HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken! One of the greatest and sadly underused movie anti-heroes of all-time!

40 years ago today the film world was introduced to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) as John Carpenter’s Escape From New York was released in theaters! A little EFNY anniversary trivia: studio Avco Embassy Pictures wanted Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones for Plissken, but Carpenter held out for Kurt Russell and history was made! HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK!

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The late, great Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. where I saw Escape From New York opening night! (Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection)

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

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THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Produced by prolific 70s disaster movie producer Irwin Allen, this is simply one of the best, if not the best of the 70s disaster flicks. Story finds an assortment of characters, like a rebellious preacher (Gene Hackman), a New York detective (Ernest Borgnine) and a kindly Jewish couple (Jack Albertson and Shelly Winters) traveling from NYC to Athens on the final voyage of the S.S. Poseidon. It’s New Years Eve, and while there is a lavish celebration in the ship’s grand ballroom, a massive underwater earthquake triggers a 90 foot tidal wave and sends it in the aging ship’s direction. The wave slams into the vessel, capsizing it and setting the remaining survivors on a journey upwards through the upside-down decks, towards the hull of the ship in hope of rescue.

Flick is well-written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes from a book by Paul Gallico. What makes it a step above most others is that it is directed with passion and intensity by Ronald Neame, where most of these types of flicks are very by-the-numbers. The characters are well-rounded and appear very human and even our hero is flawed. The melodrama between them is kept to a minimum, as the action starts within the first half-hour and doesn’t stop till the end. Along the way we get some very thrilling action and escapes, as our group overcomes one challenge after another, all the while trying to keep their heads above water…literally. It makes for a very exciting and suspenseful two hours and the sets the survivors climb through are very impressive. It’s a maze of pipes and steel, either flooded or on fire and the benefit of this is that models and miniatures are kept to a bare minimum, making it far more realistic feeling than say, Earthquake. The cheese factor here is limited to the heavy 70s vibe and a few over-the-top performances like Stella Stevens’ ex-hooker turned policeman’s wife. There is also a heavier religious undertone, with it’s preacher hero and Israel bound Jewish couple, than is fashionable today, but I find that very charming and old-fashioned…as is the rest of this fun flick. There is a rousing score by John Williams and crisp cinematography by Harold E. Stine to accent a top-notch suspense thriller.

The cast here is not as obnoxiously star-studded, as some of these movies can be, containing more character actors. This gives it a more identifiable feel than with an all A-listers cast. Hackman really sells it as the preacher who walks to the beat of his own drum. He’s a bit more relatable than a more larger-than-life actor like Charlton Heston and more passionate in his portrayal. Borgnine gives us a Lt. Rogo with a fiery temper who battles Hackman’s preacher at every turn. The quality script and Borgnine being an absolute pro, makes the character more than a stereotypical antagonist. He’s angry, afraid and even though the two man battle for leadership, Rogo can be seen in a heroic light by the end credits. Albertson and Winters are very endearing as the old Jewish couple headed to Israel to meet their grandson. Winters can lay it on thick here and there, but is never out of control. We also have Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Carol Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin as accompanying survivors with Stella Stevens a bit overacting as Rogo’s wife and Leslie Nielsen, before Airplane turned him into a comic actor, as the ship’s ill-fated captain. A great cast.

This might be one of my all-time favorites of this era and genre. It’s well-written, intensely directed and has a wonderful cast of character actors to give some dimension to the struggling survivors. There is a lot of personal nostalgia, as it is another flick seen with the folks at the long gone Park Lane Theater, but is also just a really good flick that holds up to the test of time. It’s setting cleverly omits the need for SPFX that may be seen as cheesy in today’s digital world, instead settling for well-crafted sets and dramatic set pieces that still work. Add in some 70s nostalgia to an already solid adventure flick and you have a film that earns the title classic easily! Still as effective today as back in 1972!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2.

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COOL STUFF: ESCAPE FROM N.Y. COLLECTOR’S EDITION on BLU-RAY

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK COLLECTOR’S EDITION Blu-Ray

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite films (see full review here). It’s the film that cemented John Carpenter as one of my favorite directors. A starkly original idea featuring one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heroes of all time. There have been a few editions of the film on VHS, DVD and even a feature-only blu-ray, but, now Scream Factory has delivered this classic flick in a special 2-disc edition loaded with extra features that gives this quirky Sci-Fi adventure the treatment and respect it deserves!

The print is a new remaster from the original negative and is absolutely gorgeous. The image is crisp and clear and the colors are vibrant without betraying the look and feel intended by the filmmakers. The movie has never looked better and having seen it on screen, on VHS, on DVD and on previous blu-ray, I can say that with the utmost confidence. It’s never looked better. The audio is DTS-HD 5.1 and sounds great. It’s like seeing and hearing the movie again for the first time. It’s a beautiful presentation of this classic movie. Now on to the fun stuff…

We get some nice audio extras… not one but, three commentary tracks. There is a new track featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Also, previously released tracks from Joe Alves and Debra Hill, as well as, the classic John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary, which is almost as entertaining as the film. More on-set insight than you could ever hope for. As for video treats and featurettes, the second disc holds a mix of new and previously released material. The first featurette is new and is a really cool look at EFNY’s SFX. It contains behind the scenes stills and interviews with Dennis and Robert Skotak, who worked at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, which did the visual effects for the film. The Return To Escape From New York documentary from the MGM collector’s edition DVD is also included here and is filled with interviews from all the principles. We get the now legendary deleted bank robbery/arrest scene with an added new interview with actor Joe Unger, who played Snake’s partner Taylor in that deleted sequence. There’s a fun new look at scoring the film and the legacy of the soundtrack, with co-composer Alan Howarth. There is a great interview/slide show with on-set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who recently released a book (review here) featuring her work as a photographer on a number of Carpenter’s films. We get an interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau, who was working as a PA with New World Pictures at the time and got to visit the EFNY set. The disc then finishes up it’s extra’s section with theatrical trailers and two photo galleries on top of all the rest of the features. A great selection of extras to compliment the film.

As fan of Escape From New York, you couldn’t ask for a better special edition. The film looks great, sounds great and there is a nice selection of nostalgic and informative features and interviews to bring you back to 1980 when the film was being shot. I personally had the opportunity to see this flick in a theater…my beloved Oritani Theater…back in January of 1981 and it instantly became one of my all time favorites. Now I can enjoy it like never before thanks to this newly remastered, extra-filled, loving tribute from Scream Factory.

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But, a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary Of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but, Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But, the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.

Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller. But, aside from it’s dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliott and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiancé and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.

3 and 1/2 bullets!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HIGH RISK (1981)

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HIGH RISK (1981)

This lesser known but highly enjoyable little 1981 action/adventure/comedy tells the story of four working class friends Stone (James Brolin), Rockney (Cleavon Little), Dan (Bruce Davison) and Tony (Chick Vennera) who are sick of working hard for nothing, or being out of work, and decide to solve their financial problems by robbing a South American drug lord named Serrano (James Corburn). They leave their family and friends under the facade of a fishing trip, but head into the jungle to Serrano’s villa with the intent of emptying his safe. When things go awry, the four find themselves separated and fleeing for their lives through the jungle…though it’s set in South America, it was filmed in Mexico…with not only Serrano’s army, but an armed group of rebels/bandits on their tails as well. Can these wannabe thieves get out with their lives, much less with their stolen booty?

Written and directed by Stewart Raffill (The Philadelphia Experiment), High Risk is a fun little action/adventure that has more of a 70s movie vibe…especially with Mark Snow’s lively but nostalgic score…and whose small release went fairly unnoticed especially once Raiders Of The Lost Ark  came out about a month later and became the next big thing in action. It’s an underrated little movie with a lot of heart and entertainment for it’s 90+ minutes and is actually one of the last of it’s kind before the big studio popcorn action flicks like Raiders, the Die Hards and the Lethal Weapons became the status quo for action movies and small, independent films like this, started going direct to video. It’s a fast paced and entertaining flick that seems to have fallen through the cracks and been forgotten due to it’s release at a time where the movie going landscape was changing and low budget films like this could no longer hope to compete against the big budget multiplex blockbusters that were a product of the success of Star Wars. And while it certainly doesn’t stack up against some of those big budget classics, it is a fun comedy/adventure movie and has it’s own share of chases, escapes and gunfire and certainly worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a light and breezy action flick…and one of the last to represent an era when films like this still saw the inside of a movie theater.

Obviously by the names mentioned, Raffill had a good cast to work with and they all have fun with their roles. That cast also includes Lindsay Wagner as Olivia, a woman Tony and Rockney help escape a local prison, Anthony Quinn as rebel leader General Mariano and Ernest Borgnine as an arms dealer named Clint. A sadly overlooked and fun little action gem that I had the pleasure of seeing at the Fox theater in Hackensack, N.J. which sat right across the street from my beloved Oritani. Movies like this have a wonderful added nostalgia for me as I feel I was privileged to have been able to experience it on a big screen when today’s audience must rely on home media to see the smaller and lesser known releases like this one.

3  bullets.

ex2 rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975)

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THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975)

As a horror movie fan and an all around movie geek, I try to give even some really bad movies a break if there is something to entertain within it. Some movies are delightfully bad and I have no problem giving them credit even if they are entertaining for the wrong reasons. But occasionally a movie comes along that should have been ripe for a fun time and yet just doesn’t live up to it’s potential either as a solid flick or as campy fun…and sadly, The Devil’s Rain is one of them.

The story has the Preston family being hunted…for centuries apparently…by a cult of Satanists and their leader Corbis (Ernest Borgnine), to regain a book that is in the family’s possession that will grant the cultists great power. When the mother and father are taken, son Mark (William Shatner) goes to confront Corbis and win his parent’s freedom. When Mark fails and becomes one of Corbis’ soulless servants, his brother Tom (Tom Skerritt) comes looking for his family and must find a way to destroy Corbis and his followers by releasing the souls that Corbis has imprisoned.

This Robert Fuest directed horror was universally panned when it came out and while I don’t think it’s quite as terrible as it was accused of being, it is a rather dull flick despite a heavy dose of horror trappings. Fuest tells his tale filled with Satanic ceremonies, sinister visuals, psychic phenomena and plentiful make-up FX, with a very slow pace and fails to really instill any menace in what should be a story filled with dread. The cinematography by Alex Phillips Jr. is quite good and makes good use of the desert locations and the spooky sets, but fails to give the film the atmosphere it needs to chill us. The movie has a very good cast with Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn and a young John Travolta joining Skerritt, Shatner and Borgnine, but only Ernest Borgnine really seems to get the material, giving his Jonathan Corbis some nice over the top villainy. The rest of the cast seem to perform by-the-numbers, not that the script…written by three people no less…gave the characters or story much development to work with. The dark humor and sinister sense of fun that Fuest brought his Dr. Phibes films starring Vincent Price, is sadly missing. This film could have used a bit of those movies’ morbid sense of humor, especially when things get borderline silly in the last act. The production value on the film is fine and it’s make-up effects by Ellis Burman Jr. are top notch for the time…especially during it’s climactic meltdown…but there is just very little life in a movie that’s plot was well suited for some over the top horror fun…and with people turning into human rams and scenes of dozens of melting cultists, you’d think the director would have had a good time with it.

Still, the film has developed a bit of a following and the fact that Satanist Anton LaVey is listed as a consultant adds to it’s infamy, but bottom-line, the film simply doesn’t live up to it’s potential and is an oddity and a curiosity at best. Oddly the very last scene has the kind of creepiness the rest of the film desperately needed, but it’s far too late. Even the film’s marketing failed, as it used it’s climax as the focal point of it’s advertising, so anyone going in to the movie already knew how it was going to end.

If you’re a horror completest or just a fan of bad movies like I am, it’s worth a look, but this could have been a lot of fun had the filmmakers and cast chose to have fun with the material. And by that I don’t mean make a joke or comedy of it, just perform the scenes with some gusto instead of this almost funeral-like deadpan. You know there is a problem when Shatner isn’t being theatrical. At least veteran actor Borgnine enjoyed himself and Skerritt had Alien and Shatner the return of Star Trek to keep their careers afloat while, sadly Fuest all but disappeared from feature film-making. In a time of endless remakes, this flick is one that could use a redo by someone who gets material like this, like Eli Roth or Alexandre Aja, and make it the fun horror blast it could have been. It has it’s fans, so I guess that’s something.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 horny goat Borgnines.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

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DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

While I wouldn’t say Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing is one of my all time Halloween Favorites, I would say it’s a film that holds sentimental value being one of the films seen at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and if you’ve been coming to this site for a while you know that was a special place for the movie geek in me and holds a lot of equally special memories. Having recently revisited this creepy thriller thanks to Scream Factory’s gorgeous blu-ray, I found that not only was it still very enjoyable, but has some really nice 80s nostalgia attached to it now, too!

Deadly Blessing tells the story of young couple Martha (Battlestar Galactica hottie Maren Jensen) and Jim (Douglas Barr) who live on a farm near the rustic and religious Hittites of whom Jim is family, but was exiled for marrying a woman not of their clan. Tragedy strikes, as a horrible accident…or was it…leaves Martha a widow and soon she is joined by loyal friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) who come to console her. Someone or something is watching the young women and soon Jim isn’t the only body turning up on Martha’s land. The Hittites, lead by the strict Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), say that it is the work of the Incubus, a seductive demon come to temp all to sin and damnation, while Martha and her friends believe it is the work of someone far more down to earth…but who and why?

While Craven…who co-wrote the screenplay with story writers Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr…would really hit his stride with A Nightmare On Elm Street three years later, he still delivers a solid little horror thriller here that is actually an entertaining and well made film. It has some spooky sequences and keeps you guessing while presenting us with some likable characters to fear for and some other characters to be suspicious of. Craven gives the film some nice atmosphere, accented by some beautiful cinematography by Robert Jessup and a nice score from James Horner.

The cast are fine. Jensen is a bit wooden, but not enough to sink things. Stone is good as the emotionally troubled Lana and Buckner makes a crush-worthy and perky Vicky…and a big crush on her Vicky I had upon seeing this flick in 1981. Borgnine is perfectly menacing and just over-the-top enough as clan leader Isaiah and genre favorite Michael Berryman is equally effective as a Hittite man with an eye for his pretty neighbor. Also good are Lisa Hartman as Faith and Lois Nettleton as her mother Louisa, who live near Martha and who appear nice enough, if not a little odd.

There is a body count, but not a large one, as this is more a mystery thriller then a slasher. The bloodshed is moderate, as is the violence and Craven has his usual fun with dream sequences…one involving Sharon Stone and a spider is still goose-bump inducing even today. There are also a few scenes and lines that almost seem to foreshadow Mr. Krueger’s appearance a few years later, now that we are familiar with that classic and it’s legendary boogeyman.

The film isn’t perfect. As said, Jensen is a bit wooden and there are some weak bits of dialogue throughout. And while it is enjoyable, the last act, including the film’s big reveal, does skirt very close to going over-the-top and becoming silly. The final scene is an unnecessary shock ending that does come across as more silly than scary. It almost appears like it’s tacked on from another movie.

Overall though, Deadly Blessing is a nostalgic and fun early 80s horror that may seem tame by today’s standards and even the standards of Craven’s later work, but it shows the director of the brutal and shocking Last House On The Left, the vicious The Hills Have Eyes and the comic book-ish Swamp Thing (which came after Blessing) was continuing to show his versatility and could handle something on a more subtle level that didn’t require the heavy violence or over the top theatrics of his previous films. A very entertaining and delightfully 80s horror from one of the genre’s greats.

As said, this cult classic is now available from Scream Factory including a beautifully restored print along with some nice extra’s including fun interviews with genre favorite Michael Berryman and sassy lead Susan Buckner who both have amusingly different versions of how well…or not…the three leading ladies got along. Fun stuff!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Borgnines!

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