Movie Review – “The Omen” (1976)

 

 

Imagine a sequel to “Rosemary’s Baby” if they decided to ramp up the violence and the idea of demons and satanic cults, and you would probably get something like “The Omen.”

While “Rosemary’s Baby” was more-so about the mystery of what was happening around Rosemary and the fate of her baby, “The Omen” is all-in on the fear and making you genuinely afraid that the Antichrist is coming and that the end of the world is upon us.

On the night that the son of American diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is born, Thorn is told the baby died moments after the birth. With his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) unaware that their child was stillborn, Robert is convinced by a priest to adopt another new born child whose mother died during birth. The two raise their adopted son, Damien, in the United Kingdom, though Robert never tells Katherine that Damien is adopted.

But on Damien’s fifth birthday, things take a turn for the hellish when his babysitter throws herself off their mansion’s balcony. After this, Robert is visited by an Italian priest, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton), who warns Robert that Damien must die in order to save him, his wife and the world from the Antichrist.

 

 

What sold me on the terror of this situation was the prophecy of the Antichrist, in particular how he would take over the world, and how it matched up with the life Damien was leading. It was a simple yet effective technique, since a five-year old couldn’t show demonic powers and the apocalypse by himself.

There was also this constant ominous atmosphere to Robert’s search for the truth, like he was always being watched by this entity that could strike him down at any moment. By that entity holds back, letting Robert uncover so much before doing anything about it. Is it because of the importance Robert must play in Damien’s growth? Or maybe because this force just loves toying with people and showing their lack of control in the world? Either way, this force looms over the entire film like a stalker, waiting for just the right moment to sink his claws into his prey and getting the most enjoyment out of it.

Overall, “The Omen” feels like a middle ground between “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist,” filled with mystery and intrigue, but also with the fear of a parent helpless to stop unspeakable horrors and monstrosities. With the satanic chorus, gothic architecture and ever-present demonic atmosphere, this does feel like one of the most evil movies I have ever watched.

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance” (1974)

 

 

If you didn’t get enough blood, gore, and samurai dismemberment in the first “Lady Snowblood,” get ready for even more in the sequel, plus nudity, long take fight sequences and very 1970s style filmmaking with “Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance.”

Set after the events of the first film, Yuki (Meiko Kaji) has been sentenced to life in prison for the crimes she committed. But when the secret police learn of her talents, they reach out to and give her an ultimatum – Spend the rest of her life in prison, or work for them and have her sentenced reduced.

 

 

What stood out to me in this film, outside of the up’ed level of violence from the first film, was the cinematography and the style in which of the flashbacks are shown. There are lots of great uses of color here, including some beautiful shots of the bright red sun setting on the ocean, or the dark blue colors of night. The flashbacks reminded me of “Under the Flag of the Rising Sun” in how stylized and unique they got, with strange camera angles, even weirder editing styles and lack of color.

“Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance” offers exactly what we got in the first film, with plenty of rage and violence to go around, but presents it in a far more captivating style. Now there’s far more that catches the eye outside of the bright red blood splatter.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Lady Snowblood” (1973)

Meet the biggest inspiration for the “Kill Bill” saga – “Lady Snowblood.” And it is exactly what it sounds like.

Set in feudal Japan, at a time when thieves and mobsters ruled peasants through fear of samurais and warlords, a group of four criminals attack and kill a peaceful teacher in brutal fashion, in front of his wife and son. They proceed to kill the son and rape the wife, Sayo. One of the criminals takes Sayo for himself, hiding her away to work for him, while Sayo eventually kills this man but is sentenced to life in prison.

Sayo then realizes there is only one thing she can do – birth another child, and have that child carry on her plans of revenge and murder the other three criminals responsible for all this. She does eventually bring another child into this hateful world, a girl Yuki (Meiko Kaji). She is taught in the ways of sword fighting by a priest, who believes Yuki is a demon of vengeance, meant to bring order to a chaotic time.

 

 

The violence in “Lady Snowblood” is the over-the-top insanity you would expect from a 1970s Japanese movie, with vibrant colorful blood, and characters dying into the most exaggerated ways, especially with Yuki’s main weapon being an umbrella with a dagger inside the handle. If that sounds like something you would enjoy, you will get a kick out of this movie.

This one is a nice change-of-pace for a Japanese samurai tale, since I don’t recall many female sword users in Japanese cinema. That is a trend that comes up in other cultures, especially nowadays, but to see this happen in 1970s Japan is special. It could be that “Lady Snowblood” is based off a manga, but the movie rarely shows it with how authentic it feels to the samurai experience.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with “Lady Snowblood.” It is grotesque, over-the-top, yet fateful to the samurai lifestyle to make its quieter moments hit harder. It is not hard to see how this film influenced Quentin Tarantino with its violent style that is wholly unique.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Sleeper” (1973)

 

 

I would have never expected to love a Woody Allen film as much as I enjoyed “Sleeper” but this film caught me completely off guard, while also teaching me that I love slapstick and visual comedy more than verbal comedy.

As I’ve mentioned, Woody Allen movies are so hit-and-miss with me, some leave a great impression on me like “Midnight in Paris” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors” while others like “Annie Hall” or “Hannah and Her Sisters” make me want to claw my eyes out. Part of me feels that Allen’s work gets better when he distances himself from the movie, by making his characters less like his neurotic, annoying self. But “Sleeper” throws a wrench into all of that by embarrassing the standard Woody Allen protagonist and changing the world around him.

Suddenly, I found this to be comedic genius.

Miles Monroe (Allen) was the owner of a health-food store in Greenwich village in the 1970s, but goes in for a surgery and ends up cryogenically frozen, only to be woken up 200 years later. Miles finds the world vastly different from the one he left, where countries no longer seem to exist, sex is only done inside of small booths called the “Orgasmo-tron,” polite robots perform all tedious tasks and the world is ruled by a man known as the great leader. Miles has been brought out of his sleep to infiltrate a top secret facility for the rebellion, a group intent on taking down the dictatorship.

 

 

Part of the reason this works is because it is a reverse fish-out-of-water story, where we are put in the same position as our protagonist. Not only is Allen an alien to this world, but so are we. Every new advancement in technology that we learn about is so wildly bizarre yet strangely alluring, like the previously mentioned sex machine or the way food is cooked. This makes Allen’s reactions to the new world so much more enjoyable when we are having a similar reaction.

I found myself laughing at nearly every scene, from Miles learning about this strange drug ball, to a chase around the robot repair facility that may or may not involve dismemberment, to Miles getting stuck in a suit that lets him bounce like he’s on the moon. So many memorable scenes, but my favorite was probably Miles learning how food is cooked in the future and he ends up creating a blob-like monster by mixing two similar viles together and has to fight it off with a broom.

While “Sleeper” wants to be a parody of dark tales of the future, like “1984” or “Fahrenheit 451,” it is also Allen’s tribute to the greats of slapstick comedy, like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. This shows constantly throughout the movie, as there are many single shot sequences with little dialogue and lots of physical comedy. But fewer pies in the face, and more avoiding the dangers of the future by strange methods that would make Jackie Chan blush.

 

 

“Sleeper” does have its share of verbal comedy, especially when the people of the future want information on celebrities of the past and Allen tells the strangest lies about people like Richard Nixon and Joseph Stalin. But the focus of this film is on slapstick, which made realize just how much I adore visual comedy, at least in the movies. At its best, slapstick embraces the visual art form of film and can tell us so much without saying a word. It is enjoyable in the simplest of ways, but can be far more satisfying than the greatest of verbal sparrings.

“Sleeper” takes me back to movies like “Duck Soup” and “City Lights” and gives non-stop laughs, while also offering a future that uniquely dark yet strangely comforting, a world that has its dark side but does not seem all that bad. The film takes every opportunity to explore this laughable world while giving us a Woody Allen character that never gets too annoying. This was a joy to watch from start to finish and is now my favorite Woody Allen movie.

Final Grade: A+

 

Movie Review – “House” (1977)

 

 

Much like “Shaft” is the poster-child of Blaxploitation, “House” is the poster-child of modern Japanese horror films.

You might be wondering – what’s the difference between Japanese horror and regular horror? If you look at classic examples of Japanese horror, like “Ringu,” “The Grudge” or “One Missed Call,” you will notice a particular focus on modern ghost stories, but especially ones where the ghosts are vengeful and will go beyond their expected boundaries to get their pray. This makes Japanese horror far more unpredictable, since everything you thought you knew about the undead goes out the window. Additionally, Japanese horror tends to linger far more on the body torture of the ghosts’ victims, showing exactly how they were killed in every excruciating detail.

Watching a Japanese horror film is like being in a nightmare that plays on every single one of your fears. These films are often unforgiving, unapologetic, and will get stuck in your head for days. For example, my roommate came in to watch one scene of “House” and witnessed a piano eating a young woman. He later told me he had nightmares for two days after watching just that one scene.

 

 

But what sets “House” apart from other Japanese horror films is its style and atmosphere. While most others in the genre take themselves seriously, “House” never truly goes all-in on the horror. The film follows a group of teenage girls, led by Gorgeous (seriously that’s her name), as they go to her aunt’s house for the summer, only to find out she died years ago and has been waiting for some new young bodies to show up. Also in the group is Gorgeous’ best friend Fantasy, the music-savvy Melody, the token-nerd Prof, and the gravity-defying Kung-Fu.

While the fate of each girl is as gruesome as the last, the dream-like state that “House” goes for allows the film to have absurd fun with the whole thing, like watching Kung-Fu literally fight off ghosts with moves that would make Bruce Lee jealous. There is also a bright color-scheme in “House” with a large focus on orange and yellow, especially the setting sun over the landscape of this decaying house.

If you’re looking for a horror film that never takes itself too seriously and has fun with the vengeful ghost angle, “House” is exactly what you’re looking for. The film is as weird and trippy as you would expect from 1970s Japan, and it makes this one of the more unique ghost stories out there.

Final Grade: B

 

Movie Review – “Nashville” (1975)

 

 

The best way for a film to lose my interest is by not having any sense of progression. Instead of one scene leading into the next and actions repeatedly build on top of the last leading to a climax where everything comes together, the film meanders from scene to scene and will often make audience wonder why they’re watching it if there is no meaning.

It’s like going to the store to buy milk, but you end up staring at the frozen pizzas for ten minutes and leave the store having bought nothing. What was accomplished? What train of thought did that follow? What was the point? Is it deep? Maybe, but it ultimately doesn’t add up to anything so it feels like time was wasted.

“Nashville” had promise at the beginning but quickly fell into this postion by focusing on so many characters that we don’t get proper resolution with most. This Robert Altman film has one of the largest number of network-narrative characters, boasting an impressive 24 main characters, as they all attend, organize and play in a country music festival while a presidential candidate is in town spreading his views on politics and the world. The cast includes Keith Carradine as the lead vocalist of a three-person folk rock band, Ned Beatty has a man struggling in his marriage, Lily Tomlin as a gospel singer who seems a little tired of her life, Geraldine Chaplin as a nosey-BBC reporter and Gwen Welles as an aspiring country singer with little talent and has to resort to unsavory technics to succeed.

 

 

At the beginning, I liked what I thought “Nashville” was going for. It introduces us to its many colorful characters through simple conversations, all while country music and political beliefs are being blasted at us. Through these small bits of dialogue, we learn so much about who these people are by what the talk about, like how Lily Tomlin’s character spends so much time talking about this girl she knows and how her neck was severely hurt in a car accident, or this elderly widow who mostly talks about her deceased husband and his religious beliefs. On top of that, the country singers mostly give us original music, filled to the brim with how they either love their parents or hated the way there were raised.

I truly got a worldwide view from the earlier parts of “Nashville” through all these differing points of view.

However, around the hour-and-a-half mark, the film takes a dive when so many differing plots are introduced that I lost track of who was who and what they were doing. I feel like I need a flowchart to explain what everyone was trying to accomplish. Because there are so many different things going on, both bigger events are smaller tasks, most of them don’t go anywhere or add up to much. Geraldine Chaplin’s character, while giving a different type of insight, fades into the background by the final scenes.

For half of these 24 characters, it feels like there is no sense of closure or resolution, like their story didn’t go anywhere or add up to anything. Maybe that was Robert Altman’s point, but that doesn’t make for a fascinating experience when we follow these people for nearly three hours and we don’t get any sort of climax with most.

It also doesn’t help that the majority of the last hour is country music, focusing solely on the actors singing, like watching a live performance in a middle of “Network.” In fact, I got a similar feeling between “Network” and “Nashville” – both with large casts that love to talk a bit too much and find ways to sneak the director/writer’s world views onto the audience, some a bit more subtle than others.

But overall, I would put “Nashville” over “Network” because I found the first hour to be strangely enjoyable in how simple and laid-back everything felt. Watching the introductions to all these characters and learning so much about them through the way the talk was pleasant. But as the film went on, I lost more and more interest especially when it focused more on the music and unresolved plots.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “Deliverance” (1972)

 

It is interesting that the only thing I’ve ever heard about “Deliverance” before seeing the film are the more unsavory scenes. Unlike other movies, “Deliverance” doesn’t beat around the bush and goes into explicit details about what these four businessmen from Atlanta are going through while stuck in the back woods, surrounded by rednecks and take advantage of their isolation.

Yet, there is only one shocking scene of this caliber that comes about halfway through the movie. It goes on for a while, but afterwards the tone of “Deliverance” has shifted to one of survival. The main theme of this film is civilized men having to make difficult choices that would make them feel primitive or uncivilized.

So why is it that this one scene is the only thing that gets talked about in “Deliverance”? Especially when it feels so at odds with the main theme? Perhaps it is because that scene is so shocking, and unlike anything movie-goers had seen in cinemas before. Because the rest of the movie is about survival-horror, the biggest element of that horror constantly remains in our minds.

 

 

But my problem with “Deliverance” is that this unsavory moment and the ensuing scenes don’t amount to anything. The film wants to show its realistic side, by saying we all have this barbaric desire to outlast other evil men, but it does so in the most dramatic and violent way possible, turning our little unsuspecting rafting trip into a battle through fires of hell.

By the end, “Deliverance” is just as much of a fantasy as “The Terminator.”

While I appreciate the atmosphere and pacing of “Deliverance,” especially as a survival-horror film, it cannot make up its mind on whether it wants to be realistic with its themes of civilized vs. primitive or over-the-top violent. If you’re not squeamish after reading this, and want to know about the movie changed peoples’ perspectives on the South, there is certainly enough escapism in “Deliverance” to enjoy it.

Final Grade: C+