King Cohen: Hell Up In Harlem (1973) & Special Effects (1984)

I love that feeling when you just click with a director’s work. You see a film or two and then find yourself obsessed with tracking down all of their flicks (preferably on pristine Blu-rays chockablock full of features) and putting them in your eyeballs. I’ve had that with Larry Cohen, but it took a bit longer to reach full-on “gotta watch them all” mode. It turns out that Original Gangstas (his last feature) was the first one I saw back in 2009. A few years later, I checked out The Stuff and really liked it, but it was Q that hooked me! Since then, I’ve been slowly keeping an eye out for his films from the various boutique Blu-ray companies. Recently, I was able to pick up two from Olive Films through a DeepDiscount sale which were both rad in their own ways.

Continue reading King Cohen: Hell Up In Harlem (1973) & Special Effects (1984)

Q: The Winged Serpent Is Awesome

Q The Winged Serpent Last fall a buddy of mine sent a few Blu-rays he got through his work my way. I’m always super appreciative when people do nice things like this because, unless I hit a really good sale, I’m probably not going to get my hands on a great many things. In that package was a little movie called Q: The Winged Serpent directed by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) and starring Michael Moriarty (Troll), Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and David Carradine (Kill Bill). I was sold solely on Moriarty’s involvement who I had just seen in The Stuff and, as it just so happens, that film was also directed by Cohen, so I guess they bring out the best in each other because I love both of these movies, like hard.

Here’s the basics, as best I can remember them. People in New York City are dying and going missing. The police don’t know why, but it’s because there’s a giant flying monster eating them. Moriarty plays a wheelman dragged into pulling a jewelry heist that goes south. On the run, he winds up in the top Chrysler Building  which just so happens to be the monster’s nest. Meawhile detectives played by Roundtree and Carradine are trying to figure out what’s going on. In the process, Carradine becomes convinced that it’s not only a big monster, but also the reincarnation of the Aztec god Quetzlcoatl.

One of the many elements I love about this film is the fact that Moriarty’s character is so important to how this story plays out. This isn’t the story of a down on his luck hero finding the threat to the city and bringing it to the attention of the authorities. Instead, Moriarty uses the monster to take care of two guys trying to shake him down and he only tells anyone in the local government about what’s going on until after he’s made a deal to get a huge pile of money and pardons for all crimes, even the ones the NYPD might not know about (a “Nixon-like pardon” he says). Since he’s a sneaky, shifty dude, the movie goes places it wouldn’t if this were a more typical Hollywood tale.

For his part, Moriarty really carries this movie. He pulls off this oddly alluring synthesis of charming, down-on-his-luck and  bad that works so damn well. You might like him because he can play the piano so causally, but then you hate how he treats his long-suffering girlfriend. Then, at just the right point, he reveals a piece of his personal history that doesn’t excuse his behavior, but might explain it. That’s another major plus for this film, Cohen reveals bits and pieces of Moriarty’s character when they’re necessary, not before. In that way, it’s a really great example of delving out information at just the right time.

It might sound like I’m going overboard about this strange monster movie from the early 80s and maybe I am, but I still think it’s got a lot of greatness held within. However, it’s not perfect. The special effects don’t look so hot these days. From animated shadows to poorly composited images, there’s a lot for the modern eye to pick apart, but for me that was all part of the film’s charm. It did the best it could at the time and probably looked pretty darn impressive in 1982. I thought the actual Q monster looked pretty solid when it was on screen and there were plenty of dizzying aerial shots of NYC (maybe too many) that acted as monster perspective shots.

Now that I think about it, I think I might like this movie because it’s a combination of two of my favorite films without directly ripping them off. On one hand, all the perspective stuff reflect’s John Carpenter’s Halloween where he puts us in the killer’s perspective for chunks of time. Since we’re dealing with POV on a completely different level, it doesn’t feel like a direct lift. On the other hand, there’s a lot of “you don’t get to see the monster JUST yet” elements taken from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Around the time I watched Q, I heard a lot of people saying that the latest Godzilla  was like Jaws in the city, but it’s a dynamic that worked well given the setting and time of this film.

Also, like both of those admittedly much better films, Q also makes the locale a huge part of the film. Cohen and company made such good use of the Big Apple that it practically oozes all over ever frame. Obviously, the Chrysler Building plays a huge part in the proceedings, though how accurate the film is or whether they actually filmed inside, I don’t know, but those swooping arial shots also firmly cement the fact that we’re dealing with NYC. There’s even a scene shot at Columbia which I only knew because I’m familiar with another film that made such good use of New York City, Ghostbusters.

At the end of the day, Q: The Winged Serpent benefits from a great many positive notes. Moriarty is stellar, Carradine and Roundtree are great, the setting is perfect, the story works specifically because of the characters involved, the monster looks pretty good and presents a definitely threat and it’s got a pretty well thought out mythology. For all those reasons and more, I fully recommend checking this movie out.

Halloween Scene: The Stuff (1985)

Netflix Instant has been trying to get me to watch The Stuff for months now. I kept avoiding it because, well, it sounded kind of stupid, the tale of an oozing dessert product that’s having a strange effect on the people who eat it. It wasn’t until my pal Rickey Purdin drew his version of the film’s poster (seen at left, and larger on his excellent site VHS Notebook) that I decided to give it a whirl. Trying to watch a horror movie every day this month also helped. Man, I’m glad I listened to Rickey because I thought this was a great movie.

The beauty of this film is that it effortlessly balances an increasingly global story with the adventures of the main characters: a corporate saboteur, the PR guru who created The Stuff’s highly effective ad campaign and a kid who figures out something’s wrong long before everyone else. There’s also a wonderful balance in tone. Star Michael Moriarity is doing a cross between Columbo and Matlock but younger as he searches for the truth behind The Stuff. He’s quite funny in this role, but the film still achieves a sense of impending dread kind of like the end of Cabin Fever, which also deals with something bad potentially hurting a large portion of the population.

And yet the “bad guy” of the movie — aside from the people making money off of selling an unknown quantity to hapless consumers (there’s a message here) — is an amorphous blob of white goo. It seems silly, but when you think about how many people are eating this stuff — it not only tastes great, but helps you lose weight…before your insides become the stuff and it takes over your brain — and the potential of that calamity. I should note that while The Stuff itself looks basically like tooth paste or really thick milk, when you see a ton of it pulling a guy up a while, chasing a kid or oozing out from inside a person, it’s still kinda creepy, kind of like The Blob.

Maybe I was just in the right mood for this movie or maybe it hits a lot of my movie buttons — ambitious story done well, Garrett Morris being awesome, great lead kid actor, solid cast and Star Wars sheets in the bedroom — but I really found myself wondering why more people don’t talk about The Stuff. So, do like Netflix suggests and give it a watch.

Halloween Scene: Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

I liked the first Maniac Cop flick because it mixed actors I love with a fairly interesting concept. This sequel was enjoyable for a whole other reason: it’s completely insane. Not only are our heroes from the first movie killed off, but the guy from The Profiler (Robert Davi) takes their place trying to find out what the deal with the maniac cop is.

In this installment, MC’s pretty focused on hurting the good guys and victims and helping the bad guys (to an extent). There’s a whole section of the movie where he actually befriends a serial killer. And it’s not just a simple team-up, MC goes to his crib, they hang out, MC has a flashback to how he was killed and MC even speaks. There’s a lot else going on but it’s not really that interesting.

Seeing as how this is the sequel, the ante is upped as far as kills and effects (now, whether they’re good or not is up to the viewer). Good or bad we see MC’s not-so-pretty face a lot more. He also sports a billy club that hides a knife. I think it’s only used once and I have no idea where he got it (he was last scene crashing into a lake or river or something). Also where does he keep getting clean policeman’s uniforms?

Like I said, it’s not a GOOD movie, but it’s fun enough and I can’t recommend a better slasher to check out so early in October. And it’s on NetBox, so you can just queue it up and check it out. I’ll probably be finishing out the trilogy this week.

OH. I almost forgot because I watched this a few weeks back actually, but MC2 has something else to offer fans of the weird: an end credits rap that is completely 1990 it’s absolutely worth a listen.

 

Quick Movie Review: Original Gangstas (1996)

You know what two names will get me to watch any movie at any time? Richard Roundtree (that’s Shaft, duh) and Pam Grier. So much awesomeness deserves loyalty dammit and as a result, when I stumbled upon a movie on NetBox called Original Gangstas, starring the two of them, Fred Williamson (who plays the captain in the Starsky & Hutch movie) and Jim Brown (who played Byron, the big dude in Mars Attacks!) I was sold. Adding the fact that it’s about older dudes coming back to their neighborhood to take the streets back from the members of the gang that they started back when they were kids had me turning that bad boy on right away. Ever since I saw Deathwish 4 with a geriatric Charles Bronson mowing down teenage gangbangers with a freaking machine gun (Jesse Ventura-in-Predator), I’ve wanted to see punk kids get what’s coming to them. Have I mentioned that, for some reason, my grade school thought it would be a good idea to show us several videos on gang violence. In fourth grade. I also happened to live across the street from a park, which people told me was where gangs hung out. Needless to say, I had trouble sleeping for fear of being mowed down in a drive by. I lived on a dead end street. Thanks school! Anyway, the gang members in this flick make it easy to hate them as they beat up an old guy and kill some kids. Jerks. So yeah, it’s a little bit slow at times, but the end firefight between old folks (this is where Roundtree really comes in, it’s mostly the Williamson/Brown/Grier show) and the young kids is pretty awesome. Worth the price of admission for sure.

Halloween Scene: Maniac Cop & Zombie

Every now and then I get a day to myself at the house. And, as you might expect, when I do, I try and watch as many horror movies as possible. Last Saturday happened to be one of those days and I was able to watch two classic horror movies I’d never seen before, Maniac Cop (1988) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979). I definitely liked one more than the other, but you might be surprised by which one!

First of all, I actually thought that I had seen Maniac Cop as it was crossed off in my Creature Features book. I think I kinda sorta half watched it or one of the sequels one time when visiting Em back when we were dating in college. Her parents had on demand and I tried watching it but probably fell asleep. Anyway, just watching the credits was a surprise. Tom Atkits , Bruce Campbell and Richard Roundtree (Shaft!!!) all in one movie? Plus the bad ass dude who fights Eastwood for like 15 minutes at the end of Any Which Way You Can (William Smith, though he looks completely different than in that movie), sold. I could have given this movie the thumbs up just based on the credits!

But, it really is a fun movie, a great one to stumble on thanks to NetBox (that’s what I call Netflix & Xbox) as there are plenty of kills, a great killer with a pretty interesting origin and such great actors. The plot revolves around a crazy cop killing people out on the streets which, as you’d expect, makes people weary of the cops (one lady even caps one who’s trying to help her). Atkins is investigating and is one of the only people to believe Campbell when he says he didn’t do it after his wife gets iced by the killer cop. Campbell’s girlfriend/mistress, who’s also a cop, forms the third point in this triangle of awesome.

In addition to the basic level of coolness that Atkins brings to all of his horror roles, I really like seeing Campbell playing a straight part. Sure he’s a badass in the Evil Dead flicks, but he’s a winking-at-the-camera kind of a bad ass. Here he’s a regular guy trying to make sense of what turns out to be a potentially supernatural occurrence (an unkillable cop back from the dead?). Oh, also, for those who this might be an incentive for, there’s a naked prison shower fight flashback scene. Hey, I call out boobs, why not a little man nudity?

Anyway, after MC, I almost watched the sequel, but didn’t want to get too burned out on the series (though, in an unusual twist, the Creature Features guy gave all three movies three stars, you almost never see that kind of consistency). So, I was flipping and flipping and flipping until I discovered that Fulci’s Zombie, the supposed semi-sequel to the original Dawn of the Dead I’ve heard so much about, got put on NetBox. I’ve also been hearing about the infamous Zombie vs. Shark and eye gouging scenes for years, so I figured it would be a great candidate for my mini horror fest.

And I gotta say, it’s kind of boring. My experience with Italian horror doesn’t stretch beyond Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Mother of Tears. If you’re looking for a train wreck of a blog post, please check out that Suspiria link, the only blog post I’ve considered deleting. Anyway, maybe I just don’t get the sensibilities of Italian horror, or maybe I just haven’t seen the really good ones or maybe they’re just batshit crazy and that’s why people like them. I’m definitely not against batshit craziness, so it’s not like I’m cutting myself off from further Fulci or Argento flicks, they’re just not incredibly hight on my list.

The problem with Zombie is that it’s kind of slow and boring. There’s a lot of people talking and sailing on boats, but when it does get to the zombie goodness it is definitely good stuff. I just wish there was more of it. The other problem with Zombie (which isn’t the film’s fault), is that it’s reached this legendary status because of the aforementioned scenes that every horror fan talks about it. It’s been on every horror list I’ve ever seen, so all the good parts were basically ruined. And, with the exception of the final shot of zombies running around NYC, you’ve probably seen those two amazing scenes online or a on a clip show before.

I don’t usually like adding to the SPOILER-ness of horror movies, but here’s clips of those two scenes (I recommend watching just them or reading a trade while half-watching Zombie). First the shark fight:

Holy crap this is crazy. It really does look like a zombie fighting a shark and neither one really wins. It’s an amazing piece of film that I would sit through a hundred hours of boring to see, seriously, it’s worth it and I can only imagine how much better it would look on DVD or Blu-ray (the Netflix file wasn’t of the best quality and YouTube doesn’t REALLY do it justice).

And here’s the eye gouge (not for the squeamish):

Again, this moment is worth the price of admission as it’s one of the most real-looking effects I’ve seen (though I was able to see how they did it and it’s kind of beautiful in it’s simplicity).

One last thing I want to comment on is the “sequel” aspect of the movie in relation to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (one of my top three favorite horror movies). Very simply, it’s not. At all. It was finished before DOTD and the name was just changed. Luckily, my enjoyment didn’t hinge on it’s relation to DOTD.

So, in the end, I had a great time watching some classic horror movies, even though Zombie might have been a little boring aside from the tent pole scenes, but seeing two rad NYC-based movies (I didn’t see anything I recognized, though things have changed quite a bit even since 1988) was a great way to spend part of my Saturday.