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I Just Watched...

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Hot Rod Gang (1958)  -  5/10

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John Ashley stars as a hot-rodding youngster who needs dough to enter a race. He can't ask his relatives, as they disapprove of that "rock and roll" lifestyle. He gets helps from Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, and they all perform songs together. Also featuring Jody Fair, Russ Bender, Steve Drexel, Henry McCann, Maureen Arthur, Doodles Weaver, Ed Nelson, and Dub Taylor. Fans of Ashley (there must be some, right?) will enjoy this one. I liked the musical performances from Vincent, and the opening car race partially on sidewalks. Executive produced by Charles "Buddy" Rogers.

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Invisible Avenger (1958)  -  5/10

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Another film version of the Shadow. Lamont Cranston (Richard Derr) tries to find the killer of a New Orleans bandleader, only to stumble upon a plot to overthrow a country south of the border. Cranston uses his abilities to "cloud men's minds" and to turn invisible to thwart the evil-doers. Also featuring Mark Daniels as his manservant "Jogendra", Helen Westcott, Dan Mullin, Jack Doner, Leo Bruno, and Jeanne Neher. Co-directed by famed cinematographer James Wong Howe, this was originally meant to be the pilot episode of a TV series, but was instead released theatrically as a standalone film. It's not very good, with substandard production values indicative of 50's syndicated TV. 

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Billy Two Hats (1974)

Contemplative western about two robbers, one an elderly Scotsman, the other a young half breed, and their flight towards Mexico with a hard bitten sheriff, ready to either capture or kill them, relentlessly on their trail. Shot on location in Israel, the rocky, at times barren, landscape substitutes very nicely for the American southwest.

Gregory Peck brings a very acceptable Scottish brogue to his dialogue delivery as the grizzled, experienced outlaw who has a father-son relationship with his young compatriot (played with an engaging open faced innocence by Desi Arnaz Jr.). As their nemesis, the hulking Jack Warden gives an excellent account of himself as a racist law officer who sees himself as a "fair man." David Huddlestone adds a colourful characterization as a semi-Buffalo Bill lookalike saloon owner who, in one quite remarkable scene, is still a great shot with an antique buffalo gun.

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It's a little western with an emphasis upon characterizations, though there is still some action, particularly when Peck and his party are ambushed by four renegade Indians. Even though most may regard Billy Two Hats as a minor effort, I found it an enjoyable affair because of the performances, all set against a rugged landscape.

This was, by the way, the last of Peck's eleven screen westerns, and Billy Two Hats, while no classic, is still a decent farewell to the western genre by the actor.

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2.5 out of 4

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Joy Ride (1958)  -  6/10

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Thriller about 4 young hoods (James Westmoreland, Nicholas King, Robert Levin, and James Bridges) terrorizing an older couple (Regis Toomey & Ann Doran). The young men want Toomey's Thunderbird, but instead of just stealing it they show up at night and threaten the couple, as well as calling them on the phone. The police are slow to take action, leading to the inevitable. Also featuring Roy Engel, Robert Colbert, Robert Anderson, Chris Alcaide, and Stacy Keach Sr. This was a little more intense than most of these 50's JD flicks. Westmoreland, credited here as "Rad Fulton", is especially loathsome as the ringleader. The most reluctant gang member was played by James Bridges, who later moved behind the camera as a writer-director, responsible for such films as The Paper Chase and The China Syndrome.

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I'm so glad that TCM was able to air The King of Jazz (1930), a film with real historical importance and some fascinating, even mind-blowing, scenes. As you might expect from the revue format, some segments misfire, especially some of the comedy sketches, and not all of the musical scenes are equally interesting. Some of the big musical scenes look like imitation Busby Berkeley scenes from the mid-thirties--but this came earlier. I don't know enough about the period to know who did what first, either on Broadway or on film. The director, John Murray Anderson, apparently had helped develop Ziegfeld shows as well as putting on Broadway revues of his own, and some of the scenes are so inventively shot that it's most unfortunate he never directed another film. Anderson joins the company of such gifted one-time directors as Charles Laughton (Night of the Hunter) and Clive Brook (On Approval). There had been too many musical revues in the early sound era, and this late entry in the genre failed to make back its cost, sending Anderson back to Broadway.

Seeing the two-strip Technicolor was interesting all by itself, although skin tones look unnatural. The film won an Oscar for art direction, much deserved. The scene with Paul Whiteman's orchestra inside an aqua piano is spectacular even today. The costumes are also great, and you'll get to see a bridal dress with a train that goes on and on.  I did not know that John Boles sang. He has a fine tenor voice in the operetta style that is not popular today among most audiences. Seeing Bing Crosby when he was one of the Rhythm Boys is another treat; Crosby's singing style is more modern by comparison. I'd love to see this on the big screen; it would seem to be a natural for the TCM Film Festival.

 

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1 hour ago, LawrenceA said:

Joy Ride (1958)  -  6/10

Screen+Shot+2019-02-04+at+12.34.31+PM.pn

Thriller about 4 young hoods (James Westmoreland, Nicholas King, Robert Levin, and James Bridges) terrorizing an older couple (Regis Toomey & Ann Doran).

Is this what happened to Regis and Ann after they joined that John Doe Club?

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WHERE'S FRANK CAPRA TO SAVE THEM?

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Live Fast, Die Young (1958)  -  6/10

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Paul Henreid directed this girl-gone-wrong crime drama. Disaffected teen Jill (Norma Eberhardt) runs away from home and heads to LA, drifting into petty crime along the way. She ends up in cahoots with jewel thieves Mike Connors and Troy Donahue. Meanwhile, Jill's older sister Kim (Mary Murphy) comes looking for her, while also coming to terms with her own deep-seated fear of men. Featuring Sheridan Comerate, Peggy Maley, Jay Jostyn, Carol Varga, Joan Marshall, Gordon Jones, John Harmon, and Dorothy Provine. This was entertaining, moving at a quick pace, and with some good tough-girl dialogue. Eberhardt and Murphy both look nice, so that's a plus. 

 

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John C. Reilly in Les Frères Sisters (2018)

Watched this the other day, it's great, the setting works since the story is set in Oregon, some of the dialogue seemed a bit to modern in spots, for instance I do not think victimize was a word in 1851, there were a couple of other off spots but the film was an enjoyable adventure with the same kind of just enough odd yet familiar sequences (like The Proposition) to make it work.

John C. Reilly reminded me a bit of Hoss Cartwright. :D

It fits in for me with

Renegade (2004)
The Proposition (2005)
Blackthorn (2011)
The Salvation (2014)

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The Children (1980)  -  4/10

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Silly horror tale about a group of school children that are transformed into mindless zombies thanks to a leak at a nuclear power plant. The children, who all have black fingernails, burn people alive with their touch. The local sheriff (Gil Rogers) and the father (Martin Shakar) of one of the kids team up to try and stop them. Also featuring Gale Garnett, Tracy Griswold, Joy Glaccum, Clara Evans, Michelle La Mothe, Peter Maloney, and Shannon Bolin. This low-budget travesty features very shoddy production values and special effects. The cast of largely unknowns is pretty terrible, too. Co-star Shakar had been in Saturday Night Fever, Maloney would soon appear in John Carpenter's The Thing, and Bolin, making her final film appearance, had been in Damn Yankees on stage & screen. This is the kind of late-70s/early 80s horror flick that would never get made today, what with multiple scenes of kids being shot (they just get back up again), and the "heroes" hacking children up with swords and axes. Fun for the whole family!

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Machine-Gun Kelly (1958)  -  7/10

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One of director Roger Corman's better efforts is also the first headlining role for Charles Bronson. He plays the real Public Enemy #1 in this fictionalized telling of his crime career. He's a coward at heart with an intense fear of death, but he's a menace behind his favorite weapon. Also starring Susan Cabot as his gal pal, Morey Amsterdam in his movie debut, Jack Lambert, Richard Devon, Frank DeKova, Connie Gilchrist, Wally Campo, Barboura Morris, Lori Martin, and Michael Fox. This was the first AIP gangster picture, a genre that they would return to often in the decades ahead. Bronson acquits himself well as the psychologically complex character, a brutal thug and a squirming weakling at the same time. 

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City in Fear (1980)  -  6/10

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TV movie featuring Robert Vaughn as the wealthy new owner of a struggling LA newspaper. He decides to boost sales by having his chief columnist (David Janssen, in his final role) sensationalize a recent shooting. The still-at-large culprit (Mickey Rourke) is emboldened by the coverage to go on a spree of terror (shades of the Son of Sam case), as the police, in the form of detectives Perry King and Pepe Serna, work to apprehend the madman. Also featuring William Daniels, Susan Sullivan, William Prince, Frank McRae, M. Emmet Walsh, Allan Miller, Lane Smith, Christopher Allport, Richard Bradford, and Mary Stuart Masterson.

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There's a decent newspaper drama at the heart of this flawed effort, and it makes a still-relevant point about the news cycle fueling real-world violence. There's also a lot of talk about the fading out of the newspaper in general, a topic even more pertinent 40 years later. However, the most memorable aspect of the film for me was Mickey Rourke. This was his first filmed role, although 1941 was released first. He's very green, but still compelling, and he makes what could have been a two-dimensional sex killer into a more complex characterization. The film is credited to "Alan Smithee", but the actual director was Jud Taylor, who asked for his name to be removed after the producers added some additional violence that he was not consulted on.

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9 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

One of director Roger Corman's better efforts is also the first headlining role for Charles Bronson.

Well I'll be.  Two months before Gang War.  I don't know if you'll be getting to that one, but it's got some nice shots of vintage LA.  And Bronson as a schoolteacher taking the law into his own hands. :lol:

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Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948)

The sense of doom is established in the film's opening, a prologue that speaks of the German state of Hanover with its power politics, from which will eventually emerge George I sitting on the throne of England. And it speaks of a woman he left behind, Sophie Dorothea, his wife, imprisoned in a castle for 30 years, where he hoped her name and story would vanish with her.

The camera then closes in on a castle in the middle of the night. It is dark and lonely and forbidding. Inside three court officials wait outside the bedroom of a dying woman. Word comes to them that she wishes to dictate a letter to her son, the prince. There is disagreement among the officials as to whether to allow any communication between the mother and son but finally, as it is her dying wish, they allow her to have the letter. After all, they can always destroy it afterward. This dictated letter will be the film's story.

A tale of power, ambition and corruption, where parents marry off an unwilling daughter in an affair of state, Saraband for Dead Lovers is based on the 18th century history of the ascension to the English throne. An exceedingly handsome production, it was Ealing Studios' first film shot in Technicolor, boasting spectacular set design.

It is also a film with a superior cast giving very strong performances. As Sophie Dorothea Joan Greenwood is fine, though with her plummy toned voice and artistocratic manner she may not garner quite as much sympathy as her character deserves. (Some viewers may recall an aristocratic Greenwood 15 years later, in cougar form as she pursues a young Albert Finney as Tom Jones).

Peter Bull, as the future George I, is perfectly cast in a gross, ambitious, thoroughly conniving portrait of corruption. Just seeing him in his bathrobe, looking like a smug, self satisfied pig, would be any woman's bedroom nightmare but, beyond that, this is a character of bullying ruthlessness.

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Francoise Rosay is the incarnation of dignity, as well as ambitious practicality, as George's mother. As a Swedish count brought to the Hanover court due to his military background, Stewart Granger handsomely succeeds in his role. He is virile and charismatic and will have the opportunity to demonstrate a little of the sword play that would be given full reign four years later when he played in Scaramouche and The Prisoner of Zenda. Granger's count in Saraband is a hero who is far from virtuous, however. There's a tawdry stain on his character, as well, though the film attempts to play it down to a degree.

And then there's Flora Robson in one of the most memorable performances of her career as a power playing, manipulative court schemer, one that others only anger and cross at their own peril. Robson also portrays a middle aged woman afraid of aging, with the need for a young lover. Granger will fill that bill for her for a while and, when he crosses her, will feel the full wrath of her conniving, deadly scorn.

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Anthony Quale, as a creepy court attendant and spy of Robson's, also scores well and a young Michael Gough, years before being cast as a heavy breathing villain in a few British horror thrillers, is briefly seen as a young prince.

Director Basil Dearden brings great style to the production, too, with two highlight sequences that remain in the memory: a street carnival of partying characters in masks which turns into a journey of terror for Greenwood as she tries to make her way through them; and an ambush in a castle in the dark, four assassins waiting for a man, much of the scene filmed in partial darkness, with a flash of a blade suddenly dispatching a villain.

SPOILER ALERT: A memorable costume drama, Saraband for Dead Lovers (also known as Saraband in the United States) is not like a Hollywood product of the time with a compromising ending. For in this historical Hanover game of thrones the wicked and the corrupt - they will win!

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3 out of 4

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The Man Who Died Twice (1958)  -  5/10

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Crime drama featuring Rod Cameron as a cop investigating a heroin racket tied into a nightclub. Recently the club's owner was killed, as were some narcotics agents, and the owner's widow (Vera Ralston) may have witnessed it, but she had a breakdown and is an unreliable witness. Also featuring Mike Mazurki, Gerald Milton, Richard Karlan, Louis Jean Heydt, Don Megowan, Paul Picerni, Jesslyn Fax, and Luana Anders. I found this movie routine and derivative, with a dull performance from Cameron and a truly awful one from Ralston, one of the worst actresses in film history. That being said, Mazurki is always a welcome presence, and he has a larger than usual role, and I liked the duo of heavies staying in a hotel and their amusing repartee.

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6 hours ago, TomJH said:

Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948)

The sense of doom is established in the film's opening, a prologue that speaks of the German state of Hanover with its power politics, from which will eventually emerge George I sitting on the throne of England. And it speaks of a woman he left behind, Sophie Dorothea, his wife, imprisoned in a castle for 30 years, where he hoped her name and story would vanish with her.

The camera then closes in on a castle in the middle of the night. It is dark and lonely and forbidding. Inside three court officials wait outside the bedroom of a dying woman. Word comes to them that she wishes to dictate a letter to her son, the prince. There is disagreement among the officials as to whether to allow any communication between the mother and son but finally, as it is her dying wish, they allow her to have the letter. After all, they can always destroy it afterward. This dictated letter will be the film's story.

A tale of power, ambition and corruption, where parents marry off an unwilling daughter in an affair of state, Saraband for Dead Lovers is based on the 18th century history of the ascension to the English throne. An exceedingly handsome production, it was Ealing Studios' first film shot in Technicolor, boasting spectacular set design.

It is also a film with a superior cast giving very strong performances. As Sophie Dorothea Joan Greenwood is fine, though with her plummy toned voice and artistocratic manner she may not garner quite as much sympathy as her character deserves. (Some viewers may recall an aristocratic Greenwood 15 years later, in cougar form as she pursues a young Albert Finney as Tom Jones).

Peter Bull, as the future George I, is perfectly cast in a gross, ambitious, thoroughly conniving portrait of corruption. Just seeing him in his bathrobe, looking like a smug, self satisfied pig, would be any woman's bedroom nightmare but, beyond that, this is a character of bullying ruthlessness.

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTBweQhrF_ETofcVa_2r7J

Francoise Rosay is the incarnation of dignity, as well as ambitious practicality, as George's mother. As a Swedish count brought to the Hanover court due to his military background, Stewart Granger handsomely succeeds in his role. He is virile and charismatic and will have the opportunity to demonstrate a little of the sword play that would be given full reign four years later when he played in Scaramouche and The Prisoner of Zenda. Granger's count in Saraband is a hero who is far from virtuous, however. There's a tawdry stain on his character, as well, though the film attempts to play it down to a degree.

And then there's Flora Robson in one of the most memorable performances of her career as a power playing, manipulative court schemer, one that others only anger and cross at their own peril. Robson also portrays a middle aged woman afraid of aging, with the need for a young lover. Granger will fill that bill for her for a while and, when he crosses her, will feel the full wrath of her conniving, deadly scorn.

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQpMvoCCLXG0M0qJNp9stA

Anthony Quale, as a creepy court attendant and spy of Robson's, also scores well and a young Michael Gough, years before being cast as a heavy breathing villain in a few British horror thrillers, is briefly seen as a young prince.

Director Basil Dearden brings great style to the production, too, with two highlight sequences that remain in the memory: a street carnival of partying characters in masks which turns into a journey of terror for Greenwood as she tries to make her way through them; and an ambush in a castle in the dark, four assassins waiting for a man, much of the scene filmed in partial darkness, with a flash of a blade suddenly dispatching a villain.

SPOILER ALERT: A memorable costume drama, Saraband for Dead Lovers (also known as Saraband in the United States) is not like a Hollywood product of the time with a compromising ending. For in this historical Hanover game of thrones the wicked and the corrupt - they will win!

saraband2.jpg

3 out of 4

 

Tom, I like this movie, too. Thanks for the great write-up. I can't think of another film where Flora Robson gets the chance to show sex appeal, and convincingly.

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You're Telling Me! (1934)

W.C. Fields plays an inventor of modest means whose daughter (Joan Marsh) is in love with a man (Buster Crabbe) from a rich family whose mother doesn't approve of the marriage.  Fields has the chance to make things right by pulling off the demonstration of his puncture-proof tire, but things go wrong when his car gets towed, leaving him to ponder suicide.  Then he meets a princess (Adrienne Ames) in a similar situation, and his helping her makes her decide to help him.

This is one of the better Fields movies I've seen, largely because it's got one of the most coherent plots of any of the Fields movies and isn't just a string of comic sketches put together.  The two biggest sketches bookend the movie and were for me the weakest parts of the movie.  Field's first scene with Ames is actually quite good.  The last half of the movie plays out like an I Love Lucy episode, where you can imagine Lucy whispering her scatterbrained idea into Ethel's ear, and then pulling it off, although in this case Fields doesn't realize he's been talking to a real princess.

7/10

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Missiles from Hell aka Battle of the V-1 (1958)  -  6/10

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British WWII film featuring Michael Rennie as the leader of Polish resistance fighters who work to dismantle the Nazi V-1 rocket program. Also featuring Patricia Medina, Milly Vitale, David Knight, Esmond Knight, and Christopher Lee. This is decent if mostly unexceptional. I think I enjoyed the film's earlier passages, set in a prison work camp, more than the routine later sections dealing with resistance efforts. Lee appears as a vicious Nazi guard in the film's first third. 

Battle-of-the-V1-1958-UK-Quad.jpg

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6 minutes ago, LawrenceA said:

Milly Vitale,

Did she blame it on the rain?

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1 hour ago, kingrat said:

Tom, I like this movie, too. Thanks for the great write-up. I can't think of another film where Flora Robson gets the chance to show sex appeal, and convincingly.

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't quite say that Flora Robson shows sex appeal in Saraband for Dead Lovers so much as she convincingly plays a woman of passion, which includes carnal needs. There was a hint of flirtation in her bed chamber scene as Queen Bess with Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk. This is way beyond that.

It's very unusual to see this great British character actress in such a dastardly role, and she clearly leaves an impression. I'm glad you liked the film too, kingrat. It deserves to be better known. I don't believe that TCM has ever shown it.

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The Narcotics Story (1958)  -  8/10*

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Some have referred to this as the ultimate drug scare film. It's certainly one of the most entertaining. Originally intended as a police training film, it was later released to general audiences on the grindhouse and drive-in circuit. Told in a documentary format, with a stentorian voice providing constant narration, the story follows the descent of a young woman into marijuana abuse, then heroin addiction, and worse. There's a lot of talk about "goof balls" and "tea". Pot smoking is referred to as "blasting a stick".  The information about pot-smoking is relentlessly hilarious, including such great observations that "marijuana smokers often become violent, and the infliction of bodily injury and wounds brings laughter"! Or - "Marijuana smokers lack depth perception, so a curbside will seem like the height of a cliff". And this one - "Marijuana users don't comprehend time the way normal people do, so they drive very fast". They apparently had some really killer weed in the late 50's! My rating is based on a so-bad-it's-good scale. The copy I watched had faded color and a lot of print damage, but that just made it more enjoyable.

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Never Love a Stranger (1958)  -  5/10

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Gangster tale based on a book by Harold Robbins. John Drew Barrymore stars as Frankie Kane, an orphan who works for racketeer Silk Fennelli (Robert Bray) during the prohibition days. After Frankie learns that he's actually Jewish, he skips town for several years, only to return to take over the rackets himself. Also featuring Lita Milan as the woman both Frankie and Silk want, Steve McQueen as Frankie's friend who stays on the straight-and-narrow, Salem Ludwig, R.G. Armstrong, Douglas Rodgers, Richard Bright, and Walter Burke. This trots out a lot of gangster pic cliches, and Robbins clearly modeled the characters on real-world underworld figures like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello. The film's greatest weakness is Barrymore, a limited actor at the best of times. He just doesn't have the charisma or the skill to make his character interesting. It may have worked out better with McQueen in the lead. I did like Milan and Bray, though. This was the final Steve McQueen film that I had not seen.

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On 3/15/2019 at 9:50 PM, LawrenceA said:

The Children (1980)  -  4/10

Silly horror tale about a group of school children that are transformed into mindless zombies thanks to a leak at a nuclear power plant. The children, who all have black fingernails, burn people alive with their touch. The local sheriff (Gil Rogers) and the father (Martin Shakar) of one of the kids team up to try and stop them. Also featuring Gale Garnett, Tracy Griswold, Joy Glaccum, Clara Evans, Michelle La Mothe, Peter Maloney, and Shannon Bolin.

Thanks to many Friday nights staying up with cable, I still have USA Network's Commander USA intro to the movie running through my head:
"Gale Garnett--Sure, you know her, she sang 'We'll Sing in the Sunshine'!  She's singin' a different tune in today's movie, though!" :D

Quote

This low-budget travesty features very shoddy production values and special effects. This is the kind of late-70s/early 80s horror flick that would never get made today, what with multiple scenes of kids being shot (they just get back up again), and the "heroes" hacking children up with swords and axes. Fun for the whole family!

It's the low budgets of drive-in 70's-80's movies like these that used to creep the fertilizer out of me a kid/teen--Basically because our own nightmares are filmed on shoddy sound, faded color, amateur cinematography, non-existent editing, and a lack of background extras.  And when it's something as strange as the they-don't-stay-down climax, they could have just hooked a camera to my head after a few bad burritos. 😮 

6 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

The Narcotics Story (1958)  -  8/10*

The information about pot-smoking is relentlessly hilarious, including such great observations that "marijuana smokers often become violent, and the infliction of bodily injury and wounds brings laughter"!

(Well, they were correct about YouTube:  "Duuude, you so totally did not break that brick wall with your face!...")

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3 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

The information about pot-smoking is relentlessly hilarious, including such great observations that "marijuana smokers often become violent, and the infliction of bodily injury and wounds brings laughter"!

I thought it made them manic piano players:

 

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