Movie Review: Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970)

Action, Blaxploitation, Comedy, Crime, Movie Review

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Variety magazine credited 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song as the first ever Blaxploitation film; but the first of its kind can arguably be traced back to 1970’s Cotton Comes To Harlem, directed by the legendary Ossie Davis, who some of you will know as the African American who played JFK in Doscarelli’s cult classic, Bubba Hotep (2003).  The fact is: Cotton Comes To Harlem has all the stylistic hallmarks of a Blaxploitation movie – music, lingo, action, etc – but many would argue that it’s a simple action comedy; but that’s irrelevant when the only thing that’s important is the movie itself, and Cotton Comes To Harlem is one sweet talkin’ soul brotha of a movie.

Based on the novel by Chester Himes, Cotton Comes To Harlem follows the head busting detectives “Gravedigger” Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and “Coffin Ed” Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) as they pursue the scamming conman, Reverend O’Malley.  Along the way they encounter gangsters, militants and a host of other characters who stand between them and their target.

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The biggest compliment I can give Cotton Comes To Harlem is that it’s never boring and that it’s aged extremely well; if there isn’t a car chase there’s a shoot out; if there isn’t a shoot out there’s a brawl; and if there isn’t a brawl there’s some smooth talking exchanges between the characters, making for many moments that shift between melodrama and comedy.  The novel is regarded as an important piece of American literature, as the author was a pioneer of African American crime fiction; social commentary about race and inequality are evident in the film too, but it never gets preachy at the expense of entertainment.

I think one of the reasons that Cotton Comes To Harlem still hits home to this day is because of its social themes; with race and class issues still a problem in America, this movie still connects with people.  However, it’s not like the action and comedy haven’t stood the test of time either; these types of movies continue to find audiences because of how much fun they are, and with the popularity of Black Dynamite and even Austin Powers: Goldmember, it’s plain to see that there’s new generations continuing to be inspired by them.  Cotton Comes To Harlem was a fitting start to one of the most influential subgenres of exploitation cinema, and it’s well worth tracking down.  7/10

Director:

Ossie Davis

Writer:

Chester Himes (novel) & Arnold Perl (screenplay)

Genre:

Action, Crime, Comedy, Blaxploitation

Running Time:

97 min

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Movie Review: Blood Diner (1987)

Comedy, Horror, Movie Review

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When it comes to camp, silly horror comedies of the ’80’s you’d be hard pressed to find many that are as camp and silly as Blood Diner.  It might very well be an updated version of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ sleazy Blood Feast (1963), but it’s far more superior in every conceivable way.  I have a very dark sense of humour, and I appreciate goofy, tasteless approaches to the macabre; Blood Diner is the epitome of wacky, tastelessness cooked up in a tasty dish.  This ticks off all the superlatives one could ask for in a horror comedy: Bonkers?  Check.  Unhinged?  Check.  Demented?  Check.  Smartly stupid?  Check.  Obscene?  Check.  I could go on all night forming adjectives to describe the beautiful joy that is Blood Feast, but they wouldn’t do it any justice.  So, instead, I’ll just try to explain it as best as I can without falling into a coma of unabashed, unadulterated love.

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After an opening monologue which talks about blood cults, we cut to 2 young brothers playing in the safety of their own home, when, all of a sudden, a man bursts through the front door carrying a meat cleaver, with his clothes and skin stained with blood.  Not to fret though, it’s only their loving Uncle, and he’s there to give them ancient necklaces before the police gun him down.  Years later, the boys dig up their uncle and take his brain so they can set about resurrecting the ancient Egyptian goddess Shitaar.  With their dead uncles talking brain as their guide, they set out to collect the body parts required for Shitaar’s body and find a virgin for the ceremony.  The body parts are assorted from chopped up whores, with spare limbs and insides used to cook up a special feast, along with serving customers in their popular health food diner.  There’s also wrestling Nazi’s, a ventriloquist disgruntled chef with an African American cowboy dummy that likes to sweet talk women and a police detective with a dubbed Eastern European accent.  Did I mention that there’s Nazi wrestling?  Because there’s Nazi wrestling.

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Blood Diner has all the talking brains, Egyptian goddesses, full frontal bush Kung Fu, severed limbs, projectile vomiting and fascist wrestling superstars you could ever hope for.  If you had to write down a list of of essential requirements needed to make a perfect movie, those would be on there somewhere. But if that isn’t enough there’s also a punk rock band whose singer wears a Roman helmet, backed up by Hitler’s, performing for zombies and cultists as they wreak havoc during a summoning ceremony for Shitaar.  And if that’s not enough, we’re treated to a bouncer’s head being crushed by the wheel of a bouncing lowrider; this in itself feels like a small victory for anyone who’s ever been denied access to a nightclub.

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Jackie Kong only went on to make one more feature after Blood Diner, and even though I miss her work dearly, it’s safe to say she went out in style.  Every self-respecting director should aspire to make a movie like Blood Diner.  Stanley Kubrick wishes he made Blood Diner in 1987 instead of Full Metal Jacket.  John Boorman wishes he made Blood Diner too; instead of that sentimental Hope and Glory crap.  This is midnight movie madness at its most maniacally magnificent; within 88 minutes it cooks up more treats than an entire season of Ready, Steady, Cook and you’ll find yourself coming back for extra helpings.  An absolute masterpiece of low budget trash.  9/10

Director:

Jackie Kong

Writer:

Michael Sonye

Starring:

Rick Burks, Carl Crew, Roger Dauer

Genre:

Comedy, Horror

Running Time:

88 min

Movie Review: Highway To Hell (1991)

fantasy, Horror, Horror Comedy, Movie Review

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The legend of Orepheus and Eurydice in Greek mythology is about a man who enters the underworld to reclaim his wife from the clutches of Hades, after her unfortunate death on their wedding day to a vipers sting as she danced in the meadow with her bridesmaids.  The movie Highway To Hell is about a bride-to-be (played by the luscious Kristy Swanson) who gets kidnapped and taken to Hell by Hell Cop as her husband-to-be (Chad Lowe) pursues.  Guess which one I prefer?

Rachel and Charlie are young lovers who take a desert back road on their way to Vegas, where they plan to marry before the night is out.  On the way they stop for gas, where the old attendant begs them to turn back, but when they refuse, he warns them not to fall asleep between 2 Joshua trees further up the road.  Of course, they fall asleep and a demonic police officer appears, kidnaps Rachel and takes her to Hell.  Charlie returns to the gas station immediately where the attendant informs him he only has 24 hours to enter Hell and get her back or else they’ll be trapped there for eternity.  Armed with a special car and a gun, he travels the highway into Hell and proceeds to get his woman back, while running into various hurdles on the way.

Hell itself is a vast desert highway with biker gangs, bad service diners, horny demons, obnoxious cooks, strip clubs and road service providers who like to insult stranded drivers down the phone.  It mirrors some of the real worlds most common everyday complaints; abusive police officers, busy traffic, poor restaurant service and obnoxious telephone workers are just a few of the real world lows represented in Hell to great comedic effect.  Furthermore, there’s a great nod to the old phrase, ”the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Highway To Hell was written by Brian Helgeland, whose previous writing credits included A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) and 976-Evil (1988).  He would then go on to have writing credits on classics like L.A. Confidential (1997), Man On Fire (2004) and Mystic River (2003).  The director Ate de Jong directed the cult classic Drop Dead Fred (1991), before going on to mainly Dutch films after Highway To Hell.

I love this movie with all my heart: it’s a fun, smart, campy, romantic, action-packed adventure that jizzes imagination all over the screen.  This is a popcorn classic that’ll bring you a lot of mindless entertainment and joy on a dark, wet night or bright Summer’s eve as the sun is about to set.  I give this a… 10/10 

Directed By:

Ate de Jong

Written By:

Brian Helgeland

Starring:

Kristy Swanson, Chad Lowe, Patrick Bergin

Genre:

Horror, Comedy, Fantasy

Running Time:

94 min

Movie Review: Julia’s Eyes (2010)

Movie Review

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When I see Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to a project, I immediately associate it with quality; as a fan of every movie he’s been involved with in some capacity I’ve seen up until now, I have yet to be let down.  That was until I saw Julia’s Eyes, Guillem Morales’ mystery thriller which comes up falling way short of being the excellent film it could have been.  And it’s a wasted opportunity.

Julia’s Eyes opens with a blind woman in a basement preparing to hang herself; but she’s not alone, as someone – or something – else in the room with her.  Whatever is there, it’s completely invisible until it helps her dispose of the stool.  Suspicious of the circumstances of the death, the victims twin sister, Julia (Belen Rueda), decides to investigate along with her husband, but like her sister, Julia suffers from a rare disease that’s causing her to lose her sight too; all the while being stalked by a malevolent force.

The problem with this movie is that the story is completely bonkers and unsatisfying.  The first hour is great: a thrilling, spooky cat and mouse chase, sitting on the fence between reality and the supernatural is when it’s at it’s most effective.  There are some minor pacing issues, but not enough to take away from the unfolding mystery.  But then it all goes down hill; spiralling into a cliché-filled mess that’s as predictable as it is convoluted. Never before have I seen a movie crawl up its own butt and be content to drag out its own boring demise for so long.  We know exactly what’s going to happen, yet it insists on dragging it out to the point you wished you’d hung yourself along with the protagonists sister at the start; just so you could avoid 2 hours of boredom.  Okay that was an exaggeration… but it does falter big time.

Strong performances from the cast and beautiful cinematography are enough to carry you until the end.  Furthermore, it’s packed with suspense throughout; even if it does lose it’s effect because you’re counting the minutes until the end credits roll.  At times, the dialogue is a little corny, but there are still some moments of tenderness and beauty between Julia and her husband.  Again, like I said: the performances are impressive.

As a director, Morales shows a lot of potential and I’m sure he’ll go on to make many great movies in the future.  Unfortunately, this one just missed the mark.  Don’t take my word for it though; this was a well received movie, and it does have moments of brilliance, so check it out for yourself.  5/10.

Directed By:

Guillem Morales

Written By:

Guillem Morales & Oriol Paulo

Starring:

Belen Rueda, Lluis Homar, Pablo Derqui

Genre:

Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Running Time:

118 min

Movie Review: The Loved Ones (2009)

Horror, Movie Review

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Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!  High school stoner, Bret (Xavier Samuel), finds that out the hard way in Sean Byrne’s prom night predicament, The Loved Ones.  Sitting somewhere between a John Hughes romantic teen comedy and Misery (1990), with torture porn sprinkled on top, this should be a lesson to all parents to punish their spoilt brat kids at a young ages before they become too demanding and expectant.  One day they’re asking for Barbie’s then before you know it it’s power tools.  Of course, it’s different when the father also happens to be a psycho with an incestuous crush on his daughter; so I can see why a child would grow up to have problems in that particular situation.

After suffering the loss of his father, Bret is a stoned, suicidal wreck who thinks his situation can’t get any worse; that’s until he rejects Lola’s (Robin McLeavy) prom invitation because he’s already going with his girlfriend.  However, Lola isn’t used to being told ‘no’, so she has her father kidnap Bret over for supper.  Like most teenage girls, she’s looking for her Prince Charming; she is nicknamed Princess after all.  What ensues is a date from hell.

If you’re thinking that this is just another torture porn movie then you couldn’t be more wrong; while it does follow the formula of kidnapping and torturing a captive in the most gruesome ways imaginable, The Loved Ones has a lot more going for it than human butchery.  It takes that tried and tested premise that was done to death in the Noughties to the point it’s still boring in 2015, and adds layers to it such as a memorable spoilt brat villain, pitch black comedy, teen angst drama and a few wincing twists and turns that’ll make your jaw drop.  By taking the concept of a torture flick, turning up the volume to psychotic and infusing it with a little teen rom-com, you have a formula which would suggest hipster garbage; but here, it works as it balances humour with unhinged, demented horror perfectly.  Moreover, Princess is both terrifying and hilarious as a daddy’s girl used to getting her own way.  Hyperbole it is not when I saw that Lola deserves to be placed in the upper echelons of horror iconography alongside the likes of Freddy and Leatherface.  And don’t be too concerned if you find her insatiably attractive in her pink dress and psychotic meltdowns.

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Written & Directed By:

Sean Byrne

Starring:

Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine

Genre:

Horror

Running Time:

84 min

Mark my words: this is a stonewall modern classic that’ll give you a boner, then proceed to bleed all over you.  10/10