As I explored the cinema of 1978, one thing I couldn’t help but notice was the abundance of excellent martial arts movies released in that year. You may have noticed that there were several examples of the genre in my Top 10 of 1978 list, but one of the challenges of such a list is to ensure some sense of diversity. I wanted to make sure the genre’s prevalence was represented, but I couldn’t very well list all of the martial arts films I loved without crowding out other films worthy of inclusion. It’s a balancing act and I think I did well enough on the list proper, but I figured we could use a little appendix of 1978 martial arts movies, because they’re worth a deeper dive.
As mentioned above, I’ve already discussed a few of the most important entries in the genre in my top 10 list (and earlier). That said, it’s worth giving them an additional curtain call, because they’re great. If you’re looking to dip your toes into martial arts cinema, these are a great place to start.
Warriors Two – While my top 10 selections leaned heavily on Jackie Chan’s breakout flicks where he was finally allowed to embrace his comedic skills, there was another famed comedic martial artist breaking out at around the same time. Sammo Hung directed this excellent movie starring Casanova Wong (also known as the “Human Tornado”) to great effect.
Hung himself plays only a small role in the film, but would later emerge as a key player in the scene. While perhaps not as lauded or referenced as other examples of the genre, this one is absolutely worth seeking out. [Kaedrin Review]
The Avenging Eagle – This Shaw Brothers programmer doesn’t get a ton of love and it’s the sort of movie that I’d probably never have seen if it werent’f or an exercise like the 1978 project forcing me to find more obscure movies (or not – I’m sure there’s some martial arts movie expert reading this right now and shaking their head mournfully). As such, I was surprised by how much I loved this movie. As per usual, the story isn’t particularly distinguished, but the action is fabulous and the villain memorable. Well worth seeking out… [Kaedrin Review]
Flying Guillotine II: Palace Carnage – One of a long line of sequels (there are numerous official and unofficial entries in the series) that leverage the fanciful Flying Guillotine concept, a deadly weapon that can decapitate with the flick of the wrist. In case you can’t tell from my various writeups of martial arts movies, the story is rarely a selling point and this is not really any different, but I like how well they put the rather absurd concept of a Flying Guillotine through its paces here. Certainly one of the better sequels out there. [Kaedrin Review]
The Five Deadly Venoms – I watched this a few years ago because I had heard good things and found it slightly disappointing, but it’s reputation in my mind has only grown over time. Perhaps it’s because it takes a while for the action sequences to rev up, and perhaps it’s that the plot actually is a selling point here (one of the few examples of such things), but it’s a genuinely great movie. Plus, you can see its influence all over if you look for it, and not just in the obvious Tarantino homages in Kill Bill. [Kaedrin Review]
Crippled Avengers – Probably the more controversial entry on this list, this movie has quite a bonkers premise. This initially dissuaded me from the movie, but I’ve kinda turned a corner on this one, and it’s a memorable experience if nothing else. This one probably has the most qualified recommendation of any on this list, but if you’re up for it, it’s a fascinating little flick. [Kaedrin Review]
So there you have it. I probably watched about 10 other 1978 movies that could be considered martial arts flicks, which I think warrants this separate list. Almost done with the 1978 project, so stay tuned for some Closing Thoughts, coming soon…
After almost two years, we finally come to that hallowed tradition of a top 10 list for my favorite films of 1978. For the uninitiated, the 1978 Project is a deep dive into the cinema of the year of my birth. This sort of annual appraisal is normally reserved for current releases, but I’ve found the process of exploring the past quite enjoyable as well. I’ve been doing the current release thing for a while now though, so if you’d like to take a spin through the last fifteen years, feel free: [2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]
At this point, I’d usually try to identify some overarching themes to represent the year in question, but I think I’ll be leaving that for a separate post. I’ll just note that the added perspective of time plays an interesting role here. In some cases, this can boil down to nostalgia, in others, a film’s influence my be the kicker. As of this writing, I’ve seen 87 films that would be considered a 1978 release. Probably more that most folks and I’d wager more than a lot of critics, but not necessarily comprehensive.
I suppose I should also mention that a lot of the above lists often feature a movie that originated in the previous year but did not become available until later (often times a film’s premiere happens at a film festival or is only available in one country, etc… before a true wide release). All of which is to say that there are probably some 1977 movies that could be considered for the below list (or some films below that might better fit a 1979 list), but I just went by the dates on IMDB and Letterboxd. Anywho, standard disclaimers apply, let’s get this party started…
Top Ten Movies of 1978
* In roughly reverse order
Heaven Can Wait – This Warren Beatty vehicle begins with a seemingly silly, screwball premise that is slowly transformed into something deeper and more sophisticated. Elaine May is co-credited as screenwriter, and I think her influence is apparent. The whole effort is bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including Charles Grodin, Julie Christie, and James Mason, amongst others. A heartfelt comedy that has seemingly disappeared these days.
Animal House – It’s a comedy rooted in its time and place, but I can’t help but see the entertainment and influence, and its dated nature kinda fits why this whole exercise is worthwhile. Comedies often get short shrift in lists like this, but not so here. Of course, it helps when you have someone like John Belushi just dominating the screen, not to mention bit players like John Vernon as the Platonic ideal of the crusty old dean.
The First Great Train Robbery – Michael Crichton wrote and directed this underrated Victorian train heist flick. Sean Connery stars and is excellent, but it’s Donald Sutherland that steals the show as a knuckle-cracking pickpocket. It’s got everything you could want out of a heist film and it’s supremely entertaining.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand – Robert Zemeckis’ debut directorial effort is one of the better examples of the “one crazy night” sub-genre in which four young women attempt to sneak into seeing the The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Zemeckis captured the perfect tone to tell the story, which manages to personalize the teeming throngs of Beatle-mania and provides a cohesive core for the episodic story (something this sub-genre often lacks).
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin – A classic martial arts tale in its purest form, a pinnacle of the Shaw Brothers catalog, and a clear influence on future films (and, uh, music). Most of the movie is just an extended kung-fu training sequence, and yet this somehow manages to carve out its own distinct identity, even if it’s a common story and somewhat predictable.
Great choreography and expert use of the zoom (a shot not in favor these days, but it’s perfectly deployed here), just hugely entertaining stuff.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Philip Kaufman’s stylish remake of the 50s paranoid classic somehow holds its own. I’m usually hard on remakes, but this movie ably clears the high bar set by its predecessor. Another great performance from Donald Sutherland (rockin a bitchin porno stache) here, as well as supporting turns from Leonard Nimoy and a young Jeff Goldblum, all anchored by Kaufman’s canted angles and visual boldness.
Gates of Heaven – Errol Morris’ first documentary feature film is ostensibly about pet cemeteries, but that’s kinda like saying that Moby Dick is about a whale. Through a loosely connected series of interviews with people surrounding a particular pet cemetery, Morris subtly reflects upon philosophical concepts of human nature and death with pathos, compassion, and humor. It’s an unlikely trick he pulls off here, so much so that Werner Herzog famously ate his own shoes because he made a bet with Morris that he’d never make it work.
Blue Collar – Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto are all phenomenal as the down-on-their-luck workers seeking a big score, only to find themselves ensconced in a convoluted machine that they can’t escape in Paul Schrader’s bleak directorial debut. It’s a difficult movie to recommend, but it’s quite good if you’ve got the stones for it.
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow – The first of two 1978 collaborations between Yuen Woo-ping and Jackie Chan, I’m giving this one the slight edge for preceding Drunken Master, and also just because Chan’s character is more likable here. The intricate choreography is exceptional, of course, and Chan was finally allowed to incorporate his comedic persona into the martial arts form in ways that would have a lasting impact. The story isn’t particularly special, but everything else about this is great, not to mention featuring the greatest death scene of all time.
Halloween – The #1 slot just has to go to this movie. Of course, it’s expertly made in every facet, ranging from John Carpenter’s direction, Debra Hill’s writing, great acting from Jamie Lee Curtis and an unhinged Donald Pleasance, Carpenter’s score, and the list goes on.
But this really takes the top slot because it’s the movie that got me into horror as a youngin, and it’s the one movie on this list that I watch every year, without fail. Is it a nostalgic and personal pick? I guess, but it’s perfect and these lists would be boring without such influences.
Autumn Sonata – “The Meeting of the Bergmans”, Ingmar directs Ingrid in the waning chapters of both of their careers. It’s a talky, melodramatic film with great performances from Ingrid Bergman as a cold, distant mother and Liv Ullmann as the mousy but justifiably angry daughter. This sort of wallowing in emotional angst isn’t normally my thing, but I couldn’t help but fall into the rythms of the movie.
The Deer Hunter – It’s overlong, indulgent, ham-fisted, and a little obnoxious at times, but it’s filled with great performances and while some of this stuff is a stretch, it’s nonetheless incredibly effective at times. It’s got too many issues to really make it into the top 10, but it’s one of those movies you should watch at some point…
The Silent Partner – A rock solid 70s thriller about bank robbers playing a game of cat and mouse with a bank teller who gets in the way. Nice performances from Elliot Gould and Susannah York, a good villainous turn by Christopher Plummer, and plenty of twists and turns. Not the best example of this sort of thing, but definitely underrated and underseen.
The Inglorious Bastards – Italian revisionist World War II flick that is positively infused with chaotic 70s energy mixed with who-gives-a-shit grimy exploitation panache. It’s easy to see why Tarantino would take inspiration from something like this, and it’s certainly much less straightforward than most WWII flicks you’re likely to encounter. Stars Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson keep things lively, while director Enzo Castellari deploys plenty of Italian style. A solid, bombastic flick that’s well worth checking out.
The Medusa Touch – British thriller about a man cursed with “a gift for disaster”, this is a great, strange little slice of late 70s paranoia. Oddly, it’s one of two 1978 movies about comatose men using psychic powers to wreak havoc (the other being Richard Franklin’s stylish Patrick, which should probably also be on this list so I’m just mentioning it here). I discovered this just before beginning the 1978 project in earnest, and it unlocked some of Amazon’s algorithmic gremlins, recommending a bunch of strange, obscure thrillers that I quite enjoyed exploring.
Drunken Master – That other Jackie Chan vehicle directed by Yuen Woo-ping, and probably the more famous one, it’s basically the same cast and crew making another excellent martial arts movie, this time centered around the rather amusing concept of Drunken Boxing. It was followed by sequels and remakes, but this original is the best.
Big Wednesday – John Milius is more famous for bombastic fare like Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, but he also made this small-scale episodic drama about a trio of surfers living through the 60s and 70s. Not my usual thing, but I’m glad I caught up with it for sure.
Dawn of the Dead – I don’t get nearly as much out of this as your typical horror fanatic, but even as someone who’s not a particularly big fan of zombie flicks, I have to admit that this is wildly effective and entertaining to watch. I think people make way too much out of its thematic power, but it does have plenty to chew on if you go below the surface.
The Fury – Brian De Palma’s follow up to Carrie also concerns a psychic teenager, this time a boy. It’s interesting, if a bit derivative, but it has some of De Palma’s trademark bravura visuals and an eye-opening ending that’s really something else.
Magic – It’s a ventriloquist vs killer dummy tale directed by Richard Attenborough, written by William Goldman, and starring Anthony Hopkins, so it’s much better than the premise would imply. This was a big surprise to me during a Six Weeks of Halloween marathon a few years ago, one of the better underrated flicks from 1978.
Superman – Richard Donner (RIP) directed this movie that basically set the stage for the current superhero boom. The first hour or so of this movie is absolutely perfect, and Christopher Reeve gives a great performance. It’s also nice to see an earnest take on Superman; one that is not steeped in cynicism or embarrassed by optimism. There’s no ironic winking and it all just works.
The Last Waltz – Martin Scorsese directed this concert documentary about The Band’s final show, featuring a cavalcade of amazing musical guests including Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, and plenty of others. Concert films are always a bit of a drag for me – it’s great that there’s a document of a show like this… but it’s clearly a document and you can’t truly capture the experience of being there. That said, this one kinda got to me, so if you’re into this sort of thing, it doesn’t get much better.
Grease – I’m not a big fan of musicals, but I can definitely see why this has such a devoted following. It rides the wave of 50s nostalgia that ran through the 70s and features two starmaking performances by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Not really my thing, but it’s pure, enjoyable fluff.
The Driver – Walter Hill’s entertaining flick about the best getaway driver in the business has never had a great release and it would be great if one of those little boutique physical media companies (i.e. Shout, Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome, Twilight Time, etc…) would pick this up and give it proper treatment.
Anyway, great cops and robbers stuff here, and excellent car chases.
Midnight Express – Look, don’t try and smuggle drugs out of Turkey. Just don’t. If you do, you might end up living in a jail with hellish conditions and a legal system that continually dangles freedom in front of you, only to snatch it away at the last second. Harrowing stuff, and a well executed take on the story that served as the basis for the movie…
The 1978 Project edition of the Kaedrin Movie Awards were finished off last week. The idea is to recognize aspects of films that aren’t reflected in more traditional awards or other praise like a Top 10 list. However, any awards system will fail to capture all the nuances and complexity available; hence the Arbitrary Awards, an opportunity to commend movies that are weird or flawed in ways that don’t conform to normal standards. A few of these “awards” have become an annual tradition, but most are just, well, arbitrary. If you’re curious as to how this has played out over more recent years, you can see more Arbitrary Awards here: [2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006]
The “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else” Award for Worst Dialogue:Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! This is one of those things where the whole package is so bad that it almost boomerangs back around to being good. Still the dialogue is silly at best. “Hey, can somebody please pass the ketchup?” Oof. Sadly, there are tons of 1978 movies that could compete for this award, but let’s not dwell on it, ok?
The Proximity to Jason Vorhees Award for Heroic Stupidity:The Redeemer: Son of Satan! What’s that? You’ve never heard of this movie? That’s probably for the best. There actually are some interesting bits about the movie, but the characters are pretty dumb and it’s the sort of thing that I only caught up with because it was easily available on streaming…
Best Badass/Villain (non-Human Edition): Zombies in Dawn of the Dead. I don’t love this movie nearly as much as most horror fanatics, but it is a good movie and it’s impossible to deny the influence of the Romero zombie sequence, this movie chief among them.
The “Weiner” Award for Unparalleled Access to Documentary Subjects: Koko: A Talking Gorilla. While not quite the coup that the category’s namesake implies, it’s great that someone was able to get so much footage of Koko while we could…
Most Weirdly Impressive Pedigree Applied to a Silly Premise: Magic. Directed by Richard Attenborough, written by William Goldman, starring Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith, and Ed Lauter, none of whom are particularly well known for horror movies (except for Hopkins’ turn as Hannibal Lecter over a decade later). All in service of a ventriloquist vs killer dummy tale! And it works, too… They play it completely straight and the movie is legit pretty great. Also of note for this category: Piranha. Total Jaws ripoff, but it’s directed by Joe Dante and written by John Sayles.
Best Meme Derived from a 1978 Movie:Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Of course, it’s a bit of a spoiler, but that shot of Donald Sutherland at the end is an all time classic meme base.
Best Exploding Head:Dawn of the Dead. Tom Savini is clearly a champion of the category, and this is probably his earliest example of that sort of thing. However, worth noting some strong competition from The Fury, which actually might be better because you know the character whose head is exploding and thus it has more of an impact… Anyway, two top tier exploding heads means this is a pretty great year for horror movies, no?
Best Motion Picture Score:Superman by John Williams. I suppose that whole late-70s early-80s corridor is dominated by Williams, but there’s a reason for that. Strong competition from John Carpenter’s quickie Halloween score; simple but memorable and extremely effective. Giorgio Moroder’s score for Midnight Express won the Oscar and is certainly in the conversation as well…
Weirdest Plot Device with a Surprisingly Historical Precedent:Death Force. Our hero washes up on a Pacific island and encounters two Japanese soldiers who did not believe that WWII had ended (the movie is set towards the end of Vietnam). This was a real thing, though not quite widespread. “Hiroo Onoda remained in the jungle on Lubang Island near Luzon, in the Philippines, until 1974 because he did not believe that the war had ended.” Good for him, I guess. Anyway, Death Force is an absurd movie for more than just this historical note, but it’s worth calling out.
The Mumblecore Precursor Award:Girlfriends. Greta Gerwig owes a lot to Girlfriends. I guess perhaps not technically mumblecore, but still.
Most Harrowing Gameplay: The Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter. I have my issues with the movie, but that sequence is just expertly constructed and basically makes the whole exercise worthwhile.
Best Tarantino Referenced Movie:The Inglorious Bastards is the obvious choice for an obvious reason, but a more obscure option would be Five Deadly Venoms (aka The Five Venoms), which Tarantino lifted some sound effects from for the Kill Bill movies. I’m sure there are dozens of other references and tidbits that Tarantino has culled from 1978 movies, but those were the two that jumped out at me…
So there you have it, the 1978 Arbitrary Awards are in the books. Stay tuned for a Top 10 list (along with the requisite Honorable Mentions) and perhaps some additional 1978 Project thoughts in the coming weeks.
The nominations for the 1978 Project edition of the Kaedrin Movie Awards were announced last week, to much fanfare. After a week of rampant speculation and record-setting bets in Vegas sportsbooks, it’s time to announce the winners. Next week, I’ll announce the winners of some more goofy, freeform categories that we call the Arbitrary Awards, and not long after that, I’ll post my top 10 of 1978. And now, the KMA goes to:
Best Villain/Badass: Michael Myers, played by Nick Castle in Halloween. And it’s not even close. As mentioned in the noms, this wasn’t a standout year for villainy.
For crying out loud, two whole nominees (from Patrick and The Medusa Touch) spent the majority of their respective runtimes in a goddamn coma. Which, I’ll grant, is the point of those particular movies and they’re good examples of that sort of thing, but still. Another is only really there because of the comeuppance he receives in the end (Cassavetes in The Fury). Other nominees are fine… as nominees. But none can even approach The Shape.
Best Hero/Badass: Superman / Clark Kent, played by Christopher Reeve in Superman. I mean, I guess you wouldn’t call Supes much of a “badass”, but he’s pretty clearly an archetypal hero. Much more to choose from in the nominations and this decision was much closer than for villain.
Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween was certainly in the running, and that one speaks to the notion of balanced heroism/villainy. A good villain requires a good hero. A large proportion of nominees were driven by the seemingly endless supply of martial arts flicks in 1978, some of which genuinely do stand out from the crowd. Still, I couldn’t pass on Supes.
Best Comedic Performance: John Belushi in National Lampoon’s Animal House. A bit of a cheat in that Belushi is clearly just the standout performance in an ensemble, but then, as I said, he is the standout. And he’s fabulously funny in a way that many are inspired by but few can actually imitate. Jackie Chan is always fun to watch, and Charles Grodin does a lot with a little. Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn did their best with a movie that never quite gelled. I Wanna Hold Your Hand is another ensemble piece that’s notable because of its mostly female cast, and it’s great. Cheech & Chong have never really been my thing, but I guess you have to recognize them. But Belushi’s short career means that some of these performances can only burn a bit brighter.
Breakthrough Performance: Jackie Chan in Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Sure, he’d been around for a while and even had minor roles in movies like Enter the Dragon, but he wasn’t really allowed to be his goofy self until these two movies. His particular brand of slapstick comedy and underdog sensibilities really emerged here and would catapult him into stardom. Both Kevin Bacon and Jamie Lee Curtis are strong runners up and would go on to have big careers. If I were writing this in 1978 (or, more likely, 1979), the other nominees would probably have presented stronger because their performances were genuinely great.
Most Visually Stunning: Days of Heaven. Terrence Malick’s insane scheme to film most of the movie during the “magic hour” truly results in amazing pastoral photography, even if the story didn’t do a whole lot for me.
The runner up would probably Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which has a bunch of memorable shots and visual wizardry. Dawn of the Dead is less visually stunning than it is “best practical effects” or some such (hmm, I feel an arbitrary award brewing here). The other nominees are no slouches, though they’re mostly there for a handful of memorable shots rather than sustained visual prowess.
Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film: Halloween. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, let alone 1978, and indeed, I watch it every year. The same can’t be said for many movies, and certainly not the other nominees. Which are a fine bunch, to be sure! Lots of great movies on the list and even the bad movies are memorably bad (ah, the The Manitou!) Of note here is the relative dearth of Science Fiction amongst the nominees. Even the ones that are there are arguably good demonstrations of the Intersection of Horror and SF. Anyway, I don’t know how I could even begin to justify something other than Halloween for this one.
Best Sequel/Reboot/Remake: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’m often very hard on sequels and remakes, so my first viewing of Philip Kaufman’s stylish remake of the classic was quite a surprise. I really love both versions of the film and would recommend both (as for the other two remakes in subsequent decades… not so much). Actually, the nominees are a pretty sharp bunch. I don’t love Dawn of the Dead nearly as much as a lot of horror folks, but I have a lot of respect for the way it follows up on the original. Death on the Nile and Flying Guillotine II are both solid extensions of their respective first films and worth checking out. The other nominees might not be quite as successful, but I have fond memories of both…
Biggest Disappointment: Foul Play. I don’t hate the movie by any stretch, it’s just that it had so much potential and I wanted to love it, to find that diamond in the rough, the neglected, underrated gem that simply got overshadowed by the stars’ later successes. Or something like that. It didn’t help that it took me a while to get my hands on a copy of the thing, so my anticipation kept building. As such, it scores poorly on Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale. None of which is to say that the other nominees weren’t worthy, just that I’d always heard that The Lord of the Rings was a bit of a mess, and thus I didn’t expect it to be great. I watched Dracula’s Dog years ago on a whim because I thought it might be fun trash, but it turned out to be just trash. Long Weekend has a pretty good reputation amongst film geeks, but while I wanted to love it (as I do with everything I watch), I could tell that it might be pressing buttons that don’t really work for me. And so on.
Best Action Sequence: Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I know, I know, I’m cheating, but seriously: these two movies share the same director/fight choreographer, most of the same cast and crew, and were probably made back to back in two weeks or something silly like that. And the action is just glorious. Something about Woo-Ping Yuen’s intricate style is just infinitely appealing (if you’re not familiar with his legendary Hong Kong work, I’m betting you are familiar with The Matrix, which he also worked on). And given the throngs of great Hong Kong martial arts flicks in 1978, I really needed to reward them here. The other nominees are certainly also worthy, though I struggled to find non-martial arts movies to compete. I think the two I managed to scrounge up are great though, and well worth checking out, but can’t really compete with the likes of Jackie Chan and Woo-Ping Yuen.
Best Plot Twist/Surprise: The Great Train Robbery. Michael Crichton’s underseen Victorian heist flick is a really fun, twisty thriller. I very nearly gave this to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but that movie already got an award and we like to spread things around at least a little, when we can. And I do think that The Great Train Robbery is an underrated gem that more people should check out. The other nominees are no slouches on this front, but we’re almost spoiling all this stuff just by talking about the fact that they have twists in the first place, so let’s just keep it at that…
Best High Concept Film: Heaven Can Wait. Its got a bit of a wacky premise, but Warren Beatty and Elaine May (adapting a play by Harry Segall) put it through its paces and end up in deeper water than you’d expect. The idea of this category is notoriously nebulous, so some of the nominees probably don’t fit much, and I feel like we see a lot more of this sort of thing these days than we did back in the day, but here we are.
Congrats to all the 1978 Kaedrin Movie Awards winners! Stay tuned for the Arbitrary Awards, coming next week…
Welcome to the 1978 Project edition of the Kaedrin Movie Awards! The idea is to recognize films for various achievements that don’t always reflect well on top 10 lists or traditional awards. There are lots of formal award categories and nominees listed below, but once those are announced, we’ll also leave some room for Arbitrary Awards that are more goofy and freeform. Finally, we’ll post a traditional top 10 list. Because this is the 1978 Project, I’ll probably also have some other roundups/commentary about the year in film. But first up is the awards! [Other Movie Award Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020]
Standard disclaimers apply: Nominees must be a 1978 movie. I usually include a caveat for movies that came out the previous year but weren’t available until the next year (in this case, 1977 movies not released until 1978), but since we’re doing this a few decades after the fact, that’s not really necessary. For the record, I mostly based this list off of Letterboxd, so if there’s some discrepancy between their date and some other website, I guess that’s too bad.
As of this writing, I’ve seen 87 movies released in 1978. I’m guessing this is a lot more than most folks, but it’s about par for the course for my usual annual roundups (maybe a hint less than recent years). Obviously this is a personal exercise that is entirely subjective in nature, but the world would be a boring place indeed if we all loved the same things for the same reasons, right? Right. Let’s get this party started:
Best Villain/Badass A strange year for villainy here. On one hand, the pickings are a little slim. On the other hand, there’s a clear and obvious winner that would be competitive in almost any year. It’s funny, but despite one example in 1978, I suspect this category is often padded out by superhero movies. In theory, I could leverage the throngs of martial arts movies to pad out this category, but they’re not as memorable as their heroes and again, none will defeat the ultimate winner (which I hope you can pick out). In accordance with tradition, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies as a general menace, etc…) or ideas.
Ben Childress, played by John Cassavetes in The Fury
Best Hero/Badass Also strange on the heroism front. Certainly more options to choose from, but no obvious standout (though I suspect I know who will win this one). Again limited to individuals and not groups.
Best Comedic Performance Always a tricky award due to the prevalence of ensemble casts in comedies, and I cheated a bit by including a couple of duos in the nominees, but there’s a pretty clear winner here (even if he’ll end up representing a larger ensemble).
Breakthrough Performance A difficult category to judge right now because it’s hard to to ignore the rest of someone’s career, so the whole predictive “I can’t wait to see what this person does next” aspect is lost. Also, while there’s lots of larval performances from famous folks, it’s often not their first big role, so it’s hard to tell if it really represents a “breakthrough”. That said, I think this is a pretty solid list!
Most Visually Stunning Sometimes even bad movies can look really great… Weird to judge this category, since a lot of more modern nominees are driven by effects spectacles, but the good ol’ amazing photography will probably be pulling it out this year.
Best Sci-Fi or Horror Film A pretty great year for horror films. SF was dominated by low quality Star Wars clones, but at least a couple interesting efforts made the list. That said, there’s an obvious choice in my book…
Biggest Disappointment Always an awkward category to populate. I should note at this point that sometimes I actually enjoy these movies… but my expectations were just too high when I saw them. Related reading: Joe Posnanski’s Plus-Minus Scale (these movies scored especially poor on that scale).
Best Action Sequence This award isn’t for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film, and this year is a bit unfair because Hong Kong was in a martial arts boom at the time. There’s, like, 10 other Hong Kong martial arts flicks that could be on this list, but these were the standouts. I struggled to find non-Hong-Kong entries. Hollywood would get much better in the coming years…
Normally at this point, I would do a category that’s something like “1978’s 1977 movie of the year” because I’m often catching up with movies from the previous year while watching the current year. In this case, there’s only one real nominee for this award, which is Rolling Thunder. I guess you could say that it wins by default, but it kicks major ass and is totally worth seeking out.
Anywho, there you have it. Winners to be announced soon! Halloween leads the way with 5 nominations, but more surprising is the runner up, Invasion of the Body Snatchers with four noms (a whole slew of movies garnered 3 noms, too).
We’re finally in the endgame of the 1978 Project. For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been watching as many 1978 movies as possible. Because I felt like it, that’s why! When I started this project, I had seen about 30 movies made in that year. As of this moment, I’ve seen 87 movies made in 1978. It’s possible that I’ll catch up with something after this, but at this point, I’m going to start prepping the typical “year end” festivities like the movie awards and a top 10. Anywho, let’s take a look at the most recent 1978 project flicks that I’ve watched.
Straight Time – A career burglar is released from prison, tries and fails to go straight. It’s Recidivism: The Movie. To its credit, it spends a lot of time depicting the difficulties of reintegrating with a society that isn’t cutting you any slack. It’s also a tremendous acting showcase, particularly for Dustin Hoffman as the lead, but it’s got a strong roster of supporting actors, ranging from a seedy M. Emmet Walsh as the parole officer, the rare restrained Gary Busey performance as another former-con, the always great Harry Dean Stanton as a fellow burglar, young Kathy Bates, and Theresa Russell as the love interest (who isn’t given much to do, but is somehow still memorable thanks to her performance).
Unfortunately, this sort of character study and acting showcase often doesn’t strike a chord with me, and while this is a pretty good example of the style, it’s not enough to overcome my distaste for this sort of thing. I know we’re not supposed to strictly like Dustin Hoffman’s character, but the movie attempts to make him somewhat sympathetic when really, he’s just a scumbag. And not even a particularly competent scumbag. This is certainly a me problem – I can’t stand incompetent criminals. It’s not impossible to do a character study about an incompetent thief that I’ll like, it’s just a bar this movie couldn’t clear.
Indeed, a big part of my issues with this is that I kept thinking of better movies while watching it. In particular, the Coen brothers have a more farcical take on a similar story with Raising Arizona, and that movie just has so much more going for it than this one, both visually and thematically. It’s also hard to watch a movie about the criminal underworld of heists and not think about Michael Mann’s epics of the genre, like Thief or Heat. It’s still a solid movie and totally in line with that dark 70s aesthetic that so many people love. That said, it’s not something that did a lot for me. **1/2
The Meetings of Anna – Speaking of plotless character studies and performance showcases, this movie is about a lonely woman who travels through Western Europe and meets a bunch of people who, for some reason, just unload their emotional problems on her. It appears to be a semi-autobiographical work from writer/director Chantal Akerman, and to be sure, the film is visually beautiful and she pulls great performances out of the actors. That said, as mentioned above, this is pretty emphatically not my sort of thing. It’s over two hours of just wallowing in angst and ennui, and while it’s a well done example of that sort of thing, there’s not much actual story to grasp onto here. Like most episodic stories, some of the segments are better and more affecting than others, but they don’t really add up to a whole lot. There’s absolutely an audience for movies like this, I’m just not part of it. That said, I’m glad that stuff like the 1978 project forces my hand in watching things like this. **
The Biggest Battle – Italian WWII epic with a pretty great cast that is nonetheless mostly dismissed… probably for good reason. The cast is pretty great, though. Stacy Keach, Henry Fonda, John Huston, Helmut Berger, Samantha Eggar, Giuliano Gemma, Ray Lovelock, and Edwige Fenech? Narration by Orson Welles? Sign me up. Unfortunately the whole thing is deeply mediocre and almost completely unmemorable. Director Umberto Lenzi has made some great, high-energy horror and poliziotteschi flicks, but falls a bit flat here. Clocking in at 104 minutes, it moves pretty quickly and there’s some decent action I guess, but there’s a lot of plot threads that never really get enough time to connect, resulting in a movie filled with underwhelming war vignettes that will probably remind you of better movies. Indeed, we covered a much better Italian WWII flick earlier in the 1978 Project with The Inglorious Bastards. It’s not bad enough to laugh at, but neither is it good enough to recommend. *
Long Weekend – Australian horror flick about a couple who go camping on a remote beach, only to find that nature isn’t in an accommodating mood. What seems like it might be a schlocky “animals run amok” story reveals itself to be more of a slow descent into madness in a world that’s out of balance. There’s a deep environmental concern here, as our bickering couple engage in all sorts of disrespectful behavior. They spray pesticides, shoot at animals, litter, and so on, and nature kinda fights back. It’s all a bit ham-fisted and of course the two characters at the center of the film are deeply unlikable, even to each other. It’s a hard movie to like, but I guess the math adds up, it’s got a sort of odd energy that’s interesting, and I suspect that a lot of modern audiences would get a lot out of it. Personally, I tend to prefer something a little more subtle or, I don’t know, Herzogian. This never quite reaches the heights I think it was going for and it didn’t especially work for me, but it’s got some interesting stuff going on. **
Oof, I’m not usually this grumpy when it comes to this sort of thing, so maybe I’ve come to the end of my 1978 project explorations here. Stay tuned for the traditional (and more fun!) Movie Awards, Arbitrary Awards, and Top 10 for 1978, coming soon!
After a few months of neglecting the 1978 Project in order to catch up with and recap 2020 films, we return to glory! Again. Yeah, so it’s been about a year and a half since this project began, but we are finally reaching the homestretch. If I do something like this again, I should try and make it time-bound (like I did for 50 Under 50).
For the uninitiated, I’m doing a deep dive into the cinema of the year of my birth (guess which year!) As of this writing, I’ve seen 83 films that were released in 1978. Not comprehensive, to be sure, but we’re getting respectable and we’ve only got maybe 5-10 more films I want to catch up with. The thing is, I keep finding new stuff I want to watch. This post covers a couple of doozies that I’d probably never have watched if it weren’t for this project, but which are impressive for movies encountered this late in the process.
I’ll say we’ll get to the traditional Movie Awards and Top 10 roundup sometime this spring, but who knows? I may end up watching 200 films from that year. In any case, it’s time to take a look at some of the1978 flicks I caught up with recently, so let’s hop to it…
Blue Collar – A group of assembly line workers at an auto plant, plagued by growing bills, a disinterested management, a corrupt union, and the ever-persistent IRS, conceive of a plan to rob their union. Naturally, things don’t go as planned. After making a name for himself by writing classic scripts like Taxi Driver and Rolling Thunder, Paul Schrader had built up enough credibility to direct his own scrip this time around. In case you can’t tell by the plot description or the other films he’s worked on, Schrader is a cynical guy, and this film is a stark condemnation of, well, everything.
It’s so grim that I wonder if Schrader’s non-directorial stuff tends to be more successful because some of his edge gets rounded out by collaboration. Of course, “success” isn’t necessarily the best arbiter of a film’s worth, and I will say that this movie, while bleak and uncompromising, is a story-first affair. Schrader himself has commented on how this film had to “operate in the area of entertainment”, even if he was saturating the film with political realities. The result isn’t exactly a fun watch, but it’s engrossing and insightful.
It helps that Schrader cast a trio of ringers as the leads. Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto are all phenomenal as the down-on-their-luck workers seeking a big score, only to find themselves ensconced in a convoluted machine that they can’t escape. And that’s before the back-stabbing, corruption, and murder. Visually, Schrader presents the story with blunt realism, though he makes room for bitter irony, like the shot of a billboard ticker that tallies Chrysler’s production numbers. Petty union squabbles pitting “…the lifers against the new boys and the young against the old. The black against the white.” None of that matters to the numbers. Know your place in the scheme. Schrader’s incessant cynicism is often hit or miss with me, but for whatever reason, this one hits hard. It’s a difficult movie to recommend, but it’s quite good if you’ve got the stones for it. ***
Big Wednesday – You wouldn’t expect this meandering movie about the trials and tribulations of three surfers living through the 60s and 70s to come from a guy like John Milius (more famous for bombastic fare like Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, not to mention some of the most iconic, badass lines in cinema history), but here we are. In some ways, it resembles films like American Graffiti (made by Milius’ pal George Lucas); a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Big Wednesday has a more focused core of characters though, and it covers a much larger swath of time. As a result, it does provide a little more insight and character depth. Again, this is helped by solid casting of the three surfing friends: Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, and Gary Busey. All three are doing surprisingly good work here, as they’re not exactly known for subtlety in their careers. Jan-Michael Vincent gives the best performance (in the movie and perhaps of his career) and displays the most range. It’s amusing to consider Busey in this movie and contrast with his later role in Point Break. Even bit players like Sam Melville as the surf board guru, Bear, puts in a career-best performance.
It’s maybe a tad long, and I can see why it wasn’t successful at the time, but it appears to have garnered a following amongst film nerds. Take, for example, Quentin Tarantino:
“I don’t like surfers. I grew up in a surfing community and I thought surfers were jerks. I love Big Wednesday so much. Surfers don’t deserve this movie.”
This sort of movie (light on plot, high on character), isn’t usually my thing, but like Tarantino overcoming his distaste for surfers to like this movie, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. ***
Heroes of the East – A Chinese man is thrust into an arranged marriage with a Japanese woman. Cultures clash, and the man inadvertently challenges her entire family’s martial prowess. Thus he must prove that Chinese Kung Fu really is superior to Japanese martial arts through a series of duels. Yes, another in the seemingly endless reserve of Hong Kong martial arts flicks made in 1978 (and we’re not done yet!)
To be frank, I’m not really qualified to comment on the whole culture clash element of the story. I’m aware of enough Chinese/Japanese history to see why this rivalry could emerge, but again, not really qualified to engage in specifics. As an American who is constantly running up against other cultures (speaking generally here, not in terms of specific culture war topics that are so hot these days), the rather extreme response by both parties seems a bit overheated, but then, you know, you wouldn’t have a movie if everyone would act reasonably. Also, there’s that Chinese/Japanese history to contend with.
The main attraction of these films are the action set pieces anyway, and this one has them in spades. It’s not the best of 1978 nor is it one of the first I’d recommend, but it’s a perfectly cromulent entry in the genre and worth checking out for fans of this sort of thing. **1/2
The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting – Two narrators discuss the possible connections and controversies surrounding a series of paintings. This French arthouse film is literally about actual art, so it is incredibly pretentious. Luckily, there are some fascinating ideas at its core and it is blessedly short, which keeps things moving along well enough. The visual convention of one narrator walking through three-dimensional reproductions of each painting is a fantastic touch, and really helps illustrate the story behind the paintings (and the connections between paintings). The notion that you could obsessively study each painting and find enough connections between them to infer that there is a missing painting in the progression is quite engrossing… but it ultimately has nowhere to go.
Watching this, I was consistently reminded of Rembrandt’s J’accuse, a documentary about visual literacy and obsessively breaking down the story behind a famous painting. Both films are pompous and stilted, but they cover interesting topics and they do so in visually inventive ways. I’m really glad I caught up with this film though, and I would really love to watch it again if it ever gets a good release (there are DVDs, but to my knowledge, there has not been a Blu or 4k release). **1/2
Shaolin Mantis – Look, there’s a whole thing about the Qing dynasty sending a spy to infiltrate rebels and he falls in love with the rebel leader’s granddaughter and so on… But really this is a movie about how a defeated martial artist invents a new style by observing and imitating a praying mantis. Then he uses that to seek revenge. Yet another Hong Kong martial arts movie released in 1978.
At this point, I could probably do a top 10 Hong Kong martial arts movies of 1978 list (and still leave off, like, 20 movies). Would this list make that top 10? It’s possible, but it’d be towards the lower end of the list. This is more because there’s just so many really great entries in the genre though. Shaolin Mantis is entertaining and the action is great. As a story, it doesn’t quite hold together, but it’s functional enough and as already established, the story is really just an excuse to get to the action. Which, again, is copious and well done. I liked this a bit better than the aforementioned Heroes of the East, but I’d put it in the same territory of movies that aren’t essential, but which could be interesting for students of the genre. **1/2
Rich Little’s Christmas Carol – It’s Dickens’ classic story, with Rich Little playing basically every part himself. He plays each part as himself doing an impression of someone else playing the part. Does that make sense? So Rich Little is playing Marley by doing an impression of Nixon playing Marley. It’s an insane conceit and it makes the process of watching the movie more of a meta-exercise than an entertainment in itself. I mean, we all know A Christmas Carol and this isn’t a particularly good retelling of it, but I couldn’t help being transfixed by the sheer audacity of the thing.
It’s also a bit of a time capsule in that most of the impressions aren’t exactly timeless. W.C. Fields as Scrooge! Truman Capote as Tiny Tim! Many of these weren’t recognizable to me, and it’s also not like Little’s impressions are that good. Though I did kinda appreciate that the three ghosts of Christmas were all famous screen detectives. It adds an extra meta level to the proceedings. Rich Little impersonating Peter Falk playing Columbo as the Ghost of Christmas Past! Why famous screen detectives? Damned if I know, but I can’t help but watch . Not really recommended, except for people interested in this deeply weird gimmick. I think this sorta defies rating?
There are definitely a few more films I want to track down before I start in on the Movie Awards and Top 10 list, but I’m guessing we’re in the homestretch now, so it shouldn’t be too long. Because I know you’re all on the edge of your seat. Just keep calm, it’s coming.
After a spin through some of the more obscurehorror films of 1978, the 1978 Project resumes its normal, lumbering schedule. For the uninitiated, I’m doing a deep dive into the cinema of the year of my birth. At this point, I’ve seen 77 films that were released in 1978, which is a pretty respectable number. That being said, I keep finding new and intriguing pockets of films that I want to watch, so I’ve got at least 10 more movies to go.
At some point, we’ll do our traditional roundup of Movie Awards and a Top 10, but it might still be a while. Or maybe January? Instead of doing 2020 movies (since so many are on hold), maybe I’ll do 1978? Only time will tell. I’ve actually seen a fair amount of 2020 flicks, perhaps enough to justify the exercise. But I digress, let’s check out some 1978 movies (fair warning, I watched some of these before the Six Weeks of Halloween started, so my memory has faded a bit and thus my thoughts might not be as insanely insightful as usual).
The Star Wars Holiday Special – I’ve seen bits and pieces of this notorious abomination before, but I’ve never sat through the entire thing. I wish I could say that the experience was worthwhile. That it’s so bad it’s good. But really, it’s just plain bad. Maybe the tragically ironic hipsters could find a way to enjoy it, but I suspect even the most devoted would break down by the end.
It starts off kinda promising, with the Millenium Falcon being chased by some Star Destroyers, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re just using remaindered footage from the movie, and that nothing seems quite right. Then we’re introduced to Chewbacca’s family, which consists of a few Wookies grunting at each other (with no subtitles) for nigh-on 10 minutes. And, like, they’re not fighting the empire or anything. It’s just mundane domestic activities. From there, we get various musical numbers, psychadelic bits, more musical numbers, a four-armed space-Julia-Child cooking segment that goes on for about 5 minutes, and some terrible animation that is the only part of this thing that has any sort of plot (it is famously the first appearance of Boba Fett).
It’s mind-blowing that anyone thought this would be a good way to follow up on the massive success of Star Wars, even if it’s only a TV movie. *
Magnificent Bodyguards – Early Jackie Chan vehicle that stifles Chan’s natural charisma by forcing him to play it straight. Chan plays a bodyguard who is protecting a wealthy woman and her clan as they travel to find a doctor for her sick brother. What follows is a by-the-numbers kung-fu flick that is perfectly cromulent, but really pales in comparison to the rest of the thriving Hong Kong action scene at the time. This was apparently released in 3D at the time, but obviously that’s not what I was watching. The sound effects are particularly glaring here, though one scene works well enough I guess: a fight enters a building and the sound effects continue even though we can’t see it anymore. Ultimately, though, this won’t come anywhere close to the top of 1978, even when restricted to purely martial arts movies (of which there were a ton). There are far better Jackie Chan vehicles in 1978 alone. **
Flying Guillotine II: Palace Carnage – Speaking of better 1978 martial arts films, this is another in a long line of Flying Guillotine sequels (depending on how you count the unofficial entries, this could actually be the fourth installment?) The emperor has expanded his reign of terror, aided by his squad of Flying Guillotine carrying troops. A band of rebels has devised a novel defense against the undefeatable and deadly weapon, but they don’t know that the emperor has commissioned a new version of the Flying Guillotine that is deadlier and undefeatablier. Unlike a lot of these films, the plot here is actually pretty engaging. The pacing is action packed and the decapitations are plentiful. There’s an all-female guillotine squad dressed in pink, iron umbrellas, lots of well choreographed spear battles, a massive body count, and a climax that tops the first film. I can see why there are so many of these films, and this is a fantastic sequel. ***
Cleopatra Wong – Part of the Phillipino exploitation boom, this is grindhouse kung-fu mixed with Bond-esque globe trotting and action. Star Marrie Lee was given the surname of Lee because Bruce Lee was insanely popular at the time and apparently when fans would greet her, they’d tell her that they enjoyed both her movies and her brother’s too. Lee plays the titular Cleopatra Wong, Singapore’s top policewoman who is working with an Interpol task force to take down counterfeiters. The ring is traced to Manila where the counterfeiters have taken up residence in a monastery populated by gun-toting nuns.
Look, this isn’t exactly fine cinema. It’s the product of cheapo, guerrilla-style filmmaking and it shows. Once you get past that, it’s pretty damn fun. The martial arts are nowhere near its Hong Kong contemporaries, but they make up for it by having Cleopatra blow up a helicopter with exploding arrows or shooting a four-barreled shotgun. It’s silly, but kinda fun if you can get on its wavelength. **
Silver Saddle (aka They Died With Their Boots On) – A young boy sees his father gunned down, but manages to kill the assassin. Years later, he’s become a feared bounty hunter, but now he’s discovered some secrets from his past… One of the last major Spaghetti Westerns, it’s a good example of why the genre was dying. It’s not terrible or anything, but there’s absolutely nothing new or even particularly distinctive here. It doesn’t look bad, but it pales in comparison to other Spaghetti Westerns. Director Lucio Fulci must have been restrained in some way here, because there’s no over-the-top violence or gore (though I suppose both are present). There’s not even a Fulci-trademark eye gouging scene! So yeah, not a bad movie, but a mostly forgettable one that doesn’t really rank anywhere near the pantheon of Spaghetti Westerns… **
I do feel like I’m coming down the homestretch of the 1978 Project. I could probably cobble together a credible Top 10 right now, but there are definitely 2-3 contenders, and maybe 10 more films I’d like to watch before really trying. Alas, some of these are more difficult to track down (which is partly why this project is taking a while). If not January, the 1978 Movie Awards will probably happen in February or March. Stay tuned!
Continuing this week’s theme of 1978 movies, here we’ll cover two Giallo films of that era. Giallos have been a recurring topic during the Six Weeks of Halloween for the last decade or so. As such, I’ve already covered the origins and severaliterations of the sub-genre. The real golden age of Giallos was in the early 1970s. The genre was running out of steam in 1975 when Dario Argento put out Deep Red, which reinvigorated things for a few years. Even then, by 1978, Giallos were at the tail end of their popularity. When combined with other factors influencing the Italian film industry (rising competition from television, etc…), the decline became more precipitous in the 80s and 90s, though the genre limped along with temporary boosts from Argento (Tenebre in 1982) and Lucio Fulci (The New York Ripper in 1987).
Still, in 1978 there was enough juice in the engine to crank out 6 Giallos. Availability is limited though and indeed, one of the films I’m watching has never had a good home video release until recently. None are available on any sort of streaming service (even for purchase/rent), though I’m sure less *ahem* reputable sources could be found. That said, Kaedrin’s procurement department was able to rustle up some glorious physical media to view, so let’s get to it:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 4.5 – The Giallo Films of 1978
The Bloodstained Shadow – Two brothers get caught up in a rash of murders on an island near Venice. The murders seem connected to a 7 year old unsolved case, and our heroes are desperate to figure out what connects the victims. Not a well known Giallo, but it features all the hallmarks of a good one. A murder mystery with lots of red herrings, everyone has something to hide, the obligatory J&B whiskey appearance, incompetent police, and a cascade of revelations towards the end that might not entirely make sense, it’s all here.
The filmmaking craft is on point as well. Venice is a setting that provides a more interesting canvas than most giallos, and director Antonio Bido takes full advantage. The funky rock music is from the infamous Goblin, which always stands out (though perhaps not as much as in Deep Red). The performances are all pretty good, though the traditional Italian practice of dubbing (it’s unusual at first, but the more giallos I watch, the more it’s become endearing) sometimes makes it difficult to tell.
Look, it’s not the best giallo out there and coming later in the cycle means that this one has some repetitive elements compared to earlier giallos, but it’s well done and I think probably a bit underrated. It’s a deep cut for fans of the genre and I think there’s plenty to love about it, even if it can’t quite reach that top tier. **1/2
Rings of Fear (aka Red Rings of Fear aka Enigma rosso) – A young girl is found dead in a river and the inspector assigned to the case traces her back to an all girls school where some of the girls are receiving threatening poems. One by one, they start experiencing mysterious accidents, resulting in injury or even death. Will the inspector put together enough clues to stop the mayhem?! Spoiler alert: yes he will! And you probably won’t see it coming!
Part of a sorta unofficial “school girls in peril” trilogy started by writer/director Massimo Dallamano, who made one of the most well regarded giallos in What Have You Done to Solange? Unfortunately, Dallamano died before he could complete the script to this, so the end result is perhaps a little more messy than his earlier entries, but replacement director Alberto Negrin does just fine. Still, you can see the seams here and there. There are some plot threads, such as a subplot involving our inspector’s girlfriend, that are suddenly dropped for seemingly no reason. I suspect there was more here that didn’t make it in to the finished film (the relatively short running time of 87 minutes seems to support that).
Like the Bloodstained Shadow, there isn’t a ton here that is really new to the giallo, but it does manage a few standouts. One is a solid lead performance from Fabio Testi, who starred in the aforementioned Solange as well as another 1978 flick from a waning sub-genre, the spaghetti western China 9, Liberty 37. The score composed by Riz Ortolani is a little more swanky than the Goblin type soundtrack, but it works really well.
And finally, this movie is really, truly, deeply sleazy. Even to jaded eyes, this movie has some grody stuff. There is one notable scene where an abortion is cross cut with an orgy where young women are being slapped with a giant dildo and woof; maybe this isn’t the sort of innovation the giallo needed and that’s why it was dying out. Look, giallos have never been subtle, especially when it comes to sexuality, but I think they may have vaulted a little too far past the line on this one. It certainly stands out, even if I don’t think it’s exactly a good thing.
On the other hand, this is worth watching for the scene in which Testi interrogates a suspect by dragging him onto a rollercoaster and haranguing the poor guy as they whip around the tracks. I also think the double-fake-out ending, which I definitely did not see coming, was pretty solid stuff. I do sorta question Testi’s inspector is all that dedicated to his job though, as he basically just lets a murderer go with a laugh and a head pat. Aw shucks, you wacky murderer, you got me this time!
One last note, which is that one of the reasons this film is so obscure is that there really wasn’t a decent copy of this film available until the 2018 Blu-Ray rescued the film, restored the proper aspect ratio (apparently this movie really suffered from the pan-and-scan treatment), and so on. I’m sure at some point the transfer will start showing up on streaming services somewhere, but the BD is pretty fantastic and includes an informative commentary. Yay physical media! Ultimately, this is probably only of interest to confirmed giallo fanatics, but despite my misgivings and lowish rating, it’s a pretty interesting film. **
So there you have it, lots of 1978 giallo schlock to go around, for sure. Next up for the Six Weeks of Halloween will probably be a more modern set of flicks, perhaps even stuff made this year. Movie Theaters aren’t exactly in great shape these days and there’s a couple of things coming out that I want to catch up with that aren’t playing very widely, but I’m sure I can find a few 2020 movies to watch…
About a year ago, I embarked on the 1978 Project, a deep dive into the films of a single year (guess which one?!) There were indeed some horror heavy hitters that year, including the likes of Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the surprisingly good remake), and Magic. The problem here is that I’ve already seen all of those classics (some for the 6WH itself). Plus, I’ve already covered some of the smaller stuff too. Highlights include Coma, The Fury, and The Eyes of Laura Mars. So what we’re left with is obscure, but actually pretty interesting. I don’t think any of these will rival those classics, but I’m glad I caught up with them.
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 4 – The Horror Films of 1978
The Grapes of Death – A woman gets stranded in mountainous wine country where there happens to be an outbreak of zombieism. That’s pretty much it, and I think you can fill in the rest. It’s an atmosphere-heavy, episodic film, with our heroine bumbling from one infected vineyard to the next, encountering people in all stages of the zombie sickness. Also, they’re french zombies, so there’s lots of angst and ennui to go around. Like most zombie movies, there’s some ham handed social commentary, this time it’s that pesticides are, like, really bad. It feels a bit tacked on, with bits at the very beginning and end, like director Jean Rollin realized he had made a pretty simple zombie flick and needed to inject something “important” in there. Because zombies are the blankest of slates, it’s pretty easy to project whatever thematic elements you want onto the story. So a quick scene of people spraying pesticids and boom, you’ve got yourself an eco-terror flick.
I suppose I’m being a little hard on this movie, but it is actually quite well made. The landscapes and vistas in whatever wine region they filmed at are gorgeous and well photographed. The makeup and gore effects are also well done. The disease manifests as blister like welts all over the body which pulse and ooze and it’s all very gross (as it should be). It’s not exactly Dawn of the Dead (which features some of Tom Savini’s best effects), but it gets the job done.
Like a lot of episodic films, some of the episodes are better than others. There is one sequence where Brigitte Lahaie is a sorta uninfected queen of the zombies. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the dreamlike atmosphere is effective and, like, Brigitte Lahaie is nice to look at too. (Apparently she was an adult films actress who successfully made the transition to mainstream.) Ultimately, it’s par for the zombie course. If you’re into that sort of thing, you may like the uncommon French arthouse aesthetic applied to the usual low-art zombie tale. I found myself respecting the film on an intellectual level without getting too worked up. **1/2
The Evil – A doctor buys an old dilapidated mansion with the intention of renovating it for his practice. To help clean the place up, he enlists friends and volunteers. Naturally, there’s a reason the place hasn’t been occupied for decades and our hapless heroes get trapped in the house by an unseen malevolence.
This starts out as pretty standard, by-the-books haunted house stuff. A little slow to start, but it picks up once the ghost starts his attacks. He seems to enjoy setting people on fire, but there are some other methods mixed in for good measure. Richard Crenna plays the stubborn, unbelieving doctor and gets plenty of opportunities to overact. Some other members of the cast, notably Andrew Prine, try their best to keep up with Crenna’s hammy performance and mostly succeed. Joanna Pettet plays Crenna’s wife, who is a little more open-minded and figures out what’s going on pretty quickly. Which is fortunate, because Crenna’s pig-headed character is pretty much the cause of most of the problems.
For most of the movie, I was thinking that this was fine, but it needed an extra little something to push it over the edge into “good” territory. Until the ending, which goes a little off the rails into batshit bonkers territory. In, uh, a good way. I won’t spoil it, but it’s the sort of thing that will either work for you or make you burst out laughing. Either way, it helps make the movie something a little more unique, even if there are better evil-locked-in-its-prison stories out there. It’s a love it or hate it ending that will make or break the film for you. Fortunately, I kinda loved it. I just wish it didn’t take so long to get there. **1/2
The Legacy – An architect heads to England for a mysterious job with her boyfriend. They stumble into a sprawling mansion in the English countryside where a rich patriarch has assembled the potential heirs to his legacy. His… satanic legacy! This is an odd, messy little movie that doesn’t entirely make sense… but I do kinda like it? It has a pretty great cast and is directed by Richard Marquand, he of Return of the Jedi. I can’t say as though he’s a groundbreaking auteur or anything, but he’s competently shot a visually interesting little film.
It’s got lots of fun elements. Wealthy satanists! Nazi factory owners! A sinister nurse who is also somehow a cat?! Actually, lots of cats! Cats galore! A sensitive 70s horror movie theme song! Crossbows?! Rings that, once put on, won’t come off! The smoldering power couple of Stepford Wife Katharine Ross and Roadhouse bouncer Sam Elliot! Wait a sec, is that… Roger Daltrey from The Who?! Did… did he just choke to death on a ham bone?! You bet he did!
Look, I’m not sure if this is a “good” movie, but it sure is a strange agglomeration of haunted house movies, satanists, kinda reminiscent of The Omen (without any evil kids), you know, that sort of thing. The ending here isn’t quite as banana-pants as The Evil, but it is certainly an eye opener and the whole thing is all just very 1970s. I certainly had fun with it, but your mileage may vary. **1/2
So there you have it. Keep an eye out for Wednesday’s post where we’ll cover a couple more 1978 movies. I’m sure I’ll also have a couple others in the traditional Speed Round at the end of the Six Weeks marathon as well…