More blogs by Phillip López Jiménez
The ’80s was a decade I absolutely detested, music was lousy, unless like me one listened to Punk or other various sub-genres, but many people often deride 80’s cinema, and rightly so as it began the era of studio blockbuster mentality; the 70’s teased us with it, but the 80s bombarded us. Don’t get me wrong the 80s produced some of the best of these blockbusters, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (technically a 70’s film) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, DIE HARD, POLTERGEIST, ROBOCOP and many more. But if you look through the pablum of a lot of the mediocre crap during that decade, you’ll see that the 80s produced some very great pieces of cinema in all fields, drama, action, horror, art house etc, but with the exception of the aforementioned, as well as horror and comedies, quite a few 80s films are being forgotten about, even Oscar winners, how many times have have you heard anyone mention 1983s number 2 grosser and Best Picture winner TERMS OF ENDEARMENT or THE FOUR SEASONS the ninth biggest grosser of 1981 right behind the bond film FOR YOUR EYE’S ONLY? With this blog, I hope to shed some light on some films that could use some love or be rekindled and it wasn’t easy I had compiled a list of over 60 films!
Director: Warren Beatty
Writer: Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths
Starring: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicolson
Warren Beatty’s magnum opus, REDS, may not have been forgotten but it is rarely discussed when the subject of historical epics are mentioned, and that’s a damned shame as its an excellent example of great 80’s cinema. If you don’t already know, REDS tells the story of American journalist and socialist activist John Reed (Warren Beatty) and his wife, fellow journalist, artist, and political activist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). The story picks-up when Reed was with the socialist newspaper The Masses and living in Portland Oregon, he strikes up a relationship with Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) a liberal-minded feminist and fellow writer. The two decide to focus their careers on writing and move to Greenwich Village and hang with other like-minded people including realist play write, Eugene O’Neil (Jack Nicholson) who has a brief affair with Louise. Reed becomes more and more active with his activism and focuses more on journalism instead of poetry, Louise sees themselves as artists. Reed and Louise eventually go to Moscow to cover the Bolshevik revolution, which would make him immortal after the publication of 10 Days That Shook The World, a fact the film doesn’t really get into much. Eventually, the Bolsheviks see him as a mouthpiece for their revolution and won’t let him leave after his second trip over there and send him on a tour spreading communism throughout eastern Europe.
Like the 1980s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, its technically a 70’s picture in more ways than just the fact that it was greenlit and started production then, as it’s in keeping with the type of personal filmmaking dictum that was so prevalent in that decade. Personally, I feel it marked the end of the ’70s and how fitting that it’s a Warren Beatty film, as he, for the most part, kick-started New Hollywood with his Arthur Hiller directed BONNIE & CLYDE in 1968. The script is intelligently written by Warren Beatty and Trevor Griffiths. Griffiths left the project, and admits to having only written about half of it, I’m assuming he got the gig based on a TV play FALL OF EAGLES, which included aspects of the events portrayed in the film, with that being said that makes REDS the work of an auteur, though Beatty seems gracious to not have taken that label. In a brilliant move, Beatty conducted oral histories with people who were there, ten years earlier for research, some of these people were author Henry Miller, and screenwriter and journalist Adele St. Johns and many others, he cleverly uses these interviews in an expository way making for interesting breaks between time.
Despite wearing many hats on this production, Beatty delivers a fine performance as Reed, and I’m sure he related to struggle between art and political activism, as he was once was very active. Diane Keaton again delivers a stellar performance as the bohemian Louise Bryant, Keaton is one of our finest actresses but doesn’t get too many meaty roles, which is a shame I think. The stand out performance is Jack Nicholson’s complicated Eugene O’ Neil (a role for which he was nominated for an Academy Award). He’s in love with Louise and thinks her views on free love is bullshit, and although he belonged to the Industrial Workers Union he didn’t quite buy Reed’s and Louisa’s socialist/communist views. In a funny moment, that has more to say about Hollywood filmmaking than it does with the story, Louisa is rehearsing in one of O’ Neil’s plays, I’m assuming it’s Emperor Jones, her character says “…I’m sitting here with a negro sailor…” and the “negro” sailor is white. I don’t know, I just found that funny as its very accurate in regards to Hollywood filmmaking.
The film is brilliantly edited by Dede Allen, (Oscar Winner for DOG DAY AFTERNOON, her list of credits are numerous and diverse) and, Jonathon Demme’s main editor since MELVIN AND HOWARD, Craig McCay, both of whom were nominated for Oscar’s. The cross-cutting and dialog overlapping harkens back to the French New Wave and punches up already interesting scenes. One of my all-time favorite cinematographers Vittorio Storaro’s work is beautiful in this picture, although I prefer his more Rembrandt looking work like he’s done with Francis Ford Coppola, here he has a more naturalistic Vermeer style palette to play with.
I first saw the picture with my Mom on its original release in 1981. It was her turn to pick, my previous pick was HALLOWEEN II a month earlier and she wasn’t too pleased, I didn’t tell her it was R rated. My mother had introduced me to DOCTOR ZHIVAGO three years earlier, at the same theater actually, and it really blew my mind, it was the film that really solidified my desires to be a filmmaker after seeing STAR WARS, and REDS did the same as well, I’m just a sucker for big lavish historical epics. The film is often compared with David Lean’s DOCTOR ZHIVAGO which I believe is wrong as Lean’s picture is much more of a poignant poem about lost love with the revolution as its background, REDS, on the other hand, is a different creature all around, it’s more of a political picture, and it’s a showpiece for the actors set in a large frame. AFI has it ranked #9 on its top 10 Epics Of All Time, I’d rank it higher. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to CHARIOT’S OF FIRE, but Beatty took Best Director, which was fair I think, the other pictures in running were; RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, ON GOLDEN POND and ATLANTIC CITY.
EL NORTE (1983)
Director: Gregory Nava
Writer: Gregory Nava, Anna Thomas.
Starring: Zaide Silvia Gutierrez, David Villalpando, Enesto Gomez, Trinadad Silva
In the 80’s President Ronald Reagan escalated the cold war and fought a proxy war with the Russian “Evil Empire” in Central America and in doing so, the Sandinista’s and Contra’s made the headline’s and Hollywood started making films on the subject. Some very good films were produced including, Oliver Stone’s SALVADOR, UNDER FIRE with Nick Nolte, and Alex Cox’s WALKER (reviewed later), even his REPO MAN had a subplot about the Sandinista’s but was cut out, however, traces of it are still in there. As with most, if not all of Hollywood’s bleeding heart filmmakers, their pictures were told through the eyes of American Anglo’s; Gregory Nava’s independently made 1983 film EL NORTE is not, and most importantly it’s done so without Hollywood’s hypocritical politics, and just as relevant today as it was in 1983.
After their father Arturo (Ernesto Gomez Cruz) is brutally murdered by a military junta for organizing a revolt against the plantation owners. Guatemalans Enrique Xuncax (David Villalpando) and his sister Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) decide to leave north to America for a better future, but first, they have to make it through Mexico.
The film has a lot of warmth and humor, like when a friend tells Enrique how dangerous it will be and once in Mexico he has to say he’s Mexican and speak the language, “Tell them you’re from Oaxaca and say chingada a lot!” after being tricked by a coyote they are picked up in San Diego where an officer asks where they’re from, as he believes they’re Guatemalans. “Oaxaca” Enrique says, the officer opens a map and asks, “where?”. Enrique immediately starts shouting chingaderas. “He’s Mexican.” the other officer says and they toss them back into Mexico.
Their journey isn’t an easy one nor is it all laughs, like crawling through a long-abandoned sewer pipe and being attacked by rats. They in end up in Los Angeles where Enrique lands a job at a posh restaurant and immediately climbs the ladder and his sister lands a job first in a sweatshop then later as a maid for a richie after the sweatshop is raided by la migra. Writer-director Nava along with his co-writer Anne Thomas use the film to explore the many facets of the different social hierarchies in L.A., Like Koreans running the sweatshops using undocumented workers for cheap labor, the wealthy Anglo’s and their help In a funny scene that still makes me laugh, Enrique and a co-worker, Jorge (Enrique Castillo) who’s also an undocumented worker, are chatting in the kitchen when another busboy walks by (Tony Plana) and he calls him a “Pocho” Enrique asks what does that mean. “You know a Chicano.” Enrique still is confused. “A Mexican whose born and raised here and can’t speak Spanish but still has to work the same shitty jobs like us.”
The picture ends on a somber note, that makes one wonder if it was at all worth it. The film is a beautiful looking picture that is divided into three parts the first section in Guatemala. These scenes have a bit of surrealism that recalls the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in particular, the scene where Rosa walks into a room and moths magically fly out of a bowl that’s on an altar for her deceased mother. EL NORTE was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Gregory Nava and Anne Thomas.
Others worth checking out; Norman Jewison’s AGNES OF GOD (1986 Best Actress Nominee Anne Bancroft, Best Supporting Actress Nominee Meg Tilly, Best Original Score George Delerue) Richard Benjamin’s MY FAVORITE YEAR (Best Actor Nominee Peter O’ Toole)
LION OF THE DESERT (1980)
Director: Moustapha Akkad
Writer: H.A.L. Craig
Music: Maurice Jarre
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger
From 1911 until 1931, Italy’s fascist dictator, Bonito Mussolini (Rod Steiger) set out to subjugate the Libyan people in his goal to expand his new Roman empire; to do this he used Field Marshall Rudolph Graziani (Oliver Reed), also known as “The Butcher of Fezzan.”, and for twenty years the thorn in his side was Bedouin guerrilla leader, Omar Mukhtar, Assad EL Sahra or LION OF THE DESERT (Anthony Quinn). Director Moustapha Akkad’s epic tale takes place in the final years of the battle and life of Mukhtar, who was eventually captured and hung.
LION OF THE DESERT is a massive epic with amazing battle sequences and tons of action. Director Moustapha Akkad created an old fashioned Hollywood style epic about a period of history not too many Americans know much about but is actually quite relevant now in the current world we live in. Anthony Quinn, though not Arabic, delivers another worthy performance as the Bedouin warrior and teacher, Muchtar. Oliver Reed’s Graziani admires Muchtar’s brilliant guerrilla maneuvers in the deserts of Libya. Mussolini was very proud of the conquest he was leading and had every bit of this was documented on film. Akkad juxtaposes actual footage of the concentration camps the Italians were forcing the Bedouins into, almost half the Bedouin population in Libya were killed in these camp from starvation, disease, and murder. It’s quite harrowing looking at this actual footage.
The 35 million dollar LION OF THE DESERT was released in the states on April 17, 1981, and was one of biggest failures of the the 80’s along with Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE, Herbert Ross’ PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (those two pictures were on my big list of gems) and Sir Lew Grade’s RAISE THE TITANIC. But that does not mean it wasn’t any good, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. One of the reasons I suspect was the cause for its a failure at the box office was the bad press it received over one of its investors, a certain Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who gave them carte blanch in regards of military extras for the battle scenes and these scenes are epic with literally thousands of extras. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is an obvious influence on the picture, Akkad even used cinematographer Jack Hildyard and a wonderful score by Maurice Jarre. If your unfamiliar with this film but Moustapha Akkad’s name sounds familiar, that’s because while looking to fund this film, an associate suggested he make a horror picture as they’re guaranteed money makers. So he put it out there that he was looking to finance a horror picture and was approached by John Carpenter who had a story about a babysitter being stalked by a merciless killer and that film became HALLOWEEN. Akkad was an executive producer on the first 8 of them. Sadly Moustapha Akkad and his daughter were both killed in a terrorist attack in Ammon, Jordan in 2005.
Genre pictures thrived in the 80’s many of which have managed to rise to the top of 80’s cinema, James Cameron’s low budget THE TERMINATOR JOHN and Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK are a couple of examples. Some pictures that were hits
VICE SQUAD (1982)
Director: Gary Sherman
Writer: Kenneth Peters, Sandy Howard, and Robert Vincent O’Neil
Starring: Season Hubley, Gary Swanson, Wings Hauser, Pepe Serna
The film that Martin Scorsese called the best film of the year in 1982, Gary Sherman’s controversial VICE SQUAD (not to be confused with Penelope Spheeris’ HOLLYWOOD VICE SQUAD with Carrie Fisher) is one swift kick to the balls kind of film. Gary Sherman had previously helmed the 1972 British cannibal picture RAW MEAT (a favorite film of Guillermo Del Toro) as well as 1981’s DEAD AND BURIED before making this low budget, but highly effective, hard-boiled, exploitation flick.
Like George Lucas’ AMERICAN GRAFFITI, this picture takes place all in one evening on the mean streets of Hollywood. The plot is simple enough Hollywood’s vice cops must apprehend a sadistic pimp after he brutally murdered one of his hookers (Nina Blackwood, made the same year she became a VJ on the new channel MTV). The cops eventually trap and capture him, but he escapes and is out to get the hooker who set him up.
Beautifully shot by cinematographer John Alcott, yes, that John Alcott, the genius behind Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON and THE SHINNING! Here he uses his low lighting skills to capture Hollywood Blvd in all its seedy glory. One of my favorite shots is rather quite simple really; in what may be the most brutal introduction to an antagonist ever, we are in the back of his truck and he pulls forward while the camera pulls out onto the street and over, the truck does a U-turn and drives up a block as we follow him, then he pulls into a motel parking lot and its all done in one beautifully executed shot. These type of shots are probably what made Scorsese get so excited as they abound throughout the film. This truck belongs to rootin’ tootin’, red-neck hick, Ramrod and how do we know that’s his name? It says so on the tire cover on his Jimmy. I’m sure QT thought of this film when he came up with the name Pussy-Wagon in KILL BILL. Ramrod is played by pretty-boy, Young and The Restless actor, the great Wings Hauser in one brutal, manically sadistic performance, that instantly took him from daytime TV to 80s exploitation stardom, one of my other favorites from Wings was the 1984 horror picture MUTANT. Wings, sounding an awful lot like Fear’s Lee Ving, also sang the theme song “Neon Slime”
I’ve seen this picture many times over the years, but watching it again for this piece I noticed a few things, the first being that it has all the tropes of a Warner Bros crime thriller from the ’30s, roof-top chase’s, chase’s through dark alleys, cops jumping through windows, tough and even tougher dames and despite it being an exploitive subject matter there really isn’t any nudity or explicit sexuality…instead it smacks us visually with its hard-hitting violence and it has a lot of it, so much so that I remember this being one of the pictures that were being targeted by the National Organization of Women along with films like William Lustig’s MANIAC. Like I said before, the film is brutal but it doesn’t relish in its violence like other films of this nature often do. Another thing about the film was seeing all the Hollywood locations and remembering how it looked back then. I remember going up there to see RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for the umpteenth time and seeing all the barricades and camera trucks setting up for the night shoots and later seeing all the bill posts advertising the film on drives up to Hollywood Book and Poster, when it use to be on Las Palmas and Hollywood Toys and Magic to pick up make-up supplies for our super 8mm epics. Good Times for sure.
As Ronald Reagan desired to throw America back to the 50s, cinema reverted back as well, bringing back the sword and sandal genre that was so popular with drive-in audiences of the 50s and early 60s. There were fan favorites like John Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN, John Boorman’s exquisite retelling of the King Arthur legend EXCALIBUR; the fact that this film has not been digitally restored in any way can be a sign that there isn’t much demand for it and it’s a damned shame as it’s one of my all-time favorite films. There was one picture, a low budget underdog, that did quite well both critically and financially, but has somehow not attained the following it deserves and that is Albert Pyun’s…
THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982)
Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: Tom Karnowsky and John V. Stuckmeyer
Starring: Lee Horsley, Kathleen Beller, Simon MacCorkindale, Richard Moll
1982’s THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, harkens back to the swashbuckling high adventure films of yesteryear. The story is about Cromwell (Richard Lynch) who summons the demon sorcerer, Xusia (NIGHT COURT’S Richard Moll), to help him dethrone King Richard (Christopher Cary). They kill the king and his wife but his young son, Talon, lives and escapes. Years later Talon (Lee Horsley), now an adventurer, pirate, and warrior, is hired by Alana (Kathleen Beller) to rescue her brother Micah (Simon McCorkindale) who was captured trying to dethrone Cromwell.
The action scenes are abundant and Talon sports an interesting three bladed sword that can fire two of its blades. Lee Horsley’s Talon is very good delivering the pulp-inspired dialog with plenty of bravado and charisma, not long after this, he would star as TV’s MATT HUSTON. The lovely Kathleen Beller is also quite good as the so-called damsel in distress. The FX hold up well too, including a transformation scene that seemed to be a prerequisite in fantasy pictures at the time after THE HOWLING and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, in fact, Simon McCorkindale who plays Micah also stared in the gimmicky show MANIMAL which had transformations galore.
The film is great looking, though Pyun uses a lot of fog to hide it’s Southern California locations, Franklin Lake (used in the opening of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, and home to the elusive Sasquatch in the pseudo-documentary THE MYSTERIOUS MONSTERS among others), Griffith Park, and the coast of what’s more than likely, Malibu Beach. It also made good use of Riverside, CA’s The Mission Inn, as the king’s castle, where Talon and his lady fare swing across the courtyard. The demon Xusia’s lair is great looking and looks like something out of a Frazetta painting. David Whitaker’s fantastic soundtrack recalls the music of the Golden era as well, in particular, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s music for Michael Curtiz’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.
The film is pure Saturday matinee stuff, but with lots of gore and
T & A. I saw this as a kid back in its original release and the theater was packed with people cheering and clapping, much like that summer’s POLTERGEIST, it was a real crowd pleaser; film critic Gene Siskel even gave it a positive review saying “I absolutely enjoyed the film…and it had a lot of humor.” This sucker grossed $39,103,425 off a 4 million budget, to put that into perspective that same summer’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN had a domestic take of $38,513,085 off a roughly 20 million budget, EXCALIBER a year earlier grossed around 35 million, so this film really pulled in the crowds. I still believe CONAN THE BARBARIAN and EXCALIBER to be a much better picture, they’d perhaps both make my top 15 favorite films of all times list, but THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER is a film not to be missed by film lovers.
Neil Jordon’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, DRAGONSLAYER, and I, MADMAN
The Films of John Carpenter
John Carpenter in the ’80s was quite successful, though maybe not financially since his big budgeted films flopped, but he made one of the greatest horror films ever, the remake of THE THING (I always tie this with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), he also made one of the greatest science fiction/action films ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and one of the best non-Hong Kong, Hong Kong films ever BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA plus the cult classics THE FOG, THEY LIVE and the ho-hum CHRISTINE, but few people talk about…
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith
John Carpenter is having a bit of a resurgence of late with his concert tours promoting his Lost Themes CD’s of original non-soundtrack music, as well as a new sequel to his 1978 classic HALLOWEEN. But when going over his body of work, one film rarely gets mentioned, if at all, and that is 1985’s STARMAN, a film about getting a chance to say goodbye to someone you love. Seeing this picture now it may seem trite as its basic plot has been done countless times especially on TV movies, STARMAN also spawned a short-lived TV series, but at the time it was fresh and original.
Karen Allen stars as widower Jenny Hayden, still grieving over the loss of her husband. The beginning finds her watching home movies of her and her husband vacationing. A mysterious meteor crashes not far from her cabin in the woods and a glowing ball of light glides into her home as she sleeps and this light looks at a photo and a lock of hair from her husband and absorbs its DNA. Jenny wakes up and is shocked to see an infant laying on her floor and in a special effect sequence that actually still holds up the infant slowly grows to an adult version of her deceased husband but with an alien intelligence, an Oscar-nominated performance by Jeff Bridges, who welcomes her with “Greetings” as he tells Jenny has learned several different languages from the Voyager 2 space probe that had a record with “Greetings.” A U.S. government agent played by tough guy character actor Richard Jaeckel contacts S.E.T.I. Scientist Mark Sherman (Charles Martin Smith) and informs him about a meteor crash and wants him to investigate. He eventually discovers that it was no meteor but a spacecraft. The alien must get to the giant meteor crater in Arizona to rendezvous with his fellow aliens and as you probably guessed it, the government wants to capture him for experiments.
If you think STARMAN sounds a bit like E.T. you’re not the only one. The film had been in development for several years at Columbia and many people were involved with it but dropped out over the years. Several directors were attached to it, Tony Scott, John Badham, Peter Hyams, before producer Michael Douglas chose John Carpenter, who was looking for something to show that he could stretch. Columbia had a deal with Steven Spielberg for his semi-sequel to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND called NIGHT SKIES which was to be more of a horror film but when he had it rewritten it became kid friendly so Columbia was no longer interested and the project moved to Universal and its name changed to E.T., oops.
John Carpenter was strictly a director for hire so STARMAN is the least John Carpenter of John Carpenter’s films. There is no Carpenter score, however, composer Jack Nitzsche’s has some nice Carpenteresque moments (I’m sure he was the choice of producer Michael Douglas, as he had also scored ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO’S NEST. The film overall is fairly routine and predictable but what the film does show is that John Carpenter could direct a romantic bittersweet movie. as the starman is essentially Jenny’s husband coming down here to give her a chance to say good-bye and the baby they never had a chance at conceiving. The performances are all top notch and it’s always great to see the likable Charles Martin Smith in anything.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter (Martin Quartermass)
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Jamison Parker
After the dismal box office failures of THE THING and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and the lukewarm B.O. of STARMAN and CHRISTINE, writer-director John Carpenter found himself un-bankable with the major studios and was sent back to low budget filmmaking. That’s not to say the aforementioned were not good films, THE THING is a freakin’ masterpiece and one of the greatest horror films of all time, and time has definitely been on its side, on pretty much most of Carpenter’s films really. I would say on a film by film basis, he just may be the greatest genre filmmaker ever to come out of America. Let’s be honest, not even the mighty Spielberg can match the number of quality pieces of genre cinema that John Carpenter has produced. That leads me to 1987’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS and 1984’s STARMAN, two of Carpenter’s films that time hasn’t been too kind to.
I’ll start with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Back in 1987 I was a teenage punk rock gore-hound with a Fangoria clutched in one hand a Psychotronic Encyclopedia in the other with The Cramps constantly rockin’ away on my Sony Walkman and I hate to admit it but I actually walked out on this film. Why? It takes a long time to get going, which was probably why people don’t often get back it on home video. John Carpenter was still a big name for movie fans so it recouped the 3 million bucks it cost to make but, shit, THE HIDDEN (another 80’s gem) came out the following week and stole its thunder. So why is PRINCE OF DARKNESS a gem? Because of its atmosphere and storytelling and I can’t think of another film that’s quite like it.
After the death of a Priest, who belonged to a secret sect within the Catholic church, it is discovered that a mysterious container has been locked away in the basement of a church in Los Angeles and it’s up to Priest (Donald Pleasence) to find out just what the mystery jar is. He enlists a quantum physicist Dr. Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and a team of his students to figure it out. Howard and the Priest come to the conclusion that it’s the essence of Satan and that once he’s out he’s gonna release his father, the Anti-God, and bring about the apocalypse.
If you’ve seen The Quartermas films (Carpenter used the nom de plume Martin Quartermass as a writer) or have read any pulps from the 20s and 30s you’ll know that it isn’t the most original idea, hell, H.P.
Lovecraft invented this sub-genre, but the sense of dread is what makes this film so cool. It’s like Carpenter thought about all the stuff that worked in his other films and put it all in here. The college students start one by one to become satan’s minions, as well as the homeless population outside, lead by Alice Cooper, and they surround the building, ala ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and THE FOG. It has the moodiness of THE THING but sorely lacks Dean Cundey’s fluid steady-cam cinematography, his fee was more than likely too much and was prepping WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT for the ‘berg and Zemeckis. It’s not a perfect film, the acting is pretty bad considering the talents working on it. The pacing is great and it gets quite suspenseful at the end thanks to Carpenter’s brilliant musical score. Watching it again, I can see that its the work of a master making the best with what he had.
Coming of Age Films
Coming of age films were all the rage in the 80’s, for God knows what reason, but John Hughes dominated that genre but there where other films that weren’t as big as his and were much better and that people still talk about; RIVERS EDGE, Francis Ford Coppola’s RUMBLE FISH and there were also the forgotten gems like sleeper hits, Tony Bill’s MY BODYGUARD (1980), Harold Becker’s TAPS (1981) with early performances by Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, and Tom Cruise. But there’s one that unfortunately very few people talk about. This was the first film developed and released through Paramount Pictures, by Sherry Lansing’s Jaffe/Lansing Productions, when she went on her own after becoming the first female studio head at 20th Century Fox. It didn’t do too well financially but it was the type of personal filmmaking that she enjoyed.
RACING WITH THE MOON (1984)
Director: Richard Benjamin
Writer: Steve Kloves
Starring: Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Elizabeth McGovern
Actor/director Richard Benjamin seemed to be on a roll in the early 80s: as an actor in SATURDAY THE 14TH (saw this on a double bill with HALLOWEEN II), and HOW TO BEAT THE HIGH COST OF LIVING with Jane Curtain, Susan St. James and Jessica Lange, but its two of the films he directed in the early ’80s that are really the most memorable; 1981’s MY FAVORITE YEAR and 1984’s RACING WITH THE MOON. Set in a coastal town during Christmas of 1942, the story is about two friends, Henry “Hopper’ Nash (Sean
Penn) and Nicky (Nicholas Cage) who have been drafted and are set to join the Marines in the coming weeks. They work together at their local bowling alley always looking for kicks in their quiet town. Nash meet a new girl in town Caddy Winger (Elizabeth McGovern) and they begin a relationship.
Penn’s Nash has a voice that’s a few octaves higher than his other high schooler FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH‘s Jeff Spicoli and in doing so he seems much younger, I’d be curious to see how he’d portray him after the war, Nash, not Spicoli. Like pretty much everything he did before Bruckheimer got ahold of him, Nicholas Cage really shines here and he gives us another wild man performance.
Then ingenue Elizabeth McGovern is excellent as the sweet Caddy who has a secret that she’s afraid to tell Nash. Here she steals the scenes as the porcelain-skinned, awkward but intelligent Caddie, shes shyly flirtatious, early on she asks Nash what he’s doing on Christmas Eve and they go through all the usual banter only for her to say “Great, then you can be Gretchen’s date!” but she really wants to hang with him. She portrays her as one foot in adulthood, she’s definitely more mature than Nash and Nicky. She brings Nash along with her as she brings books to wounded soldiers thinking this will make him a bit more serious about what could happen to him, which backfires as he meets a one-legged soldier, a young Michael Madson acting a bit like he would in RESERVOIR DOGS.
You can have your Heather Locklear’s or Heather Thomas but for this 15-year-old back then it was McGovern, she was also in a few other gems, Milos Foreman’s RAGTIME for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Sergio Leone’s controversial masterpiece ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and in the much under-appreciated an also kind of forgotten Walter Hill’s JOHNNY HANDSOME.
The Films of Alex Cox
“After Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, I believed that he could scarcely do wrong and that there was a streak of obsession in his genius that might well carry him into the pantheon.” Roger Ebert
Alex Cox came out of UCLA film school with a bang, with his instant cult classic REPO MAN, although it wasn’t any kind of box office champ, it more than made up for it on VHS’ everywhere. I’ve probably seen this more than any other film, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a close second. Unfortunately, his other films didn’t fare so well. His next picture SID AND NANCY, one of the absolute best films of the decade, really should’ve catapulted him to another level, Roger Deakins cinematography is absolutely superb, as well as a star-making performance by Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious, but alas, Cox would slowly drop to obscurity. His next two pictures, I believe, are two gems of the 80s, STRAIGHT TO HELL and WALKER both 1987 and I’m glad to have caught these two in their original release. They are also two films that critics, especially Roger Ebert, hated, and audiences stayed away from, but then again they both hardly got a release.
STRAIGHT TO HELL (1987)
Director: Alex Cox
Writer: Alex Cox, Dick Rude
Starring: Sy Richardson, Dick Rude, Joe Strummer, Courtney Love
Believe it or not, I saw this picture twice in the same week, so I am very proud to say I helped to contribute to its total box office of 210,200. bucks, according to IMDb, but remember box office does not mean quality. To really appreciate this film one should be a fan of spaghetti westerns and in particular, Giulio Questi’s DJANGO KILLS…IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT as it’s pretty much a remake of that film.
The film is about three hit men (Sy Richardson, Joe Strummer, and Dick Rude) Richardson and Summer, sporting black suits and skinny black ties and Richardson’s Jerry curl hair predates PULP FICTION by seven years. They heist a bank and head for Mexico along the way the pick up a pregnant Courtney Love and make it to a strange town run by the bandit gang and coffee addicts and go by the by the name of McMahon (The Pogues) and their eldest brother (Terry Woods), who’s dressed in all white, shades of DJANGO KILLS, and wackiness ensues. The film is littered with cameos by Jim Jarmusch, Grace Jones, Edward Tudor-Pole and Dennis Hopper.
This all might seem that Cox just slapped this together with some of his buddies and that may be right to an extent. The reality is that Cox was really supposed to do a concert film for Nicaragua Solidarity Tour, The Pogues, Elvis Costello, and Joe Strummer with monies for the Sandinista National Liberation Front but Cox and company discovered it would be easier to raise a million bucks for a film than the 80 grand needed for a concert tour, and since the bands already scheduled the month of August 1986 for the tour they agreed to do the movie. Alex Cox, a huge fan of and one of the biggest authorities on spaghetti westerns, it was only obvious that he’d shoot his picture in Almeria Spain on the same sets as many spaghetti westerns. So, yes I’m sure the script was put together quickly, but you know what? That’s all right because this film is a lot of fun with some great music, lot o’ laughs and plenty of coffee!
The soundtrack is excellent with great tracks by Pray For Rain, Joe Strummer and especially The Pogues, and one of their more popular tunes “If I Should Fall From The Grace Of God” first showed up on the soundtrack before officially being released in 1988.
There were a lot more films I wanted to tackle but ran out of