Sunday, September 20, 2009

Have Rocket Will Travel: -- Stooges fall down!

By Doug Gibson

If you want to watch the Three Stooges in a movie, watch the unknown oater gem Gold Raiders but don't watch Have Rocket Will Travel, a pathetic 1959 mess that even the most dedicated Teletubbies watcher will not stomach.

It's a dreadful hodgepodge of unfunniness. The boys, Moe, Larry and Curly Joe, are dimwitted janitors who befriend a sexy scientist. They blunder into a space ship and head off to a planet. There they encounter a talking unicorn and match wits with an even stupider master computer that HAL would have drowned in a river.

Once the doofuses return home, an additional party scene is tacked on and then this tired mess, directed by David Lowell Rich, finally ends. It's a very long 76 B&W minutes.

I have nothing against the Stooges. I like their shorts. If you want to see the trio at their best, catch any number of the Columbia one-reeler. But avid this horrendous mess.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My review of Best Worst Movie

Film tells the story of the cult of 'Troll 2'

By Doug Gibson

This review originally appeared in the Aug. 11, 2009 Standard-Examiner.

There is a scene in "Best Worst Movie," Utah native Michael Stephenson's film homage to "Troll 2," the movie that haunted his youth, where a young Los Angeles woman explains that you can't understand how remarkable "Troll 2" is with only a recap of the plot.

If you tell someone that it's about a family that goes on vacation and battles human-eating vegetarian goblins, they won't get it, she says. They must experience it, she insists.

She nails it. For those who love a cult film, telling others why it's so great can make us feel like a Mormon missionary in West Hollywood -- they give us a hostile, guarded, "no" look. But when we finally find that rare investigator who watches the film, feels what we do, and becomes a convert, it's just like the angels are singing!

"Troll 2," filmed mostly in Morgan County about 20 years ago with an Italian crew and novice actors, created no buzz. Unreleased in the U.S. and quickly shelved to video, its biggest impact was the long-term embarrassment it brought stars Stephenson, who played a young boy, Connie Young, who played his teenage sister, and George Hardy, who played their dad.

Its director was Claudio Fragasso, a gore-helmer more comfortable directing blood 'n guts zombie films in Europe. Its screenwriter, Rossella Drudi, candidly admits her script is a polemic against vegetarianism. Its bizarre, fractured plot, blended with poor acting, silly costumes and jaw-dropping dialogue, make it an '80s big-hair mix of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

How could this film not find a cult? And sure enough, "line upon line, precept upon precept," "Troll 2" started gaining converts. The film has played to sold-out crowds across the nation. "Nilbog Invasion," last year's pilgrimage to Morgan, was nirvana for fans.

Back to "Best Worst Movie," which plays this weekend at the Salt Lake City Film Festival. It's that rare treatise of a cult film that can appeal both to cultists and the uninitiated. Stephenson's direction is superb. He mixes scenes well. Transitions are smooth and no scene lingers too long. "Best Worst Movie" is not static, a fault that mars documentaries about another great cult film, "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

"Best Worst Movie" belongs to star Hardy. Stephenson centers his film around the Alabama dentist, who for almost two decades regularly fields the question, "Didn't I see you in a movie?" You can't help but like the charismatic Hardy, with his upbeat persona, smile and big laugh. He seems bewildered, yet delighted, with his film's postponed success. The scenes of Hardy's quiet life in Alexander City, Ala., are very interesting. The viewer will enjoy watching Hardy and Stephenson mingle with fans and encourage other "Troll 2" participants to join the screenings and talk about the film and their lives.

And therein lies a reason Stephenson's film appeals to all viewers. Save for director Fragasso, most agree the film is a turkey. They're just grateful that there was some element in its awfulness that turned it into a cult film. Fragasso also fascinates. He's a complex subject. He's a gracious, upbeat showman most of the time, but Stephenson manages to capture his anger and bitterness when he hears the cast mocking the film or audiences laughing at scenes he directed as serious drama.

Cast and crew provide more human interest. Robert Ormsby, "Grandpa Seth" in "Troll 2," freely admits that he's "frittered his life away." There's the semi-disturbing scenes of "Troll 2" star Margo Prey (mom in the film) being visited by Hardy and Stephenson. Prey lives a reclusive life tending to her aged mom. Calling Prey very eccentric is likely an understatement.

"Troll 2" stars Young and Darren Ewing are still working actors. Their reactions to the cult of "Troll 2" provide interesting contrasts. Young, although a good sport, admits she's not a convert and is bewildered by the cult enthusiasm. Ewing, however, embraces the Warholesque "fame" and accompanies Hardy to fan festivals in Europe and Texas.

The festivals are a bust, though, and Hardy admits he's getting tired of the "Troll 2" notoriety. Just before the film ends, he tallies his personal and professional life as far bigger accomplishments than his 15 minutes of "Troll 2" fame.

He's then asked if he would star in a "Troll 2" sequel Fragasso and Drudi are preparing.

If you want to know the answer, go see the movie.

Here is a link to the "Best Worst Movie" Web site:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dick Tracy vs. Cueball

By Doug Gibson

The Medved brothers list Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball as one of the 5o worst films in their book, The 50 Worst Films of All Time, that was a popular a generation ago.

They're wrong, of course, "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball," from RKO Radio Pictures, is a lean 62-minute programmer that provides exactly what is offers. A cartoonish detective story of the famous detective stopping a dangerous mug, Cueball, who starts strangling people with a hatband who get in his way of getting full value for the diamonds he stole.

Morgan Conway as Tracy lacks the facial looks and screen presence that Ralph Byrd brought to the role but he does an OK job. The funny-pages feel to the picture is accentuated by colorful characters, including Anne Jeffreys as Tess Truehart, Tracy's girl and Lyle Latell as Pat Patton, Tracy's silly sidekick.

The other characters have names that highlight their personalities, such as Jewels Sparkle, Percival Priceless, Vitamin Flintheart, Filthy Flora and, of course, the baddie Cueball, played in sinister fashion by Dick Wessel. A chief clue toward catching Cueball is learned when a youngster tells Tracy all the kids bought hatbands made by a prisoner who was recently released. ...

A 50 worst film? ... NONSENSE. I loved this action programmer from director Gordon Douglas. Why don't we watch the trailer below!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Raven

By Doug Gibson

Simply put, "The Raven" (1935) is a masterpiece. And credit for its perfection belongs to star Bela Lugosi, who is magnificent as the brilliant, deranged, courtly and insane Dr. Richard Vollin, who is so obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe that he has built real Poe-inspired torture devices in his dungeon.

Lugosi's Vollin is implored upon to save the life of a beautiful dancer, Jean Thatcher. Once he restores her to health, he fall in lust with her and wants her for himself. Rebuffed by Thatcher's father, he hatches a plan to invite the dancer, her father, her fiance, and others to be tortured and murdered. In his feverish mind, Vollin believes that by killing, he can be released from his Poe obsessions.

Vollin's unwilling helper is Edmond Bateman, a murderer on the lam who bewails his ugly face. He begs Vollin to bring beauty to his countenance. Instead, Vollin makes him uglier and then promises to fix his ugliness after he kills his guests.

Lugosi is juat brilliant. He's gentlemanly and manic, polite and cruel, courteous and a raving lunatic. The short, 61-minute film is tightly directed by Lew Landers. It is an example of Universal's cruelty to Lugosi that he received only half as much as Karloff earned, although Lugosi's Vollin is the real star, the real villain.

This is a film that should not be missed by any horror film fan.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

'Potter' takes on vampires

This editorial originally ran in the July 15, 2009 Standard-Examiner newspaper:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" opens in theaters today. Although author J.K. Rowling wrapped up the series almost two years ago, it's been a very long film wait between No. 5, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and No. 6 "the Half-Blood Prince."
Perhaps Harry Potter's long cinema hiatus is because the boy wizard is battling an otherworldly creature even more ferocious than death eaters or even Lord Voldemort -- teenage vampires.

It's no secret that Stephenie Meyer's smoldering tales of chaste lust between a teenage vampire boy and virginal human girl have drawn in millions of youngsters entering the teen years who spent their earlier years with Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts may be a fascinating place for readers to hang out, but Twilight has almost steamy scenes of heroes Edward Cullen and Bella Swan making out on Bella's bed while clueless dad sleeps away in another part of the house.

Even "Harry Potter" star Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger in the series, admits to being hooked on the "Twilight" series. And "Half-Blood Prince" director David Yates admits that there's a lot more "snogging" -- British slang for kissing -- in this latest Harry Potter film.

Are Meyer's vampire tales crowding out "Harry Potter?" Although the "Twilight" book saga has also finished, Meyer's novels are easily outselling Rowling's for the past year. In overal sales, though, Rowling's seven books still rule at 400 million, compared to 53 million tallied for the four "Twilight" books. But the first "Twilight" film's amazing numbers, a $382 million haul last fall on a tiny $37 million budget, underscores that Meyer's series has growing global appeal that will only mean larger numbers in the next few years. It's a fair question to wonder which books pre-teens -- particularly girls -- are apt to start reading first: "Harry Potter" or "Twilight."

Industry analysts will be watching the box office take of "Half-Blood Prince" this weekend. Will its long break from movies adversely affect the "Potter" box office? In what might be construed as a nod to "Twilight's" sex appeal, ads and trailers to the new "Potter" film have explicitely stressed the budding teenage romances between Ron Weasley and Lavender Brown, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and finally Harry Potter and the once-in-the-background Ginny Weasley.

No doubt Warner Bros. executives are hoping "Half-Blood" stars Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright will generate at least a portion of the onscreen sex chemistry between "Twilight" stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. So far adventure, not sex, has sold the "Potter" series. It would be a mistake to trade the adventure for the modern gothic sexuality of "Twilight," but a little sex appeal might add some much-needed spice to the "Harry Potter" film series.

Purists will argue with us, saying that the films simply follow the books. That's true, but the "Potter" books can be long, and not everything Rowling writes makes it into the films. Portions and plot twists, particularly in books 4 and 5, have been excised from the film versions.

So, to us at least, the fact that all that snogging in "Half-Blood Prince" has made it to the screen tells us that the creative forces behind "Half-Blood Prince" are paying attention to all those fans who swoon over the romance in "Twilight."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review: The Black Cat

By Doug Gibson

The 1934 Universal Studios' The Black Cat is a magnificent film, the best pairing of stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It is masterfully understated, both rivals mad but possessed of grace, dignity and impeccable manners. Lugosi is the good guy, but he's also crazy enough to skin the bad guy (Karloff) alive at the end.

The plot involves an American mystery writer, and his fiance (Julie Bishop) honeymooning in Hungary. They meet a courtly gentleman, Dr. Vitus Werdegast, who is traveling to meet an old nemesis, Hjalmar Poelzig, played by Boris Karloff. It reminds me a bit of the famous Hungarian novel, Embers. The tone of the film has a classic Hungarian fatalism.

While traveling to a city, a coach overturns. The young couple and Lugosi seek shelter at Karloff's forbidding castle. It is built on the site of a prison, where Werdegast was once held. He seeks his wife and daughter, who were in Poelzig's care. Karloff's Poelzig is the soul of courtesy, but that masks a truly terrifying evil. There are dark secrets in Castle Poelzig, and once Werdegast learns them he's driven to righteous madness.

Stuck in the middle of this is the young bride (Bishop) who becomes an object of desire to Poelzig. Naturally, that puts her husband in danger too.

This brisk, 65-minute horror film is well directed by Edgar Ulmer, who later hamstrung his career by winning the heart of a Universal executive's wife. The plot moves at a dignified pace, and what is literally a cinematic chess game grows more sinister until suddenly the horror of Karloff's character bursts out to the audience.

Lugosi excells at his role, that of a decent man with decent gestures who can't suppress his bitterness and longing. His final rage is memorable. There's little of Edgar Allen Poe's tale, just a cat that Lugosi's Werdegast has a phobia of and Karloff sometimes puts to use.

Horror fans, and Universal afficianados will love this black and white classic. Watch it in a single setting, marvel at the skill of horror experts Lugosi and Karloff. They deserve such respect.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Review: Frankenstein 1970

By Doug Gibson

"Frankenstein 1970" is pretty bad. And that's a shame, since the 1958 independent film, directed by Howard Koch, stars Boris Karloff as Baron Victor Von Frankenstein, last descendant of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein. Von Frankenstein, who suffers torture wounds received at the hands of the Nazis, allows a film crew to his castle to make a movie. Wih the cash, they give him, he uses an atomic reactor to, after killing him, turn a former servant into a reanimated monster. More murders follow.

This film is just flat, more soap opera and corny interludes from cliched characters -- film crew, Dr. Frankenstein's solemn colleague -- than terror. The monster is a huge letdown. It just has a box on its head with slits for eyes. Even Karloff isn't that good. His languid, tired appearance seems like he is just phoming in his performance. His salary -- $26,000, was more than a fifth of the entire budget. Despite the futuristic title, is never clear if it really is 1970. In fact, the film's settings look like its late-'50s timeframe.

The best scene is the opening scene, where a terrified young lovely is pursued to her doom by a monster in a lake. Unfortunately, a "director" yells cut and we learn that it's the movie company. That's about if fright-wise. The 83-minute feature also featured Norbert Schiller, Jana Lund, Donald "Red" Barry and Charlotte Austin. Watch it only for Karloff. Even at his most lackluster, he still has worth for cult films fans.