This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Agony Booth review: Star Trek: Dagger of the Mind (1966)

Here is a look at an episode from the original Star Trek series, which is the closet the entire franchise had to a Christmas episode.

In the franchise’s entire 51-year history, there’s only been one Star Trek episode of any of the six series that’s been holiday-themed. That episode was the original series’ “Catspaw”, which was the first episode filmed for the show’s second season, although it was the seventh aired. This is because NBC deliberately aired it during Halloween week 1967.

That episode is enjoyable enough, and it isn’t subtle about making references to the Eve of All Saints. After some checking, the only episode I found with any reference to the only holiday people spend more money on than Halloween (in other words, Christmas) is the original Star Trek‘s first season episode “Dagger of the Mind,” the ninth episode of that season to air.

Before I begin, for anyone wondering, no, I haven’t forgotten the Christmas reference in Star Trek: Generations. But considering how awful that film was, I prefer to forget it.

The story begins with the Enterprise arriving at the Tantalus penal colony, and the two guys in the transporter room begin beaming down cargo meant for the institute’s director, Dr. Tristan Adams (James Gregory). Kirk arrives to see the looks of confusion on the crewmen’s faces as the cargo isn’t actually beaming down. He has to remind them that they must get the colony itself to lower its security field which prevents the beaming. After the schmuck expresses embarrassment for his blunder (an expression everyone on Voyager would have when they looked at Harry Kim), the cargo beams down and he informs Kirk that there’s one package scheduled for the ship to beam up. After Kirk and the clueless transporter chief leave (presumably to prepare this new cargo, although I don’t know why the crewman had to leave to do that), the other transporter technician begins looking at the wall behind him and writing on the same Etch-a-Sketch pad that Kirk would often use to sign reports.

This is why he doesn’t see the cargo container open up behind him to reveal a wide-eyed man (Morgan Woodward) has stowed aboard the ship. This man stealthily makes his way toward the technician, knocking him out.

After the main credits, Kirk and McCoy discuss Tantalus, with the captain expressing admiration for how far such institutions have come thanks to Adams’s work. McCoy, however, just states that a prison is a prison.

The ship suddenly gets a message from the colony stating that one of their inmates has gone missing, and that this person is violent. The stowaway is next seen leaving the transporter room, now dressed like the guy he knocked out (how convenient that the poor schmuck had clothes that were just his size). A ship-wide alert is given before the inmate takes out a security guard, stealing his phaser.

Kirk contacts the colony and confirms to Adams that the missing inmate in on board. As the search continues, Spock and Bones have another of their funny arguments in which Spock points out the irony of how humanity makes it a point to imprison those who use violence privately. The inmate suddenly arrives, taking out another guard, and demands to speak to Kirk. He identifies himself as Van Gelder and tells Kirk that he doesn’t want to return to Tantalus. Kirk simply tells him to surrender his weapon, to which Van Gelder threatens to destroy the ship before Spock nerve pinches him. Van Gelder is taken to Sickbay as Kirk orders a return to Tantalus.

En route, Kirk tries to get answers out of Van Gelder. But the latter simply answers with gibberish and violent spasms before Bones puts him under. On the bridge, Spock informs Kirk that Van Gelder is indeed supposed to be at Tantalus, but not as an inmate. Rather, he was assigned at the location months earlier as Adams’s colleague. Kirk tells Uhura to raise the colony again and Adams confirms that Van Gelder was an associate of his, and that he attempted to perform experimental treatment on others. McCoy arrives and says that Adams’s story doesn’t exactly check out. But Kirk points out Adams’s achievements in his field. Adams asks if the ship knows of any better place they could take Van Gelder. Bones is at a loss, as there aren’t any.

Adams then invites Kirk to come to the colony to check things out, albeit with as few people as possible. Kirk accepts and tells Bones to assign someone who has knowledge in rehabilitative therapy.

Kirk gets ready to beam down and is startled to find the person McCoy picked for this assignment is Dr. Helen Noel (Marianna Hill), who brings up the fact that she and Kirk met before at a science lab Christmas party. The captain quickly shuts down any discussion on that matter, while Spock just has an amused look on his face. Kirk tells Spock that McCoy’s in deep trouble if Noel doesn’t do her job.

After they arrive, Noel requests that Kirk address her by her first name. But Kirk says this isn’t the time for that, as they go into an elevator which basically plunges to the duo a long way down before they’re greeted by Adams, who’s willing to address Noel by her first name as they’re two of many doctors on this planet (although, there’s no repeat of that “Doctor, Doctor” scene in Spies Like Us).

Adams offers his guests a drink while Kirk calls Spock to confirm they’ve arrived safely. The doctor then introduces Kirk and Noel to Lethe (Susanne Wasson), a former inmate who has since become a staff member. Despite Adams’s praise for her work, all Lethe does is answer questions with a blank look on her face.

As Adams gives the duo a tour of his facility, Kirk notices a device that Adams says is the reason for Van Gelder’s condition. Adams also states that he’s considering abandoning the device.

On the Enterprise, Spock is still trying to get answers from Van Gelder, who says “neural neutralizer” and refers to a “room”.

As it turns out, the device which caught Kirk’s eye is called a neural neutralizer, which Adams says is experimental. The doctor further states that Van Gelder tested it on himself, and overuse led to his condition. As Kirk and Noel leave, we see the machine being used on some poor guy who gets a horrified look on his face as he stares at the light flashing above him.

Spock informs Kirk of the references Van Gelder has made. Adams graciously excuses himself so Spock can repeat Van Gelder’s claims that Kirk and Noel are in danger. She brushes these warnings off. When Kirk says that he and Noel will spend the night at the colony, Van Gelder goes crazy shouting “NOOOO!!” Kirk signs off after assuring Spock they’ll keep checking in regularly. Van Gelder begs Bones to not put him under again, saying that Adams will destroy Kirk.

This leads to the first time we see Spock perform a mind-meld on someone, as a way of getting more info. He’s uncertain this technique will work on a non-Vulcan, but as subsequent episodes have proven, this concern is just lip service and nothing more. Van Gelder is sane enough to agree to undergo it.

Back on the planet, Kirk pops into Noel’s quarters and asks for her take on the inmates. She says they seem happy, but Kirk notes that they seem to share the stoned, blank look that Lethe did, and over Noel’s protests, he says he wants to check out the neural neutralizer again.

Spock’s mind-meld with Van Gelder makes the doctor calmer as he reveals that Adams is using the neural neutralizer to alter the minds of anyone he chooses.

Kirk asks for Noel’s assurances that she can keep the neutralizer in check as Kirk decides to test it on himself. Noel turns it on low for just a second and Kirk doesn’t seem to be aware anything has taken place. Their second try has Noel telling Kirk he’s hungry, a feeling he reflects afterward. Next, she brings up memories of the previously-mentioned Christmas party. But she says that, unlike at the real party, they actually had a more romantic time. We’re even treated to a “flashback” of the two making out despite the lack of mistletoe.

As Kirk is clearly enjoying this mind trip, Adams and one of his men burst in and subdue Noel. Taking the controls, Adams increases the machine’s strength, telling Kirk that he’s madly in love with Noel and there’s nothing but pain without her. Adams tells Kirk that she’s gone, causing Kirk pain. Adams then promises more pain as he tells Kirk to discard his phaser and communicator. Kirk attempts to contact the Enterprise, but the pain is too overwhelming.

Noel is next seen comforting Kirk as he professes his love for her. She tells him to remember what Adams did to him. Kirk is able to snap out of it enough to fiddle with a nearby vent, which he tells Noel to crawl through in order to reach the facility’s power source, which she can then disable.

As Kirk is tortured again by Adams, the doctor’s delight turns to anger when he learns Noel has vanished. Adams increases the pain on Kirk, demanding to know where she is. At the same time, Spock is attempting to beam down, but the colony’s force field is still up. But Noel manages to shut down the power, taking out the force field as well as the neural neutralizer. This gives Kirk a chance to take down Adams before making his escape.

Spock uses this chance to beam himself down, while Noel fights off a staff member, before frying him with the old “just touching the controls can electrocute you” gag. As she leaves, Spock arrives to permanently disable the field and restore the power. This, naturally, includes the neutralizer, which now has Adams in its range.

Kirk and Noel reunite at the other end of the vent. As she (weakly) attempts to discourage Kirk from passionately kissing her (and this is Kirk, so she’d have better luck getting Trump to stop being immodest), Spock steps in with a “why am I not surprised?” look on his face. Her reminder that Adams is the cause of this behavior makes Kirk realize Adams is under the neutralizer. As a security team beams down and takes control of the situation, Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Noel find Adams dead. Kirk states that Adams was alone, and thus had nobody to save him from basically having his mind drained.

Later, Kirk is back on the ship and Spock informs him that Van Gelder has destroyed the neutralizer.

This episode itself is a nice, creepy tale, with an especially intriguing first act. Gregory is appropriately smarmy as Adams, and Woodward (who would later appear in the second season episode “The Omega Glory”) does a good job at acting crazy.

Like the Next Generation episode “Frame of Mind”, this episode delves into the idea of someone losing their sanity (heck, both episodes have the word “mind” in their titles). But while that episode was told entirely from Riker’s point of view, we have more of an idea of what and who is behind the mind-bending proceedings here. It’s just a matter of seeing how Kirk will get out of it. The good news is both episodes are great viewing.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Agony Booth review: The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

This article looks at probably the most embarrassing chapter in the Star Wars canon (yes, even more embarrassing than the prequel trilogy).

For the holiday season, I decided to take a look at something that’s truly scary. No, I’m not talking about Black Christmas, Silent Night Deadly Night, or even Gremlins. I’m talking about a TV special that only aired once, November 17, 1978 on CBS, and that may be the reason why it was, for a time, considered an urban legend of sorts, until the emergence of the internet allowed anyone and everyone to go online and take a look, even if out of morbid curiosity, to see if there actually was a Christmas-themed Star Wars TV special. Yes, there was, and as anyone who’s ever dared to watch it will tell you, if this didn’t damage the Star Wars legacy as much as the prequels did, it comes pretty damn close.

The special begins with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) onboard the Millennium Falcon being chased by two Star Destroyers, as Han tries to bring Chewie back to his home planet for “Life Day”, which I guess is some sort of Christmas-like holiday. We see stock footage of the ships exchanging fire, and the Falcon going to light speed before the title credits come up. Afterward, we see what looks like a luxurious treehouse on the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

Chewie’s wife Malla, their son Lumpy, and Chewie’s dad Itchy (none of whom have been referenced in Star Wars lore since, thank God) are the residents of this house, and they’re awaiting Chewie’s arrival. We now get our first dose of pain from this special as the three Wookiees talk for several moments in their unintelligible language that only Han can understand. At least Jabba the Hutt and Greedo had subtitles, and we only got small doses of the Jawas, Sand People, and Ewoks bantering with each other. Lumpy quickly annoys his mom, Grandpa, and us before he finally quiets down after watching some sort of holographic show on a table similar to the one Chewie, C-3PO, and R2-D2 played chess on in the original film.

The Wookiee clan contact Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and R2, who are somewhere working on their X-Wing. This scene proves that even Luke can’t understand a damn word they’re saying as it takes Malla showing him a picture of Chewie for Luke to realize that they’re wondering where he is. Luke tells them he doesn’t know, but he’s sure Chewie will arrive soon.

Once Luke signs off, Malla contacts a trader named Saun Dann (Art Carney), whose shop is currently being inspected by Imperial troops (why? We never find out). Dann picks up Malla’s message and clandestinely tells her that both Chewie and Han are on their way. This leads to our next shot, which is deleted footage from the original film of Vader telling an officer to search everywhere on the Wookiee planet for rebels. How do we know this is deleted footage? Because the interior of the Star Destroyer that Vader is supposed to be on is as roomy as the Death Star (those lighted panels on the walls give it away, too).

More pain follows when we see Malla in her kitchen attempting to cook a “bantha rump” by watching a cook on TV. Unfunny antics ensue as Malla is unable to duplicate the cook’s technique as she has just two arms compared to the cook’s four. This cook is supposedly a woman but is played by Harvey Korman, who comes pretty close to making us forget that he was capable of making us laugh.

More stock footage appears as the Falcon is seen dealing with TIE fighters before Dann arrives at the Wookiee home. He brings gifts for the Wookiee clan, the most bizarre of which is some sort of virtual reality program he gives to Itchy. Considering that this was supposed to be a variety special the whole family could enjoy, it’s hard not to note the non-family friendly manner in which Dann describes this program to Itchy. The trader installs the data stick for the program, and Itchy begins enjoying it by sitting on his recliner and putting on special glasses. The program itself consists of singer/actress Diahann Carroll saying things such as, “I am for you!” I’m just wondering if Itchy really should be enjoying himself like this in the damn living room of his home.

Malla next contacts Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and informs them that Chewie hasn’t arrived yet. Like Luke and R2, we don’t have any idea where 3PO and Leia are calling from, but Dann assures the princess that everything’s in good hands (too bad the audience disagrees with him).

Han and Chewie finally arrive at the planet, but decide to land further from the Wookiee house than they’d like because of Imperial patrols in the area. Still more stock footage ensues as the Falcon enters the planet’s atmosphere.

Lumpy hears what sounds like the Falcon roaring by. Everyone is getting excited, especially when someone knocks at the door. Malla opens it only to find Stormtroopers and other Imperial officers on the other side. Tragically, they don’t instantly shoot the Wookiees down.

As the Imperials comb through the house, Dann attempts to keep them occupied by stammering when asked for his ID, and also insisting that Malla cook food for them. He even does Ed Norton’s “warming up the old soup bone” routine before distracting an officer by playing a Jefferson Starship video for him. Carney himself was truly one of the greats, and believe it or not, this moment is proof of that, as we can’t tell if Dann is really this dim-witted or if he’s putting on an act.

As the Stormtroopers search Lumpy’s room, he keeps himself occupied by watching a cartoon on a small TV. This cartoon has Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids encountering Boba Fett. Lumpy then gasps when he sees that Boba Fett is in league with Vader. This prompts the Imperial officer in charge of rummaging through his home to wonder what the brat is aghast about. This is supposed to be a suspenseful moment, as Lumpy quickly changes the channel. Why the urgency? I guess the officer would be pissed if he saw Lumpy’s old man as a cartoon, and would be wondering why he wasn’t given a chance to be animated himself.

After the cartoon, Lumpy attempts to generate a false voice to make the Imperials return to their base. This requires the brat to watch a video on how to put together a voice-faking device, hosted by a stupid robot (Korman again).

The TV downstairs suddenly receives a news bulletin that Tatooine is under curfew by the Empire. For some reason, we next see footage of the famous Mos Eisley bar, now run by a woman named Ackmena (Bea Arthur, in her pre-Golden Girls days). She’s dealing with the many alien patrons the bar is known for, one of whom (played by, yep, Korman) attempts to flirt with her, even as he pours a drink in his head like he’s a plant (yes, I just typed that). The curfew announcement inspires Ackmena to lead everyone at the bar in song. Bea Arthur was renowned for her singing abilities, so I guess they had to crowbar them in there somehow.

At the same time, Lumpy is getting his machine together, and soon orders the Imperials out of there. One Stormtrooper stays behind and soon discovers that the brat tricked them into leaving. He chases the little Wookiee out of the house, even though he has a blaster.

Fortunately for Lumpy, and unfortunately for us, Han and Chewie are outside by this point, and Han tosses the Stormtrooper down the tree, which is pretty damn high.

With that, the Wookiee family is reunited, and they soon put on red robes and hold candles to celebrate Life Day. We then see many Wookiees appearing to walk into the sun while holding their candles.

But this apparently doesn’t fry them, because the next scene is all of these Wookiees in some sort of hall. Han, Leia, Luke, and the droids appear and wish Chewie and the rest a happy Life Day. Fisher then breaks into song, which proves she didn’t inherit her mom Debbie Reynolds’s singing talent.

We see a close-up of Chewie as clips from the original film are seen, reminding us of something better we could be watching. The special finally ends with Chewie and his Wookiee family holding hands at the dinner table.

So, is this special as bad as its reputation suggests? I can answer that in two words: HELL, YES.

I think it’s safe to say that both Star Wars prequel lovers and haters agree that this special is something best forgotten. Yes, it gives us a Star Wars cartoon (the first of many, as it turned out), but the special is never funny, and completely boring. Both Carney and Arthur are, amazingly, able to keep straight faces throughout this nonsense, but Korman is just embarrassing himself. The Star Wars cast themselves all look like they’d rather be elsewhere, especially Ford, who keeps the same “I gave up a bigger role in Apocalypse Now for this?” face throughout. The use of stock footage here is even more annoying than the flashbacks seen in the final episode of Deep Space Nine.

So how did a beloved movie spawn this painful bit of television? Well, once Star Wars became a huge hit, Charles Lippincott, the man who cemented Lucas’s deals with both Kenner and Marvel, was looking for other ways to keep the Star Wars momentum going. One of these was a Star Wars-themed episode of the CBS variety show Donny & Marie, with the hosts playing Luke and Leia as well as appearances by the droids and the legendary Redd Foxx as Obi-Wan Kenobi. The ratings success of this installment prompted the network to ask about doing a variety show entirely about Star Wars. Lucas did take some initial interest in the idea, and set up a Lucasfilm subsidiary he called Black Falcon to work with Lippincott to develop the special. Shortly after, however, Lucas cut off ties with Lippincott because he was displeased with how Lippincott supposedly lost Lucasfilm money in the Marvel deal by offering the first issues of the Star Wars comic for free. Lucas himself then lost interest in the special because pre-production on The Empire Strikes Back was well underway. As a result, the only ones left to deal with this bizarre assignment were people who had no idea what they were supposed to do because the one person in charge was focusing his attention elsewhere.

Hamill, Ford, and Fisher all reluctantly went along with this because of their contracts. And also, Fisher insisted that she be allowed to sing.

Put this all together and it’s no wonder that even George Lucas (who’s defended the prequels like there’s no tomorrow) hates this special. As SF Debris pointed out in his documentary The Shadow’s Journey, the infamy the special generated was one factor that ended up influencing Lucas into becoming more of a businessman during the making of Empire and Return of the Jedi, rather than the filmmaker he was when he made the original film.

In this day and age, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are people willing to fork out the cash to see just how bad this special is. But if you want to see a variety show about Star Wars that’s actually good, check out the aforementioned Donny & Marie episode, or even the 1980 installment of The Muppet Show which had appearances by Hamill, Mayhew, and the droids. Those two shows are actually enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Agony Booth review: The Birds (1963)

This article looks at a classic chiller that's one of the few films that can even remotely be called a Thanksgiving movie.

Unlike Halloween and Christmas, there really aren’t many movies which revolve around Thanksgiving. Sure, we have the classic comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as well as (of course) A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Garfield’s Thanksgiving. But overall, the holiday doesn’t exactly get the same cinematic love as those other two holidays.

The closest thing I’ve seen to a Thanksgiving film in recent years is Eli Roth’s charming makeshift trailer for the never-made slasher film Thanksgiving, which was itself merely a nice gag, as it was part of the the Tarantino-Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse (which is sad, because if that production’s first makeshift trailer Machete can actually be made into a full-fledged movie, why can’t Thanksgiving?).

Hence, one of the few films I can think of that can come even a tenth of the way to be placed in the same category as the holiday is Alfred Hitchcock’s classic shocker The Birds. The movie was based on a story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, who also penned the novel Rebecca, which Hitchcock had previously made into a classic movie in 1940.

The story begins with San Francisco socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) going to the local pet store (where Hitchcock makes his customary cameo, walking out with a pair of dogs), and encountering a lawyer named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). He requests a pair of lovebirds to give to his sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) for her upcoming birthday. But Mitch also recognizes Melanie from when he previously saw her in court for pulling one of many pranks she’s known for (I guess that means she’s tight with the Kardashians). Melanie is pissed off when Mitch comes clean after pretending not to know her. The two engage in banter that, even then, made people suspect that romance was in their future. When Mitch departs, Melanie manages to get his license plate number, and a short time later, she delivers a pair of lovebirds with a note to his apartment door.

But Mitch’s neighbor sees this, and informs Melanie that Mitch is spending the weekend in Bodega Bay. Obviously not wanting to have to feed the birds over the course of a weekend (how sweet), Melanie makes the long drive to his location. Melanie rents a boat, since the home where Cathy and the widowed Brenner matriarch Lydia (Jessica Tandy) live is across a river, and she learns Cathy’s name from the local schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) before heading over and sneaking into the house to make the special delivery. Mitch sees the birds, and with binoculars, happily spots Melanie as she attempts to return to the other side of the river.

He drives to the other side to meet up with her. But just as Melanie’s about to reach the shore, a seagull smacks her on the side of the head. Both of them are obviously startled, but as Mitch patches Melanie up in the local diner, they engage in more not-love banter before Melanie meets Lydia and is subsequently invited to dinner by Mitch.

That night, Melanie meets Cathy, who warmly thanks her for the lovebirds. Dinner goes by pleasantly, although Lydia asks Mitch about Melanie in private, as she’s also aware of her prank-pulling antics, which apparently include an incident in which Melanie supposedly romped naked in a fountain in Venice (not exactly a nice way to meet the parents). Cathy pretty much begs Melanie to come to her birthday party, which is the next day, but Melanie politely declines, saying she has to return to San Francisco. Not surprisingly, the evening ends with Melanie and Mitch bantering more before she drives off to Annie’s place, where she managed to rent the room from Annie.

Over drinks, Annie informs Melanie that she and Mitch were once involved, but Lydia’s domineering personality and fear of being alone kept things from going very far. Despite that, Annie later moved to Bodega Bay to be near Mitch, and she and Lydia actually became friends since that time. Mitch telephones and asks Melanie to Cathy’s party, and with Annie’s encouragement, she agrees. The ladies are then interrupted by a loud thud at the front door. They open it to see a dead gull that simply flew into it. Annie thinks that the gull lost its way in the dark, until Melanie points out that there’s plenty of light thanks to the moon.

Lydia and Annie both watch Melanie and Mitch getting better acquainted at the party the next day. At that moment, numerous seagulls start attacking everyone. After getting the children inside the house, Mitch tells Melanie not to drive back to San Francisco for now. Later, sparrows manage to get into the Brenner home via the chimney. Melanie and the Brenners survive the attack and later describe what happened to the police, who are skeptical that birds would deliberately assault humans.

But this sense of concern continues to grow the next day as Lydia goes to a friend’s house, only to find the friend in question pecked to death by birds, complete with his eyes poked out and smashed glass, furniture, and bird corpses everywhere. Lydia silently flees back to her home in terror and is soon comforted by Melanie. This happens right after Melanie kisses Mitch (whoa! Didn’t see that coming), and tells him to be safe as he goes to the wrecked house. Melanie and Lydia begin to open up to each other a little, and Lydia thanks her for giving her a shoulder before asking her to look in on Annie, who’s at school.

While Melanie waits in the front yard of the school for Annie to be available, she’s unaware that crows are slowly but surely gathering behind her on the school’s jungle gym. Her eyes widen in terror when she sees the mass of birds and she goes into the school to inform Annie. The latter tells the children that they’re going to have a fire drill, and to run home when she tells them to.

Sure enough, once the children begin barrel-assing it, the birds go apeshit and begin attacking. Melanie, Cathy, and one of her friends eventually take shelter in an abandoned car.

Later at the diner, Melanie is telling her dad (who runs a newspaper) on the phone about the bird attacks. When Melanie confesses that she doesn’t know the difference between blackbirds and crows, a bird expert (Ethel Griffies) proceeds to give her and us an earful about said differences and all about the world’s bird population. Several of the other diner patrons begin describing their recent encounters with birds as well. The expert dismisses the stories as flukes, saying that birds of different species don’t flock together, and that the world would be screwed if they did.

Mitch shows up and begins planning a way to counter the attacks. When more birds arrive to cause trouble, he goes outside to assist, telling Melanie to say inside. She and the other patrons see the beginning of an attack, which leads to gasoline being spilled and making its way to a car, just as its driver gets out of it and begins to light a cigar. Not surprisingly, this causes an explosion which brings on more gulls. As people fight both the fire and the birds, Melanie locks herself in a phone booth before Mitch pulls her out. When they re-enter the restaurant, the other patrons give her accusing stares as the attacks coincided with her arrival. A woman (Doreen Lang) with two children shouts that Melanie is evil, before the latter thankfully gives her a hard slap on the face.

Melanie and Mitch go to Annie’s to pick up Cathy, only to find Annie dead outside. A tearful Cathy explains that they went outside to investigate the explosion and Annie hurried her back inside before birds overtook her.

The Brenners and Melanie begin boarding up the Brenner home as the radio reports of further bird attacks. Eventually, the home is attacked, and Mitch, after calming a frantic Lydia, uses every bit of furniture he can to barricade the doors and windows, while also keeping the fireplace going. The attack eventually leads to the power going out, leaving our group no choice but to wait it out as long as they can in the living room.

As the Brenners sleep, Melanie hears a noise from upstairs. She goes up and opens the door to Cathy’s room, only to see that birds have broken through the roof. She’s quickly trapped in the room as the birds viciously attack her before Mitch manages to pull her out. The Brenners patch Melanie up as best they can, but realize that she needs to get to a hospital.

But getting to one won’t be easy, because the Brenner home is now surrounded by birds. Mitch quietly manages to get to the garage and get Melanie’s car to the front door. He and Lydia bring the almost catatonic Melanie to the car while Cathy brings her lovebirds. The movie ends with our heroes slowly driving away as the birds remain perched all around.

I’ve heard some complain that the non-bird scenes in this film are a waste of time, but I didn’t mind them, because they don’t distract from the sense of tension this movie builds once Melanie is attacked by that first seagull.

This was Hitchcock’s follow-up to his classic Psycho, and, like that film, it always manages to make everyone’s list of favorite horror movies. The staging of the attack scenes, as well as the anticipation in between attacks was clearly influential, as can be seen in later classics such as Night of the Living Dead and Jurassic Park. The fact that, unlike those films, the entire bird attack is never explained only adds to the movie’s intensity.

Hitchcock would follow this film with the underrated Marnie, which reunited him with Hedren. Alas, their differences would make their second film together also their last, with Hedren stating that Hitchcock blackballed her out of the industry afterward. Happily, she since has had the pleasure of seeing both her daughter, Melanie Griffith, and her granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, become stars.

I guess another reason I often think of this film as a Thanksgiving film is because of its trailer, which has Hitchcock hilariously discussing birds and their relationship with humanity, while eating turkey and showing off a hat with a feather in it. This film didn’t stop me from eating turkey, but it’s still is a nerve-jolting thrill ride.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Agony Booth review: Fatal Attraction (1987)

Here I take a look at probably the most overrated thriller ever made.

The recent backlash which began with allegations against notorious producer Harvey Weinstein is causing ripples throughout Hollywood, to say the least. This backlash has now affected once-respected thespians such as Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman. While obviously a coincidence, I can’t help but note that this expanding drama coincides with the 30th anniversary of the thriller Fatal Attraction. I’ll go into more detail shortly, but to be blunt, this may be the most overrated thriller ever made.

The movie, directed by Adrian Lyne, who previously had success with the films Flashdance and 9 1/2 Weeks, was written by James Dearden and was based on Dearden’s short film Diversion.

The film begins with New York lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), who one day at work meets editor Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). They chat and decide to meet up for dinner one weekend while Dan’s wife Beth (Anne Archer) and their daughter Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen) are visiting Beth’s parents.

One thing leads to another and Dan and Alex end up sleeping together that weekend, while also sharing their love for the opera Madame Butterfly. When that weekend is over, Dan’s insistence that he must return to his wife and daughter lead to Alex insisting on seeing him some more. Dan acquiesces and spends another evening with Alex, but when he again tells her that this can’t be a permanent relationship, she cuts her wrists. After frantically bandaging them and making sure Alex is fine, Dan leaves and presumably forgets the multiple nights he spent with her.

But wouldn’t you know it, Alex soon pops up to see Dan in numerous places. She calls him, even when he’s discussing business with his boss Arthur (Fred Gwynne). At one point, Alex even invites him to a performance of Madame Butterfly, but Dan refuses. She then persistently calls Dan at his home after he instructs his secretary to block her calls. This, naturally, prompts Dan to change his home phone number as well.

Eventually, Alex confronts Dan at a subway station and tells him that she’s pregnant. She even gives Dan the phone number of the doctor who can confirm this news. Dan tells her that he’s willing to pay for an abortion, but Alex says she plans to keep the baby. Dan reveals this news to his pal Jimmy (Stuart Pankin). He also reveals to Jimmy his fear of losing his family over this (gee, you think Dan would have taken something like that into consideration before now).

Despite knowing that he’s going to be a father again, Dan insists on shutting Alex out of his life. This may be why he’s shocked when he returns home one day to find Beth and Alex chatting it up. The couple’s apartment is for sale, and Alex shows up claiming to be interested in buying it.

Afterward, Dan confronts Alex in her apartment. She understandably tells Dan that she wants him to take some responsibility, because she’s carrying his child. We then hear her now-famous line, “I’m not going to be ignored.” However, Dan simply tells Alex that having the child is her choice, and that she should just stay out of his life. When Alex threatens to tell Beth about their affair, Dan pushes her against the wall and threatens to kill her if she does.

However, this doesn’t stop Alex from sending Dan a tape recording of herself cursing him for abandoning her and their unborn child. On top of that, Alex somehow manages pour acid onto Dan’s car. Dan listens to the tape as he makes his way to his new home in Bedford. Unbeknownst to him, Alex is following him. He continues listening once he gets home on headphones until Beth startles him. Alex spies on them and is sickened by the sight of the happy family.

In desperation, Dan goes to the police and asks for a restraining order under the guise of acting on behalf of an anonymous client. But the officer Dan speaks with naturally claims that they can’t go after someone without reason, and even says that “Dan’s client” must deal with the consequences of what he’s done.

Not long afterward, the Gallaghers return home and Beth shrieks in terror at the sight of Ellen’s pet rabbit in a pot of boiling water, while Ellen herself cries her eyes out because said rabbit is not in its house. After Ellen calms down, Dan privately tells Beth about his affair with Alex, and the child Alex is now carrying. Beth understandably is upset, as is Ellen, who’s awakened by her mother’s anguished cries.

Dan calls Alex and tells her that Beth knows everything. In the film’s best moment, Beth drives this point home by telling Alex point blank that she’ll kill her if she comes near her family again.

Shortly afterward, Beth goes to Ellen’s school to pick her up, only to learn that someone else already picked her up (and for some reason, nobody knows who this someone else is). As Beth frantically drives through town looking for her daughter, Alex is treating Ellen to a day at an amusement park before taking her home. Beth’s panic leads to her getting in a car accident and subsequently ending up in the hospital.

After hearing that Beth will recover, a pissed-off Dan goes to Alex’s place and attempts to kill her. He stops short of actually killing her, leaving a knife on her kitchen counter. Dan goes to the cops again and this time they agree to look for her. And anyone who’s seen enough of these types of films knows how successful that’s going to be.

Sure enough, Dan and Beth, who have apparently reconciled, are at home. Dan is in the kitchen making tea while Beth is upstairs getting ready for a bath. Beth wipes condensation off her bathroom mirror and sees Alex behind her (of course). Still holding her knife, Alex begins rambling while cutting the side of her leg (ouch) before attacking Beth. Dan hears the fight and races upstairs and attempts to drown Alex. He briefly thinks he succeeds, but then in true slasher movie style, Alex pops up before Beth shoots her with Dan’s gun.

Naturally, it’s only at this point that the cops show up. After the Gallaghers give them a statement, the film ends with (I kid you not), Dan and Beth happily walking back to their living room with the camera focusing on a family portrait of them.

First of all, the film itself is well acted. 1987 proved to be Michael Douglas’s year, not only because of this movie, but also with his performance in Wall Street, a film based loosely on Oliver Stone’s father’s career in stockbroking. At that point, Douglas was known for playing more heroic roles in such films as The China Syndrome and Romancing the Stone. But his performance as the ruthless Gordon Gekko came to personify the essence of the 1980s according to many, and Douglas deservedly won an Oscar for his performance. Likewise, Glenn Close has continued her illustrious career which includes three Emmy Awards for her TV work. Sadly, Anne Archer’s only notable role since Fatal Attraction was as Harrison Ford’s wife in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.

I appreciate the fact that this movie’s plot is set into motion because of a stupid move on the protagonist’s part. The flaw with Fatal Attraction, though, is that it asks the audience to continue to side with Dan regardless. Like Harvey Weinstein, Dan is someone who fully expects to have his cake and eat it too.

To be clear, I don’t approve of Alex killing Ellen’s rabbit, kidnapping Ellen (if only for a brief time), or attempting to kill Beth. But the movie itself never really gives us reason to side with Dan. Indeed, the fact that upon hearing Alex is pregnant, he quickly offers to pay for an abortion, gives one pause. I’ve heard some theorize that Beth probably still divorced Dan after the dust settled. But this raises the question of why the film’s final shot is of a family portrait of Dan, Beth, and Ellen, symbolizing that they’re still together.

The movie’s original ending was more subtle. In that version, Alex actually kills herself after Dan bursts into her apartment. She gets revenge on him by making it seem like Dan killed her, which leads to his arrest the next day. Some have said that this would have been a more interesting ending, and I might agree with that were it not for the fact that this ending concludes with Beth finding Alex’s tape, and hearing that she threatens to commit suicide. Hence, Dan gets off the hook in this ending as well.

Test audiences (and reportedly Douglas himself) found that ending less than thrilling, which is why the finished film now has a more slasher-style climax.

If you’re going to make a film about someone who betrays their spouse and has it blow up in their face, at least take adequate time to go into why someone might do that. Throughout this film and even its own press materials, Dan is described as being happily married. Hence, I can’t help but scratch my head at why he would sleep with Alex as quickly as he does. Once that happens, though, the movie goes to great pains to paint Alex as simply a vicious movie monster and nothing more.

Many have claimed that Fatal Attraction was a take on Clint Eastwood’s masterful directorial debut Play Misty for Me. While there are certainly similarities (wrist slitting is seen in both, for instance), there are some differences that I feel make Misty superior. For one thing, Clint’s character, Dave Garver, is single. Yes, he attempts to get back together with an on-again/off-again girlfriend (played by Donna Mills), but that film still gives us reason to side with him and pray he’ll get out of the situation involving his lover-turned-stalker (Jessica Walter). In addition, Misty actually acknowledges Dave’s culpability in the situation he finds himself caught in.

In conclusion, Fatal Attraction certainly gave people something to talk about. It even led to trashy copycats such as Poison Ivy and Swimfan. But while it’s never boring, it is clichéd once you really look at it. That’s a shame because, given the subject matter, this is a film that could’ve been both thrilling and thought provoking.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Agony Booth review: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

Since I reviewed Bram Stoker's Dracula, it's only logical that I review a similar movie regarding the Count's pop culture buddy.
Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula are as common a pop culture one-two punch as Superman and Batman. If there’s a movie with one character, you can bet that the other will follow suit shortly afterwards. Not surprisingly, there have been stories where both superheroes and both monsters team up.

Hence, it also shouldn’t be surprising that, when Columbia Pictures claimed that (falsely, as it turned out) they would put out the definitive film adaptation of Dracula with Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, Mary Shelley’s equally classic novel Frankenstein would get similar treatment from the same studio just two years later as (what else?) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The aforementioned Dracula film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who produced the following Frankenstein picture. But the film was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as the title character. The role of the monster that Frankenstein creates which sets the story’s tragedy into motion is played by Robert De Niro.

For reasons I’ll get into shortly, the film itself, while it certainly has its good points (much like Coppola’s Dracula film), didn’t live up to the legacy of the original films by Universal and later Hammer.

Like the book, this movie begins with Captain Walton (Aidan Quinn) leading an expedition to reach the North Pole in 1794. His crew are getting on his ass more and more to return home because of both the harsh conditions and an unknown assailant, who in self defense kills the explorers’ dogs.

As Walton’s ship is trapped in ice, the captain comes across another traveler, who identifies himself as Victor Frankenstein (Branagh). Although Walton is determined not to let what he describes as “some phantom” get in the way of his exploring, he allows Victor to tell him and his crew the story and how it relates to their unknown assailant.

The flashback starts with Victor and his adopted sister Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) growing up in Geneva. The death of his mother, following the birth of his brother William (Charles Wyn-Davies), prompts Victor to promise Elizabeth that he’ll seek a way to conquer death during his studies at Ingolstadt.

During his time at the university, Victor befriends Henry Clerval (Tom Hulce), and gains the respect of his professor Waldman (John Cleese). Eventually, Victor becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life. However, Waldman implores him not to go through with any plans he may have in that direction, as according to the professor’s experiences, they’ll result in nothing good.

Not long afterward, Waldman is murdered by a madman (De Niro), who’s subsequently hanged. The loss of his mentor pushes Victor to break into Waldman’s lab in order to obtain his notes and begin his creation experiment. Ironically, Victor uses the body of the criminal and inserts Waldman’s brilliant mind into it.

As with all Frankenstein pictures, we see lots of laboratory equipment buzzing around as the creature comes into existence one faithful night. I must point out here that the novel itself actually doesn’t do much explaining into how the monster is put together and given life. Some have said that Shelley kept this part of the story deliberately vague so as to suggest the possibility of black magic being used. Hence, with this film claiming to be the most faithful film adaptation of her book and all, I can’t help but think there was a missed opportunity here to give us a creation scene that for once didn’t require anything that buzzes.

Victor actually climbs onto the case which houses his creation, imploring it to “Live!!”

We see the creature’s eyes open before he pops out of his man-made cocoon. But the sight of what Victor has created makes the scientist recoil in horror and simply abandon him (thanks, Dad!).

The creature covers himself with Victor’s coat and runs off into the wilderness, with his creator’s journal.

He later finds a barn occupied by a family. The creature hides inside clandestinely, and as the months pass, learns to speak and read as he watches the family interact. In addition, he reads Victor’s journal, learning the story of his own creation. As the family deals with violent debt collectors, the creature soon takes it upon himself to actually talk with the family’s blind patriarch. But just as he expresses his kindness for the creature, his family chases the creature away, thinking he’s assaulting the blind man.

After the family bolts, the creature, in anguish, torches their abandoned home. He then shouts to the sky, “I will have revenge! Frankenstein!” I guess this was meant to be similar to when Kirk shouted “Khan!!!” in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but it just ends up falling flat.

During this time, Victor has returned to Geneva, believing his creation has died of cholera (as there was an outbreak of it while he was playing in his lab). As he plans to marry Elizabeth, Victor learns that his brother William (now played by Ryan Smith) has been murdered, and Elizabeth’s friend Justine (Trevyn McDowell) has been convicted of the crime.

As Victor and Elizabeth recover from the horrific sight of Justine being hanged by a lynch mob, the former is startled by the appearance of the creature, who demands that he meet him at the nearby mountains, which the creature calls “the sea of ice.”

At their meeting, Victor sits in both astonishment and horror as his creation reveals how knowledgeable and resentful he has become. But the creature has only one demand of his creator: he wants Victor to make a companion for him. This request terrifies Victor, but the monster’s promise to disappear forever leads him to attempt to comply. Elizabeth is angered when Victor tells her that their wedding will have to be postponed in order to give him time to complete this work (which he keeps hidden from her).

But Victor begins to have second thoughts when the creature insists that Justine’s body be used for this new creation. Despite the monster’s threats that he’ll bring horror into his life, Victor breaks his promise.

After Victor marries Elizabeth, the creature kills Victor’s father on their wedding night. Despite Victor’s best efforts, the creature later breaks into his bedroom, and after some brief words, kills Elizabeth by ripping her heart out. The creature even shows the heart to Victor and says, “I keep my promises!”

We now come to what is my least favorite part of this movie. An anguished Victor desperately attempts to bring Elizabeth back to life. Like his previous attempt, this one proves successful after placing his wife’s head on Justine’s body. But no sooner is Elizabeth reanimated than the creature appears, happy with this new creation. He and Victor actually attempt to win Elizabeth’s affections before she commits suicide, in anguish that she herself is now a horrific-looking creature. Elizabeth sets herself on fire, which leads to the Frankenstein mansion burning to the ground, although both Victor and the creature escape.

Back on Walton’s boat, Victor says that it’s been months since he lost Elizabeth, and he’s been tracking his creation in order to kill him. But those months have taken a toll on him, and afflicted with pneumonia, he quietly dies. The creature then appears to Walton and his crew. He tearfully tells them that Victor was his father. Victor has a funeral pyre prepared for him and the creature stands with it as he joins his creator by burning himself alive. The sight prompts Walton to quietly order his ship home.

Overall, the film itself is more worthy of its title than Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is not to say it doesn’t have its flaws, however.

As I mentioned earlier, the scene in which Elizabeth is briefly brought back to life is the weakest part of the film. This is because the sequence is not only not in the book, it fails to be the emotionally moving moment it strives to be because it’s unnecessarily stretched out. In the book, Victor simply pursues the creature to the Arctic after Elizabeth’s death, which is quick and jolting.

In the plus column, Branagh does a good job making Victor as likable as he was in the book. Bonham Carter is fine as Elizabeth, although like many of the other actresses who have played this role, she doesn’t exactly have enough screen time to make a lasting impression.

The makeup for the creature, by Daniel Parker, Paul Engelen, and Carol Hemming, is appropriately gasp-inducing.

Ironically, another factor that contributes to this movie’s flaws is De Niro’s performance as the Creature. He certainly gives it his best shot, but never truly draws the viewer into the character’s plight the way Boris Karloff did. As a result, all we really see is De Niro playing a role rather than a true cinematic incarnation of that role.

When the late, great Jonathan Demme was casting Hannibal Lecter for his terror classic The Silence of the Lambs, he said that the first person the studio wanted for the role was Sean Connery. Demme, however, prevailed when his own choice for that role, Anthony Hopkins, was cast instead. I bring this up because De Niro playing the creature here is probably what would’ve happened if Connery had played Lecter. Sure, it’s an awesome actor in the part, but said actor’s own persona overshadows any attempt to make the character his own.

In fairness, the novel Dracula has an intense climax. Coppola’s film made the mistake of inserting a stupid love story into the narrative. Shelley’s book, on the other hand, has a more melancholy ending, and while this film certainly adheres to that, it fails to make it an emotionally involving experience for the audience, especially when you take into account that many of the classic Frankenstein pictures, including the 1931 original, all have more lively endings (complete with explosions).

Ultimately, this movie may not be a classic, but it definitely tries.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Agony Booth review: Halloween (1978)

It's Halloween, so what better way to prepare than to look at a classic movie that has the same name?
It’s Halloween time again, so let’s take a look at the classic 1978 movie which shares the same name as the holiday. This movie, like the previous year’s Star Wars, was not only successful, but had a huge impact on popular culture. Even people who aren’t fans of the horror genre recognize the film’s title and have a general idea of what it’s about.

Again, like the aforementioned George Lucas film, Halloween‘s success soon brought a slew of imitators, as well as sequels. But what are the reasons this movie continues to endure in the nearly four decades since its release? What makes it continue to stand head and shoulders over the many films which tried to duplicate it? Here now are five reasons why John Carpenter’s film have become a terror classic.

1. The simplicity of the story

The plot of Halloween is that a young boy named Michael Myers murders his sister one Halloween night and gets institutionalized as a result. Exactly 15 years later, Michael escapes from the institute he’s been held in. His doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), correctly deduces that Michael is returning to his old haunts in Haddonfield, Illinois so as to continue his reign of terror and frantically goes after him. As Michael makes himself at home again, he targets a shy girl named Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as well as her two BFF’s Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles).

As you can see, the plot isn’t overly complicated with red herrings galore (a la the Saw movies). What we have is a simple setup of a maniac focusing his horrific energy on people who are innocent victims of circumstance. In light of recent events, this aspect of the film must sadly be considered relevant. The Halloween sequels would later give an explanation for why Michael sets Laurie in his sights (to the chagrin of some fans), but that doesn’t diminish the impact of this aspect of the film.

Regardless, Carpenter, along with the film’s cast and crew of course, take this simple premise and put a lot of heart and skill into it.

2. The homages

What attracted Carpenter to making Halloween was his chance to make a movie like the horror flicks he loved when he was younger. He would be the first to say that one film Halloween owes a debt to is Psycho. Indeed, Pleasence’s character is named for the one played by John Gavin in that movie. Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews), the boy Laurie is babysitting in the film, is named after the character played by Wendell Corey in another Hitchcock film, Rear Window. Carpenter would also call Halloween his “Argento film,” referring to shots in the film that were inspired by similar ones in Dario Argento movies such as Deep Red and Suspiria.

But the homages in the film aren’t limited to the horror and suspense genres. Annie’s father, sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), was named for the legendary science fiction author of the same name. Brackett also penned such classic movies as The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo. Her final film as a screenwriter was The Empire Strikes Back. She died after only penning the first draft of that script, but happily, Lucas gave her a co-screenwriting credit on the film with Lawrence Kasdan.

While this may have been unintentional, I’ve always thought Halloween possessed another homage that was a bit of foreshadowing. At one point, Lindsay (Kyle Richards), whom Laurie and Annie are babysitting, is watching the classic film The Thing From Another World. As most everyone knows by now, Carpenter would remake that very film as The Thing just four years after Halloween (a remake which many, including myself, view as superior to the original).

Of course, the list of homages in Halloween would be incomplete without mentioning the fact that Curtis herself is the daughter of Janet Leigh, whose many great films include her role as the shower victim in Psycho. And speaking of Curtis…

3. The victims/potential victims

As he was the biggest name in the cast, Donald Pleasence naturally had above-the-title billing for Halloween. While Curtis became a star thanks to this film, Pleasence’s contribution was invaluable. He was already an established character actor by 1978 for, among other things, terrorizing James Bond in You Only Live Twice and even appearing in Lucas’s first film THX-1138. But his role as the Van Helsing-esque Loomis rightly became his most famous and one which he would reprise in four of the Halloween sequels. The last of these, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, became his final movie, as he died shortly after completing it.

Many of Halloween‘s imitators never took the time to make the characters we’re supposed to root for very appealing. This was obviously due to the desires of those filmmakers to just get down to business regarding the bloodshed on screen. Usually in these films, it was easy to figure out who would die and who would live to see the ending credits.

Halloween itself became criticized for giving birth to the cliche of the virginal one being the final survivor, as Laurie is not as socially active as Annie and Lynda. But I’ve always felt that was an unfair criticism, because putting aside the fact that Laurie expresses her desire to be as social as her friends, all three of the girls have nice bonding moments in the movie. Hence, Annie and Lynda both become sympathetic characters because of the love they have for Laurie (I’ve heard some say that Soles played a similar role two years earlier in Carrie, but anyone who’s seen both films knows that a big difference is that her character in that film, Norma, is a mean bitch who helps push Carrie to the brink at the film’s climax, whereas Lynda is more of a sweetheart). In their first scene together, Laurie mopes that she has nothing to do the following day, when a school dance is taking place. Lynda, who’s a cheerleader, comments, “It’s your own fault,” but her tone says that Laurie herself could easily change that. Likewise, Annie later politely scolds Laurie for not planning to go to the dance and even attempts to give her an unwanted hand when Laurie gives her the name of a boy she’d like to go with.

As a result, both Annie and Lynda’s death scenes are actually quite sad, which definitely cannot be said for many other deaths in slasher films. They also make us hope Laurie doesn’t meet the same fate, making her shyness/virginity irrelevant.

4. The music

Like Psycho, Jaws, and other classic horror movies, Halloween has a classic musical score, which was composed by Carpenter himself. In addition to the title theme, Halloween also has a nice theme for Laurie, which is reminiscent of the “Tubular Bells” motif from The Exorcist. The track that plays when Laurie attempts to escape from Michael’s grasp is especially nerve-wracking.

5. The ending

At the climax of the film, Laurie believes she’s killed Michael and promptly tells Lindsay and Tommy to go to a neighbor’s house to call the police. After they leave, Michael slowly revives and attempts to kill Laurie again. But Loomis sees the children running frantically out of the house and runs inside to save Laurie by shooting Michael multiple times. Michael falls out of the house’s second story window onto the ground below. After Loomis confirms Laurie’s thoughts that Michael is the boogeyman, he goes out to see Michael’s body, only to find it gone. We hear Michael breathing while seeing the places he’s been previously before the ending credits roll.

Like The Silence of the Lambs thirteen years later, this film has an ending in which the monster of the film is still at large, leaving the viewer shaking and going WTF? However, Loomis repeatedly tells people throughout the film that Michael himself is “purely and simply evil.” So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that unloading a revolver into him won’t do the trick. Like the Headless Horseman in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the numerous movie psychos Michael inspired, maybe there’s just no way to kill a merciless force of nature like this.

Halloween would not only get sequels, but a bona fide remake in 2007, which got a sequel of its own two years later. There have even been recent reports of a new Halloween flick coming up with Curtis reprising her role (she played Laurie again in Halloween II, Halloween H20, and Halloween: Resurrection).

The Michael Myers mask, not surprisingly, has become a popular one to wear when going trick-or-treating. Interestingly, one person we have to thank for that mask is William Shatner. Halloween‘s production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (who would later write and direct the Michael Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch) took a Captain Kirk mask, turned it inside out, widened the eyes, and painted the mask white. Happily for horror fans, the result was something nightmares are made of.

Curtis kept acting in the horror genre for a while, appearing in classics like The Fog (which was also directed by Carpenter and co-starred Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, and even Janet Leigh) and Prom Night. By the end of the ’80s, however, she managed to leave an equally memorable mark in the comedy genre thanks to her work in films like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda.

Again like Star Wars, the studios weren’t exactly expecting this film to make much of an impact when it was being made. But the end result ended up being a bigger success and game changer than anyone imagined.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Agony Booth review: Top 5 (bad guy) movie sidekicks

This article looks at bad guys who were memorable even though they answered to someone else.

Last time, I looked at heroic sidekicks from movies. Now, I’m going to take a look at 5 movie sidekicks that were anything but heroic.

1. Oddjob
Granted, the James Bond series was already on its third movie (Goldfinger) when audiences were introduced to Oddjob (Harold Sakata). It’s also true that the previous two Bond pictures, Dr. No and From Russia with Love, had characters such as Anthony Dawson’s Professor Dent and Robert Shaw’s Grant who were subordinates of the main baddies. But Sakata’s Oddjob basically set in stone how the evil henchman should be not just for the Bond series, but for action thrillers in general.

Oddjob is not only very strong (gold bars bounce off him like rubber), doesn’t speak much (we only hear grunts whenever he opens his mouth), and he’s unquestionably loyal to his boss (such as when he kills one of Goldfinger’s men for attempting the defuse the A-bomb, even though Oddjob himself is trapped with the ticking time bomb). Of course, I can’t forget to mention Oddjob’s classic hat which slices through marble statues like butter, and which Bond himself ends up using to his advantage during their climatic fight inside Fort Knox. Pretty much every Bond film since Goldfinger has had a villainous character that shares at least one of these traits with Oddjob. Sakata, who was a celebrated wrestler before being cast to fight 007, would parody his Oddjob image in commercials and TV specials.

2. Fiona Volpe
Interestingly enough Thunderball, the follow-up Bond film to Goldfinger, also gave us a memorable, much-imitated villainous sidekick. No, this woman wasn’t the first Bond bedded despite working for the bad guys. She also wasn’t even the first great female Bond villain (that honor went to Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love). But Fiona Volpe, played by Luciana Paluzzi, was certainly the most memorable. Fiona makes no secret about her desire to not only sleep with Bond but basically make him submit to her will. In addition, Fiona has only one scene with Thunderball‘s main baddie Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). The rest of the time we see her, she’s basically calling her own shots, which adds to her character’s appeal. Like Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye thirty years later, Fiona uses her sexuality as a weapon. She’s first seen aiding in the murder of the pilot who is her lover as part of SPECTRE’s plot to hijack a NATO jet carrying two atomic bombs.

The character was (sort of) redone almost 20 years later in the Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again, as Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Blush. Like Fiona, Fatima was entertaining, and as many have stated, was really the only reason Never Say Never Again isn’t a total waste of time.

3. Darth VaderStar Wars villains. The character’s impact became so great that as the years went by, even George Lucas would state that the Star Wars saga was always meant to be about Darth Vader and his fall from grace. This is despite the fact that Vader’s revelation of his family link to Luke Skywalker didn’t even enter the narrative until Lucas was working on the second draft of the Empire Strikes Back script.

But the impact of the character himself was immediate. From his first scene in the original Star Wars, with his great strength, ominous breathing, and (the finishing touch) the great voice of James Earl Jones, it was clear from the start that this was a villain for the ages.

While Vader’s master, the Emperor, isn’t seen in the original film, Vader does seem to stand on equal footing (of sorts) with Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing). This makes the audience curious as to who is actually the main bad guy. At one point, Tarkin orders Vader to release his hold on an insubordinate officer, even though Vader could easily do something similar to him if he wanted to.

Both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi would add further layers to Vader as he attempts to bring Luke to his side, even if it means destroying the Emperor in the process. This leads to what is for me a hell of a death scene for the character at the climax of Jedi. I think it’s safe to say that anyone who thinks of villains in science fiction movies can’t help but think of Vader.

4. Joachim

Perhaps one reason Ricardo Montalban’s Khan is regarded as the greatest of all the Star Trek villains is how his character changes from his first appearance, in the first season original Trek episode “Space Seed”, to his return in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The episode certainly painted Khan as a tyrant who was ready to conquer a new world with his followers upon his awakening. But when Kirk defeats him and informs Khan of the plan to exile him to Ceti Alpha V, Khan ends up looking at this exile as a chance to build the empire he’s always dreamed of. The last looks he and Kirk exchange in the episode are ones of respect.

Hence, when we learn in Wrath of Khan that Khan’s plans for his own empire were basically shot to hell when Ceti Alpha V’s orbit shifted, causing never-ending sandstorms and the loss of his wife and some of his followers, we can understand (if not agree with) the obsessive anger which has now replaced the great control Khan possessed in “Space Seed”.

As anyone who’s seen the film knows, Khan quotes several passages from Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick. Serving as Starbuck to Khan’s Ahab is Joachim, played by Judson Scott (some press releases for Wrath of Khan actually state the character is Khan’s son, although the film itself gives no hint of that). Joachim is certainly loyal to Khan and is the first to commend him regarding the escape from their exile. But like Starbuck, he’s not above questioning Khan’s directives. He respectfully states that, as they are now free, they can simply settle on a new world rather than expend considerable time and effort into tracking down Kirk. When Kirk manages to fire back on Khan during their first encounter, Joachim is able to convince his leader that, because of the damage to their ship, the wisest course of action is to momentarily withdraw. Even after Khan obtains the powerful Genesis device, he’s still willing to take their commandeered ship, the U.S.S. Reliant, into a nebula that could cause damage to the ship, so he can get his revenge on Kirk. Khan even violently tosses Joachim aside when the latter strongly objects to this plan.

Despite this, the character still has Khan’s respect. This is proven when Joachim is killed toward the end of the movie and Khan tenderly holds him, quietly vowing to avenge him. The dynamic between these two characters is one of many reasons Wrath of Khan is still regarded as the best Trek movie.

5. Saruman
One reason I disliked the Star Wars prequels was because of how they wasted Sir Christopher Lee by having him play second banana to the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), only to have his character be pointlessly dispatched in the first 15 minutes of Revenge of the Sith. I always thought it would’ve been better if Lee had played the Emperor’s master, and the films could have shown how the Emperor himself managed to overthrow him.

But the prequels (basically) ran in theaters simultaneously with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. These films have Lee playing a bad guy sidekick but in a much better way. As the evil wizard Saruman, Lee has great scenes building his great armies, addressing his followers, and even knocking around the heroic wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen). We learn that Saruman and Gandalf were once friends, but the re-emergence of the Ring of Power and the return of the evil Sauron tempted Saurman into using his powers for conquest.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time Lee had a nice role as an evil sidekick. In The Three Musketeers and its sequel The Four Musketeers, Lee played Comte de Rochefort, the merciless right hand of Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston). These films gave Lee great sword fighting sequences with the musketeers (played by Oliver Reed, Michael York, Frank Finlay, and Richard Chamberlain).

Other bad guy sidekicks that are worth mentioning include Lin Tang, the merciless daughter of Fu Manchu. She was initially played in the 1930s by Mryna Loy, opposite Boris Karloff’s Fu Manchu. But my favorite version of the character is the one played by Tsai Chin, who played the role in five movies in the 1960s, all opposite Lee’s Fu Manchu. The films themselves may not be classics (I believe one of them was even broadcast on Mystery Science Theater 3000), but Lee and Chin are clearly having fun with their roles. These films also came out at the same time Chin was making a memorable impression as the first Asian Bond girl in You Only Live Twice.

Another memorable bad guy sidekick is Karl, the right hand man to Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), played in the classic film Die Hard by the late, great Alexander Godunov. Karl ends up with a reason to want Bruce Willis’s John McClane dead when our hero dispatches Karl’s brother early in the film. The fight scene between Karl and McClane is one of many reasons that film is great, and the villainy both Godunov and Rickman bring to their characters is something the Die Hard sequels certainly could have used.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Agony Booth review: Good guy sidekicks from movies

This article looks at 5 of the best good guy sidekicks from movies.

Throughout history, both in real life and otherwise, there have always been those who seem to be, intentionally or not, subordinate to someone else. The slang expression that describes such a person is “sidekick”. In literature, such characters include Sancho Panza from Miguel de Cervantes’s classic novel Don Quixote, as well as Dr. John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. The advent of cinema naturally also produced sidekicks both good and bad. Here are five of the best good guy sidekicks the silver screen has given us over the decades.

1. Dr. John Watson

If there’s one sidekick that gets a lot of exposure, it’s the doctor who accompanies Sherlock Holmes on his cases. Watson not only serves as the everyman to Holmes’s brilliant intellect, he also narrates each of the stories in Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon. This allows readers and film audiences to experience the stories themselves with the same feeling of exhilaration that Watson is projecting as he narrates them to us. Sir Arthur, who was a doctor like Watson, supposedly based Watson on himself.

On the big screen, Watson has been played by numerous actors. Among the most memorable of these is Nigel Bruce, who was Watson to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes throughout the 1940s in numerous films released by Universal. Other actors who did the role justice include Patrick Macnee (opposite Sir Roger Moore’s Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in New York) and Andre Morell (opposite Peter Cushing’s Holmes in 1959’s The Hound of the Baskervilles).

Another rendition I especially liked was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Watson in the 1988 comedy Without a Clue. That film turns the Holmes universe on its ear by suggesting that Watson is the real genius when it comes to solving cases. Holmes himself (here played by Sir Michael Caine) is really a buffoonish, out of work actor whom, to Watson’s dismay, the public cheers as a hero.

2. Jiminy Cricket

Walt Disney made film history in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That film was the first-ever animated feature film and its great success naturally allowed Disney to make even more animated films over the next few decades.

The first such film was Pinocchio, based on the Carlo Collodi story of the same name and released three years after Snow White. Like that film, this story of a wooden boy who aspires to be worthy of the wish his creator/father made for him to become real was a huge hit (although not immediately; Pinocchio truly began bringing in the cash when it was re-released in 1945). Part of what makes the title character so memorable is his rapport with Jiminy Cricket, who, as he puts it, serves as his conscience (although that duty comes about because of how Jiminy is smitten with the Blue Fairy who gives Pinocchio life). The duo even sing “Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” early in the film. Another song Jiminy sings, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, won the Best Original Song Oscar for that year.

While the seven dwarfs certainly give Snow White a hand, it’s Jiminy who truly set the standard for sidekicks in Disney movies. This could apply to some non-Disney movies as well, as there are many sidekicks who, just like Jiminy, end up ensuring that the hero’s heart is in the right place, and aren’t just someone for the hero to give lessons to. Heck, Steven Spielberg’s film AI: Artificial Intelligence makes numerous references to Pinocchio (and references to it can also be found in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Indeed, many subsequent Disney films, including Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Lion King, and Cars owe the existence of their sidekicks to this little guy, who would re-appear in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free and also go on to appear in a number of TV specials from Disney.

3. Chewbacca

Let’s face it, Han Solo’s co-pilot is the textbook definition of what a sidekick should be. This towering bear-like alien is devoted to Han but is never afraid to disagree with him if the circumstances call for it. The fact that Han is able to perfectly understand Chewbacca’s Wookiee language, even though all we hear are subtitle-less growls and roars, only adds to the the appeal this duo holds for many of us.

Throughout the three original Star Wars films, Chewie (as Han and friends call him) helps out the other heroes through various means, including getting Imperial guards out of the way by knocking them down, and even commandeering a Scout Walker in order to blast other Walkers and stormtroopers to bits. He can even fix machinery and carry a dismembered C-3PO on his back in the midst of all this.

So memorable was Chewie’s impact that there was a fan uproar when he was killed off in the Star Wars novel The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, published in 1999. So it probably shouldn’t be surprising that when The Force Awakens hit theaters 16 years later, the events of that book and all the others which comprise the New Jedi Order series were ignored (hence, why Han dies and not Chewie).

While George Lucas created this character (inspired by his dog, Indiana), Peter Mayhew deserves credit for his amazing work while wearing what must’ve been a hot bear suit. But others who deserve credit for fleshing this character out are Stuart Freeborn, who designed the Chewbacca mask, and making it expressive so Mayhew could project emotion while playing the role, and Ben Burtt, who created the Wookiee language by splicing together the sounds of numerous animals, including bears, tigers, and walruses. Burtt’s work on this and other alien voices for Star Wars, such as Darth Vader’s breathing and the beeps for R2-D2, would earn him a special Academy Award.

4. Short Round

Before Lucas made the misguided decision to show us Darth Vader and Boba Fett in their elementary school years, he gave Indiana Jones a grade-school aged sidekick.

Happily, Short Round, played by Ke Huy Quan, isn’t as intolerable as the younger versions of the aforementioned Star Wars villains. One reason for this is because, while gutsy, Short Round is never overly anxious to get into a fight (à la Scrappy-Doo). Even though Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a larger than life adventure, the character reacts to events the way a real person (especially a real child his age) would. Short Round even gets Indy out of his drug-induced hypnosis, allowing them to escape the title temple. He’s also downright scared in some sequences, such as when he almost falls though a hole he makes on a super high bridge and nearly becomes a meal for the crocodiles in the river below. He even calls out Indy’s desperate attempt to defeat the bad guys by chopping apart the bridge holding all of them with, “He’s not nuts, he’s crazy!”

In contrast, Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace reacts to what’s going on around him with all the urgency of a child playing a video game. And don’t even get me started on his non-reaction when he’s in a spaceship with fighters shooting all around him (must be those damn midicholrians).

While some took issue with Temple of Doom‘s intensity, the film itself, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, is happily reminiscent of the 1930s and ’40s Republic serials from which it drew its inspiration. One reason for this is the nice scenes between Ford and Quan. One minute Short Round is quickly driving Indy through Shanghai to elude bad guys (who cares if he’s too young to drive a car?), and the next he’s playing a card game with him, which ends with both accusing each other of cheating. Hence, this is a hero-sidekick bond that has both humor and heart.

5. Samwise Gamgee

The hobbit who accompanies Frodo Baggins on his quest to destroy the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy becomes a part of that adventure in an amusing way. He eavesdrops on a conversation between Frodo and the wizard Gandalf. But the wizard uses this as a chance for Sam (as everyone calls him) to prove his devotion to Frodo.

Throughout the three films, Sam, a gardener for Frodo, is constantly pushing his friend through the difficulties they encounter. He even physically carries Frodo at several points in the story. His devotion to Frodo is such that he’s willing and able to return the ring after safeguarding it for him. This stands out as Frodo himself, like the ring’s previous keeper Gollum, is so drawn to it that he cannot bear to be without it for long.

But Sam’s selflessness helps ensure that the ring is destroyed, even though it’s really Gollum’s interference that directly leads to its destruction. The trilogy ends with Sam and Frodo returning to their home, the Shire, and Sam reuniting with his love Rosie.

The trilogy’s author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote that Sam was really the main hero of the story. Below is a quote from a letter Tolkien wrote.

"My Sam Gamgee is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself."

The three books which comprise the trilogy—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King—were all published in the mid-1950s. Ironically, Tolkien would receive a letter from a man named Sam Gamgee in 1956 regarding the name he shared with Tolkien’s creation. The author replied with:

"Dear Mr. Gamgee,

It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort, I hope, that the ‘Sam Gamgee’ of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. So that perhaps you will not be displeased at the coincidence of the name of this imaginary character of supposedly many centuries ago being the same as yours."

These are just five examples of characters who actually made the term “second banana” sound good. In my next article, I’ll be going in the other direction, with the top 5 bad guy sidekicks from the movies.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Agony Booth review: Escape From New York (1981)

My third entry in the Agony Booth's Movies That Predicted Trump series looks at one of John Carpenter's best movies.
As the 1980s began, John Carpenter’s career was at its height. He won critical acclaim with Assault on Precinct 13. This gave him complete creative control over his follow up picture Halloween. The enormous success of that movie virtually re-invented the horror genre for the next decade. At the same time that film was in theaters, Carpenter was also scoring with the made-for-TV movies Elvis and Someone’s Watching Me.

All of this gave Carpenter enormous clout and led to the director getting a two-picture deal with Avco-Embassy Pictures. The first film made under this deal was The Fog, a ghost story that reunited many of the people Carpenter made Halloween with, including that movie’s star Jamie Lee Curtis. That movie became another success for Carpenter.

Happily, his next picture for Avco, released the same year as fellow classics For Your Eyes Only, The Great Muppet Caper, the underrated Dragonslayer, the werewolf one-two punch of The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, and the year’s box-office champ Raiders of the Lost Ark, also became a became a hit, and that picture was Escape From New York.

The film takes place in 1997 and begins with Curtis’s voice informing us that by 1988 the crime rate in the U.S. became so great that the government turned the Big Apple into one big maximum security prison. The island is surrounded by a 50-foot containment wall and any bridges and waterways leading to the island are now full of mines. The police keep watch on the island for any prisoners attempting to escape.

In addition to the increased crime rate that necessitated turning an entire city into a prison, the U.S. is at war with both the U.S.S.R. and China. Shortly after a scene where police violently stop an escape attempt, Air Force One is en route to a summit with leaders of those two countries, but is seen coming too close to New York.

As it turns out, Air Force One has been hijacked (irony alert: 1997 itself would give us a movie with the same plot) and the hijacker (Nancy Stephens) at the controls informs the authorities on the ground with dialogue that convinces me this is be an ideal entry in our Movies that Predicted Trump series:

"Tell this to the workers when they ask where their leader went. We, the soldiers of the National Liberation Front of America, in the name of the workers and all the oppressed of this imperialist country, have struck a fatal blow to the fascist police state. What better revolutionary example than to let their president perish in the inhuman dungeon of his own imperialist prison?"

The President himself (Donald Pleasence) is led to the jet’s escape pod, with his briefcase and a bracelet designed to track his movements. He escapes in his pod just before Air Force Once crashes into Manhattan.

The police, led by commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) go in to retrieve the President. But they’re met by a thug named Romero (Frank Doubleday) who informs them to get the hell out and that the President will be killed if they attempt another rescue.

Back at headquarters, Hauk, after discussing matters with the Secretary of State (Charles Cyphers) decides that the best way to solve this crisis is to enlist the aid of a recently arrived prisoner. Said prisoner is S.D. “Snake” Plissken (Kurt Russell), a former Special Forces Lieutenant and the youngest man to be decorated by the President, before being imprisoned for attempting to rob a Federal Reserve in Denver.

Both Plissken and Hauk engage in banter which serves to remind us why Russell and Van Cleef are so awesome. Hauk explains the situation, and says that Plissken is the ideal choice because of how he expertly flew into Leningrad in a stealth glider. He offers Plissken a full pardon if he goes into the death trap that was New York City and retrieves the President.

Plissken, repeatedly asking Hauk to call him Snake, says he doesn’t give a shit, even when Hauk informs him that the President was carrying a cassette tape containing vital information for the summit the Chief Executive was heading to. But Hauk soon ensures his cooperation after he injects Plissken with miniature explosives that are set to detonate at the end of the 24 hours Plissken has to complete the task. Plissken, the bad-ass he is, tells Hauk that he’ll kill him when he returns.

Our hero is next seen flying to Manhattan on a stealth glider where he lands on top of the World Trade Center. As he makes his way down to the city itself, we see many shadows darting in and out, along with the wreckage of Air Force One. Plissken also encounters a girl (Season Hubley), but before he can ask her anything, they’re ambushed by thugs. The girl is killed before Plissken can make his escape.

Plissken tracks the President’s bracelet signal to a theater, where he encounters a cabbie (Ernest Borgnine), as well as the bracelet now being worn by a drunk. Our hero tells Hauk that the President must be dead, but Hauk tells him to keep his ass in New York and keep looking.

The cabbie, who recognizes Plissken from stories of his exploits, agrees to take him to see Harold “Brain” Hellman (Harry Dean Stanton), who has the ear of the Duke of New York (Issac Hayes), the top crime lord in the city.

Brain and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) tell Plissken that the Duke plans to bring all the gangs in the city together. This plan involves using the President as leverage and a map that Brain has of where the landmines are on Queensboro Bridge.

Plissken, Brain, Maggie, and the cabbie locate the Duke’s hideout: Grand Central Station. After finding the President, Plissken is captured, getting a knife in his leg in the process.

With his time running out, Plissken, now with a limp, soon finds himself in a boxing ring fighting a muscleman. Plissken kills his opponent while Brain and Maggie kill Romero and free the President. They rejoin Plissken and head for the World Trade Center with the Duke’s men on their trail. But Plissken’s glider is destroyed, forcing our heroes back onto the street. Fortunately, the Cabbie arrives with (what else?) his cab to take them across the bridge. The cabbie also produces the President’s cassette tape, having retrieved it from Romero earlier. Snake keeps it as they flee.

Our heroes navigate the mine-laden bridge but their cab hits one, blowing the vehicle in half and killing the cabbie. Brain soon joins him after stepping on another mine after he and the rest of the party proceed on foot. Maggie insists on staying with him as Plissken and the President continue on. She stands in the middle of the road, shooting the approaching car of the Duke until he runs her down.

Plissken and the President reach the perimeter wall. Hauk, with a big-ass walkie talkie that was state of the art for 1981, has men waiting for them. The President is raised on a rope thanks to the guards. The Duke arrives, taking shots at the wall, killing several guards and causing Plissken to take cover. But the President shoots enough bullets into the Duke to kill him before Plissken is retrieved.

On the other side of the wall, Hauk insists that Plissken produce the tape, which he does before the explosives are deactivated, with seconds to spare (of course, with a film like this, would there be any more spare time?)

Later, the President is preparing to speak on television. A pardoned Plissken asks him how he feels about those who died to ensure his ass would get out of New York. But the President barely pays them lip service (remind you of someone?).

Plissken is pissed but that doesn’t stop Hauk from congratulating him on his work and offering him a job, saying, “We’d make a great team, Snake!”

Plissken’s response? “Call me Plissken!”

The President goes live, offering his apologies for not being able to attend the summit, but saying that the cassette he’s about to play will hopefully help the U.S., China, and the U.S.S.R. live in peace. Alas, the tape instead plays a swing number from the cabbie’s private collection.

The movie ends with Plissken walking off, destroying the summit cassette.

Carpenter originally wrote Escape years earlier and basically kept it in a drawer until Halloween’s great success and the subsequent deal with Avco gave him the clout he needed to dust it off.

The film itself, like the aforementioned Raiders, became a smash which introduced audiences to a new hero who would get a sequel in Escape from L.A., which reunited both Russell and Carpenter (who previously did Elvis together, and would also work on The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China together). In addition to its great cast, Escape from New York has nice, appropriately seedy production values. This is especially amazing considering that not one frame of the movie was shot in New York, but rather St. Louis, Missouri.

I’ve read some reviews which state that the movie ends on a downbeat note, as Plissken destroyed a cassette with information that could have saved the world. But I honestly think that, while the Chinese and Soviets were not expecting to hear the music being played at the end, they would appreciate nice music as much as the next person. Hauk may agree with me, as neither he nor any of his men are seen detaining Plissken as he limps (not runs) away while destroying the tape at the film’s end.

The hijacker’s claims and the President’s indifference at the end are possibly the biggest indications as to how the film predicted Trump. There’s also a wall that surrounds the Big Apple, which now reminds me of a similar planned wall on the Mexican border that Trump would love nothing better than to waste our tax money on.