Friday, April 23, 2010


GUN DUEL IN DURANGO (1957). It's been told before: An outlaw, "the last of the fast-guns," wants to break with his old gang and go straight. Add in a cloying child (Bobby Clark) and a pretty girl (Ann Robinson) and it becomes cliché central. An unlikely George Montgomery, as the former outlaw, is solid but seems preoccupied. His performance only steps up near the end when he finds he has no choice but to confront his former crime cohorts with violence. As the main villain, Steve Brodie briefly steals the show with his welcome ruthlessness, shooting a man in the back, kicking dirt in his face, growling and verbally sparing with Donald Barry. The short spurt of stunting is good (an excellent dive through a window, a fight in some brush, some nice jumps) and the final gunfight, with Montgomery, perched on a roof, holding two guns, is nice. Alas, what comes before is dull and uninspired. Even the title is a sham. Better was the working title, Last Gun in Durango. Location filming took place in the Santa Susanna Mountains, California.

VOICE OF THE WHISTLER (1945), fourth in the series (1944-48) of noirish Columbia mysteries (inspired by the radio show) starring Richard Dix. This series was unusual in that Dix (and later Michael Duane in one film) played a different character in each film, alternating as hero and villain. Each film opened with a shadowy figure, The Whistler, voiced by Otto Forrest, intoning mysteriously, "I am The Whistler, I know many strange tales," while popping up during the hour running time to comment on the proceedings. Voice of the Whistler, also starring Lynn Merrick and James Cardwell, starts off conventionally, but makes up for it when the scenario of the perfect murder is planted in Cardwell's head. Atmospheric thriller, with an excellent lighthouse setting. Directed by (and co-written by) William Castle, its working title was Checkmate for Murder.

DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973). "The Day The Insane Took Over The Asylum." An inmate, posing as a nurse (we don't know she's bogus until near the end), controls the other inmates, treating them roughly at times. When a new nurse comes to stay at the asylum, the bogus nurse goes (even more) off the deep end (who knows why), kills some inmates and tries to kill the new nurse. Finally, at the end, bogus nurse is murdered by the other inmates. One inmate helps the legit nurse escape, then goes and slays the other loonies. The movie weirdly ends with him crying over bogus nurse's dead body as he eats a damn popsicle! Crazy. The screenplay was written by Tim Pope, whose sole writing credit this is; he is more known as a director of music videos. It all has the proper feel of disjointed, confused madness, suitable for this 12-day production. The movie's cheap, stilted, amateur atmosphere is its very selling point; the movie wouldn't work otherwise. Director S.F. Brownrigg helmed some laughably similar-sounding movies: Don't Open the Door! (1975) and Keep the Grave Open (1976). Original title of this "chiller" was The Forgotten and it is also known as Death Ward #13.

NIGHT OF THE BLOODY HORROR (1969). Film about an unstable young man (Gerald McRaney) and his maybe-maybe not tendency to ax his girlfriends. (No, they didn’t ax for it.) This has been touted as one of the “goriest films of its time.” I’d like to take an ax to whoever misled me. There’s some tame gore here: After sex, a girl goes straight to a confessional to receive absolution. Her penance? The priest stabs her in the eye; a girl on the beach has a hatchet shoved into her chest; and a doctor has his hand sliced off. The latter scene is the best; the close-up of his blood flowing out of his amputated hand looks as if he’s artisticly airbrushing the door. Not a scary movie, not even slightly, but it features a psychedelic rock group called “The Bored” and a very unorthodox police method of interrogation (“Are you a fag? Are you a fruit?”). McRaney, pre-Major Dad, baldness and Delta Burke, is supposed to be hot stuff to the ladies, but he’s scrawny and hysterical. (“Boy, you’re touchy,” says one girlfriend, in an understatement.) Rough-hewn Evelyn Hendricks, as the koo-koo, smothering mother, comes off best. Her final scene is a wonder of manic dementia as she does a call-and-response conjuring up her dead husband. (Shades of Psycho, perhaps, but still effective.) Most disturbing scene: McRaney has a dream of having sex; he turns to see the staring, creepy-smiling face of his old crone mother in his arms instead. Naturally, he begins to choke her out, waking up screaming. That, my friends, is the true night of the bloody horror!

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT (1991). British Gary Daniels, whose “hands are faster” than guns, plays an underground kickboxer framed for murder. With the help of blonde, sassy DEA agent Linda Lightfoot, Daniels takes on myriad baddies. Originally called Kickbox Terminator, not a bad title, this bone-snapping, violent show lacks, unfortunately, many things, including something essential to action/martial arts movies: Good fight scenes. The fights, although violent and usually ending in death, are slow and repetitive. You just want the action to speed up a little bit. One funny moment occurs when Daniels wields two lit flashlights and uses them to knock the crap out of an opponent. It’s still dopey, very badly acted "fun," with drugs, promised deformed babies (that never come), kewpie dolls that might or might not contain said drugs, etc. David Carradine is wasted in his smallish role; he seems to have filmed his scenes in one small, dark, cramped room. Daniels has THE most unreal line-reading delivery EVER. He looks okay, but is pretty awful. “Memorable” quote: “You’re one punch away from death.” I felt the same way after I watched this.

FINAL ROUND (1993). Grungy-looking Lorenzo Lamas is a tattooed, overall-wearing, ex-middleweight champ who falls immediately for Kathleen Kinmont when she needs her motorcycle fixed. During sex with Kinmont (after he saves her in a barroom brawl), Lamas is hijacked by Anthony De Longis’ henchman. In the tradition of The Most Dangerous Game, De Longis heads a gambling corporation hunting men for sport. The stalking arena is “two miles long, a half-mile-wide, the entire complex surrounding by a 600-volt electric fence,” as De Longis’ “bad-ass” hunters utilize the latest technology to hunt their “prey” as viewers on satellite place bets. “You make it to the gate, you are free to go,” he sneers. The acting is atrocious, with Lamas thinking he’s a real jokester; his attempts at humor are discomforting. Kinmont (the real-life daughter of a better actress, '50s starlet Abby Dalton) is not very attractive and her reasons for being with Lamas are dubious. (The two were married from 1989 to 1993, the year this movie was "released.") The movie tries for dialogue cleverness, even using some lame, very obvious double-entendres. The action scenes are repetitive, with Lamas, supposedly a boxer, overusing (very) wide karate kicks. When a character asks at one point where he learned to fight, Lamas scoffs, “I’m a big fan of Chuck Norris.” Whatever.

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