Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bonus CineFiles: Underrated American filmmaking, Israeli westerns and Filipino Satanists!

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 2:12 PM

Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here, on the IndyBlog.

The Ambulance (R)
MGM Limited Edition Collection

Larry Cohen is the most underrated writer/director in America. For more than 30 years, he's consistently delivered the most insane plots and outré genre film, from the flying Aztec God in Q: The Winged Serpent and the bloodthirsty mutant baby of It's Alive to the second coming of Jesus as an alien in God Told Me To and the killer yogurt — yes, yogurt — of The Stuff. The man is an idea machine who just doesn't get enough respect! MGM's Limited Edition Collection has released his 1990 flick The Ambulance to critical acclaim, mostly from me. Eric Roberts, in an outstandingly out-of-nowhere, bizarrely aloof performance, stars as a Marvel Comics artist (with a sweet mullet) who is trying to pick up Janine Turner on the street when, after a diabetic attack, she's whisked away by a strange ambulance and not heard from again. Roberts gets to the bottom of the mystery, involving James Earl Jones as a gruff depressive cop, Red Buttons as a plucky elderly reporter and human organ traffickers led, classily enough, by The Young and the Restless' Eric Braeden. Once again, Cohen displays more thought and originality in 90 minutes than most filmmakers do in their entire career.

Billy Two Hats (PG)
MGM Limited Edition Collection

Much like the previously reviewed The Spikes Gang, the Norman Jewison-produced western Billy Two Hats ain't some wacky ol' little low-budget oater — it's a thoroughly downbeat, somber affair about the total immolation of youthful innocence. The high-esteemed Gregory Peck does his best Sean Connery impersonation as a middle-aged Scottish outlaw pursued by a sheriff who will stop at nothing to bring the old bank robber in. Peck has only one friend, a half-breed Indian (stunningly played by Desi Arnaz, Jr. — Lucy and Ricky's boy!), who helps him get to Mexico after a buffalo rifle shoots him square in the leg. While the first half is thoughtful and philosophical, the last half is all action as violent rogue Indians have Peck pinned down under a wagon, leaving Arnaz to come and rescue him. While other Westerns were filmed in Italy at the time, Billy uses the background of lush Israel as its displaced American setting, creating a bit of an otherworldly feeling. This ain't a spaghetti western, it's a Manischewitz shoot-'em-up! L'Chaim!

Daughters of Satan (R)
MGM Limited Edition Collection

A young, dashing, bushy-stached Tom Selleck is an art dealer in Manila whose wife is seduced by a Satanic cult after he buys a painting (from Filipino cult icon Vic Diaz!) of three women being burned at the stake. While this may seem like the start of a great B-horror movie, it's actually pretty flat and tepid, kind of a chore to sit through. Shot as ugly as possible on as little money as possible, Daughters feels like a badly drawn-out extended episode of Night Gallery that Rod Serling had no control over. Lacking any true suspense, chills or basic logic, the best thing is Selleck's interactions with a demonic Rottweiler named Nicodemus, whom he constantly yells at and locks into sheds. No wonder that puppy prefers the company of the Dark One! Come to think of it, after viewing this, we all probably would. Stick to solving the non-diabolical mysteries, Magnum!

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