My Favorite Movies

  1. LittleMissBloodAndGuts
  2. Pamela

See my sci-fi and horror lists for more of my favs.

not in the database: The Kremlin Letter (1969) (I give it five stars)

  LittleMissBloodAndGuts's Rating My Rating
Let's Scare Jessica to Death (What Killed Sam Dorker?) 1971,  PG-13)
Let's Scare Jessica to Death (What Killed Sam Dorker?)
A moody, brooding horror piece about a mental patient, the ghost of a vampire, and a creepy old country house with an unsavory history.
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud 1975,  R)
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud
Sometimes history repeats itself. Again and again and ...
Tattoo 1981,  R)
Bruce Dern is at his best as a disturbed suitor with a restless tattoo needle.
The Adjuster 1992,  R)
The Adjuster
The lives of some very unconventional people meet under lurid circumstances in this sulky, dark story full of atmosphere and irony.
Hypnosis 2004,  Unrated)
The line between fantasy and reality becomes indiscernible in this dark tale of madness and intrigue in a remote island insane asylum.,
Dark Corners 2006,  Unrated)
Dark Corners
An eerie, surrealistic story about the blurring between fantasy and reality, this world and the one after.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot 1974,  R)
Salvage 2006,  Unrated)
Boxing Helena 1993,  R)
Let the Right One In 2008,  R)
Let the Right One In
A very well conceived and executed vampire movie. The most interesting I have seen.
Liquid Sky 1983,  R)
Liquid Sky

Liquid Sky

WRITTEN BY: Slava Tsukerman, and Anne Carlisle
DIRECTED BY: Slava Tsukerman
FEATURING: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady
PLOT: Tiny aliens land their flying saucer on the roof of a New York City penthouse and begin sucking the brains out of sex-addicted New Wave beatniks.

COMMENTS: Aliens come to Earth in search of a heroin rush. It seems the little green, er, ah, terrestrially challenged ones don't have the requisite opposing thumbs needed for handling a set of "works," so they enjoy their smack the next best way: by telekinetically extracting the grey matter essence of heroin addicts whose brains are flooded with opiates. Wonderful though it may be, the heroin turns out to be only a gateway drug for the saucer-jockeys. While some human poppy heads may find death to be the ultimate narcotic, the aliens soon discover that the endorphin rush in a juicy human brain during orgasm is the ultimate high, and they reset their priorities accordingly.

Now the knarley little starmen seek out fornicators and harvest their orgasms for the best buzz. Still guided by the scent of smack, the space-meisters dock their star-buggy on the roof of a penthouse shared by a drug dealer and her lesbian fashion model lover. Their apartment contains a large amount of heroin, but better yet, a lot of degenerate sex occurs there as well.

When the two gal pals aren't waxing philosophic during their performance art exhibitions and dance routines at a local New Wave club, they are attracting a steady stream of addicted customers, androgynous jet trash, and depraved sex fiends back to their pad. The astral hop heads make the most of the situation and suck hapless guests dry when they sexually relieve themselves. Of course this kills each guest, but no matter. A few dead bodies are an almost normalizing factor at these two girls' crazy, drug -addled, day-glo- non-stop New Wave penthouse party.

A Berlin scientist who has been studying the aliens makes the scene and tries to rescue the girls before the little neuron nibblers absorb their whacked-out noggins as well. The situation becomes a bit sticky when he discovers that the fashion model has plans of her own for the moonmen junkies.

Liquid Sky is a terribly dated, low budget film that is imaginatively colorful and oh so avant garde. While it looks pretty campy now, 1980's hipsters affirm that at the time of its release, Liquid Sky was considered to be the coolest thing by New Wave standards since mirrored spectrums, and "smart drinks."


I've been getting some questions about "spectrums." "Are you sure you don't mean 'SPECULUM,' Pam?" I am being asked. No, not if my mammary serves me correctly. A "speculum" would be more kinky than fashionable and besides, you can't see through one.

This is the best surviving image of SPECTRUMS I could find. The nice ones had a single pane with no divider. The band DEVO used to wear them sometimes with their upside-down flower pot hats. Gosh, I sure hope this clears that up. Duty now for the future, spuds!
Kontroll 2005,  R)


WRITTEN BY: Jim Adler and Nimród Antal
DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal
FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Bence Mátyássy, Eszter Balla, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, and György Cserhalmi
PLOT: A Budapest metro transit cop copes with eccentric passengers and coworkers as he pursues a veiled serial killer. Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.

COMMENTS: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity. The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway. Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely combination of plot elements. He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life's daily ironies into an imaginative story. The resulting integration presents a unique, alternate viewing experience.

COMMENTS: Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, neural convolutions of the Budapest underground. A man runs for his life through a tunnel between two trains. A hooded figure emerges from cracks in the wall to launch the unwary under oncoming subway cars. A puzzling girl (Balla) haunts the maze-like passages disguised as a bear. Ticket inspectors engage in madcap jousts and chases with each other when they are not comically pursuing a colorful assortment of freeloading ruffians. A host of eccentric characters cavort and couple in a subterranean round-table of flickering signal lamps, iron and darkness. The dungeonesque rail network is a facsimile of the social essence in which human comedy and causality are highlighted in a microcosmic imitation of life.

Bulcsú (Csányi), dwells in the middle of the extensive sunken recesses of the Budapest subway. He eats, sleeps, lives and works entirely in the sub-terrestrial grid of the underground system. He dines at passenger cafeterias and auto-mats. He deadheads through the endless concrete passages and corridors of the colossal subterranean complex, and never abandons his somnambulist lifestyle to ascend into the sunlight of the city above.

Bulcsúis is a "kontroller," a member of a team of ticket inspectors who strive to corral the barely controllable anarchy of harried masses and hostile riders. Like Ernest Borgnine's Argus-eyed character "Shack" in 1973's Emperor Of The North Pole, he and his motley crew of fellow controllers are charged with ensuring that no member of the public garners a free ride.

Similar to the New York City transit police, Budapest ticket inspectors operate in teams of four or five, bonded by their sooty, untoward jobs, by the tumultuous cacophony and bedlam of the subway system, and by their dread of an abusive general public. Their mission is no easy task, for the metro clients bitterly resent the enforcers. Those who have purchased their tickets are irritated to have to show them. Those who didn't purchase are loath to be found out. The situation is conducive to the film's exposition of the social attitudes and ironies.

The freeloaders fabricate a variety of excuses and attempt to derail the controllers with con games, evasion and escape. Irritability turns to outright hostility as interlopers threaten Bulcsúis with Old World hexes, used syringes and physical violence. Such affronts are presented by the nicer passengers. Even worse are the gangs of paint-faced, pipe-wielding hooligans, a la Walter Hill's The Warriors.

Coping with the gloomy dank solitude of his surroundings and the irascible, wily riders, Bulcsúis must also contend with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy lorded over by a cantankerous locomotive of a foreman (Cserhalmi) who has no patience for Bulcsúis or his misfit colleagues. There exists a hierarchy among the controller teams, based on performance and ticket quotas. Bulcsúis's band of controllers is coming up dead last. Compounding their disgrace, the little aggregation of underdogs is on probation for breaking rules. Assigned to the worst details, Bulcsúis's order of ruffians competes against a rival ticket police faction whose members strive to make life miserable for them.

Complicating the situation, in the late of night a mysteriously cloaked figure has taken to darting out onto desolate platforms. Platforms lights flicker mysteriously as the attacker prepares to strike. More phantasm than human, the reaper's jolting strikes are like an arcing flash of sparks from a train contact shoe hitting a crossover ramp. Propelling unsuspecting passengers under speeding trains, he quickly vanishes again into the cloistered recesses of the maze of burrows and shafts. The control boss assigns the control crews the task of apprehending the assassin, but given his contempt for the squad it is obvious that he harbors little confidence that success is a station on their line.

Along the route of his trials and misadventures in the tunnels, Bulcsúis cavorts with a host of quirky, intoxicated riders and employees, such as the lush- faced Béla, who used to drive trains on the surface until he crashed one due to "lack of braking distance." Another is an elusive love interest in a bear suit who enigmatically appears and disappears like a poltergeist. She is Bulcsúis's Ariadne. He shadows her. The wake of her passings through the transit system guides Bulcsúis like a trail of yarn. Aggregated in the cyclic rituals of riders, rogues, and routines in a Gothic metropolis of perpetual night, he relentlessly pursues the girl and the abstruse slayer through the labyrinthine underworld like a modern day Theseus.

Filmed on location in the Budapest subway system, the second-oldest in the world, Kontroll is visually arty and distinctive. Balázs Hujber's production design proffers more back-lit, slowly turning fans than Alan Parker's Angel Heart. Kontroll's optical signature is replete with sharp angles, symmetry and vanishing points.

Scenes are stylishly illuminated by flares, and the red glow of warning signals. Montages and perspectives of progressive motion along subway tracks, tunnels, and steep escalators propel the production to its final destination. Kontroll also advances tense action sequences along the rails as Bulcsúis races against the clock and oncoming trains.

There are cat and mouse hunts, chase sequences, drama, romance, and satirical sequences such as when a succession of subway workers convey their issues to a psychiatrist and a man chokes on a French fry while being lectured about the dangers of cholesterol. Despite the contrast between its inherent components of humor and thrills, Kontroll manages to balance these diverse elements. In combination with a chic cinematic motif, the film successfully packages a uniquely enchanting, very weird viewing experience into a thoughtful, arty satire.

Indelible Image
Part of the appeal of Kontroll is its unusual subterranean setting which fosters a variety of novel and striking imagery. Antal delights us by capturing the symmetry of the structural installations such as the rows of ceiling lights in the stations, the neat columns of trains docked for the night, and the central vanishing point formed by tracks fading into the darkened abyss of long tunnels. These symmetries contrast with and accent the chaotic events that unfold, and the disordered lives of the nonconforming characters caught up in them.

The most enduring image however, is that metaphor for the troubled Bulcsúis's transcendence and self-actualization. Bulcsúis is not only married to life and it's pace of activity in the subway. He hides in the underground sanctuary from the real world above. But the outside is only a symbol. Bulcsúis is really seeking refuge from himself and his feelings. Uncertain about his own emotions, and lacking in self confidence, avoiding the world above is his way of postponing self confrontation.

What then, can be more symbolic of his waiting deliverance than the symmetrical image of the great. silvery, central escalator leading to the bright lights and certain reality of the surface? Bulcsú knows he must eventually ascend it but he has not yet the courage to face that eventuality. Will his love for the mysterious, bear-costumed Szofi become the key to unlocking his emotions and freeing himself?


KONTROLL - chase scene

Subject Two 2006,  R)
Subject Two

Subject Two

WRITTEN BY: Philip Chidel and Philip Chidel
DIRECTED BY: Philip Chidel
FEATURING: Christian Oliver, Dean Stapleton, Courtney Mace, Jürgen Jones, Thomas Buesch, and Philip Chidel

PLOT: A medical student gets more than he bargained for when upon accepting an experimental internship, he discovers that immortality comes with a steep price. Subject Two is a fresh twist on the Frankenstein plot. It envisions being reanimated from the undead's perspective. It is deeply disturbing and every bit as repellent and hellish as one could hope.

COMMENTS: A misanthropic medical student named Adam who flunked his ethics exam receives a cryptic email from a Dr. Franklin Vick. It offers him an opportunity to assist in unusual medical research and subsequently to share in the revolutionary scientific advances in medicine that result.

He bites on the lure, but to accept the position, he must wait on an icy mountain road in the middle of nowhere to be offered a ride by a stranger. The alluring and mysterious chauffeur obviously knows more about what is going on than he does. His journey to meet the elusive Doctor Vick is itself a snowy odyssey into the isolated, surreal drifts and folds of the Colorado Rockies.

When Adam and his driver reach a landmark beyond which the driver is no longer allowed, Adam must hike up a snow covered mountain to the doctor's laboratory. Now he is stranded, beyond the point of no return. The research facility turns out to be a converted chalet, reminiscent of Nikola Tesla's Colorado Springs retreat in The Prestige.

He meets Vick, who tells him that the research is very unusual and important and that Adam is uniquely qualified. Vick avoids going into much specific detail. Adam accepts. What Adam doesn't understand is that what uniquely qualifies him is that he is now a captive. Nobody knows where he is, he has no means of departure, and his particular background makes him someone nobody will ever miss if he disappears.

On this isolated, snowbound mountain peak, Dr. Vick is indeed performing very unique research. He is experimenting with life, death, and reanimation. In combination with makeshift cryogenics, he is using a bizarre recombinant DNA serum that alters and restarts the process of cellular respiration. The problem is, because the serum, timing and method of administration are as yet unperfected and misunderstood, the process has some very unpleasant side effects. Guess who gets to be the new test subject?

VIck murders Adam, and not very nicely. Instead of shooting him up with an overdose of Seconal, he sneaks up behind him a violently strangles him. Then he reanimates him.

He ruthlessly butchers and reanimates Adam repeatedly, trying to get the serum component balance, dosage, cryogenic, and temporal factors just right. There isn't an objective control group. Adam is both subject and control group, which is to say that as Vick and Adam perfect the research, they proceed via trial and error. As Subject Two, Adam is captive to a continuum of horrible and invigorating side effects, continuously oscillating between two extremes of mortal perception.

Subject Two experiences his new reality as a twisted psychedelic nightmare. It is simultaneously clarifying and hellish. While continuing to inhabit the world of the living, he is now intellectually in the bizarre plane of the beyond.

Unsettling developments alter Adam's experience when he discovers the frozen, bloody remains of what was apparently once Subject One buried in the snow. In a state of suspended animation, Subject One's head is riddled with an octopus of gruesome serum tubes. Subject One does not look pleased about it, but he is going nowhere for the time being. Then matters become complicated when a trespassing poacher stumbles onto the proceedings and Adam "corrects" him.

The film has been criticized on two counts. Adam's character is allegedly not well enough developed so that we care about him, and the film was shot in digital video. I emphatically contest these assertions.

Regarding character development, there isn't time in a standard movie to address every potential nuance. Subject Two is about a dreadful, inescapable cycle of perpetual violent death and reanimation. The film is a horrifying psychological thriller about the human condition in states of animation and morbid destruction. It grimly depicts what it means to be alive. It explores the existential nature and paradoxes of undeath. Subject Two is about the curse of immortality.

With cerebral horror paradigms like this to contemplate, I couldn't give a dead lab rat's ass about Adam?s hopes and dreams, his life and loves. He is an unethical, bright, curious, but naive foul-up. I want to see how he handles the situation and what becomes of him, nothing more.

While the cinematography has been accused of giving the piece the cheap feel of a soap opera, I dispute this as well. The cinematography is as sharp and precise as the frozen alpine air. It enhances the rarefied, ionic ether of the crystalline subzero setting. One can almost feel the thin, icy atmosphere paralyzing the lungs, the sting of snowy crystals against bare skin. Direct to digital bypasses the gloomy, dreary look of televised productions once shot on video tape.

True, direct digital tracks movement the way video tape does, and lacks the lustrous detachment achieved by film stock. It is perfectly suited, however, to the white, snowbound, blue-skied clarity of the locale in Subject Two. The precision of digital is blissfully married to the stark, cold reality of this severe story.

Subject Two is mostly a mental and physical dialectic between two actors. There is a cold calculation about their dispositions, rather than the emotionally overwrought yelling and screaming standard to other horror scenarios of its type. There is no dramatically shrieked, "Give my creature life!" Subject Two is pure science fiction and squeamish dread. The appalling nature of the irreversible psychic and physiological mutilation inflicted on Adam combines with Vick's amoral descent beyond unorthodoxy into pure evil. This profane combination provides all of the excitement and turmoil that one can endure.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: "Set against the bright, breathtaking world of the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains . . . Subject Two is as much a clever inversion of the resurrection horror genre as it is a profound and ethical examination of the value of life and immortality." - Sundance Film Festival

Ravenous 1999,  R)
Ginger Snaps Back - The Beginning 2004,  R)
Ginger Snaps 2001,  R)
Ginger Snaps 2 - Unleashed 2004,  R)
The Return 2006,  PG-13)
The Return
THE RETURN (2006) WRITTEN BY: Adam Sussman DIRECTED BY: Asif Kapadia FEATURING: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Peter O'Brien, Adam Scott, Kate Beahan, and Sam Shepard GENRE: OCCULT TAGS: horror, mystery, thriller PLOT: A young woman's visit to an obscure southern town triggers disturbing supernatural hallucinations. The visions hold the quality of repressed memories, and are accompanied by blackouts and other odd phenomena. As she attempts to interpret her waking nightmares, the woman is drawn into a deepening riddle when these dreams begin to coincide with forgotten childhood experiences. COMMENTS: In this cerebral fright story, Joanna Mills (Gellar), is a traveling corporate salesman who unwittingly opens a Pandora's box of terror when she drives on business toward the small Texas village of La Salle. The miles go by, and the closer Joanna comes to the mysterious town, the more she begins to have bizarre and increasingly frightening visions. They feel like flashbacks, yet bear only a fuzzy relevance to her own memories. These unsettling experiences are haunting and surreal. Strange things start to happen. Something just doesn't feel right, and Joanna can't seem to escape from echoing recordings of Patsy Cline's haunting "Sweet Dreams." The old song repeatedly pops on the radio at bizarre times. Driving down a desolate highway at night, Joanna arrives at a ghostly crossroads and discovers a fatal auto accident frozen in space. "Sweet Dreams" echoes from a totaled station wagon's smashed radio. The deserted crash site is at once uncanny and oddly familiar. Joanna faints, then awakens by the side of the road the next morning with no sign of the wreck. Time dilates during Joanna's distorted dreams and she realizes that when they occur, she is in a blackout and not in control her actions. The closer she comes to the obscure hamlet of La Salle, the more Joanna's metaphysical experiences gain momentum and intensity. When she arrives at La Salle, Joana realizes that it is the town in her hallucinations. She also starts to discern that there is an arcane relationship between her strange fantasies and her distant memories. The correlation however, is frustratingly indistinct and mysterious. What is happening to her? Why is it so hard to understand what these visions mean? Joanna is determined to solve this riddle. On a hunch, she begins searching for specific landmarks from her visions in La Salle. To her fascination and horror, she finds them. The people and places from the dreams turn out to be real, but something doesn't add up. Are they from someone else's past? Joanna meddles with the supernatural by exploring these locations and trying to track down the dream people, triggering a new chain of horrifying events that collide with her present reality. When Joanna inadvertently awakens a murderous ghost from the past, she must unearth buried secrets to find the key to her own survival. The Return unfolds like a grim mystery. Interspersed with unexpected moments of fright, the story is all the more unsettling for its nonchalant portrayal of the metaphysical in an everyday dramatic context. The boundary between the present and the otherworldly is blurred. Gellar's solid, credible performance compliments the surreal, plodding pace of the film. Twists and turns keep us guessing as Gellar's character weaves her way through a maze of unusual encounters with odd characters. While The Return might be a bit slow for some horror enthusiasts, the plog is thoughtful and compelling. As the momentum of the story sweeps the viewer toward a sickening revelation, horror merges with reality and the two worlds violently intersect like a knife plunging into flesh.
THE RETURN - trailer
THE RETURN- trailer
Love Me Deadly 1972,  R)
Love Me Deadly
Love Me Deadly (1973) Christopher Stone, Lyle Waggoner, Mary Charlotte Wilcox, Mary Wilcox, Timothy Scott Playboy Wade (Lyle Waggoner) can't get finance Lindsey (Mary Charlotte Wilcox) to, well to consummate their relationship. Unbeknownst to him, Lindsey gets her jollies circling newspaper obituaries for good prospects, and then sneaking into the respective chapels and making out with the deceased. Worse, she has an incestuous attachment to her dead father. When Lindsey's is noticed by a mortician who recognizes her from past funerals, he recruits her into a murderous cult of pagan Los Angeles necrophiliacs who snatch their subjects off the street and have ritualized sex with their corpses in a creepy old funeral home. When Wade discovers that Lindsay is sneaking out late at night, he stalks her to try and find out what she is up to, learning a new definition of the word, "stiff" in the process.
Happy Here and Now 2002,  R)
Happy Here and Now
Liane Balaban - Happy Here And Now
Happy Here and Now 2002. Written and directed by Michael Almereyda With Clarence Williams III, David Arquette (who co-produced), Ally Sheedy, former super model Shalom Harlow, model Gloria Reuben, Karl Geary and rhythm and blues star Ernie K-Doe. Happy Here and Now is a surrealistic satire in which a young woman tries to find her missing sister by investigating eccentric New Orleans characters who are entangled in a web of cyber-intrigue. This movie is unusual in its story telling structure. It guides us through a netherworld of oddball people, their weird behavior and strange gadgets via a series of vignettes that are ultimately connected. In this quirky odyssey, Canadian actress Liane Balaban plays Amelia. She has come to New Orleans to locate a missing sister who has erased every trace of herself. Clarence Williams III plays a limping ex CIA agent with an unexplained leg wound that just won't heal. Williams forensically dissects the sister's laptop hard drive. He finds traces of cryptic conversations held online with a poetic but sinister misfit (Karl Geary). The stranger uses a special technology to change his real-time appearance and country of origin on webcam-conference. Amelia attempts to determine the presence of a connection between the late night Internet chats and her sister's disappearance. She does so with Thomas' assistance by contacting Greary's puzzling character and conducting a fresh set of webcam conversations. What are his motives, what is he truly capable of? Why does he change his appearance and answer questions with questions? Did this enigmatic stranger lure Amelia's sister to her fate in a snuff film? Amelia must figure out how to trace and outwit him by playing a game of deception online. Throughout her quest for answers, Amelia encounters a cascade of artistic dilettantes. One of several exceptions is the real-life Ernie K-Doe, famous for his 1961 number one hit, "Mother-in -Law," who appears as himself in his actual New Orleans club. Nearly all of the characters are in some way unknowingly interconnected via a subplot orchestrated by David Arquette's character, Eddie Mars. Mars is a creatively misguided, self-employed exterminator who entwines the protagonists via a film project. It is a soft-porn, direct-to-digital Internet film about a time traveling Nicola Tesla. (And there might be some termites and a spherical fire breaking out in a space station, he hasn't decided yet.)) is a dream-like atmosphere piece which artfully combines unusual visual and acoustic elements. It highlights a smattering of New Orleans lore and culture. Thomas' character weaves a narrative of local lore as the camera pans by local cemeteries, barbecue joints, The Napoleon House, and a few other unconventional landmarks. We get a nice sample of New Orleans homes and interiors, blues clubs, fauna, and steamy avenues by streetlight. Odd characters such as man wearing Napoleonic clothing wander the streets. The conclusion, while not a blockbuster of revelation, amusingly ties all of the characters and vignettes together. The film is open-ended as to its message. Enthusiasts of movies that conclude with a concrete sense of finality should look to Happy Here and Now as being a piece that is intended to inspire the imagination. The film features musician, performance artist and electronics whiz "Quintron" (Robert Rolston's stage name) as himself. Quintron has distinguished himself in arcane circles for among other things, inventing clever but peculiar electronic musical instruments. One of his Tesla coils is featured in the film. "Strange by even its director's ultra-eccentric standards, Happy Here and Now takes Michael Almereyda's usual reality-blurring, video-mediated experimentation to what the f*** new levels..." -David Ng, The Village Voice, December 6, 2005 MGM DVD.
Stay 2005,  R)
Nicely produced, thought-provoking surrealism.
The Iris Effect 2006,  R)
The Iris Effect
Finally, a substantial role for the generic, but pleasant Anne Archer. Another interesting surrealist piece.
Static 1986,  R)
Quirky, surrealistic, arty, eccentric, fun nonconformism. Goes well with the film Powder.
Klepto 2003,  Unrated)

Klepto (2003)
Written by Ethan Gross and Thomas Trail.
Directed by Thomas Trail.
Production Design: Shelby Wood
With Meredith Bishop, Jsu Garcia, Leigh Taylor-Young, and Michael Nouri.

A mentally unstable kleptomaniac is blackmailed into a get rich quick scheme by an unscrupulous department store security specialist in this arty thriller.

Magnolia Pictures is a production company which finances, produces and distributes unusual independent films. Magnolia appears to have taken the clever strategy of marketing home theater equipment which provided the company with a substantial enough capital base to fund their cinematic projects. Now that their home entertainment products are in place in consumers' homes, they provide the entertainment to play on them, usually in the form of direct to DVD releases. Nearly all of their offerings are noteworthy in some way and Klepto is no exception.

In Klepto, Meredith Bishop plays Emily, an attractive but troubled, medication-addicted young woman. She fills the void left by the unexplained disappearance of her father by shoplifting a variety of items. Her favorites are Swiss timepieces which remind her of her father's. Leigh-Taylor Young (I Love You Alice B. Toklas!, Soylent Green) plays her shallow, compulsively shopping, absentee mother.

Emily is observed by a security specialist named Nick (Garcia) in the act of shoplifting. Nick is in dire financial straits and ensnares her into a desperate scheme to achieve financial independence. Unfortunately, Nick, while resourceful, is a chronic foul-up and his machinations become increasingly convoluted as each stage of his plan meets with devastating failure.

Emily meanwhile, is struggling with multiple medication addictions, pathological kleptomania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and surprise, complicating visits from her naive mother. She is motivated to assist Nick in order to avoid being exposed as a thief, but also as part of an offer Nick makes to help her locate her father.

Nick, unaware of the severity of Emily's condition, drags her into his disintegrating life further complicating hers with disastrous results. The timing of the movie is precisely executed as its well paced, original plot cascades toward certain but indeterminate calamity.

A strong visual emphasis is presented of the coveting of expensive luxury commodities, a plethora of multicolored medications and a lot of surreal, CCTV imagery. The cinematography is artfully executed. It is crisp and concise. The shots are very creative.

There is an impressive, lengthy, continuous Steadiicam shot of Emily strolling through a parking lot, into a department store, up an escalator and through store aisles near the climax of the film. Despite drastic changes in lighting intensity and many obstacles, the exposure of this shot is perfect and the camera work is impeccably smooth.

The shot faces Emily, as if the observer is walking ahead of her facing backwards. This causes one to experience her stressful endeavor from her point of view. However, because one cannot see where she is going, only where she has been, the camera technique in this pivotal scene magnifies her tension and the suspense of the moment.

This is a well acted, tight, concise little gem of a film that will appeal to anyone with a desire for a movie with a different feel from more conventional and commercial entires in the crime thriller genre.

"A nifty little character study-cum-caper flick ... Performances are strong down the line ... a well thought out visual aesthetic." Dennis Harvey, Daily Variety.

Klepto - CLICK to play Trailer
THX 1138 1971,  PG)
THX 1138
A compelling and hypnotic Kafkaesque vision of the social control of the future. The status quo attempts to create a workers' utopia via enforced conformity and fails miserably.
Soylent Green 1973,  PG)
Soylent Green
I am convinced this vision of supreme corporate evil in an overpopulated, poisoned future is one of the several most likely predictions of where we are headed. it is coming true now.

This was based on Harry Harrison's 'Make Room, Make Room. If one also views KING CORN, HOME, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, THE FUTURE OF FOOD and reads Schlesser's Fast Food Nation, it seems intuitive that we are barreling toward the reality depicted in this film.
Silent Running 1972,  G)
Silent Running
This environmental story might have influenced the production of Harry Harrison's novel, Make Room! Make Room! into Soylent Green. It is quite believable and profoundly disturbing and upsetting.
Rollerball 1975,  R)
This superb story is not so much science fiction as an Orwellian vision of our corporate future. Regrettably, much of it is already coming true.

A not so futuristic Orwellian study of corporate evil. A possible companion to American Beauty, North Dallas Forty, Office Space and Soylent Green.
Westworld 1973,  PG)
The robotized vacation resort of the future where nothing can possibli go wrong. Er, ah, make that "possibly . . . That's probably the first time that anything has ever gone wrong.
Futureworld 1976,  PG)

WRITTEN BY: George Schenck and Mayo Simon
DIRECTED BY: Richard T. Heffron
FEATURING: Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Arthur Hill, Yul Brynner, John P. Ryan, and Stuart Margolin
PLOT: In this sequel to Westworld It has been two years since the robots ran amok at the futuristic Delos fantasy resort and slaughtered all of the guests. Two investigative reporters visit the newest attraction, Futureworld, to ascertain whether or not the trouble is really all in the past.

COMMENTS: In this stand alone high tech Westworld sequel, the Delos Resort has reopened since a computer virus caused humanoid, interactive robots to turn on their masters in a frothy, blood soaked orgy of death. Those pesky robots are now under control and once again, "nothing can possibly go wrong." Journalists Chuck Browing (Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner -Gwyneth Paltrow's mom) are invited to provide testament to this assertion, but before they arrive, Browning is contacted by a technician who testifies to the contrary. When he dies mysteriously, Browning decides to use the opportunity to snoop behind the scenes.

Along the way, the two reporters are treated to a plethora of high tech wonders, including dream recording, "living" holographic chess in which the game pieces actually do battle right on the board, and a simulated trip to a Martian ski resort. What the pair discovers while lurking behind the scenes is impressive, such as secret hyperbolic chambers where androids are spontaneously synthesized. Even more intriguing is the fact that the staff, now partly supervised by advanced drones, has become very cagey about talking to the press or revealing any backstage information about the resort. Only high ranking humanoid machines are allowed into a huge off-limits technical complex. Now what could be going on behind the restricted entry, blast proof doors to that laboratory? Browning is determined to find out at any cost.

Futureworld plays out more like a detective story than its action-oriented predecessor. Sinsister life or death situations provide the suspense of a thriller. Futureworld is reportedly the first motion picture to use three dimensional CGI and computer modeling, simulated holograms, and what was state of the art digital rendering at the time of production. While Peter Fonda may not be considered to have the on screen clout of Westworld's James Brolin or Richard Benjamin, he is well cast in his role. Perhaps this allowed the principle chunk of the budget to be used for top notch special effects and impressive sets. Much of the filming was done at the actual Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the production is a treat for the eyes for sci-fi enthusiasts.

The movie received a poor critical reception which was undeserved as it is well-written, imaginative and effectively paced. And of course, while it was impossible to delve into the subject in depth due to the moral standards of the mid seventies, there is again plenty of reference to the concept of "pleasure model" robots. In fact, it seems as if the fictitious guests as well as audiences were as intrigued by the idea of having sex with sophisticated robots as they were with the storyline.

Perhaps this would make an entertaining sci-fi thriller in itself one day, if the writer can keep some Arty Mitchell character from commandeering the script and turning it into an outright porno. One thing is for sure. The private sector, in addition to devoting the scientific method to developing fertility enhancers, aphrodisiacs and hair restoration products, is reportedly as busy trying to find a way to realize such a technical accomplishment as it is in its endeavor to cure cancer and remedy world hunger. If the scientific community succeeds, the ability to come home from work and "cavort" with a replicate of Sarah Michelle Gellar or Brad Pitt will make crack cocaine seem like a mere nasal spray addiction by comparison.

Pleasure models and simulated Martian vacations aside, something is definitely wrong again at Delos and this time it isn't that the robots don't work well enough. As Browning and Ballard discover, they work only too well.

The Shining 1980,  R)
2001: A Space Odyssey 1968,  G)
2001: A Space Odyssey
The most intelligent sci-fi film ever shot. Surreal and beautiful, it is the only sci-fi movie to date that has resisted the absurd convention of depicting audible sound in out space for the morons in the audience.
Dawn of the Dead 1979,  R)
Phantasm 1979,  R)
The Thing 1982,  R)
Tales from the Crypt 1972,  PG)
Asylum 1972,  PG)
The Vault of Horror (Tales from the Crypt, Part II) 1973,  PG)
The Other 1972,  PG)
The Other
Here is an appropriate film for Halloween:

The Other (1972)
Written by Tom Tyron based on his novel.
Directed by Robert Mulligan.
With Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, Uta Haen and John Ritter.
Production Designer: Albert Brenner
Cinematography by Robert Surtees

Some horror cinema doesn't have to rely on the supernatural to be horrifying. Set in the 1930's, The Other is a grim shocker about two cute, apparently wholesome twin boys who would seem to lead an idyllic existence on a picturesque family farm. There's just one problem -everyone around them begins to have gruesome accidents.

The boys are drawn into a convoluted good-versus-evil struggle that churns within themselves, and they struggle with each other to both exercise and exorcise it. As this conflict manifests itself, the bizarre circumstances surrounding the misfortune of family and neighbors begin to weave an increasingly twisted and captivating mystery.

The story includes many odd and unsettling elements, such as the fact that the twins' mother is inexplicably a terrified psychological invalid. Their Russian nanny seems to be able to teach the boys how to fly via astral projection. There is a very odd, cursed family crest ring complete with the severed finger of the corpse from which it was stolen. People and things connected to the twins seem to end up broken, on fire, paralyzed or dead.

The ring and finger are coveted and revered by the boys. They carry it with them constantly in their treasure box, and this morbid memento is somehow the key to all of the strange tragedy that unfolds. Surrealism is created by the uncertainty of who is who, and what is what. The Other is a thoughtfully presented nightmare of indulgence, madness and grotesque murder. The production is enhanced by Robert Surtees' striking and graceful cinematography, with a memorably haunting score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Horror and occult fans should take particular delight in viewing The Other for the following reasons. It has an original story that has not been perpetually copied since it was filmed. This work was shot in 1972 when there were fewer creative constraints on writer-director collaboration. The Other is conventionally well constructed, but neither formulaic, nor forced to be "accessible" to the public. There are none of the standard cliches. It withstands the test of time and is not dated. Set during the Great Depression, it looks like it could have been produced yesterday. The treatment of the subject matter, however, is refreshingly unconventional. Those looking for something fresh and unlike anything they have seen before should be especially pleased -that is, if one can locate a copy.

The Other - trailer
Spalovac Mrtvol (The Cremator) 1969,  Unrated)
Spalovac Mrtvol (The Cremator)

The Cremator (Czechoslovakian 1969)
Written by Ladislav Fuks based on his novel.
Directed by Juraj Herz.
Production Designer: Zbynek Hloch
Cinematography by Stanislav Milota.
Original Music by Zdenek Liska.
With Rudolf Hrusínský, Ilja Prachar, Milos Vognic, and Zora Bozinová

In this mesmerizing, Gothic horror film, a funerary specialist becomes obsessed with what he believes to be the nobility of his calling with terrifyingly tragic and bizarre results.

In late 1930?s Prague, Kopfrking (Hrusínský) is a misguided, enigmatic crematorium operator. He is an impeccably groomed, eerie, enigmatic and meticulous figure and always talks in a hypnotic, soft spoken, poetic manner. He is overly preoccupied with mortality, morbidity, the human soul, and deeply devoted to the funerary arts.

Kopfrking feels a physical affection for the instrumentality of his trade, lovingly caressing the equipment of the crematory process. He speaks constantly, literally and metaphorically of death and the liberation of the soul through the process of cremation.

As the story progresses, he becomes increasingly obsessed with his work, finding it glorifying and cathartic. He sees visions of the ghost of his living wife in her youth, along with his future incarnation as he begins a spiraling descent into fantasy and madness. He is on a mission to free the souls of the deceased (and in time the not so deceased) through the pyrolization of human flesh, be it living or dead -just as long as that flesh is consumed and vaporized by fire.

The influence of the pre-WWII German political machine is enveloping Eastern Europe, polarizing aspiring Nazis and oppositionists. Drawn toward the philosophy of the Third Reich, Kopfrking becomes morbidly obsessed with racial purity and the percentage of German blood flowing within his own veins -literally to the point of having his vessels opened and the contents examined. While The Cremator is not a raving anti-Nazi film, it uses the political ideology as an allegory for exploring the phenomenon of sweeping, consuming mass delusion and insanity.

The gathering of Nazi forces on the border offers Kopfrking an opportunity to realize his misguided aspirations on a grand scale, one much larger than he could have ever hoped for, one seemingly without limit. Before he can apply his fervor and passion to the task, he hatches a plan to betray and destroy his own acquaintances, colleagues and family.

While there are elements of black satire in the The Cremator, the movie is so compelling as to nearly overshadow it. The film insidiously and steadily flows to its inevitable and horrifying conclusion like a hot rivulet of liquefied fat.

The production design is crisp and symmetrical. Stanislav Milota?s stunning black and white cinematography is haunting and beautiful. It features successions of extreme closeups that emphasize slightly grotesque and disturbing features of the biological condition. Milota?s use of black and white film stock?s enhanced tonal range is artfully employed to focus attention on rich textures and multitudes of shades. This gives The Cremator a uniquely unsettling dreamlike quality. The musical score by Zdenek Liska is alluring, phantasmic, and aesthetically intriguing. Viewing The Cremator is akin to experiencing a nightmare that one is reluctant to wake from.

As a side note, Rudolf Hrusínský's grandson is now in the film industry in is also an actor in the Czech Republic.. Writer Ladislav Fuks allegedly fled the country to escape Communism. His publications have apparently been banned there for many years. The Cremator was a Czech nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

"Released in 1969 as a smart arthouse spine-tingler, The Cremator is being pitched today as a sui generic horror show." -Gary Dretzka, Movie City News

The Cremator was released on Dark Sky DVD, March 31, 2009.
Deliverance 1972,  R)
13 Tzameti 2005,  Unrated)
13 Tzameti
French, B&W, English subtitles.

One of the best movies in its genre ever made. Don't read the DVD jacket, let it unfold for you as it does for the protagonist. Absolutely superb film making and use of resource/ production value ratio. Filming, editing, casting, acting, all totally smashing.
Smile 1975,  PG)
Housekeeping 1987,  PG)

Lake Nelson - Housekeeping

Housekeeping (1987)
DIRECTED BY: Bill Forsyth.
WRITTEN BY: Bill Forsyth based on the novel by Marilynne Robinson.
FEATURING: Christine Lahti,Sara Walker and Andrea Burchill.
PLOT: Two orphaned girls are joined by their transient aunt who becomes their unconventional guardian in this dreamy, pensive study of nonconformity and the breaking of social mores in a restrictive 1950's environment.

Housekeeping is a surreal atmosphere piece that questions right and wrong, debates the meaning of normality and examines the consequences of non-conformity. The story follows the erratic behavior of two teenage girls and their seemingly irresponsible caretaker.

In the 1950's Pacific Northwest, a series of bizarre events unfold leading to the abandonment of two adolescent girls. In a dramatic early scene, the girls' misfit mother amiably asks some young boys for help in getting her car out of a muddy rut. When they do, she casually commits suicide in front of them by driving over a cliff. Her daughters, long abandoned by their father, become the wards of their grandmother and aunt, who see them into their early teens. When the deceased mother's sister shows up, the grandmother and great aunt disappear into the night, leaving them in the care of the newly arrived "Aunt Sylvie" (Lahtie).

Sylvie, as it turns out, is an avowed nonconformist with an unconventional lifestyle and unique view of the world. Her permissive parenting evolves into the enabling of an alternative existence for her nieces. This new freedom includes skipping school, stealing boats, riding the rails, and other risky, unstructured behavioral acts which are particularly outré when performed by young women in the conservative 1950s.

The film is an odyssey of self discovery as Ruth, from whose point of view the story is presented, begins to question social convention and accepted folkways. As Ruth comfortably gravitates toward Sylvie's atypical values, her sister Lucille is upset by the lack of structure and begins to embrace social norms.

This evolution of the girls' characters and personalities is presented through a series of ethereal misadventures and explorations. This transition is further influenced by the recounting of early childhood impressions, and their observations of the unique geography of their home which is located on a surreal lake surrounded by wooded mountains. Different story segments are connected by symbolism of ice and snow, the depth of the huge lake they live on, and of railroads and trains, particularly a spectacular train derailment disaster that occurred many years in the past. The lake itself, a massive body of deep cold water holding the wreckage and bodies from the doomed train, embodies concepts of obstacles, boundaries, mystery and the transcendence of space and time.

Ultimately and inevitably, outside authoritarian interference descends upon the trio; the tale alludes to fear of witches by the unsophisticated locals. Nonconformity is equated with a dread of the unknown. At this point, the slowly building tension between the girls' independence and the mainstream establishment comes to a rolling boil. The three must choose between two extremes, either one of which will create dramatic and permanent consequences.

Some credit Housekeeping with exploring themes concerning transience, self reliance, dependency, female marginalization, and freedom. This may be true, but the literary eye rollers -that crowd who seek to distinguish themselves intellectually via the effete discovery of a plethora of symbolism, real or imaginary, in any work, are likely to perceive Housekeeping as being an exploration of feminist issues. This would not be the best interpretation of the story. Housekeeping is not a women's movie. It is a beautifully photographed, thought-provoking atmospheric fantasy about unconventionality and its consequences. The events are experienced from the point of view of a youngster who happens to be a girl. The choice of gender serves more to facilitate this study of social taboos than to make any sort of statement. Those who wish to interpret Housekeeping as being a feminist vehicle will miss the nebula for the stars.


"One of the strangest and best films of the year. Not a realistic movie, not one of those disease-of-the-week docudramas with a tidy solution. It is funnier, more offbeat, and too enchanting to ever qualify on those terms." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Comfort of Strangers 1997,  R)
Comfort of Strangers
Written by Harold Pinter (The Quiller Memorandum) based on Ian McEwan;'s novel. Directed by Paul Schrader with Christopher Walken, Rupert Everett, Natasha Richardson, and Helen Miren. Colin and Mary are two naive tourists trying to escape the present in Venice. Disillusioned with their trip, and a little disoriented, they are befriended by a seemingly magnanimous couple played by Walken and Miren who seem to come along at just the right time. Walken and Miren first welcome them as guests, and Colin and Mary are grateful to spend time in a strange city with two fellow English speakers. However the hospitality of their hosts takes a dark turn as they begin engaging in increasingly eccentric behavior, making odd demands, and finally becoming abusive. When Mary catches Miren's character voyeuristically watching Mary and Colin sleep nude, Miren informs her with cryptic delight, "This is the other side of the mirror." All attempts to leave seem to be somehow frustrated. Have Collin and Mary simply met up with a couple of lonely oddballs, or does something more twisted and sinister beckon? Walken plays one his more unusual roles and Venetian location photography highlights the arty visual feel of this slickly produced, unconventional multiple character. study.
Blue Velvet 1986,  R)
After Hours 1985,  R)
After Hours
After Hours, 1985. Directed by Martin Scorsese. With Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, and Terry Garr. Paul Hackett, (Griffin Dunne) an innocuous computer specialist goes on a quick blind date out of a sense of obligation one night after work. Along the way he encounters a lengthy parade of NYC extreme oddballs who all take some hand in misdirecting his evening. Everything goes horribly, horribly wrong. Heading toward Greenwich Village in a runaway taxi he loses all of his money. Every aspect of his trip is disturbing, every character is compelling, eccentric, and menacing. Every action he takes goes wrong or is poorly received. His attempts to resolve each emerging crisis simply lead him deeper into a convoluted maze of dilemmas. Each misadventure escalates and is more serious than the last until finally he is pursued through the streets of Soho ("South of Houston Street") by an angry mob who thinks he is a serial burglar. The weather is foul, he has no money and he can't get home, which is a good 10 miles uptown. Desperate and out of options, he encounters one final misanthropic oddball. Does she hold the key to his deliverance or to his doom? All Hackett has to say by this point is a plaintive, "I just want to get HOME!" A cast of well-established comedians effortlessly carry this dark, twisted satire of urban personalities and Murphy's Law
Ed Wood 1994,  R)
Parents 2000,  R)
Boogie Nights 1997,  R)
Boogie Nights
about how 70's porn producers thought they were really making art, and the lifestyles and values of the actors
Idiocracy 2006,  R)
This is only a slight exaggeration of current life.
The Illusionist 2006,  PG-13)
The Mesmerist 2002,  Unrated)
The Prestige 2006,  PG-13)
Seconds 1966,  R)
Hmm. Didn't remember that I'd already reviewed this (at bottom). Well here's a second review of it. Hahaha, million laughs.

SECONDS (1966)
WRITTEN BY: Lewis John Carlino based on the novel by David Ely
DIRECTED BY: John Frankenheimer
FEATURING: FEATURING: Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey, Murray Hamilton, Frank Campanella, Salome Jens
TAGS: horror, character study

COMMENTS: Dramatic and disturbing, Seconds is a dark, brooding predecessor to middle-class America mid-life crisis films such as the blackly-comic Middle Age Crazy (1980) or the light-hearted and less substantial This Is 40 (2012). Yet, while those films allow us to laugh off the grim prospects of getting older, Seconds grinds on us and strikes a nerve.

Seconds' unusual plot, will really stick in your memory. You'll carry the story and its lesson for the rest of your life because it directly treats concepts that nearly everybody can or knows they eventually will relate to: growing old, midlife crisis, looking back and wondering if we made the right choices, and ruefully, or longingly contemplating the what-might-have-beens. What can we be doing now to make sure we don't have regrets?

Wealthy banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) has it all. He went to the right Ivy League school, joined all the right fraternal organizations, and married the right woman. Yet, at middle-age, something's missing.

In Sinclair Lewis's classic novel "Babbitt," the book's namesake awakens each morning from a blissful dream of being a carefree youth cozying up to an enigmatic and beautiful girl to greet the dread of reality: a frumpy wife, his own greying countenance, and the unsatisfying banality of another tedious workday. Like Babbitt, Arthur Hamilton feels frustrated and empty. Maybe it's because Arthur looks like an aging John Randolph. Or could it be because at middle age, Arthur isn't so sure that the life he toiled away for is the one he really wants?

It's hard to imagine that it is. Arthur is clearly bored and bothered. Even more telling, Arthur and his wife don't sleep together anymore. The Hayes code hold-over separate beds don't help the romance.

And Hamilton is beyond staunch; he's gosh-darned uptight. Racked with tension, beaded with sweat, coiled up, we want to hand him a Hawaiian shirt, a Mai-Tai, and tell him to loosen up.

We're not alone. Someone from Arthur's past also has him sized up as a walking time-bomb of seething non-fulfillment.

A mysterious phone call from a dead school chum (Murray Hamilton) breaks the routine. After the phone call Hamilton receives a mysterious address, at which he arrives after following a chain of clues. Arthur Hamilton's life is about to change.

In return for his life insurance payout and a hefty chunk of his sizable estate, Hamilton joins a secret society---one which, after months of super-nutrition, exercise, hair restoration, testosterone therapy, and state of the art plastic surgery, transforms him into---wait for it ... wait for it ... young, virile, ROCK HUDSON!

And that's not all. Under hypnosis, Arthur learns that what he really wanted to do in life was to be an artist. The organization he's joined has that base covered, too. They relocate Arthur to a swank new beginning in Malibu as a swinging bachelor and painter. What more could any unsatisfied, 50-ish starched-shirt wish for?

There's just one catch: Arthur can never go back. What's more, having had his death faked for the insurance money to bankroll all of this, Arthur had better keep his big mouth shut. Will he be able to make a go of it and let sleeping dogs lie? Or will Edgar Allen Poe's "Imp of the Perverse" compel Arthur to meddle in his past life?

We suspect the later, or Seconds would be a 30-minute movie. Just how and why Arthur Hamilton can't find happiness in his new circumstances, the way he's haunted by a contrary drive to correct his past mistakes, and what Hamilton learns about himself when he endeavors in this foolish attempt makes Seconds as insightful a commentary about human nature as it is an engaging thriller.

There's more to it than that, however. It isn't just that Hamilton learns something about himself. We learn something about ourselves, too. What sets Seconds apart from a run-of-the-mill sci-fi story is that it leads us into existential pondering. Seconds makes us look at ourselves and contemplate our own lives. We're challenged to question our attitudes and assumptions: how we define ourselves, what we want out of life. Is doing what others expect of us as important as being happy? Are we happy? How do we know? What does it mean to be truly free? If we find freedom, are we really as liberated as we think, or does making a given set of choices in lieu of others merely enable us to exchange one set of constraints for another?

SECONSD3 450Cinematographer James Wong Howe's cinematography is effective and artful. Shots are carefully composed and feature close attention to dramatic design elements which subtly relate to the story content, such as the succession of razor blade-shaped illumination panels at the film's climax. Claustrophobic close-ups force us to experience Arthur's dream-turned-nightmare not as bystanders, but as if we're living it through Arthur's own eyes.

Director John Frankenheimer is typically skillful and effective in his almost surgically precise execution of the production. Sequentially faithful to David Ely's carefully crafted novel, the film incorporates backstory exposition into Hamilton's current actions. Slick editing and good pacing speed us through each shot at a fast clip; there's no wasted dialogue, things never drag. The chronology of scenes springs off the screen. We're surprised, appalled, and committed to seeing what will happen next and how it will all end up. The result is a tight presentation of an offbeat plot idea which makes us guess and think all the way to the final-frame climax, in which we discover that the title term "Seconds" has a cryptic, dual meaning beyond its connotation of "second chances."


SECONDS (1996)
WRITTEN BY: Lewis John Carlino based on the novel by David Ely
DIRECTED BY: John Frankenheimer
FEATURING: Rock Hudson, Murray Hamilton, Will Geer, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey, and Richard Anderson
PLOT: A middle-aged businessman is released from midlife crisis when a mysterious agency gives him a new identity, a new life, and turns him into a swinging 30-something who looks like a movie star.

COMMENTS: Seconds is a sophisticated and very original sci-fi thriller that makes excellent use of visual design elements to tell a disturbing, bizarre, unforgettable story. It is a faithful adaptation of Ely's novel which is also excellent.

Arthur Hamilton has it all: A Harvard diploma, a successful career as a banking magnate, a big house, country club, community recognition. So why is he so miserable? Why does his life seem empty?

After working hard for years and doing everything he was supposed to , Hamilton feels trapped. Trapped by his job, his family obligations, social commitments, roped into professional fraternity duties, and for what? Does his wife really love him, and do his friends and colleagues really value him? What has it all been for? Why is his life devoid of lustre and meaning?

One day he gets a mysterious phone call from a familiar but unplaceable voice. Then a stranger hands him a slip of paper with an unexplained address printed on it. After another persuasive phone call, Hamilton ventures to the mysterious address and his world changes. Forever.

He is taken into custody by a sinister organization. His death is staged, his huge insurance policy provides for his family and finances a new life. Under hypnotic regression Hamilton's new handlers determine that what he wanted most out of life would have been to be an artist.

Amazing plastic surgery, nutrition and physical conditioning turn the graying, paunchy middle-aged Arthur Hamilton into a dashing Rock Hudson. He is relieved of all of life's responsibility and established as a painter in Malibu, He is provided with a new bona fide identity, a beautiful girl friend, a fresh social circle, plenty of money, and everything that he needs to start really living. In short, Hamilton gets a second chance at the life of his dreams.

There's just one catch. There is no going back. Ever. Can Arthur Hamilton adapt to this wonderful opportunity and make a go of his new-found freedom to find true happiness?

SECONDS - trailer --click to play
Brewster McCloud 1971,  R)
Brewster McCloud

Brewster McCloud

WRITTEN BY: Doran Canon and Robert Altman (uncredited)
DIRECTED BY: Robert Altman
FEATURING: Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murhpy, Shelley Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, Stachy Keach, Margaret Hamilton, Jennifer Salt, and William Baldwin
PLOT: An emotionally moving, thoughtful satire in which an oddball genius constructs a one man flying device in the basement of the Houston Astrodome. He is assisted by a sexy but murderous guardian angel.

COMMENTS: Five stars all the way for this gorgeous, pensive work of art. In this strange black comedy, Brewster McCloud (Cort -"Harold" from Harold and Maude) is a likable misfit who lives in the fallout shelter of the old Houston Astrodome. He endeavors to build a mechanical flying suit which will enable his escape from an incomprehensible world to some unknown imaginative utopia. An eccentric angel adeptly played by the quirky Sally Kellerman strangles anyone who opposes Brewster..

Brewster McCloud has a humorously heavy ornithological thesis with a narrative lecture provided by an off kilter science professor. The instructor's recitation of facts about the social and mating habits of birds provides a funny comparative commentary on human nature. Avian themes glue the plot points together and furnish continuity between a sequence of strange events as Brewster struggles to achieve his goal.

There are three subplots: a coming of age story centered around McCloud, a social commentary stemming from the exposition of similarities and differences between humans and birds, and a murder investigation. While the police attempt to determine why the strangulation victims are found plastered with bird droppings, Brewster tries to beat the clock and perfect his flying machine before the authorities close in. He must stay focused in spite of two seductive girlfriends. One is a sexually repressed, self pleasuring health food nut. The other is a daffy wannabe race car driver who speeds about in a hotrod that she purloined from a pervert. Throughout, Brewster encounters a broad range of corrupt, maniacal locals and shake down artists whom he evades in foot pursuits and car chases.

Brewster McCloud is one of Robert Altman's most imaginatively entertaining and colorful films. In this delightfully oddball production, Altman makes strategic, thoughtful use of magic realism to deliver a sardonically dark satire. In one scene, a detective crashes his muscle car into a pond behind a family posing for a photograph in a public park. His legs crushed, the driver shoots himself in the head, but the subjects posing for the photo never break their stiffly arranged stance for the camera to turn around and look. Such moments are reminiscent of the morbid humor of the segment in Catch-22 in which an airman standing on a dock is cut in half by the prop of a fighter plane. Appallingly, the legs and waist of the hapless subject continue to stand in place for a second before flopping over into the water.

Altman's reverence for the circus, the oldest form of showmanship and theater features prominently in the production design. Altman casts character actors like Stacy Keach, Shelly Duvall and Margaret Hamilton. Sight gags reference their trademark films. Hamilton, for instance, appears in trademark red slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

The dialogue is telling and the segments are funny. In one memorable sequence, Stacy Keach plays an eccentric pistol-packing millionaire. Made up as Shylock from The Merchant of Venice he takes to the busy metro freeways in a suped up wheelchair with disastrous results.

Producer Lou Adler brought John Phillips (The Mamas and the Papas) into the project to write supplemental music for the score. Phillip's contribution is breathtakingly beautiful and represents some of his finest work. Altman thoughtfully composed each shot, and every frame looks like an artistic photograph. The film's carefully planned, striking color and design continuity result in a stunning optical footprint. With it's 2.35:1 aspect ratio it provides a visual experience that is nothing short of spectacular. (Shot in 70mm.)

Brewster McCloud is a picturesque highlight of 1970's cars, culture, and Houston locations, many of which, like the Astrodome, are now a distant memory. Viewing the film today may be a nostalgic experience for those fans who wish to take one last glimpse at the garishness and good times of that carefree decade of loud fashions, laughable pop cultural values, and larger than life characters and settings. As such Brewster McCloud is a worthwhile, overlooked, if not difficult to obtain treat for the senses.

Note: This film was very poorly marketed. The dreadfully misguided trailers are not representative, and have been omitted from this recommendation.

Willard 1971,  PG)
Ben 1972,  PG)
Shatter Dead 2002,  Unrated)
Shatter Dead

Shatter Dead (1994)
Written and Directed by Scooter McCrae.
With Stark Raven, Flora Fauna, Robert Wells and John Weiner.

In the near future, people can inexplicably no longer cease to exist. Death means rebirth into a dead body and the undead walk among us. A young woman tries to survive as the increasing numbers of dead do their best to convince her to die willingly so that she may join them.

Shatter Dead contains some strange allegory. It opens with a lesbian Angel of Death impregnating a mortal woman which somehow begins the undead phenomenon. The dead are not flesh eating monsters. They merely want to reestablish society -and they want the living to voluntarily take part.

Shatter Dead is a low budget zombie movie. It also happens to be one of the most imaginative and interesting zombie movies ever made. It is certainly the most unconventional, while remaining basically serious. There are some attempts at surreal symbolism, but they are not gimmicky efforts to deliberately make the film look arty. The entire piece flows like a compelling dream which while twisted, is so interesting that we are reluctant to awaken from it.

In this offbeat yarn, the zombies are "regular" people who happen to be dead, and yet are still thinking and functioning. The dilemma in this version of morbid reality is that one lives on as a corpse forever, permanently trapped in the physical condition in which one found oneself at the time of death. Post mortem injuries are permanent. Many have committed suicide in order not to spend eternity old and feeble. Post mortem injuries, regrettably, are permanent. If a zombie breaks an arm for example, it is the same as if you or I sustained a broken arm that won't heal for eternity. This phenomenon figures prominently into the plot.

The alluring and mesmerizing Stark Raven (yes, it's a stage name, and no, she's not a porno "actress") plays Susan, a young woman who is one of the few living holdouts -and she would prefer to stay that way. Well armed, pragmatic, sensible, and highly self sufficient, Susan must contend with the mischievous antics and criminal sabotage of some highly eccentric zombies. In short, the unliving present a tremendous pain in the ass.

The dead take to pranks such as siphoning mortals' gasoline so that their cars run out of fuel. When they do, hordes of zombies descend upon the stranded motorist -and requisition the car in the name of the nonliving masses. ("Power to the former people!") Susan's vehicle is seized in this manner. Next she has to cope with a cascade of misadventures as she runs a gauntlet of bizarre obstacles while trying to find her way home to a lost boyfriend.

A zombie pick-up artist wants to seduce her, and an undead neighborhood watch captain lures her into a safehouse that turns out to be a zombie refuge masquerading as a haven for the still-alive. Once there, a gorgeous lesbian zombie comes onto her in the shower. Next, physically handicapped zombies raid the facility in a blaze of gunfire in order to maliciously disable the resident "healthy" and fit zombies. To make matters worse, Susan must continually dodge a sinister religious zealot zombie in her quest for sanctuary.

As she heads home to her waiting mate, a few more surprises and ordeals await her. Wrought with ironies, Shatter Dead is part surreal nightmare, and part symbolic allegory, never taking itself too seriously, but always remaining above the comedic and absurd within the context of its premise. It is a pensive odyssey that explores some rather pragmatic speculation of what reality would be like if true death no longer existed. The film does not attempt to be overly arty, but it does not limit itself to any sense of conventionality either.

I prefer grim zombie movies over comedic ones. Within this context, the only zombie films that impact me are Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, 1968 and 1978 respectively -until I saw I saw this film and became entranced with it. Deliberate or accidental grade "B" or "camp" does not hold my interest for some reason, but Shatter Dead is not in that category. Shatter Dead is a "B" movie, but only by necessity, not by design or incompetence. The director was underfunded, and not thoroughly trained in slick, formulaic Hollywood filmmaking techniques. Shatter Dead is shot on video and the acting is a bit unpolished in places. However as a horror movie and a work of engrossing pop art, it is solid, entertaining, thought-provoking and effective.

While the piece has a few humorous and even mildly absurd elements, they are neither overriding themes nor digressions. The film is remarkably well shot and edited for having such a modest budget. It does not restrict itself and yet it manages to avoid having a cheap or incomplete feel. Shatter Dead is highly unusual, but consistent -which is to say, while flawed, it still works.

I was very wary of this one at first. As a horror fan I was captivated and amazed upon seeing it. How refreshing it is NOT to see well worn thespians whom I recognize. For instance, if I have to swallow the convention of mediocre, big name actors like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt pretending to be vampires one more time, I shall soil myself. I was pleasantly able to suspend disbelief while viewing Shatter Dead because it did not follow a hokey formula or sport a recognizable cast. At he same time, it remained within its context. The rough-shod acting gave the work a realistic feel. Better still, Shatter Dead was not the sort of amateurish, schmaltzy attempt at gritty realism that the cheap, annoying and juvenile Blair Witch Project turned out to be. We are able to see the action and understand the antagonists.

Bravo to independent film makers like McCrae who are full of creativity and manage to execute a reasonably sound job of scripting, directing, framing and editing their fresh ideas. This is a movie that I will remember and think about for a long time. Shatter Dead has become a new barometer by which I shall gauge the quality of other inexpensive, independently produced works of fantasy..

And yes, there is some impression-making gore and violence, but not the gratuitous splatterfest found in most zombie stories. There is some rather frank, but unsensationalized nudity, enough to be titillating without detracting from the plot. There are several bizarre scenes, but somehow they don't seem so out of place given the avant garde nature of the film. The striking Stark Raven carries herself with in distinctive manner. She projects a screen presence that memorably characterizes Shatter Dead's unique look and attitude.

Shatter Dead - excerpt

One caveat. The above clip is making the rounds on YouTube due to it's popularity with fans of camp, who are striving to discover such elements in the movie, This scene makes the film appear to be a Weird Al Yankovich project, but it is the only blatantly satirical segment in the story. This section of the story is actually much more grim when viewed in context with the entirety of the movie. While it appears to be a slapstick vignette, it is anything but. It does provide comic relief of a sort, but its purpose is to explore the depths to which amoral, eccentric human nature would likely influence behavior in a scenario such as the one depicted in the film.
Let's Kill Uncle (Let's Kill Uncle, Before Uncle Kills Us) 1966,  Unrated)
William Castle's The Night Walker 1964,  Unrated)
William Castle's The Night Walker
The Night Walker (1964). Written by horror master Edward Bloch. Directed by William Castle. With Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Irene Trent, Joyce Holland, and Hayden Rorke. After her covetous, jealous, and suspicious husband allegedly burns to death in a mysterious laboratory explosion, a wealthy widow (Stanwyck) has recurrent nightmares featuring an imaginary lover (Bochner). He appears to her at night while she is dreaming and takes her on hellish journeys into the macabre. She dreams repeatedly that she falls asleep and then "awakens" to this nightmare while still within a dream. Each time, the nightmares begin with the lover awakening her at her bedside after she falls asleep. Every night, her clocks indicate that she has awoken from her sleep into the recurrent nightmare at the same time that she went to bed. Bochner eerily tells her, "Time stands still when you're with me!" The mysterious stranger drives her through a haunting Los Angeles nightscape to a a creepy, delapidated chapel where sinister, animated wax figures play the organ and conduct a bizarre and puzzling wedding service. One night she awakens from the recurrent nightmare, only to find Bochner again in her room. She concludes that she has only dreamed that she has woken up, and is trapped in a nightmare from which there is no release. Driven to the brink of madness by this ceaseless paradox, she dramatically shrieks over and over, "I can't wake up! I can't wake up!" Her scheming, apparently disbelieving lawyer attempts to help her unravel the mystery. But does he know more than he is telling her? Is everyone in her life really who they appear to be? Is she going crazy? Stanwyk's character struggles to unravel the mystery of what she is experiencing as she attempts to retain her dwindling shreds of sanity. William Castle employs no pedestrian gimmicks in this surreal, haunting film. By this point in his career he demonstrates that he has honed his skills as a competent director of horror. Stanwyk is as stunning, convincing and naturally suited for her role in this mysterious noir as she is in her haunting film roles in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Double Indemnity. Released on VHS.
A Boy and His Dog 1975,  R)
A Boy and His Dog
Now here's an imaginative apocalyptic sci-fi story. I applaud the writer for the protagonist's decision at the end. It's a tough choice to make the big head do the thinking for the little head, but loyalty is more important than lust. A real gem for the unconventional viewer.
The Mechanic 1972,  R)
The Mechanic
The Day of the Jackal 1973,  PG)
The Day of the Jackal
Actually this is 1973. There seems to be some confusion here.

Stick to the original. terrible 2002 version is not a remake, but a degrading insult to the title.
Three Days of the Condor 1975,  R)
Three Days of the Condor
As relevant and believable today as ever. An excellent screenplay adaptation from the book, about a CIA within the CIA and what happens when unaccountable agencies don't follow their own rules.
King Rat 1965,  Unrated)
King Rat
The book had a lot more to say about issues of class. The movie plot is a minor aspect of the novel. Still, Segal really captures the main character, and this is the most unique of the S. Pacific POW Concentration camp movies.
Copkiller (Corrupt) 1984,  PG)
Copkiller (Corrupt)
John Lydon - Copkiller
1983, aka "Corrupt." - With Harvey Keitel, John Lydon, and character actress Sylvia Sidney. Directed by Roberto Faenza. Cop killer is a very unusual psychological suspense piece about lies, subterfuge, guilt transference and obsession. Harvey Keitel plays a corrupt NYC narcotics cop who with his partner, has invested in a palatial but unfurnished secret apartment that the men use as a retreat while conducting double lives. Meanwhile, someone is busy assassinating NYC undercover narcotics cops. John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) is no Lawrence Olivier, but he is quite adept at his role in this film. He plays a rich-boy heir who has a cop fetish and a peculiar history of making false confessions to high profile crimes. He stalks Keitel for six months and finally shows up at the secret apartment, confronts Keitel and tells him that he (Lydon) is the cop killer. Keitel, shocked at being found out, takes Lydon prisoner in the apartment indefinitely and interrogates him. Oddly, Lydon won't cooperate, When Keitel mortally injures another officer in an attempt to prevent being exposed, Keitel puts Lydon to the test and orders him to kill the cop -under threat of death. At this point, matters go even more awry After a life and death struggle, Lydon takes control and begins to torment, psychologically manipulate and dominate Keitel. While they each try to gain the upper hand, their relationship becomes increasingly perverse, as Lydon attempts to drive Keitel to madness and murder. Keitel struggles to keep his sanity and the viewer attempts to puzzle out whether Lydon or Keitel is guilty, whether the cop Keitel wounded and Lydon finished off was dead or alive during the coup de gras, and where the truth lies. This is another film that presents the story in a way that is conducive to furthering the plot in an artful and efficient manner, unencumbered by the need to follow established, contrived formulas. As such it has an unconventional feel. It is an Italian film, is English language, with some recognizable American actors and NYC shooting locations. The interiors are Italian, which further makes this movie feel unconventional. While the interior shots don't look specifically Italian, or out of context, they vary enough from what one has learned to expect in NYC film cliches to grab and hold one's attention. For some reason this has the effect of giving the viewer the sense that he has an unusual angle on the reality portrayed by this particular police-suspense film. Copkiller is not a profound piece of art, but it is solid and atypical. The movie is efficiently written, and professionally shot and edited. It may be one of Keitel's most interesting roles.
Open Season 1974,  R)
Open Season
Peter Fonda and Richard Lynch
Here's an arcane Peter Fonda, William Holden and Richard Lynch movie that I was lucky enough to find online after searching for years. This is a tense, gritty, raw low budget, but well shot suspense film about a group of ex-date-raping jocks, who miss the adrenaline rushes of Vietnam. Not ones to miss out on excitement, they create their own by abducting, abusing and then hunting the unwary at their wilderness hunting lodge. A wrench is thrown in the works when it turns out there may be somebody else in the woods with the same idea. The filmmaking is typical of independent or small budget productions from the 1970's; it has its own unique, arty style unencumbered by formulas. A few production aspects are a bit over emphasized such as long death closeups, but the movie still manages to maintain credibility. It's an unusual film that represents a somewhat original take on plots such as The Most Dangerous Game and Deliverance.
William Holden - Open Season
Barry Lyndon 1975,  PG)
Baby Doll 1956,  R)
WUSA 1970,  PG-13)
The Rain People 1969,  R)
The Moonshine War 1970,  PG)
Lolly-Madonna XXX (The Lolly-Madonna War) 1973,  PG)
Fools' Parade 1971,  PG)
Blood Simple 1984,  R)
No Country for Old Men 2007,  R)
Dirty Harry 1971,  R)
The Seven Ups 1973,  PG)
Bullitt 1968,  PG)
The French Connection II 1975,  R)
The French Connection 1971,  R)
There Will Be Blood 2007,  R)
There Will Be Blood
This is a FLATTERING portrayal of oilmen.
The Eiger Sanction 1975,  R)
The Eiger Sanction
Based on the raunchy pulp novel by Rodney William Whitaker, written under the pseudonym Trevanian. Clint Eastwood's most interesting film. A top notch intelligence community action thriller.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry 1974,  PG)
Escape from New York 1981,  R)
The Warriors 1979,  R)
The Wanderers 1973,  R)
Planet of the Apes 1968,  G)
Planet of the Apes
This film has an ending so dramatic that it is difficult to equal.
The Light At The Edge Of The World 1971,  PG)
Beneath The Planet Of The Apes 1970,  G)
Beneath The Planet Of The Apes
This sequel lacks the impact of the first, but it comes very close. It features some of the most imaginative sets I have seen in sci-fi from the period.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes 1971,  G)
Little Big Man 1970,  PG-13)
Little Big Man
One of the few exceptional films to come out of mainstream Hollywood.
Catch-22 1970,  R)
Full Metal Jacket 1987,  R)
The Boys in Company C 1977,  R)
Apocalypse Now 1979,  R)
Blade Runner 1982,  R)
Casino 1995,  R)
GoodFellas 1990,  R)
Taxi Driver 1976,  R)
Emperor of the North Pole (Emperor of the North) 1973,  PG)
Emperor of the North Pole (Emperor of the North)
The site synopsis misrepresents the tone of this movie. While Emperor Of The North Pole uses bits of comic relief and a larger than life, folksy musical score to break the tension, in no way is it any sort of comedy. To the contrary, it is dark, grim, and extremely violent.

Emperor Of The North Pole

AKA Emperor Of The North
WRITTEN BY: Christopher Knopf
DIRECTED BY: Robert Aldrich
FEATURING: Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Keith Carradine, Charles Tyner, Malcolm Atterbury, Simon Oakland, Harry Caesar, Hal Baylor, Matt Clark and Elisha Cook Jr.
TAGS: brutal, violent, gruesome, horror, weird

PLOT: A maniac conductor sadistically stalks hobos along his Depression era freight, smashing their skulls with a club hammer when they try to ride the rails. NO ONE rides his Number 19 train for free. Evil incarnate, he exists only to hunt men.

COMMENTS: Emperor Of The North Pole may not have the requisite look, feel, or scary music, but it is very much a horror movie. Instead of the supernatural, the monsters are men. The killer is no cloaked slasher striking by night, but a crazy-eyed, obsessed railroad man, insane with twisted rage, filled with frothing blood lust, armed with cruel and unusual instruments of punishment. He gets his kicks by smashing in skulls and he strikes in broad daylight unrestrained, with complete impunity. This incongruency - a horrifying film that masquerades as a suspense drama by telling an unconventional, real-world story -makes for a truly weird viewing experience. Adding to this larger than life archetypal characters, bizarre, colorful monologues, and a deceptively simple plot about a symbolic evil vs. slightly-less-evil struggle, results in a riveting, original movie.

Pastoral Oregon locations set an illusorily bucolic tone in the opening shots of Emperor Of The North Pole as a steam locomotive winds its way through rural woodlands. This is Union Pacific's Number 19 freight and it has a madman on board.

It is 1933, the depths of the Great Depression and 1/4 of Americans are unemployed. Many of those are literally starving to death. A mobile army of homeless men roams the country looking for temporary work, stealing rides on the railroads. They are nomads who live by no law but their own and dedicated to their destruction is the Railroad Man. On the Portland route, that man is Shack (Borgnine), a ruthless conductor who takes the "paying passengers only" rule with deadly reverence.

Railroads don't like it when you stow away on board or trespass on their tracks. Today they employ a battalion of federally licensed, armed railroad detectives to catch you, and these men behave like real bastards when they do. But in 1933 even the railroads were hard up. His actions condoned by underfunded, undermanned, corrupt law enforcement, Shack takes the job of controller, making sure that no one rides for free. Drawing from his own sadistic black book of dirty tricks he patrols his train like a monstrous gargoyle, perpetually on the lookout for bums.

Relentless and Argus-eyed, Shack is a real-life Terminator; he can't be reasoned with, he can't be bargained with, he has no mercy to appeal to, he is hard to kill, and he will never, ever stop. Shack has a savage arsenal of bizarre, creepy weapons at his disposal, but his favorite is the engineer's heavy, double-headed club mallet.

When Shack, creeping along the speeding 19's boxcar catwalk finds a tramp riding on the frame of a hopper car, he sneaks up on the hapless man. The bum, enjoying a sandwich, is blissfully unaware of the danger. With a fell swoop of the club hammer, Shack smashes the man's skull. His head laid open, dangling between cars, the hobo begs for his life before being sucked under. In a spectacular, graphic sequence the rail cars' sharp under-hangs ensnare the tramp and violently wad him up like a piece of garbage before the heavy wheels slice him in half like a biscuit.

For the Railroad Man, his pension and gold watch are at stake. For the hobo, it is a matter of survival. But for both, there is also pride. Shack is determined the hobos not see him as a free ride. He is humiliated and taunted by the hobo community when they marginalize him by defying his rules.

The hobos hate Shack, but they also want to prove themselves to each other. To be a master hobo, a skilled man of the road who can survive in style and avoid arrest is to become "Emperor of the North Pole," king of the tracks. The term is a cynical self-deprecation. Penniless, desperate, with no past, no future, no clout and nobody to vouch for them, the hobos perceive that they lead a futile, near meaningless, existence. The significance of the distinction is that anybody presiding over the North Pole would be emperor of a worthless desert.

In this context, the alpha male tramp of the West Coast hobo "jungle" camps is the admired A-Number One (Marvin). A#1 is determined to prove himself Emperor Of The North Pole by successfully riding notorious Shack's Number 19 all the way to Portland. He is dogged by a swaggering, inept, tag-along, upstart named "Cigaret" (Carradine). Using numerous tactics to sneak aboard and avoid detection on the 19, A#1 is caught between Shack's criminal tactics, and Cigraret's malicious recklessness. Despite A#1's paternal attempts to mentor him, Cigaret continuously betrays A#1 out of a sense of misguided competition.

In trying to derail Shack, A#1 and Cigaret nearly derail the entire train. To distract Shack and misdirect him, A#1 and Cigaret do their best to compromise and professionally ruin him with a series of sidetracking stunts. But the stunts are not mere jokes. They are heavy, malicious felonies which endanger the hobos, other trains, and entire crews with imminent bloody death.

While the "'Bo's" believe Shack deserves killin', their actions justify Shack's murderous rampage as well. Like a runaway train, the perverse feud escalates beyond the boundaries of any sensible limits. The locomotive steams and roars, The whistle shrieks. The pistons churn. The black smoke streams into the sky, The trio of enraged men highball over the steel rails. Their murderous plots against each other descend into a maelstrom of frothy, blood-soaked madness. As they barrel along among the swaying cars of the speeding train, the inflamed trio hurtles toward an ultimate gladiatorial showdown to determine who will be Emperor Of The North Pole.


Christopher Knopf's deceptively minimalist script was tailor made for Robert Aldrich's now familiar themes: men in their primal state squaring off against each other, ultimate confrontation, man against environment, life as arena, life as a game, men and machines. The characters are simplistic and archetypal, and the space they occupy, like a gladiatorial ring, is really very small -the area enclosed by two rails. The universality of these simple building blocks enabled Knopf to forge an engrossing adventure that audiences can easily relate to.

Knopf considered the political tempo of the times, the populist social attitudes of the downtrodden, the quest for survival, the attitudes of the elites; i.e. the fabric of society and its rules. He rendered these factors down into a raw story about a conductor who won't have hobos on his train and the two hobos bent on defying him. The result is powerful and directly accessible without being dumbed down.

Every shot is carefully assembled as if it will be a still photo submitted for exhibit. Each frame showing a character is an artistic portrait. The selection of shots and the way they are edited is expressive and precise. Additionally, Aldrich used a fine grain film stock which reveals very sharp detail, The resulting visual impact dramatically emphasizes the action. This gives everything about the film a larger than life feel, and reinforces the concept of simple archetypal characters in an archetypal situation.

Emperor Of The North Pole was re-released on DVD in 2006. The DVD reflects that the original film print was carefully preserved. The re-release has dazzling sharp picture quality.

Emperor Of The North Pole was inspired by Jack London's On The Road and From Coast To Coast. It was shot along the Oregon Pacific and Eastern short line railroad near Cottage Grove, where Stand By Me (1986) was filmed in 1985. Viewers who see both will recognize the distinctive countryside. Stand By Me was the last of several motion pictures to be filmed on these tracks. In 1926, the first was The General, Buster Keaton's famous period piece about a Civil War locomotive chase.

Surviving for over 90 years, the Oregon Pacific and Eastern was constructed in 1901 to bridge Cottage Grove southeast to the Bohemia mining district. The last train ran the line in the mid 1990s.

The steam locomotive and trains used in the filming of Emperor Of The North Pole were part of the actual working stock of the railroad, still in use in the the 1970's. Shack's Number 19 locomotive featured in the movie is a 1915 Baldwin 2-8-2. It pulled excursion trains well into the '70's along the Oregon Pacific and Eastern (pictured below).

Old #19, Oregon Pacific and Eastern - photograph by John Goldie

Number 19 still runs today, pulling the "Blue Goose" excursion train on the Yreka Western Railroad between Yreka and Montague, California.

The terms "hobos," "tramps," and "bums" have been used interchangeably in this recommendation for purposes of convenience. This is actually not correct usage as the names have distinctly different meanings. Here is the rule for remembering them: A bum sits and loafs, a tramp loafs and keeps moving, but a hobo works and moves, and he is clean.

Comments (3)

Post a comment

Recent Comments

  1. RCMerchant
    RCMerchant posted 3 years ago

    Nice list! Lotsa favorites on their! My importantly-many I've never seen-and now want to! DIRTY MARY AND CRAZY LARRY is one of the best chase movies EVER! (along with VANISHING POINT!)

  2. Deweybuds420
    Deweybuds420 posted 3 years ago

    Great mix of just really badass movies. A+++

  3. chevypillow
    chevypillow posted 3 years ago

    It seems like you like a lot of weird, but interesting movies.