Friday, April 19, 2019

Retro Review: BLACKOUT (1978)

(Canada/France - 1978)

Directed by Eddy Matalon. Written by John C.W. Saxton. Cast: Jim Mitchum, Robert Carradine, Belinda J. Montgomery, June Allyson, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Ray Milland, Don Granbery, Terry Haig, Victor Tyler, Camille Ange, Fred Doederlein, Judy London, Norman Taviss, Gwen Tolbart, Vlasta Vrana. (R, 92 mins)

A then-topical, "ripped from the headlines" Canadian tax shelter quickie cranked out in response to the infamous NYC blackout and the resulting looting and crime spree over July 13-14, 1977, BLACKOUT never gets as nasty or exploitative as its R rating would lead you to believe, and other than some minor cursing and a bloody stabbing, it could easily pass for a TV-movie. It's surprising in retrospect that the '77 blackout didn't lead to competing Movies of the Week on all three major networks, but the bland BLACKOUT never takes advantage of being the only contemporary semi-dramatization of the event, instead resorting to recycled tropes of the decade's disaster movie craze (the poster even has the standard "faces in boxes" design showcasing the sort-of all-star cast). Released by New World Pictures in the fall of 1978, BLACKOUT was relegated to grindhouses and drive-ins and other than a 1986 VHS release and some scattered TV airings, has languished in obscurity in the decades since. It's just been released on Blu-ray in a flawed but as-good-as-it-can-be edition by Code Red (because physical media is dead), and while it's not really very good, I'm glad it's available. And it's got some curio value, like one of the producers being future MEATBALLS, STRIPES, and GHOSTBUSTERS director Ivan Reitman, and a cast headlined by the sons of two Hollywood legends sharing scenes with revered old-timers looking to cash in on the declining disaster cycle by slumming in a cheap B-movie from the director of 1977's schlocky CATHY'S CURSE.

As a storm rages over NYC (played mostly by Montreal mixed with mismatched stock footage of Manhattan), a series of lightning strikes takes out the power grid, sending the entire city into darkness and total chaos. At the same time, a prisoner transport van crashes and the cops running it are killed by crazed Christie (Robert Carradine, youngest son of John), who dons one's uniform and leads three other psycho escapees (including Don Granbery, who played a similar role in the previous year's Canuxploitation home invasion thriller THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE) into a nearby high-rise where they make their way through the building on an overnight spree of rape, robbery, and murder. Meanwhile, cop Dan Evans (Jim Mitchum, eldest son of Robert), apparently the only police officer in the area, happens upon the transport crash and heads into the building after hearing the screams of a tenant (Belinda J. Montgomery), who's just been raped by one of the psychos. Among those terrorized by Christie and the fugitives are French magician Henri the Magnificent (Jean-Pierre Aumont), who gets lectured by Christie about the dangers of living on credit cards before being stabbed in the stomach; Mrs. Grant (June Allyson), whose ailing husband (Fred Doederlein) is on a ventilator; and wealthy, asshole art collector Stafford (Ray Milland, cast radically against type at this point in his career as a pompous, sneering prick), who initially refuses to give the psychos the combination to his safe, even as they beat his helpless wife, but finally caves when Christie threatens to burn a priceless Picasso (and, in a brief moment where you actually side with the bad guys, Christie gets in the safe but proceeds to burn all of Stafford's paintings anyway). In accordance with disaster movie convention, there's also two people trapped in the elevator, a pregnant woman (Gwen Tolbart) about to go into labor, as well as a big, fat Greek wedding packed with drunk, obnoxious guests on the top floor that will no doubt be crashed by Christie and his creeps.

Director Eddy Matalon and screenwriter John C.W. Saxton (ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE S.S., HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, CLASS OF 1984) don't really convey the chaos of the NYC blackout aside from a handful of cutaways to the power company command center and a few random shots of black people looting. Instead, they stay confined to the high-rise in what amounts to a proto-ENEMY TERRITORY/DIE HARD situation, the latter especially once Christie pulls a "Bill Clay" on Evans by passing himself off as a resident. But the comparisons end there, as Matalon generates little suspense and really no one to root for since the lumbering, sleepy Mitchum--at the end of a very short-lived stint as a drive-in headliner, following MOONRUNNERS, TRACKDOWN, and MANIAC!, aka RANSOM--can only get so far by looking exactly like his father, not even possessing the screen presence of his younger brother Chris, let alone the magnetic star power of his legendary dad. Carradine, several years before cementing his place in pop culture history with 1984's REVENGE OF THE NERDS, fares better as the ruthless Christie, even if the crimes for which he was incarcerated (he's an activist who has a chip on his shoulder about...corporations and credit cards?) don't really gel with his homicidal actions. The older actors seem like they're getting sub-Irwin Allen table scraps, particularly Allyson, who's far too classy to be in something like this, even if it's relatively restrained for its type. Neither she, Aumont, nor Milland (a Best Actor Oscar-winner for 1945's THE LOST WEEKEND) have much screen time, and Allyson's character just disappears from the film after Christie ties her up, gags her, and shuts off her husband's ventilator just because.

There's some obvious audio damage inherent to the print used for Code Red's Blu-ray, a sort-of audible, rhythmic hiss that's apparent whenever there's no dialogue. It tapers off as the film goes on and is hardly a dealbreaker and might actually accentuate the grindhouse experience. No, the only real issue with the BLACKOUT Blu-ray is (deep breath) yet another steaming shit sandwich of a commentary track from the two-man wrecking crew of Code Red head Bill Olsen and L.A.-based DIY filmmaker Damon Packard--the duo last heard knowing fuck-all about anything to do with Lamberto Bava's DEVILFISH--who welcome co-star Belinda J. Montgomery for her first and probably last Blu-ray bonus feature. Perhaps best known to genre fans for co-starring with Patrick Duffy on his pre-DALLAS '70s cult TV series MAN FROM ATLANTIS and later as the title character's mom on DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D., the now-68-year-old Montgomery acts sparingly today but had a very busy career on TV from the early '70s through the '90s. But it's this commentary that might actually constitute her finest acting thus far, as she somehow doesn't just get up and leave after a barrage of idiotic comments from Olsen and Packard, who have clearly done zero prep work and, judging from how often they throw her a question that's already been asked and answered, don't even appear to be listening to what Montgomery is saying. Honestly, I got 25 minutes into this commentary and couldn't take it anymore, but among the lowlights in that short period of time:

  • Olsen taking all of 52 seconds into the film before uttering something stupid, over a stock footage shot of NYC: "This isn't Quebec," to which Montgomery replies "Yep, it's supposed to be New York but we shot in Montreal." OK, sure, maybe he was making a joke and it just didn't land, but I've heard enough Bill Olsen commentaries to conclude that's probably not the case.
  • Olsen doing his usual schtick of mispronouncing people's names as they come up in the credits, and saying "Gene" Pierre Aumont, with Montgomery immediately correcting him with "Yes, Jean-Pierre Aumont." 
  • Olsen and Packard deciding, apropos of nothing, to shit all over score composer Didier Vasseur when his credit appears. Olsen, chuckling: "There's a great musician." Packard: "Never heard of him." Well, Vasseur also composed two other films by Matalon, including CATHY'S CURSE, which might be worth mentioning as opposed to a flippant "Never heard of him." If only there was some sort of, oh I don't know, some easily-accessible database on the internet that had movie information where one could quickly find out this sort of stuff beforehand. 
  • Packard asking "What else has Eddy Matalon done?" Again, if there was only a way to find this information online ahead of time.
  • Montgomery mentioning that MAN FROM ATLANTIS was canceled after one season, followed five minutes later by Packard asking "Why were you replaced on the second season of MAN FROM ATLANTIS?" Montgomery clears her throat and replies "There was no second season of MAN FROM ATLANTIS." 
  • The Canadian-born Montgomery mentions early on that she got her start when she came to Hollywood in 1969, so of course, Packard later asks "When did you get your start?" 
  • Olsen keeps talking about Don Granbery being in THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE, aka DEATH WEEKEND. Packard: "Was that a Canadian film?" Yes, it's pretty well-known among Canadian tax-shelter films of the period.
  • Montgomery mentions she didn't see BLACKOUT when it was released, but she and her husband saw it somewhere several years later (I would assume on TV). Olsen, less than ten minutes later: "Now, when this came out, did you see it in a theater?" 
  • Montgomery reminisces about doing an episode of MARCUS WELBY, M.D., and says "Robert Young was just adorable." Packard: "Robert Young the director?" Montgomery, after a pause: "No. Robert Young. The star of the show." Packard: "Oh." Yes, there is a director named Robert M. Young (SHORT EYES, ONE-TRICK PONY, EXTREMITIES, DOMINICK AND EUGENE), but how do you not think of the actor Robert Young when someone is talking about MARCUS WELBY, M.D.?

And with that, I, unlike Belinda J. Montgomery, had heard enough. She's not an A-lister, but she's someone who's been in the entertainment industry for 50 years. She has an extensive list of credits and she's worked with a shitload of people. Is this supposed to be some kind of convention-defying, avant-garde, anti-commentary performance art or are Olsen and Packard really this dumb? Do the prep work, fellas. Montgomery deserves that respect, and to an extent, so does BLACKOUT. It's not a great movie. Hell, it's not even a good movie, but this is likely the last chance to preserve it and its making for posterity. That doesn't mean it needs to be an academic, Criterion-style commentary by a stuffy film professor, but even commentaries for the crummiest movies, even if you want to be amusing (which Olsen and Packard are not), need to have a certain level of research, preparation, and professionalism.

BLACKOUT opening in Toledo, OH on 11/17/1978

Thursday, April 18, 2019


(Italy/France/West Germany - 1971)

Directed by Willy Pareto (Riccardo Freda). Written by Willy Pareto (Riccardo Freda), Alessandro Continenza and Gunther Ebert. Cast: Luigi Pistilli, Dagmar Lassander, Anton Diffring, Valentina Cortese, Arthur O'Sullivan, Werner Pochat, Dominique Boschero, Renato Romano, Sergio Doria, Ruth Durley, Niall Toibin. (Unrated, 96 mins)

Journeyman director Riccardo Freda (1909-1999) remains a key figure in Italian horror, having mentored Mario Bava and encouraged his transition from cinematographer to director by letting him handle large chunks of 1957's I VAMPIRI and 1959's CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER. Bava soon made the groundbreaking 1960 Italian horror classic BLACK SUNDAY while Freda, who often used the Anglicized pseudonym "Robert Hampton" on his films, never seemed particularly beholden to the genre beyond 1962's THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK and its 1963 semi-sequel THE GHOST, with both in very high regard by connoisseurs of Italian horror. But Freda spent most of the decade making a string of HERCULES-inspired peplum epics like 1960's THE GIANTS OF THESSALY and 1961's MACISTE AT THE COURT OF GRAND KHAN and assorted spaghetti westerns and 007 Eurospy knockoffs. Following Dario Argento's trailblazing 1970 giallo THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and its followups, 1971's THE CAT O'NINE TAILS and 1972's FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, Italian journeymen directors essentially formed a conga line to crank out a series of knockoff gialli with animals in the title, among them Lucio Fulci's A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971) and DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972), Sergio Martino's THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL (1971), Paolo Cavara's THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971), Duccio Tessari's THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY (1971), Sergio Pastore's THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT (1972), and Antonio Margheriti's SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE (1973) just to name a few. Following his 1969 krimi-inspired DOUBLE FACE, Freda hopped on the animal giallo bandwagon with one of the genre's most nonsensically random titles, 1971's THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE.

The meaning of that title is shoehorned in almost as an aside and doesn't really make sense even in context, but it's probably the most memorable thing about the film, which suffers from erratic pacing, hilariously awful special effects, and Freda and his co-writers fighting a losing battle to keep track of all of their red herrings, at least two of whom completely disappear from the film. It does benefit from an unusual setting, a great cast of familiar Eurocult faces, an expectedly catchy lounge score by Stelvio Cipriani with the participation of Edda dell'Orso, whose wordless vocals were essentially legally mandated by this point, and an admirably off-the-rails climax that prefigures both Brian De Palma's DRESSED TO KILL and Dario Argento's TENEBRAE to a certain extent. In Dublin, a woman has acid thrown in her face and her throat slashed before being stuffed in the boot of a Rolls Royce belonging to Sobiesky (Anton Diffring), the Swiss ambassador to Ireland. Police inspector Lawrence (Arthur O'Sullivan) gets nowhere with the investigation since Sobiesky immediately plays the privileged asshole card by flaunting his diplomatic immunity and refusing to cooperate. It turns out the dead woman was his mistress, and when another Sobiesky mistress, a sultry nightclub chanteuse (Dominique Boschero), also turns up dead after trying to blackmail him over their affair, Lawrence sends rogue, plays-by-his-own-rules detective John Norton (Luigi Pistilli) undercover. Norton, who's persona non grata with the Dublin police after a suspect grabbed his gun and committed suicide during a brutal interrogation, and who's still plagued by the unsolved murder of his wife (a plot point that's mentioned and never revisited), lets himself get picked up at a bar by Sobiesky's promiscuous stepdaughter Helen (Dagmar Lassander), much to the chagrin of her arrogant boy-toy Walter (Sergio Doria), and manages to ingratiate himself into the Sobiesky household, also questioning the ambassador's alcoholic wife (Valentina Cortese, who would earn a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination three years later for Francois Truffaut's DAY FOR NIGHT) and generally not giving much of a shit about the ambassador's diplomatic immunity privileges. There's also suspicious, conjunctivitis-afflicted limo driver Mandel (Renato Romano), who's also blackmailing Sobiesky's weirdo stepson Marc (Werner Pochat) for his own indiscretions back home in Switzerland, a doctor (Niall Toibin) who's creepy for no reason whatsoever, and comic relief in the form of Norton's teenage daughter as well as his doddering, Agatha Christie superfan mother (Ruth Durley), an amateur sleuth whose annoying habit of misplacing her glasses with attached hearing aids leads to one of the dumbest contrivances in the entire giallo genre.

Never released theatrically in the US, THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE has been available only in bootleg format stateside, never even hitting home video and remaining one of the most obscure giallo offerings that, thanks to that title, was certainly read about more than it was actually seen. That is until now, thanks to Arrow's new extras-packed Blu-ray that gives it its first official US release, 48 years after it was made, because physical media is dead. That doesn't mean it's a classic waiting to be discovered. Structurally, THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE is a mess that's needlessly convoluted--is there anyone in it not involved in a clandestine blackmail scheme?--and goes to absurd lengths to make sure every character is a suspect at one point, usually in the form of an aggressive zoom into their faces, sporting expressions that land somewhere between suspicious and constipated. The best thing about the film is the unique Dublin setting, especially with some extensive location work done by Freda and his crew, particularly some breathtaking shots at the Cliffs of Moher. There's also a cringe-worthy shout-out to an iconic Dublin business--the Swastika Laundry and yes, that was its logo--which was in existence since 1912, well before the swastika was co-opted by Nazi Germany (it ultimately closed in 1987). And speaking of cringe-worthy, don't miss the scene where O'Sullivan's spectacularly unappealing Lawrence sneeringly hypothesizes that the first murder shows signs of "a woman's hand, or that of a colored person...they're experts at such things," which is the worst hunch by a cop this side of Jack Hedley's Lt. Williams in 1982's THE NEW YORK RIPPER expressing with certainty that "we know the killer has lived in New York his whole life."

Freda wasn't happy with much of anything about THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, starting with Pistilli (best known as the priest brother of Eli Wallach's Tuco in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and in a rare lead here), who he felt was forced on him by the producers after they failed to secure his first choice--Roger Moore, of all people (Ivan Rassimov was also considered at some point). Displeased with the end result after post-production, Freda decided to take his name off the finished film, where he's credited as "Willy Pareto." It's not a top-shelf giallo, but it's hardly the worst ever made and it's definitely worth seeing for completists. And it's a masterpiece compared to Freda's next film, his 1972 career nadir TRAGIC CEREMONY, which was so bad that it would be nine years before he made another, 1981's MURDER OBSESSION, aka FEAR. MURDER OBSESSION is no great shakes, but it's a decent enough second-tier giallo that's marginally better than THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, if for no other reason than it co-stars Laura Gemser. Freda's comeback was short-lived, however, as he opted for retirement with MURDER OBSESSION proving to be his final film.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


(UK/Hong Kong - 1974; US release 1979)

Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Written by Don Houghton. Cast: Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Julie Ege, Robin Stewart, Shih Szu, John Forbes-Robertson, Robert Hanna, Chan Shen, James Ma, Liu Hui Ling, Liu Chia Yung, Wong Han Chan, Chen Tien Loong, Fong Kah Ann. (Unrated, 89 mins/R, 75 mins)

With 1970's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, Hammer Films started spicing up their horror offerings with generous doses of skin and sex in an attempt to inject new life into their product. They made a play for the youth market by benching Peter Cushing in favor of Ralph Bates as a much-younger Dr. Frankenstein in 1970's little-loved HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, and while they didn't replace Christopher Lee as Dracula, they did transport him with Cushing's Van Helsing to mod, swinging London in all its Austin Powers glory for 1972's DRACULA A.D. 1972 and 1973's THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. Neither film was a hit, and while Cushing soldiered through them, Lee made sure to voice his displeasure with Hammer and the DRACULA series to anyone who would listen. Warner Bros. shelved SATANIC RITES in the US, where it wouldn't be released for another five years, and when pandering to the counterculture demographic failed, Hammer took an even more unpredictable approach by partnering on two 1974 projects with Hong Kong's Run Run Shaw, whose Shaw Brothers outfit was for responsible much of the burgeoning martial-arts craze: the horror/kung-fu hybrid THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES and the Stuart Whitman-starring Hong Kong-set actioner SHATTER.

Hammer was in a strange place by 1974. THE EXORCIST was enough of a game-changer that "classic"-style horror was falling out of fashion. Cushing returned to his Dr. Frankenstein role for one last time with 1974's FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, by far the goriest entry in the series and the same year saw the release of their most inspired film in years with Brian Clemens' horror/swashbuckler cult classic CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER, which was actually completed in 1972 but Hammer didn't have any confidence in it and shelved it for two years. Bad decisions, diminishing returns, and a changing genre landscape would eventually cause the company's classic incarnation to fold after 1976's TO THE DEVIL...A DAUGHTER, but THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES, like CAPTAIN KRONOS, was a film tragically unappreciated in its time and one that has aged remarkably well over the decades.

It would've been even better had Lee returned as Dracula, but he was so fed up with whole thing after SATANIC RITES that he walked away and refused to have anything more to do with the series, and it's doubtful that he would've been wooed back by the prospect of Dracula in a kung-fu setting. While Cushing returned as Van Helsing, Dracula was now played by jobbing British character actor and one-and-done trivia question response John Forbes-Robertson, the George Lazenby of the Hammer DRACULA series. Since Dracula's screen time is limited to the beginning and the end, the actor doesn't have much of a chance to make an impression beyond his excessive rouge and pasty makeup. And on top of that, he's dubbed over by veteran voice actor David de Keyser, whose familiar tones can be heard revoicing John Richardson in THE VENGEANCE OF SHE and Gabriele Ferzetti in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. Forbes-Robertson has very little to do here, and it's likely Dracula would've received more face time had Lee agreed to be in it, but with the end result, it hardly matters. Directed by the venerable Roy Ward Baker (ASYLUM, THE VAULT OF HORROR, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS), with uncredited assistance from top Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh, who handled the action sequences, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is a dark horse underdog in the Hammer canon that's long overdue for respect and appreciation. As recently as 2018's comprehensive, 992-page chronicle Hammer Complete: The Films, The Personnel, The Company, author Howard Maxford calls the film "a letdown on almost every level." Quite the contrary...it's clever, wildly entertaining, paced like a freight train, and better than at least the last four of Lee's DRACULAs.

Disregarding the A.D. 1972 and SATANIC RITES continuity even though, like those two, it was written by Don Houghton, 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES opens in 1804 Transylvania, where Chinese priest Kah (Chan Shen) awakens Dracula (Forbes-Robertson) to beg for his help in resurrecting the legendary "seven golden vampires." A weakened Dracula decides to use Kah as a vessel to strengthen his own evil spirit and to use the seven golden vampires to wreak his vengeance on mankind (having Dracula possess Kah is also a convenient way around Forbes-Robertson being cast late in production). 100 years later, Van Helsing (Cushing) is in Chung King as a guest lecturer on the subject of vampirism, telling his students of the legend of the seven golden vampires who have terrorized the remote village of Ping Kwei for the last century. Most scoff and walk out, but one, Hsi Ching (David Chiang) knows he speaks the truth: his family comes from that village and his grandfather lost his life battling the seven golden vampires, but not before killing one of them. Van Helsing, with his son Leyland (Robin Stewart) and wealthy, widowed Scandinavian socialite Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege), who thinks "a vampire hunt sounds exciting," agrees to accompany and advise Hsi Ching, his six brothers, and their ass-kicking little sister Mei Kwei (Shih Szu) on a treacherous journey to Ping Kwei to find and destroy the six surviving golden vampires while frequently fighting off a growing army of their undead victims, now resurrected as kung-fu zombies.

I'm not sure how "Peter Cushing leading a band of sibling martial-arts warriors against vampires and kung-fu zombies" wasn't the most slam-dunk cinematic sales pitch of 1974. It's handsomely-produced and stylishly shot in garish greens, blues, and reds, with spirited performances (this is one of Cushing's best turns as Van Helsing, even taking part in some of the kung-fu fighting) and a sharp use of the region and its iconography (Van Helsing warns that crosses are useless against these vampires, who can only be warded off by Buddha imagery), but THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES was met with general apathy by UK audiences. Like THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, it was shelved in the US by Warner Bros, who ended up selling both films to the short-lived grindhouse outfit Dynamite Entertainment. They eventually released SATANIC RITES in 1978 as COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE, while 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES underwent a drastic restructuring into the cheesily-titled THE 7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA, which hit theaters in the summer and into the fall of 1979. It's one of the worst botched re-edits of all time, gutting the film from 89 to 75 minutes, losing tons of exposition and shifting scenes around to the point where the story makes no sense at all. This had to be part of the reason the film was dismissed as gutter schlock and was maligned for so long by American audiences until Anchor Bay's original DVD release in 1999 finally made the original 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES cut widely available (the butchered 7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA was included as an extra, and both cuts are present on Scream Factory's new Blu-ray, because physical media is dead). Considering how well-crafted the original version was, and that kung-fu films were all the rage in 1974--especially with Warner Bros., who had huge hits with  5 FINGERS OF DEATH and the landmark ENTER THE DRAGON--shelving the film in the first place was an astonishingly bone-headed decision, let alone Dynamite's later catastrophic mangling of it, basically reducing it to fight scenes and T&A, with one topless shot of a woman repeated three times. Forget the 7 BROTHERS cut unless you need to analyze just how badly a good movie can be fucked up beyond recognition. THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is an absolute blast and a worthy conclusion to Hammer's DRACULA series, and it's time for it to be given its rightful place among the studio's crowning achievements.

The butchered 7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA version
opening in Toledo, OH on 10/5/1979

Monday, April 15, 2019

Retro Review: RIDER ON THE RAIN (1970) and COLD SWEAT (1970)

(France/Italy - 1970)

Directed by Rene Clement. Written by Sebastien Japrisot. Cast: Charles Bronson, Marlene Jobert, Annie Cordy, Corinne Marchand, Gabriele Tinti, Jill Ireland, Jean Gaven, Jean Piat, Marc Mazza, Ellen Bahl, Steve Eckhardt, Jean-Daniel Ehrman, Yves Massart. (PG, 114/118 mins)

When you think of Charles Bronson, the things that usually come to mind are the DEATH WISH films, his many sleazy Cannon actioners of the 1980s, the vengeful Harmonica in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, or his being a member of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE GREAT ESCAPE, and THE DIRTY DOZEN in the 1960s. But it's his European phase--lasting from roughly 1968 to 1973--that firmly established him as a global superstar, and it's that era that isn't referenced much today, though two new Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead) are finally doing justice to this vital period of Bronson's career. Steadily employed in supporting roles on the big screen and in TV guest spots on shows like THE VIRGINIAN and THE FUGITIVE in the mid-to-late '60s but frustrated with the state of his career as he was approaching 50, Bronson decided to test the waters of the European film industry when he was offered a chance to team with French superstar Alain Delon in 1968's sweaty heist thriller FAREWELL, FRIEND (aka HONOR AMONG THIEVES). The film was a huge hit in Europe but wouldn't be released in the US until 1973. Following ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Bronson starred in a series of French and Italian-made thrillers while maintaining a Hollywood profile in occasional American films like CHATO'S LAND, THE MECHANIC, and THE STONE KILLER. Nevertheless, it was his European films that were cementing his status as a pop culture icon everywhere in the world but the US. The major outlier here would be 1972's gangster biopic THE VALACHI PAPERS, an Italian-French co-production that became a major box-office hit in America in the wake of THE GODFATHER.

While Bronson's Euro sojourn began with FAREWELL, FRIEND, it was 1970's RIDER ON THE RAIN that was the key film in making him Europe's most popular movie star. Reteaming Bronson with his FAREWELL, FRIEND producer Serge Silberman and screenwriter and French mystery novelist Sebastien Japrisot, RIDER ON THE RAIN, directed by Rene Clement (PURPLE NOON), is a dreamily melancholy Hitchcockian psychological thriller with an appropriately-named heroine in Melancolie "Mellie" Mau (Marlene Jobert), who lives in a resort town in the south of France with her possessive flight navigator husband Tony (Gabriele Tinti), who's frequently away at work for several days at a time. Mellie spends most of her time at a bowling alley managed by her sardonic mother (Annie Cordy) and it's here on a gray and torrentially rainy afternoon that she spots a stranger (Marc Mazza) standing across the street after exiting from a bus, remarking "He must've ridden in on the rain." Stopping at a clothing shop run by her friend Nicole (Jill Ireland, Bronson's wife) to pick up a dress for a wedding she's attending the next day, she spots the stranger staring at her through the shop's window. Arriving home and discovering a delayed Tony won't be home until the next morning, Mellie is soon accosted by the stranger, who has somehow followed her home. He rapes her until she loses consciousness, and she awakens in the middle of the night to find he's still in the house. She blows him away with Tony's shotgun and proceeds to dispose of the body by throwing it over a cliff. Trying to hold it together and behave like nothing's happened, which eventually leads to insanely jealous Tony thinking she's having an affair, Mellie is confronted at the wedding by Harry Dobbs (Bronson), a smiling and vaguely sinister American mystery man who already seems to be completely up to speed on everything that's happened and keeps turning up wherever Mellie goes.

It's nearly 30 minutes into the film before Bronson even makes his first appearance, but once he does, he completely steals the film with a performance that's among his most loose and eccentric, at least until things take an even darker turn and he realizes the head games he's been playing to get a confession out of Mellie (who he glibly calls "Love-love") have sent her down a dangerous path with a different set of bad guys. Who was the stranger? Why is Dobbs after him? Do the stranger and/or Dobbs have business with Tony? More of a character study than an outright mystery/thriller, RIDER ON THE RAIN shows a much wider range for Bronson as an actor than those accustomed to his vigilante thrillers might expect. He's matched by the lovely Jobert, whose Mellie is a little flighty and odd (particularly in the way she doesn't like to swear and replaces expletives with "saxophone" when she's inclined to curse), but proves more resilient and determined than Dobbs anticipated, and you can see some of that intensity in Jobert's eyes was passed down to her actress daughter Eva Green, born in 1980. RIDER ON THE RAIN's denouement may frustrate first-time viewers (there's a reason there's a character named "Mac Guffin"), but it's an offbeat and unpredictable film (and you get to see Charles Bronson bowl!) that sticks with you long after it's over. It's very European in its style and structure, though it did OK business in the US when it was picked up by Avco Embassy. Kino's Blu-ray has both the English-language version at 114 minutes and the French-language version at 118 minutes. Beyond a simple dub or re-edit, Clement actually shot the film twice, once with the cast speaking English and the other with them speaking French, with Bronson saying his French dialogue phonetically and having it revoiced later on (the French-language version earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film). RIDER ON THE RAIN was one of five films Bronson made in a busy 1970--only one being American--closing out the year with another French thriller, COLD SWEAT.

(France/Italy - 1970; US release 1974)

Directed by Terence Young. Written by Shimon Wincelberg, Albert Simonin, Jo Eisinger and Dorothea Bennett. Cast: Charles Bronson, Liv Ullmann, James Mason, Jill Ireland, Michel Constantin, Jean Topart, Luigi Pistilli, Yannick de Lulle, Paul Bonifas, Sabine Sun, Roger Maille, Nathalie Varallo, Remo Moscani, Dominique Crosland. (PG, 93 mins)

Released in France in December 1970, COLD SWEAT had mostly spotty distribution in Europe over the next couple of years. It didn't turn up in America until the fall of 1974, courtesy of grindhouse bottom-feeders Emerson Film Enterprises, a company that spent most of the '60s distributing dubious drive-in fare like CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS and MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, and assorted pre-porn-era Times Square "nudies" like PUSSYCAT PUSSYCAT and WIFE SWAPPERS. After Bronson hit it big in the summer of 1974 with MR. MAJESTYK and the water-cooler, zeitgeist sensation DEATH WISH, Emerson saw some potentially easy money and vultured in on one of the actor's long-forgotten European efforts that fell through the cracks and still hadn't made it stateside. They managed to get COLD SWEAT into some theaters (it opened at a mall in my hometown of Toledo, OH on Christmas Day 1974), but it wasn't enough to keep the lights on, as Emerson finally folded after releasing the more typical FUGITIVE LOVERS in 1975. No one will ever mistake COLD SWEAT for Bronson's best movie, but it's a decent-enough thriller that deserved better than Emerson Film Enterprises who, from the looks of it, spent about five minutes working on that US poster art.

COLD SWEAT didn't generate much business in theaters, but it enjoyed a long life on television, airing on CBS in 1975 before going into regular rotation on late-night TV and on VHS in the early '80s. It became a public domain staple and was available on any number of low-quality DVD sets (usually with artwork showing shots of Bronson from other movies), but Kino's new Blu-ray release, taken from a restored French print (but in English) is easily the best it's ever looked. Bronson stars as Joe Martin, an American expat residing in the French Riviera, earning a living as a tour and fishing boat captain for wealthy tourists. He's married to Fabienne (the great Ingmar Bergman muse Liv Ullmann, who got some shit from highbrow critics for "slumming" in a Bronson movie) and is stepfather to her daughter Michele (Yannick de Lulle). Their quiet, happy life abruptly crashes and burns when Joe's past comes back to haunt him in the form of a team of criminals with whom he associated some 20 years earlier. Ross (James Mason, taking his Southern MANDINGO drawl for a test spin) was Joe's commanding officer during the Korean War, and they got reacquainted after being thrown in the stockade on a military base in Germany after the war, Joe for drunkenly punching a colonel and Ross for hijacking US Army trucks as the head of black market gunrunning operation. They escaped from the stockade, along with three other Ross cohorts--Katanga (Jean Topart), Fausto (Luigi Pistilli), and Vermont (Michel Constantin, dubbed by LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT star David Hess)--with Joe agreeing to be the getaway driver. But when Katanga impulsively killed a German cop who stumbled on the scene, Joe sped off, leaving Ross and his men behind and taking all of their money with him to start a new life in France. Ross and the others have just busted out of another German prison and tracked Joe down to "balance the books." They want their money and they want Joe to take them out on his boat to pick up a shipment of drugs from a Turkish cargo vessel.

What begins as a DESPERATE HOURS home invasion scenario (and it foreshadows A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, as they find Joe via a two-year-old newspaper article where he rescued a drowning tourist) soon changes locations to a cottage in the mountains, where they're eventually joined by Ross' much-younger hippie girlfriend Moira (Jill Ireland, by this point a standard part of the Bronson package deal). There's unexpected character development, as Ross just wants the money and isn't interested in killing Joe, even after Joe breaks Vermont's neck in self-defense. The real problem is the psychotic, trigger-happy dumbass Katanga, who constantly makes the situation worse. Paranoid that Joe will double-cross them, he just starts firing his gun and accidentally kills Fausto and shoots Ross in the stomach. With Ross in desperate need of medical attention, Joe agrees to take Moira to get a doctor while Katanga holds Fabienne and Michele at the house as COLD SWEAT becomes a race against the clock--complete with a nicely-done Remy Julienne car chase--to get Ross a transfusion before he bleeds out.

COLD SWEAT was based on Richard Matheson's 1959 novel Ride the Nightmare, which was also the basis of a 1962 episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR with Hugh O'Brian, Gena Rowlands, and John Anderson in the respective Bronson, Ullmann, and Mason roles. The novel was adapted by a team of writers--exactly who depends on whether you see the French print, where German-born American TV writer Shimon Wincelberg (whose long career included credits on HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, NAKED CITY, GUNSMOKE, LOST IN SPACE, STAR TREK, MANNIX, DYNASTY, and LAW & ORDER among countless others) and Albert Simonin are credited, or the US version, which credits Wincelberg, veteran Hollywood scribe Jo Eisinger (GILDA), and Dorothea Bennett, the wife of director Terence Young. Best known for directing three of the first four James Bond films (DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, and THUNDERBALL) and the classic Audrey Hepburn nail-biter WAIT UNTIL DARK, Young was strictly in hired gun mode from the late '60s on. COLD SWEAT was the first of three European collaborations between Young and Bronson, followed in quick succession by the 1971 east-meets-western RED SUN and 1972's THE VALACHI PAPERS, though it would be the last to make it to US screens.

COLD SWEAT opening in Toledo, OH on 12/25/1974

Sunday, April 14, 2019

In Theaters: THE MUSTANG (2019)

(France/Belgium - 2019)

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Written by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock and Benjamin Charbit. Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern, Connie Britton, Gideon Adlon, Josh Stewart, Noel Gugliemi, Thomas Smittle, Keith Johnson. (R, 96 mins)

Initially developed at the Sundance Institute (Robert Redford is among the truckload of credited producers), THE MUSTANG is the debut of French actress-turned-filmmaker Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC), and if you're a guy who like a good UMBERTO D, BRIAN'S SONG or FIELD OF DREAMS man-weepie, then you're gonna want to see this one right away. Incarcerated at Nevada State Prison for the last 12 years, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Only able to express himself through rage and violence, he's spent most of his prison time in solitary confinement, preferring to be alone and resorting to behaviors and actions that he knows will keep him isolated from the other inmates. "I'm not good with people," he mumbles the prison psychologist (Connie Britton), who's prepping him for his latest return to general population from solitary. She assigns him to work on the outdoor maintenance crew, shoveling piles of shit from the prison's horse-training program, funded by the state as a rehabilitation technique and to fill a demand for captured wild mustangs to be properly trained and groomed to sell at auction. The program is run by elderly rancher Myles (Bruce Dern), who's earned the respect of the inmates under his charge and repays it in kind, with inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell) designated the head trainer.

Roman is drawn to one horse in particular, who's kept in a locked stable and spends all day, every day kicking on the door in rage over his confinement. Myles gives Roman a shot at working with him, and it goes well for a while until Roman, furious over a disastrous visit from his estranged, pregnant daughter Martha (Gideon Adlon), takes his anger out on the disobedient horse, violently pummeling him with a series of punches. Myles has him thrown back in solitary as punishment, but he gets a second chance when he's called to help move some horses inside the prison kitchen when a dangerous storm approaches the area. Slowly but surely, Roman and the horse, who he names "Marquis," begin to bond, with Myles and Henry remarking that no one was able to break him until Roman came along. De Clermont-Tonnerre and her co-writers (including Nicolas Winding Refn's BRONSON collaborator Brock Norman Brock) aren't really dealing with complex metaphors or deep symbolism here, as it's quite obvious that Roman and Marquis are two sides of the same coin, kindred spirits who feel constantly trapped and violently lash out at anyone who tries to get close to them.

THE MUSTANG's strengths come not from its formulaic story arc but from its performances. Belgian actor Schoenaerts first began getting attention in art-house and foreign film circles with 2011's BULLHEAD and 2012's RUST AND BONE, and while he's made some impression with American audiences with roles in 2014's THE DROP and as Jennifer Lawrence's duplicitous uncle in 2018's RED SPARROW, THE MUSTANG might prove to be his English-language breakthrough. It's a very internalized performance, and as Roman, he's tightly-wound and seething, but with his eyes conveying the pain of regret and a complete inability to communicate. While he has frightening outbursts, it's in the quiet moments that Schoenaerts speaks volumes about this character, and you might be dead inside if you can keep it together at the pivotal moment when Roman and Marquis reach a mutual respect and understanding of one another. Schoenaerts gets solid support from Mitchell (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) and Dern, who's just perfect in a role that has him getting a little piece of Robert Duvall's "grizzled old coot" action. De Clermont-Tonnerre's messaging gets a little ham-fisted at times, and there's an underdeveloped subplot with Roman's shitbag cellmate (Josh Stewart from the COLLECTOR movies) forcing Roman and Henry to procure ketamine from the horse vet's office, but at its core, THE MUSTANG is an empathetic and compassionate character study of rehabilitation and redemption.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

On Netflix: THE SILENCE (2019)

(Germany/US - 2019)

Directed by John R. Leonetti. Written by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke. Cast: Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Miranda Otto, John Corbett, Kate Trotter, Kyle Breitkopf, Dempsey Bryk, Billy MacLellan, Chris Whitby, Barbara Gordon, Sarah Abbott, Kate Corbett. (Unrated, 90 mins)

THE SILENCE is based on a 2015 novel by British horror/fantasy author Tim Lebbon, but that still won't stop the comparisons to last year's hit A QUIET PLACE. Filmed in 2017 and originally set to be released by the financially-strapped Golden Road before they sold it to Netflix, THE SILENCE was in production around the same time as A QUIET PLACE, and it's also interesting to note that SILENCE star Stanley Tucci is married to the older sister of A QUIET PLACE star Emily Blunt, so they had to know they had a family competition going with oddly similar horror movies about creatures who hunt by sound, with the action centering on a family that learns to exist in silence and can communicate by sign language since one of the children is deaf. Lebbon's novel is adapted by the writing team of Carey and Shane Van Dyke, the grandsons of Dick Van Dyke and best known for scripting various Asylum "mockbusters" like TRANSMORPHERS, STREET RACER, and THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED. The director is certified hack John R. Leonetti, a veteran cinematographer whose filmmaking credits include such classics as MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2, ANNABELLE, and WISH UPON.

With that pedigree, THE SILENCE lives down to its expectations despite an intriguing set-up. Researchers are exploring an uncharted cave system 1000 feet below the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania when they're attacked by a horde of prehistoric, bat-like creatures that have been living and evolving in those sealed-off caverns for millions of years. The creatures are named "Vesps" by the scientific community. They're blind and hunt by sound, which means the hustling and bustling major cities are the first to be attacked and wiped out, followed quickly by the suburban and rural communities. The Andrews family--dad Hugh (Tucci), mom Kelly (Miranda Otto), teenage daughter Ally (Kiernan Shipka), younger son Jude (Kyle Breitkopf), Kelly's mother Lynn (Kate Trotter), and the family dog, along with Hugh's best friend Glenn (John Corbett), decide to get out of suburban New Jersey and head to the country where it's quiet. They're in two vehicles--Glenn and Jude in one and everyone else in the other--and they have an inherent advantage when it comes to keeping quiet: three years earlier, Ally lost her hearing in a car accident that killed Hugh's parents, prompting the whole family and Glenn to learn sign language. It isn't long before survivalist-type Glenn's impromptu shortcut leads to disaster when his SUV rolls off the road avoiding some deer. Jude already switched vehicles during a stop, and Hugh is unable to get a pinned and injured Glenn out of the wreckage. With the Vesps approaching, Glenn decides to fire his gun to attract them, sacrificing himself while the family takes refuge in their minivan. Any chance the dog will start barking uncontrollably?

Trapped in the minivan might've been a good way to sustain the tension, but it isn't long before they take their chances and hoof it in total silence, happening on a farmhouse whose owner instantly runs outside, firing her gun and screaming "Get off my property!" which of course, instantly gets her attacked and devoured by a flock of Vesps. That's the kind of insultingly lazy writing that just shows utter contempt for the audience, with the filmmakers taking the easiest possible route to get the family in the safe confines of an isolated rural home. That's followed by an immediate burst of genius as Hugh turns on a loud wood chipper, causing a ton of blind Vesps to fly into it and get instantly shredded. Why doesn't he just leave the wood chipper running and kill them all? Because there'd be no movie and more importantly, no inane third act home invasion curve ball, where a creepy reverend (Billy MacLellan) and his flock show up at the house, all of them with their tongues cut out to ensure silence and the reverend demanding Hugh hand over Ally, holding a handwritten sign that says "The girl is fertile." I can't speak for Lebbon's novel, but the Vesps have been out of their cave for seriously like, two days by the film's timeline. 48 hours into a national emergency and this clearance bin Immortan Joe and his crazed cult have already severed their own tongues and are out there stalking families and trying to abduct fertile underage girls? The milk in their fridge hasn't even expired yet.

There are a couple of intriguing elements that aren't really explored, like just how quickly everyone turns on one another when the shit hits the fan (watch a bunch of New Yorkers trapped in the subway kick a woman and her crying baby off the train to get eaten by the Vesps), and the Vesps using the carcasses of their victims--human and animal--as incubators for their eggs. More of that ickiness would've given this some appropriately apocalyptic and generally unsettling cred. Or just give me a whole movie of Stanley Tucci shredding blind prehistoric dinosaur bats in a wood chipper and I--and no doubt The Tucci Gang--would be totally onboard with it. But this is seriously just cheap-looking, SyFy-level junk. The Tooch is one of our most reliable character actors (and an Oscar nominee for THE LOVELY BONES), and he's an accomplished screenwriter as well (BIG NIGHT). Surely, he read the script for THE SILENCE and could see that it was hot garbage. Did he need to make a down payment on a new house? A kid starting college the next fall?  He classes it up as best he can, and THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER's Shipka (currently starring with Otto on Netflix's CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA) turns in an appealing and very credible performance, even taking the time to learn ASL in preparation, which is really going above and beyond for something this dumb.

Friday, April 12, 2019

In Theaters: HELLBOY (2019)

(US - 2019)

Directed by Neil Marshall. Written by Andrew Cosby. Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Daniel Dae Kim, Sasha Lane, Thomas Haden Church, Sophie Okonedo, Stephen Graham, Penelope Mitchell, Brian Gleeson, Alistair Petrie, Rick Warden, Nitin Ganatra, Mark Stanley, Laila Morse, Kristina Klebe, Mario de la Rosa, Markos Rounthwaite, Troy James. (R, 121 mins)

Following 2004's HELLBOY and 2008's HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY, both very well-received big-screen takes on Mike Mignola's Dark Horse Comics character, director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman never got around to making a much-discussed third installment. As del Toro grew busy announcing more projects than he'll ever be able to make in one lifetime, the third film has ended up being a reboot with a new team of filmmakers headed by Neil Marshall, helming his first feature film since 2010's CENTURION. Hailed as the next big thing in horror after his 2006's acclaimed THE DESCENT, Marshall (who established his bona fides with the 2002's word-of-mouth video store hit DOG SOLDIERS) was subsequently given the cold shoulder by genre fans with his gonzo 2008 post-nuke throwback DOOMSDAY, an absolute blast that just didn't click with its intended audience. Following CENTURION, Marshall turned to television, finding acclaim with hired gun gigs on shows like BLACK SAILS, HANNIBAL, WESTWORLD, and most notably, the instant classic 2012 "Blackwater" episode of GAME OF THRONES. With Marshall working from a script by Andrew Cosby, the creator of the cult sci-fi series EUREKA, the new HELLBOY had some potential. STRANGER THINGS' David Harbour certainly looks the part as the title character, but after a good start, it peters out, looking every bit like what you'd expect from Cannon cover band Millennium Media as things eventually devolve into a blur of corner-cutting Bulgarian CGI, lunkheaded needle drops (a Spanish-language cover of the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" in a scene set in Tijuana, and later on, a video-gamey shootout to Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart," for some reason), and all-too-obvious signs of some post-production mangling, apparent even without recent revelations that tensions mounted when the producers fired Marshall's cinematographer against his wishes, then took the film away from him in post (Marshall has done no press for the film's release and was a no-show at the premiere), and that Marshall and Harbour apparently didn't get along during the shoot.

An agent for the US government's Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy is dispatched by his boss and adoptive father Prof. Broom (Ian McShane) to their London counterparts at Osiris Club, where he's informed of his origins as a Nazi hellspawn by the group's blind seer Lady Hatton (Sophie Okonedo, a past Oscar-nominee for HOTEL RWANDA). He's tagging along in their quest to kill three giants when he's ambushed by turncoat Osiris agents and rescued by psychic Alice Monaghan (AMERICAN HONEY's Sasha Lane), who was saved as an infant by Hellboy when she was abducted and replaced by a hell-born hog-like creature called Gruagach (voiced by Stephen Graham). Gruagach still holds a grudge against Hellboy, and is caught under the spell of Nimue, the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), a fifth-century sorceress who was captured and dismembered by King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson), who buried the pieces of her body in scattered locations all over England. Gruagach is gathering the parts to reassemble a vengeful Nimue in the present day so she can complete what she didn't finish 1500 years ago: unleashing a deadly plague upon the world and convincing Hellboy to join her on the dark side where she feels monsters belong.

For a while, HELLBOY is agreeably dumb fun, throwing in everything from vampirized Mexican wrestlers, the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur, Rasputin, witchcraft, Nazis, Leni Riefenstahl, Baba Yaga, and various gothic horror tropes. Harbour brings a more downbeat, rumpled sensibility to Hellboy that's not nearly as enjoyable as Perlman's classic interpretation, though some of the supporting actors fare better, particularly Jovovich, who sees this for the junk that it is and has fun with it, hamming it up and playing to the back row throughout (there's also an amusing scene where she grows annoyed with endless reality TV shows while waiting for Gruagach to return with one of her legs). Lane and Daniel Dae Kim (as shapeshifting agent Ben Daiamo; Kim stepped in after Ed Skrein dropped out upon learning that the character as Asian in origin) are fine as Hellboy's sidekicks, and the always-excellent McShane offers some effortless paternal gravitas in a role previously essayed by his old friend, the late, great John Hurt, even if he's undermined by some truly embarrassing CGI near the end. Thomas Haden Church plays Dark Horse fan favorite Lobster Johnson in an appearance so fleeting that calling it a walk-on would be charitable. He does turn up again midway through the interminable 13-minute (!) closing credits crawl, presumably to set up a sequel--along with yet another end credits stinger--that ain't gonna happen.

Turning HELLBOY into a hard-R gorefest with copious F-bombs isn't a dealbreaker, but once it plays out, there's no real reason for it, unless it's to pull in the gamers who like their movies to look more like Playstation and Xbox. It's also rough-going at times, especially with the introduction of Alice, where the scene unfolds as if we're supposed to know who she is, looking suspiciously like an earlier scene with her was cut. It also loses all sense of internal logic after Nimue arrives in London and embarks on a rampage like General Zod in Metropolis, destroying everything and unleashing her deadly plague, with breaking news reports warning everyone to stay inside and that the plague is set to overtake all of England in a matter of hours and the rest of Europe by the end of the day. Why then, a few scenes later, are London streets just teeming with calm pedestrians, cafes and stores operating business as usual? I mean, if you're gonna take the movie out of the hands of its director, at least pay attention to what you're throwing together in the editing room. In fairness, HELLBOY isn't terrible (though it does get perilously close to loitering at 121 minutes), but in a world where we already have two terrific HELLBOY movies that haven't aged a bit, its biggest crime is that it's just pointless and ultimately forgettable, as a reboot to both an established brand and to Neil Marshall's filmmaking career.