Movies Till Dawn: A Month of Mayhem, Week 3 – Wilder, Wilder, Faster, Faster!

Midnight – “Comin’ At Ya!” – Action/Adventure

91u4-pIGszL._SL1500_(1981, MVD) Everything you need to know about this low-budget Western is spelled out in its title: it features a barrage of objects, photographed in 3-D and hurled directly at the viewer at a relentless pace. The plot is minimal –producer/star Tony Anthony (of the spaghetti Western “Stranger” series) is left for dead at the altar, and his bride-to-be (future Almodovar star Victoria Abril) stolen away by two scrofulous brothers (co-writer Gene Quintano, who also wrote the first “Police Academy” movie, and Eurocult mainstay Ricardo Palacios). Anthony recovers and faces off against the bandits in a (literally) explosive showdown. Virtually anything that can dropped, thrown or shot is launched at the viewer, from fireballs and bats to a whizzing yo-yo and a baby’s behind, is photographed in Anthony’s budget-conscious but effective single strip 3-D; director Ferdinando Baldi, who teamed with Anthony on the last “Stranger” film, the berserk “Get Mean,” keeps the pace moving, albeit mostly to shove more objects at the screen. The lack of the plot actually benefits “Comin’ At Ya!” allowing for a non-stop bombardment of 3-D effects, which is (let’s be honest) the reason to watch the film; as such, it’s an enormously satisfying spectacle now as it was three decades ago, when it helped to kick off a brief 3-D revival that included “Treasure of the Four Crowns,” another Anthony/Quintano/Baldi effort. MVD’s digitally restored Blu-ray offers both the 2-D and 3-D version of “Comin’ At Ya,” as well as a promo reel of visual effects and a theatrical trailer, which makes excellent use of Bob Seger & the Last Heard’s “Heavy Music.”

1:30 a.m. – “The Bed Sitting Room” – Comedy

2956(1969, Kino Lorber) Bizarre, coal-black comedy from director Richard Lester (“Help!” “The Three Musketeers”) about the survivors of a two-minute and twenty-eight second nuclear assault on England, which reduced the country to rubble but has yet to extinguish its citizens’ need for ceremony and routine. Based on the surreal, satirical play by John Antrobus and Spike Milligan (“The Goon Show”), the film features an array of top English talent from stage, film and comedy: Ralph Richardson is the Parliamentarian who discovers, to his dismay, that radiation is transforming him into the titular room, while Arthur Lowe’s bid to become Prime Minister is canceled when he turns into a parrot (and is promptly consumed by starving survivors). Meanwhile, Milligan, his former Goon cohort Harry Secombe, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Marty Feldman turn up as former civil servants and law enforcement still performing their former duties amidst the chaos. The script by Antrobus and Charles Wood takes an occasional turn into very dark territory, most notably in regard to Rita Tushingham and her unborn baby, which may be too morbid for even the most ardent fan of cutting-edge humor; the tonal shifts certainly didn’t sit well with United Artists, which shelved the picture for a year. Fans of Milligan and the other comics in the cast, as well as cult/offbeat comedy devotees will probably appreciate it best; the Blu-ray includes “Trailers from Hell” segments for “Bed-Sitting” and Lester’s “The Knack… And How to Get It” with commentary by Joe Dante and John Landis.

3:00 a.m.– “Victoria” – Drama

2997(2015, Kino Lorber) Victoria (Laia Costa) is a Spanish girl, newly arrived in Berlin, who encounters a quartet of loud but likable German boys outside a club in the early morning hours. She accepts their offer to join them for drinks, mostly to chat with the sheepishly charming Sonne (Frederick Lau), who has taken a shine to her. Beers and pot and flirting take a sharp turn when Victoria discovers that the four are planning to pull off a bank robbery in order to appease a local gangster. The problem is that their driver (Max Mauff, “Sense8”) is too drunk to handle his duties, prompting Sonne to ask Victoria to take his place. She accepts, and this quirky little drama transitions convincingly into an anxiety-provoking heist drama, complete with shootouts and showdowns; that it unfolds in a single take, orchestrated with remarkable technical skill by actor/director Sebastian Schipper (who knows from frantic crime pictures, having co-starred in “Run Lola Run”) and without the camera sleight-of-hand required to pull off “Birdman,” makes it even more impressive, and elevates the less remarkable elements of the film (the crime itself, and the aftermath, which outside of this format, is nothing you haven’t seen before) to frenetic anxiety attacks. He also benefits from a terrific performance by Costa, who registers the psychological layers that fuel Victoria’s choices with the subtlest of gestures or looks. As thrill rides go, “Victoria” is one of the best E-tickets of the year; Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray offers English subtitles for the occasional German dialogue, but is otherwise extra-free.

4:30 a.m. – “Sonny Boy” – Drama/Crime Drama

product_images_modal_SonnyBoyCover72dpi__7B8ce0183d-6b4c-41ed-8859-e13e737e7d1c_7D(1989, Scream Factory) A true oddity, this largely unseen drama about a boy raised in horrific conditions, which manages to be repellent and touching and absolutely strange, all at the same time. The boy begins as a baby, kidnapped by desert rat Brad Dourif (operating at weapons-grade capacity of crazy) and offered up to psychotic criminal Paul L. Smith (Bluto in Robert Altman’s “Popeye”) and his transvestite lover (David Carradine). Smith, who acts as a sort of despotic ruler over his junkyard fiefdom and likes to shoot a howitzer at troublesome interlopers, wants to sell off the baby, but Carradine refuses, so a compromise is reached: the child stays, but is subjected to years of horrendous abuse by Smith with the goal of turning him into a sort of slave-accomplice for an array of crimes, including murder. The sight of Carradine in a dress and twitchy Sydney Lassick (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) as a family friend threaten tip “Sonny Boy” into camp/weirdo territory, and that’s certainly the easiest way to understand the film, but writer Graeme Whifler and director Robert Martin Carroll, who both contribute commentary tracks to the Scream Factory disc, invest a great deal of sympathy and substance to their strange story; on his track Carroll says that he envisioned the film as a sort of contemporary Frankenstein myth, with Sonny Boy (played, as an adult, with considerable physicality and pathos by Michael Griffith, who’s now billed as Michael Boston) suffering untold indignities throughout the film from nearly every person who crosses his path because he has been made into something less than human. They also get excellent performances by all of their players, especially Carradine, whose gentle turn is quite startling, and Conrad Janis (Mindy’s dad on “Mork and Mindy”) as the boozy town doctor. These elements always mix well with the more bizarre and violent parts of “Sonny Boy,” but it also elevates the film out of the junkfilm drawer and places it not in a category with, but maybe in the outskirts of the indie/artfilm neighborhood occupied by David Lynch and Werner Herzog. The Scream Factory disc, which rescues “Sonny Boy” from decades of obscurity, save for the occasional cable broadcast, and includes the original trailer and script (in PDF form).

6 a.m. – “Red Pier” – Crime Drama

91i8PTKXaYL._SL1500_(1958, Arrow Video) “Couldn’t they do it a little cooler?” laments insouciant gangster “Lefty” Jiro (Yujiro Ishihara) laments after orchestrating the murder of a drug dealer to look like an industrial accident at the port of Kobe. His comment – flippant, but with a hint of sincerity – informs this taut black-and-white drama from Masuda Toshio, the top action director for the venerable Nikkatsu film studio. With his spotless white suits and sunglasses, Jiro cuts a cool figure, and his who-cares attitude with police detective Noro (Jiro Osaka) certainly backs up his icy tough guy image. But Jiro has a soft spot for women and children (due in part, no doubt, to his Dickensian upbringing in the years after World II), which ruffles his façade when he meets Keiko (Mie Kitahara, who would marry Ishihara in real life shortly after completing this film), the sister of the man he killed. Knowing full well that his role in the crime, compounded by his status as a criminal, would doom any chance at romance, he falls head over heels with Keiko, which makes him vulnerable to twin threats from the police and a hitman dispatched by an upstart member of his gangster family. Toshio imbues this fatalistic melodrama with a lot of noir style and excellent use of location shooting, but the weight of the emotions are carried by Ishihara, a very popular teen idol/pop star of the period cut from the James Dean sensitive loner mold; no amount of smirking or cool-and-cruel dialogue (or musical numbers, like his rooftop run through the title song) can hide his pain at once again being cut out of a chance at normalcy and happiness. “Red Pier” is one of three ‘50s-era showcases for Nikkatsu’s Diamond Line of crime pictures included in Arrow Video’s three-disc “Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 1” Blu-ray set; also featured is “Voice Without a Shadow,” a early effort by eccentric auteur Seijun Suzuki (“Tokyo Drifter”) and Buichi Saito’s “Rambling Guitarist,” the first entry in a nine-part series with Akira Kobayashi (“Battles without Honor or Humanity”) as a traveling musician who falls afoul of yakuza. All three are entertaining pop-pulp titles, and complimented by Arrow’s set, which includes informal but hugely informative discussions on Ishihara and “Shadow” star Hideaki Nitani; trailers for all three films in Volume 1 and the titles to be featured on an upcoming Volume 2 round out this superb set.

Bonus Vincent Price: “Master of the World” – Adventure/Science Fiction

Master_of_the_world_poster(1961, Scream Factory) American International Pictures’ bid for the box office dollars earned by grand-scale features drawn from the novels of Jules Verne like Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and the Oscar-winning “Around the World in 80 Days” was this underfed action-thriller that benefited from the presence of Vincent Price and a pre-stardom Charles Bronson as its leads. Price played Robur, a rogue technological genius that, like Verne’s Captain Nemo, seeks to curb civilization’s warlike tendencies by threatening to destroy their cities with his colossal airship; Bronson (in a cool striped shirt) is the government agent who approves of Robur’s goal but opposes the means. AIP’s ambitious project boasted special effects by Project Unlimited (“Star Trek,” “The Outer Limits”) and a script by Richard Matheson, but the budget, though sizable by AIP standards, was still too low to allow either to compete with the studios’ Verne films; uninspired direction by William Witney also didn’t help, which left Price and Bronson to carry the weight. Price is typically professional and elegant, if a bit less energetic than usual as Robur, while Bronson does well playing a man with both intellectual and physical strength; their scenes together maintain interest when the rest of the picture flags. Also starring Henry Hull, David Frankham (who provides a friendly, anecdotal audio commentary that incorporates recorded messages from co-star Mary Webster) and as Robur’s frequently shirtless henchman, Richard Harrison, who would go on to achieve stardom in Europe in countless Westerns and sword-and-sandal films. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray, which is part of its “Vincent Price Collection Vol 3,”  includes an extended cut of the “Richard Matheson: Storyteller” interview featurette from 2001, in which the legendary fantasy writer discusses his film work; the theatrical trailer, promotional stills and art and photos taken by Frankham on the set round out the disc.

 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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