Monday, December 20, 2010

DVD REVIEW: Rare Cult Cinema - 12 Movie Collection DVD


STUDIO: Mill Creek Entertainment
YEAR: 1962-1994
RATED: Various Ratings
GENRE: Drama, Comedy, Western
RUNNING TIME: 18 Hours 42 Min. .

I love me some Mill Creek Entertainment box sets and they're back with the the 3-disc RARE CULT CINEMA set - a eclectic 12-movie collection of lost but not forgotten films from the legendary drive-in fare distributor Crown International Pictures archives. How does it fare? Well let's have a gander and this decidedly non-horror collection of films, shall we?

Documentary/G/98 Min
Director: Ronald E. Shanin
Narrator: Michael Rye
AFRICAN SAFARI (1968) is an account of a safari through the African continent by noted wildlife photographer Ronald Shanin. As a kid Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was one of my favorite shows and this took me right back to those nostalgic days of wonder and curiosity of the natural world. Shanin takes us from the scorching deserts to the savannas of Africa  right up to the satisfying finale of Mt. Kilimanjaro erupting. Shanin is quite the independent filmmaker here  as he wrote, directed, produced, shot and edited this adventurous documentary on his own.  The film also features thoughtful and captivating  narration by voice actor Michael Rye who also provided his vocal talents to many Marvel, DC and Scooby-Doo animated television programs. The film is presented fullscreen and looks a bit worse for the wear but nonetheless a high recommend to fans of nature docs.
***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Thriller/R/96 Min.
Director: Michael Weaver
Cast: Nancy Alexander, Alicia Allain-Ryder, India Allen
ALMOST HOLLYWOOD is a pretty funny and biting indictment of low-budget erotic thriller film making in Hollywood. A sleazy Hollywood produced is at odds with pretty much everyone on the set of his latest soft core thriller including the films financiers who replace the films director in hope of classing up their movies. After the new director is murdered our sleazy producer is the lead suspect. Lots of double-dealing and back-stabbing ensue. The film features Playboy centerfold India Allen who really can’t act for shot, but she sure is attractive. It shares a kindred spirit in SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (1994) another satirical look at the film industry and its movers and shakers. The film is presented in fullscreen and looks quite good. ** (2 out of 5 stars)

Tagline: In the year 1991, contestants don't play for prizes...they play for their lives!
Comedy/R/94 Min.
Director: Mark Pirro
Cast: John McCafferty, Robyn Blythe, Beano
In this undeservedly obscure 80’s dark comedy Chuck Toedan (John McCafferty) is the effervescent host of a RUNNING MAN (1987) type game show called Live Or Die. It featuring death row convicts competing in life-or-death contests in hopes of cheating the executioner or perhaps winning some cash and prizes for their next of kin. McCafferty is great in the role; he’s smarmy and sleazy but oddly likable. There are a series of scenes not dissimilar of what we saw with Nicolas Cage’s character in the THE WEATHER MAN (2005) as people attack him on the street, he's rather disliked by the public despite the fact they're hooked on watching a show they deem despicable. After executing a mob boss Toedan is stalked by Luigi Pappalardo (Beano) - a hitman hired by the Mafia. Pappalardo shows up at Chuck's office. Through a series of miscommunication Pappalardo’s mother ends up on Live Or Die and 80’s hilarity ensues. I’d rank this right up there with any of Paul Bartel’s 80’s comedies. Pure 80’s Cheese. Deathrown Gameshow is presented in it's original 16x9 enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks very good. *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Western/G/91 Min.
Director: Norman Foster
Cast: Johnny Crawford, Jay Silverheels, Pat Hogan
As a kid I was not into Western films and television programs, it just didn’t interest me much at all. That was until my introduction to Sergio Leone's spaghetti western classic THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966). Then even still I’ve been slow to open myself up to the films of John Ford but occasionally I’ll squeeze in a western from Sam Peckinpah or Clint Eastwood. I’m definitely a novice to the genre save for my love of Peckinpah and Leone. INDIAN PAINT is the melodramatic tale of Nishko (Johnny Crawford, TV's THE RIFLEMAN) who is the son of Chief Hevatanu (Jay Silverheels, Tonto from the LONE RANGER series) in the Great Plains of North America prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Nishko is determined to tame a wild spirited painted pony and along the way must deal with an attack from a neighboring tribe and his mother’s illness. Definitely a fun coming of age film though probably a bit condescending towards Native Americans as so many film were of the time. A good looking film and it's presented here in a 16x9 enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio. **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

Tagline: Unthinkable. Improbable. Incredible… but it could happen tomorrow!
Thriller/R/114 Min.
Director: George Mendeluk
Cast: William Shatner, Hal Holbrook, Van Johnson
A South American revolutionary terrorist named Roberto Assanti (Miguel Fernandes) manages to kidnap the U.S. President (Hal Holbrook) during a diplomatic visit to our Canadian neighbors in Toronto. With an armored truck, elaborately rigged with high explosives (and the President trapped inside) the two terrorists keep the Secret Service at bay. I am a sucker for any film featuring Hal Holbrook, I love this guy. He’s appeared in a few of my favorite films including John Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980) and George A. Romero’s CREEPSHOW (1982) and a lot of hits n’ misses in-between ranging slasher genre fare like GIRLS NITE OUT (1984) to surprisingly good survival horror fare like RITUALS (1977) and all point in-between. This time out Holbrook is the Commander-in-Chief Adam Scott and William Shatner stars as the hard-nosed Secret Service agent Jerry O’Connor who heads up the effort to rescue the pres from the bomb-laden armored truck. Good performances from Holbrook, Shatner and Fernandes, overall an intriguing political thriller that while not knocking it outta the park definitely proved entertaining. On the downside, there are a few extraneous plot points involving the Vice President (Van Johnson) and his conniving wife that I could’ve done without and there must be 15 renditions of “Hail to the Chief” in this film but I recommend it on the Shatner/Holbrook pairing alone.  The film is presented in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer.  **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

LIAR’S MOON (1982)
Tagline: They were hopelessly in love...
Drama/PG/106 Min.
Director: David Fisher
Cast: Matt Dillon, Cindy Fisher, Hoyt Axton
The summer after high school graduation, Jack (Matt Dillon) falls in love with Ginny (Cindy Fisher), the daughter of the town's banker who was once Jack's mother's high school sweetheart. Over her father's strenuous objections the young couple fall deeply in love and elope to Louisiana where Jack gets a job in the oil fields. Her dad hires a private eye (the ALWAYS menacing Richard Moll) to find them. Further complicating their lives is some troubling news the town doctor delivers to Ginny following the discovery that she’s pregnant. Not your typical boy-meets-girl drama, that’s for sure. Features great performances from a very young Dillon and Fisher plus an appearance from Alex Hoyt (GREMLINS) as Jack’s father. A tragic tale of young love, maybe a bit too melodramatic for some, it has a bit of a Lifetime channel feel to it but its well directed and looks great despite it's fullframe treatment here.  *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Tagline: Jennifer's mother is having an identity crisis.
Comedy/G/90 Min.
Director: Michael Fischa
Cast: Susan Blakely, John Saxon, Tina Caspary
The frustrated housewife Leslie visits an animal shop to purchase a flea-collar. Unknowing that the owner is a werewolf, she accepts his invitation to lunch and later in his apartment. Through a bite in her toe he starts her slow transformation in a werewolf. Once home she desperately tries to hide the often disgusting process from her family. My Mom's a Werewolf is a b-movie knock-off of TEEN WOLF. You can't have a film as successful as that and not have a c-grade cash-in. The transformation effects are quite terrible, the comedy is pretty flat, but nonetheless it features genre-legend John Saxon as the lycanthropic owner of a pet shop. It's pure 80's oddball stuff that's not great but good fun. Bonus, the film is presented in 16x9 widescreen.
**1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)

Tagline: It's Pickin' and Singin' time with the Nashville Sound...Y'ALL COME!!
Music/Unrated/88 Min.
Director: Will Zens
Cast: Marty Robbins, Bill Anderson, Doodles Weaver
A Hollywood film company wants to make a movie about country music and sends Colonel Feetlebaum (Doodles Weaver) to round up talent to appear. It's a weak wrap-a-round plot line that proves unimportant though it's fun watching the cartoonish Doodles Weaver as the Co. Feetlebaum  a play on his character Prof. Fietlebaum from the Spike Jones Radio Show (1947-1949). Despite a weak set-up the film is heavy with stellar performances from country music legends. I loathe most country music post-1975 but this is jammed packed with country and western goodness from the like of the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, The Stoneman Family,Hank Snow and the legendary Marty Robins and much more***1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)

SANTEE (1973)
Tagline: He's the best tracker in the west, but sometimes justice can be hard to find.
Western/PG/93 Min.
Director: Gary Nelson
Cast: Glenn Ford, Michael Burns, Dana Wynter
Jody Deakes (Michael Burns) joins up with his father after many years, only to discover that his dad is part of an outlaw gang on the run from a relentless bounty hunter named Santee (Glenn Ford). Jody is orphaned soon after Santee catches up to the gang, and follows Santee in hopes of taking vengeance for his father's death. Instead, however, Jody discovers that Santee is a good and loving man, tormented by the death of his young son at the hands of another outlaw gang. Santee and his wife Valerie (Dana Wynter) take Jody in and an unlikely father-son relationship begins to grow. A really good western here with  great performances from Glenn Ford, Wynter (Valerie) and Jay Silverheel as ranch-hand John Crow. This would be Ford's final starring role in a western. For the non-western viewers out there you will know iconic Ford as Pa Ken from SUPERMAN (1978). A bit of trivia: SANTEE was the 1st western to be shot on videotape instead of film. It looks good but has a bit of a made-for-TV look stemming from the use of videography. That said the film looks good and is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Tagline: Daringly takes you behind the studio gates!!!
Drama/Unrated/85 Min.
Director: Rudolph Cusumano
Cast: Robert Clarke, Maralou Gray, Francine York
An ex-detective gets a job as an investigator digging up dirt on celebrities for a tabloid scandal sheet. This is one of those films I've heard about for years, it's infamous for it's visible boom mics throughout the film and after watching it I'll verify it's all true. A bit o' trashy fun in a low-rent kinda way but more of a slog to watch than I'd care to sit through again.
*1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)
Tagline: Every BODY has its price!
Comedy/R/93 Min.
Director: Howard Avedis
Cast: Adam West, John Anderson, Ahna Capri
None other than BATMAN’s Adam West stars as a courtroom lawyer Jerry Bounds who finds himself involved with sex-pot juror Londa Wyeth (Ahna Capri) in this 70’s courtroom comedy. He discovers that Londa is actually a high-class hooker planted on the jury by Jerry’s courtroom rival in an effort to discredit him. The sexy shenanigans of Ahna Capri are indeed fun, she’s a gorgeous woman, but they aren’t enough to carry this one through. Surprisingly the film is presented in 16x9 widescreen and looks pretty great for its age. Good cinematography and a bumping’ 70’s soundtrack add to this otherwise flavorless courtroom drama that plays like an episode of MATLOCK with tits.
 ** (2 our of 5 stars)

Tagline: The Hot Pants Generation is Loose!
Color/Drama/PG/100 Min.
Director: Robert Anderson
Cast: Patricia Wymer, Tom Stewart, Gary Rist
Attractive and naughty high school senior Mindy Evans (Patricia Wymer) spurns her boyfriend Bill and has a fling with a married teacher which leads to a possible pregnancy. While waiting for the results of her pregnancy test Mindy decides to steal Bill's buggy and take a road trip to Big Sur, California with best friend Sandy. Along the way the two run amuck of a biker gang, skinny dip with hippies and generally cause a ruckus. The acting is pretty terrible throughout and the film meanders a bit too much and never fully commits to it's true trashy nature. My favorite parts of the film would have to be the crazy hep cat slang throughout and the performance by the band The Spare Change at the school dance, groovy man! You can see tons more of the vivacious Wymer in THE BABYSITTER (1969) which is available on the CULT TERROR CINEMA 12 movie collection from Mill Creek Entertainment. The film is presented in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer. 
 ** (2 out of 5 stars)

DVD: The RARE CULT CINEMA set contain 12 films spanning 32 years culled from the archives of drive-in fare provider CROWN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. The films are presented on 3 double-sided flipper discs containing four titles per disc in black paper sleeves housed in a double-sized DVD case. Surprisingly 7 or the 12 features are presented in anamorphic widescreen and look pretty great. I hope this is a continuing trend with forthcoming Mill Creek Entertainment sets.

VERDICT: Mill Creek Entertainment budget collections are like your favorite pair of worn-out jeans. Sure they’re worn to shit, faded to hell and have seen better days but goddamn if there not comfortable. This set skews a bit too much on the melodramatic side of things for my tastes personally but there are some gems here including DEATHROW GAMESHOW, MY MOM’S A WEREWOLF and THE KIDNAPPING OF THE PRESIDENT. Something that sets this collection apart from other Mill Creek collections is the films don’t seem to have been recycled on countless other Mill Creek collections. Of the dozen films here I think only MY MOM’S A WERE WOLF is a repeat offender and THE YOUNG GRADUATES only appeared on the DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS VOL. 4 - which is a deleted title. I would dare say that Mill Creek Entertainment output has generally been improved and refined upon  since acquiring the Crown International Pictures catalog of films. Looking forward to what they’re still sitting on, there’s bound to be some goodies yet to see the light of day. Let’s hope we see more restored and anamorphic transfers and a special feature or couldn't hurt either.
OVERALL RATING: **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 stars)