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The Lift

“I don’t much like the lift, I prefer to take the stairs, it’s much safer.”

July 3, 1985

THE LIFT (DE LIFT) is a 1983 Dutch horror film, the feature debut of music video, TV and short film director Dick Maas, who would later direct AMSTERDAMNED. According to The New York Times it played the Waverly starting July 3rd, but I don’t know if it played other cities on that day, or later, or what. It was not in the top 25 at the box office for that weekend, which means it made less than the $2,723 that MOVERS & SHAKERS starring Walter Matthau made on the one screen it had left in its tenth week. So, as with WARRIORS OF THE WIND and THE STUFF earlier in this series, I’m unsure about the exact time and size of the release, but there’s enough evidence to be convinced it was played on some screens in the Summer of 1985.

So this was a season when adventurous filmgoers in certain American cities might’ve been able to see horror movies about killer yogurt and a killer elevator. THE STUFF treated its concept with a straight face, but there were jokes, and some very clear satire. I will trust the various reviews of the time that THE LIFT is a black comedy, but to me it plays serious.

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Last Starfighter

THE LAST STARFIGHTER is not a summer of 1985 release – it came out in July of ’84 – but I remember seeing it as a drive-in double feature with BACK TO THE FUTURE. I’m not sure, but I think the location of this viewing must’ve been Sno-King Drive-In Theatre, which it seems closed down a year later, its final double-bill consisting of HOWARD THE DUCK and BACK TO THE FUTURE. Same print, I bet. Anyway, I got nostalgic and decided this would make a good follow-up to yesterday’s review.

This is the sci-fi movie directed by HALLOWEEN (and also HALLOWEEN)’s The Shape himself, Nick Castle, starring HALLOWEEN II’s Lance Guest and HALLOWEEN III’s Dan O’Herlihy. Guest plays Alex Rogan, a broody teenager who lives in a trailer park and is very good at an arcade video game called Starfighter, which they have outside in the park. I don’t know if they put a tarp over it if the weather gets bad or what. That never comes up.

If you hear he lives in a trailer park you could reasonably assume there would be some kind of class themes in this story, but there’s really not. There’s no clash with the rich kids, and the park, called Starlite Starbrite, is far from a hellhole. In fact it’s a delightful place full of nice, quirky people who form a huge crowd and applaud for Alex when he beats the high score on the game. That he wants to get out of there is underlined by decorating his room with posters of Hawaii and Paris (along with the expected toy space ships and mobile of the solar system). Making it seem like a pretty cool place to live is a weird choice, but I like weird choices. (read the rest of this shit…)

Back to the Future

July 3, 1985

There was only one movie in 1985 that was bigger than RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, at least box office-wise, and it was considerably bigger. It would inspire two sequels, a cartoon and a movie ride at Universal Studios, though you could argue that its cultural impact was smaller than RAMBO’s merely because it couldn’t really be copied as much. How would you imitate something as high concept and specific as BACK TO THE FUTURE?

Its success surely comes from a combination of factors – the zippy direction of Robert Zemeckis, the unusual squeaky-voiced-nerd-who-carries-himself-as-a-rock-star appeal of Michael J. Fox (after MIDNIGHT MADNESS and CLASS OF 1984), the heart-pumping score by Alan Silvestri, the comic support of Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson and Lea Thompson – but all of that hangs on the ingenious premise: kid gets sent back in time to his parents’ high school days and endangers his own existence when his mom gets eyes for him instead of his dad. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fast Color

FAST COLOR is a really well made little movie I watched on Hulu. I didn’t really know what it was about, but remembered that when it came out last year there were people lamenting that it didn’t get enough attention. They called it a super hero origin story and felt that should’ve made it more marketable.

That description isn’t totally inaccurate, but sells it a little short, I think. It’s about a woman with some telekinetic type powers, but she doesn’t wear a costume, fight crime, fight super villains, or use her powers for heroism at all. She even explicitly says “We’re not super heroes,” and doesn’t seem to later change her mind about that. The story reminds me much more of FIRESTARTER than any comic book movie. Regular person made into a fugitive by being born with unusual gifts, running through small towns to avoid being a guinea pig for some secret government project. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pale Rider

June 26, 1985

PALE RIDER is a solid, well made, mostly traditional western starring, produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, from a script by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack (THE GAUNTLET, TURNER & HOOCH). Clint stars as a mysterious drifter only referred to as “Preacher,” because when he takes off his stylish trenchcoat he reveals a priestly collar. But this is only after we’ve seen him stick fight a gang of bullies to unconsciousness and comment, “There’s nothin like a nice piece of hickory.” So there are reasons to question whether that’s his true occupation.

The Preacher wanders into a small California mountain town called LaHood, destination unknown. When asked if he’s just passing through he says he hadn’t really thought about it. The man he saved from a beatdown, Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty, Q), invites him to stay for a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

New Patreon bonus: FIRST BLOOD book vs. movie comparison


As I’ve mentioned before, I feel a little weird about promoting my Patreon during These Uncertain Times™. I guess I always feel weird about it. But the fact is your generous, totally optional support is helping me get through this, it’s so much better than having to freelance for morally questionable outlets, and I want to show my gratitude. So what I have here is a rough draft I dug up from 2008 when I was trying to write a follow-up to Seagalogy. If you’re interested in how the Stallone classic FIRST BLOOD differs from the David Morrell book it’s based on, here you go! (spoilers for both, of course)

Thanks again.

CLICK HERE FOR FIRST BLOOD

 

Little Woods

LITTLE WOODS is the debut of writer/director Nia DaCosta, who followed it with the upcoming CANDYMAN (2020), sequel to CANDYMAN (1992). I’m not sure how much they’ll have in common, because this one’s not horror, and it takes place in a rural area, but it’s very good, and raises my expectations for the other one even higher.

Tessa Thompson (CREED) is great as Ollie (short for Oleander), who lives in her late mother’s busted up house in North Dakota and is almost done with her probation. While mom was sick she would go into Canada to get medicine for her, but she also had a whole pill-selling enterprise going, and she got caught at the border.

Now she does stuff like go out to construction sites and sell coffee and sandwiches out of the back of her pickup. People still ask her for Oxy and she explains she doesn’t do that anymore. Everybody still likes her. The local opiate pusher Bill (Luke Kirby, HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION) thinks that makes her a good saleswoman and tries to get her to work for him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cocoon

June 21, 1985

COCOON is directed by Ron Howard (his followup to SPLASH) and produced by Richard D. Zanuck (SUGARLAND EXPRESS, JAWS), but I bet some people assumed Spielberg had something to do with it. It opens with an Elliott-like little boy (D.A.R.Y.L. himself, Barrett Oliver) who’s up past his bedtime sneaking a look at the moon through his telescope. And then there’s a spaceship (designed by Ralph McQuarrie, like the one in  E.T.) flying down over some dolphins in a scene lit much like the opening attack in JAWS. The story involves a close encounter of the third kind with friendly e.t. the extra-terrestrials, so lots of people stare up in awe at glowing alien and spaceship effects by Industrial Light and Magic. And hey, the main characters are the elderly residents of a retirement community who find a magical way to recapture their youth, much like Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” segment of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE!

Best pal retirees Ben (Wilford Brimley, whose other 1984 releases were MURDER IN SPACE, REMO WILLIAMS and EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR) and Art (Don Ameche, who starred in THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL when Brimley was five years old) are residents of the Sunny Shores Villa in St. Petersberg, Florida. They’re kind of the cool rebels of the place, because while many of their peers are sitting around playing cards and shuffleboard they’re strutting out in their beach clothes that look like pajamas, squeezing through a broken gate to trespass in somebody else’s indoor swimming pool. Sneaking around like a bunch of goonies. (read the rest of this shit…)

Scream, Queen! – My Nightmare On Elm Street

SCREAM, QUEEN!: MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a really good horror documentary. It may also be interesting to non-horror fans interested in the history of gay Hollywood in the ‘80s. It’s the story of Mark Patton, who played Jesse Walsh, the young protagonist of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE in 1985. As he sees it, he was a hot young actor getting his big break as the lead in a highly-anticipated sequel, only to find that it had gay subtext in it that was dangerous to him as a closeted gay actor. His representation told him there was no way they could put him up for straight roles anymore, and he only did a CBS Schoolbreak Special and an episode of Hotel where he punched George Clooney before disappearing for almost 30 years. He says he decided to quit after he was cast as a gay character but asked to still pretend he was straight.

I didn’t know or understand any of that as a young horror fan in the ‘80s. I just knew part 2 was my least favorite. As the documentary says,  it was “not a fan favorite.” Jesse is a boy who moves into the house where Nancy lived in part 1, finds her previously unmentioned diary, starts to be haunted and then possessed by Freddy, who grows inside him and tears out of his skin. (The FX for that have always been amazing.) Then Freddy appears outside of dreams and attacks a fuckin teen pool party. At that time there were no instructions on how to make a Freddy sequel, so they just had to guess. Part 3 added the element of a group of misunderstood teens working together, being in dreams together, finding ways to fight back. It was so appealing it became the formula for three more movies, making 2 seem like it didn’t know what it was doing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Return to Oz

June 21, 1985

Forty-six years after MGM’s beloved Technicolor musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, Walt Disney Pictures produced their own journey through the world of L. Frank Baum. Though titled and framed like a sequel, writer/director Walter Murch and co-writer Dennis Gill (WALK THE LINE) treated it more as a literary adaptation, basing it mostly on book #3, Ozma of Oz, combined with some characters from #2, The Marvelous Land of Oz. In an article by Alan Jones in the July, 1985 issue of Cinefantastique (my most quoted source in this review series, you may have noticed), executive producer Gary Kurtz (THE DARK CRYSTAL) says they “pondered at great length” whether to even use the iconic ruby slippers, since in the books they were silver.

Like its predecessor, the not-really-sequel is full of whimsical characters and underpinned with fairy tale menace, but in most other ways it’s wildly different. The colors are subdued rather than vivid, the settings are grounded rather than stagey, it stars 10-year-old newcomer Fairuza Balk as Dorothy rather than a teen like Judy Garland, and she doesn’t sing, because it’s not a musical. While WIZARD’s costumes, jokes and dance numbers come out of the vaudeville tradition, RETURN creates its world and characters with the rapidly evolving cinematic puppetry, animation and visual FX technology of the Lucas/Spielberg era. Murch told Cinefantastique, “At first I was worried about using state-of-the-art animatronics, but so many of the OZ personnel are graduates of The Muppets, STAR WARS, and THE DARK CRYSTAL that I realized it would be pointless to worry.”

The result is a classic entry in the unique-to-the-‘80s subgenre of dark, imaginative, FX-heavy fantasy for children, preceded by THE DARK CRYSTAL and THE NEVERENDING STORY and followed by LABYRINTH. (read the rest of this shit…)