TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: EARTHQUAKE (1974)

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EARTHQUAKE (1974)

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

Been in the mood to revisit some of the classic 70s disaster films that I saw in a theater as a kid and Earthquake is a prime example. It has the classic formula of having an all-star cast of characters engaged in some soap opera level drama until some disaster hits and everyone has to survive it. This flick has Charlton Heston’s ex-pro football player, juggling a shrew of a wife (Ava Gardner) and a young mistress (Geneviève Bujold) while rebellious cop Slade (George Kennedy) is in trouble once more. Mix in Richard Roundtree as a motorcycle daredevil, Victoria Principal as his hot assistant and Marjoe Gortner as a crazed National Guardsman and you have a cast ripe for…disaster! Soon, a mega-quake hits L.A. and all our characters are torn out of their melodrama and forced into a fight for survival. Add in a last act dam burst and it’s a cheesy fun time.

Despite being very fond of this flick due to it’s nostalgic personal importance, I’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t aged all that well. Written by George Fox and Mario Puzo, there is some really bad dialogue and some awfully cheesy subplots going on in this flick. The drama between Heston and Gardner is as overblown as his relationship with Bujold, who is young enough to be his daughter, is silly. Kennedy’s cop is too much of a loose cannon to have lasted on the force this long and Gortner is so obviously a psycho, one wonders how loose the National Guard’s qualifications are. We also get the classic bureaucratic stall as the suits decide whether the scientist’s scary data is worth telling the public. It’s all directed very by-the-numbers by Mark Robson, a prolific director since the 40s. As for the quake itself, it lasts for about ten minutes and we get all sorts of chaos and destruction represented by miniatures that range from well-done to cheesy. The FX were praised in the day, but haven’t really aged all that well after over four decades, though the matte paintings still look good. The carnage is still fun to watch, as is the cornball melodrama of our cast being rescued or rescuing others. Apparently L.A.’s emergency response team in the 70s consisted of Charlton Heston and George Kennedy as they seem to be the only ones actually saving lives. There are daring rescues and heroic derring-do, all the while the National Guard just seems to be in town to shoot people and not actually help. Adding dramatic impact is a score by the great John Williams and if you had seen it in a theater, it was all presented in the cheesy glory of Sensurround! (Click on the link HERE to learn more about that!)

It’s too large a cast to give everyone props, but they all perform with corny, melodramatic intensity. Heston is Heston, as he is in every film he’s in. Ava Gardner is very over-the-top and you can see why hubby Heston is shacking up with the young honey. Also hilarious is that Lorne Greene plays Gardner’s father while only being seven years older. Roundtree’s cocky character is an Evel Kinevel wannabe, who oddly disappears from the action in the third act. Marjoe Gortner is in Shatner territory with his looney weekend warrior and Victoria Principal is really cute, but not quite convincing as a street-smart chick with an afro that’s almost as impressive as her bustline. Kennedy is solid as the cop with anger issues and is probably the most grounded performer in the cast aside from Lorne Greene.

Earthquake may not live up to the memories of a nine year old MonsterZero NJ sitting in the Park Lane Theater in Palisades Park, N.J. back in 1974, but it is still cheesy fun. We get a quintessential 70s disaster flick with cornball melodrama, a classic all-star cast and the destruction of a L.A. in the form of a model Godzilla would have loved to romp in. It brings back memories of going to the movies with my grandfather and my folks and even if it hasn’t aged well, there is heavy personal nostalgia. Not a great movie, but still a classic.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 heroic Hestons.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DEATHSPORT (1978)

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DEATHSPORT (1978)

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

Anyone who’s been coming here for a while knows I love Roger Corman’s productions and am certainly guilty of having my guilty pleasures. But, Deathsport, a movie I actually saw in a theater in 1978 is not one of them. Sometimes bad is just bad and based on the fact that both Corman and Allan (Rock ‘N’ Roll High School) Arkush both tried to save this turkey and failed, is proof of that.

Made as a loose follow-up to Death Race 2000, the film takes place far in the future where the world has been ravaged by war and people either live in walled cities or wander the wasteland led and guarded by the Jedi-like Range Guides and their crystal swords called Whistlers. When the city of Helix plans to go to war against the neighboring city of Tritan, their leader Lord Zirpola (David McLean) plans to sway the populace to his cause by staging gladiatorial games pitting captured Range Guides against their new weapon, the Death Machines which are merely motorcycles covered in aluminum siding and fitted with laser canons. He and his head thug, ex-Guide Ankar Moor (legendary movie bad guy Richard Lynch) make the mistake of picking Guides Kaz Oshay (David Carradine) and the sexy Deneer (Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings) as fodder for the games. A daring escape, boring chases and endless explosions ensue. And did I mention that Ankar Moor killed Kaz’s mother years earlier?

Initially directed and co-written (with Donald E. Stewart) by Nicholas Niciphor, the film is a mess and even the intervention of Corman and Arkush couldn’t save it with the reported addition of numerous explosions and nudity. For starters, the film has a completely convoluted and silly story filled with large plot holes and lapses of logic, even for an exploitation sci-fi flick. It’s also dreadfully slow paced, for an 80+ minute movie and that’s even with it’s second half being one long chase sequence. The action is badly staged, fights badly choreographed, the FX are terrible, the sets and the costumes look cheap and bad, even for a lesser Roger Corman production and there is very little blood or gore to at least satisfy on an exploitation violence level. It could have used Death Race 2000’s over the top gore and sense of humor, or at least acknowledged it’s badness and had some fun with it. But director Niciphor takes this nonsense deathly serious and it makes his incompetent handling of it, all the more obvious. It’s basically a mess and not in a good way. And to add insult to injury, the film’s score by musician Andy Stein apparently featured guitar work by the legendary Jerry Garcia…not sure how Garcia got involved in this train-wreck!

Star David Carradine, who made quite a living in films like this, looks like he would rather be elsewhere. Jennings is certainly pretty and has a nice body, that gets shown off frequently, but she is no actress and it’s only Richard Lynch who somehow retains his dignity by giving the role his all and adding weight to his extremely silly dialog. A sign of a true pro and an under-appreciated actor. Frequent Corman actor Jesse Vint also looks embarrassed in a minor role and the rest of the supporting cast go from barely adequate to awful.

So, what else is there to say. There is very little to recommend here except for some Claudia Jennings’ nudity and watching a pro like Lynch giving it his all in a terrible movie. If endless explosions are enough to satisfy, you might get some extra mileage out of it, but it’s basically just a bad movie that is even too bad to enjoy as ‘so bad, it’s good.’ Check it out if you are curious, but even with the nostalgia of having actually seen this in a theater in 1978, I can’t bring myself to cut it much slack…No surprise, Corman still made a little money on it, with it’s “If you liked Star Wars, you’ll love Deathsport” tag line, which just goes to show you what a genius the man is.

PERSONAL TRIVIA: I saw this flick at an interesting little venue called The Galaxy Theater in North Bergen N.J. Interesting as it was a tiny movie theater built into an apartment complex called the Galaxy Apartments. As a teen I though the concept of an apartment building with it’s own movie theater was really cool, but it never caught on. While the Galaxy apartments are still there, the theater closed long ago.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 (out of 4) actors trying not to look silly. Epic fail.

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