The Death of Dick Long, and six more movies

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

This is a cheap exploitation movie, famous and controversial for being disgusting. It has, for example, scenes of animal mistreatment that were definitely not filmed under the auspices of the ASPCA, and a naked woman is impaled and murdered in the mud as "a ritualistic punishment for adultery." Etc.

There are lots of intentionally gross moments like that, and maybe I'm jaded, but most of the movie isn't seriously disgusting, because it's a movie and you know it's a movie. Cinema fakery. Well, except for the animal killings. They're real, and pretty gross.

As for the plot, this was an early installment in the "found footage" genre. We're watching a rough cut of a (fictional) documentary about cannibals living in the most remote corners of the Amazon, but something went wrong — presumably, the filmmakers got eaten — and we're going to figure out what happened by watching the video.

Considering this film's reputation, I was expecting something more shocking. For about 4/5 of the movie it's trying to be disgusting, but not quite succeeding. It's mid-level low-budget schlock, pulled off nicely, and it's better than average, with plenty of blood, boobies, and violence. There's even a stab at a statement here, since the documentary was going to be all about the savage natives but, you know, we're the real savages. 

It ain't The African Queen, but it isn't trying to be, and for what it's trying it's largely successful.

Then out of nowhere there's a bizarre and lengthy rape sequence. The camera crew, who've been nominally the protagonists through everything so far, finds a "tree woman," a native from some group despised even by the cannibals, so they capture her and gang-rape her, filming it all. The only woman on the camera crew objects, not to the rapes, but to the waste of film, as "we only have three cans of film left."

And with that Cannibal Holocaust achieved what it wanted — it was disgusting, even to me, so I clicked it off and moved on to more ordinary rubbish (Titanic II, below).

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Colors (1988)

Easy Rider is OK, but Colors is the best movie Dennis Hopper directed. It's a very effective police story, and if you want drama and action, here it is.

Robert Duvall plays an old, bald cop who's never been promoted, and still works the beat on the LAPD's anti-gang squad. Sean Penn is his new partner, a young buck itching to make arrests and make a difference. Duvall and Penn are partners, so it's a cop/buddy flick, but more serious than most.

My minor complaint is about "Holmes." Even in the '80 when everyone called everyone else "Holmes," it was tiresome hearing it, and there are more "Holmes" here than you ever heard even at Peak Holmes. Other than 'the' and 'and' and maybe 'freeze' and 'gang', Holmes must be the most commonly-spoken word in the script.

My major complaint, though, is that the film is 100% copaganda. The message, spelled out in the opening crawl, is that there aren't enough police on the streets and lots more are needed, to which bullshit must be called.

Having only seen street gangs at a block's distance, my impression is that the movie paints them credibly, but the movie's cops are from fairy tales. There's only one policeman in the story who's sometimes mean, and that's Penn, but it's only because he's a young hothead passionate about the pursuit of bad guys. None of the movie's dozens of other cops are mean for the simple joy of being mean, and that's laughably unreal.

Set among two of the most corrupt police departments in America — the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff's Department — there's nary a whiff of bribery, payoffs, kickbacks, brutality, or even doughnuts. As depicted here, every officer and deputy is a good guy deeply concerned about enforcement of the law, always alert and eager to do the right thing.

Well, obviously, I don't like cops, and what we've got here is a very engrossing drama about cops. The movie's message is ass-backwards and its police are unreal, but there's no arguing against Colors as damned good entertainment.

Ice-T performs the movie's theme song, an early-era rap that remains listenable. Damon Wayans plays it straight as a gangbanger, and this is the film where Don Cheadle made his first impression on me.

Verdict: YES, but with serious reservations, Holmes.

♦ ♦ ♦   

The Death of Dick Long (2019)

"Y'all want to get weird?"

Three Alabama buddies have a bad night and one of them ends up dead. The other two will be in big trouble if anyone finds out how it happened, so they hide the body, literally cover up the evidence, and try to concoct an alibi. They're not very good at any of this, though.

The Death of Dick Long is a twisted, funny comedy without any jokes. What's funny is the situation, the stupidity of the central characters, and the absolute inevitability of knowing they're not going to get away with anything and nobody's going to live happily ever after.

As assembled by Daniel Scheinert, one of the Daniels behind Swiss Army Man and Everything Everywhere All at Once, this is a low-key masterpiece of ordinary humans being ordinary. And by definition, you know, 'ordinary' means being out of the ordinary sometimes.

Also, this flick wins my award for Best Cinematic Use of the song, "Break It to Me Gently."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Invaders from Mars (1953)

"A space ship — from where?"

"From outer space."

Martians have bred a race of synthetic humans, planted them on Earth, and replaced many earth people with these creatures called mutants (but pronounced mew-tants, because it was a brand new word at the time).

10-year-old David's parents are among the victims, but fortunately, the boy has read lots of science fiction, so he's able to help the humans who remain human mount a defense against the Martian mew-tants.

All this is written and performed from the kid's perspective, with straight-laced delivery of arch dialogue, on sets that sometimes seem surreal, with minimal music and maximal cardboard acting. It borders on camp, squeaky-clean for the kiddies, but it's imaginative enough to hold an adult's attention, and, of course, the movie's Martians are an allegory for the dratted Russians in the Cold War.

It's a classic that deserves its reputation.

The only vaguely familiar face in the cast is Milburn Stone, who played 'Doc' on TV's Gunsmoke.

There are rumors of a remake in the 1980s, but as usually happens, the original is far superior.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Prime Cut (1972)

Here's something unusual — a flick about killings and corruption in the meatpacking industry, and while they're dealing and stealing that kind of flesh, they move into the sale of women as well.

Lee Marvin is the good guy, and Gene Hackman plays the main bad guy, but Hackman's performance is standard-issue. His assistant is more memorable, a man who works at a slaughterhouse killing cattle, and enjoys his job perhaps a little too much. Didn't catch the actor's name, sorry.

Sissy Spacek has a supporting role, before she was famous, and before her 10,000 freckles had faded. 

It's a good movie. Saw it about two months ago, and I definitely remember enjoying it, but it's a shame I didn't get around to writing the review until now, because I remember almost nothing about Prime Cut except what's above, and liking it.

Written by Robert Dillon, who wrote the pretty good sci-fi X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Directed by Michael Ritchie (The Bad News Bears, The Candidate, Fletch, Semi-Tough). Music by Lalo Schifrin, who wrote music for The Beguiled, Enter the Dragon, and some of the snappiest '60s TV theme songs — Mannix, Medical Center, and Mission: Impossible.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Spudwrench: Kahnawake Man (1998)

Slow, dry, but powerful documentary about a band of Mohawk construction workers, led by a man named Randy Horne but called Spudwrench.

He was a key native in the 1990 Oka showdown, when a small Canadian town tried expanding its golf course and the adjacent parking lot almost directly over the natives' sacred burial grounds. That's a series of events worth knowing about, but it's not really the focus here.

Spudwrench the movie is about Spudwrench the man, mostly his work in construction, and the people who live and work with him. It ain't riveting (small joke there), but it ain't bad. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Titanic II (2010)

Because of global warming, a big chunk of ice falls off an iceberg, and this chunk of ice is so big that it causes a tsunami across the entire Atlantic Ocean, wrecking the newly-christened ocean liner Titanic II.

Then the fallen iceberg somehow causes a second ocean-wide tsunami, but Titanic II is the only ship affected. Bruce Davison stars, and nobody else, but even Davison is lousy.

From the title, I only wanted enjoyable schlock, but even by those standards it's all pretty stupid. Everything looks fake, the script is 20,000 leagues short of making sense, every line is delivered a little off, the effects are of 1990s TV commercial quality, the music is cheesy — honestly, every element of the film is wrong, either a little or a lot, and never in an enjoyable way.

Good movies cost lots of money or require lots of passion. Here's a movie with neither, and it ain't even fun.

Written and directed by its star, Shane Van Dyke, who's the grandson of TV and movie star Dick Van Dyke.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Coming attractions:

Ants! (1977)
Bus Stop (2015)
The Car (1977)
Demon Seed (1977)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Red Scratch Fever (2011)
Terror in the Midnight Sun (1959) 


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 twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. "Easy Rider is OK, but Colors is the best movie Dennis Hopper directed."

    No way, man:


    I'll never, for the remainder of my life, watch anything by "The Daniels" so I have not seen The Death of Dick Long. However, the title reminded me of the recent "documentary" Dick Johnson Is Dead, which is normally the type of thing I would despise, but which I quite liked. The premise is half-brilliant / half-indulgent nonsense, and the director is obviously rich and privileged. But her father - the subject of the film - seems a wonderful human, thoughtful and interesting and a good sport.

    I love the original Invaders From Mars. The remake is just as wonderful, in my opinion. Tobe Hooper and Dan O'Bannon? I'm in. Karen Black was a god! It's a highly weird, moody film.

    1. Whatchagot against the Daniels? I must be misremembering, but I thought it was you who recommended SWISS ARMY MAN.

      I remember THE LAST MOVIE playing at the Roxie or Red Vic in Frisco, and I was intrigued but didn't go. I'll add it to the list of movies I wanna watch, but as you know, it's a long list.

      I saw the remake of INVADERS FROM MARS, enjoyed it. It's fine. It's just *hyperactive* in that big-budget way, which the original sure wasn't.

      Karen Black is still a god. Gods are immortal.

  2. Yes, Prime Cut was good. Gregory Walcott is the actor you forgot the name of. Amazingly, he was also in Plan 9 From Outer Space.

    1. Thank you, man. Yeah — he played "Weenie" and stole every scene, even from Hackman. IMDB says he was in lots of movies I've seen, but I'd never noticed him before.

      You an Ed Wood Jr fan? I am kinda lukewarm. I've seen PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE and a couple of his other "so bad they're good" masterpieces, but the "so bad" comes through lots stronger than "they're good."

    2. I'd say I am more of a fan of Ed Wood than of his movies, he had a very interesting life that ended in misery and squalor. Of his movies, *Glen or Glenda* is my favorite, very courageous of him, decades ahead of its time.

    3. That's the one I remember... respecting, but not really liking.

    4. Here's a scene I bet you really like. . .in fact, this might be your favorite scene in the history of motion pictures!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bv0X57NOBEg

    5. Knowing you, sir, I was expecting something revolting, but that actually *is* a terrific scene from a good old movie. I do wish the camera hadn't cat away from the money shot...

  3. >My minor complaint is about "Holmes." Even in the '80 when everyone called everyone else "Holmes,"

    The internet will never agree with me, but until the day I die, I will assert that it was always "Homes," as in, short for "Homeboy," like, "My man!" At some point, it shifted to "Holmes," and it irritates me to no end.

    1. Short for 'homeboy' makes a lot more sense. The kids who said "Holmes" all the time were not reading A Conan Doyle in their spare time.

    2. homeboy to homey to homes to holmes. Language is a living thing and crowded apartment houses and slums and crowded digital social media make it evolve like the wind.



The site's software sometimes swallows comments. For less frustration, send an email and I'll post it as a comment.