Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swamp Country (1966)

Director: Robert Patrick

Starring: Rex Allen, Sue Casey, Lyle Waggoner and Baker Knight

More Info: IMDB


Plot: In a small southern swamp town, a local girl is found murdered. A young California man passing through town is blamed, and in fleeing the local lynch mob he escapes into the Okeefeenokee Swamp, where he runs into even more dangers.

My Rating: 7/10

Would I watch it again? Bank on it.

This is part of a double bill with SWAMP GIRL as part of a Something Weird DVD box set called Drive-In Classics Collection. It's a steal at Amazon and Wal-Mart for $8.99 for the set.

Ahhhh, the memories...

I like this film for a lot of the same reasons as I liked SWAMP GIRL (1971). The beautiful Southern locales near the Georgia/Florida line, not too far from where I grew up. The use of local actors and their charming nature. SWAMP COUNTRY was more fun to watch even though it's not as technically good as SWAMP GIRL (acting-wise and whatnot). Part of the reason is because the print is widescreen and full of those wonderful pops and scratches. I thoroughly enjoyed this picture and I would gladly watch it again.

Won't somebody please send me a man?

You won't understand a word this man says but, whatever it is, it's hysterical!

There's a lot more to the story here than in SWAMP GIRL. The man accused of killing the girl in the hotel is a big, overweight, middle-aged fella that escapes custody and flees into the swamp. There, he goes into survival mode. A few locals, with the sheriff, go into the swamp to get him. One is mauled by a bear (you can't go wrong with a bear fight in your picture) and another drowns in quicksand, and not that thick-takes-forever-to-sink-quicksand either. The accused takes the mauled man back to the edge of the swamp where he'll be rescued. Surely he couldn't have been the killer, could he?

It turns out this guy was a war hero or something and a hardcore survivalist. Once the sheriff discovers that, he suspects they're looking for the wrong man but it's too late. He's out there in the swamp and they don't know where. Parts of this are sounding like FIRST BLOOD (1982).

Hey, kids! It's Bigfoot!

SWAMP COUNTRY has a couple of neat things. It's Lyle Waggoner's first film. Don't know him? He was a regular on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW and TV's WONDER WOMAN. Or perhaps you know him from his Playgirl layout (he was Playgirl's first centerfold):

The best thing about this picture is definitely Baker Knight. He's a country/rock-a-billy song writer/performer. He's definitely not an actor but that doesn't really matter much 'cause his songs and performances are absolutely outstanding, fun and VERY contageous. I challenge you to watch this film and not come out the other side singing, "Swaaaaaaamp country. I'm talkin' 'bout swaaaaaaaaaaa-a-aamp country..." Great stuff. It turns out Knight wrote a shitload of hits including "Lonesome Town", a HUGE hit for Ricky Nelson, and of his nearly ONE THOUSAND SONGS, many were performed by Elvis, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mickey Gilley, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. He was born and died in Birmingham, Alabama and if I had seen this film a few years ago (he died in 2005), I would have driven up there to meet the man. This guy had some serious talent. Watch it for him if that's all you need.

Knight plays a lazy no-account who hangs around wherever there's people (the general store, the local greasy spoon, on the hoods of cars) playing his guitar and singing all kinds of fun, folksy songs, seemingly making them up as he goes.

Look out! It's the swamp mafia!

Feets don't fail me now!

Throw in a love triangle between a redhead, Knight and the sheriff, moonshiners, some mafia types who threaten Knight with cutting his fingers off, a bear attack, aligators, GREAT location shooting, some local talent, and toss in a ho-down at the end and you've got yourself a real hum-dinger of a good time.

I would love to have seen this in a drive-in theater forty years ago. Oh, the stories I'd have...but then they wouldn't have been about the movie. I bet with all the goings-on in the back seat I'd've had a great time, not seeing more than the first five minutes of the film and comin' out the other end singing that infectuously catchy title song...and she would, too.

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)

Director: William Beaudine

Starring: John "I Look Just Like Geoffrey Lewis" Lupton, Narda Onyx, Estelita Rodriguez and Cal Bolder

More Info: IMDB


Plot: Legendary outlaw of the Old West Jesse James, on the run from Marshal MacPhee, hides out in the castle of Baron Frankenstein's granddaughter Maria, who proceeds to transform Jesse's slow-witted pal Hank into a bald zombie, which she names Igor.

Watch the entire film in shitty fullscreen!

My Rating: 6/10

Would I watch it again? I can sorta see how that could happen.

Do you really need anything more than the title to justify watching this? We didn't. You can watch this online, above, but if you REALLY want to see this (and I know you do), get the widescreen disc with the Joe Bob Briggs commentary. His commentaries are very informative and highly entertaining.

Dr. Maria Frankenstein's last nerdy Mexican beefcake failure.

I LOVE westerns and I LOVE horror and I LOVE it when those two genres are thrown together. I can't actually think of a particularly good one besides HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER but I'll watch every one I come across.

Based on the true events during one week toward the end of Jesse James' outlaw career, JJMFD isn't nearly as bad as its reputation holds. It's actually competently put together. Sure, it's got some unintentionally funny moments but it's also got Jesse James and a descendant of Frankenstein for fuck's sake!!!

We start out with a lot of exposition with the last 3 remaining peasants in town. They're packing it in and it's splitsville. Why? Because their son (and Juanita's brother) has died of a terrible disease; one that many of the youngsters of the village have succumbed to. They suspect foul play from the mad scientists who live in the big mission/castle on the hill above the village. They're right. the evil scientists have been killing young boys in an effort to make their own monster.

GREAT matte work!

Next up we meet Dr. Maria Frankenstein (the original Baron Frankenstein's Grand-Daughter, not daughter as the title suggests) and her brother, Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein. She's the evil one of the pair, wanting to continue in her grandfather's footshteps (I couldn't help the YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN joke ther). So what's in it for her to create her own man? Uh, well, uh, she's fucking horny as hell and she needs someone to take out the trash once in a while. Apparently these two fled Austria because of her experiments and chose to live in Mexico, in a spot near California, because of the seclusion and the fantastic electrical storms which only seem to occur when they're conducting experiments. Funny, that.

Docs Maria und Rudolph

Meet Jesse James (played by John Lupton, a spittin' image of the great character actor, Geoffrey Lewis - I spent half the movie convinced it was Lewis - he's got his mannerisms and everything), a nice guy trying to make a living while on the lam from the coppers. He's organized a fight between his not-so-smart muscle-headed sidekick, Hank, and the saloon keeper's fighter. After Hank kicks the other guy's ass, saloon guy say's nothin' doin'. Not gonna pay. So Jesse does the smart thing, being how he's hidin' from the law and all, and yells out that he's Jesse James and they're gonna settle it with a duel. Yeah, that's fucking smart. Tell the whole damn town you the guy with a $10,000 bounty on your head. The saloon keeper caves in and give Jesse the money. Jesse and Hank go into the saloon to order a steak.

Meet Hank, the stereotype.

And Jesse James - the coolest guy in town!

This is showbiz gold. After an ambush during a stagecoach robbery attempt, Jesse and a wounded Hank are once more on the run and Hank needs medical attention badly. They come across Juanita and her parents on their exodus and Juanita offers to take them to Frankenstein's castle as it's close and they can hide out there. She doesn't want to but Hank could die (HA!) and she's sympathetic to them and now in love with Jesse while Hank is in love with Juanita. I could be in love with Juanita but she overacts enough for the rest of the cast. She does have nice perky Mexi-cans, though. Ahahahahahahaha.

This is Juanita's OMFG face.

Back to the castle, Maria falls for Jesse and needs Hank to be her man-slave. Jesse turns down her advances, pissing her off, so she gives a sealed envelope to Jesse to deliver to the pharmacist in a neighboring town. She licks the envelope to seal it, by the way. You'd think a picture of this quality and with such lofty notions would have know they didn't exist back then. The note instructs the reader that the man standing in front of them is Jesse James and to alert the sheriff.

Now that Jesse's out of the way, Maria gives Hank a haircut and a brain transplant...two bits. Ahahahahaha. She also gives him his new name of Igor and his first order of business - kill Rudolph. It is original, I'll give them that.

She needs to have my babies.

Jesse fights his way out of the pharmacy by killing the toothiest motherfucker in show bidness that set him up with the ambush in the beginning of the picture.

Jesse goes back to take care of Maria but she orders Igor/Hank to subdue him. He's now strapped down to the table to become the third wheel in her orgy fantasy and injected with something nasty to prepare him for the next "experiment". That word is spoken by her as often as the word "operational" is uttered in RETURN OF THE JEDI. The only difference here is it's funny in JJMFD and annoying as hell in ROTJ.

The sheriff from the beginning, who's been looking for Jesse, shows up to save the day. A fight breaks out. Maria gets Igor/Hank to sic the sheriff, knocking him out. Now Maria turns Igor/Hank onto Juanita. He suddenly remembers his love for her (how, we don't know because he recently HAD A BRAIN TRANSPLANT!) and kills Maria instead. Now he's after his old pal Jesse, whom he doesn't remember. Juanita picks up a gun and fires at the brawlers, killing Igor/Hank. I thought it would have been cool for her to have killed both of them but then I remembered that's not how it really happened according to that biography I read on Jesse James back in the 6th grade.

Juanita says her goodbye and Jesse rides away with the sheriff. Everyone lives happily ever after...except, of course, for Jesse James who later will find himself dangling from a rope.

I rather enjoyed it. The performances are fun in a campy way, the camera doesn't just sit still as you'll often find in low budget films. Same thing with coverage shots. Raoul Kraushaar's score is fine for what it is and director Beaudine put it all together to make a fun little harmless western horror picture. He did it again that same year with BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA. I've gotta see that one. John Carradine plays Dracula.

This guy's been directing movies since 1915 and has 367 director credits!!!!!!!!!! I'm impressed. That's just 367 more than I've got behind the camera. 366 if you count that one, a-hem, "art" picture I did back in college. The one where I convinced the girls of the Phi Beta Hot-n-Ready sorority to star in my all-girl re-visioning of Custer's last stand. I played Custer...and I wasn't standing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cape Fear (1962)

Director: J Lee Thompson

Starring: Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, Martin Balsam, Telly Savalas

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Their ordeal of terror triggers the screen's most savage war of nerves!

Plot: A lawyer's family is stalked by a man he once helped put in jail.

My Rating: 9.5/10

From the first 4 notes of Bernard Herrmann's brutal score during the first 3 seconds of the film, you know exactly what you're in for and it ain't going to be pretty! To think this was made in '62 is as amazing as PSYCHO (with another fantastic Herrmann score) having come out just two years earlier and fucking all kinds of shit up.

It's been far too long since I've seen this but I could never forget Herrmann's score and the absolute career-best performance (that I've seen, at least) of Mitchum. GodDAMN, he's good!

I like Peck as an actor but I've never been able to get past his seemingly one-note performances. His style is always the same. Can someone please let me know of a film or two where he's actually "acting" as another character? It's not a gripe, really, but an observation. He does an excellent job of being Gregory Peck.

Suckin' in the 'ole gut...

There's lots of familiar faces here like Martin Balsam (also in PSYCHO), Edward Platt ("Chief" from GET SMART) and Telly Savalas!!! AND THIS BADASSMOTHERFUCKER HAS HAIR!!! Check it out!

That's a little something I had forgotten about. He's always fun to watch.

The guy to Mitchum's left, Jack Kruschen (playing Attorney Dave Grafton) turns in a brilliant performance as Cady's sleazy lawyer (sorry for the oxymoron).

The script is tight and brilliant and the direction is tense but nothing compares to shear brutality of Mitchum's performance as the sadistic Max Cady. From the opening scene finding Bowden (Peck) in the courtroom to the incredible finale, Mitchum delivers the goods. Cady is as devious as he is dangerous. He's a man who has lived every second of his eight years in prison thinking and plotting revenge to the man who is responsible for putting him there. Sure, Cady deserved it but that's irrelevant. And what revenge he has planned!

Nice shadow work with the smoke.

Naturally, a villain as juicy as this has some great dialogue. There's a wonderful scene in a bar where Cady eyes an attractive working girl across the room. His stare is, at the same time, disturbing and intriguing - for us and for her.

We sort of have an idea of 'who' he is but she's going to find out later 'what' he is. He's picked up by the fuzz in their routine harassment of Cady. As they pull him past the girl on the way out they have this little exchange...

Cady: I'm gonna give ya just one hour to get rid of your friends.
Diane: Are you trying to pick me up?
Cady: (slowly and nodding) Yes...yeah.

So what kind of man is Cady? Later on, they've gotten together and, after coitus, Cady re-enters the bedroom. Slowly, as if he's savoring every moment of anticipation of what's to come, he makes his way around the bed, like an animal circling it's prey. She slowly awakens, noticing his eyes and movements, until the point of realization. The music is deep, ominous and outright terrifying when combined with the careful precision of the moving camera and the effortless sadism of Cady's fluid movement and gestures. It's one of the most intense beatings you will ever see...and we don't see one blow struck nor do we hear what follows. It's horrific without ever being graphic. They couldn't show us. This is 1962 and I kept reminding myself from time to time that this movie, as intense and brutal as it is was filmed in 1962 in Hollywood.

There's no fucking way I'm spoiling this film. Even seeing these images can't ruin one of the most incredible scenes I've seen in a Hollywood picture. The finale is simply brilliant. I rarely praise my faulty memory but it was welcome as I couldn't recall how it finished and I was better for it. It was most exciting and did not disappoint one bit.

Save the Martin Scorcese (whom I LOVE) for another day. Watch the original. Not only is it, in many ways, a better film but it's a remarkable film that deserves your attention. I will not wait another 15 years to see it again. It's shocking, it's beautiful, it's thrilling and it's a worthy example of what happens with what the right talented people can do with the right material.