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Halloween (1978) Review


Excellent
Considered by many to be a modern horror classic, Halloween succeeds through simplicity. This thriller -- a veritable kickoff for 25-plus years of slasher films -- works because director John Carpenter keeps the story neat and the presentation basic. It's an approach that gives Halloween an easy, no-frills realism, and a likable indie style that shines through even today. Carpenter and co-writer/producer Debra Hill turn a few suburban streets into a house of horrors for some unsuspecting teenagers -- with no special effects and very few cheap thrills.

A 19-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis makes her film debut as Laurie Strode, a bookish, anti-social highschooler unaware that while she babysits on Halloween night, a psychotic maniac lurks in the neighborhood. The strong, silent type, this hulking being quietly walks the town in which he killed his sister 15 years earlier, back for more after a hospital escape. Meanwhile, his horrified doctor (the ominous Donald Pleasance) waits, as single-mindedly obsessed as the killer he's chasing.

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You Only Live Twice Review


Excellent
One of Bond's bigger outings from the early days of the franchise, You Only Live Twice begins with Bond (Sean Connery) faking his death to relieve himself of some of the heat of his enemies and culminates with a showdown against nemesis Blofeld (the progenitor of Dr. Evil) in a phony volcanic lair/rocket base being invaded by ninjas, which are on Bond's side. Blofeld's plot is hijacking spaceships while they're in orbit... for unclear purposes. Got all that? The plot itself is protracting and quite confusing for a Bond film, ultimately just a distraction from one of Bond's most memorable adventures, complete with Q arriving with a helicopter in a box. Tons of fun, really, and Donald Pleasence as Blofeld is inimitable.

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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Review


OK
No, this isn't a Beatles film like A Hard Day's Night, released in conjunction with the eponymous album and telling a vague sort of story. Rather, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out 11 years after the seminal Beatles record. And it doesn't star the Beatles. In fact, it's one of the most bizarre films ever made, with the Bee Gees (who have no dialogue) appearing as the titular band, who acts through a series of vignettes based on songs that appear on the titular record (and some off of Abbey Road, too). Story-wise, there's really not much here -- basically it's about a small band's rise to fame and subsequent fight against the evil, corporate music business. And I mean basically. Really it's excuse to hear Beatles covers from the Brothers Gibb, Peter Frampton, Sandy Farina, Aerosmith (who pioneered their "Come Together" version here), Steve Martin(!), and George Burns(!!), who narrates the proceedings. And the music is really good, too. Never mind the "story."

The Freakmaker Review


Grim
Don't look now: Freaks are back.

With reissues of the original Freaks and Freaked on DVD, make room for The Freakmaker, a kind of homage/update/remake of Browning's 1932 classic.

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The Last Tycoon Review


OK
The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, packs a pile of talent into its two hours but comes up a bit short in the end.

A shockingly lithe Robert De Niro stars as Monroe Stahr, a 1930s studio executive based on Irving Thalberg (a prolific producer who died at the age of 37, presumably from overwork). Stahr has lost loves in the past and a crushing chip on his shoulder in the present. He's a workhorse, but he wants something more out of life.

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Escape From New York Review


Excellent
The idea of Manhattan being transformed into a maximum security prison isn't much of a stretch. Many New Yorkers already feel as though they're in jail every day, surrounded by monolithic skyscraper walls. John Carpenter imaginatively stretched that premise in his cult classic, Escape from New York. In his alternate version of 1997, the Big Apple is a cityscape jail. The rules are simple. Once the inmates are shipped in, they don't get out. The bridges are mined. The waterways are watched over by sweeping helicopters. The police force, like an army, is encamped on Liberty Island and the outer boroughs.

That's exciting enough, but Carpenter also calculates in a ticking time bomb narrative device. Air Force One is hijacked by some socialist radicals who crash-land the plane into the heart of "this inhuman dungeon of [an] imperialist prison." The President (Donald Pleasence) manages to escape in a safety pod, only to be captured by none other than the leader of a ferocious band of gypsies who control the island, the self-proclaimed Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).

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Escape To Witch Mountain Review


OK
Decades before Harry Potter wowed millions, another orphaned kid with magical powers delighted children in literature and the movies. Two of 'em, in fact. (Kids and movies, I mean.)

Watch carefully and you'll find Harry's origins written all over Escape to Witch Mountain. Young Tia and Tony (Harry Potter) find themselves orphaned and without memory of their parents. When their foster parents die, they're sent to an orphanage, where an evil capitalist named Deranian (Voldemort) tries to subvert their budding magical powers -- levitation, telepathy, animal communication, and more -- for his own whims. They escape and head for the mythical Witch Mountain (Hogwarts), where they're sure they'll be accepted. They get there thanks to an old map (lightning bolt scar) that Tia has, reminding her of her past. Helping them along the way is a crotchety but folksy camper (Hagrid) and a pet cat (owl), not to mention various other obstacles and helping hands -- including a magic harmonica (wand).

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Halloween II Review


Grim
It took three years to get it to screen, but Halloween #2 picks up immediately where Halloween #1 left off. Michael Myers chases Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) through the hospital where she has been recently interred, while Donald Pleasence grumbles about druids. Absolutely awful, with no trace of the original's terror. (Side note: Curtis, playing a teenager, is 23 years old at the time.)

Halloween 5 Review


Grim
A relatively uninspired entry in the Halloween series, Halloween 5 picks up one year after Halloween 4, as Myers continues to hunt for his niece -- who attacked her stepmother at the end of 4 after being possessed by Myers, and is now having visions about where Michael is. Loomis is now a gibbering, scarred lunatic, and stepsister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) is still mega eye candy.

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Phenomena Review


OK
The Phenomena here must be how Jennifer Connelly's utter lack of acting ability on display in this film eventually translated to an Academy Award later in her career. Lessons? Dunno. Anyway, Dario Argento's movie is rather typical of his oeuvre and one of his better attempts. In this installment, a sleepwalking (literally) Connelly uses her odd ability to communicate with insects (yes, she can even hear them over the synth-ballad soundtrack!) to help an investigation into a serial killer who's plying his trade near her Swiss boarding school. Silly and hammy, it's redeemed by some interesting moments and a good amount of suspense, despite the fact that there's a giant monkey pushing Donald Pleasence in a wheelchair. And I'm not kidding.

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Telefon Review


Good
Charles Bronson is KGB, man! And Lee Remick is a double agent! And together they have to track down KGBer-gone-commando Donald Pleasence, as he reactivates a long-since-abandoned plan to activate sleeper agents in the U.S. and have them blow up a bunch of stuff. This Cold War thriller may not have the most complicated story, but it's curiously effective and has been been surprisingly influential, a nice companion piece to The Manchurian Candidate, another mind controlled-civilians-as-assassins story. Bronson probably does less fighting in this film than in any other film in his career.

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers Review


Grim
Whoops. I guess they forgot that the world pretty much came to an end in the asinine Halloween III... which must be why Halloween 4 returns to the Michael Myers mystery, 10 years after Halloween II, and with Mike still alive and kicking. He escapes the hospital and quickly begins stalking Laurie Strode's daughter, Jamie (Danielle Harris), with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) still lumbering after him. Watch Loomis dive for cover when Michael blows up a gas station. Boy, this one's rich.

Cul-De-Sac Review


Good
Roman Polanski's character study is strange, creepy, and often compelling. The freaky foursome in the film are a pair of criminals on the run and a husband and wife in whose home they uninvitedly take up residence. The criminals (including Lionel Stander, the butler from Hart to Hart) turn the husband (Donald Pleasence) into a snivelling fool, while the wife (Françoise Dorléac) is alternately a vamp and a freaked-out basket case. How they interact -- and how this all ends up -- is devilishly interesting, though it's ultimately not terribly believable.

Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers Review


Grim
This one's Halloween #6, made six years after Halloween 5 and decades after the series had totally died. Still, there are plenty of impalements (Michael Myers' favorite mode of death in this film) to keep our interest, and one line ("Michael Myers in space!?") is chuckle-worthy because all of his brethren would go there in the coming decade, including Jason. As a straight-up horror film, this continuation of the H-ween story revived in H4 and H5 -- Halloween III busted the series with a wholly unrelated tale -- is less about the gore and more about telling us why Michael is so batty for killin': because druids and creepy dudes in black are protecting... ah, skip it.

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Wedding In White Review


OK
It is amazing to see Carol Kane in her leading-lady debut, 30 years ago. The woman (now 50) looks exactly the same! Same frizzy hair. Same sunken eyes. Same voice. Dorian Gray has nothing on Carol Kane.

Set in dreary Canada during World War II, Kane stars as the mouse-quiet Jeannie Dougall, stuck at home while her brother's overseas. When her brother returns home on leave with an army buddy named Billy (Doug McGrath), Billy forces himself on Jeannie after a night of boozing. When Jeannie ends up pregnant and the shame of her simpleton father (Donald Pleasence), he exacts a wrath so freakish in its methodical logic that it redeems the previous 100 minutes of rather dull exposition.

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