TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956)

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IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956)

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

I recently began reading Roger Corman’s autobiography How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime and it made me want to revisit some of his earliest films that I first saw on TV’s Chiller Theater and Creature Features as a kid.

One of Corman’s earliest flicks as a producer and director, this thriller tells the story of an alien invader from Venus, who isn’t particularly happy that earth has started sending satellites into space. It comes here to invade using bat-like creatures to take over people’s minds and with the help of bitter earth scientist, Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef) who believes earth needs ‘saving’ by this higher intelligence. Standing in the way of this nefarious plot is scientist Dr. Paul Nelson (Peter Graves) along with some feisty heroines and the usual soldiers and military types that populated films of this era.

Corman directs with a serious hand, from the script by Lou Rusoff and frequent Corman collaborator Charles B. Griffith, despite that his creature looks like a combination of cucumber and crustacean. He shot it in about two weeks on a budget far lower than the average Hollywood flick of the time and the production looks better than one might expect due to Corman thriftiness. While the creature FX are cheesy and the dialogue equally so, it ads charm to a fun movie, all the more amusing for taking itself so seriously despite it’s outlandish plot and monster. Corman gets good work out of his cast, which also includes frequent Corman actress Beverly Garland (Swamp Woman, Not of This Earth) and Sally Fraser, who was in such cult classics as Earth vs. the Spider and War Of The Colossal Beast. The film, due to it’s small budget, does focus more on character drama than creature hi-jinx, but it’s atmospheric and keeps one interested till the military finally take on the alien dictator in true 50s creature feature fashion. There is also a very effective mood building score by Ronald Stein who composed for many a Corman classic. If you love the sci-fi flicks of this decade, this is one of the classics and an early example of the low budget entertainment that made Roger Corman one of the most successful producers of all time and an underrated director.

I had a fun time watching this again. It’s judged due to it’s cheesy creature, but the monster has become iconic, representing the creature features of the 50s and the film is better than it is given credit for. It obviously influenced future alien invader flicks, just look at Without Warning’s flying creature weapons as a perfect example and as usual with a Corman production, features future stars like Van Cleef and Graves. Corman is now a legend for making these kind of inexpensive but profitable features and who cares if it’s title monster looks like it could hide in a salad bar or seafood buffet. A fun example of what made the 50s era monster flicks so endearing. Also features frequent Corman actor, the legendary, Dick Miller as a soldier.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 alien vegetable/crustacean hybrids with a taste for megalomania.

 

 

 

 

 

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RANDOM NONSENSE: MONSTERZERO NJ FAUX POSTER ART- ESCAPE FROM HONG KONG!

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As many know, I am a photoshop artist and love doing faux posters! This one is for an imaginary project combining my love of Hong Kong cinema and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. After seeing EFNY in 1981, my mind reeled with the possible future adventures of Snake Plissken. I imagined, obviously, an Escape From L.A., though mine featured Plissken up against a ruthless gang leader played by rocker Billy Idol. I also imagined Snake on the island of Hong Kong and while I was yet aware of Chow Yun-fat, I now can reflect back on what this adventure might have been like with Snake battling Chow as the villain. If only movie goers had become aware of Chow a few years earlier and Lee Van Cleef had stuck around a few years later. Was always disappointed that EFNY never became a franchise and when Carpenter finally did get around to sequelizing itit was a sad disappointment in many respects. Enjoy…

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poster art: MonsterZero NJ

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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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BOOK REVIEW: ON SET WITH JOHN CARPENTER by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

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This is one book review, I definitely need no excuse to post. Not only is it a great chronicle of the making of some of the early classics of the legendary John Carpenter but, an amazing album of behind the scenes shots from some of my favorite films from my favorite filmmaker…

ON SET WITH JOHN CARPENTER by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

John Carpenter is perhaps my all time favorite filmmaker and, as my favorite of his works are those from the 70s and 80s, this book was an amazing trip down memory lane and an incredible glimpse behind the scenes at some of Carpenter’s early classics as told through the talented camera lens of Kim Gottlieb-Walker with some comments and anecdotes from Kim, John Carpenter and some of those involved. The photography is not only breathtaking but, captures a side of the productions of Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, the Carpenter produced Halloween II and Christine that we’ve never seen before. Gottlieb-Walker was hired by Carpenter and Debra Hill as his unit photographer and as such, she captured some wonderful behind the scenes shots of cast and crew from these classic films. Add the commentary and some delightful stories from the photographer, Carpenter himself and others such as Adrienne Barbeau, DOP Dean Cundey and many, many more, and this book becomes a trip back in time to a long-gone era and a side of these productions that we have only barely glimpsed previously. It chronicles the rise of a legendary director and some other now very established filmmakers, as well as, shares tales of some sadly gone talents such as Lee Van Cleef, Issac Hayes, Donald Pleasence and pioneer producer Debra Hill. As a Carpenter fan, or simply a fan of filmmaking, this is a must-have book with some simply amazing photos that will take us back to the days when a group of young filmmakers and actors were making their dreams… and some of our favorite films… a reality. A simply beautiful book and instantly one of the most cherished in my collection… and it doesn’t hurt either that the largest section of the book is dedicated to Escape From New York, my favorite Carpenter flick and one of my all-time favorite films. I. Love. This. Book!

4 stars!

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

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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. 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. 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. 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. 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!

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THE WARRIORS (1979)

Classic 70s flick is a comic book style action film that has a street gang from Coney Island, The Warriors, framed for murdering Cyrus (Roger Hill), the charismatic leader of The Gramercy Riff, the biggest gang in the city. Cyrus has gathered representing members of all the major gangs under a truce to discuss unifying them all and taking over the entire city. Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the psychotic leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus and fingers the Warriors. With their leader killed for the crime, the rest of the Warriors, under war chief Swan (Michael Beck), now must fight to make their way back home with every gang in New York City out to get them, including The Rogues, who want them all dead to cover their crime. Split up and beat up, the Warriors are determined to see the sands of their Coney Island beach home.

Walter Hill creates a surreal, violent and stylish action thriller with some really colorful characters and a sumptuous neon visual style from his and David Shaber’s screenplay, based on Sol Yurick’s book. His atmosphere is also enhanced by a wonderfully hypnotic electronic score by Barry De Vorzon. The Fight scenes are top notch and the film rarely stops moving as our heroes battle their way through enemy lines encountering some very colorful adversaries such as the face painted, bat wielding, Baseball Furies. Despite the film being about The Warriors, it’s the painted faces of the Baseball Furies that would become the trademark of this last great B-movie of the 70s. This is also still, in my opinion, one of Walter Hill’s best movies. A classic film that has also been immortalized by David Patrick Kelly’s haunting taunt… (“Warriors… come out to play-ay!”)

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The Warriors caused an uproar upon release when some gang related violence occurred at screenings causing theaters to add security and ads for the film were temporarily removed from radio and TV. Future oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl has a small role as an undercover vice cop who arrests genre favorite James Remar as Warrior member Ajax. Star Michael Beck was quoted as saying that The Warriors opened a lot of doors for him…and then Xanadu closed them all. Personally I don’t think Megaforce helped much either. Thankfully movie fans give Beck the props and honor he is due whenever he appears at conventions and he will always be immortalized as Swan in this well revered classic.

 A classic 4 Furies
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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TAKE A HARD RIDE (1975)

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Take A Hard Ride (1975)

You might think Django Unchained was the first flick to combine elements of Blaxsploitation and Spaghetti Western cinema, but in truth, Take A Hard Ride did it almost 40 years earlier. Directed by Antonio Margheriti, co-financed by Italian film producers and starring Blaxsploitation and mainstream legends Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly, Hard Ride can certainly claim to have done it first.

When cattle baron, Morgan (Dana Andrews) dies suddenly, his top ranch hand, Pike (Jim Brown) vows to get the $86,000 they made from a big cattle sale back to Morgan’s wife and ranch in Sonora, Mexico. All that money has put a target on Pike’s back and it’s a long way to Mexico. While pursued by all sorts of outlaws, as well as, vicious bounty hunter, Kiefer  (Lee Van Cleef), Pike finds allies in dapper and dangerous gambler, Tyree (Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson) and a karate chopping half-breed Indian, Kashtok (Jim Kelly)…and what Western would be complete without the prostitute with a heart of gold (Catherine Spaak).

Despite the presence of an Italian director, Hard Ride plays more like a traditional western, especially with Jerry Goldsmith’s score being that of a Hollywood style cowboy flick. There are plenty of gunfights, though we wish director Margheriti didn’t take such a leisurely pace with the scenes in-between. Despite our heroes being pursued by dozens of gunslingers, they never really seem to be in a hurry to get where they are going. It is fun, however, to watch Brown and Williamson play cowboy and Kelly doing his martial arts fighting and the rest of the cast are lively enough, too. They all seem to take their roles seriously yet, it’s obvious they are enjoying themselves. Need I say it’s always a pleasure to see the steely Van Cleef play a stone cold bad guy.

So, in conclusion, despite it’s reputation as the first Blaxsploitation/ Spaghetti Western, Hard Ride is actually a fairly straight forward Western which, works both for and against it. It is an entertaining enough Western and we enjoy seeing the leads in action, but from a nostalgia standpoint, we wish it had a bit more of the elements it’s reputation suggests, to make it more unique and one of a kind. Still worth a look for fans of all the genres and actors listed above.

An entertaining 3 (out of 4) pistols

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