Category Archives: 1968 Movie reviews

Bullitt-1968

Bullitt-1968

Director-Peter Yates

Starring-Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn

Reviewed July 7, 2017

Grade: B+

Bullitt is one of the ultimate “guy movies”, hardly a stretch considering it stars the “regular guy” hero of the time, Steve McQueen. With his macho, tough guy persona and his cool, confident swagger, he was a marquee hero during the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s. While the film is rife with machismo stereotypes and is not exactly a women’s lib film, it is also a good old-fashioned action thriller with plenty of chase and fight scenes to make most guys  (and some girls) happy. The story is  not too thought-provoking, but the film works as escapist fare and an example of good late 1960’s cinema.

Set in San Francisco, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is assigned to watch a Chicago gangster, Johnny Ross, over a long weekend, before the criminal is set to testify against his brother on Monday morning.  Robert Vaughn plays ambitious politician, Walter Chalmers, who is determined  to see the case go off without a hitch  and see convictions in the organized crime syndicate.  Predictably, the weekend does not go as planned and  Ross is attacked by hit men. This, in turn,  sets off a cat and mouse game of deception and intrigue. As expected, the action is virtually non-stop with many action sequences lighting up the screen.

The plot of Bullitt does not much matter and, in fact, one does not need to completely understand what is going on to enjoy the film for what it is. The intent of a film like Bullitt is not of good story-telling, but rather of good action. This is not meant as a put-down, but rather good, honest critiquing.  One can simply sit back, relax and enjoy the testosterone laden affair.

Bullitt contains some riveting scenes that raise it above an average, middling, action flick. The muscle car chase involving a then state of the art and flashy Ford Mustang  and Dodge Charger is fantastic and one of the high points of the film. The quick and edgy camera angles as the cars zip down the windy and narrow San Francisco roads  make for compelling tension. Will one of the cars careen off the side of the road or blow up in an explosion? Since one of the cars holds Frank Bullitt and the other car the bad guys, it is not tough to guess how the sequence will end. But it’s good fun all the same and well filmed.

The other spectacular sequence is the finale- as Frank and company overtake busy San Francisco airport in pursuit of a baddie about to board a transcontinental flight, the chase sequence leads them throughout the airport, onto a taxiing plane, and finally onto the runway, as a plane is about to take off. It is action at it’s finest and also a treat for the viewer in that it brings us back to airport days, pre-9/11, when airports were just-different. The luxurious flight crew, the innocence, and the glamour- all a distant memory.  The scene is such that it shows all of the airport elements- the people, the employees, the airport, and the planes, giving it a slice of life  feel, circa late 1960’s airport days.

Appealing is the time period that the film is made in. 1968, a great time for film, Bullitt capitalized on the newly liberal use of blood that films were able to show, so in this way, Bullitt is an influential action film. Dozens of imitators (some admittedly with superior writing) followed, including classics Dirty Harry and The French Connection. These films contain the same basic blueprint that Bullitt has.

A negative to Bullitt is the trite way in which women are portrayed. Female characters are written as either dutiful nurses, gasping  in fear and helplessly running away when an assailant runs rampant in the hospital, praying for a man to save the day. Or, they are written, in the case of Bullitt’s girlfriend, as a gorgeous yet insignificant character, given a laughable scene in which she questions whether or not she really knows Frank after witnessing the violence in his job- hello?  he is in the San Francisco Police Department after all.

Bullitt is meat and potatoes kind of film-making. An early entry into  what would become the raw 1970’s and the slick formulaic 1980’s action genre, the film deserves credit for being at the front of the pack in style and influence. The story and character development is secondary to other aspects of the film and Bullitt is just fine as escapism fare.

The Girls-1968

The Girls-1968

Director-Mai Zetterling

Starring-Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson

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Reviewed May 11, 2016

Grade: B+

The Girls is a 1968 political leaning, surreal, dream-like, feminist Swedish film. These may seem like too many adjectives to describe a film, but they all happen to be warranted and work to categorize it, which is tough- it is a complex film. The film left me deep in thought about what I had just viewed- that is a positive for me. Directed by a female, Mai Zetterling, the film clearly is told from a female perspective and is quite difficult to follow, though the message portrayed is a thought compelling and powerful one-women repressed- whether in reality or fantasy-by men.

In my attempt to describe The Girls accurately, it appears to contain a boys versus girls component throughout- told by the girls. The plot centers around three women: Liz (Bibi Andersson), Marianne (Harriet Andersson), and Gunilla (Gunnel Lindblom). The women are hired to star in a touring production of Lysistrata and each faces conflict and concern over leaving their respective families, but for differing reasons. Liz’s husband, who is having an affair, cannot get rid of her soon enough. Marianne has recently dumped her married boyfriend. Gunilla has four children and suffers from guilt.  All of the women are very friendly with each other.

All three principal actresses are familiar to eagle-eyed Ingmar Bergman fans as each of them have appeared in numerous films of his-in very different types of roles. Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal feature these actresses.

The women go on tour and have various surreal experiences based on the play in which they are star. The film, made in black and white, has very overexposed cinematography. The blacks and the whites are very sharp in look and this is no doubt purposely done.

On the surface it would appear that the women hate men and yearn to be free of them. Is that the point of the film? It seems to go in other directions as well. Do they hate their lives and feel confined with men and free without them, when they are touring their play? How do they feel about their children? Do they miss them on tour, love them, resent them, or perhaps  a bit of each? They yearn to be free of restraint.

We are treated to numerous scenes that seem to be a dreamlike state or a fantasy of one of the women. One runs through the forest and comes upon a grizzled, dirty child on the ground. Is it hers? She then sees her husband sitting in a living room chair in the middle of the forest. The symbolism resonating through The Girls is countless. We also see the women fantasize about a handsome, young man. Are they tired of the doldrums- looks and otherwise- that their husbands have caused them?

Many political scenes of protest occur throughout the film. In one, the women march in unison- Nazi style and chant. In another, the women lead what appears to be a charge of women- suffragette style, until the women start attacking each other and punch and kick each other in the streets. These scenes and countless others are tough to analyze, but perhaps this is the point? I decided to simply escape into the film and not try to figure out what everything meant.

Fantastic to see are the exterior scenes shot in Stockholm, Sweden, which reminds us what a liberal, democratic city it is. Yet the women are clearly repressed. Made in 1968, during the sexual revolution, the timing of the film is perfect.

The Girls left me pondering the story and the viewpoint and I will need further viewings in order for the film to more successfully sink in and for me to get it- if I ever do, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In fact, the film is the kind of film that requires further viewings to understand. I look forward to watching this film again and that is high praise for it.

Planet of the Apes-1968

Planet of the Apes-1968

Director-Franklin J. Shaffner

Starring-Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall

Top 100 Films-#97

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Reviewed February 19, 2017

Grade: A

Planet of the Apes is a 1968 science-fiction, message movie, that stars one the legendary greats, Charlton Heston. At the time of release the film was a great film and quite visionary- and the message still holds up well today. Since certainly everyone on the “planet” must know the “surprise” ending, the film speaks volumes on the destruction of the world we know and love. Intelligently written, Planet of the Apes is memorable and was followed by a bunch of not so compelling or strong sequels, remakes, and reboots.

A group of astronauts crash land on a strange planet- in the distant future. The men have no idea where they are or what time period it is. The planet is inhabited by apes, who are highly intelligent and speak and act just like human beings. They are dominant and the real humans are largely mute and incapable of doing much- they are kept imprisoned. George Taylor (played by Heston) is the lead astronaut who, the apes realize, is capable of speech and assumed to be brilliant. The ape leader wants him killed, but sympathetic scientist and archaeologist apes Cornelius and  Zira  (played by Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter) are curious about Taylor and wish to experiment more.

To say nothing of the story, the prosthetic makeup and costumes are dynamic. The apes are obviously played by human actors, but the creatures do not appear fake or phony in any way. Furthermore, the sets look genuine and grand and hold up well in present times, nearly fifty years later. Nothing about the film appears to be remotely dated or losing of its original appeal as some film inevitably do.

Planet of the Apes is a political film, and this message also holds up well in present times. How human beings have ruined their planet is the main point of the film, but this is wisely not revealed until the very end, with the now famous scene of an escaped Taylor, running along the beach, only to realize in terror that the submerged and tattered Statue of Liberty is there. With horror, he realizes that human beings have destroyed planet Earth and the astronauts never actually left their own planet!

Fun and serious to watch all rolled up into one, Planet of the Apes is a film for the ages, with a distinct meaning and a story that audience members everywhere can absorb and relate to.

2001: A Space Odyssey-1968

2001: A Space Odyssey-1968

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood

Top 100 Films-#16

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Reviewed November 15, 2016

Grade: A

In my mind, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a masterpiece, pure and simple, and simply must be seen repeatedly to let the message and the experience sink in. It is one of those films that is comparable to a fine wine- it just gets better and better with age and is palpable with deep-thought and allows the viewer to experience good taste in film art. The delicious quality is meant to be savored and enjoyed- the slow pace and odd elements only enrich the film. Needless to say, it is one of my favorite Stanley Kubrick films. Simply an epic journey through space.

Made in 1968, and the year 2001 way off, the film challenges and breaks down barriers and film, as Kubrick simply makes a film that he wants to make and the results are genius. The film contains no dialogue during the first twenty or the last twenty minutes.

The film begins in the African desert millions of years ago as the evolution of man is apparent- two tribes of ape men dispute over a watering hole. A black monolith appears and one of the tribes is guided to use bones as weapons.

Millions of years later, we meet a team of scientists- led by Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole- as they embark on a mission aboard the United States spacecraft, Discovery One, on a mission to Jupiter. The ship is mainly controlled by an intelligent talking computer named HAL 9000- nicknamed “Hal”. Hal boasts that he is “foolproof and incapable of error”. As events unfold, the film dives into a study of humans versus technology in a cerebral game of mental chess.

The film is very tough to review in an analytical way as it is so intelligent and visually stimulating- it must be experienced. It challenges the viewer to think and absorb the events occurring.

Visually it is breathtaking and still holds up shockingly well from this perspective. The use of classical music throughout- especially in dramatic scenes is effective.

The stunning scene where David and Frank converse about their suspicions regarding “Hal”, as the intelligent computer system looks on, simply an orange light, but seemingly displaying a myriad of emotions (surprise, rage) in the viewers mind, is incredibly compelling.

2001: A Space Odyssey is an enduring masterpiece.

Les Biches (Bad Girls)-1968

Les Biches (Bad Girls)-1968

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Stephane Audran, Jaqueline Sassard

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Reviewed December 1, 2015

Grade: B+

Les Biches (translated to mean Bad Girls in English) is a French-Italian film from 1968 about a peculiar relationship between two women, one a wealthy, gorgeous, sophisticate named Frederique, and the other a poor, waif-like, struggling street artist named Why. They embark on a tumultuous love affair marred by competition for handsome Paul Thomas, the local architect. At its core, the film delves into class struggle, lust, and violence.

The beginning of the film sets the tone as Frederique provides Why with a large sum of money as she stops to admire her art on the streets of Paris. She invites Why back to her lush villa in gorgeous Saint Tropez, where Frederique lets two outrageous gay men co-habitat with her. The household is a circus of sorts as the men prance around wildly, but Frederique teaches Why about high society and good living. Soon Paul is introduced to the story and takes a shine to Why. She calmly rejects him and Frederique then begins to fancy him, thereby emotionally rejecting Why and leaving her feeling out in the cold. The film then takes a psychologically dramatic turn as characters turn against one another.

I admire this film as it is an unorthodox story especially for 1968. Same-sex stories were not the norm in these days and the interesting key is that the classes are different. Frederique has control and power over Why because she has money. Paul admires Why, but he cavorts with Frederique. Is he genuinely interested in her or does he value her money most of all? The film never makes the distinction crystal clear, but one speculates it is the latter. Frederique uses her wealth (and beauty) to obtain what she wants- namely Paul to spite Why. Why is younger and fresher and has not been marred by the world…yet. The gay men are cartoon-like. It is not clear exactly who they are or why they live in the villa. In fact, little background is known about any of the characters.

Foreign-language films, especially of the 1960’s and 1970’s are fascinating to me- filled with life and interesting facets and Les Biches is a prime example of interesting film-making. A trip down bi-sexuality lane with two gorgeous women at the forefront of the story, both struggling for power over the other, though one with a clear advantage.

Interesting to note that at the time of release is the film was touted as a lesbian skin-flick and humorously miss-thought to be entitled “Les Bitches” (perhaps to get audiences in the door), but is hardly a sex romp- quite the contrary as the psychological elements overtake everything else.

Les Biches is an odd little adventure, but one to be appreciated and traveled with an open mind if the mood is right. Stylish and interesting and certainly non-mainstream, it challenges social norms of the day and provides certain Hitchcock-like elements, especially in the final chapter.

Teorema-1968

Teorema-1968

Director-Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring-Terence Stamp, Silvana Mangano

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Reviewed April 10, 2015

Grade: A-

Teorema is a 1968 Italian art film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom later would go on to direct the dark and disturbing 1975 masterpiece, Salo- 120 Days of Sodom. If one is looking for a concise, mainstream plot with a fixed, to the point, beginning and ending, one will be disappointed. Rather, Teorema is an exhibition in artistic style and interpretation and succeeds in mesmerizing this viewer in thought and contemplation.

A mysterious stranger, simply known as “the visitor”, suddenly arrives to stay with an affluent, Italian family in their sprawling estate. The family consists of a father, mother, son, daughter, and maid, all with issues of loneliness, boredom, fear, rage, or repression. The handsome stranger successfully beds all members of the family and just as suddenly as he arrives, he then disappears from the household leaving the family members with different thoughts, feelings, and actions upon his departure.

The film is highly interpretive and every character can be analyzed. All of the characters are seduced by the stranger and the family’s wealth can be studied. Is Teorema (which translates to theorem in Italian) a commentary on the bourgeois society? The father, Paolo, owns a factory and appears to be in turmoil- is he a repressed homosexual? The conclusion of the father’s story is very interesting as he turns his factory over to the workers, strips naked, and roars with anger and frustration. Is the mother simply a wealthy, bored housewife or much more than that? This character might have been explored more thoroughly. The maid, devoutly religious, becomes suicidal after her tryst with the stranger. The others confide in the stranger about how they feel about themselves and, at times, the film is like watching a therapy session as each character delves more into their own personal feelings. Only the maid is a bit different than the others, but could this be because she is of working class and the others affluent? The daughter, Odessa, approximately, sixteen years old, becomes depressed after her liaison. The frightened, weak son appears to have a crisis and is consoled by the stranger in a loving, tender fashion.

Interestingly, the film at the time was resoundingly denounced by the Vatican, who took offense at the controversial tone of the film and its focus on “obscenity”. Could this be because of some people’s interpretation of “the visitor” as being a Christ-like figure? One must argue the difference between “obscenity” and “art” after viewing this groundbreaking and visionary film. Personally, I viewed Teorema as a thought-provoking experience and did not feel as if the film were going for shock value. Certainly, the film is lightweight in this regard compared to the hauntingly brutal Salo, which followed years later.

Teorema delves into the psychological abyss and portrays an Italian family as more than wealthy- they are people with emotions, fears, desires, and complexities. Certainly not for mainstream audiences, but meant for lovers of interpretive film, it can be debated and discussed for ages to come.

The Killing of Sister George-1968

The Killing of Sister George-1968

Director-Robert Aldrich

Starring-Beryl Reid, Susannah York

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Reviewed March 13, 2015

Grade: A-

The Killing of Sister George is a British film drama, adapted from a 1964 stage production that was a risky subject matter to tackle for the times- lesbianism- in the late 1960’s. Directed by Robert Aldrich, well known for directing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, The Killing of Sister George is a similarly dark tale of loneliness, desperation, and an actress falling from former grace and success to despair, confusion, and anguish. It also has some witty, crackling, comedic moments to avoid being a true downer.

Sister George is a successful, well regarded actress on a popular soap opera named Applehurst. Her character is the wholesome presence in a town fraught with manipulation and drama. She is the moral focal point of the show. In real life, however, George (interestingly called by her character’s name), is troubled. She is bitter, angry, an alcoholic, and frequently berates and even abuses her partner, Childie, played by Susannah York. A third central character in the film is TV Producer Mercy Croft, who is powerful and confused about her sexuality. When the soap opera powers-that-be decide to kill off the beloved Sister George, the real George’s life begins to spiral out of control.

As interesting a film as it is and certainly featuring the competent talents of Beryl Reid in the title role, I cannot help but ponder and fantasize how wonderful the casting of Bette Davis- reportedly considered for the role and inexplicably not cast- would have been. Davis, famous for playing grizzled, mean, unsympathetic characters, would have knocked this role out of the park and it is sad that she did not have the chance.

At its core, the film is a sad character study of one woman’s pain and anguish at being discarded. Presumably unable to be hired anywhere else, her soap opera character is her life. She loves Childie, but is not completely fulfilled by her either, and that relationship is threatened by the vibrant and polished Mercy. This is an interesting triangle as George does not always treat Childie well, but loves her all the same. Childie is a simple character, childlike and needing a strong mate to counter-balance the way she is- someone to take care of her. Without a job or prospects, this would be difficult for George. Does Childie love George or simply want a meal ticket?

The film is understandably rated X for content, presumably for a very explicit sex scene between Mercy and Childie and when a drunken George molests two nuns in the back seat of a London taxi cab. These scenes are both cutting edge and admirable in their risk taking.

The scene set at the real-life London lesbian club (the Gateway Club) and featuring mostly real-life lesbians is great in that it provides a real life glimpse into the gay/lesbian world and lifestyle during the time period.

A brave, ground breaking, risk taking film and bravura direction from Aldrich, The Killing of Sister George is a forgotten gem that needs to be rediscovered by film fans everywhere and is an early journey into gay and lesbian cinema.

Oliver!-1968

Oliver!-1968

Director-Carol Reed

Starring-Mark Lester, Oliver Reed

Top 100 Films-#55

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Reviewed December 8, 2014

Grade: A

Oliver, a 1968 film based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, which was then adapted into a successful stage musical, the film surprisingly won the Academy award for Best Picture that year. Surprising, not because Oliver is poor, in fact it is magnificent, but it was not predicted to take home the honor. Telling the tale of woeful orphan Oliver, the film wonderfully comes across as a dark musical with a wholesome happy ending feel, largely due to the musical compositions which inevitably make for a cheerier tone.
When the film begins, Oliver lives in a despicable orphanage outside of London. A drawing of straws forces meek Oliver to ask for more gruel. After being deemed a problem child he is sold for cheap to an undertaker where he is bullied. Defeated, Oliver makes his way towards the big city in hopes of finding his fortunes. He then meets sinister characters such as Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sykes, as well as the sympathetic Nancy and Mr. Brownlow.

I absolutely love the musical numbers of the film and for me it is the strongest aspect of Oliver. The film would have certainly been much darker had it not been for the musical that it was. Numbers such as “Consider Yourself”, “Food, Glorious Food”, and “As Long As He Needs Me” stick with audiences for miles. The entertaining songs lighten the somber moments- as noted earlier when meek Oliver dares to ask for more gruel, the enchanting “Food Glorious Food” cannot help but be hummed along to, which lightens the mood of the scene. I also enjoy how the film contains the long ago popular trend of containing two acts with an intermission in between- very grand and classy and an aspect of film I wish would return in today’s movies. The London art direction is magnificent, revealing a cold, industrial feel, mixed in with a warm, sunny atmosphere when Oliver stays at the palatial estate of Mr. Brownlow. The bright and enchanting musical number of “Who Will Buy?” is the perfect backdrop for this setting and my personal favorite number.

Nancy is one of the most complex characters- a prostitute, she happily sings, in denial about her life, in “It’s a Fine Life”, secretly wishing her life was better than it is. Later, conflicted over helping Oliver or standing by her man she sings a melancholy number, “As Long As He Needs Me”, which cements her role as a tragic, sad character. However, as she leads a drunken bar room in a dance of “Oom-Pah-Pah”, the drama is thick as she is striving to help Oliver at the risk of putting her own life in severe jeopardy. Shani Wallis fills the character with heart and feeling.

Oliver is a much darker film than one might imagine. Curiously rated G, the film should have at least been rated PG. The films heart is of that of a children’s movie- to me personally a turn-off, but the film is much bolder than that. Certainly, some subject matters are toned down from Dickens novel, but not completely toned down. Examples- the novel made clear overtones of child abuse by the thieves by Fagin, yet there is none of that in the film. Contrasting this, the film blatantly shows the beating death of Nancy- albeit out of camera range, but the audience gets enough of a glimpse to ascertain what is happening. The shooting and swinging death of Bill Sykes borders on brutal.

A glaring flaw of the film is that the voice of Oliver is dubbed by a female singer and not voiced by actor Mark Lester. To me, this seems quite obvious that the voice is not male. The character of Bill Sykes is convincingly played by Oliver Reed, nephew of director Carol Reed.

Perfect around holiday time, Oliver is a terrific musical drama, to be enjoyed for eons to come.

The Anniversary-1968

The Anniversary-1968

Director-Roy Ward Baker

Starring-Bette Davis

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Reviewed November 27, 2013

Grade: B+

The Anniversary is a British film based on a play of the same name. The story centers on the Taggert family reunion celebrating the anniversary of the matriarch (Bette Davis) and the deceased patriarch.

The film is set like a play and most of the action takes place inside the Taggert family mansion. The film is all Davis and she gives a delicious over the top performance as a vicious mother intent on controlling her 3 son’s lives and terrorizing their wives or significant others with cutting remarks and insults.

Davis must have had fun with this role as her storied career was clearly on the downturn and this role allowed her to let loose. One must wonder if Davis chewed up the actors in the cast as much as the characters- rumor has it she was quite intimidating to her fellow actors and a terror to work with which adds to the macabre enjoyment. Her physical appearance of an eye patch, wig, cigarette, and bright red lipstick all works in her favor. Her maniacal laugh is incredibly campy and wonderful to watch.

Bette Davis is one of the greats and this late career romp is fun to watch.

Rosemary’s Baby-1968

Rosemary’s Baby-1968

Director-Roman Polanski

Starring-Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

Top 100 Films-#8     Top 20 Horror Films-#4

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A

 Rosemary’s Baby is not only a great film, it’s a masterpiece. Easily one of my favorites in the horror genre, it’s also towards the top of my favorite films list.

The beauty of this film is the power of suggestion and subtleties. It has none of the blood, gore, or standard horror frights one might expect. It doesn’t need them.

The audience knows something is off by clues that are given throughout the film. The closed off room in the young couple’s apartment, the sweet, but a bit odd elderly neighbors, a strange suicide, a mysterious, horrid smelling, good luck charm. Rosemary’s due date (June 6, 1966- “666”).

The strange, dreamlike conception scene is intense and surreal. Her husband- claiming Rosemary passed out from too much alcohol- begins to become a suspicious man following the incident, but we are confused by his involvement- what are the neighbors up to, we wonder? Are they sinister or simply innocent and meddlers?

In a sinister scene, Rosemary gnaws on bloody raw meat, catches her reflections in the glass and is horrified by her behavior.

Mia Farrow is frightfully good as the waifish, pregnant, Rosemary, who loses, instead of gains weight. The film also has a couple of real life eerie occurrences: the building setting (The Dakota) is where John Lennon was shot and killed, Director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, in a cameo, was murdered shortly after filming by Charles Manson.

Similar in theme to other devilish/demon films The Exorcist and The Omen. This is a film that must be seen by everyone and only shines brighter with each subsequent viewing.