D: Billy Bob Thornton (1996)
with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T.Walsh, John Ritter.
Last year's most memorable screen voice (Thornton reportedly had daily migraines from keeping his jaw set) becomes one of this year's most memorable videos, as the gravel-voiced Karl Childers takes to the small screen for his "mustard 'n french fried pertaters." Thornton (who won an Oscar for adapting his 1993 short film) lulls the viewer into a state of calm with his tale of small town life in Arkansas, where the Frostee Cream is just about the most happening thing going. But with Karl, an unknown element given his 25-year history in the local "nervish hospital," something dark and disturbing awaits us just under the surface. When something erupts, Thornton's writing can be seen at the top of its form -- a form that he's been hit-and-miss with in earlier films like One False Move and A Family Thing, but is perfectly in stride with in Sling Blade. While Thornton masterfully conjures up beautiful images and touches on themes of friendship, love, and morality, the film never falls into the sappy sentimentality of movies like Forrest Gump. Is it a classic in our time? "Mmm-hmmm."
-- Christopher Null
The Horror of the Blood Monsters
D: Al Adamson (1961)
with John Carradine.
It gets tiresome hearing Ed Wood Jr. referred to as "the world's worst director" by all the pantywaist dilettantes who don't have what it takes to go scuba diving in the cinematic septic tank. Off the top of my head I can name you a dozen films by the likes of the loathsome Larry Buchanan, Andy Milligan, or Billy Wilder's poor old brother W. Lee that make Glen or Glenda look like Orson Welles. A perfect example is The Horror of the Blood Monsters, a sci-fi mess by veteran crapmeister director Al Adamson. Old Al glommed onto an unfinished Filipino movie dealing with cavemen, flying bat-winged pygmies, and gill-man/lobster monsters. Problem is, he had to conjure up a plot around this half-complete junk, so he dragged out John Carradine to play the captain of a space team that lands on the caveman planet. To confuse things further, a love interest is thrown to the head of Mission Control; he and the babe kiss and grope in a bed (with no explanation) while colored lights flash on a $23 control panel. Problem number two: All the Filipino footage is in B & W while all the Adamson stuff is in color; but not to worry! Al accounts for it by saying that the surface of the planet is affected by "chromatic radiation" and tints entire segments of the movie red, blue, or green! Note how much the "chromatic radiation device" looks like a caulk gun! Incoherent and jumbled, Horror of the Blood Monsters is downright surreal at times, with all the production values of a Saturday morning kids' show. John Carradine is his hammy old self, looking alternately bored, puzzled, and irritable. No horror, no blood, no monsters, no blood monsters. You'll agree, Bride of the Monster looks like The Best Years of Our Lives by comparison.
-- Jerry Renshaw
The Forbidden Zone
D: Richard Elfman (1980)
with Toshiro Boloney, Hyman Diamond, Danny Elfman, Marie-Pascale Elfman, Gisele Lindley, Virginia Rose, Susan Tyrrell, Hervé Villechaize, and Viva.
Not for the squeamish, prudish, or sane, The Forbidden Zone opens with a man vomiting into the lap of his dinner companion, ends with the coquettish Frenchy (Marie-Pascale Elfman) hooking up with the sado-masochist midget King (Hervé "Da plane, boss! Da plane!" Villechaize) of the Sixth Dimension and does it all with a song in its twisted heart. This 1980 ultra-low-budget sicko musical lives at the crossroads of John Waters Street and Tim Burton Lane, layering asinine musical numbers over disgusting sex scenes in a partially animated bizarro world populated by dozens of unattractive characters. The Forbidden Zone also launched the career of director Richard Elfman's younger brother, Danny Elfman; the two had formed the Mystic Knights of Oingo-Boingo to score this film. Since that time, the younger Elfman has been behind dozens of movie scores, but is best known for composing Burton's Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Simpsons theme. If the hilarious soundtrack isn't ample motivation for those intimidated by the freakish sex and violence, the side-splitting sight of shrimpy Villechaize coupling with the 225-pound, 6-foot Queen (Tyrrell) is reason enough to slog through the insanity.
-- Kayte VanScoy
4 For Texas
D: Robert Aldrich (1963)
with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ursula Andress, Anita Ekberg, the Three Stooges, Jack Elam, Yaphet Kotto.
There's little to complain about this Frank-and-Dean Rat-Pack-Goes-Western romp, but plenty of time in which to do it. While Aldrich keeps this tale of two scalawags' attempt to swindle each other out of cash and, later, a riverboat, running at a leisurely but laugh-getting pace, at some point in its two-hour-plus course, you have to start wondering why this comic oater needed to be so near epic length. In the meantime, though, Martin is at his drunk/sober finest, tossing off lines so good he must have actually rehearsed them. Their two love interests are fireballs as well, and who can complain about a supporting cast that includes Charles Bronson, Victor Buono, and the Three Stooges! That's right, the aging Stooges (featuring Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe DeRita) show up for a scene late in the film which has nothing much to do with the plot, but for true Stoogeophiles, it offers a rare chance to see the knuckleheads in action in color, as spry -- and violent -- as they had been 30 years before.
-- Ken Lieck