Saturday, September 6, 2014

Three Films Make A Post: PROFESSIONALS... You Pay for the Pleasure, the Killing is Free

Horror Island (1941): This George Waggner (of The Wolfman fame) joint is a rather good time for a little programmer shot in little time and certainly in the sets of other, more ambitious Universal productions. It’s a perfectly pleasant mix of comedy and mystery (with emphasis on the comedy) with nary a minute that’ll overstretch anyone’s intellectual capacity. What the film lacks in depth, however, it makes up for with a fun ensemble cast, often actually funny jokes, and a pleasantly placed story that carries only tenuous connections to that pesky reality stuff. All the better to distract an unsophisticated audience (that would be me) with.

The Last Valley (1971): James Clavell’s film about a mercenary company captained by Michael Caine during the Thirty Years War holing up in a hidden, peaceful valley tries to be a bit too much to be fully successful. This is, among other things, a film about the death of god, two romances, witch burnings, the evils of religion, the evils of humanity, the historical point where old superstition and a developing more modern view of the world have to co-exist resulting in even more violence, and where both impulses clearly exist in the same people, as well as about half a dozen other things, some thematically connected, some somewhat redundantly circling the film’s core, so it’s no wonder Clavell can’t quite do justice to everything he’s packed in. However, he sure gives it quite a try, with not a few scenes that manage to put rather complicated thought into plot without going the slow and pondering route.

I even think The Last Valley could be a lost classic rather than the unfairly overlooked film it is if Clavell could have avoided the bits of Hollywood guff he threw in, the sentimentality that sometimes overwhelms the sentiment, and had reached a more consequent conclusion to the film; though I’m not sure what that conclusion could have been myself.

Happy Hell Night (1992): Brian Owens’s film is a pretty serviceable early 90s supernatural slasher that just lacks any kind of oomph to make it memorable, and just misses all interesting opportunities its plot and set-up provide. So there’s a cheap and creepy looking killer who becomes rather less creepy by having to do the usual unfunny one-liner shtick (which never spells supernatural evil as much as it does bad stand-up comedian); a backstory reaching into a hidden past of the town the film takes place in that never leads anywhere but a few shots of a before-he-was-famous Sam Rockwell (doing a young Darren McGavin, who is of course also pretty much wasted here); and a draggy middle made even more draggy by a lot of rather lame hot sexy times.

It’s certainly a watchable film but then, one might as well spend one’s time with a good one, or an interesting bad one.

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