Friday, April 17, 2009

Vintage Viewings

How do you keep track of what you’ve watched? You’d think that a person like myself that is so obviously in love with film would have figured out a good system by now, but I must admit to still using mostly my memory to catalogue the films I have seen. About the most advanced arrangement I have come up with is a notepad with a listing of discs I have burned with check marks next to the titles I have watched.

Lately, I have noticed that my memory (like everything else) isn’t anywhere near as together as it used to be, and I find more and more mostly minor titles kind of interchanging around in my head. I have decided to combat it a bit I would begin a new occasional series here focusing on short lists of older films I have recently revisited or watched for the first time. I hope these don’t prove boring as they are admittedly for my own benefit, and that a title in this post or a future one of these might even inspire a comment or two.

So onto some films (some of which might warrant their own posts here eventually) that I’ve recently watched starting with the best…

The Initiation of Sarah (1978): Out of sight TV movie from director Robert Day with a tremendous cast including Kay Lenz, Morgan Brittany, Tony Bill, Shelly Winters, Morgan Fairchild and, the best of the bunch, Tisa Farrow. A nice score by Johnny Harris and a terrifically tense atmosphere add greatly to the Carrie inspired tale and Farrow, seen here a year before appearing in Fulci’s Zombie, is really lovely and extremely memorable.

Sweet Hostage (1975): Another entertaining TV movie bolstered by a terrific cast, this time the powerhouse teaming of Linda Blair and Martin Sheen. This Lee Philip’s production isn’t perfect but it’s a more than a notch above your average TV production, and both Blair (just two years after The Exorcist) and Sheen are outstanding.

Curtains (1983): An odd and at times quite haunting slasher film from Canada starring Samantha Eggar, John Vernon and Linda Thorson. Uneven, but it has some seriously mesmerizing moments and a widescreen DVD is way overdue.

Freebie and the Bean (1974): I have some friends that swear by this strange 1974 Richard Rush buddy cop picture starring Alan Arkin and James Caan, but it’s going to take me a viewing or two more to really get captured by it. I did enjoy the frantic energy of the film and the photography by Laszlo Kovacs is terrific. I suspect I will appreciate the film much more when I revisit it down the road.

The Deliberate Stranger (1986): This two-part TV movie left a big impact on me when I saw it as a teenager when it first aired. I must admit that I was disappointed with the first half watching it again recently, but the second half was quite effective and chilling. Mark Harmon’s performance as Ted Bundy is disturbing stuff, especially when the cracks start to show on his all American façade.

Trip with the Teacher (1975): Earl Barton’s low budget revenge thriller has gotten a lot of attention in the past year or so as it is a clear precursor to Tarantino’s Death Proof (if memory serves me correctly this was mentioned in Video Watchdog’s Grindhouse Round-Table discussion), but it is ultimately a pretty disjointed affair. The cast, featuring a menacing young Zalman King, is solid for the most part but it never completely held together for me. Still, I admired how different it felt from most of its counterparts and it was never less than compulsively watchable.

Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976): The fact that it works best as a snapshot of mid-seventies Los Angeles in all its seedy glory shouldn’t take away from how good Eve Plumb is in the role of the title character. It has a bit of that old Afternoon Special feel but, again, Plumb is really very good as is co-star Leigh McCloskey, who would appear as the title character in the film’s follow up a year later.

Fire With Fire (1986): Well, it wasn’t very good in the mid-eighties and it still isn’t but damn it, it’s Virginia Madsen in her prime and that fact alone warrants this title some attention. Duncan Gibbin’s film is overblown and never comes together but Madsen, much like the title, just burns…

Death Ship (1980): Alvin Rakoff’s chiller from 1980 is credited to a Jack Hill story, and you can believe it would have been a better film had the great Hill been behind the camera. It’s effective in spots and you can’t fault a film with George Kennedy in full melt-down mode but it’s often a bit flat.

My Tutor (1983): George Bower’s early eighties exploitation comedy is as delightfully politically incorrect as you would hope it would be, but it finally just isn’t very funny. Look for Crispin Glover in one of his earliest roles, and one of the goofiest final shots I have ever seen.

The Godsend (1980): Atmospheric but very flawed Omen rip-off is at its most memorable in the few scenes Symptoms star Angela Pleasence appears in, but otherwise it never comes close to the transcendent creepiness of the film it’s aping. Morman Warwick’s photography is quite entrancing though and I would love to see a better quality copy of it.

Malibu High (1979): I typically love these kind of unapologetic exploitation offerings but I found this unappealing film from Irvin Berwick nearly unwatchable. An irritating cast and poor direction bring the film down at every turn, and this is truly one of the longest 90 minute films I have ever seen.


Tony Dayoub said...

Hey Jeremy,

Sorry I've been MIA, but my laptop has been out of commission. Hope you're doing better.

I loved the underrated Caren Kaye from My Tutor. She was beautiful and talented. I remember her from a sitcom, It's Your Move where she played young Jason Bateman's sexy mom.

Gilligan said...

Not boring in the slightest... I'd like to see more of these types of posts. Sure, the analysis is shorter, but it's great just to have my memory jogged. Totally forgot about Curtains; I'll have to see if I can get that one.

Always glad to see m'lady Plumb on a post as well.

MovieMan0283 said...

I've been thinking along the same lines - I tended to go slowly through my Netflix queues because I waited on watching new discs until I'd written up the ones I'd just watched. Now I'm hoping to do a master post of capsule reviews when I've watched about 20-25 movies in a given queue.

Since a couple days ago, I've been re-watching classics, something I haven't done much of since I started this blog. I went to borrow movies from a local library, and came back with far The General, Rear Window, and The Shining among others. I have to say it may be the most fun I've had watching movies in the past year.

aaron said...

I find myself mulling over how to successfully keep track of all the titles I watch, and I've found that these smallish capsules (which I myself keep in an ongoing yearly word file) are always a great way.

I recently interviewed Guy Maddin and brought up this very issue. Perhaps you'll be happy to know that he doesn't keep a list either, and also goes almost completely by memory. What amazed me was how detailed his descriptions of specific scenes could fact, that's what prompted me to ask.

Anyway, the ice-skating rink scene in CURTAINS scared the hell out of me as a child. You're right though, it's probably one of Canada's better slashers (I myself prefer it to PROM NIGHT).

Amanda By Night said...

Jeremy, I mean this in a completely platonic way, but I love you!

Portions of this post could easily be called "Moon in the Gutter - The TV Movie Edition," so you know you won my heart!

I love a lot of these films, television and otherwise, and like Tony I'm in the Caren Kaye fan club too. She was so beautiful and so good in My Tutor. And yeah, It's Your Move rocked!

Also, I think The Initiation of Sarah is one of the best TVMs ever. Not quite as effective as Carrie but a very good riff on those themes. And Morgan Fairchild is perfection as the bitch from hell...

Sorry for such a long post. You got me going there!!!

Tony Dayoub said...

As long as we're discussing TV movies here, there's two I've always wanted to see, both directed by Michael Mann. Has anyone here seen The Jericho Mile and/or L.A. Takedown?

Does anyone know where I can get them?

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Tony,
Good to hear from you. I loved It's Your Move and wish they would release it on DVD. I am a big fan of both Batemans. I wish I had copies of those Mann films for you.

Thanks Gilligan,
I was really impressed by Eve's work in that film. I can't believe I missed it when I was a kid.

Thanks Aaron,
Wow that is cool you got to interview Madden. His memory is obviously better than mine because i am really starting to slip. Also, I agree with you on that skating scene in Curtains.

Thanks so much Amanda...I really appreciate all your comments and it is great to find a fellow lover of 70's TV movies. I forgot to mention how perfect Morgan Fairchild was in that role. Everyone really delivered the goods I thought. Thanks again!

J.D. said...


"As long as we're discussing TV movies here, there's two I've always wanted to see, both directed by Michael Mann. Has anyone here seen The Jericho Mile and/or L.A. Takedown?

Does anyone know where I can get them?"

Well, THE JERICHO MILE is pretty easy to get on VHS. I've seen it new/used on Amazon and on eBay. As for L.A. TAKEDOWN, you can get it on DVD if you have a regionless DVD player as it was released in the UK years ago. I'd love to snag a copy of it myself as it was basically a rough draft for what would become HEAT.

FilmFather said...

Death Ship was one of the first R-rated movies I snuck a peek at on HBO as a pre-teen. Yeah, it's a bit flat, but there are a couple of scenes that still stick with me, like the girl showering when suddenly the shower water turns to blood and Nazi propaganda music starts playing...

And when George Kennedy is "reading" from a Bible to bless the ship, and we then see the book's in German, we know he's truly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.