TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: EARTHQUAKE (1974)

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EARTHQUAKE (1974)

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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: Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

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Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

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

Q: The Winged Serpent is a fun and very self-aware…long before term even existed…movie about a winged Aztec god named Quetzalcoatl who nests in the Chrysler Building and begins to snack on NYC residents. The film follows both a series of ritual killings, where victims are skinned alive and a series of disappearances and murders that are rumored to be caused by some large bird stalking the NYC skyline. Detective Shepard (David Carradine) seems convinced they are related and his investigation proves true as it appears the skinnings where part of an Aztec ritual to summon Quetzalcoatl from it’s centuries long slumber. Enter petty crook and getaway driver Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) who stumbles upon the creature’s nest when hiding from police after a botched robbery. Jimmy sees not an opportunity to become a hero, but an opportunity to become rich, famous and be pardoned for all his criminal activity. So, the third rate crook holds the city hostage as the winged serpent continues to feed on it’s citizens and Shepard continues to try to convince his superiors that there is a centuries old Aztec god slaughtering the people of New York City.

What makes Q fun is that writer/director Larry (It’s Alive, The Stuff) Cohen knows this is a silly movie with a silly concept, but takes it and runs with it. He has his cast play it straight and yet with a wink and it works far better than it should. The film has a very Roger Corman feel as characters spout some very silly dialog, but with complete earnest and we smile with delight as FX masters Randall Cook and David Allen bring our monster to life with some charming old-fashioned stop motion animation. Cohen fills his movie with some very gory moments, earning it an R-Rating and throws in some breasts to go along with the blood. Cohen got his start working for Corman’s New World Pictures and making blaxploitation flicks for AIP and his exploitation roots are on perfect display here. He knows just how serious to take his monster movie, but also knows enough to let audiences in on the fun. The film isn’t perfect. The pace is a bit slow, but this is the early 80s. There is some very cheesy dialog…though that is probably on purpose if you are familiar with Cohen’s films…and the monster effects look cheesy at this point, but the clay critter adds to the charm in my book. There are a lot of witty touches to look out for as Cohen builds up to his fun King Kong-esque finale with momma Q…where there is a nest, there are eggs…battling it out with a heavily armed squad of NYC cops in and around the spire of one of NYC’s oldest landmarks. Sure the film is very dated, but the 80s nostalgia and wonderful shots of 80s era New York City only add to the enjoyment of this flick and I think I actually did enjoy it far more now than when I first saw it years ago.

The cast are obviously having a good time, especially Moriarty as he chews up the scenery with a furious passion as low level crook Jimmy. He really gives Jimmy that thick New York street punk swagger and accent and it adds a lot of flavor when contrasted with Carradine’s aloof, tough-guy cop. Carradine recites his dialog about Aztec sacrifice and giant monster birds with a seriousness and a smirk as if to let us know that this is ridiculous, but he’s going to go with it. This helps the audience to relax and go with it, too. We also get movie legend Richard (Shaft) Roundtree as another hard-nosed cop on the case and 70s-80s movie regular Candy (American Graffiti) Clark as Jimmy’s fed-up girlfriend. The cast all take things serious enough and never make a joke out of it, but also seem to be having fun chasing a monster around New York City. A good example of a director and cast on the same page as to how to treat the material.

While I will admit, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this when I first saw it. I think I expected something a bit more serious and was a bit taken back by the more Roger Corman-ish approach, but I have really come to appreciate it over the years especially with all the great nostalgia involved and you know how much I love Roger Corman flicks. It’s a delightfully cheesy and fun monster movie that takes a very ridiculous premise and runs with it. There is some wonderful nostalgia and there is a lot of charming fun watching the old-style animated monster wreak havoc on the the rooftops of New York. A fun monster flick that is both charmingly old-fashioned and delightfully Corman-esque.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) Q’s.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MANIAC COP (1988)

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MANIAC COP (1988)

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

If anything can be said about this late 80s slasher, it is that it contains a virtual who’s who of 80s/genre icons both before and behind the camera. Produced by James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator, Shakedown), written by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, Q The Winged Serpent) and directed by William Lustig (Maniac), while starring Tom Atkins (The FogHalloween III), Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), William Smith (The Ultimate Warrior), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Laurene Landon (All The Marbles) and started the career of genre favorite Robert Z’Dar… an impressive list. And while the film doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the sum of it’s makers and cast, it is a fun slasher made at a time where the 80s slasher genre had pretty much run it’s course and this flick is among some of it’s last gasps before Scream brought the slasher back as the subject of pop culture nostalgia 8 years later.

Maniac Cop is set in NYC and tells the story of a murder spree that is being committed by a large hulking assailant dressed liked a police officer or, worse yet, actually is a police officer. This killer is being hunted by Det. Frank McCrae (Atkins) who can’t seem to get a lead till fellow officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) is framed for the villain’s handiwork, with the murder of Forrest’s own wife. McCrea knows the cheating Forrest was with his mistress, Officer Theresa Mallory (Landon) at the time and begins to suspect the killer is indeed a cop getting information from the inside. What’s more, the man he suspects, Officer Matt Cordell (Z’Dar), a once hero cop sent to prison for rights violations to keep him from exposing city officials, was supposedly murdered in prison by vengeful inmates. If proving Forrest’s innocence is not hard enough, he now has to prove that the real culprit is a man long believed dead.

NYC set slasher is directed fairly by the numbers by William Lustig but, Larry Cohen’s script is filled with his trademarked sly humor and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s definitely a bit livelier then Lustig’s cult classic Maniac was though, far less gruesome. It’s not one of the best of the 80s slashers but, is entertaining and has enough gore and action to make it a fun nostalgic watch, especially when one sees NYC landmarks and once famous night spots that are no longer there. The plot, if thought about, makes little sense. While Cordell may have suffered brain damage when assaulted in prison, it still doesn’t make too much sense that he now preys on innocent civilians when he was once a dedicated cop. But, there is a deviation with him wanting to kill those responsible for setting him up and at one point, he decimates a precinct full of fellow officers whom he may feel betrayed him and it is an 80s slasher so, very little inspiration is needed for a killing spree and like other flicks of it’s kind, you just go with it. The film is well produced and looks good and there is some effective gore though, not as much as one might expect. The pace is rather brisk and there is an effective score by another genre favorite Jay Chattaway (Missing In Action, Star Trek: TNG).

And if nothing else, it’s great to see the cast in action. Atkins chews up the scenery as only Atkins can but, still takes the subject matter seriously so we do too. Campbell is actually playing a straight hero type here, though he spends a lot of time incarcerated and in cuffs while the perky and leggy Landon tries to free him and get him out of Cordell’s grasp. Not sure why Cordell wants his patsy dead but, like I said, go with it. The rest of the genre vets have lesser roles but, Smith and Roundtree add some nice character to their small roles. And Z’Dar may have no dialog but, cuts an imposing figure as the vengeful cop whose basically Michael Myers in a police uniform… but, it works and Z’Dar is a perfect fit for the badge and night stick. The cast go a long way in making this one a fun viewing.

So, while Maniac Cop is not a prime example of it’s sub-genre, is a fairly entertaining one and the cast of familiar B-movie faces makes it fun to watch as does the nostalgia of 80s NYC. It isn’t very stylish but moves quickly and has it’s share of well executed gore and stunts. Not among my favorites but, does have personal nostalgia from seeing it at the long gone Hyway Theater in Fair lawn, N.J. which showed a lot of B-movies like this back in those days.

3 maniac cops.

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CAUTION: The trailer does show a lot of spoiler-ish scenes if you haven’t seen this cult classic yet.

 

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