Month: September 2012

497 Movies You Oughta See

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Before we get to the actual list I pray you to indulge me for a bit as I give you the backstory behind 497 Movies You Oughta See.

Ever since I started writing movie reviews and people were good enough to read and enjoy them they’ve been asking me a question: “I would love to watch more Westerns/Comedies/War Movies/Horror/Whatever but I just don’t know where to start.” It occurred to me that if I drew up a list of movies in various genres that it would be a good starting point for folks to at least dip their toes in a genre they had little or no knowledge of.

The first incarnation of this list was “250 Movies You Oughta See” that I pretty much drew up on my own. There were some folks who put in their suggestion here and there but most of it was me. And that list I drew up two or three years ago. Since then we’ve seen a lot of movies come out. It occurred to me that it was time that I revised the list dramatically.

And this time I decided that I would open it up and ask members of the BETTER IN THE DARK Facebook group for their input. And boy, did I get it. But I’m really glad I did. I got a lot of movies I wouldn’t have even thought of. And with such a wide and diverse group I was confident I would get an equally wide and diverse range of movies. Which is exactly what I got.

Couple of things. I want to stress that this is not and I repeat not a “Best Movies” list. It’s a “Oughta See” List. Which simply means that these are movies that I and others think you Oughta See because we think they’re pretty damn good movies. But we’re not saying that they’re the best in a given genre so let’s get that out of the way and done.

And it will do no good for you to jump up and down screaming that your favorite Science Fiction or Crime Movies isn’t here. The first and foremost purpose of this list is for fun. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list of every single movie in every single genre. The best way I would hope that you guys use this list is to scan it and jot down the names of movies that sound good or you’ve been planning to see or that you’ve heard of from friends or movies you just want to take a chance on watching. Okay?

And now, here’s where I thank those BiTD friends who helped me put together this list. And here they are:

Mark Bousquet. Tobias Christopher. Zoe Collins. Kelen Conley. James Dye. Gordon Dymowski. Michael Franzoni. Erik Fromme. Lucas Garrett Don Gates. Orenthal Hawkins. James Hickson. Lonni Susan Holland. Chris Johnson. Matthew Laub. JD Mathis. Tom Moses. Chris Munn. David Olfers. Adam Orchekowski. David A. Pascarella. Arthur Ratnick. Jeffrey Rist. Andrew Salmon. Kenneth Smith. Parker G. Stanfield. Sean Taylor.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you all for your time and your suggestions. Some of them were phenomenal. Some were downright dangerous. Others provocative and while still others hilarious. But all are appreciated and I don’t take your participation lightly.

I have run my mouth sufficiently so now it’s time to present the list at last. Enjoy and I hope that this list will enable you to enjoy movies that you would not otherwise have even heard of. Good night and God Bless.

 

COMEDIES

9 TO 5

A Christmas Story

Airplane

Amazon Women On The Moon

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Animal House

Arsenic And Old Lace

Beetlejuice

Better Off Dead

Blazing Saddles

Bridesmaids

Cannonball Run

Clerks

Clerks II

Clue

Down Periscope

Ghostbusters

Johnny Dangerously

Midnight Run

Mother, Jugs & Speed

Murder By Death

Never Give A Sucker An Even Break

Office Space

Oscar

Sleeper

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Smokey and The Bandit

SuperTroopers

The Blues Brothers

The Bride Came C.O.D.

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Trains, Planes & Automobiles

Tropic Thunder

UHF

Young Frankenstein

EPIC DRAMAS

A Clockwork Orange

A Face in The Crowd

A Raisin in The Sun

As Good As It Gets

Becket

Ben-Hur

Black Narcissus

Boogie Nights

Casablanca

Citizen Kane

Germany Year Zero

Gladiator

Glory

Imitation of Life

Jaws

Legends of The Fall

Lolita

Master & Commander

Nothing But A Man

On The Beach

Raging Bull

Rocky

Schindler’s List

Seven Samurai

Shawshank Redemption

Spartacus

Taxi Driver

The Bad and The Beautiful

The Grapes of Wrath

The Lion In Winter

The Ten Commandments

The Third Man

Titanic

To Have and Have Not

To Sir, With Love

Troy

Twelve Angry Men (both versions)

Gone With The Wind

Cape Fear (both versions)

Falling Down

FANTASY

Dragonslayer

Excalibur

Jason And The Argonauts

Ladyhawke

Merlin

Star Wars

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen

The Empire Strikes Back

The Green Pastures

The Neverending Story

The Princess Bride

The Seventh Seal

The Sword And The Sorcerer

The Thief Of Bagdad (1940)

The Wizard of Oz

Time Bandits

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

SPORTS

A League of Their Own

Brian’s Song

Cool Runnings

Eight Men Out

Field of Dreams

Friday Night Lights

He Got Game

Hoop Dreams

Hoosiers

Necessary Roughness

Pride Of The Yankees

Remember The Titans

Rudy

Slapshot

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars And Motor Kings

The Sandlot

The Wrestler

When We Were Kings

White Men Can’t Jump

CHICK FLICKS

An Angel At My Table

Bright Star

Clueless

Dirty Dancing

Fried Green Tomatoes

He’s Just Not That Into You

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

How To Marry A Millionaire

Love Story

Pretty Woman

Sense and Sensibility

Spice World

Steel Magnolias

Terms of Endearment

Thelma & Louise

The Bridges of Madison County

The English Patient

The First Wives Club

The Notebook

The Piano

The Proposal

The Red Shoes

Under A Tuscany Sun

The Way We Were

Waiting to Exhale

What Women Want

When Harry Met Sally

SCIENCE FICTION

12 Monkeys

2001: A Space Odyssey

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Alien

Children Of Men

Close Encounters of The Third Kind

Back To The Future Trilogy

Blade Runner

Dark City

Dr. Cyclops

Enemy Mine

eXistenZ

Forbidden Planet

Gattaca

La Jetee

Metropolis

Moon

Planet of The Apes

Robocop

Serenity

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

Sunshine

Soylent Green

The Blob (both versions)

The Bride of Frankenstein

The Fountain

Westworld

ACTION/ADVENTURE

300

48 Hours

Aliens

All Through The Night

Beverly Hills Cop

Big Trouble In Little China

Die Hard Series

Dr. No

Enter The Dragon

Equilibrium

Escape From New York

Indiana Jones Series

Jurassic Park

Lethal Weapon Series

King Kong (Original & Peter Jackson remake)

Mad Max

National Treasure

Passenger 57

Predator

Raiders of The Lost Ark

Sahara

Silver Streak

Tango & Cash

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The 13th Warrior

The Fifth Element

The Hidden Fortress

The Last Dragon

The Road Warrior

The Terminator

WESTERNS

3:10 To Yuma (both versions)

Barbarossa

Bend In The River

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

Cat Ballou

Dead Man

Duel at Diablo

El Dorado

Forty Guns

Hidalgo

High Noon

Lonesome Dove

My Name Is Nobody

Once Upon A Time In The West

Open Range

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

Quigley Down Under

Ride The High Country

Rio Bravo

Silverado

Stagecoach

The Angel and The Badman

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The Magnificent Seven

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Missouri Breaks

The Outlaw

The Professionals

The Quick And The Dead

The Searchers

Valdez Is Coming

Vera Cruz

The Virginian

The War Wagon

The Wild Bunch

The Wrath of God

Two Mules For Sister Sarah

Tombstone

True Grit

Unforgiven

MUSICALS

1776

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

A Hard Day’s Night

Cabin In The Sky

Cabaret

Chicago

Dreamgirls

Godspell

Grease

Guys And Dolls

Hair

Hairspray

Jailhouse Rock

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Jesus Christ, Superstar

Little Shop of Horrors

Mamma Mia

Moulin Rouge

Pennies From Heaven

Showboat (1936)

Singin’ In the Rain

South Pacific

The Apple

The Music Man

The Sound of Music

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Victor/Victoria

Wattstax

West Side Story

The Wiz

WAR MOVIES

Apocalypse Now Redux

Band of Brothers

Blackhawk Down

Fixed Bayonets!

Full Metal Jacket

Hamburger Hill

Inglourious Basterds

Kelly’s Heroes

Letters From Iwo Jima

M*A*S*H

Paths of Glory

Platoon

Red Tails

Saving Private Ryan

The Big Red One

The Bridge Over The River Kwai

The Dirty Dozen

The Hurt Locker

The Steel Helmet

The Thin Red Line

Three Kings

Tuskegee Airmen

We Were Soldiers

Where Eagles Dare

HORROR

American Werewolf in London

Angel Heart

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Cabin In The Woods

Candyman

Carrie

Carnival of Souls

Dawn of The Dead

Demon Seed

Event Horizon

Halloween

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Insidious

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

Night of The Hunter

Night of The Living Dead

Nightmare on Elm Street

Phantasm

Poltergeist

Psycho

Stir of Echoes

Suspiria

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Beyond

The Birds

The Black Cat

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Changeling

The Crazies (both versions)

The Exorcist

The Haunting (1963)

The Invisible Man

The Island of Lost Souls

The Last Man on Earth

The Thing (both versions)

Trick ‘R Treat

ODDITIES

Battle Royale

Barton Fink

Big Fish

Blue Velvet

Buckaroo Banzai

Brazil

City of Lost Children

Crash

Day Watch

Dogma

Donnie Darko

Edward Scissorhands

Eraserhead

Heathers

Hudson Hawk

Ichi The Killer

Identity

Inception

Liquid Sky

Miracle Mile

Mulholland Drive

Naked Lunch

Night Watch

Oldboy

Repo Man

Six String Samurai

Speed Racer

The Big Lebowski

The Cell

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

The Point

The Thirteenth Floor

Time Bandits

Videodrome

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

CRIME

A Rage In Harlem

Bonnie & Clyde

Charlie Varrick

Cotton Comes To Harlem

Detour

Double Indemnity

Donnie Brasco

Drive

Ghost Dog: Way of The Samurai

Goodfellas

Heat

High Sierra

Hoodlum

Jackie Brown

King of New York

L.A. Confidential

Last Man Standing

Little Caesar

Memento

Miller’s Crossing

New Jack City

Ocean’s Eleven (both versions)

Once Upon A Time In America

Pickup on South Street

Pulp Fiction

Scarface (both versions)

Shadow of a Doubt

Shaft(1971)

Silence of The Lambs

Sin City

The Big Sleep

The Conversation

The Departed

The Godfather Trilogy

The Italian Job

The Maltese Falcon

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Thin Man

The Third Man

The Usual Suspects

Touch of Evil

Zodiac

SUPERHERO

Batman (1969)

Batman (1989)

Batman Returns

Batman: Mask of The Phantasm

Batman Trilogy

Blade

Blade 2

Captain America: The First Avenger

Darkman

Danger: Diabolik

Dick Tracy

Doctor Strange

Dredd

Hellboy

Hellboy and The Golden Army

Hulk

Incredible Hulk

Iron Man

Iron Man 2

Meteor Man

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow

Sky High

Spider-Man

Spider-Man 2

Superman

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

The Avengers

The Incredibles

The Phantom

The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941 serial)

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl

The Rocketeer

The Shadow

Thor

Unbreakable

V For Vendetta

Watchmen

X-Men

X-Men 2

X-Men: First Class

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

ANIMATION

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Akira

American Pop

Antz

Beauty and The Beast

Chicken Run

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Cool World

Despicable Me

Fantasia

Fantastic Planet

Finding Nemo

Fire & Ice

Ghost In The Shell

Grave of The Fireflies

Happy Feet

Heavy Metal

How To Train Your Dragon

Iron Giant

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

Lilo And Stitch

Mulan

Princess Mononoke

Rock and Rule

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Spirited Away

Steamboy

Streetfight

The Aristocats

The Castle of Cagliostro

The Jungle Book

The Lion King

The Triplets of Belleville

The Tune

Toy Story

Toy Story 3

UP

Waking Life

Wall-E

Wizards

SPY & ESPIONAGE THRILLERS

Hunt For Red October

In Like Flint

North by Northwest

Taken

The Good Shepard

The James Bond Series

The Jason Bourne Trilogy

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Professional

Ronin

Safe House

Salt

Sneaker

Spy Game

Three Days of The Condor

Spione

Death Wish

1974

Paramount Pictures/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Michael Winner

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Bobby Roberts

Screenplay by Wendell Mayes

Based on the novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield

Considering how ridiculous and downright cartoonish the later movies in the series were, I can easily see how a recommendation of DEATH WISH would bring snickers and outright guffaws from modern day movie fans. Hey, I can’t sit through “Death Wish 3” without collapsing into fits of laughter while “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown” and “Death Wish V: The Face of Death” are simply embarrassing. By the time Charles Bronson made those last two movies he was plainly way too old to be trying to play the action hero.

But the first DEATH WISH still holds up for me as a powerful piece of filmmaking. Maybe because I remember how the issues of urban crime, white flight, racism and vigilantism were raised, debated and discussed in magazines, newspapers and TV talk shows thanks to DEATH WISH. The movie was actually extremely controversial when it was released. Urban crime was a growing plague in American cities back in the 1970’s and there was a very real fear that the vigilantism advocated by DEATH WISH would be embraced and possibly even acted out by the audiences that packed the theaters showing the movie.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a successful architect living and working in New York with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange.) They return home after a wonderful Hawaiian vacation and resume their lives. It’s a life that is forever destroyed when three hoodlums break inside Kersey’s home. In a truly brutal and graphic scene, the three hoodlums trash the apartment, one of them (Jeff Goldblum) beating Joanna with a blackjack in bloodthirsty glee and then all three savagely raping Kersey’s married daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan) and leaving without anybody seeing them. Paul is called to the hospital and meets his son-in-law Jack (Steven Keats) there. Carol’s mind has been shattered by the horror of what happened to her and Joanna is dead. The police are professionally sympathetic but without Carol able to look at mug shots or tell them exactly what happened there is little to no chance of them catching the criminals.

To help him deal with the shock, Paul’s boss sends him to Arizona on a working vacation to help design a residential development for a wealthy businessman, Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin.) Jainchill takes Paul to a gun club to unwind and is amazed that Paul is an excellent marksman. Paul reveals he was taught how to shoot as a boy by his dad. But when the elder Kersey was killed in a hunting accident Paul swore never to touch a gun again. But recent events in his life as well as discussions he has with Jainchill about liberalism, urban anxiety and where do law-abiding citizens take it upon themselves to defend themselves if the police can’t prey upon Paul’s mind. Upon the completion of the job, Jainchill gives Paul a present: a .38 Smith & Wesson.

Back in New York City, Paul begins a nightly ritual of taking aimless walks in dangerous neighborhoods and riding in empty subway cars, deliberately setting himself up as a target for muggers who he guns downs. New York City is soon set afire by the series of killings done by “The Vigilante.”

NYPD Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) is assigned to the case. But it soon become apparent to him that the Powers That Be don’t really want Paul Kersey brought to justice. The number of violent crimes such robberies, rapes and muggings at night are dropping dramatically. And New Yorkers, as they are wont to do have made a hero out of The Vigilante. The last thing the District Attorney wants is a martyr for the press. But Paul is taking more and more risks and it’s only a matter of time before he’s either caught by the cops or catches a bullet.

DEATH WISH is a movie soaked in urban chaos. There’s a scene where Paul asks his son-in-law, “What do you call people who are faced with a condition of fear and do nothing about it except run and hide?” And that was a very real fear in the 1970’s when it seemed as if anarchy ruled the cities and all of our civilized institutions were breaking down. During the Arizona scenes it’s as if Paul is visiting NRA Heaven which makes his return to the concrete jungle of New York even more psychologically unsetting and helps plunge him into his nightly shooting sprees.

This is undoubtedly the best known movie and role Charles Bronson played. It certainly was the most successful and profitable of his movies. There are other movies I think Bronson has done better acting: “Once Upon A Time In The West” “The Dirty Dozen” ”The Mechanic” ”Master of The World” ”Mr. Majestyk” “Breakheart Pass” “The White Buffalo” and I could easily name half a dozen more. But you mention Charles Bronson’s name and the first movie that comes to people’s mind is DEATH WISH.

The violence in this movie is handled in a manner that I find appalling even by today’s standards. Maybe because it’s presented in an almost documentary-like, matter-of-fact manner. The movie was charged with being racist as the criminals who attack the two women were white but most of the thugs Paul kills are black, which adds another level to the horror we’re seeing on screen. And I think that’s why DEATH WISH still carries a wallop even today. Charles Bronson isn’t playing an invincible, wisecracking superman. He’s an ordinary man who deals with his overwhelming grief and rage in the only way that makes sense to him. He’s committed to his plan and he goes through with it even though it takes a toll on him. He starts drinking more. He throws up after killing a mugger. He rages at his ineffectual son-in-law because he’s got to take out his anger on somebody and the killing still isn’t enough.

But even after all that, we’re left with that final chilling, scary scene where Paul Kersey, having relocated to Chicago comes to the aid of a woman being harassing by a gang of punks. Paul points his hand like a gun  at the punks and gives them the scariest smile I’ve ever seen Bronson give on screen. It’s then that we realize that there’s a lot more to Charles Bronson’s performance and a lot more to DEATH WISH.

93 Minutes

Rated R

Better In The Dark #137

Episode 137: INFINITE STORIES IN HIS TRUCK–THE CAREER OF LARRY COHEN

The Boys Outta Brooklyn welcomes back for the first of two–that’s right, two–episodes Dread Media Maven and Patriarch of the First Family of Better In The Dark Des Reddick just in time to induct one of the greatest Guerilla filmmakers of all time into The Hall of Great, Great Men. Tom, Derrick and Des dissect and discuss Larry Cohen’s career as both a director and screenwriter, from his first film, the bizarre psychological crime flick Bone, to the ‘Telephone Trilogy.’ Along the way they explain how Cohen always stayed true to his maverick esthetic, never letting being fired or banned from shooting in the city he loved stop him from making the movies he dreamed of. Plus tales of focus group marketing, Alien Emo Jesus, and Fred Williamson is The Hulk! You know you gotta pay the cost to be the boss, so get to clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
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Nocturne, The City That Lives By Night….needs a darker shade of protector
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The Killer Elite

1975

United Artists

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Produced by Martin Baum

Screenplay by Marc Norman and Stirling Silliphant

Based on the novel “Monkey In The Middle” by Robert Rostand

THE KILLER ELITE is most definitely a lesser Peckinpah entertainment. But lesser Sam Peckinpah is still better than most other directors on their best days. It hasn’t got the wild, chaotic and yet balletic violence of some of his earlier movies. It’s not as energetic as his other, earlier movies. And the story doesn’t deal with the themes Peckinpah is known for such as men searching for redemption and justification in a violent and dishonorable world. The two reasons for this could be because Sam Peckinpah wasn’t allowed to rewrite the screenplay and this was when Peckinpah began using cocaine. (allegedly it was the star of this movie, James Caan who introduced him to the stuff) and adding the yayo to Peckinpah’s already legendary intake of alcohol didn’t make for the best of working conditions.

In any case, whatever the reasons for the way it turned out, THE KILLER ELITE is essentially a straight-up cloak-and-dagger action flick. We got double crosses, gun fights, car chases, ninjas, martial arts…it all adds up to a satisfying package.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are mercenaries working for a company called Communications Integrity. It’s a private intelligence/military/espionage corporation that contracts itself out to official government intelligence agencies to do the jobs that for one reason or another they can’t do. Locken and Hansen have been friends and partners for years and that’s the only thing that saves Locken on their last assignment together. Hansen has sold out to a rival corporation. He kills their latest client, an East European defector and goes against orders to kill Locken as well. Instead he shoots out Locken’s knee and elbow, crippling him.

As far as Locken’s bosses, Weybourne (Gig Young) and Cap Collis (Arthur Hill) are concerned, his career is over. But Locken undergoes an intensive period of rehabilitation that includes studying martial arts and actually becomes pretty damn fearsome at using his cane as a weapon. And the rehab pays off when Cap Collis comes to him with a job. An Asian client , Yuen Chung (Mako) needs protection from assassins while he’s in the United States. While the C.I.A. are supposedly in charge of his security they pass the job along to ComTeg because of who’s leading the assassination team: George Hansen.

Locken recruits two former ComTeg operatives as his backup for the assignment. Mac (Burt Young) is an expert driver who now owns his own garage where he builds custom made vehicles for security work. Jerome Miller (Bo Hopkins) is a weapons expert who doesn’t have all the spots on his dice. But what none of them are aware of is that they’re all pieces on a bloody chessboard and the game is an internal power struggle between Cap Collis and Weybourne.

You have to sit through a lot of plot exposition before getting to the good stuff but it’s worth it. I like the scenes of Locken regaining the use of his leg and arm and I appreciate that the story doesn’t turn him into a Jim Kelly level martial arts master. He’s good but he’s not that good. I enjoyed the humor in the scenes of him recruiting Mac and Miller. Burt Young and Bo Hopkins obviously are having a lot of fun in their scenes together and I wish they had had more. Burt Young gets a lot of mileage out of his character Mac who is an unashamed slob. Unkempt is a polite word for his appearance. But put him behind the wheel of a car or a .45 automatic in his hand and he’s pure dynamite. And quite unexpectedly he takes on the job of being Locken’s conscience, forcing Locken to re-evaluate his own worth in this shadow word of death and deceit.

There’s a couple of terrific action sequences such as a Chinatown shoot-out and a battle between Locken, Mac and a hoard of katana wielding ninja. There’s a really goofy scene involving Mac’s wife Josephine (Sondra Blake) who calls everybody ‘Mr. Davis’ when Locken is around. The funniest scene is probably the one where Mac is trying to defuse a bomb attached to the underside of their getaway car while a cop is standing over him, kicking his legs, demanding he come out from under there while Locken is calmly explaining to the cop why that isn’t such a hot idea.

So should you see THE KILLER ELITE? Yes. I will be the first to say it’s not one of Sam Peckinpah’s best but it’s a solid action flick that has good performances from everybody and more than enough story to hold your interest until the ass-kicking commences. Highly recommended.

122 minutes

Rated PG

The Keep

1983

Paramount Pictures

Directed and Screenplay by Michael Mann based on “The Keep” by F. Paul Wilson

Produced by Howard W. Koch

Say the name Michael Mann to any reasonably informed movie fan and they’ll most likely rattle off the titles of movies such as “Thief” “Manhunter” “Heat” “Public Enemies.” He’s built up a solid reputation as a director of crime thrillers. As well he should after being the executive director of such classic crime dramas as “Miami Vice” and “Crime Story.” He’s rightfully acclaimed as being one of the best directors actively working today and rightly so. The man knows how to direct a movie. Waitaminnit. Back up and bit. Let me amend that. The man knows how to direct crime thrillers and dramas. I finally got around to watching THE KEEP and while I’m not going to say it’s a totally worthless movie I am going to say that after watching it I know why he’s never made another horror movie. It’s the work of a terrific director, no doubt. But a director who let his art house aspirations for the work get in the way of making a fun horror movie that could have given viewers the screaming fits. Instead, THE KEEP may give you the yawning fidgets.

Certainly the set-up is a fascinating one. A detachment of German soldiers led by Captain Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) comes to a village located in the Dinu Mountains. The only strategic value the village has is that Russian soldiers could slip through the pass and that’s what the detachment is there to prevent. Overlooking the village is a huge Keep that Captain Woermann takes as his base despite the warnings of the caretaker and his sons who look after The Keep.

The German soldiers are quick to notice the hundreds of crosses embedded in the walls which the caretaker insists are worthless nickel but are actually silver. Two soldiers manage to pry one cross out of a wall, loosening the bricks behind it. Thinking there is more treasure hidden, they crawl inside. Well, you know what happens to noisy folks in horror movies who go where they shouldn’t.

Pretty soon, the soldiers are dying horribly and a detachment of stormtroopers led by SD Sturmbannfuhrer Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) arrive to back up Woermann, thinking that it’s simply partisans trying to throw a scare into the Germans. Woermann knows better. He indicates a mysterious message on a wall of The Keep and the village priest advises them to get Professor Cuza (Ian McKellen) out of the local death camp as he’s a noted Jewish historian and linguist and might be able to decipher the message. Cuza’s daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) has accompanied her father and is saved from being raped by two of of the stormtroopers by Radu Molasar (Michael Carter) the demonic entity imprisoned within The Keep. Molasar makes a deal with Cuza: if Cuza will recover a talisman that Molasar needs to regain his full power, Molasar will destroy the Nazis. Seems like a pretty good deal all way ‘round. But nobody as yet knows about a mysterious stranger with glowing purple eyes on his way to The Keep (Scott Glenn) who shares a destiny with the demon trapped inside…

Sounds pretty good, don’t it? I thought so as well and I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend THE KEEP but the fact of the matter is that I can’t. But let me put it this way: If all you’re interested in is mood and atmosphere thick enough to cut with a bayonet, gorgeously creepy sets and stylish cinematography then you’ll want to give THE KEEP at least a try. The movie looks great, no denying that. But great looks do not make a horror movie and this movie has none of that at all. What Michael Mann is going for here is art house, not grindhouse and as a result, there is nothing in the least bit horrifying or scary about THE KEEP.

I did like the appearances of Molasar, especially in one scene that is for my money the best special effect in the movie where it appears to Cuza as a creature of living smoke that freaks the old dude out completely and at the end of the movie Molasar has metamorphosed into a form that looks like he could be a distant, darker skinned cousin of The Engineers from Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus.” And the score by Tangerine Dream is marvelous all the way through, especially during a scene where Cuza is racing through the bowels of The Keep with Molasar’s talisman clutched in his hands.

But that’s about it. This is the movie that contains what I think is perhaps the worst performance I’ve ever seen from both Scott Glenn and Gabriel Byrne. Especially Glenn. I couldn’t tell you who he is or what his deal is other than he’s got glowing purple eyes and a stick he carries around with him in a case he won’t let anybody touch. But apparently those glowing purple peepers come in handy for something because five minutes after meeting Eva they’re bumpin’ uglies. And it happens just as I describe. Really. They meet, exchange one minutes worth of dialog and whoomp, there it is.

So should you see THE KEEP? It’s available for streaming from Netflix and if you subscribe then I don’t see the harm in checking it out. You can have it playing in the background while you’re folding laundry or scraping your bunions or whatever and not worry about missing a thing. It’s a pretentious exercise that sacrifices everything that a good horror movie should have. Visually, it’s always engaging. But that’s really all the movie has going for it. Watch at your own discretion.

96 minutes

Rated R

The Legend Of Hell House

1973

Academy Pictures Corproration/20th Century Fox

Directed by John Hough

Produced by Albert Fennell

Written by Richard Matheson based on his novel “Hell House”

Plain and simple, there are the two things upon which the success and effectiveness of a haunted house story depends on. One: there has to be a compelling and believable reason for why the protagonists go to a house they know is haunted. Two: there has to be a compelling and believable reason for why the protagonists continue to stay in a house they know is haunted. If there isn’t a powerful enough motivation for those two points then you just don’t have a good haunted house movie.

And I love a good haunted house story. Some of my favorite horror movies are haunted house stories: “The Haunting” “The Shining” “Burnt Offerings” “The House on Haunted Hill” “Poltergeist” because all of them are excellent examples of how well a haunted house movie can be done when there’s a solid reason why the characters don’t just run like hell when the dishes in the cupboard start flying through the air by themselves. And it’s why I enjoy THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much as each of our four main characters have excellent reasons for why they are in ‘The Mount Everest of haunted houses.’ The infamous and cursed Belasco House.

Dying millionaire Rudolf Deutsch (Roland Culver)puts together a special group, contracting to pay them £100,000 each to prove conclusively that there is life after death. There’s a catch, though (isn’t there always?) They have a week to accomplish their task. The team members are: physicist and parapsychologist researcher Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) his wife Anne (Gayle Hunnicutt) spiritual medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and physical medium Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell.) Fischer is the only survivor of a previous attempt to investigate the supernatural forces infesting the house that killed the seven other members of that team. Fischer intends to sit around the house, do nothing and collect his check at the end of the week. Dr.Barrett wants to test a machine he’s invented that he believes will dissipate the unfocused electromagnetic energy in the house that he thinks is the actual cause of the haunting. Florence Tanner has a deep Christian faith that perhaps opens her up far too quickly to the influence of the house. The four of them move into the house, which has been sealed up for years and they’ve just barely unpacked their bags before they realize that they may have made a really big mistake in coming to Hell House.

Built and owned by the depraved and perverted millionair Emeric Belasco aka “The Roaring Giant” the house gained its fearsome reputation after a hideous orgy of madness that included drug and alcohol abuse, vampirism, cannibalism, necrophilia, torture, murder and let’s not even get into the range of sexual deviancy that went from A to way beyond Z. Over forty people died during that event but Belasco himself was never found, alive or dead. One of the things that sets THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE apart from other haunted house movies is that it’s just as much a mystery as a horror movie as the team has to put together the clues as to exactly why the house is being haunted as much as who is doing the haunting. Florence Tanner is immediately convinced that it’s Belasco’s son Daniel who is haunting the house. And the house itself appears to to be working on her overbearing ego as she is convinced right from the moment she sets foot in the house that she’s the only one who knows what’s going on.

The house works on the others in various ways as well, especially on the sexual frustrations of Ann Barrett. She is tormented by erotic thoughts and visions of shadows on her bedroom wall engaging in lusty sexual acts. Barrett himself is so convinced his machine will work he refuses to give any credence to the opinions of Florence or Fischer.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE will seem dull and plodding to those of you who are used to CGI extravaganzas in your horror movies but it’s one of my favorites and a movie I’ve seen and enjoyed many times. The performances of the four main characters are all wonderful and carry us through the movie right along with them. Clive Revill gets criticized for playing Barrett as such an uptight, repressed, stick-up-the-ass prig but that’s what the character is. And because Barrett is that way, it’s pretty understandable why his wife is seduced so easily by the house offering to fulfill her sexual fantasies.

Pamela Franklin has long been a favorite of mine and if you like her performance in this one, then by all means check out “And Soon The Darkness” a nifty horror film from 1970. She and Revill have some great scenes where they go at each other tooth and claw. Despite their seeming differences, their characters are actually quite similar in their stubborn insistence that each of them are right and their refusal to entertain other ideas, beliefs or thoughts is what leads them to their eventual fates.

But it’s Roddy McDowall who walks off with the acting honors in this one. I really like how he stays in the background for most of the movie, along with Gayle Hunnicutt and lets Pamela Franklin and Clive Revill have most of the screen time in the beginning of the movie as it’s their characters that are driving the plot along. But the longer the movie runs, the more his character comes to the forefront and it’s terrific to watch Fischer put together the clues at last and take on the spirit of Emeric Belasco at the end. It’s McDowell at his best, going full tilt boogie and selling the scene not with special effects but his sheer acting power. It’s a great conclusion to watch him solve the mystery of Belasco House and put not only his personal demons but the demons of the house to rest at last.

Plain and simple: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is a movie to put on your Must See list of horror movies to watch if you haven’t seen it already. And it makes a fine Halloween double or triple feature with any of the other haunted house movies I mentioned earlier. Enjoy.

95 minutes

Rated PG

Blackthorn

2011

Magnolia Pictures/Universal Pictures

Directed by Mateo Gil

Written by Miguel Barros

Produced by Andres Santana and Paolo Agazzi

Every Western fan worth a plug nickel knows the classic ending to the legendary 1969 “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.” Wounded, vastly outnumbered and running low on ammo, Butch and Sundance charge dozens of Bolivian soldiers. The movie ends on a freeze frame shot as the sound of the soldiers repeatedly firing on the pair gets louder and louder. The conclusion we can draw is plain.

But there have been claims that continue to this day that neither of them died in Bolivia but that Butch and Sundance returned to the United States and lived out their lives in peace. It’s certainly an intriguing theory and one that most people would like to believe as we all like to see likeable rogues and scoundrels get away with it. BLACKTHORN explores this possibility. It’s certainly not a direct sequel to “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” but there’s no getting around the fact that a lot of people are going to view it as such. And in truth the movie does have a couple of flashbacks to the young Butch and Sundance that attempt to recapture the mood and freewheeling attitude of the earlier film. But BLACKTHORN doesn’t need the flashbacks. It’s good enough to stand on its own feet without the earlier movie to give it a prop-up.

Twenty years after his supposed death, Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard) is still alive and well and living in Bolivia. Under the name James Blackthorn he’s had some success as a horse breeder in the region. Enough success that he’s got enough money to return to the United States at last. He wants to see familiar faces and places in whatever time he’s got left.

The plan goes gangaglay when Blackthorn is ambushed by Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noreiga) who claims he is being hunted by a posse and thought Blackthorn was with them. Apodaca tells Blackthorn that he’s stolen $50,000 from Simon Patino, a mine owner and the most powerful man in that region. Eduardo offers to share part of the money with Blackthorn if Blackthorn helps him get away from the posse.

The recovering of the loot, which Eduardo has stashed away hidden in an abandoned mine and evading the relentless pursuit of the posse revives his memories of his Butch Cassidy days and Blackthorn finds himself enjoying reliving his outlaw life. Maybe too much as he comes to the attention of former Pinkerton detective MacKinley  (Stephen Rea) who once followed Butch and Sundance all the way down to Bolivia. MacKinley never was convinced that it was actually Butch and Sundance who died in that showdown and he’s determined to get the Bolivian army to help him track James Blackthorn down and prove that the gringo riding with the Spanish bandit is actually Butch Cassidy.

BLACKTHORN has a lot going for it. First of all, the locations are absolutely gorgeous. It was filmed in Bolivia and the country is absolutely magnificent. Westerns should look big with plains that go on forever and mountains that scrape the bottom of clouds and this movie does have that. I liked the twists and turns the story takes, especially at the end where we learn a few truths about both Eduardo and Blackthorn. And yes, the movie explains what happened to both The Sundance Kid and Etta Place and I could have done without it. The fate of The Sundance Kid especially left a bad blot in my brain.

It’s easy to forget or overlook just how really good of an actor Sam Shepard is. I’m always a sucker for a story like this where a grizzled old gunslinger proves that despite his age he’s still one up on whippersnappers half his age. And apparently Butch has gotten better as a shot as in not only “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” but also “Butch and Sundance: The Early Days” Butch is depicted as being not a good shot at all. But here in BLACKTHORN he demonstrates astonishingly proficient skill as a marksman. Only Sam Elliot can play grizzled better than Sam Shepard who is most certainly no slouch here.  I like how as the movie unfolds, he first enjoys being back on the outlaw trail, especially in a nice little scene where he sings the old ballad ‘Sam Hall’ while riding with Eduardo to his hideout but quickly comes to remember why Butch Cassidy had to die and why he should stay dead.

Eduardo Noreiga is the weakest actor in the movie. He tries hard and it’s way too obvious that he’s trying to imitate the Butch and Sundance partnership from the earlier movie and it just doesn’t work. Stephen Rea is much better as the disgraced Pinkerton who has let his obsession with the outlaws turn him into an alcoholic wreck. I’d have loved to see more scenes between Shepard and Rea.

So should you see BLACKTHORN? I’m going to tell you right up front that it’s not a wall-to-wall-shoot-‘em-up and actually is quite slow in spots. But that was okay by me because it isn’t that type of Western. I’d recommend it just for the Sam Shepard and Stephen Rea performances and the amazing cinematography alone. I say give it a try, especially if you’re a long time Western fan like me. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

108 minutes

Rated R

Code of Silence

1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Andrew Davis

Produced by Raymond Wagner

Written by Michael Butler, Dennis Shryack and Mike Gray

Today Chuck Norris is best known as the star of the CBS television series “Walker, Texas Ranger” which ran from 1993 to 2001 and the subject of the Internet phenomenon known as “Chuck Norris Facts.” Most people know he had a very successful career as an action star during the 1980’s but when asked to mention what movies they’re familiar with, I’m betting most will cite the “Missing In Action” movies or “Invasion U.S.A.” since those are the ones that seem to get the most airplay on cable/satellite movie channels.  And that’s really a daggone shame as Chuck Norris starred in some really superior action movies during that period.

“Good Guys Wear Black” has a government conspiracy tied to the Vietnam war and “Expendables 2” has a nice call-back to that movie in that Chuck Norris’ character in both movies has the same name. “The Octagon” has a strong plot about private citizens taking it upon themselves to do something about terrorism and co-stars Lee Van Cleef. “The Delta Force” co-stars Lee Marvin and is based on the real life U.S. Army Delta Force. “Silent  Rage” is a sci-fi slasher flick and my all-time favorite Chuck Norris movie, “Lone Wolf McQuade” is a way more badass version of his later Cordell Walker character.

The point I guess I’m trying to make here is that while Chuck Norris can and has been dismissed as an action hero who gets through his movies with his beard and roundhouse kicks, that’s simply not true. Chuck Norris has made a number of movies that are significantly several levels above the standard action movie and the best example of this and undoubtedly the best movie he’s ever made is CODE OF SILENCE. While “Lone Wolf McQuade” remains my favorite; in terms of acting, writing and directing, CODE OF SILENCE is the better movie. Chuck Norris does bust some martial arts moves and even throws his trademark roundhouse kick but that’s only in one major fight scene. CODE OF SILENCE is a straight-up urban cop thriller with good, solid performances and a great story.

Sgt. Eddie Cusack (Chuck Norris) is a Chicago narcotics cop who speaks softly but when he does, everybody listens. He’s a straight arrow, incorruptible hardass but his men respect him. He and his squad have spent a month setting up a big drug bust in order to take down Victor Camacho (Ron Henriquez) of the notorious Comacho family who run the cocaine trade in the city. Cusack’s big bust is ruined by Tony Luna (Mike Genovese) of the Scalese family. Luna raids the meet and greet exchange, killing everybody involved and taking the coke and the money. Cusack’s partner Dorato (Dennis Farina) is shot and there’s a fatality but one that has nothing to do with the bust. A member of Cusack’s squad, the alcoholic, burnt-out Cragie (Ralph Foody) accidentally shoots and kills a teenager who simply steps out of his apartment into the hall to see what all the yelling is about. Cragie plants his throwaway piece on the kid and his partner Kopelas (Joseph Guzaldo) backs him up.

Now here’s where the situation really gets serious. Victor survives the raid and along with his psychotic older brother Luis (Henry Silva) declares war on the Scaleses. Luna decides to leave town as the Camachos go on a rampage, brutally wiping out the Scaleses. They also try to kidnap Luna’s daughter Diana (Molly Hagen) to bring her father out of hiding. Cusack rescues her and tries to keep her alive and safe while also trying to stop the vicious gang war and persuading Kopelas to do the right thing and stop lying for Cragie.

As you can guess from my plot summary, there’s an awful lot of story we’ve got going on here but CODE OF SILENCE is never confusing or gets lost. The three major plots interweave seamlessly with no problem at all. If the movie had just been about the gang war, it would have just been an average movie. But the Cragie subplot, which deals with the “code of silence” police officers have to cover and protect each other is examined here in far greater depth than you would expect from your typical Chuck Norris kick-and-punch flick.

I attribute a lot of how good CODE OF SILENCE is to the director, Andrew Davis who knows how to make a thriller and has made a lot of good ones set in Chicago where he was born and grew up. He directed “Above The Law” which is for my money still Steven Seagal’s best movie, “The Package” with Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones, “Under Siege” and “The Fugitive.” So he knows how to make this type of movie sing and swing.

I give Chuck Norris a lot of credit for not playing Cusack as an invincible superman. There’s a scene where Cusack goes into a pool hall full of bad guys and gets into a brawl with them.  Even though Cusack gets in some good shots what happens is what we know happens in that type of situation: Cusack gets his ass whooped. Norris doesn’t try to out act any of the more experienced actors he’s working with such as the terrific Dennis Farina, Henry Silva, Bert Remsen or Ralph Foody. Most of the time he’s simply reacting to what they’re saying or doing and it works for him.

Some people criticize the movie because of the robot Cusack uses to help him rescue Diana and take down the Camachos in the movie’s final shootout and back in 1985 The Prowler robot might have seemed like science fiction but this is a rare case where reality has caught up and since now we do have police departments using robots like The Prowler it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

And CODE OF SILENCE has what is one of the funniest scenes in movie history when two bumbling hoods try to stick up a bar where all the customers are cops as well as what has to be the biggest car explosion I’ve ever seen in a movie.

So should you see CODE OF SILENCE? Absolutely. It holds up surprisingly well after all this time with its performances, production values, terrific action sequences and story. If you’ve never seen a Chuck Norris movie, watch CODE OF SILENCE. If you have seen other Chuck Norris movies and didn’t like them, watch CODE OF SILENCE. This one is worth your time, trust me.

Rated R

101 Minutes

Duel At Diablo

1966

United Artists/MGM

Directed by Ralph Nelson

Produced by Fred Engel and Ralph Nelson

Written by Marvin H. Albert based on his novel “Apache Rising”

DUEL AT DIABLO is one of those westerns that when I mention it even to fans of westerns I get a blank look and a “say wha?” It’s one of those movies that appear to have been long forgotten even though it stars three of the best loved and most popular actors to have worked in Hollywood: James Garner, Sidney Poitier and Dennis Weaver. But even fans of those stars seem to have never heard of the movie and that’s truly a shame because DUEL AT DIABLO, while not a masterpiece of the genre is a damn good western for a number of what I believe to be strong reasons and we’ll get into those after a summary of the plot:

Army scout Jess Remsberg (James Garner) while on patrol out in the desert comes across the hideous remains of a man brutally tortured by the Apache.  On the trail of those Apaches Remsberg rescues a woman from them. Not only is Ellen Grange (Bibi Andersson) not grateful to be rescued she actually was looking for those Apaches for reasons that will become quite important to the plot later on. Remsberg returns Ellen to her husband Willard Grange (Dennis Weaver) who is more upset that the horse his wife had taken is dead than anything else.

But Remsberg has his own problems to think of as he finds out from his old friend Lieutenant Scotty McAllister (Bill Travers) that his Comanche wife was murdered and scalped. McAllister doesn’t know who did the killing but he knows where there is a man who can point Remsberg in the right direction. But he won’t tell Remsberg the name until he agrees to scout for him. McAllister has to escort a unit of twenty-five inexperienced soldiers green as Christmas trees to Fort Concho and McAllister badly needs Remsberg to help him get them there. Once at Fort Concho, McAllister agrees to give Remsberg the name of the man. Willard Grange goes behinds McAllister’s back to get permission to accompany the unit to Fort Concho with his supply wagons.  This doesn’t make McAllister happy at all but the guy who’s really pissed off is Toller (Sidney Poitier) a veteran of the 10th Calvary Buffalo Soldiers who was contracted to provide forty horses to the army. Toller has only broken half of the wild horses and he won’t be paid for the other twenty unless he goes with the unit and breaks the horses on the way.

Once the unit gets on the move they quickly find themselves in one hell of a mess. The local Apache chief Chata (John Hoyt) has gone on the warpath and the unit must pass right through his territory. He targets the unit as one of Grange’s wagons is filled with ammunition and because Ellen Grange has the one thing he cares the most about: his grandson, the child Ellen Grange had with Chata’s son when she was held captive by the Apache.  Ambushed by the Apache, the badly outnumbered and inexperienced soldiers must somehow hold out at Diablo Canyon while Remsberg attempts to evade the Apache and ride to Fort Concho to get help before they’re wiped out.

DUEL AT DIABLO has a lot of selling points that I think make it worth your time to watch and here’s number one: we’ve got three of the most likeable actors in Hollywood. They’re all known for playing easy-going guys full of warmth, charm and with strong moral and ethical souls. Not in this picture. Garner, Poitier and Weaver play three men who are hard, brutal, violent and in a lot of ways downright unpleasant. Matter of fact, in the first thirty minutes of the movie Garner, Poitier and Weaver threaten to kill one or the other at least once and there’s a tense moment later on when Poitier and Weaver face off for a gunfight. I recently watched the movie a few days ago and I don’t think I can recall a single moment where any of them even so much as smiles. It’s a radical departure for them as actors and I enjoyed watching the three of them enjoying playing against type. Especially James Garner. If you had never considered him a badass before, you will after seeing this movie. I really like his look in this movie. From start to finish he’s unshaven, sweaty and appears to have not taken a bath in weeks nor does he appear to give a damn.

DUEL AT DIABLO also may be the first American western where elements and style of the growing Spaghetti Western genre were being used. Like Spaghetti Westerns, there’s nobody in this movie who is entirely good or bad. We understand why everybody is doing what they’re doing or acting the way they do even if we don’t agree with it or like it. The locations, set design and photography are very much like Spaghetti Westerns as well as the violence which is really brutal at times. We’re not talking Sam Peckinpah level slaughter here but it is a harshly realistic depiction that I don’t think one expects to see in a pre-“The Wild Bunch” American made western.

What else did I like? I like how Toller’s ethnicity was never pointed out or made an issue. Even though McAllister and Toller don’t get along it’s due to their differing opinions on how things should be done, not because Toller’s a black man. I like how Ellen Grange and Scotty McAllister have distinctive accents. All too often I hear movie fans complain about characters having accents and I think that’s a highly insensitive and downright ignorant to say. Especially when it comes to Westerns where I’m betting you couldn’t walk twenty feet in any direction without hearing half a dozen different accents as everybody and their mother were coming to America to make their fortune. Having character with accents in Westerns reminds us that this is a country of immigrants. Something that we all need to be reminded of once a while. I also liked the music score which also sounds more like a score you’d hear in a Spaghetti Western.

So should you see DUEL AT DIABLO? Absolutely. The movie has excellent performances and a great story. Right from the start when a huge, bloody Bowie knife slashes a X through the United Artists logo, DUEL AT DIABLO is promising it’s not like your usual Western. And it delivers on its promise.

103 minutes