Also known as: When A Stranger Calls 2 (working title) Release Date: April 4th, 1993 Directed by: Fred Walton Written by: Fred Walton Based on: characters by Fred Walton, Steve Feke Music by: Dana Kaproff Cast: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow, Kevin McNulty
“I am not the reflection of anything. I am not an illusion. I am the truth. I’m invisible. Unknowable. You people are the real illusionists. You people are the real illusionists!” – William Landis
This movie is basically the inverse of its predecessor.
In the first film, the best part, by far, is the first act. The rest of the film falls pretty flat even though the ending is good and satisfying.
In this film, the first act, which emulates the original movie, is pretty bad. It’s a sequence that has weird logic and is sort of confusing on a first watch. But then the rest of the movie is really damn good and more than makes up for the wonky first act. And with that, I think that this film is better as a total movie, overall.
However, nothing still tops the opening of the original. So, honestly, I think the two films kind of break even and that’s actually kind of fucking cool.
Carol Kane and Charles Durning both returned for this, as did director, Fred Walton. Joining them was Jill Schoelen, who was kind of becoming a scream queen by this point after Stepfather, Popcorn and the Robert Englund starring The Phantom of the Opera.
The cast was good and the director seemed to learn from the mistakes of the first movie and gave us a much better paced film, this time around.
The psycho in this movie is also much better than the original. They got creative with this character and made him a ventriloquist, which was used as a plot device to give him the ability to throw his voice. This ability leads to him making his victim think there are multiple predators. He also uses photographic reference to paint himself in ways that allow him to blend into his environments. It’s kind of clever, honestly, and seeing how it’s utilized in the film makes sense and comes off as plausible.
When A Stranger Calls Back is a better movie than I anticipated it being. Also, for originally being a television movie on Showtime, the finished product is even more impressive.
Release Date: August 24th, 1979 (Indianapolis premiere) Directed by: Fred Walton Written by: Steve Feke, Fred Walton Music by: Dana Kaproff Cast: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley, Rutanya Alda, William Boyett, Ron O’Neal
Melvin Simon Productions, Columbia Pictures, Embassy Pictures (re-release), 97 Minutes
“[thinking it’s Curt again] Leave me alone!” – Jill Johnson, “Jill, this is Sergeant Sacker. Listen to me. We’ve traced the call… it’s coming from inside the house. Now a squad car’s coming over there right now, just get out of that house!” – Sgt. Sacker
This movie would be a bonafide classic, if it was just the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. It’s bogged down by the stuff in-between but I still love the hell out of this picture and when I was a kid, it was this movie and Scrooged that made me really appreciate Carol Kane, her range and how damn good she is in everything she does.
It also made me appreciate Charles Durning, who has done a slew of great things but he’s always this sort of gruff, cop-type character. Here, he really turns that up though, as he searches for the killer who has murdered children, as well as others.
The opening twenty minutes of this movie is one of the greatest horror segments ever filmed. It’s a version of the classic babysitter horror story about a killer being upstairs. We’ve all heard or read a version of the story, especially those from my generation who loved the Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz.
While this takes a famous tale from American folklore, it gives it to us in the best live-action version that has ever existed. It’s stood the test of time and even with a sequel and remake of this specific movie, it’s never been replicated at this level. Sure, the original Black Christmas is a better movie, overall, and predates this but it’s more about the caller/killer being in the house and not specifically about a babysitter, alone with sleeping children.
After the incredible opening, the film switches gears and almost goes from a slasher film to a serial killer crime thriller with some noir vibes. By the final act, though, it goes into high gear and comes full circle back to a slasher-y horror flick. Granted, there isn’t enough onscreen slashing to actually categorize this as a traditional slasher. The psycho in this will just use whatever tools are at his disposal and he seems more focused on fucking with people’s minds than outright murdering them.
This is a really well acted film and it is also made better by its atmosphere and the general creepiness of the killer. However, the pacing is a mess after the first act and it is tough to get through that middle hour or so. Had that portion of the film been more fine tuned or leaned a bit more into either the slasher bits or become neo-noir (or both), I feel like this really would’ve been one of the best horror movies of its day.
Release Date: March 10th, 1978 Directed by: Brian De Palma Written by: John Farris Based on:The Fury by John Farris Music by: John Williams Cast: Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning, Amy Irving, Andrew Stevens, Fiona Lewis, William Finley, Dennis Franz, Gordon Jump, Daryl Hannah
Frank Yablans Presentations, Twentieth Century Fox, 118 Minutes
“…and what a culture can’t assimilate, it destroys.” – Dr. Jim McKeever
The Fury is a movie that I haven’t seen in a really, really long time. I’m talking, late night on cable when cable was still cool… that’s how long.
Also, I never saw it in its entirety from start-to-finish. I always kind of caught it in the middle and it’d be at times where I had to fight to stay awake in hopes of finishing it.
Having now watched it in its entirety for the first time without fighting sleep, I’ve got to say that it’s damn good and it just solidifies the greatness of Brian De Palma, especially in his early days.
This feels like a natural extension of some of the concepts De Palma worked with in Carrie but it isn’t bogged down by Stephen King-isms and it’s a hell of a lot cooler and expands on those concepts in a bigger way, as we now see psychic powered youngsters being abducted and turned into psychic super weapons.
The film stars two actors that are absolute fucking legends: Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes.
Douglas plays the hero character, trying to save his son, who has been abducted and turned into an evil psychic killing machine. All the while, Douglas is trying to save a young girl from the same fate.
Cassavetes, who just does sinister so well, plays the main antagonist who betrays Douglas and tries to have him murdered so that he can abduct his psychic son and brainwash him while honing his skills. Cassavetes mostly succeeds in the opening of the film but doesn’t realize that Douglas survived the orchestrated assassination attempt.
The real highlight of the film for me was the big finale and the moments that led up to it, which saw the psychic son unleash his powers in twisted and fucked up ways. The special effects used here were simple, practical and incredibly effective.
There were a lot of psychic power horror flicks in the ’70s and ’80s but The Fury is certainly one of the best of the lot. If this type of stuff is your bag, you definitely should give it a watch.
Rating: 8.5/10 Pairs well with: other ’70s and ’80s psychic horror movies, as well as Brian De Palma’s other horror and thriller films.
Release Date: December 1st, 1983 (New York City premiere) Directed by: Brian De Palma Written by: Oliver Stone Music by: Giorgio Moroder Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Shenar, Harris Yulin, Angel Salazar, Arnaldo Santana, Pepe Serna, Michael P. Moran, Al Israel, Dennis Holahan, Mark Margolis, Michael Alldredge, Ted Beniades, Geno Silva, Richard Belzer, Charles Durning (voice, uncredited) Dennis Franz (voice, uncredited)
“[to Sosa] I never fucked anybody over in my life didn’t have it coming to them. You got that? All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one. Do you understand? That piece of shit up there, I never liked him, I never trusted him. For all I know he had me set up and had my friend Angel Fernandez killed. But that’s history. I’m here, he’s not. Do you wanna go on with me, you say it. You don’t, then you make a move.” – Tony Montana
After binging a bunch of my favorite Brian De Palma films over the course of a few days, I wanted to revisit Scarface, as I hadn’t seen it in ages and because it was one of my favorite movies in my teen years.
Once I hit the play button, I was immediately reminded of just how great this motion picture is. From the opening shots of Cuban refugees leaving their home country for America with the great musical score blasting through my speakers, it brought me back to where I was the first time I experienced this movie in a special theatrical showing for its tenth anniversary in 1993.
From there, the movie gets rolling and every scene is just as incredible as I remembered it. This movie didn’t disappoint and it’s greatness has held up. Actually, it made me yearn for a time when movies this superb were actually fairly common.
It should go without saying that the acting in this is stellar. Al Pacino kills it but then again, when doesn’t he? Especially back in his prime.
I also really liked Michelle Pfeiffer, who shows that she has incredible chops even as young as she was in this picture.
The real scene stealer for me though is Steven Bauer, a guy I’ve always loved because of this role and have always wondered why his career didn’t go to the moon after this. The man is super talented and to be so good that you can not just hang with Pacino in this era, but actually come across as his equal, is pretty damn impressive!
Beyond that, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is prefect and sweet and then turns it up in the end and delivers an extremely heartbreaking end to her character.
We also get solid performances from legends like Robert Loggia and F. Murray Abraham, as well as the smaller bit players like Mark Margolis, Pepe Serna, Miriam Colon, Paul Shenar and others.
Shenar is especially great as Bolivian drug kingpin Alejandro Sosa. So much so, I wish his part would’ve been expanded somewhat.
The story is just as great as the acting that brings it to life. I liked this take on the story of a crime lord’s rise to power from nothing. For the time, it was incredibly topical and looking at the time frame, it’s rather impressive that this got into theaters by 1983 when the events that kicked off the backstory happened just three years earlier.
The film’s music is also pretty incredible from the pop tunes to the grandiose and remarkable score by Giorgio Moroder. I had forgotten just how important the music in the film was in regards to setting the tonal shifts. It’s certainly a soundtrack I need to track down on vinyl.
The most important element to this picture’s greatness, however, is Brian De Palma. As one of the greatest directors of his generation (and all-time, frankly) De Palma already had a half dozen classics under his belt by this point but this was, at the time and maybe still, his magnum opus.
Beyond directing the actors, De Palma proved just how good his eye was at creating a unique, artistic composition. There are touches of Stanley Kubrick’s visual style in this but the film is still very much De Palma’s from start-to-finish. But man, the cinematography, lighting and general tone is stupendous regardless of where the scene takes place from Miami, New York City and Bolivia.
Scarface is one of the all-time great crime films. It will continue to be till the end of time. And while there have been many great films within this genre, this one will always stand out due to its unique style, story and character. It’s a film that has been emulated and homaged countless times but no one has truly come close to replicating its magic.
Rating: 10/10 Pairs well with: other crime films starring Al Pacino, as well as other Brian De Palma movies.
Also known as: Dog Day (worldwide English informal short title) Release Date: September 19th, 1975 (Spain – San Sebastian Film Festival) Directed by: Sidney Lumet Written by: Frank Pierson, Thomas Moore Based on:The Boys In the Bank by P. F. Kluge Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning, Lance Henriksen, Chris Sarandon, Penelope Allen, Sully Boyar, Susan Peretz, Carol Kane, Dominic Chianese
Artists Entertainment Complex, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes, 131 Minutes (1975 cut)
“Look, Mom, I’m a fuck-up and I’m an outcast and that’s it. You come near me, you’re gonna get it – you’re gonna get fucked over and fucked out!” – Sonny
I’ve probably seen this movie a half dozen times but it’s been a few decades. I always saw this on cable, so it was always the “safe for TV” version and having now watched this again, I realized that I had never seen the beginning of the film, as I never knew there was initially a third bank robber that bolted in the opening sequence of the movie.
It was really great seeing this in full and the way it was meant to be seen without cable television censors getting in the way of the art. Being that this is a Sidney Lumet film, it deserves to be seen as the director intended, as he was a true motion picture maestro.
Seeing this now also made me appreciate how good John Cazale was and it makes me wonder how great his career could have been had cancer not taken his life in 1978. In fact, this was the last film of his that he lived to see released theatrically. But it’s crazy to think about what iconic roles after his death he may have had a shot at playing or what mediocre movies he could’ve elevated had he been cast in place of others.
Additionally, this shows how incredible Al Pacino was in an era where he was still growing as an actor but already displayed the chops that would earn him legendary status.
The rest of the cast is pretty damn perfect too from the cop to the federal agents to the bank teller with the least amount of lines. Lumet did a spectacular job in getting the most out of his cast: utilizing their strengths and personalities to maximum effect.
The majority of the film takes place in one location but this moves at such a brisk pace that it doesn’t bog things down, which can happen fairly easy in pictures without the talent that this one had.
Plus, the cinematography was solid, the musical score was perfect and the film just had the right sort of tone. It felt like real, gritty, ’70s New York City without coming off as edgy or dark like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Granted, this was a film that had its fair share of violence and perilous, unfortunate situations but even knowing the outcome could never be good for the main characters, you still didn’t give up hope or fall into a sense of despair.
Dog Day Afternoon is a motion picture that deserves its status as one of the best films of its decade. It also boasts some of the best performances by just about all the key actors involved.
Rating: 9/10 Pairs well with: other crime films of the 1970s, especially those starring Al Pacino.
Also known as: Solarfighters, Solar Warriors (alternative titles) Release Date: November 26th, 1986 Directed by: Alan Johnson Written by: Walon Green, Douglas Anthony Metrov Music by: Maurice Jarre Cast: Richard Jordan, Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James Le Gros, Claude Brooks, Peter DeLuise, Peter Kowanko, Adrian Pasdar, Sarah Douglas, Charles Durning, Frank Converse, Terrence Mann, Alexei Sayle, Bruce Payne, Willoguhby Gray
Brooksfilms, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes
“It’s an odd name for a skateball team, don’t you think? “Solarbabies.” Too soft, not menacing enough. Why do you suppose they chose it?” – Grock, “They don’t seem to need anything more menacing, do they? They always seem to win.” – The Warden
Researching this movie for this review, I discovered that Mel Brooks was the executive producer on this. Somehow I must’ve always missed that. Then again, I hadn’t seen this since the early ’90s when it would pop up on TV from time to time.
I used to really like this movie, despite its overabundance of flaws. Seeing it now, I’d say it’s less palatable than it was when it was more current, however, it’s still got charm and a really likable cast of young people, most of whom would go on to have memorable careers.
The film follows a group of teens and a younger kid that escape from a dystopian juvenile prison. They also befriend an alien orb that exhibits some special powers. The majority of the film deals with these kids being on the run from the fascist military group that is led by Richard Jordan, who I most remember as the obsessed Sandman that hunted Michael York in 1976’s Logan’s Run. I’ve always liked him since that film and seeing him in a similar role, albeit with an army at his disposal, is pretty enjoyable. This also features Sarah Douglas, as a secondary villain.
The special effects are pretty underwhelming, even for the time, but some things did hold up well. I love the matte painting work used for the landscapes and the effects sequence where the teen’s hand dissolves into bone and ash looks really damn cool.
The film’s score is a mixed bag but more on the negative end of the spectrum. It’s mostly just cheesy synth tracks that are repetitive and pounding. There’s a pop track or two, which livens things up but the music drags the film down quite a bit due to just how generic and basic it is.
One thing I do like is that this has a very spaghetti western vibe to it. Since it is mostly filmed in Spain, it really reflects the look of those deserts. It actually fits well within the slew of Spanish and Italian Mad Max ripoffs from the decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually used some of the same props and set pieces from some of those films, due to the similar dystopian atmosphere.
While this has a 4.8 out of 10 on IMDb, it’s a better movie than that. I understand why the general public would look down on it and rate it as below average but it’s got character, it’s got heart and it’s got a rare youthful energy that is missing from similar post-apocalyptic films of the era.
Plus, it’s got Alexei Sayle from The Young Ones in it.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with: other cheesy ’80s sci-fi movies.
Also known as: Blood Sisters (Ireland) Release Date: November 18th, 1972 (Filmex) Directed by: Brian De Palma Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose Music by: Bernard Herrmann Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis, Art Evans (uncredited)
American International Pictures, 92 Minutes
“I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!” – Grace Collier
Brian De Palma is a very talented director. This early film from him has him tapping into Alfred Hitchcock territory. While De Palma is no Hitchcock, this is as good as Hitchcock’s ’70s films, after he moved on from his prime.
Funny enough, De Palma got Bernard Herrmann to do the score for this film. For those that don’t know, Herrmann was a regular collaborator with Hitchcock. He also did the scores for Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a slew of other classic pictures.
Herrmann’s score here is incredible and this wouldn’t be the same movie without Herrmann’s melodic, enchanting and otherworldly music. Sometimes the score is slow and beautiful, other times it is pounding, a bit shrill but always interesting.
De Palma channels his inner Hitchcock in his style and narrative structure. This is like a Hitchcockian thriller turned up to 11. This is a murder mystery story but it has very dark and unusual twists. In fact, I had never seen this before and having now seen it, I can see where all these other films and novels I’ve enjoyed have taken cues from the story’s twist.
The visual style is also heavily borrowed from Hitchcock but De Palma does it so well that this is much more of a strong and respectful homage than the director simply emulating a master.
The dream/hallucination sequence towards the end is majestic and nightmarish.
De Palma also taps into Hitchcock’s cinematic obsession of voyeurism. There are elements of Rear Window and Psycho in this but De Palma pulls this all off without a hitch.
This was a really cool film, which makes me appreciate the early work of De Palma even more.
Plus, Margot Kidder was absolutely superb in this. Jennifer Salt was a lot of fun too.
Rating: 7.75/10 Pairs well with: other early De Palma films: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury.
Release Date: October 24th, 1981 Directed by: Frank De Felitta Written by: J.D. Feigelson, Butler Handcock Music by: Glenn Paxton Cast: Larry Drake, Charles Durning, Tonya Crowe, Jocelyn Brando, Lane Smith
Wizan Productions, CBS, 96 Minutes
“[about Marylee being attacked] Bubba didn’t do it.” – Bubba Ritter
For a “made for TV” horror film, this was surprisingly good. It’s tame, considering that it came out at the height of slasher movies but the suspense and the story are handled well.
We are first introduced to Bubba, a small town simpleton in the same vein as Jobe from The Lawnmower Man. He is blamed for a girl’s brutal death even though he tried to save the girl and she does actually survive. A local mob, led by an insane mailman, track Bubba into a field where he is hiding in a scarecrow. They murder him in cold blood only to find out, just after the grisly killing, that Bubba actually saved the girl’s life and is a hero.
As the story progresses, strange things start happening to the four men that murdered Bubba. One is mangled in his tractor and another is buried alive in a corn silo. The mailman goes further insane, as this spirit of Bubba and the little girl are working together to get revenge.
This film builds suspense quite well and there isn’t even a full reveal of the undead Bubba until the very end. This isn’t a film full of gore and visual horror. It alludes to things happening and does a great job of selling the majority of the violence off screen. It was made for television in the ’80s so a straight up gore fest wasn’t possible. But I think that it actually makes for a better film overall.
At times, the picture can drag a bit and seem dry but as a viewer, you want to see the mailman get his just desserts.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow is effective and it used its creative limitations as strengths. It’s a well made film for the time, the budget and its format.
Plus, Larry Drake plays Bubba. You may remember him from Dr. Giggles or as the villain in the Darkman movies.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with:Scarecrows, Superstition, The Burning.
Release Date: June 15th, 1990 Directed by: Warren Beatty Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr. Based on:Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould Music by: Danny Elfman Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov, Marshall Bell, Robert Costanzo
Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes
“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice
I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.
In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.
Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.
And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.
The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.
The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.
Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.
Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.
The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.
Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?
It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.
Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.
My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.
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