FORGOTTEN CLASSICS

This page contains a list of seldom discussed films that I recommend to fans of my more detailed film analysis articles / videos. These are mostly films that I consider to be richly thematic, but which I do not intend to write detailed reviews for. Some I’ve included purely due to their commercial entertainment value, for impressive production qualities or simply because of their depiction of social trends at the time of their release.

 

AFTER HOURS (1985)
AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION (1982)
THE BEGUILED (1971)
BEING THERE (1979)
THE BIG RED ONE (1981)
THE BLACK HOLE (1979)
THE BUTCHER BOY (1997)
CACTUS FLOWER (1969)
THE CONVERSATION (1971)
DEAD AND BURIED (1981)
DEATH WISH 1 & 2 (1974 & 1982)
THE DRIVER (1978)
IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006)
LOOKING FOR MR GOODBARR (1977)
THE MECHANIC (1972)
MURDER BY DECREE (1979)
THE NAKED PREY (1966)
THE NIGHT VISITOR (1971)
PSYCHO 2 (1983)
TALK RADIO (1988)
TIGERLAND (2000)
TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)
TIME BANDITS (1981)
WHITE DOG (1982)
THE YOUNG POISONER'S HANDBOOK (1995)

 

AFTER HOURS (1985)

Martin Scorcese makes an unusual departure from conventional narrative. A New York office worker, played by Griffin Dunne (a brilliant actor who never quite fulfilled his screen status potential – you may remember him as the guy who got torn to shreds at the start of An American Werewolf In london), finds himself lost over night in the city’s dark and seedy underworld. His journey brings him into contact with punks, artists, drug addicts, desperately lonely women and an angry mob. The film is stuffed with subliminal themes to the point that it could easily pass for a David Lynch project. Hitchcock would have loved its use of guilt association too. Unfortunately, the film’s obscure ending appears to be what damaged its wider appeal.

 

AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSESSION (1982)

At first glance this is a fairly straight forward clone of The Exorcist. But the film makers here aren’t just immitating a popular classic. Whereas the Exorcist used demonic possession to explore the nature of faith and the psychological horrors of sexual abuse, Amityville 2 uses the same plot device to explore the subject of family spree killers. The family of the story present as fairly normal, but are gradually revealed as dysfunctional - a violent father / husband, a strongly religious mother and teenage syblings who are on the verge of incest. Jack Magner gives a nice little performance as a seemingly decent kid who begins to hate his family, gradually alienates himself from the world and then decides to execute them ruthlessly with a hunting rifle – even the children. The direction from Damiano Damiani is very good – excellent use of lighting and some incredible camera work as the troubled teenager wanders the empty house trying to escape the invisible presence that has invaded his life. Perhaps if this hadn’t have been a sequel (which it didn’t really need to be because it’s a great standalone film) critics may have given it the praise it deserved.

 

THE BEGUILED (1971)

Clint Eastwood teams up with director Don Siegel (the two collaborated again the following year for the classic Dirty Harry) on a project that was a break from convention for them both. Clint plays a soldier in the American civil war. He is injured and taken into care by staff and students at an all-girl boarding school. The girls initially intend to turn him over to his enemies after his wounds have healed, but are gradually conflicted by their desire for the soldier’s manly charms. This is one of those rare films in which Eastwood gets to show off his non-tough guy acting skills. The female cast is also outstanding.

 

BEING THERE (1979)

Peter Sellers plays Chance, a seemingly dimwitted gardener who has spent his whole life working for his wealthy employer and whose knowledge of the world is limited to endless viewings of television programmes. After the death of his employer, Chance is booted onto the streets of a world he has no direct experience of, without the slightest clue of how to conduct himself. Through an extraordinary set of circumstances Chance ends up as a major candidate for the US presidency, aided by his calm demeanour and obscure conversation habits, which make others perceive him as a sort of modern day Christ or Ghandi figure. And for those curious about conspiracy theories, look out for the burial of one of Chances political “friends” under a pyramid structure, capped by the eye of providence in the final scene.

 

THE BIG RED ONE (1981)

Director Sam Fuller had personal experience of combat in WW2, winning awards for valour. He even filmed the liberation of a concentration camp. His experience shows in his no-nonsense, reality-orientated war films, including the epic The Big Red One. Lee Marvin, also an experienced and decorated veteran, stars alongside Mark Hamill (yes, he of Luke Skywalker fame). Unfortunately the film didn't do a lot to launch Hamill's non-Star Wars career, but it's still a film he can be proud of. Occasional splashes of humour lighten the tone here. It's not often you see a mental asylum inmate picking up a Nazi machine gun, shooting both Nazis and fellow inmates, and shouting "Now I am one of you!"

 

THE BLACK HOLE (1979)

Disney delivers its answer to both Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey in this sci-fi adventure epic. When I first saw this as a child it was very popular. Like Star Wars, it was accompanied by all kinds of merchandise from action figures to playing cards, but for some reason it has dropped off the map ever since (probably just over shadowed by Lucas’ epic).
The Black Hole certainly has its faults. Its director fails to extract worthwhile performances, despite a talented cast, some of the scientific discrepancies get in the way (not that we ever let that spoil Star Wars) and some of the dialogue is truly wooden, but it does compensate in other departments. The robot characters (Maximillian, V.I.N.CENT and Old B.O.B) are pretty rigid in their movement, yet engage our attention as effectively as C3PO and R2D2. The robot shooting gallery scene is great, Maximillian’s murder of Durant is very dark for a live-action Disney film, and the showdown between Maximillain and V.I.N.CENT is fun.
The film has some effective gloomy sequences accompanied by an epic space age score by John Barry. There are plenty of bold set pieces such as flashy lazer battles, glowing meteor collisions, crashing spaceships and huge futuristic sets.
Overall the film is a much darker and more mystical piece than Star Wars. It features a mad scientist determined to crack the secrets of the universe, a crew of lobotomized and obedient half-robots, a female officer with psychic powers, and of course the events of the story are centred around the most formidable power known to man – the black hole itself. The ending sees all of the film’s surviving characters sucked into the black hole, followed by a 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired bombardment of symbolic visuals – a very unexpected ending.
The Black Hole had enough quality ingredients to reach the heights of Star Wars, but the execution fell short. On that basis, the film is begging for a souped up remake.

 

THE BUTCHER BOY (1997)

A portrait of a troubled Irish boy whose psychological descent leads him to murder. The subject matter is so uncommercially dark that even the surreal and humourous style couldn't draw large audiences, but it's still an excellent film. Mixed in with the story is the cold war threat of nculear war, which parallels the boys descent.

 

CACTUS FLOWER (1969)

Superbly written, performed and directed light comedy. Walther Matthau plays the lying, lovable and self-pitying middle aged man with his usual skill. Goldie Hawn is great as the young love interest - she picked up a couple of awards for this role. And Ingrid Bergman is superb in a career reboosting role. There are more great one liners in just ten minutes of this film than most of today's comedies have in their entirety.

 

THE CONVERSATION (1971)

Francis Ford Coppola's surveillance nightmare starring Gene Hackman and a young Harrison Ford. It's slow paced and repetitive in places, off putting for some viewers of course, but it's not without intent. The bizarre camera work mimics the surveillance orientated world view of its central character.

 

DEAD AND BURIED (1981)

I’d never even heard of this 1980’s horror gem until last week. Dan O’Bannon, one of the co-authors of the original script for Alien, delivers a very original horror story – it’ll keep you guessing right to the end. To offer even a basic description of the plot would run a risk of spoilers, so I’ll simply say here that the film is murky, graphic, psychological, very well directed and features great performances.

 

DEATH WISH 1 & 2 (1974 & 1982)

Although they’re not the most intelligent films around, I still find the first two Death Wish films fascinating. The films can be written off as right wing propaganda for portraying street thugs as the most despicable vermin on Earth. The economic and social factors that contribute to violent crime are almost completely disregarded as Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) sweepes the streets clean of thugs in the first film and goes on a bloodthirsty revenge mission in the second film. The brutal and simple message is firmly established at the end of Death Wish 2 – Kersey sees off the last of his daughter’s killers by frying him with electricity. The film makers are virtually screaming at us “sentence violent thugs to the chair!” Interestingly, Death Wish 2 also attempts to oust its “leftist” critics by having Bronson’s character date a journalist who is writing an article on rehabilitation of violent offenders. The psychiatrist who inspires her article is portrayed as a geek who amusingly gets confused between “left” and “right” when directing Kersey to the hospital toilets. Kersey even disguises himself as a psychiatrist in order to kill a thug – and a sympathetic orderly keeps his lips sealed after the fact.
The rape and murder of a housemaid at the start of Death Wish 2 is one of the most shocking ever filmed and, though we could pass this off as sensationalism, it does have a point. It shows us the visceral horror of extreme criminal behaviour and asks whether we, as individuals, would be as sympathetic to hardcore criminals if we were on the receiving end of their actions.
All these issues aside, Death Wish 1 & 2 are very entertaining as simple action flicks. Michael Winner’s directorial skills aren’t quite up to scratch on the first film, but he comes on leaps and bounds with Death Wish 2, which features a kicking soundtrack by Led Zep guitarist Jimmy Page. And for pure “before they were famous” nostalgia, look out for a youthful Jeff Goldblum as a geeky-looking rapist in Death Wish 1 and Laurence Fishburn as a ghetto-blaster-wielding punk-rapist in Death Wish 2, but hey, they had to start somewhere.

 

THE DRIVER (1978)

Writer / director Walter Hill does here what he does best by delivering a no-nonsense, hard-as-nails action thriller. Ryan O’neal is a driver for hire who specializes in bank job getaways. He doesn’t utter a word to anyone unless he absolutely has too, he lives cheap by choice and has no friends. This all makes him an irresistable challenge for a crooked cop (Bruce Dern) who wants to catch the elusive Driver just for the sport of it. Like the Driver himself, Walter Hill doesn’t distract us with unnecessary subplots or over-stylized direction. From start to finish the film moves efficiently like an engine, yet it also rewards upon repeated viewings with character enhancing attention to detail.

 

IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)

This insane comedy begins with four vehicles worth of everyday Americans witnessing a car crash on a desolate road. The dying driver of the crashed vehicle explains he is on the run from police for having stolen $350,000, which he has burried in a park in Santa Rosita. The witnesses then do what we would expect everyday people to do … they engage in a chaotic race to recover the money. Along the way, they’re each besieged by all manner of frustrating obstacles and setbacks, with a dozen or so more people of various eccentricities being dragged into the chase. This is one of the most epic pieces of film making of all time. It’s 3hrs long, is packed with crazy characters played by an all-star cast, features a stunning assortment of car chases, stunts and action set pieces, is packed with hilarious and insightful one liners, and offers a no-holds-barred critique of the financial rat race that is the American Dream.

 

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

First impression upon viewing the opening scenes is that this film follows typical haunted house caper formula. However, get a little further in and the film gradually breaks away from standard cliches. The sets have a gloomy wax museum-like lighting, the science vs supernatural arguments get more interesting than other haunted house films, the easy device of sudden visual shocks are replaced with excellent use of sound, ghostly goings on are made more convincing by manifesting as influences on the behaviour of the living, and the visual direction is very effective throughout (espescially the use of wide angle lenses).

 

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006)

This excellent German film tells the story of a Stasi agent in East Germany who is assigned to spy on a writer. After finding that his superior is using the surveillance information to sexually prey on the writer's wife, the agent begins covertly sabotaging the surveillence thus enabling the writer to leak information out of East Germany about suicides under the regimes tyranny. The film makes an important statement that agents of tyrannical regimes can, using their position of influences, act as double agents of their own volition.

 

LOOKING FOR MR GOODBARR (1977)

Diane Keaton received appraise in 1977 for her role in Annie Hall, which is one of Woody Allen’s best films, but that same year she starred in this much more serious and equally good film. Her character, Theresa Dunn, has a mixed bag of emotional problems, sex addiction being her most self-destructive. The film leaps from one episode of her life to the next in an unusual editing style – one second she is having a heart to heart with a friend or family member and in a sudden jump cut she’s in the middle of a fight with one of her crazy lovers. The lack of clear beginnings and ends to scenes makes the film a more involved and honest form of character study – as if we are taking part in the whirlwind of Dunn’s life struggles without time to fully reflect on what’s happening. The sense of bleakness and tragic inevitability, combined with the film being based upon the life of a real woman, may have created a “look the other way” response from critics and audiences. Understandably Annie Hall had a wider appeal. Keaton is superb in the lead role, but also there’s Richard Gere in one of his best and most deranged performances and look out for a young Tom Berenger.

 

THE MECHANIC (1972)

This is the film that established a working partnership between Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner. Bronson plays Arthur Bishop, a hitman for hire with a personality as cold as ice … or at least that’s what he tries to be. He sums up his almost Buddhist philosophy “It has to do with standing outside of it all on your own”, while standing in the dreamlike décor of his opulant home. But the aging Arthur Bishop’s repressed humanity begins to surface in his health. Meanwhile, the eager and intelligent son (Jean Michael Vincent in a superb role) of a former friend approaches him with a relentless desire to learn the assassin’s trade, which results in an explosive partnership.
A key factor that sets this film apart from other action thrillers is the meticulous precision and thoroughness of how Bishop plans and executes each assasination. There are no daring escapes, no risks taken … just chess-like efficiency. Bishop isn’t even told the reasons his targets are to die, nor is he interested … that would simply be a distraction from his methodology. Even when given a job to kill his own friend his personal feelings are set aside. However, the real jackpot of this film is the subtle attention to characters and their relationships. The film is hard as steel on the surface, but repressed emotional vulnerabilities constantly intrude on the proceedings. Apparently, this is set for a commercial Hollywood remake, but on the bright side that may revive appreciation for the original.

 

MURDER BY DECREE (1979)

Sherlock Holmes gets involved in the Jack the Ripper case and uncovers a freemasonic plot - sounds corny, but it works superbly. It's low on gore, but high on tension and mystery. It's also incredibly atmospheric.

 

THE NAKED PREY (1966)

Mel Gibson obviously enjoyed this film. He borrowed several of its ideas for his superb epic Apocalypto, but the Naked Prey is still a distinctly different film. Cornel Wilde is part of a team hunting elephants for ivory. After his companion shuns a tribal clan’s request for gifts in return for free passage through their territory, the group are assaulted and captured by the offended clan. The group members are viscerally executed, but Cornel’s character makes his escape and spends the rest of the film on the run from a pack of tribal hunters. The authentic African locations and minimal dialogue, combined with intermittent shots of assorted wildlife devouring each other, make this film feel like a journey back to the age of the dinosaurs. Themes of slavery, racial conflict and civilization versus the law of the jungle are also of interest, though it’s not always clear what the film maker’s stance on these issues are.

 

THE NIGHT VISITOR (1971)

An excellent Swedish suspence thriller starring Max Von Sydow. There isn’t even a Wikipedia page on this film at the time of writing. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but highlights include … an ingenius prison escape, a set of freakish chess pieces carved by a madman, excellent use of drawn-out silence, a hypnotic revelation of incest, and great performances from all the principle players. And one of the really interesting features is the similarity between Sydow’s madman character and the depiction of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

 

PSYCHO 2 (1983)

Creating a sequel to Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho would be a massive challenge for any team of film makers, but in this case the assembled team delivered beyond expectations in every department. The script is as multi-layered and inventive as the original. Some of the finer details reveal that writer Tom Holland had a very good understanding of the subliminal themes in the first film. For example Lila Crane, sister of the shower murder victim Marion Crane, is asked about her deceased sister’s lover, Sam. She replies “my husband is dead” – this matches with the transformational identity theme between the two sisters in the first movie. The story convincingly moves us through a complex series of reality distorting events that sabotage the genuinely reformed Norman Bates’ hard earned sanity. And it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him. Films with a high number of surprise plot twists often veer into silliness, but in Psycho 2 virtually all of the twists are both credible and thematically consistent. Cinematography, direction, performances and Jerry Goldsmith’s score are outstanding. Personally, I even rate this as a better film than Psycho, despite the praise I gave in my analysis of the original.

 

TALK RADIO (1988)

This is one of Oliver Stone’s least discussed films, but for my money it’s one of his best. It tells the story of a controversial radio talkshow host who not only says what people are afraid to hear, but deals with people on the air who other hosts would be scared to engage. The host himself is a mixed bag of traits. At times he is caring, sensitive and driven to provide the most honest talk show on the face of the Earth in spite of sponsor disapproval, yet he is also vulgar, offensive, egotistical and a liar. The dialogue is razor sharp, the performances are convincing and the direction is sublime.

 

TIGERLAND (2000)

Colin Farrel has made a string of mediocre films on the back of this gem. He plays a young man drafted for service in Vietnam, but gives his miltary superiors hell. It's a fantastic performance. All Farrel needs now to further his career is some half decent scripts to sink his teeth into.

 

TIME BANDITS (1981)

Not quite a forgotten film, but never quite given the credit it deserves, Time Bandits still packs a hard entertainment punch. I mean how many films are there that feature a central cast of dwarves who have stolen the Supreme Being’s map of the universe and have decided to go on a thieving spree across human history, using time gateways to make their escapes, only to find that they’re being chased both by the Supreme Being himself, who wants his map back, and by Evil (David Warner with some hilarious bad guy lines) who wants the map so that he can overthrow the Supreme Being and redesign the universe in his own image?
With a script by Monty Pythoners Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin you know you’re getting humour and originality. Despite a child-friendly fantasy plot, big budget special effects and plenty of stars in cameo-roles (Sean Connery, Ian Holm, Shelley Duvall, John Cleese), Gilliam and Palin commit mega-hit suicide by tagging on a not-so-commercial, cryptic ending that leaves us with the question “What the hell was that film getting at?” The potential for sequels here was astounding, but due to the deaths of lead dwarf actors David Rappaport and Jack Purvis it will almost certainly never happen.

 

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

I’m slightly biased here in that I love sci-fi / horror movies that are divided up into multiple short stories. At the same time I’ll also argue that this great movie was tarnished by the tragic deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children during the shoot – all three were killed in a helicopter accident. The tragedy also seemed to tarnish director John Landis, who was directing when the accident occurred. Prior to Twilight Zone: The Movie Landis had been on a roll of producing one classic film after another for several years. But setting aside the issues of the accident, this film has some incedible moments. All of the four stories are helmed by talented directors, but for me the last two episodes are the ones that really stand out. Joe Dante goes wild with his direction of light, shadow and camera movement in the third story “It’s a Good Life” … the episode sharply combines cartoonish humour with surreal tension. Mad Max director George Miller excels with the fourth episode “nightmare at 20,000 Feet” as does a phobic, trembling John Lithgow in the lead role. A nice little extra is John Landis’ hilarious intro sequence.

 

WHITE DOG (1982)

Sam Fuller was a consistently daring and honest film maker. As with many great directors this was both his artistic strength and his funding weakness. With White Dog Fuller virtually annihilated his own career in America, which is more a reflection of the immaturity of critics and censorship boards than it is of Fuller’s character. The film’s premise is fairly simple. A woman adopts a seemingly friendly dog only to later find that the dog has a habit of visciously attacking black people. It has been trained to do this by its former owner. She takes the dog to a trainer, who happens to be a black man, in the hope of having the dog reconditioned so that it no longer attacks black people. The film is low on budget, but easily compensates with an excellent script, good performances and Fuller’s engaging direction.

 

THE YOUNG POISONER'S HANDBOOK (1995)

In the darkest taste this film comically tells the true, and not so comical, story of child genius and mass murderer Graham Young. With his intricate knowledge of chemistry Young poisons everyone from family members to work colleagues and, by accident, even himself. By combining appropriate dramatic elements the film successfully avoids falling into exploitation.

 

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