The Howl of Winterland, and six more movies



What shall we watch today?

A quintessential American action flick, a documentary about a strike in the 1970s, a Hungarian comedy-drama that perfectly captures childhood, another bloody terror from Dario Argento, a sketch comedy show that forgets to be funny, white high school boys in trouble, and a brilliant short film about COVID, Santa, and relationships. 

• The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
• Cat Murkil and the Silks (1976)
• Coming Attractions (1978)
• Gyerekbetegségek (1965)
• The Howl of Winterland (2022)
• The Warriors (1979)
• The Willmar 8 (1981)

It's quite a good crop, and I'd recommend five out of seven. My loudest recommendation is The Howl of Winterland.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

An American in Italy witnesses an attempted murder, and since this is a Dario Argento movie, it's very photogenic — it happens at night, on a steep staircase, in a locked but brightly-lit art gallery, behind glass windows overlooking the street, and no curtains to block the view. A woman is stabbed but (surprisingly for Argento), she's not killed.

Dubbed or subtitled, your choice, there's Argento's trademarked stilted conversations, and none of it really adds up, but it's un-turn-offable.

Argento dogs me. You don't have to be a film scholar to recognize that his recurring theme is violence toward women. Women die in every movie he makes, and they're never done in by a dose of arsenic in the tea, nope, it's always knives and bloody screaming murder.

Not sharing his hatred of women, I've discovered that his movies are more palatable and lose nothing at all if you fast-forward through the murders. It not like you can't see them coming. Sometimes I do forget, like this time, and see the first stabbings, but after that, whoosh.

Damn it, though, in any Argento movie, everything before and after the murders is exquisite filmmaking and I love it.

Based on a story by sci-fi writer Fredric Brown. Music by Ennio Morricone. Starring somebody, but I didn't notice who and it doesn't matter. Argento is the star.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Cat Murkil and the Silks (1976)
a/k/a Cruisin' High 

Obnoxious white boys in high school: they're tough, they're stupid, and one of them kills another kid. 

"Listen to me, you pimple-faced little creep! You think this is all very funny, dontcha? Well after tomorrow maybe you ain't gonna think it's so funny. It's murder now, and we got ourselves a witness! We're gonna round up every last one of you little creeps and when we do — you just remember what I said, eh? You just remember that!"

The toughest of the tough kids must've been someone's son or lover, because he's amazingly miscast — blonde, baby-faced, devoid of any toughness. And this is from my era in school, so trust me when I say that nobody in this movie even knows the body language of building up to a fight.

Pretty stupid stuff. 

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming Attractions (1978)
a/k/a Loose Shoes

Hoo boy. This is a feature-length collection of satirical 'coming attractions' trailers, professionally staged, with some names you'll recognize — Kinky Friedman, Buddy Hackett, Sid Haig, Howard Hesseman, Bill Murray, Avery Schreiber, and the voices of Gary Owen and Harry Shearer. It's almost profoundly unfunny, though.

"The only good Indian is a dead Indian," says a Mafioso stepping out of an old west saloon, but instead of Native Americans, he's talking to two white guys dressed in a white guy's version of what Indians from India might wear. That's the set-up.

The joke is when the Mafia guy pulls a gun to kill the Indians, and another white guy dressed as an Indian runs up and says, "No-no-no, to my people the cow and the cowboy are sacred. You must not kill him." Actually, the third faux Indian's line is much longer than that, and if you found it at all funny, you're mistaken, it isn't.

But it's funnier than most of this.

Murray's prison movie made me laugh twice. And "Birth of a Nation" with first a Native, then a pilgrim emerging from between a woman's legs in the delivery room — that was a quick giggle, but after that a cowboy emerged, and Abe Lincoln, and Charlie Chaplin, and a long, completely unfunny fake trailer for a new Chaplin movie.

"Exclusive engagement starts Friday at theaters everywhere."

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Gyerekbetegségek (1965)

Trying to capture childhood in a movie almost always fails, and most movies about children are actually about what Hollywood imagines kids to be.

This is a movie about children who seem real. They're not Disney kids, and I love that. They're first-graders at a Hungarian school, which makes them 6 or 7 years old. They smoke cigarettes, blow up firecrackers, mess with traffic signs, let the air out of tires, ogle a porn theater's posters, etc. And they're funny. 

The adults are mere caricatures, but they're funny too.

Some of this is clearly fantasy, like when the painters come in through the window and paint the room and each other yellow, blue, red, and black while the kid watches. Or when the bomb explodes at the school.

At one point an angry mob of adults throws the movie's main boy — his name is Kisfiú — into the river. At another point, one kid coughs, and soon it's an epidemic, and all the kids are quarantined. The movie's title translates literally as "Children's Sicknesses."

Some of this is dang funny, and it never looks down on the kids. When it was over I immediately watched it again, both because yes, it's that good, and because I was afraid I might have missed some laughs while reading the subtitles. And indeed, I had.

Verdict: YES, on the cusp of BIG YES.

 ♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Howl of Winterland (2022)

From Damon Packard, the maestro behind Fatal Pulse and a lot of other movies I want to see but haven't yet but definitely will, this is a fable for our times. 

A couple drives and argues in the car. She's furious because she's just discovered that he hasn't been vaccinated against COVID-19. He, of course, knows that deadly parasites are in the vaccines, and tries explaining that to her, but she simply won't listen.

The Howl of Winterland is only 18 minutes long, lean, but it feels like a movie, not a short. It's full of visual surprises and twists and turns and collisions I won't reveal, except to say that Santa is crucial to the plot (but hey, the poster gave that away).

The special effects are as good as any blockbuster, while also mocking the special effects in any blockbuster. Great music, too, which the credits confess was stolen from three different movie soundtracks.

... Let me digress a few miles for a moment. 

I have always been a movie nut, and never had many friends or much of a social life, so I've had time to see a lot of movies. My rough estimate is 8-10,000. And I'm still watching movies and loving movies, but it isn't often there's a movie so fresh that it doesn't remind me of something I've seen before.

The Howl of Winterland reminds me of nothing.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Warriors (1979)

This is a rip-snorting thriller about gang warfare in New York City. These gangs aren't the Mafia, they're teenage street hoodlums, wearing colors to mark their team and claim their territory — a few blocks of the city.

The Warriors are a gang out of Coney Island, but they find themselves unarmed and in Manhattan, "25 or fifty miles from home," as one of their number says. To make their way back, they'll have to fight every gang all across Brooklyn.

The action and tension are awesome, and there's not much to complain about, but I'll try.

First, we're only rooting for the Warriors because the movie takes their side, but they're actually awful people, who talk of gang-raping a pretty girl they find on their journey. They decide against it only because they're in a hurry to get back to their turf, and because "You look like you might enjoy it."

Someone from New Yawk is welcome to dispute me on this, but — a dozen tough dudes in matching purple vests? Another dozen in bright yellow slickers with embroidered gang branding on the back? An entire team of troublemakers wearing modified Yankee jerseys and greasepainted faces, carrying baseball bats? Such duds look great in a movie, but they'd make it crazy-easy for cops to round 'em up.

And also, how do they get these great uniforms? Someone had to walk into a tailor or silkscreen shop and place an order, which, again, would rather blatantly finger the gang members.

And I'm all for affirmative action, but I strongly doubt that 1970s street gangs in New York City were racially integrated.

And imagine public restrooms, unlocked, in a deserted subway station, late at night. I laughed at that.

Them's my quibbles, but this is a great movie, close to the ultimate big-budget but no brains American action flick.

Terrific music, too, and I liked the comic book motif, and the closing song by Joe Walsh. The leading man, Michael Beck, seems more like a mannequin than a gangbanger, but his blankness adds an eerie anyboy quality to the film. And the cops are presented as they are, just another gang whose colors happen to be blue.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Willmar 8 (1981)

This is a compelling documentary about eight women who walked out of their jobs at a bank in Willmar, Minnesota, just before Christmas in 1977. They were underpaid, and had never been considered for promotions, because they lacked penises. And then they'd been instructed to teach a "management trainee" how the bank works — a man with no banking experience, hired to be their boss. They picketed instead.

It cost them greatly, and all eight families were wounded financially and socially, in a small town where "women's libbers" were a new and not necessarily welcome idea. Lee Grant (yes, the actress from In the Heat of the Night) was there with them, interviewing them, and made this terrific record of what happened and what they did.   

"If we're qualified to train a man, then why aren't we qualified for the job, or given a chance?"

Damned right.

Verdict: YES.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   





    Love The Warriors, and many other Walter Hill flicks. Southern Comfort is excellent. My favorite by far, and one of my top three "car" movies, is The Driver. Very little dialogue, and an unofficial remake of Melville's Le Samourai, also a masterpiece.


    I think Argento is a bit of a dullard, honestly, as far as his content is concerned, but his style is extraordinary (even if he stole it almost entirely from Mario Bava). I'd say my favorites are Deep Red, Inferno, and Tenebrae.

  2. I'm completely unfamiliar with Southern Comfort and Tenebrae, but not for long. Every time you talk about movies, I end up looking for a few more titles. You've nudged me toward dozens, and with a very high batting average. Thanks, man.

    1. Check out Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much, generally considered the first modern "giallo" flick. It's excellent, you can feel it's right on the cusp between something old and something new. It predates Polanski's Repulsion by a couple years, and was obviously an influence.

      Bava was a genius. He was able to make a visual feast of every film despite insultingly low budgets. Scorsese, Lynch, Coppola, they all are vocal about his work. Black Sabbath, Blood and Black Lace, Kill Baby Kill, all great. Planet of the Vampires was ripped off wholesale for Alien. I mean specific shots and entire scenes and settings. You've probably seen Danger: Diabolik, it's silly but a very entertaining Bond/spy pastiche.

      The wiki entry for giallo is worth perusing, lots of good titles discussed. Though a lot of those films are kind of samey-samey after a while. The women-killing gets tiresome, but the best of these films at least try to upend that cliché, and some are genuinely subversive.

      Not necessarily a giallo, but I also highly recommend Who Can Kill A Child.

      Also, Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, again not a giallo but does share some traits. For the love of god don't read about it ahead of time, The most I'll say is that there are similarities with All You Zombies/Predestination.

    2. You got smarts where I stash my ignorance. I *may* have accidentally seen a Bava once, and I had to look up giallo. Planet of the Vampires is already in my hopper, and as always I appreciate the nudges.

  3. I thought the uniforms were stylized Hollywood stuff too but then I randomly came across chicagoganghistory.com, some of the older photos from the '70s show gang members posing in what look like letterman jackets or windbreakers decked out in their gang logos.

    Others don't, though, so maybe that was like their "Sunday clothes" for taking group photos so the police and FBI could accurately identify all of you.

  4. The "Sunday clothes" theory might make sense. The movie has lots of different gangs going to a big multi-gang rally, so maybe they were all dressed to kill.

    I'd pass on wearing a uniform, because I'm a slob and I'll only stain it with Big Mac sauce or whatever, but there is a certain appeal to hanging with a crowd of people who share similar values or lack thereof. Where's my gang? Never found 'em.


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