Short Takes: W

War Raiders (2018)

Producer: David S Sterling
Director: Mark Polonia

During World War II, a group of four soldiers are sent behind enemy lines to get some Nazi codes that could win the war. They are led by a psychopathic racist who talks a lot.

This is kind of a simple-minded The Steel Helmet. The politics are rancid — made worse by filmmakers who seem to think they’ve made an evenhanded war film. It makes the argument (unopposed) that because of the holocaust, it is okay to murder a German military deserter. On the plus side, it’s well-made with battle scenes that are far better than they have any right to be.

Noyes J Lawton (Frozen Sasquatch) channels Gene Evans. Featuring Titus Himmelberger (Sharkenstein), Nicholas Olson (Ghost of Camp Blood), Wyatt Wood (It Kills), and Steve Diasparra (Revolt of the Empire of the Apes).

War Raiders is copyrighted. It is available on Amazon Prime.

25 July 2020

War, Inc (2008)

Producers: John Cusack & Grace Loh and Les Weldon & Danny Lerner
Director: Joshua Seftel
Screenwriters: Mark Leyner, Jeremy Pikser & John Cusack

A hitman poses as a trade show organizer at a recently “liberated” country in the Middle East. As he waits to fulfill his contract, his humanity slowly comes back him despite the insanity that surrounds him.

This is kind of a sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank. But there’s a lot more to it and I like it a lot more. It’s the best satire of the Iraq War that I’ve seen. Not surprisingly, it was panned by critics who mostly couldn’t explain why they didn’t like it. I’m sure if they only saw it now, they’d recognize its brilliance. Critics suck.

Starring John Cusack (Better Off Dead), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny), and Hilary Duff (Agent Cody Banks). Featuring: Joan Cusack (Addams Family Values), Ben Kingsley (Sexy Beast), and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers).

War, Inc is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

WarGames (1983)

Producer: Harold Schneider
Director: John Badham
Screenwriters: Lawrence Lasker & Walter F Parkes

A young hacker sneaks into a classified computer and accidentally starts a nuclear war. Now the government thinks he is a spy and he must save himself and stop the computer from actually launching the rockets.

This is a solid film. It has all the cool thriller moments and a clever protagonist. It has two endings, the second of which is boring and pedagogical. If you are really involved in the story you might not notice that it’s all just a bunch of people staring at screens while nothing happens. Still, I suspect bright teens today will still really like this film.

Starring Matthew Broderick (Inspector Gadget), Ally Sheedy (Short Circuit), Dabney Coleman (9 to 5), John Wood (The Purple Rose of Cairo), and Barry Corbin (Urban Cowboy).

WarGames is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray with decent extras.

4 September 2021

Wavelength (1983)

Producer: James Rosenfield
Director/Screenwriter: Mike Gray

A young musician’s girlfriend begins “hearing” things. This causes them to check out a nearby military installation where they find three adorable space aliens being held hostage. They help the aliens escape and get off the Earth.

Although the film is not as suspenseful as it might be, it succeeds through pure charm.

Featuring the lead singer of The Runaways Cherie Currie, Robert Carradine (Revenge of the Nerds), and Keenan Wynn (A World of His Own).

The film is under copyright. You can usually find it online. It doesn’t look like it’s been released on disc. It can be found on VHS.

Waxwork (1988)

Producer: Staffan Ahrenberg
Director/Screenwriter: Anthony Hickox

A bunch of college students get invited to a special midnight showing of a wax museum that has suddenly appeared in the neighborhood. Inside, they are trapped in real-life versions of wax museum pieces only to become part of them.

In some ways, this is a typical teen horror comedy with the usual annoying young characters. But the plot takes a number of surprising turns. And the production is excellent overall.

Starring Zach Galligan (Gremlins), Deborah Foreman (Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat), Michelle Johnson (Blame It on Rio), and Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks). Featuring David Warner (Time After Time) and Patrick Macnee (The Avengers).

Waxworks is under copyright. It is available along with Waxworks II: Lost in Time on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s also available alone on Region B/2 discs.

10 November 2020

We Go On (2016)

Producers: Logan Brown & Richard W King & Irina Popov
Directors: Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland
Screenwriter: Andy Mitton (story: Andy Mitton & Jesse Holland)

A young man is terrified of dying so he offers $30,000 to anyone who can prove to him that there is life after death. With his mother, he works with three different people who all fail. Then he reaches out to a mysterious caller.

This is a really good film with excellent use of horror. It features a great cast and an unusual but effective script. Check out this one!

Starring Clark Freeman (YellowBrickRoad), Annette O’Toole (Bridge to Terabithia), Giovanna Zacarías, Jay Dunn, John Glover (In the Mouth of Madness), and Laura Heisler (As Good As You).

We Go On is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray with a commentary track with the two directors.

22 December 2020

Weresquito: Nazi Hunter (2016)

Producers: Christopher R Mihm and Stephanie Mihm
Director/Screenwriter: Christopher R Mihm

During World War II, an American POW is experimented on by a Nazi scientist. This causes the man to turn into a giant mosquito whenever he sees blood. But the war is over now and he is determined to get revenge on the Nazis who did this to him!

If you don’t want to see a film with this title, you are dead inside. And Mihm does not disappoint. Surprisingly, this is one of his more serious films — although it does have its amusing moments. It’s lots of fun with cool creatures.

Starring Douglas Sidney (Attack of the Moon Zombies), Rachel Grubb (Queen of Snakes), and James Norgard (House of Ghosts).

Weresquito: Nazi Hunter is under copyright. It is available on Amazon Prime.

30 August 2020

The Werewolf of Washington (1973)

Producer: Nina Schulman
Director/Screenwriter: Milton Moses Ginsberg

Dean Stockwell is the US president’s assistant press secretary. He is bitten by a werewolf while still working in Hungary. While at the White House, people start dying and no one will believe that it is him. This film is a hilarious takedown of the Nixon White House. But even without knowing that, the film is quite funny. It’s never particularly scary, however. It features notable actors like Thayer David (Dark Shadows), Clifton James (Live and Let Die), Biff McGuire (Serpico), and especially Michael Dunn (The Wild Wild West).

This film is in the public domain. Unfortunately, these copies are terrible. What’s more, many commercial DVDs of the film are nothing more than public domain copies. Beware! (I’ll try to locate a copy I feel is worth recommending.) Check YouTube. As I write this, there is an acceptable copy there. I have yet to see a copy that wasn’t cropped to 4:3.

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

Producer: Paul Lewis
Director: Michel Levesque
Screenwriter: David M Kaufman & Michael Levesque

A cult drugs a biker gang and turns its leaders into werewolves. Then members start dying each night until all is revealed.

This is an odd biker-werewolf hybrid. It’s visually stunning. But the werewolf make-up is so 1950s. It’s got a silly charm to it.

Featuring Steve Oliver (The Naked Zoo), Donna Anders (Count Yorga, Vampire), Gene Shane (Run, Angel, Run!), Billy Gray (The Day the Earth Stood Still), stuntman Gray Johnson, and musician Barry McGuire.

Werewolves on Wheels is on Archive.org in a cropped, awful print. It is also on DVD with a director commentary.

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

Producers: Doug Chapin and Steve Feke
Director: Fred Walton
Screenwriters: Steve Feke and Fred Walton

A young woman is harassed by an homicidal maniac who kills the two children she is babysitting. Seven years later, she has a family of her own. The maniac escapes from an institution and comes after her again.

This is a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of an insane man, even if the denouement is the same as always. It’s also very effective with great acting.

Starring Charles Durning (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Carol Kane (Addams Family Values), Colleen Dewhurst (The Dead Zone), Ron O’Neal (Super Fly), and Tony Beckley (The Lost Continent).

When a Stranger Calls is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray with no real extras. Better: get it on the region-free Second Sight Films Blu-ray. It is an all-new scan that is said to be excellent. It also comes with Walton’s short (21-minute) film, proof-of-concept, The Sitter and some interviews. I think it also includes the sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back, but I haven’t been able to confirm this. If you want them both, purchase it directly from Second Sight Films.

21 August 2020

When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)

Producer: Tom Rowe
Director: Fred Walton
Screenwriter: Fred Walton (characters: Steve Feke and Fred Walton)

Another babysitter is tormented with a telephone but in a totally different way. Years later in college, she is still suffering psychologically from the event. And it seems that the same guy may be at it again. Or is it just in her head?

This is an excellent sequel to When a Stranger Calls, which manages to be the same and very different. The first half-hour of the film works as a standalone horror short that is as good as anything you will ever see.

Starring Carol Kane (Taxi) and Charles Durning (Dog Day Afternoon) from the first film. And Jill Schoelen (Popcorn) is excellent as the new babysitter.

When a Stranger Calls Back is under copyright. It is available on an expensive DVD (I assume without extras). SHOUT! Factory has released a Blu-ray with lengthy interviews with the director and the two female leads. It also includes Walton’s short film The Sitter, which was the basis for the original film. It also comes with the original TV aspect ratio as well as a widescreen (1.78:1) version. You can also get the Second Sight Films Blu-ray import of When a Stranger Calls, which I believe includes this version.

21 August 2020

White Dog (1982)

Producer: Jon Davison
Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenwriter: Samuel Fuller and Curtis Hanson (novel: Romain Gary)

A young actor hits a dog with her car and adopts it only to find that it is a “white dog” — one trained to attack black people. Rather than kill the dog, she takes it to some animal trainers to have the racism trained out of it. This is an intense and heartbreaking film.

This is Samuel Fuller’s last American film. It received rave reviews but Paramount was too cowardly to give it a proper release in the US. It is a hard-hitting film, even today.

It stars Kristy McNichol (Family), Paul Winfield (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), and Burl Ives (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Dick Miller (Matinee) has a small role. Ennio Morricone composed the score.

The film is copyrighted. It was never released on VHS — thus is how controversial it was. Criterion Collection finally released it on DVD in 2008 with some cool extras included an interview with a dog trainer. It hasn’t been released on Blu-ray in the US.

White Fang (1973)

Producer: Harry Alan Towers
Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenwriters: Roberto Gianviti and Piero Regnoli and Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck) and Guy Elmes and Thom Keyes & Guillaume Roux (story: Harry Alan Towers (as Peter Welbeck); novel: Jack London)
Alternative Titles: Zanna Bianca

In the old west, a writer wants to blow the lid off a scamming town leader. And his friend wants to screw and save the local barmaid who is secretly the daughter of the local drunk priest. And there is dog-wolf mix that was tamed by an Indian boy that saves the day a couple of times.

This is probably the worst Fulci film I’ve seen. It’s well made and all. Just kind of generic and boring. It has little to do with the novel although that has nothing to do with the film’s lack of inspiration.

Starring Franco Nero (Django), Virna Lisi (The 25th Hour), Fernando Rey (That Obscure Object of Desire), John Steiner (Salon Kitty), and Carole André (Yor, the Hunter from the Future).

White Fang is copyrighted. It is available on DVD.

11 August 2021

White Slave (1985)

Director: Mario Gariazzo (as Roy Garrett)
Screenwriter: Franco Prosperi
Alternative Titles: Schiave Bianche: Violenza in Amazzonia, Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story, Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Catherine Miles Story

A young white college woman visits her parents at their plantation in Brazil. They are murdered, apparently by local head hunters, who kidnap her. She eventually falls in love with one of the natives after learning that he wasn’t responsible for her parents’ death. She goes to get revenge on the murderers.

There’s no question that this film has its moments, my favorite being the blowdart to the eye. But it’s awfully slow with excessive voice-over from the trial that frames the story. Nothing to avoid but hardly worth seeking out.

Starring Elvire Audray (Ironmaster) and Will Gonzales.

White Slave is under copyright. Wizard Video has released it cropped on DVD. It’s also been released as Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story, but I don’t know anything about it. And it is available as an all-region Blu-ray.

15 August 2020

Willard (1971)

Producer: Mort Briskin
Director: Daniel Mann
Screenwriter: Gilbert Ralston based on Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks.

Willard is a wonderful film, even if I don’t like the ending. You probably know it — it was a big hit. Willard is a social outcast so he makes friends with rats — especially two: Socrates and Ben. But Willard goes a little crazy after his mother dies. This leads up to the most spectacular moment where he confronts his awful boss and has his rat friends kill him. Unfortunately, Willard turns on the rats — killing the rest that are at home. But Ben knows and so you know what happens next.

The film featured some great actors. Ernest Borgnine as the horrible boss. Elsa Lanchester (Bride of Frankenstein) as Willard’s mother. And Bruce Davison as Willard.

The film is not in the public domain, but you can normally find it on YouTube or DailyMotion. But you owe it to yourself to get the Shout! Factory Blu-ray/DVD edition which has a very good print along with a great transfer and a commentary with Bruce Davison.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Producers: Nicolas Cage & Mike Nilon and David Ozer & Bryan Lord and Grant Cramer & Jeremy Daniel Davis
Director: Kevin Lewis
Screenwriter: GO Parsons

A man’s tires get “accidentally” ripped in a remote area. To pay for repairs, he agrees to work a night cleaning a long-close Chuck E Cheese restaurant rip-off. But really, he’s be put there to feed the possessed animatronic characters.

This is an extremely fun film featuring wonderful but low-key comedy. It looks great and features excellent acting. The first half is better than the second but it all works well.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Raising Arizona), Emily Tosta, Beth Grant (Little Miss Sunshine), David Sheftell, Ric Reitz.

Willy’s Wonderland is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray with less than 15 minutes of shallow extras.

29 July 2021

Witch Hunt (1994)

Producer: Michael R Joyce
Director: Paul Schrader
Screenwriter: Joseph Dougherty

H Phillip Lovecraft is back from Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) — a hardboiled detective in a world of magic. Now it’s the 1950s, and Lovecraft is hired to prove that a producer husband is cheating on his movie star wife. It all becomes involved in Congressional hearings to rid magic in Hollywood. (Get it? It ain’t subtle.)

This film just doesn’t have the same feel as its predecessor. Maybe it’s the political content that seems too obvious and heavy-handed. But it’s still enjoyable.

Starring Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet) and Penelope Ann Miller (The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag). Featuring: Julian Sands (Arachnophobia), Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio), and Sheryl Lee Ralph (Moesha).

Witch Hunt is under copyright. But that doesn’t mean the owners care enough to release it on disc.

Witchboard (1986)

Producer: Gerald Geoffray
Director/Screenwriter: Kevin Tenney

Someone brings a Ouija board to a party and contacts what they think is a ten-year-old boy. But things quickly get out of hand when the main character continues using the board to communicate. People start dying and soon she’s completely possessed by a dead serial killer.

Weldon is right: this films has too many false jump scares. But other than that, it’s a remarkably good film. It struggles at first because none of the characters are likable. But things turn around and it’s very involving.

Starring Tawny Kitaen (Bachelor Party), Todd Allen (The Apostle), Stephen Nichols (Around the World in 80 Days), and Kathleen Wilhoite (Murphy’s Law). Rose Marie (The Dick Van Dyke Show) has a small role.

Witchboard is under copyright. It is available on a really expensive DVD. Get it on the Blu-ray/DVD combo, which comes with two commentary tracks and about an hour and a half of other stuff.

11 December 2020

Witchfinder General (1968)

Producer: Louis M Heyward, Philip Waddilove, and Arnold Miller
Director: Michael Reeves
Screenwriters: Tom Baker and Michael Reeves (Additional Scenes: Louis M Heyward; Novel: Ronald Bassett)
Alternative Titles: Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General

A telling of the final days of the evil Matthew Hopkins in which he dies justly (in agony). He roams around East Anglia torturing people until they confess to witchcraft. Then he gets paid by the local government for it. A truly vile man well represented!

This film is shockingly good. It was director Michael Reeves’ third feature film. It was also his last before his tragic death at 25. His other films are well worth checking out: She Beast (1966) with Barbara Steele and The Sorcerers (1967) with Boris Karloff.

The film stars Vincent Price (Theatre of Blood). Featuring Ian Ogilvy (Death Becomes Her), Hilary Heath (Cry of the Banshee), and Robert Russell.

Witchfinder General is under copyright. The MGM Midnite Movies DVD is great with a commentary track by producer Philip Waddilove and other extras. It is also available on Blu-ray, but be careful about other versions; many reviewers have complained that the extras do not play.

Witchouse (1999)

Producers: Vlad Panescu and Kirk Edward Hansen
Director: David DeCoteau as Jack Reed
Screenwriter: Matthew Jason Walsh (Story: Charles Band as Robert Talbot)

Lilith was a witch in the 18th century who was burned at the stake by the local townsfolk. Now Elizabeth, one of her descendants, has brought together the descendants of the townsfolk for a party. She’s also conjured Lilith to get vengeance.

This is a beautiful film with some wild camera work. It’s hard to believe that it’s a low-budget film. It started the trilogy with the next two films directed by JR Bookwalter.

Starring Matt Raftery and Monica Serene Garnich. Featuring Ariauna Albright (Bloodletting), Brooke Mueller, Ryan Scott Greene, Marissa Tait, and Ashley McKinney Taylor.

Witchouse is under copyright. You can get it on DVD or as part of the trilogy.

Witchouse II: Blood Coven (2000)

Producers: Vlad Panescu and Gary Schmoeller
Director: JR Bookwalter
Screenwriter: Douglas Snauffer

Four old, unmarked graves are found and a team of scientists comes into town to find out who they were. They turn out to be 18th-century witches who were burned at the stake. They take over the scientists’ bodies and seek vengeance.

The first half of the film is pretty serious with lots of suspense. Then it gets a little more silly featuring witches with glowing eyes. It all works though and is a lot of fun.

Starring Ariauna Albright (Polymorph). With Andrew Prine (Eliminators), Elizabeth Hobgood, Nicholas Lanier, and Serban Celea.

Witchouse II: Blood Coven is under copyright. It’s available in a couple of releases but you should get the original Lunar Edition because it has some extras like a commentary with Bookwalter. You can also get the trilogy.

Witchouse 3: Demon Fire (2001)

Producers: JR Bookwalter and Tammi Sutton
Director: JR Bookwalter
Screenwriter: Matthew Jason Walsh and JR Bookwalter

A young woman flees her abusive boyfriend to stay with her pretend witch friends. But all is not as it seems. And then all is not as it seems again.

This is a simple little horror film in the tradition of the other films in the series — in some ways the best of them.

Starring Debbie Rochon (Bikini Bloodbath), Tanya Dempsey (Shrieker), and Tina Krause (Cross the Line). With Brinke Stevens (Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity) and Paul Darrigo (Fear Lives Here).

Witchouse 3: Demon Fire is under copyright. You should get the Tempe DVD. But you can also get all three films together.

Without a Clue (1988)

Producer: Jamieson Film Company
Director: Thom Eberhardt
Screenwriters: Gary Murphy & Larry Strawther

This is a standard, moderate budget film starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. So why is it here? Because of the reviews. The critics saw that this was written by a couple of TV comedy writers and they came in eager to hate it. It produced exactly the kind of reverse-engineered reviews that I hate. If you decide to hate Citizen Kane (or just its director), you can — just ask Pauline Kael. So I’m naturally protective of such films.

It’s a reverse Sherlock Holmes story. And it’s silly as can be. It’s a great kids film. That may explain why I still watch it. And it is a constant reminder that if critics hate something it can’t be all bad. Also starring: Jeffrey Jones (Ed Wood), Lysette Anthony (Krull), Nigel Davenport (Phase IV), Paul Freeman (Hot Fuzz), and Peter Cook (Bedazzled).

Without a Clue is a studio film, so it will be under copyright, well, as long as I’m alive. It is so dismissed that you can find on YouTube and similar sites. If you want to buy it, you can get it on DVD along with The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) for very little money. There is also a wide-screen Blu-ray/DVD. Watch out for other versions because pan and scan is common.

Wizards (1977)

Producer/Director/Screenwriter: Ralph Bakshi

Millions of years after nuclear war destroyed the Earth, the elves and fairies have returned. Now the world is divided between them and the mutants in the toxic areas. Blackwolf leads the mutants to war using Nazi propaganda and a small band of good folk must stop him.

This is my favorite Bakshi film. It’s very funny and tells an interesting story. And the opening artwork by Mike Ploog is fantastic.

The narration is done by Susan Tyrrell (Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker). Featuring the voices of Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus (Night Drive), and Steve Gravers. Mark Hamill (Body Bags) has a small role.

Wizards is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray with a good interview and commentary with Bakshi, who is really insecure and defensive for such a great talent.

18 August 2021

The Woman (2011)

Producer: Andrew van den Houten and Robert Tonino
Director: Lucky McKee
Screenwriters: Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee (novel: Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee)

A psychopathic father who has been abusing his family comes upon a feral woman on a hunting trip. He traps her and takes her home in order to civilize her, even though his main motive is clearly to have sex with her. He has his family help with this kidnapping and things go badly.

Although it seems like it would, this film doesn’t actually have any torture porn. Instead, what’s hardest to take here is the man’s treatment of his family. It’s a very well-made film with excellent, subtle acting throughout.

Starring Sean Bridgers (Jug Face), Pollyanna McIntosh (The Blood Lands), Angela Bettis (The Circle), Lauren Ashley Carter (Gags the Clown), and Zach Rand.

The Woman is under copyright. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

27 February 2021

The Woman in Black (1989)

Producer: Chris Burt
Director: Herbert Wise
Screenwriter: Nigel Kneale (novel: Susan Hill)

A young lawyer is sent to clear-up the estate of a recently deceased reclusive woman. He is menaced by a strange woman in black and slowly uncovers a mystery that may end up killing him.

Although made for British television, this is one of the best filmed ghost stories ever made. It is completely engaging and frequently terrifying in a way few horror films ever are.

Starring Harry Potter’s dad, Adrian Rawlins. Featuring Bernard Hepton (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Pauline Moran (Poirot), David Daker (The Optimists of Nine Elms), and Clare Holman (Inspector Lewis).

The Woman in Black is under copyright. You can find it on VHS. A number of small websites offer a region-free version but I haven’t done business with any of them. It is available on eBay. And it looks like it is going to be released tomorrow on Blu-ray but only in Region B/2.

9 August 2020

The Woman in the Window (2021)

Producers: Scott Rudin & Eli Bush & Anthony Katagas
Director: Joe Wright
Screenwriter: Tracy Letts (novel: AJ Finn)

A troubled agoraphobic woman thinks she’s seen the neighbor murder his wife. But it turns out his wife is fine — and a totally different person. Because of the woman’s mental problems, the police dismiss her claims.

This is really just a variation on Rear Window. It’s well made and effective with an exceptional lead performance. But it’s nothing to rush out and see.

Starring Amy Adams (Leap Year), Fred Hechinger (Eighth Grade), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), Gary Oldman (The Professional), and Wyatt Russell (Overlord).

The Woman in the Window is copyrighted. It is only on Netflix at this time.

3 June 2021

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