Duel (1971) – movie review

***Top Television Horror Movies of the 1970’s***

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Duel (1971)top 1970's TV horror - small

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Richard Matheson

This early Stephen Spielberg film penned by Richard Matheson is a fantastic suspense thriller that holds up well even to this day. David Mann, (Dennis Weaver) is heading cross country to a new job. Early in the trip he passes a truck that was moving slow and spewing fumes from the exhaust pipe. He iDuel 1971 - dvds tormented by a faceless trucker in this mind-game of cat and mouse for the rest of his trip. The suspense and terror associated with the unknown assailant builds to a feverish peak as David tries to shake off his stalker with little success.

There is a scene where David enters a roadside diner after being run off the road and nearly killed by the assailant. He knows the truck driver is in the diner and walks through quietly examining each of the men in a highly tense scene. It’s a great example of psychological horror, worthy of a Hitchcock film. Back on the road, the two are locked into a deadly duel as David in his 1971 Plymouth Valiant tries to fend off the faceless driver in his 1955 Peterbilt 281, tanker truck.

If you have not seen this movie, it would be worth seeking out. It is shot in the style of 1970’s movies, but that doesn’t hinder the tension and suspense of this classic road trip film.

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Fun Facts:
In one scene, David sees a sedan resembling a police car and hopes to get help with his predicament. However it turns out to be a car for an exterminator service. The name of the company is ‘Grebleips’ which is “Spielberg” spelled backwards.

In the scene where David Mann is calling the police from a telephone booth, Spielberg can be seen in the reflection of the glass. He said in an appearance on The Actors Studio that it was an unintentional cameo.

The roadside Diner in the film, Chuck’s Café, is still standing today and is a French Restaurant.

Some additional scenes were shot for this film for its theatrical release outside the US. These are good scenes with the bus and the train tracks. It’s recommended that you see the extended theatrical release film with these scenes included. (I believe it’s the only version on dvd/bluray)

There are many more interesting trivia and fun facts for this film, If you are interested you should check out the IMDb page.

The Night Gallery (1969) – movie review

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The Night Gallery – Pilot Movie (1969)

The success of this TV pilot movie spawned the series that lasted for three seasons. Our host, Rod Serling, wrote all three stories in the pilot, all of which had a particular painting as an aspect of the tales. An interesting note is the second segment was directed by a young Steven Spielberg, his directing debut.

The Cemetery Roddy McDowall plays a scoundrel, Jeremy Evans, a distant cousin of a sick miserly estate owner. He shows up shortly before the millionaire’s death (suspicious death) to collect on the will. He derides the butler/assistant, Osmond Portifoy, who helped Uncle William Hendricks for 30 years being both a caretaker and a friend to the man. Uncle William was an artist before his disease crippled him. The last canvas he painted, a view of the family cemetery on the estate, hangs from the Night Gallery pic 11main stairway wall. Soon after the old man’s burial, Jeremy notices a difference in the painting, a fresh burial at a grave site. He calls Portifoy to look at it but the caretaker sees no difference. After being insulted by a drunken Jeremy, Portifoy leaves for the night. As dark falls, Jeremy sees the disinterment of the coffin in the painting. He races around the mansion calling for Portifoy, forgetting that the man had left. Every time he passes the painting he sees the image of his Uncle William move closer to the front door until finally he hears the massive door knocker summoning him.

Eyes – In the second segment, Joan Crawford plays a nasty, well-to-do woman with one distraction. She is blind. Through her lawyer, she finds a man that will donate his eyes for a nominal fee. He needs to pay his bookie before the mob rubs him out. She doesn’t care about the moral implications or the man’s motives, she wants both of his eyes for $9,000. She Night Gallery pic 10especially wants to see the recently finished portrait of herself commissioned by a top artist in the field. The sight will only last 12 – 13 hours. But there will be a price to pay for taking advantage of those less fortunate.

The Escape Route – In the final segment, a man can’t keep his terrible past a secret as memories of his work at Nazi concentration camps surface. Now living in Brazil, he spends time at a museum, under a peaceful painting of a lone man fishing on a docile lake. He imagines himself there at the lake many times. An international investigation team is closing in upon him and he has one wish from God. But God isn’t going to let his sins go unpunished.

These are three excellent tales with stronger themes than The Twilight Zone while still retaining the moral compass of the traditional Zone tales. If you like TZ you will like this also, it feels like an extension of the old show. The first segment is downright creepy and all the stories have a twist ending. Despite that there’s more dialogue than action, the stories will certainly hold your interest.

Excellent story telling in the tradition of the best TZ episodes.
I give it 4.0 walking corpses on the tortured twisted endings scale in the Rod Serling universe.

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Everything you would want to know about The Night Gallery series, including a gallery of the paintings used to introduce the individual stories can be found here: http://nightgallery.net/

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The Night Gallery – the series
The series began a year later in 1970 and ran for 3 seasons through 1973. Rod Serling was the host, introducing us to stories through paintings in the art gallery. Each hour long episode had up to three stories. Some of my favorite episodes include, Pickman’s Model, The Doll, and Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay. The third season and subsequent syndication format were only half hour episodes. They had a few unaired stories and had edited down some previous episodes to only one story in order to fit the half hour format. They also added in stories from a short lived series called, The Sixth Sense with newly recorded introductions by Rod Serling to round out the syndicated series and the VHS/dvd releases. However, the dvds/blurays of the first two seasons on the market today are the original hour episodes the way they had originally aired.

The Truth About Jurassic Park

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The Truth About Jurassic Park

and the films in the Franchise

Steven Spielberg, in preparation for Jurassic Park, assembled his own group of scientists, paleontologists, engineers and biologists (much like John Hammond) to get an accurate picture of dinosaur life before shooting the first JP film. This provided many great resolutions of theory and conjecture to become accepted knowledge. Dinosaurs could not have dragged their tails like reptiles, dinosaurs were warm blooded and active creatures, dinosaurs moved and acted more like birds than reptiles.

However, for the sake of making a fun Hollywood film some facts were intentionally discarded and overlooked. I don’t personally have a problem with that. No one should be writing a thesis based on the films. I accept that a fictional story will have some wiggle room in order to support the fictitious adventure.

Here are some of the hard science facts:

Most of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park movies were not from the Jurassic Time Period in earth’s history. Most were from the Cretaceous era, 100 million years later.

Velociraptor – in the first film they called the one type of ‘human sized’ dinosaur a velociraptor. They were not velociraptors at all. Velociraptors are only 2- 3 ft. tall, approx. 6 ft in length, about the size of a medium sized dog. The dinosaur portrayed on-screen was a Deinonychus, as it was in the book, which is in the ‘raptor‘ family. Velociraptor just sounds cooler. In the later films they are just called raptors.

Dilophosaurus were actually a much larger creature than portrayed in the first film. There was no indication of a frill or that it spit poison. At 16 ft. long it had no need for such weaponry. It was one of the largest predators of the early Jurassic period.

My cousin is a bird – It is commonly accepted that dinosaurs eventually evolved into birds and were closer in species to birds than today’s reptiles. It is also accepted that many of the later species, especially the carnivores, probably had some feathers in some areas of the body. The films prefer to keep the dinos featherless for continuity with the first film. Also, I’ve heard a lot of war cries from armchair scientists stating, “Dinosaurs Had Feathers!” We are talking about over 200 million years of evolution when they had existed on earth. It is possible and probable that the first raptors and Rex’s didn’t have feathers but the later one’s (100 million years later) had grown them through a process called evolution.

I’m not a CG – The Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park movies are not all CGI. Most of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park films are real-life animatronics robots, magnificent wonders themselves, created by Stan Winston’s team at his special effects studios. CG was used to enhance the movements and/or fill in pieces when the dinosaurs were fully framed. CG was also used in wide-screen shots to show herds.

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Tyrannosaurus Rex

Dinosaur stars in Jurassic Park (1993):
Tyrannosaurus Rex
Deinonychus (raptors/velociraptors)
Dilophosaurus
Brachiosaurus
Triceratops
Gallimimus (seen in herds)

Dinosaur stars in Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997):
Tyrannosaurus Rex
Deinonychus (raptors/velociraptors)
Compsognathus (compys)

Brachiosaurus

brachiosaurus

Stegosaurus
Parasaurolophus (seen in herds)
Pachycephalosaurus (seen in herds)
Gallimimus (seen in herds)

Dinosaur stars in Jurassic Park III (2001):
Spinosaurus
Tyrannosaurus Rex
Deinonychus (raptors/velociraptors)
Pteranodon
Ceratosarus
Corythosaurus (seen in herds)
Parasaurolophus (seen in herds)

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Sci Fi Boys – Documentary (2006) – movie review

forrest j ackerman pteradactyl armature

Sci Fi Boys – Documentary (2006)

sci fi boys dvdThis documentary is as much a tribute to Forrest J. Ackerman and Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, as it is to Sci-fi films. You may be surprised to learn that it was Ackerman who coined the term “Sci-Fi.” It is a fitting tribute because Forry, along with good friends, Harryhausen, George Pal, and Ray Bradbury helped shape and push the genre of Sci-fi into the hearts and minds of young film fans who would later become the top directors, FX artists, and filmmakers in the world.

The film starts out with past footage of Forry making a speech. He says, “I am speaking to you from the year 1970…” a very ‘sci-fi sounding’ choice of words. He goes on to explain a bit of what makes sci-fi what it is. During the course of the documentary we hear from Peter Jackson, John Landis, Frank Darabont, Stephen Sommers, Harryhausen, Bradbury, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Phil Tippet, and Dennis Muren amongst many others, talk about their Sci-Fi roots which often point to Famous Monsters magazine and the original 1933 movie King Kong. Bob Burns and Don Glut talk of their favorite Sci-Fi films and sci fi boys jacksoneras. Roger Corman speaks of William Castle and the wonderful sales pitch he would deliver for each of his films. Bob Burns talks about the creations of Paul Blaisdell in the 50’s sci-fi films and how Paul and his wife would assemble monsters on a shoe-string budget from items in his garage. There is a segment devoted to Harryhausen’s inaugural ‘Star’ on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, only yards from Grumman’s Theater, where, as a boy, he had seen the film that set the direction of his life, King Kong.

There is also a segment which features the amateur 8mm and Super 8mm films of Don Glut, Steve Johnson, Bob Burns and Fred Barton, as well as others, from their early years as boys looking to emulate their favorite sci-fi feature. The film shows the early Harryhausen projects as well, test footage for films that have never been made. There are some great photos of George Pal standing on the set of War of the Worlds, and clips of Forry’s eulogy at Pal’s funeral.
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Roger Corman                                                Metropolis

Near the end Steven Spielberg talks about the change over to CGI and the possibilities that change has unleashed. Dennis Muren from ILS talks of the early computer technology that started with the FM 117film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how it influenced the making of Star Wars.  Sci Fi boys was put together by Paul Davids and he did an astounding job at presenting an interesting, and perfectly paced documentary. The dvd/blu-ray cover features artwork by Basil Gogas. The dvd itself includes bonus extras that are well worth the purchase for die hard fans.

This is a fantastic documentary and I would highly recommend it for every sci-fi, horror, and monster movie fan.

For more info, look here: Sci Fi Boys

Currently available on Netflix.
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sci fi boys muren FM 108
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related articles:
The Aurora Monsters – documentary
Creature Features – Giant Robots
Creature Features – The ‘It’ Movies
My Top 10 Robots in Film 

Creature Features
Ray Harryhausen Tribute
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Super 8 (2011) – movie review

Summer blockbusters of years gone by:
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Super 8 – (2011)

super 8 posterThis movie is a cross between Stand By Me, and E.T. with a bit of Cloverfield thrown in for some intense action. It is just what you would expect from a collaboration between JJ Abrams (writer/director) and Steven Spielberg (producer). It has all the makings (and perhaps the pitfalls) of a ‘summer blockbuster’ hit – tense moments, high action, laughs, drama, and over-the-top special FX. At the center of the story is a group of young kids trying to make an amateur film for a film contest. I completely identified with this group of youngsters struggling for accomplishment and battling the forces that be to get it done. The young cast was considerably talented playing each of their characters to believability. Sneaking out of the house late one night to film a scene, the youngsters witness a terrible train wreck. Upon closer examination it is clear that something alive and quite unusual has escaped from one of the train cars. The military soon quarantines the small town as they prepare to hunt down the enemy life form.  Some viewers had questions and negative comments about the alien and its motives. I think they were perhaps expecting a Riddley Scott ‘Alien’ type of movie. This alien is more like the one in ‘It Came From Outer Space’ where its only concern is to procure the materials it needs to get home. In fact, the film seems to intentionally mirror a throw-back to older sci-fi films. Like all ‘fantastic story’ films, if you look too close you will find imperfections, that’s just the nature of the beast. In the end, this movie was really about a group of kids forced to grow up very quickly when faced with a serious situation. Make sure you sit through the end credits to see the completed ‘Super-8 film’ submission – an amateur zombie film.
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The Remake Scoreboard / Classic Sci-fi Films

The Remake Scoreboard – Horror movie remakes – the good and bad list. Thumbs up or thumbs down and a few sentences why.
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Remakes: Classic Sci-fi films

War of the Worlds (remake – 2005)
(original 1953)

Only Steven Spielberg could remake this 50’s sci-fi classic and do it justice. Great attention to detail was used in making this film and there is not one moment while I watched that I thought, this looks like CGI. The initial rise from the underground of the first tripod craft was amazing, as well as the Hudson River, Ferry Crossing scene. There was so much I liked about this film, from the look of the crafts, which were closer to the descriptions given in H.G. Wells’ original story, to the sound the tripods made, a sort of battle cry, inducing us humans to run for cover. This is my favorite sci-fi movie since 2000. I own it and watch it often!

The Blob (remake – 1988)
(original 1958)

This is a very good remake with likable characters played by Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith. The film also featured some great special FX, thankfully made before the days of CGI, which portray the agile and quick moving amoeba-like creature, swallowing and digesting its human prey. Great story, excellently paced, a remake worth seeing.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (remake – 2008)
(original 1951)

This is a near faithful remake in color. That is not necessarily a good thing, the black and white of the original just made everything seem more menacing. The film starts off well enough with interesting events taking place and some great imagery. About a third of the way through, it becomes a chore to watch as the pacing gets bogged down in a tangle of social issues that seem unnecessary. Do yourself a favor, just stick with the original!

Planet of the Apes (remake – 2001)
(original 1968)

Firstly, there is no touching Charlton Heston’s pinnacle performance as ‘Taylor’ in the original 1968, mind-bomb. The original was laced with a myriad of allegory and thought-provoking social issues. The final scene with the half-submerged, Statue of Liberty is one of the great moments in all film history. The new one had some great looking apes but not much else.

Godzilla (remake – 1999)
(original 1956)

Most fans were not happy with Roland Emmerich’s version of the Iguana-inspired Godzilla. However, there were a couple of things I did like about the film. Godzilla’s first landfall in NYC at the South-Street Seaport and subsequent march through the NYC streets was impressive, mostly because it was filmed from street level, a person’s POV looking upward, rather than from straight-on as most ‘Zilla films are shot. I also liked the Helicopter chase scene as the fast moving Godzilla dodged and darted missiles and gunfire. But the film is also riddled with Hollywood hokey-ness that makes it difficult to watch. The car chase scene was ridiculous and the hundreds of eggs in MSG were too far-fetched to be believable. You would be much better off, sticking to the original.

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