I Know What You Did Last Summer-1997

I Know What You Did Last Summer-1997

Director-Jim Gillespie

Starring-Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar

Scott’s Review #1,182

Reviewed September 29, 2021

Grade: B+

Capitalizing on the wild success of the mid-1990s horror resurgence led by Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) was a popular low-budget popcorn hit at the time. The year 1997 was like 1979 or 1980 when the slasher craze (part Deux) was still fresh and intriguing.

The film is fun with superior direction and a dark ambiance that works quite well for the genre.

A slew of other imitators would follow this release including the tepid I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998 but the first one is formulaic entertainment done well. It wisely cast youthful stars of the day chomping at the bit to be the killer’s next victim.

One hot July 4th night in the small coastal town of Southport, North Carolina, a group of four teenagers run over a fisherman and dumping his body in the water, vow never to speak of the incident again. Some members of the group feel little remorse while others are racked with guilt.

The four principals are Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.).

Predictably, one year later Julie receives a frightening letter and the group reconvenes. They fret and worry that they have been seen or worse yet that they will be exposed. The letter clearly states ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. Someone begins to follow them, especially Julie, clad in fisherman’s gear and wielding a meat hook.

In a way, he is a combination of other horror villains like Jason, Freddy, and Michael Meyers, but we know neither his identity nor his motivation.

Does he want money or blood?

One of the group incorrectly pursues who he thinks is the killer and is unceremoniously run down and terrorized. The bloodletting only continues as other townspeople become involved in the events some amid a local Independence Day parade.

There are some obvious inclusions to the story to make sure audiences are aware they are watching a slasher flick and a teen-targeted genre flick. This is no wonder since the screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, was the best know for teenaged-themed writing for television’s Dawson’s Creek.

I Know What You Did Last Summer borrows from so many 1980’s slasher-flicks like Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), and My Bloody Valentine (1981) that it’s a given that Williamson and director Jim Gillespie spent weekends shacked up with popcorn and sodas while watching these films for reference material.

The killer is masked. This is to make damned sure we know that we are watching a whodunit and that at the finale the killer will be exposed- think the big reveal in every Scooby-Doo episode. Could the killer be one of the teens themselves?

Julie is immediately the clear ‘final girl’ simply because she feels the most guilt and is the most pursued perhaps for that very reason. Other necessities like the asshole jock (Phillippe), the mean girl (Bridgette Wilson), and the red-herring are added on like clockwork. We know that Julie will be the one to survive.

Still, the premise is quite compelling and immediately had me hooked. I also knew that I was being manipulated but I did not care. I couldn’t wait to find out who the killer was.

The final sequence that ensures a sequel is delicious and an obvious ode to Brian De Palma films. A year later in 1998, Julie is in college in Boston. As she enters the shower, she notices the words “I still know” written in the steam on the shower door. Moments later, a dark figure crashes through it as Julie screams!

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is straight up, by the numbers mainstream horror but the familiarity doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the experience. You know what is right around the bend and you can’t wait to get there.

Minari-2020

Minari-2020

Director-Lee Isaac Chung

Starring-Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Youn-Yuh Jung

Scott’s Review #1,181

Reviewed September 24, 2021

Grade: A-

I proudly champion a film like Minari (2020) for further bringing Asian actors and directors into the Hollywood mainstream with a truthful story. They have slowly (and it’s about time!) begun to reap the riches from the Academy Awards and other such honors. Parasite (2019) and to a lesser degree Crazy Rich Asians (2018) helped propel respectability to the Asian film community.

With that said, I expected Minari to be a masterpiece, and instead, it is simply a very good film. That’s a tough statement for me to make. Undoubtedly, it was heavily helped by the progress I have mentioned above.

This is to take nothing away from its cast and wonderful director, Lee Isaac Chung.

I found the film sentimental and heartwarming but only during one scene did it ever feel dangerous or edgy.

Of strong interest to me is the fact that the film is a semi-autobiographical take on Chung’s upbringing, but is it a fantasized version?

The plot follows a family of South Korean immigrants who try to make it in the rural United States during the 1980s. Specifically, the year is 1983 in the southern state of Arkansas where the family sticks out like sore thumbs amid the suffocating summer heat.

Chung, who writes and directs the piece, provides a tender look at the ties that bind- family. The Yi’s are a Korean-American family that moves from California to invest in a crummy plot of land and their own American Dream. Jacob and Monica (Yeun and Han) are reduced to taking even crummier jobs sexing chicks at a local factory.

The family home changes completely with the arrival of their scheming, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother Soon-Ja played by Yuh-Jung.

Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home. The Yi’s are resilient through the constant bickering of Jacob and Monica, Soon-JA’s stroke, bad water, and the burning of their shed which stores their goods.

The story is all well and good, and it is good, but I desired more. I blame this on the heaps of praise put on Minari and the number of Top 10 lists it appeared on.

For example, hearing the premise I couldn’t help but wonder what discrimination the Yi’s would inevitably face down in the deep south. But they faced none. In one soft scene, the young Yi boy, David, played exceptionally by Alan Kim is asked by a local kid why his face is flat. They quickly become best friends.

Another ally and Jacob’s farming partner is played by Will Patton. He is a Korean War veteran and a bit nutty yet he adores Jacob and the rest of the Yi’s and harbors no ill-will towards them. I expected him to despise them because of the war. This would have been more realistic.

The southern characters are written as nice as pie and always ready to lend a helping hand. This is all fine and good but is it realistic?

The casting is outstanding and brings the dialogue to reality. Yeun and Han bring their A-games in more than one vicious fight scene where their words crackle with intensity leaving them teetering on the verge of divorce. Yeun was recognized during awards season but Han was sadly overlooked.

Soon-Ja mixes humor with drama and will leave many viewers bawling with her facial expressions and terrific acting during the final sequence. Her performance deservedly led her to a Supporting Actress Oscar win.

In fact, the finale felt so incredibly raw and real to me whereas the rest felt sentimental that based on this alone it caused me to raise its grade from a B+ to an A-.

Beautiful landscape and brilliant acting make Minari (2020) a fine experience. It teeters too close to formula at times but offers freshness and representation for a group only starting to receive their recognition.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Lee Isaac Chung, Best Actor-Steven Yeung, Best Supporting Actress-Youn Yuh-Jung (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Lee Isaac Chung, Best Male Lead-Steven Yeung, Best Supporting Female-Youn Yuh-Jung (won), Han Ye-ri, Best Screenplay

First Cow-2020

First Cow-2020

Director-Kelly Reichardt

Starring-John Magaro, Orion Lee

Scott’s Review # 1,180

Reviewed September 22, 2021

Grade: A

Despite the slow-moving pace First Cow (2020) is a tremendous effort by director Kelly Reichardt in which she also co-writes along with her usual writing partner, Jonathan Raymond.

To merely say the film is slow-moving is criminal. I mean it is slow-moving, so much so that I confess to guiltily sneaking a few peeks at my phone and I try to never do that. But the time invested results in a moving and engaging experience with patience.

Brimming with geographical authenticity (most of Reichardt’s films and Raymond’s novels are set in the Pacific Northwest, USA) the outdoors and forest scenes are aplenty.

First Cow is also a feast for the foodie in all of us as rich and creamy aspects of cooking, baking, and tasting, are all featured in a delicious form. More about that later.

But the real victory is the chemistry between the two male leads, John Magaro and Orion Lee. The unlikely friends and subsequent business partners provide a rich exterior brimming with sub texture and questions about their sexuality.

Sadly, the film doesn’t go there at all and I’m not sure why, but my mind certainly did. I kept waiting for an answer to whether their union was strictly platonic or otherwise but alas my curiosity was never even remotely satisfied.

Despite this miss (in my opinion anyway), First Cow is a wonderful film rich in human emotion that provides a tale of kindness and connection that lasts until the conclusion. As is the trend in cinema these days, the beginning reveals the ending.

The year is 1820. Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (Magaro) is a lonely cook who has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in the Oregon Territory. He aspires to find his fortune in San Francisco, California. The trappers do not treat him particularly well.

One night he meets and saves the life of a Chinese immigrant named King-Lu (Lee) also seeking his fortune in California. They become fast friends and soon begin to collaborate on a successful business, although its longevity is dependent upon the participation of a wealthy British landowner’s prized milking cow unbeknownst to the landowner.

As the duo forge a successful and tasty local business their biscuits nearly have the local townspeople eating from Cookie’s and Lu’s hands. A blueberry French clafoutis takes center stage during one scene and deserves description. It is a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafoutis is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm, sometimes with cream.

Yum! I could almost taste it from the screen.

I hate to shatter the otherwise innocent texture of the film and the sweet image of two adult men having an inseparable connection but I simply cannot help myself! As the men lie in a tent together and glance over at each other they nearly have a Brokeback Mountain (2005) moment.

I half-expected Lu to flip Cookie over and ravage his body but this was not to be. Instead, the touching, tender, original, entrancing, and quiet relationship is never defined as anything other than two buddies with sincerity and mystique.

But, maybe that’s the point?

I adore that Reinhardt and Raymond do not pepper their characters with any false machismo or fake guy behavior to ensure the audience knows they are straight right away. Instead, both men are sensitive, thoughtful, and intellectual. How refreshing with masculine male characters.

Questions about the extent of their relationship continued to gnaw at me especially during the final scene when they lie down next to each other in the grass. And never was a mention of a woman ever muttered.

Otherwise, the gorgeous (4×3) cinematography is evident throughout the film as the men spend much of their time by the campfire or plowing their way through forest brush. Tremendous, peaceful scenes are non-stop. I was shocked that the film didn’t achieve an Oscar nomination in this category.

First Cow (2020) was met with tremendous support and accolades which will hopefully encourage those who are fans of thinking man’s films to see it. It sure made me see it.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Kelly Reinhardt, Best Supporting Male-Orion Lee

On the Beach-1959

On the Beach-1959

Director-Stanley Kramer

Starring-Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner

Scott’s Review #1,179

Reviewed September 19, 2021

Grade: A-

On the Beach (1959) is a film that showcases a grim subject matter but remains relevant considering the period in which it was made. The Cold War-era kept most people on edge with the threat of nuclear war as they rolled into the 1960s. The lavishness of the 1950s turned into a more distrustful time as countries gained modern technological advances making nuclear weapons a real possibility.

At the time the film was not met with much praise or popularity. Certainly, people were content in their cinematic bubbles of nice and comforting films that largely emerged during the 1950s but On the Beach is a fantastic discovery decades later.

I suppose people expected a sweeping epic romantic adventure but what they received was a harsher tale. But, it’s not nearly as dark as it could have been.

The black and white cinematography is highly effective at relaying a cold and stark world that is left for the film’s characters. Another success is that the film is set in the future, 1964 to be exact while the film was made in 1959.

The film is hardly a downer and while the subject matter of nuclear disaster and devastation sounds heavy there is as much romance as there is social storytelling. The said romance between Peck and Gardner is effective and the best part of the film experience.

As the story begins, we learn that World War III has already occurred, leaving Australia as the only remaining safe place for survivors. However, wind currents carrying lingering radiation are headed their way condemning those on the continent to certain death.

When the survivors receive a strange signal from San Diego, California, Commander Dwight Towers (Peck) must undertake a mission with Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) to see if there is hope for humanity. They leave behind Moira (Gardner) and Mary (Donna Anderson), the women they love.

Director, Stanley Kramer knows his way around a message movie. He also directed the racially important Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in 1967.

The romances between Dwight, Moira, Peter, and Mary are my favorite aspects of the film. Dwight has lost his wife and two children so out of loneliness falls for Moira, who has never married and has no one. Their soon-to-be doomed romance is fraught with complications as they cling to each other ever so tenderly knowing their time is limited.

Peter and Mary, on the other hand, are married with an infant young daughter. A major conflict the couple deals with is whether to take suicide pills rather than get sick and die a slow and painful death.

There is enough chemistry between Peck and Gardner to keep the viewer engaged and it’s tough to watch Perkins, a known gay man, play a macho father figure with a newborn for some reason. It’s also hard not to see Norman Bates from Psycho (1960). I half-expected Peter to attack Mary in the shower with a butcher knife.

Still, the acting is very good.

On the Beach states a powerful message in its conclusion. Ultimately, within just a few days of the shifting winds bringing the toxins to Australia, the last pockets of humanity are dead. The empty, windblown streets of Melbourne are filled with dramatic, music over a single powerful image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner that reads “There is still time .. Brother”.

Indeed, there is.

This leaves the viewer pondering his or her fate and the terrible dangers of nuclear war. Decades later, On the Beach (1959) still frightens and still teaches about the ravages of world conflict and the plea for a peaceful society.

Oscar Nominations: Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Film Editing

If…-1968

If…-1968

Director-Lindsay Anderson

Starring-Malcolm McDowell

Scott’s Review #1,178

Reviewed September 18, 2021

Grade: A

Malcolm McDowell fascinates me. The mere construction of his facial features astounds me, with his crystal blue eyes and sullen smirk it’s tough to tell what he is thinking. He stars in If… (1968), a satire of the student experience amid a strict upper-class English public school. It’s McDowell’s film debut which is worth noting.

McDowell, always associated with A Clockwork Orange (1971) first and foremost made several great films in just a few years.

The film follows a group of fed-up pupils, led by Mick Travis (McDowell) who ultimately stage a bloody insurrection at a boys’ boarding school. But is it real or imagined by Mick?

Mick is conflicted when he is caught between the sadistic older boys known as the Whips and the lowly first-year students, affectionately known as Scum, who are forced to do their bidding. He and his two henchmen, Johnny (David Wood) and Wallace (Richard Warwick) rebel by exhibiting thefts and defiant behavior causing the ire of both the Whips and the school’s out-of-touch administration.

This conflict leads to an unexpected and bloody showdown.

If… was the subject of controversy in 1968 at the time of its release, receiving an X rating for its depictions of violence against school administration and grown-ups. The specific year was a juicy one in cinema as the more edgy and creative fare was being produced in anticipation of the 1970s.

I champion the film and director Lindsay Anderson for having the balls to make a film of this nature sure to piss off and shock the education system and those who simply don’t get what the film is expressing.

One wonders if English rock band Pink Floyd found inspiration in If… while creating their legendary song ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ from 1979.

The Whips are clearly the villains and the school administrators are portrayed as complacent or incompetent so the finale is quite satisfying from a viewer’s perspective. One will never forget the image of Mick fiendishly standing on a rooftop brandishing a gun and firing determinedly. His other cohorts join in the action to celebrate graduation ceremonies. For them, it’s a delightful moment since all the parents and family members are in attendance.

It’s only a film but I can’t help but wonder how differently the film is perceived by an audience in the post-Columbine era, a vicious school shooting that occurred in the United States, an incident that led to rashes of similar events.

To clarify, since Anderson made a follow-up film to If… with O Lucky Man! in 1973 and starring McDowell as the same character, we can rest easier in the knowledge that the events in If… are purely the imagination of Mick.

It’s a satire.

And what schoolboy or schoolgirl hasn’t fantasized at how delicious it would be to give bullies or other bastards their just deserts for making their lives miserable?

Another takeaway I got from If… is that it doesn’t have to draw the line at being about a prep school at all? Mick and his friends question conformity and rules. Why can’t the viewer do the same in the workplace or with life itself?

I’ve seen the film twice and can never account for the inexplicable changes from color to black and white in various scenes. Anderson claims that this was done for budget reasons but others have done a deeper dive and hypothesized that the color versus black and white has more to do with fantasy. Whatever the reason it successfully offers a surrealistic measure.

If… (1968) is a wonderful film that is open to interpretation and much open dialogue after viewing it. Isn’t that what cinema is all about? A discussion of the merits and conclusion of a particular film?

Show Boat-1951

Show Boat-1951

Director-George Sidney

Starring-Ava Gardner, Robert Sterling, Kathryn Grayson

Scott’s Review #1,177

Reviewed September 14, 2021

Grade: A-

Show Boat (1951) is a liberal-slanted musical centering around racism. It mixes comedy and drama well while remembering it is meant to entertain audiences. But it never loses sight of the important message it’s portraying.

Ava Gardner, who stars, never looked more beautiful.

The picture is based on the 1927 stage musical of the same name by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, and the 1926 novel by Edna Ferber. The vibrant colors and sentimental songs combined with a very southern flair make it a winner.

In fact, Kern and Hammerstein provide the score for this adaptation of their Broadway hit which adds oodles of authenticity.

My favorite song is the devastatingly poignant and haunting tune, “Ol’ Man River” which is reprised at the end of Show Boat.

Julie LaVerne (Gardner) and Steve Baker (Sterling) are successfully married entertainers who are forced to leave the showboat Cotton Blossom when it becomes known that Julie is of mixed race. Meanwhile, the captain’s daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson) and gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) take over the act, fall in love, marry and leave the boat for Chicago.

There, they live off his gambling earnings, which dry up fast. The ending of the film is not happy.

I love the tone of the film. It is a very big budget production and it shows. Each number is belted out with gusto at the risk of feeling too uptight or stagey but regardless I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. The grandness of the numbers was what got me and never so evident is it with Julie’s big number “Bill”, a very emotional song.

Her other famous number, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” isn’t so bad either.

In a perfect world the powers that be would have cast a black actress for authenticity’s sake. Someone like Dorothy Dandridge comes to mind and as wonderful as Gardner is this point gnawed at me throughout. The actress is clearly caucasian though it could almost be the belief that she is of mixed race.

Nonetheless, Gardner also doesn’t sing her own songs. Instead, they are sung by Annette Warren. I’m betting this is why she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination.

But, Show Boat isn’t all about Gardner. Showcasing a spectacular cast of black and white actors leads like Grayson and Keel are fabulous. I cared about their character’s trials and tribulations the most and ruminated how much I found Grayson to resemble legendary Judy Garland.

Supporting players like William Warfield as Joe simply must be mentioned. His rendition of “Ol’ Man River” moved me. A bass-baritone singer and actor he makes the number quite simply and by far the best moment, both musically and pictorially, in the film.

I could watch this scene on replay.

And Agnes Moorehead as Parthy Hawks or the resident bitch provides delicious comedy, intended or unintended.

Some are critical that the 1936 film version is superior and provides a grittier feel and I am conscious of that. I’ve never seen it but the 1951 version does have that Technicolor grandness. Maybe I’ll check it out for a one-day comparison.

For now, for a slice of southern flavored showboatin’ check out Show Boat (1951). With a summery flavor, dancing, and superior photography, it is a good old time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Color, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture

Judas and the Black Messiah-2021

Judas and the Black Messiah-2021

Director-Shaka King

Starring-Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,176

Reviewed September 9, 2021

Grade: B+

I really wanted to love Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). I still champion the importance of the story, however, and the timeliness of its release. The film has some moments of glory where a bombastic scene occurs that immediately reigns the viewer back into the fold. But other parts drag and feel fragmented or otherwise confusing so much so that the film bored me sometimes and I hate admitting that.

I teetered back and forth between a B+ grade and a B grade and, perhaps channeling my political side, I finally settled on a very generous B+ determination. Before I watched the film I would have bet on an A or an A-. Alas, it was not to be.

That the film was made and exposed a mass audience to the trials and tribulations of the late 1960s Chicago racial tensions that helped created the Black Panthers organization is of course a huge win.

But, I wanted more. Much more.

A major gripe is that the song from the film and winner of the Best Original Song Oscar only appears over the end credits and has nothing to do with the film. Having a tacked-on feel, the song, performed by H.E.R. and others is not particularly memorable either.

The title is “Fight for You”, possessing images of battle and courage which fits the theme of the film but the song itself is quite lackluster.

The plotline is a challenge to follow but goes something like this. The FBI ropes small-time Chicago thief Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) into infiltrating the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

At first, O’Neal enjoys the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his FBI main contact, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Plemons). Hampton’s political power grows as he falls in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). To complicate matters she becomes pregnant.

Meanwhile, O’Neal becomes conflicted. Does he align with The Panthers and where his heart lies or thwart Hampton’s efforts by any means necessary, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?

The acting is fantastic and along with the message is the best part of the film. Justified controversy ensued over the placement of Kaluuya and Stanfield in the Supporting Actor category at the Oscars- both received nominations and Kaluuya was victorious.

It’s obvious to me that Stanfield is the lead character so it’s a shame he wasn’t awarded a Best Actor nomination. With Chadwick Boseman positioned to be the clear winner for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) and shockingly losing to Anthony Hopkins for The Father (2020) was the thought that another black actor in the category might ruin Boseman’s chances?

We’ll probably never know.

Kaluuya and Stanfield are both mesmerizing and I am looking forward to their subsequent projects, especially Kaluuya who I fell in love with after his turn in Get Out (2017).

A heavily made-up Martin Sheen is a treat to see in a woefully too-small role as J. Edgar Hoover.

The rest of the film is pretty good. The climax is thrilling and almost bumped the film up a grade for me. Without giving too much away it involves a bloody shoot-out and real-life interview and highlight footage. I love the reality the latter provides.

But then I remembered the snail’s pace it took to get to this point and how the other good scenes paled in comparison with a plodding pace.

I adored the characters and fell in love with the sweet though the doomed romance between Hampton and Deborah. I yearned for them to live happily ever even after my hunch told me this was not in the cards for them. My hunch was right.

The intent was to make the audience outraged at the unfairness people of color endured in the late 1960s.  I was angrier still at the realization that they are still being treated unfairly in the time of George Floyd and others.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) get hands down major praise for the intent and acting but disappoints as far as delivery and final product. It is not equal to the sum of all its parts.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Daniel Kaluuya (won), Lakeith Stanfield, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song-“Fight for You” (won)

Deathdream-1972

Deathdream-1972

Director-Bob Clark

Starring-Richard Backus, John Marley, Lynn Carlin

Scott’s Review #1,175

Reviewed September 3, 2021

Grade: B+

Deathdream (also known in some circles as Dead of Night) is a 1972 horror offering directed by Bob Clark and written by Alan Ormsby that plays out like a very good science-fiction meets gruesome horror type of The Twilight Zone episode.

This is not to say it’s amateurish though in certain ways it is and mostly just it’s that the dialogue is spotty. Rather, it has the feel of an episodic adventure more than an actual film. This makes perfect sense since it was inspired by the W. W. Jacobs short story “The Monkey’s Paw”.

The film was shot in a town named Brooksville, Florida which is unusual in itself and provides a genuine southern quality like when the family sits down for a hearty meal.

Usually, horror films stick to Hollywood studio locales or cheaper areas like Canada to film.

Deathdream stars Richard Backus, John Marley, and Lynn Carlin.

The premise immediately intrigues me. A middle-aged married couple, Charles and Christine,  (Marley and Carlin) receives the devastating news that their son Andy (Backus) has died in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. They’re overcome with grief, to say the least. Before the news, Christine seems overly chatty and a bit peculiar while Charles is much older than his wife.

Soon after, Andy, very much alive, hitches a ride with a truck driver whom he then murders. He arrives home and is clearly not the same, seeming to be zombie-like and in a trance, not the same boy who left for Vietnam a year earlier.

As a classic film lover, I was immediately tickled pink by actor John Marley’s appearance onscreen. Associated with Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972) with the latter forever etched in my memory as the film director who is made “an offer he can’t refuse” by way of his gorgeous horse Khartoum, it was a treat to see him in a horror film.

I noticed facets of Deathdream that reminded me of one of my favorite horror films, Black Christmas (1974) not realizing that they were both directed by Bob Clark himself. Deathdream serves as the perfect opening act to that most influential horror film.

An organ/synthesizer effect immediately caught my ear with more than a tad of fright. I instantly recognized it as the spooky noise emitting from the Black Christmas musical score. And both use a rocking chair prop with fantastic results. The creaking sound brought chills up and down my spine.

Can you believe this guy also made Porky’s (1981) and A Christmas Story (1983)? Talk about versatility.

It’s clear the film was made on a shoestring budget but proves in a mighty form that, similar to British Hammer horror pictures, creativity can ooze out of a small budget. Terrific is what the crew does with the special effects. Instead of cheesy or campy they are thrilling.

The story could be construed as silly or ridiculous. Andy is some kind of vampire or zombie who needs the blood of others to reinvigorate his decaying body which on paper makes little sense. The only reason he comes back from the dead (we see him killed in combat on-screen) is because he promised his mother he’d return home.

Beyond that, under the surface is a message about the war that I found powerful and that usurped the horror genre where the film lies. It’s not just another horror film- it has deeper subtext.

Though Clark is never overt about it, Andy obviously suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, something not yet realized in the early 1970s and certainly not talked about. Clark’s message is clear.  Andy is a young man whose life has been ruined unnecessarily.

Despite being a film aficionado I had not heard of Deathdream (1972) until quite recently. It’s an overlooked gem like so many others in the horror genre, but this one can be appreciated by horror fans, fans of message films, and those looking for a good scare.

It deserves some love.

O Lucky Man!-1973

O Lucky Man! -1973

Director-Lindsay Anderson

Starring-Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,174

Reviewed September 1, 2021

Grade: A-

O Lucky Man! (1973) is a satirical black comedy that mixes musical songs with a message of capitalism by the driven protagonist. Like a great fine wine, the film has aged well and is still relevant decades later. The film is a slow build but by the end of the lengthy running time of nearly three hours, I was enamored and hummed the title song repeatedly.

In fact, I’m still humming it as I write this review.

Suggested is to watch O Lucky Man! in two or three segments for full appreciation. One sitting would be incredibly tough since some of the events require some level of reflection and thought.

An ambitious young British man, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is determined to be successful at all costs. Debuting as a coffee salesman, Mick is quickly promoted within his company. Events take a series of bizarre turns when Mick is abducted by a military agency.

Later, he becomes smitten with the gorgeous Patricia (Helen Mirren) and winds up working for her father, sinister executive Sir James Burgess (Ralph Richardson). As Mick’s tale continues, his experiences get progressively stranger.

The clever aspect is that just when you think Mick’s life is dour and drab he rebounds more successful than ever. Hence the title of the film. So, there is an element of adventure and romance amid the capitalist plot.

Lindsay Anderson, who directed O Lucky Man! re-casts McDowell again in the same role he first played as a disaffected public schoolboy in his first film performance in Anderson’s film If… (1968). I did not realize this at the time I watched O Lucky Man! and I think this knowledge would have made me catch on to the events and the sub texture even more.

Now, I need to rewatch If…

I did however ruminate constantly on McDowell’s other iconic role in A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Alex. The characters are quite similar save for Alex being a juvenile delinquent instead of a rising corporate guy like Mick is. This is in large part due to McDowell’s looks and acting style. His trademark sneer and bright blue eyes make him mesmerizing in both roles.

I even spotted an actor who played one of the infamous droogs!

A plus to the film is that several actors appear in multiple roles, some difficult to distinguish. Part of the fun is trying to figure out who’s who.

There isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between McDowell and Mirren but it’s interesting the shifting characteristics of the characters. And Patricia is fascinating. When she inquires why people work so hard for things instead of just taking them we realize that she places no value in things because she’s never had to work for them. She’s a rich, daddy’s girl.

There are reasons not to like her but I still did. When she winds up in a homeless lot it’s shocking. And I also loved the character of Mick and his epic journey. He is imprisoned and then reformed in a humanistic way just like Alex was in A Clockwork Orange.

But the best part of O Lucky Man! is absolutely the music. Anderson takes periodic breaks from the drama to simply treat his audience to a musical number all performed by Alan Price. It’s comforting to sit back and enjoy the unforgettable tunes that pepper the film. One could argue that the songs almost usurp the main action but I found them, great companions, to the other.

As if there was any doubt, the soundtrack was widely lauded and was a huge financial success.

A surreal effort, sometimes happy or tragic but always insightful and oftentimes delightful, McDowell, Price, and Anderson are at the top of their respective games. O Lucky Man! (1973) is a terrific watch brimming with good juices if one just has the patience to let events marinate.