Fear of a Black Hat
and Fiend Without a Face,
and a few more films

#265  [archive]
MAR. 23, 2024

Writing is the only thing that makes me feel human, and the last thing left in life that I enjoy. So I ought to be writing something better than movie reviews.

I just haven't had anything in me to write, recently. When there's no motivation to write, I sit in my lumpy dilapidated recliner, eat too much and watch movies, so I write about watching movies because there's nothing else.

Maybe tomorrow, I could write about what I'm overeating.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast-Walking (1981)

Frank Miniver (James Woods) is a prison guard who smokes and sells a lot of marijuana, helps out at his cousin's whorehouse, has a peeping tom hobby, and knows who's about to get killed in a jailhouse race riot.

Frank's cousin is a prisoner there, and wants Frank to shoot a black inmate, to start a race riot. Miniver instead hatches a complicated doublecross that's probably improbable, but it's got grit and sleaze.

Like real life, there's not an honest character anywhere to be found. Unlike life, at least mine, there's a pretty lady (Kay Lenz) who shoots somebody in the butt. 

The movie has too much prison and hip 'lingo', and here's an unusual complaint: bad foley work. Dude walks on asphalt, but it sounds like he's walking on hardwood floors.

Whether you dig the movie or don't depends on your tolerance levels for James Woods. Mine are quite low. He's a despicable human and he's the star here, playing a cocky bastard we're supposed to root for, but with some effort, I was able to get past Mr Woods and enjoy the movie.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Faust (1994)
Streaming free at YouTube

Stop-motion impresario Jan Svankmajer made this, though it's mostly human actors, or humans watching a puppet show, or watching a lump of clay turn into a baby and back again. It's about a quarter of an hour before anyone speaks, and it's an interesting quarter hour. 

It's a feature-length film, though, and after someone speaks it goes on and on it gets kinda boring, with philosophical conversations in King James English or Python-style silly voices, often delivered theatrically. All this is interspersed with Svankmajer imagery that, while it's a wow to look at, isn't particularly apropos to the story of Faust's deal with Mephisto. 

Don't misunderstand; Svankmajer's Faust is a good movie, thumbs up and polite applause, but it's full of elaborate artsiness, and should be screened at a museum. If you're looking to be entertained and told a story, you might get fidgety like I did. That first quarter-hour is terrific, though.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fear of a Black Hat (1993)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

I don't particularly like rap, and know so little about it that just for a moment as it started, I honestly thought this was a documentary.

It's not. It's a fake documentary about the notorious but non-existent rap group NWH — Niggas With Hats. Their hats are big and colorful, as are their personalities, making this a consistently funny satire of black culture, American culture, and black American culture. Even the rap songs are fine, to this old white guy's ear. 

"Take away the pornography. Take away, you know, the, you know, women-bashing. Take away the kill-whitey stuff. Take it all away, and you've got the kids next door, you really do."

In the whole movie, I don't think I went three minutes without laughing out loud, and in between the laughs were slight smiles and giggles now and then. And the hats are great, too.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Feast (2005)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Here's a quick headache — loud deaths and blood and screaming and vomit attacks, as aliens or monsters or whatever kill the patrons of a bar, one by one. Gotta say 'whatever' kills them, because the movie makes no attempt to explain anything.

The violence is poorly lit and filmed with handheld cameras, so even as you're watching the 38th battle to the death it's unclear what's happening, same as the other 37. Anything that's supposed to be 'action' is shown with altered frames-per-second, an annoying techniques of lowbrow action movies, and this is about as low as a brow can go.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Fentanyl Crawl (2022)
Streaming free at YouTube

David Caruso (NYPD Blue) stars, but doesn't know it, in this crazy short from crazy moviemaker Damon Packard (Foxfur, Reflections of Evil). 

We're shown heartbreakingly tragic (but funny) footage of drug addicts on the streets of Los Angeles, set to Isaac Hayes' soulful cover of Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By," as people do exactly that — walk on by.

And then, just when it looks like life is hopeless for these damaged and doomed souls, Detective Caruso springs into action.

And then it's over, barely three minutes after it started. Told you it was a short. No credits, no narration, very little dialogue.

Yet it's seriously profound (and funny). I'm not sure I've seen a better summation of American society barely pretending to give a damn.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Fiend Without a Face (1957)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

The US and Canada have built a joint 'anti-missile base' in rural Canada, where the locals and their cows don't like the noise of all the jets taking off and landing. Oh, and people are dying inexplicably, with their brains and spinal cords evaporated.

The film is a mystery, trying to figure out what's happening, and it's workable science fiction, too. Well, except for the part where the rods from an atomic reactor have been stolen, and there are no spares, so they'll have to have more rods flown in from the Hanford atomic facility, 1,500 miles away.

"There are many things about me that you do not know, my dear, or you'd have never come to work for me."

Fiend Without a Face is a low-budget effort with no known names in the credits, but the key word is 'effort' and the effort is genuine. It tells its story mostly on the strength of script and acting, until the monsters show themselves toward the end.

In a cheap sci-fi like this, showing the monsters is usually a mistake, because by definition the effects are likely to look cheap. Corman's Law: Monsters should be seen rarely or never.

Surprisingly, though, this movie's monsters are better than you'd expect. They're made of rubber and animated by stop-motion, which is not convincing but also not laughable. When they splatter, the blood and guts explosions are almost at David Cronenberg's level, albeit in black-and-white. 

Sure, the movie has its dumbness — at its core, it's a B-level ripoff of Frankenstein and Forbidden Planet, and the entire plot is explained by the brainy scientist in about ten minutes of talky exposition. But it's an old movie I'd never heard of, that's actually good! 

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Figures in a Landscape (1970)
Find Me Guilty

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Not much pisses me off more than 'movie reviews' that simply describe the plot, paragraph after paragraph. My pledge to you: I'll only give the basics of a movie's premise, with no spoilers after that.  
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. 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. 
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  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one to have an issue with Woods. There's a real cruelty to some of his MAGA antics that is hard to write off as the eccentricity or disagreeable behavior of a formerly famous celebrity that spent too long in a Palm Springs country club bubble.

    "I'm not sure I've seen a better summation of American society barely pretending to give a damn."

    That's worthy of a prize winning review.

    1. MAGA and the entire right-wing is a voluntarily-chosen cruelty. Woods and his ilk enjoy being mean, and want to make other people miserable, and fuck that. People like Mel Gibson at least have the decency to keep their yaps shut unless they're drunk.

      Have you seen any of Damon Packard's stuff? When he's at his best it's like mainlining coffee.


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