Review- Movies Are My Life (1977)

Review- Movies Are My Life (1977)

My early teenage years were when I discovered my three favourite living film directors- John Waters, William Friedkin and Martin Scorsese.

It was whilst I was frantically hunting down all of the movies made by Scorsese after first watching Taxi Driver when I was 14 that I read of a documentary made in 1977 called Movies Are My Life. I had a friend who was lucky enough to have Sky TV on which there was a one-off screening of this and so I gave him a blank videotape and begged him to record it for me. He obliged.

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It didn’t disappoint. Over the years the tape it was on disappeared but it was just the other day that I was thinking about this documentary when I had the lightbulb moment that involved looking for it on the internet. And after a quick Google search I found it!

It’s great watching it again. It was made in 1977 after Scorsese had finished shooting New York, New York and was editing The Last Waltz. This was an iconic time for Scorsese when he had made so many classic movies and was yet to make even more.

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Not only is the maestro interviewed about his career so far but his contributors and collaborators are also interviewed and it’s great to see such luminaries as De Niro, Jodie Foster, Steven Prince and Liza Minelli speaking about what’s like to work with such a visionary.

The film is also noteworthy as it shows the friendship that Scorsese had/has with Robbie Robertson. These were Scorsese’s wild years when he took certain substances to excess and ended up hospitalised because of it. The interviews with Robinson here capture this very vividly indeed (you’ll know what I mean when you watch the film!) A choice moment is when he looks out of the window into the night sky and says ‘It isn’t even dawn yet!’

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It’s great that this peek into such a thrilling era of Scorsese’s filmmaking life was chronicled, not so great that this film was unavailable for so long. It’s fantastic that someone has uploaded it onto the internet but how long it stays up before it’s pulled down is unknown. If I was you I’d finish reading this, do a Google search and watch it now. Just to be sure. Note- the version on YouTube is cut. Go the Google route to watch the full version on the net.

Can we get a proper release of this gem please?

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- Ants (1977)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- Ants (1977)

A hotel complex where a new building is being constructed is infested with killer ants.

I love the TV movies that featured a special guest star who was slumming it as work had dried up. Ants stars Myrna Loy as well as Suzanne Somers (!) and Lynda Day George (yes, the actress from Pieces!) so you know you’re in for a special time.

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I actually remember watching this on UK TV in 1980 when I was the tender age of 5.

I love the fact that whenever the ants appear on screen we get discordant violins on the soundtrack.

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This is surprisingly bright and breezy in tone until the ants become more prevalent within the storyline and then it becomes a lot more apocalyptic in tone (which is always welcome for cult film fans). The whole production is a triumph in camp however dark it tries to become.

Ants aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor holds up very well though. The TV movie was also issued on DVD in 2014. This might not be some kind of classic uncovered from the vaults but it’s nice to see it has a life after being shown on TV all those decades before.

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Grace- C+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

This slasher movie starts in the most obvious seting for a film of this ilk- a campfire! We hear of Madman Marz who was a vile man by all accounts. Abusive to his family until he decides to kill them with an axe. He then casually goes to his local tavern to have a drink or ten but not before he’s placed the bloody axe on the bar. He’s then jumped by a posse of men who bury the axe in his face and attempt to hang him for his crimes. When they go to cut down his body the next day they find that it isn’t there anymore.

Three guesses where he is and that he’s still murdering people.

I watched this film on the same day that I watched another film I had heard plenty about- Pieces. Hows that for a double-bill?

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My first thought on watching Madman was ‘Oh my God! That’s Gaylen Ross!’ Yes, Fran from Dawn of the Dead is one of the cast members. Why wasn’t she in more films? She’s a legend.

The other prevailing thought I had was that Madman kicks ass royally. This is far from your bland and cliched summer camp based slasher film. The kills are amazing, it’s gory as hell and the killer is fantastic.

Madman plays with the tropes of the early 80’s slasher film and feels like a breath of fresh air in much the same way as Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn. There is deft and innovative direction by Joe Giannone which places this head and shoulders above similar fare.

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Add to this an excellent and very effective electronic score by Steve Horelick and you have one hell of a ride.

Madman also went under the alternate title of Slaughterhouse.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- White Zombie (1932)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- White Zombie (1932)

We see the soon to be wed Madeleine and Neil being driven by horse drawn carriage to the house of plantation owner Charles Beaumont. They pass by a man named Murder (a red flag) Legendre played by the one and only Bela Lugosi. His evil face is another red flag. This isn’t a good man as is obvious for any sane person. Beaumont is also in love with Madeleine and goes to see Legendre to enlist his services so that Madeleine will marry him instead of Neil as Murder is a master of voodoo. He even has zombies that he has created as workers at his sugar cane mill. Legendre states that the only way for Charles to get Madeleine to love him is to turn her into a zombie also. But will his dastardly plan work?

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Lugosi in White Zombie. Just an average looking kinda guy

White Zombie was one of the films on the list I have labelled in my head as ‘Horror Films That I’ve Heard Are Really Influential But Haven’t Gotten Around To Watching Yet’. That is until now.

And I’m so glad that I finally have. It’s a fantastic film that still holds up as an experimental piece of cinema with superimposed images, the use of shadows and is perfectly framed. It’s a joy to watch. And the plot and subject matter is far from conventional for horror in the 1930’s.

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But best of all is to see horror maestro Lugosi at the top of his game. He can say more with his eyes than most actors could even dream of. I’m so glad that someone who was destined to star in some of the genre’s very best works actually ended up doing just that. And by the time he starred in White Zombie he was already a star of the genre through his starring in Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

If I had to compare this film to any other it would be to the equally experimental (and brilliant) Vampyr. This is compliment in itself.

Grade- B+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 25- The Toolbox Murders (1978)

This infamous film from 1978 starts with an anonymous man wearing a balaclava and going on a killing spree. He uses a different  tool for each murder such as an electric drill, a screwdriver and nail gun.

But then events take a bizarre twist as we get to see who the killer is and…to tell you anymore would ruin several surprises that the movie has in store. And it has plenty of surprises to shock us with!

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This film has such a notorious reputation and none so much as in Britain where it was firstly cut for it’s initial cinema release but then banned outright on video as it was then labelled as one of the more shocking video nasties.

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The UK video artwork

There is an authenticity to the killing spree we witness and with the film in general. The balaclava motif felt all so real as it was a staple of killers such as Ted Bundy who was prolific during this era. Also, The Yorkshire Ripper was killing women with the implements used in the film around this time which gives it an extra layer of horrific realness.

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The Ted Bundy murder kit. Notice the balaclava

Your jaw will hit the floor when you watch Cameron Mitchell’s central performance. It truly is demented genius.

I’m so glad that The Toolbox Murders is now appreciated as the fantastic piece of psychotic art that it truly is. Watch out for the 4K scan on Blu Ray. The film looks and sounds amazing and has finally gotten the treatment it so rightfully deserves.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 18- Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

This prime slice of Giallo starts with us witnessing the murder of a pharmacist. A women sees the murderer leave the premises which places a target on her own head. Her boyfriend undertakes some amateur sleuthing to try to find out who could be her would be assassin. Many twists and turns ensue with a few very stylish murders thrown in for good measure.

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This is a really interesting film as the emphasis is on the whodunnit aspect of Giallo (the original pulp novels were actually crime novels that incorporated a whodunnit aspect as well as gruesome murders. These books had distinctive yellow pages with yellow being ‘Giallo’ in Italian) rather than the murders although these are fantastic in this film.

What more can I say? Beautiful direction, gorgeous locales, style coming out of every pore- this is Giallo, baby!

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You’ll never guess the ending in a million years.

Grade- B-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Halloween Kills (2021)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Halloween Kills (2021)

After the frankly dreadful film from 2018 I wasn’t looking forward to it’s sequel. I even intended on not seeing the film but someone posted online that this was ‘The Film of the Year’. Mission accepted. I had to see and review it.

After the dodgy political posturing of the previous film (‘The Night The Patriarchy Came Home’) I was wondering which issues the new film would try to slyly convey. I looked at Jamie Lee Curtis’ Instagram profile to try to find a few clues. Maybe the new film would depict Michael Myers as an embodiment of inactivity against global warming with Laurie becoming a Greta Thunberg type Final Girl (or should that be Final Granny), accusing Michael of stealing her childhood and exclaiming that she can *actually see* CO2. Or maybe it will tackle transgenderism with Michael engendering (pun not intended) cis-gender bigotry and heteronormativity. Maybe Elliott Page could battle Michael. The options are limitless.HalloweenKillsQuadPoster

The start of Halloween Kills seemed to confirm my notions with the first character we see being the stunning and brave Bonnie (actually a man in a dress) from the fancy dress party from the previous movie still all frocked up and arguing with his Clyde on the phone. 

But then the film goes light on the political agenda posturing. There are a few touches here and there- the mainly white lynch mob who go after Michael, the mother-daughter action near the end of the film (‘I’m an innocent woman!’ screams Mommy Strode to Michael. ‘Just like my mother was!’ There’s Michael as patriarchy again).

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The matriarchy are back!

Talking of Granny Strode, Jamie Lee is stuck in the hospital for much of the film rather than being the geriatric Linda Hamilton wannabe she was in the previous film. There is a God after all.

There was only one character I actually enjoyed and rooted for in this film and that was Michael. Maybe that’s his role in the later franchise entries and that’s viciously killing the film’s most irritating characters- the doctor, nurse and Marion (yes, the Marion from the first film), the couple flying the drone around their house, the gay couple who have taken over (and decorated to perfection) the old Myers house.

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But the worst crime of this film is that it references, steals and pillages far too much from the first film. In fact it does so in such a heavy handed fashion that it reminds you that you could be watching a genuine masterpiece rather than this anaemic entry. Characters from the first are introduced so thick and fast that it feels like there is an air of desperation about proceedings. There are sequences shot depicting other events from THAT night from 1978, a CGI Dr Loomis and even clips from the original film inserted here. Does it feel authentic? Does it hell. Halloween 2 felt wayyy more like the original film in feel, tone and visuals. After coming out of the movie I read a review that said these ham-fisted pilferings were ‘poisoning the well’ regarding the original’s legacy. I couldn’t agree more.

Halloween Kills feels like an episode from some kind of Halloween spin-off TV series that hasn’t even been made- yet. But give it time. It’s a film for the fanboys to salivate over, the kind of viewers who will lap it up as, y’know, Michael Myers is in it and he kills people.

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Stick with the original and also Part 2 and the excellent Part 3: Season of the Witch. Everything after that is fanboy territory.

One final thought. During the runtime I kept thinking about John Carpenter (who acts as Executive Producer for Halloween Kills as well as composing the soundtrack). I kept thinking ‘This is the worst thing he’s ever been associated with during his whole career. And he’s done it by seemingly not caring if he cheapens the legacy of the first Halloween film’. Maybe that’s the real horror regarding this film.

Grade- E 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 11- Misery (1990)

World famous author Paul Sheldon crashes his car whilst driving in a blizzard but is rescued by nurse and super-fan Annie Wilkes who has read everything he’s ever published as well as reading and viewing every interview he’s ever given. Sheldon finds himself trapped with multiple injuries included compound fractures to his legs meaning that he is immobile and dependent on Wilkes to care for him. She also tells him that the telephone lines and down and roads closed, both of which are lies. Things take a darker turn still when Wilkes goes and buys the latest book by Sheldon which has just been published (yes the road to town has mysteriously been reopened but there’s no mention of Wilkes taking Paul to a local hospital) only to discover that her favourite character Misery has died during childbirth. Wilkes isn’t happy about this. This is bad news for Sheldon.

Misery explores the obsessive, irrational fan devotion that was explored in very different circumstances in Scorsese’s meisterwerk The King of Comedy, a film that bombed at the box office whilst Misery was a huge hit but is inferior in comparison. Oh, the irony.

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The dangerous side of fandom. The King Of Comedy (a much better film)

Before seeing Misery for the first time I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s masterful novel of the same name. The film adaptation feels like the finer nuances of the novel have been erased to make a big screen shocker that contains great performances by Kathy Bates (Wilkes) and James Caan (Sheldon) with Paul’s literary agent being portrayed effortlessly by the ever divine Lauren Bacall.

But the film also feels like some kind of TV movie that lacks not just the depth of King’s novel but also the cinematic grandeur that might have been envisaged and realised by another director other than Rob Reiner.

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Misery feels like an attempt to hit big at the box office by creating two dimensional characters and cheap shocks rather than delivering anything with real intelligence. And it worked. Misery brought in the money and earned Bates an Oscar. But watch Misery next to other, better King adaptations such as The Shining and Carrie and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no comparison.

Grade- C

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- The Entity (1982)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 10- The Entity (1982)

Carla Moran is violently raped by a seemingly invisible force. She tried to tell the people around her about what has happened but finds only resistance as her family and friends don’t believe her as she didn’t see who assaulted her especially when she says that her house was locked up when it happened and the assailant seemingly vanished into thin air.

Frank De Felitta’s bestselling book based on a true story (the case of Doris Bither) translates very well to the big screen with Barbara Hershey cast as Carla doing a phenomenal job in invoking the terror of a woman going through something very real but undertaken by someone or something very unreal. Apparently Bette Midler, Sally Field, Jane Fonda and Jill Clayburgh were all offered the role but declined.

Sidney J. Furie’s film stands alone as a one-off film of a one-off case that most people will have thought of as too much of a tall story to be true.

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The quad poster for The Entity

Carla not being believed can also be seen as an allegory of something that far too many women (and men) go through when they find the courage and strength to report a rape or sexual assault- that their horror isn’t over yet as they try to seek justice whilst being met with an unfeeling and cruel judicial system that views their account with scepticism and disbelief. If it actually makes it to a court of law they will be made to relive their trauma. Those opposing them will try to disprove and belittle the magnitude of what they’ve been through. Or they will try to convince a jury that it didn’t happen at all.

The film all too harrowingly shows the full horror of what Carla goes through when she is raped and does a great job of showing the trail of very disturbing signs when the spirit or entity is approaching (objects shaking, a certain odour that permeates the surroundings Moran is in, a very sudden drop in temperature). Hershey’s performance, just like the film in general, never slides into TV movie melodramatics or sensationalism.

There needs to be special mention to Charles Bernstein’s insistent, pulsating and truly shocking score that is perfect for the movie and it’s subject matter. There are also echoes of the music he would write three years later for a new film called A Nightmare on Elm Street.

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Also the special effects for the scenes in which Moran is molested by the invisible force are very effective indeed. For one sequence a body cast of Hershey was made that was manipulated by currents of air to make it look like the invisible entity was touching her. It succeeds eerily well. Stan Winston supervised the practical effects.

The effects also come into their own when Carla meets professionals who actually believe her story and work in the field of parapsychology. But to tell you more about this would make me tiptoe into spoiler territory…

When the film opened it was met with protests from those who thought that such a film was exploiting such a serious topic as rape. Hershey actually defended this claim and voiced that herself and the filmmakers had actually worked hard not to make the film exploitative and to display the true horror of sexual assault and rape.

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The film was shown with another 20th Century Fox movie in the UK, Alien.

All in all a terrifying film that still feels underrated and excluded from serious writings regarding 80’s horror.

Grade- A-

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- I Don’t Want To Be Born (1975)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- I Don’t Want To Be Born (1975)

This film has the best plotline of any movie in the history of cinema. Really!

Joan Collins stars as a stripper in a burlesque joint. Her co-star is a gypsy dwarf named Hercules. He makes advances on his co-star but when she knocks him back he places a curse on her unborn baby making the unborn child psychopathic.

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If that wasn’t enough, the film also co-stars Donald Pleasance, Ralph Bates and Caroline Munro. Kids TV legend Floella Benjamin even stars as a nurse. Holy great casting, Batman.

The film effortlessly captures the period with 70’s London looking beautiful but with a sleazy underbelly as exemplified by the strip club. The film also gives La Collins an opportunity to look breathlessly fabulous in every scene. And every scene necessitates a costume change for Joanie.

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And then there are the fantastic kills from the baby from hell. I love how the film cuts from some awful act of violence to the cutest baby you’ve ever seen. It feels completely jarring, surreal and works really well.

I Don’t Want To Be Born also goes by other titles such as The Devil Within Her, Sharon’s Baby and The Monster which is the title that is being used for a new Blu Ray release from Network Releasing who are fantastic with their titles and so I look forward to how great this title will look. 70’s Joan Collins in High Def! We really don’t deserve it. And we’ve only just had Blu Ray releases of both The Bitch and The Stud.

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I actually think this film is a masterpiece. It’s also my favourite film from 1975. Yes, I think it’s better or maybe just as good as Jaws and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Of course there are those who dismiss this title as just 70’s exploitation fluff. But that lazy summation disregards the beautiful cinematography, the time capsule aspect of the time the film captures both on and off camera (there was a real thirst for horror movies amongst British cinema goers in the 70’s) and the set design which is pinpoint perfect. Oh, and the acting is pretty fantastic too. This film may be an Exorcist/Rosemary’s Baby rip-off but just like Beyond The Door it more than holds it’s own just like Piranha did in the wake of Jaws or Zombie Flesh Eaters after Dawn of the Dead.

A classic film. Seriously.

Grade- A+