Film Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante
Music by: The Ramones
Cast: P.J. Soles, Dey Young, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, The Ramones

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

Roger Corman always liked to capitalize on whatever pop culture trends came along. Initially, he wanted to make a film called Disco High School. However, with the end of the film being capped off by the high school exploding behind dancing students, one of his collaborators said that the ending would fit much better with rock and roll. Corman agreed and after being pointed in the direction of punk rock legends The Ramones by Paul Bartel, a regular Corman collaborator, the rest is history.

Rock & Roll High School isn’t a good film but it is a ridiculous and fun motion picture that features the great tunes of The Ramones and the insane and infectious enthusiasm of its star, P.J. Soles.

The film also stars the always great Mary Woronov as the villainous principal and Paul Bartel as a music teacher that converts to a fan of The Ramones after getting doped up at a concert. We also get a good cameo by Dick Miller and get to enjoy a few scenes with the enigmatic and entertaining Don Steele. A young Clint Howard is also in this.

This movie is mostly a high school teen sex comedy with a heavy emphasis on The Ramones music. It isn’t quite a musical but it plays like one at times. The Ramones have a lengthy concert segment within the film but outside of that, we see P.J. Soles lead a group of girls singing in gym class, as well as the big finale which sees the students and The Ramones march through the school halls as they trash the place to the horror of the administration, their parents and the police outside.

Rock & Roll High School is highly entertaining but probably only for those who love the actors involved or who have a love for The Ramones. I’m not sure how it would resonate for others. It’s definitely a movie that is still well regarded by many because of its ties to punk music, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles and because it has a massive nostalgia factor.

Film Review: Tourist Trap (1979)

Release Date: March 16th, 1979
Directed by: David Schmoeller
Written by: David Schmoeller, J. Larry Carroll
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Robin Sherwood, Tanya Roberts

Compass International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

For some reason, a lot of slasher aficionados think that Tourist Trap is the friggin’ bee’s knees. I think it’s the bee’s stinger… right through the heart of good taste.

Sure, the ladies are pretty nice to look at, especially Tanya Roberts who I always thought was MILFtastic on That 70s Show, not to mention when she was a Bond girl in A View To A Kill and a replacement Angel at the end of the original Charlie’s Angels run. Other than that though, this thing is a pretty lame attempt at a slasher flick.

The opening scene where the dude gets locked in a room and harassed by cackling mannequins for what seems like 45 minutes, is one of the dumbest sequences that I have ever seen in a slasher film and I’ve seen Don’t Go In The Woods.

There is this killer that kinda looks like Leatherface in that horrible fourth Texas Chainsaw movie. You know, the one where he was a wailing banshee in a dress and covered in lipstick. Granted, this predates that movie by almost a decade and a half but it isn’t a good look regardless.

The killer and his doofus older brother (played by Chuck Connors, who should’ve known better than to be in this thing) go around trapping teens and killing them. We’re looking at lowest common denominator cookie cutter bullshit here.

The plot is weak, the characters suck except Tanya Roberts, the killer is dumb and the cinematography looks like it was handled by my drunk Uncle Titus between trying to perfect his barbecue sauce and spearing frogs for hors d’oeuvres.

Tourist Trap is not a classic despite what some tasteless folks might tell you. It is pretty boring, pretty ugly and a big ass romp full of stupid.

When run through the Cinespiria Shitometer this comes out as a Type 5 stool, which is defined as “Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).” I beg to differ with the “passed easily” part.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: The Warriors (1979)

Release Date: February 9th, 1979
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: David Shaber, Walter Hill
Based on: The Warriors by Sol Yurick
Music by: Barry De Vorzon
Cast: Michael Beck, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris, Tom McKitterick, Marcelino Sanchez, Terry Michos, Roger Hill, David Patrick Kelly, Lynne Thigpen, Mercedes Ruehl, Paul Greco

Paramount Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

The Warriors is a classic. Albeit, maybe not in the same sense as 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but it is a classic nonetheless.

Few films have as much style and grit as The Warriors. Even fewer are able to generate the nostalgic kinship this film has with its long-time fans. It is a gem at the end of a great era of film – closing out the 1970s and making way for the 1980s.

I wasn’t even two months old when this film came out but I have had a strong bond with it since my preteen years. Maybe that leads me to showing a lot of favoritism to this film but considering the amount of movies I have seen over the course of my life, being that I’ve been an avid film buff since I was five or six, the fact that I still watch this twice a year says something about how great it is.

The Warriors follows a street gang in New York City as they have to fight through several gangs and several territories in an effort to get back home after being framed for murdering the biggest gang leader in the city. It almost plays like a 1980s arcade fighting game and I can bet that many of the game developers of the 80s borrowed a lot from this film. Each borough is a new stage, each stage comes with a new gang or a new challenge and eventually, they win by getting to the end – some safe and sound but with many casualties and fatalities along the way.

Instead of just being a somewhat accurate portrayal of 1970s New York City gangs, the film is more of a fantasy portrayal. All the gangs have unique looks and gimmicks which may seem cheesy at first but ultimately creates an environment that is just as scary as it is bizarre. Also, even with the 1970s fashion and hair, it is a timeless feeling film because it creates its own world and isn’t necessarily a representation of 1970s reality.

This is my favorite film by director Walter Hill and he’s done a lot of films I like, such as Hard Times, The Driver, Streets of Fire, The Long Riders, 48 Hrs., Brewster’s Millions, Red Heat and Trespass. This is also my favorite film featuring the talents of David Patrick Kelly, who plays the villainous Luther – a character which gave us one of the best ad-libs in cinema history with “Warriors, come out to play-ay!” He went on to star in a lot of roles that were all almost equally as awesome – Twin Peaks and The Crow being my other favorites. James Remar, most famous now for being Dexter Morgan’s ghost dad on Dexter, is just fantastic in this. I also enjoyed Deborah Van Valkenburgh who went on to be in the Ted Knight sitcom Too Close For Comfort.

The acting isn’t superb by any stretch of the imagination, other than Kelly, but it doesn’t matter. Besides, the acting is much better than the run of the mill B-movies of the era. While this can seemingly fall into that category, it stands on its own as a unique film and an interesting experience. The film never tires, even after all these years.

If I were ever to open a film school, The Warriors would be required viewing. It has style, it is a really cool concept that is perfectly executed and it is a fun movie. Although, if you are a male in America, I’m assuming you’ve seen it already.

Film Review: A Force of One (1979)

Release Date: June 1979
Directed by: Paul Aaron
Written by: Pat E. Johnson, Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Dick Halligan
Cast: Chuck Norris, Jennifer O’Neill, Clu Gulager, Ron O’Neal, Bill Wallace

American Cinema Releasing, 90 Minutes

a_force_of_oneReview:

A Force of One was wedged between two other Chuck Norris “classics”, Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon. This film fit the same vibe of the other two. They’re almost a trilogy of sorts due to their similar tone and being that they capture that late 70s/early 80s low-budget action film style. They were also the start of Chuck Norris as the star. I’m ignoring Breaker! Breaker!, which preceded these, because it was god awful yet somehow didn’t wreck Norris’ career before it started.

The premise for A Force of One is so goofy and the situations so cookie cutter for the time, that it makes it an amusing film. Basically, there is a karate killer targeting undercover detectives so the police force sends their detectives to learn karate from Chuck Norris (his character’s name isn’t even important). Norris then falls for the lead cop chick, gets caught up in the mess, one of his pupils gets murdered by the karate killer, he discovers that the karate killer is one of his own and he goes out for REVENGE!

There’s nothing exceptional about this film other than it is entertaining for it’s ridiculousness and it helped move Chuck Norris’ career a little further. I can’t comment much on the artistic merits of the film because there really weren’t any. The script was pretty much the same script that has been recycled since this genre began. The acting was less than mediocre. The action was typical and nothing extraordinary. However, there was a generic karate cop killer, so there’s that.

I liked The Octagon, which followed this film, a lot better because at least it had a gang of ninjas and a Double Dare style obstacle course for Chuck Norris to fight the ninjas in.

Film Review: Zombi 2 (1979)

Also known as: Zombie (USA)
Release Date: August 25th, 1979 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos

Variety Film, 91 Minutes

zombi2Review:

Zombi 2, known in America as just Zombie, is a 1979 Italian horror film directed by Lucio Fulci. It was made to be a sequel of sorts to George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead, which was known internationally as Zombi.

Yes, that’s confusing, especially since Zombi 2 produced its own new mythos and franchise and because Romero made his own sequel in 1985 called Day of the Dead.

I look at this as its own film and not part of Romero’s still expanding universe. The main difference between the two worlds is that this film’s zombies are created through Voodoo where Romero’s were not.

The film is one of the best Italian horror films of its time. It doesn’t have the visual insanity of a Dario Argento picture but it is chock-full of dread and very unsettling. There are scenes in this film that are still effective and terrifying.

There are also scenes that are so bizarre, that you can’t not love this movie. For instance, there is a zombie just hanging out underwater at one point and then it gets into a fight with a shark. And they used a real shark while filming. Some guy, in full zombie makeup, with his vision obscured, wrestled a living shark underwater!

Zombi 2 is also a beautiful film to look at. It was mostly shot in Latina, Italy and took place in the Caribbean. Watching the film, it truly does look like a Caribbean setting. The landscape is marvelous, the water is blue and pristine – it is hard to imagine a place so mesmerizing to be the center of such horror.

I love this movie, I always have. I first saw it as a young kid who shouldn’t have been allowed to rent most of the movies I did but back then, video store clerks weren’t censorship Nazis.

If you are a fan of Italian horror or zombie films, this one is worth your time. Unless you want fast moving zombies, constant gore and non-stop action. This film has its share of gore and action but the majority of the film is there to build suspense before the big final fiery crescendo.

Film Review: Starcrash (1979)

Release Date: March 7th, 1979 (USA)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Nat Wachsberger, Patrick Wachsberger
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Judd Hamilton, Robert Tessier, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinell

Columbia, American International Pictures, New World Pictures, 94 Minutes

9c17a67296586aa6c2d153e13395f1deReview:

Starcrash is an Italian science fiction fantasy film that came out during the height of low budget Italian ripoffs of successful American films. The copyright laws in Italy of the 1970s were pretty chill and they produced a slew of films that would’ve had filmmakers lawsuit crazy in the United States.

It is pretty obvious that this movie is a ripoff of Star Wars. From the use of lightsabers, a giant planet destroying super weapon and pretty much everything else in this movie, it is pretty clear what the Italians were trying to tap into.

Of course, being that it is an Italian film, it is sexy as hell. The movie stars a scantily clad Caroline Munro. Still to this day, she is everything I want in a woman. Okay, maybe not everything but she was my first crush as a kid and out of all my childhood crushes, is the one I still find stunning and absolutely perfect, whether it was in this film, Dracula A.D. 1972, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, The Spy Who Loved Me, Maniac, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Slaughter High, The Last Horror Film, At Earth’s Core or as a beautiful deceased corpse in the Dr. Phibes movies. But this isn’t about me perving over the stunning Ms. Munro.

Starcrash is a really bad film. So bad that it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it is one of those bad films that is quite good for its faults.

The dialogue and situations are unintentionally funny. The characters are over the top and too bizarre to believe. And then there is the dubbing. Caroline Munro is an English speaking actress, being that she is from England, but she got a bizarre American accent dub from another actress. It just makes this film feel even more surreal than it already does.

We also get to see a very young David Hasselhoff show up in the film as a prince who needs rescuing but is actually a pretty heroic character in his own right. Joe Spinell, who would go on to work with Munro in several films and is most known as Gazzo in the first two Rocky films, plays the evil Count Zarth Arn.

The one thing that stands out above all else in this film, is the fact that it looks like 70s pop art. The bad effects and space battles are beautiful in their simplicity and color. The set design looks like something Roger Corman would’ve done twenty years prior but they work and make this film one of the best campy sci-fi movies in history.

This film has a 4.0 on IMDb, I get it. As a piece of filmmaking it is a 4.0 film. However, as far as being fun and unintentionally awesome for all its flaws, it is a much better watch than a 4.0 film.

And it has Caroline Munro in it.