS market that I heard about recently. Tucked away in the back of a semi-dilapidated building, boxes upon boxes of VHS tapes were laid out on tables, brought in from people all around the region. I usually stick to DVDs, but I wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity to find some rarities and flicks that haven’t made the jump to a disc or streaming release. And, sure enough, I found some cool stuff.

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On to the actual haul: here is a shot of all of the tapes I procured together. You can look forward to a good number of these popping up here on the blog for full reviews before too long, particularly the Larry Cohen flicks (“Deadly Illusion” and “Perfect Strangers”).

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Santa With Muscles

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I’ve covered this Hulk Hogan holiday flick before at length, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to finally snag a physical copy of it. This might be the only Mila Kunis movie worse than “American Psycho 2.”

Carnosaur

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“Carnosaur” was Roger Corman’s answer to “Jurassic Park,” and is a flick that I have been meaning to catch for a long time. I’ve seen a bunch of clips from it over the years, and can’t wait to see that adorable little dinosaur in action. Interestingly enough, I also almost picked up “Tammy and the T-Rex,” but decided against it.

Stay Tuned

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I first heard about “Stay Tuned” from an episode of “We Hate Movies,” and the concept behind the story sounds pretty interesting to me.I mean, of course Satan would be involved in show business somehow, right?

Space Camp Adventure

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This is a promotional video for Space Camp from 1994. From what I can tell, it was made at least in part in my home town of Huntsville, AL. At the very least, this is going to be packed with some solid nostalgia fuel. If it is anywhere near as ridiculous as the movie “Space Camp,” I will be very happy.

House

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“House” is a bit of a horror-comedy cult classic, but it is one that I have never actually gotten around to before. I’m expecting it to be very much up my alley, though. I mean, Steve Minor directed “Lake Placid” and “Soul Man,” so surely this is going to be on point! /s

Body Parts

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This is another flick that I know thanks to We Hate Movies. It sounds like a bizarre little body horror flick that I knew I had to track down after I heard about it. It reminds me a little of the Christopher Lambert “Se7en” knock-off “Resurrection,” which is another flick that I absolutely need to hunt down again soon.

Shark

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“Shark” is a Samuel Fuller flick with a lot of interesting back story. A stunt worker was killed by a shark during the production due to a tragic error, and Fuller ultimately abandoned the production entirely due to the producers’ shenanigans. The film is supposedly awful as a result, in spite of a hefty dose of Burt Reynolds in the lead role.

Perfect Strangers

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“Perfect Strangers” is a Larry Cohen movie that I don’t know much about, but it has not been easy to track down thanks to the immensely generic and oft-used title. The fact that it has been such a pain in the ass to find leads me to believe this is probably one of his lesser films as far as quality goes, but I might be surprised.

Communion

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I didn’t know anything about this movie until after I bought it. You have to take risks in life sometimes, and I am willing to gamble on a movie about Christopher Walken being abducted by aliens. The director was apparently responsible for a couple of the sequels to “The Howling,” as well as something called “Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills,” so I think I may have a winner here.

Deadly Illusion

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“Deadly Illusion” is another one of those Larry Cohen films that has been a pain in my ass to track down. It stars Billy Dee “Lando” Williams and Vanity (which is awesome), but it is apparently not about a serial killer magician like I had initially hoped. Still, I always have high hopes for Larry Cohen to pull out the stops to create an interesting story. Maybe a magician will be involved after all.

1990: The Bronx Warriors

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I have heard an awful lot about “1990: The Bronx Warriors,” and all of it leads me to believe that I am in for something special with this thing. Fred Williamson’s presence gets my attention for just about anything, but just look at that ideal box art. It is “The Warriors,” but with less money and more nonsense. Perfect.

 

 

Bargain Bin(ge) Las Vegas: Zia Record Exchange – Eastern

Welcome to the newest installment of the Bargain Bin(ge), where I cover used DVD stores from around the country and the various movies I have plundered from them.

Earlier this week, work took me out to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. With the limited free time I had, I decided to check out some used media stores in search of DVDs.

lasvegasI wound up visiting two locations of Zia Record Exchange, a chain of used media stores in the Southwestern states of Arizona and Nevada. This particular segment covers the Eastern Avenue location in Las Vegas, a little ways off the beaten path.

ziaeastern8 ziaeastern9As with the Sahara Ave. location, the Zia on Eastern is very much defined by its ambiance. I will say that it isn’t quite as distinctive as the Sahara location, and that it is a little better spaced out (I think the floorplan may be a bit bigger). This location proved to have an equally impressive movie selection, and plenty of good deals to go around.

ziaeastern1ziaeastern2ziaeastern3ziaeastern4ziaeastern5ziaeastern6ziaeastern7As you might expect, I came away with a pretty good haul after spending some time scouring through the bargain bins and shelves. Here’s are the flicks I came home with:

Destroy All Planets / Attack of The Monsters

14I am a total sucker for old kaiju movies, and these are two of the most ridiculous entries into the infamous “Gamera” franchise. I marathoned all of the classic ones a while back, and I thoroughly recommend checking out the MST3k treatment for “Attack of the Monsters” (“Gamera vs Guiron”).

The Beast of Yucca Flats

15Here’s a flick I covered as part of the IMDb Bottom 100: “The Beast of Yucca Flats.” It is usually in high consideration for being one of the worst films ever made, and the director, Coleman Francis, is easily one of the most notoriously awful filmmakers in history. Tor Johnson of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” stars in it, making it a sort of perfect storm of awfulness. I recommend checking out the MST3k treatment if you want to watch it, or else it is not a pleasant experience.

Gamera: Return of the Giant Monsters / The Magic Serpent

16“Gamera: Return of the Giant Monsters” is better known as “Gamera vs Gyaos,” and is one of the classics in the “Gamera” franchise. “The Magic Serpent,” on the other hand, seems to be a more obscure kaiju creature feature that leans more towards being a fantasy ninja epic. I’m curious to see how it is, because the few reviews out there about it seem positive.

It’s Alive

17“It’s Alive” is a cult classic from Larry Cohen, and a movie that I have had a lot of trouble finding on DVD. I’m a pretty big fan of the Cohen stuff I have seen, so this one has been on the top of my “to watch” list for a while now. Also, it is about a ridiculous killer baby. I am totally down with that. It got a remake a few years ago that I have also been meaning to check out. Keep your eyes peeled, because this one is for sure going to be popping up on the blog soon.

Active Stealth

18“Active Stealth” is a movie that stars Daniel Baldwin of “Car 54, Where Are You?,” “King of the Ants,” and “Vampires.” I think of him as a modern version of Joe Estevez, in that he is related to a famous person that he kind of looks like, and uses the similarities to rack up endless b-movie acting gigs. As for “Active Stealth,” director Fred Olen Ray has over 130 directing credits on b-movies like “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” and “Super Ninja Bikini Babes,” so I have to assume that this is a quality action flick.

Bargain Bin(ge) Las Vegas: Zia Record Exchange – Sahara

Welcome to the newest installment of the Bargain Bin(ge), where I cover used DVD stores from around the country and the various movies I have plundered from them.

Earlier this week, work took me out to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. With the limited free time I had, I decided to check out some used media stores in search of DVDs.

lasvegasI wound up visiting two locations of Zia Record Exchange, a chain of used media stores in the Southwestern states of Arizona and Nevada. This particular segment covers the Sahara Avenue location in Las Vegas, not far from the touristy allures of the casinos and hotels.

ziasahara11 ziasahara10 ziasahara8 ziasahara9 ziasahara4 ziasahara3 ziasahara2 ziasahara1The first thing that stood out to me about Zia was the cool ambiance to the place. The walls and signs are all well-decorated and hip, making for a top-notch atmosphere. As the name suggests, it is primarily a record store, but the inclusion of movies is hardly an afterthought: the selection was really fantastic, and I wound up finding a number of films I haven’t been able to find anywhere else in the wild. “Weekend at Bernie’s 2” comes to mind, though the price wasn’t right for me to walk away with it. Likewise, they had copies of “God Told Me To” with Larry Cohen commentary and “Leviathan,” although both were outside of what I wanted to pay.

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All of that said, I still found some good deals, and walked away with a nice stack of DVDs. If you find yourself in Las Vegas, it is worth your time to check out the selection at Zia Record Exchange if you are a fan of rare and cult films.

Cloned

1“Cloned” is a television movie from the early 2000s starring Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” “Cabin In The Woods”) and Elizabeth Perkins (“Weeds”). I’m a big fan of Whitford, but I haven’t seen him do much outside of his snarky, comedic comfort zone. The same goes for Perkins, who became mostly a comic relief player in “Weeds” in the later seasons. This looks to be a pretty heavy drama laced with sci-fi elements, so I’m interested to see how they work with a more somber backdrop.

It Lives Again / Island of the Alive

2I was rather delighted to find a combined copy of Larry Cohen’s sequels to the 1974 classic “It’s Alive,” partially because I have never seen copies of them before, and party because of how outlandish the premises are. Larry Cohen has a knack for finding the sweet spot between horror and comedy, and is one of my favorite b-movie directors along with Stuart Gordon for doing it so well. I’m planning to go through the whole “It’s Alive” trilogy soon, maybe in a multi-week spotlight on Larry Cohen much like I did with Gordon.

Special Effects

3This is another Larry Cohen flick that I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of. I don’t know much about this one, apart from that it is a twisted homage to Hitchcock’s thrillers. The premise of a movie director making a film about a murder he got away with is certainly intriguing, and I’m interested to see how Cohen pulls it off. He can certainly write suspense if “Phone Booth” is any indication, so this should be an interesting watch.

In Too Deep / Glass Shield / Cry, The Beloved Country / License To Kill / Malevolent / A Rage In Harlem / Road Ends / Ice

4I always love grabbing discount movie collections, because you always get your money’s worth in screen time at the very least. As opposed to most horror box sets composed of amateur flicks with awful effects, this action/crime set seems to be mostly built from TV movies featuring bankable stars (Ice Cube, Dennis Hopper, Forrest Whitaker, and Denzel Washington to name a few in here). The most prominent of the bunch on the box is “In Too Deep,” which was directed by Michael Rymer, who has since made a name for himself producing and directing on the hit TV shows “Hannibal” and “Battlestar: Galactica.” I’ll be interested to do more research into this lot, and see if there is some blog material in here.

Roadie

5“Roadie” is apparently a musical comedy starring Meat Loaf. I didn’t read any further into it than that, apart from finding out that the director, Alan Rudolph, was behind the “Breakfast of Champions” film adaptation. I’m assuming that this movie is going to be just awful, but I’m planning to buckle in for the experience.

Transformed

6I don’t know what this movie is, but it involves Fred Williamson, drugs, and martial arts, so I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. This may have been a mistake.

God Told Me To

God Told Me To

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Today’s feature is a surreal and somewhat obscure feature by b-movie icon Larry Cohen: “God Told Me To.”

“God Told Me To” was written and directed by Larry Cohen, one of my favorite figures in the b-movie world. He is probably best known for “It’s Alive,” but is also responsible for “The Stuff,” the “Maniac Cop” franchise, “Phone Booth,” and the blaxploitation classic “Black Caesar,” among many others.

The effects on “God Told Me To” were provided by first-timer Steve Neill, who went on to work special effects on movies like “Puppet Master,” “The Stuff,” “Saturday the 14th,” and “Laserblast.”

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“God Told Me To” was photographed by a man named Paul Glickman, who worked with Larry Cohen again in the 1980s on a handful of later films (“The Stuff,” “Perfect Strangers,” and “Special Effects”).

The music for “God Told Me To” was provided by Frank Cordell, and was his last film composition before his death in 1980. The music was initially slated to be provided by the legendary Bernard Hermann after he finished on “Taxi Driver,” but he tragically died of a heart attack immediately after completing that film’s score.

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The cast of “God Told Me To” was led by Tony Lo Bianco, Richard Lynch, Sylvia Sidney, Sandy Dennis, Deborah Raffin, and Robert Drivas. Interestingly, Andy Kaufman briefly appears in his first film role, surprisingly as one of the killers.

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The story of “God Told Me To” centers around an investigation into a series of perplexing murders, in which the killers all claim to have been instructed by God. A particularly religious detective attempts to dig up the bizarre roots of what he convinces himself are cult-motivated murders, in an attempt to prevent any more killings.

“God Told Me To” was also released under a couple of alternate titles, including “Demon” and “God Told Me To Kill,” though it is most widely known and recognized by the original title. I personally prefer “God Told Me To Kill,” but I am willing to bet that that title wasn’t going to fly for the theatrical release.

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One particularly surreal sequence of “God Told Me To” depicting an alien abduction (yes, the plot involves aliens by the end) features footage pulled from the 1970s British Sci-Fi series “Space: 1999.”

“God Told Me To” was clearly made on a minimal budget, but it looks pretty impressive considering. I wasn’t able to dig up any box office or budget information on the film, but apparently it was not financially successful or well-received upon its initial release. However, it has certainly gained a good deal of cult popularity over the years, particularly within the horror community. It was recently named as #94 on list of the 100 greatest horror movies on TimeOut.com, based on voting from an assortment of horror professionals (including Simon Pegg and Roger Corman, reportedly).

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“God Told Me To” was, as mentioned, not well received when it was initially released in theaters. It currently holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 55% (audience) and 75% (critic), as well as an IMDb score of 6.3.

“God Told Me To” is without a doubt a very weird movie that goes in odd directions, and is anything but predictable. Reviews I have seen almost always cite the ending and various revelations as confusing, but nonetheless inventive. It seems like only a very particular niche of viewers are going to enjoy this film, just because of where the surreal plot ultimately goes.

Roger Ebert wrote a particularly scathing review that took shots at both the screenplay and the editing on “God Told Me To”:

“This is the most confused feature-length film I’ve ever seen…There were times when I thought the projectionist was showing the reels in random order…a sort of 52-card pick-up of cinema.”

I personally think that the way the film is put together fits with the way the story becomes increasingly surreal as the plot goes on, and that Ebert was a bit more than unfair with his treatment of the film. The review is brief, but it is clear from the outset that he went in expecting to hate the movie, and that the experimental aspects of its construction didn’t work for him. I agree about his assessment of the cult leader character though, and thought they could have done a better job with him. He should have been something more than “a hippie who glowed yellow,” which I didn’t think carried the gravity that it should have.

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For fans of Larry Cohen’s earlier works, it is easy to see little bits of influence from his blaxsploitation movies in the details of “God Told Me To,” particularly in the inclusion of a flamboyant, extortionist gangster. Cohen’s films “Black Caesar” and “Hell Up In Harlem” are seen as near-essentials of the sub-genre, and are certainly worth looking into.

The opening sniper sequence of “God Told Me To” reminded me of another movie called “Targets,” Peter Bogdanovich’s first film made in 1968. The movie similarly centers around a spree killing, and features some similar shots of sniping. It has been on my radar for a while now, and may very well pop up on the blog for a review sooner or later.

Overall, I liked “God Told Me To,” though not as much as I thought I would going into it. The movie loses most of its coherence towards the end, which doesn’t necessarily have to happen with a surreal storyline if you ask me, but usually does. The film also loses some steam after a really strong opening hook and first act, but I thought that the ending was ultimately satisfying after a little bit of dragging in the middle.

I can definitely recommend “God Told Me To” for fans of Larry Cohen’s other works,  as well as for hardcore horror folks in general. I will say that it may be a bit weird for general audiences, and it is also a bit of a slow burn pacing-wise, with an atmospheric style that won’t resonate with a lot of people. I see this movie as a curiosity that is understandably obscure, and it is certainly not as fun or light-hearted as some of the later, more memorable Cohen movies. That said, it is arguably Cohen’s best film. If the bizarre plot doesn’t turn you off, I recommend giving it a shot.