The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cinema 4 Rating: 8
It seems that many of my childhood nightmares rest squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Clint Eastwood. Love the guy, love his westerns, tolerate his cop flicks, deeply appreciate his skills as a filmmaker. But a rare excursion to one of the two drive-in theatres in Alaska as a child (more on this subject at a later date) and its triple-feature Clint Eastwood western marathon (or so I have been told it was; it may have only been a double-feature), left me with a lifelong intolerance for hanging scenes, to the point where I get all wigged out at the conclusion of films like Dancer in the Dark and Capote. Likewise, in Outlaw Josey Wales, there is a scene early on in this film where a Gatling gun is employed on a group of soldiers. While I can handle the use of machine guns just fine in most gangster films, somehow as a youth I could not understand the fairness of such a weapon as a Gatling gun, which could devastate at a remarkably high firing rate. Of course, any weapon that can take a human life is highly unfair, and there are many, many far worse weapons developed before and since. But since I saw this film at the age of 12, even with the nuclear fear welded into my soul at a relatively youthful age, and even with my vision already being compromised by an ceaseless array of monsters and aliens, the relatively obscure Gatling gun became a minor nightmare item for me for a couple of years. Outside of this weird item regarding my nightmares, though, the film itself is certainly up there with Clint's best, and the scenes between Clint and Chief Dan George are still highly enjoyable. A great western epic of vengeance and the way one man finds his way back from the edge. (Really, I've just described most Eastwood westerns...) Now, with some neat digital editing, we could finally get rid of Sondra Locke...

The Frighteners (1996)
Director: Peter Jackson
Cinema 4 Rating: 7
I miss Michael J. Fox on the big screen. While not a fan of most of his films, his is an easygoing, welcoming presence, even when the character he is portraying is deeply troubled and melancholic, as he is in this underrated Peter Jackson take on the flipside of the Ghostbusters movie. The only ghosts getting busted in this flick are the ones in Fox's employ, until a truly malevolent spirit gets in the way of the scheme, and murders a whole lot of people in the process. It is a comedy, but a very dark one for large portions of the film, laced with rich splashes of true horror, and that mood is only exacerbated by the buzzy support provided by a clearly unhinged Jeffrey Combs character. I saw this film for the first time at an afternoon showing on its opening day, with a large theatre filled, or rather, not filled with about 20 like-minded souls. I saw it, again, later that evening. Perhaps the world had given up on Fox in the movies by that point, and I must admit, I wasn't going for him, but for Combs (and a lingering affection for Trini Alvarado since Times Square back in 1980), but Fox proved his talent for comedic displacement was still a vital and charming weapon. Now, due to his illness, he works only intermittently, and outside of his voice work in the Stuart Little movies, his turn in this movie was his last major lead role in a film. No shame in this, for I believe to this day that this is his best screen work, even counting Back to the Future. And when are filmmaker's going to wake up to my assertion that each and every film released should have gratuitous amounts of John Astin in them? "There's a reason they call me the "hanging" judge!"

Robocop (1987)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cinema 4 Rating: 7
The Criterion Collection 023
I'm not sure how I feel about this movie anymore. I have only watched it once since I bought the Criterion Collection version on its release several years back, and I am loathe to discuss my current attitude towards its fascistic future (a specialty of Verhoeven's, when he wasn't busy unleashing Showgirls and Basic Instinct on us) until I have given it a fresh spin. Off the cuff, I will tell you that I loved this movie when it came out, and saw it about six times in the theatre. It was dark, irreverant, cheeky, and crammed with some terrifically slimy supporting characters, played to the over-the-top hilt by the likes of Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox, Ray Wise, Paul McCrane and Miguel Ferrer. These are all elements which would normally attract me to the film, but at that time, I was really there for the special effects and the gore. The film was off its rocker with the violence, and I recall the script as being both wildly funny and appropriately comic-book campy where needed. I also bought a boxful of Robocop toys, including the cap-blasting figure of ED-209, the swell killing machine robot that takes out the entire boardroom. Once upon a time, after playing both Buckaroo Banzai and the title character in this film, I thought Peter Weller was going to be a monster star. Talk about your short-sighted vision...

Tapeheads (1988)
Director: Bill Fishman

Cinema 4 Rating: 6

"Yo, friends! Check this out!" Loads of cameos by both famous stars and by obscure music, TV and movie footnotes; an amazingly rich soundtrack with Devo singing in Swedish (or is it mock Swedish?), Fishbone performing Howard's Beach Riot in a country-and-western bar, a theme rap ad for Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, and Sam Moore and Junior Walker blasting through a suite of "classic" R&B standards (all written for the movie) as the incomparable "missing" duo, the Swanky Modes; and starring a tandem, that in a far better world, would have been run through their paces and won great acclaim as the "thinking man's comedy team", John Cusack and Tim Robbins, both friends still relatively fresh in their burgeoning careers at this point. What else could you want out of another weird and edgy project from executive producer Michael Nesmith? How about a decent rerelease of the soundtrack, with all of the extra music bits added, included the "extra extended" Roscoe's Rap that burns us through the end credits? My ex- owned the soundtrack, and at that time, I didn't have the foresight to burn copies onto my computer of all her music (at least, the stuff that wasn't Sophie B. Hawkins crap). So, away went the Swanky Modes, and when this DVD was released in '01, it came with a second CD disc insert, but only went so far to include one song: Ordinary Man. What the hell were they thinking? "Let's get into trouble, baby!"

Don't Look Now (1973)
Director: Nicolas Roeg

Cinema 4 Rating: 8

This is one of those films that people either love or hate, it seems, and some people that I have shown it have never spoken to me of films again, while others have searched for years to find another Roeg film so richly hypnotizing. (I will point to several Roeg favorites of my own: Walkabout and Insignificance, hop over to The Witches for fun, and especially lead them to the astounding Bowie-starrer The Man Who Fell To Earth, but inexplicably, that film seems to divide people even more than this one does.) If I were to tell you there was another film from 1973 even creepier than The Exorcist, would you believe me? And that there is a fairly graphic sex scene so erotically charged that it could almost be considered X-rated just by intent alone? (Yeah, you get an extremely naked Julie Christie, but you also have to contend with buck-naked Donald Sutherland, too, so that is a judgment call you have to make on your own, kiddo.) I'll spill not word one about the mind-bending plotline; the less said in advance, the better for your experience. I'll just quote the attendent from the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror when he was asked if the ride was scary: "Well, it ain't called the Tower of Rainbows and Puppy Dogs, kid." Proceed according to your own sensibilities...


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