Monday, March 19, 2018

Swimming with ORCA (1977)

I've avoided ORCA (1977) for decades. The reason for this is that I've been told by many people - critics and regular folk alike - that it is a simply awful movie. The way I first heard about the film was, in fact, because of it's inclusion in one of the famous Medved brothers' books about bad movies. Having long since realized that those particular critics were a little too clueless to be trusted as guides to interesting cinema I have found that many films they derided as crap have become personal favorites. But ORCA has remained a movie that I've avoided except for a chance viewing of a single scene involving Bo Derek's leg. My curiosity has remained low but got a boost after I finally watched JAWS 2 a while back. Jaws rip-offs have suddenly become of interest to me so, I began to seriously think it might be time to give ORCA it's day in court. How bad could it be, right? So when I heard recently about a Blu-ray release in Australia that included a film historian commentary track I leaped at the chance to not only see this legendary bad movie but to listen to someone talk about it as well. Who knows - he might even defend it from it's bad reputation.

Now that I've seen ORCA I can say that - sadly - I have to fall on the Medved side of the opinion scale for this one. That doesn't mean I have to like the Medveds but when they're right, they're right. The movie's central problem is that takes the mistake made by the fourth JAWS film and runs it around like it's sheer brilliance. This film would have you believe that because the brain size of a Killer Whale is large, that it therefore has the reasoning power, emotional responses and desire for vengeance that a human being would have. To demonstrate this we have a male Orca seek bloody revenge on all it holds responsible for the death of it's mate and unborn child. It's at this point in plotting this story that several someones should have stood up and explained how stupid the idea was so that a new avenue of story could be taken. But that did not happen. So, we have a film in which a Killer Whale stalks and murders human beings until it kills all but the last fisherman standing. I'm not kidding. If you were a sane person you might point out that these people could have escaped danger from an ocean dwelling mammal by...... moving away from the shore, maybe. Or not going out onto the water anymore. Taking a job inland someplace. Someplace dry, perhaps. But then we would have no film called ORCA and, to be honest, that would a loss to the world of bad cinema.

Let me be clear - this a terrible film. It's core conceit is so ridiculous that it could never have recovered from it no matter what tricks were tried. To anthropomorphize a whale to the degree this film does is to shove aside any chance of anything being taken seriously. They try their best by hiring some damned good actors and Richard Harris in particular is really giving this stupid idea his best effort. There are a number of scenes in which his acting is exceptional and very affecting. He does everything he can to bring a sense of pathos to his character as he comes to regret his actions and begins to see a (ludicrous) parallel between his life and the male Orca. But the fact that Harris puts so much talent in service of this extremely silly story is kind of sad. It makes the stupidity of the whole affair almost insulting and definitely sad. Like leaving a cake out in the rain.

So, after finally watching this 70's silliness I settled in for the commentary track by Lee Gambin and I'm glad I did. Mr. Gambin brings a film fans' enthusiasm and a film historian's depth of research to bear on this harebrained mess doing his level best to defend it. Interestingly, he doesn't even seem to feel that he has to do all that much to prove his point about the film's qualities and plunges right into reeling off reams of background information about the cast, the crew, the production history and reception of the film with little more than a nod toward those who might dislike the thing. Gambin is a bit of a specialist in Nature Gone Amuck films and his comments show a wide knowledge of the genre that makes for fascinating listening. In fact, he made me wish I could have a few minutes with him to talk more about some specific subjects. I'd like to discuss the obvious missing scenes scattered throughout the film. Clearly, this was meant to be a much longer film before it reached the editing room. Maybe there's a podcast in that?

So, this turns out to be a rare instance in which I enjoyed the commentary for a film more than I enjoyed the film itself. ORCA is a silly, lunk-headed attempt to make a modern Moby Dick story by way of JAWS and it really only served me as an unintentional comedy most of the running time. Great acting can't save a flawed script idea. But Lee Gambin's contribution is what I'll be returning to this Blu-Ray for in the future. He didn't convince me that this is a good film but he did convince me that Gambin's name on a release is a good reason to pick it up.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

GORATH (1962) Poster Art and Lobby Cards

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Bloody Pit #65 - NAKED...YOU DIE! (1968)

What do you get when you combine Mario Bava, Tudor Gates, the Woolner Brothers and Antonio Margheriti? You get NAKED...YOU DIE! This is a project that started out as a Woolner production to be directed by Bava but ended up eventually being made by Margheriti. According to Tim Lucas the Gates script remained intact but he faults the film for not being as well crafted a film as Bava would have directed. He may have a point but the joys of this film shine through regardless of any possible 'what ifs'.

John Hudson joins me again to dig into this Margheriti thriller - or is it a giallo? There certainly are black gloves and a number of beautiful young ladies meet an early death. There is a semi-effective police investigation and an ersatz Nancy Drew sneaking around trying to solve the murders taking place on the gorgeous, sun dappled campus of an all girl's college. There are half a dozen possible killers with a multitude of potential motives. There are secretive sexual liaisons, hidden homosexual relationships, leering criminal habits, odd exercise regimens and even some strange vanities that point toward likely guilt. So, the film has a number of the classic elements that would make this a giallo, I guess. But which of these clues are more than simply suspicious and which ones will lead to the serial murderer in the school? If you've ever watched an Italian mystery you know that just following the breadcrumbs might not get you anywhere but this one plays fair. Mostly.

Mr. Hudson and I lounge poolside with the young girls of St. Hilda's College, skulk around the Bughouse with Professor Andre, shake our fingers at the local Peeping Tom  and fall in love with the wonderful character of Jill as she uses her new walkie-talkies to put herself in danger - or try to solve the crimes. Michael Rennie may be the cop in charge but it's Jill that eavesdrops her way into our hearts! We do take a couple of short unrelated side roads during this episode and I do apologize for the derision I heap on Marky Mark. I promise not to do that again! If you have any comments about the show or suggestions for future Margheriti films to cover we can be reached at or on the Facebook page. Thank you very much for listening to the show! And don't stand so close to me.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trailer for NAKED...YOU DIE! (1968)

Here's the Italian trailer for the subject of our next Bloody Pit podcast. Luckily, there are English subtitles or the ominous voice-over would be no help at all. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

What I Watched in February

In one way Black Panther continues the incredible winning streak of Marvel Studios but it is much more than that. It is, of course, a landmark superhero film because it breaks the previously stark color barrier that kept producers from making huge budget superhero films with a black lead character. You could argue that BLADE (1998) already made this leap but the level of money dedicated to that film versus BLACK PANTHER is astronomical. Also, Blade is much more of an anti-hero if, for no other reason, he is a half-vampire and not above murder. You could also point to Marvel's excellent LUKE CAGE NetFlix series as an impressive translation of black hero to the screen but in the world of entertainment Big Screen beats TV every time. 

As for the film - It's very good. I loved seeing Wakanda brought to the Marvel Universe so well and the emphasis on the tribal politics was well handled. The division between those that want to bring the nation's gifts to the rest of the world and those who wish to adhere to an isolationist policy is well drawn and the arguments on both sides are shown to have merit. This film really just tells the story of how T'Challa comes to break with his ancestors' choice to stay quiet and move out into the larger world to help. It's a great tale and having it mirror our current world's conflicts brings events a certain sharpness that I appreciated. 

My only complaints are the same ones I had with the second Captain America film. At times the plot mechanics are a little too obvious (Waterfall? I wonder who's going over that in the second act?) and the final act danger into which Martin Freeman's CIA agent is placed is far too artificial (Where did that window attacking plane come from?) and unnecessary. Also, the CGI fights got a little too cartoony, which is a standard problem with these action heavy films these days. But those gripes are minor in the face of such a well done film. 


ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949) - 8 (Ray Milland as a devil!)
OCTAMAN (1971) - 3
GORATH (1962) - 5 (ridiculous Japanese SF - second half is tense)
ROLLERBALL (1975) - 9 (rewatch)
BUCK PRIVATES (1941) - 6 (comedy/musical/military recruitment film with Abbot & Costello)
ERIK THE CONQUEROR (1961) - 8 (rewatch)
LAST OF THE VIKINGS (1961) - 7 (rewatch)
THE WOLF HUNTERS (1949) - 4 (weak, slow Mountie tale)
THE BABYSITTER (2017) - 6 (fun comic book style horror comedy)
A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017) - 7 (rewatch)
ALIEN COVENANT (2017) - 8 (rewatch)
CODE 7, VICTIM 5 (1964) - 5 (Euro-Spy stuff that apes DR. NO pretty well)
SECUESTRO (1976) - 6 (Naschy crime film)
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG (1959) - 7 (rewatch on Blu)
BLACK PANTHER (2018) - 8 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Poster Art for NAKED...YOU DIE! (1968)

Including a few of the film's alternate titles! 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Films of Christopher R. Mihm

For at least 5 years several of my fellow podcasting friends have been telling me that I really need to check out the work of independent Minnesota filmmaker Christopher R Mihm. I've never taken the plunge before simply because I knew I was going to probably have to purchase the various films and, without getting a chance to see one of them, I wasn't sure if they would really be my cup of tea. A couple of months ago almost all of Mr. Mihm's films popped up on the Amazon Prime streaming service. So I guess I no longer have any excuse and it was time to dive in.

I've now watched the first three of his movies - THE MONSTER OF PHANTOM LAKE (2006), IT CAME FROM ANOTHER WORLD! (2007) and CAVE WOMEN ON MARS (2008) and I thoroughly enjoyed each of them. They show just what an inventive and very creative team of people can do with a little money and a strictly defined goal in sight. The films are set in the 1950's or - in the case of CAVE WOMEN ON MARS - as if they were made in that decade while imaging a distant future (1987!) as seen from that time. They are filmed in black & white to emulate the look of the classic 1950's movies they are striving to reproduce with an eye toward mimicking the style and quirks of those movies. But, happily, Mihm's pictures do a good job of getting the most important thing right by not taking the idea too seriously. The attitude seems to be one of doing the best possible job while keeping a slightly winking tone but never insulting the wonderful science fiction films they are imitating. There are genre in-jokes from both the 1940's and 1950's with a sprinkling of smart dialog lifts from some very recognizable hits from the 1980's as well. The scripts are slightly silly, very cheesy but also just serious enough to make fellow fans of this type of cinema glad to take the ride. Or amble, to be more accurate to the pacing of these movies.

The feel is similar to the excellent comedic productions of Larry Blamire such as THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVERA (2001) and DARK AND STORMY NIGHT (2009). Mihm's movies are operating on much more limited budgets and use a small cast of rotating actors most of whom double up by working on the productions as camera assistants, makeup people or special effects techs. This group effort seems to rub off on the films giving the entire thing a 'let's put on a show' air that makes even the occasional failed or clumsy moments all the more forgivable. These folks really are putting their hearts into these movies! Even the choice of using old library music tracks to score the films shows a cleverness. What could be seen as a cost cutting measure also evokes a sense of warm nostalgia from fans familiar with these repurposed tracks playing under new, tweaked variations on older stories.

Having now seeing some of Mihm's films I can honestly say that they are quite enjoyable. Quite. In fact I can say without any doubt that I wish I had already watched most if not all of them. They are most entertaining. Indeed!