Saturday, March 28, 2020


Sunday morning coffee and breakfast viewing. From the same director of the creepy underrated 1980 horror gem DEATH SHIP and with a screenplay co-written by Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, FOXY BROWN, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), CITY ON FIRE (1979) is a disaster film from late in that genre's finest decade, and one I have not peviously watched. The disaster here is man-made rather than natural (a disgruntled employee blows up an oil refinery, causing destruction and a massive blaze that sweeps through the city). The requisite all-star line-up cast includes POSEIDON ADVENTURE alumni Shelly Winters and Lelslie Neilsen, Henry Fonda as the retiring fire chief and Ava Gardner as an aging, boozing, tryanical TV host. Barry Newman makes an interesting choice for a male lead in this type of film, but he is pretty enjoyable in his role as a womanizing head doctor at a brand new (but under-equiped) hospital. Always loved watching Newman on TV in PETROCELLI.
CITY ON FIRE isn't up there with the classic disaster films that thrilled audiences earlier in the 1970s, but it's one of the better ones from its period (certainly superior to METEOR or Irwin Allen's WHEN TIME RAN OUT - though I do have a nostalgic soft spot for the former). There's a lot of the usual soap opera elements to stretch out the time between moments of excitement, but the film looks (and sounds) quite impressive for its budget (unlike the other big studio disaster films, CITY ON FIRE was produced by Avco Embassy for a pretty modest $3 million). The explosion sequence at the refinery is particularly gripping and very well orchestrated, highlighted by some pretty spectacular stunt work. The film's original R rating allows it to be a bit more graphic than some of its counterparts (particularly in the depiction of fire victims, as well as the use of some strong language).
Beautiful art by John Solie on the original film poster, also. Solie is one of the absolute giants of 1970s drive-in/exploitation movie art, with posters for PIRANHA, HELL UP IN HARLEM, DEATH RACE 2000, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, THE SWINGING BARMAIDS and many more amongst his impressive list of work.


Last night's movie. Another very solid effort from writer/director S. Craig Zahler, following on from his BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) and BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (2017). DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE doesn't have the wonderful baroqueness that permeated BONE TOMAHAWK, and it is not as over-the-top violent as RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 99, though it shares more similarities with the latter than the former (particularly in the use of many of the same cast). Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughan are superb as the two desperate cops sidelined without pay after a home video captures their strong-arm tactics. A strong, downbeat character study driven by a superb score (co-written by Jeff Herriott and Zahler). Definitely one of my favourite younger filmmakers working today.


Had a chance to catch-up with this recent original Amazon documentary series over the past few days. I don't think there is much new anyone can say about the life and horrible crimes of Ted Bundy, but TED BUNDY: FALLING FOR A KILLER makes compelling viewing thanks to the focus of the story being on Elizabeth Kendall, Bundy's girlfriend both before and during his early, prolific killing days, and her daughter Molly, both of whom talk about their experiences for the first time. Molly's tale is particularly heart-breaking, that of a young girl who loved and looked-up to Bundy as a protective father figure, then having to later reconcile with the reality of what he really was, a serial killer who preyed on young women not much older than herself.


A new piece I wrote for Diabolique on the superior 1974 TV movie PRAY FOR THE WILDCATS, starring Marjoe Gortner, WIlliam Shatner, Robert Reed, Andy Griffith, Lorraine Gary, Angie Dickinson and Janet Margolin. Read the piece at the link below and pick up the new Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber featuring a terrific audio commentary by Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman.