R.I.P. Betsy Palmer

Actress Betsy Palmer passed away May 29th, 2015 at the age of 88

Betsy Palmer

 

According to imdb, Betsy Palmer had sixty roles. She appeared in a lot of television during the formative fifties. She had roles in The Long Gray Line and Mister Roberts. She managed to score guest spots on Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Newhart, The Love Boat, Chips, and T.J. Hooker. She even had a regular role as Virginia Bullock in 29 episodes of Knot’s Landing.

In spite of this, she is typically only remembered for a role she disdained. Betsy Palmer was Mrs. Voorhees, mother of Jason, and the original killer in Friday the 13th (1980). She only took the role because she was desperate for a new car. It paid $10,000 for a ten day shoot. She turned down a chance to play Mrs. Voorhees again in Freddy vs. Jason because the part was too small. Spoilers for a thirty-five year old movie follow.

Ironically, the most iconic shot of Mrs. Voorhees isn’t Betsy Palmer. When Mrs. Voorhees gets her head chopped off, the hairy hands in shot, reaching up and grasping, are those of make-up and effects artist Tom Savini.

Rest in peace, Betsy Palmer.

Django Unchained – Wife vs. Hubby

My wife and I went to see Django Unchained yesterday. This is part of an exchange deal where I take her to see Les Miserables on our next date.

My wife’s take on Django:

“This is Tarantino at his most self-indulgent.  Long, long-winded, poorly paced.  I went in knowing that it would be enormously offensive (it wasn’t nearly as offensive or difficult to watch at Killing Them Softly) and was surprised to find that it was instead mostly just … dull.  Any editor with sense could have cut at least an hour from this film and made it better.  Instead we have long, lingering shots of plantations, mountains, guns, snowmen, and more that don’t propel the story forward in anyway.  And then, two thirds of the way through the movie, it goes from buddy-flick (two wacky bounty hunters on the road to fame and fortune) to sadistic revenge flick (they enslaved him, and took his woman, now they’ll pay) without much transition.  And finally – this is the very first Tarantino flick I’ve ever watched and not thought I MUST GO BUY THE SOUNDTRACK RIGHT NOW.  There wasn’t a single song in this one that worked for the film (or for me).

So very disappointed.  I hope next week’s viewing of Les Mis is more satisfying.  If only I can keep people from spoiling it (further) for me between now and then…”

My take: Were we even watching the same film? Django was an utter delight. Tarantino has an amazing talent for mashing up and updating genres. To borrow from Kellogg, his dialogue snaps, crackles and pops. The violence was done in an amusingly over-the-top spaghetti western style and the cameo from the original Django, Franco Nero, was a hoot.

The acting ranged from good to amazing. Jaime Foxx carried the film quite well, channeling the quiet reserve of an early Eastwood. Christoph Waltz was fantastic as the bounty hunter as were Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. Less good but still a lot of fun were Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, and Don Johnson. In addition to Franco Nero, other cameos include Quentin Tarantino, Jonah Hill, Michael Parks, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, James Remar, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, and Robert Carradine.

Having extolled Django’s virtues (and there are many delights to be had here), I have to agree with my wife on a few points. The music appears to have been haphazardly chosen. There wasn’t a single spot on tune. Can you hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” without imagining the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs? All of the songs in Pulp Fiction make me think of their individual scenes yet none of Django’s songs made an impression.

The editing is clearly the sore point. Django runs over two and a half hours. Sally Menke, who expertly edited all of Tarantino’s films passed away in 2010. Sally was nominated for Academy Awards for Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds (losing to Forrest Gump and The Hurt Locker, sheesh). That loss is clearly felt here as almost every scene ran on too long. I love an epic but Django desperately needs to lose about an hour of running time. Some of the dialogue becomes repetitious and establishing shots linger past their expiration date.

Tone is all over the map. The first two-thirds of the film turn Django from a slave into a bounty hunter and then the movie screeches to a halt as we reach Candyland, the plantation DiCaprio reigns over. None of the women make a strong impression – not that the actresses aren’t good, the roles are simply underwritten.

Django is weak Tarantino but weak Tarantino is better than most filmmakers on their best day. It is a lot of fun but it could have been a lot better.

 

From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is currently available on instant Netflix.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Rated R

“Robbers-on-the-lam Seth and Richard Gecko take an ex-preacher and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires in this ode to 1960s horror movies.”

“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool.”

Director and editor Robert Rodriguez makes two separate movies here. The first is a criminals on the run saga which takes up quite a bit of screentime but then it morphs into a vampire survival tale. Although much of it is unprintable, Tarantino’s script has a lot of punch and great characters.

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the outlaw Gecko Brothers. Clooney is firm, loyal and desperate as bank robber Seth but Tarantino is off-the-wall as his crazy brother Richard. They take a family hostage on their way to Mexico. The father is an embittered ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel. His children are Kate and Scott Fuller played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

Rodriguez packs the movie with guest stars. Before the bar, John Saxon cameos as FBI Agent Chase. John Hawkes, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone, has an early role as Pete the store clerk. Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta) is a newscaster.

At the bar, makeup artist Tom Savini plays Sex Machine. Makeup artists Greg (Walking Dead) Nicotero plays Sex Machine’s friend. Director Robert Rodriguez pops up as a bandmember. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays Frost. The lovely Salma Hayek plays Santanico Pandemonium (and dances with a snake for you fetishists). Cheech Marin plays three roles: a border guard, Chet, and Carlos.

The criminals on the run saga is pretty good, mainly due to Tarantino’s funny script. It takes awhile to get to the vampire portion of the movie but once there, Rodriguez makes it a non-stop roller coaster ride of vampire destruction. Special effects are good and fun, with the vampires perishing in a myriad of ways. They use a lot of green blood to get some of the killings past the ratings board (an old trick).

People Watch: The wonderful Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. He would reprise that character again in Kill Bill parts one and two as well as both segments of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof). He also plays writer Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3.

Sequel-itis: What happens when you take a franchise and get rid of director Robert Rodriguez, writer Quentin Tarantino, and actors Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Juliette Lewis? The straight to video back-to-back sequels – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) with Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999) with Michael Parks. The only connecting thread is Danny Trejo but the sequels are not very good.

Creepshow

Okay while normally I never miss cable, especially since I never run out of things to watch, this week I would have liked to have seen Mick Garris’ adaptation of Bag of Bones. Still it will be on Netflix eventually and Netflix does have plenty of Stephen King to go around.

Creepshow (1982) – Rated R

“Based on the E.C. comic books of the 1950s, this horror anthology includes radioactive meteorites, a creepy Father’s Day party, a monster in a crate and thousands of cockroaches. Venerable horror director George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and screenwriter Stephen King are responsible for the creepfest, which features performances by Leslie Nielsen, Hal Holbrook, Ted Danson, Adrienne Barbeau, Ed Harris, E.G. Marshall and even King himself.”

“This is going to be extremely painful Mr. Verrill!”

I love portmanteau (anthology) films even if far too many of them have the same wraparound story (Omigosh they were all dead to begin with! I never would have guessed that!). Some of them are direct adaptations of EC Comics (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror) but none of them captured the actual feel of those comics until Creepshow.

Obviously much of the credit has to go to the wonderful tongue-in-cheek screenplay from author Stephen King. He captures the spirit of the Tales from the Crypt comics much better than the Amicus films or the HBO TV series ever did. The stories are all fun with a good punchline that may have you groaning.

Unlike his brief cameos in other films, King actually carries one of the segments of the film (“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”). His acting is atrocious but fits in well with his segment. Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, plays the young boy in the wraparound segments.

George Romero does an excellent job of directing here. He gets great over-the-top performances from a good cast of actors. Hal Holbrook and Leslie Nielsen are particularly good here. Much of the film is done as comic book panels with bright primary colors and backgrounds. Because of the nature of the portmanteau film, none of the stories overstays its welcome.

Romero regular Tom Savini handled the special makeup effects and this film features some of his best work. Savini also has a cameo as one of the garbagemen.

Two final notes: If you don’t enjoy tongue-in-cheek or campy material then you are unlikely to enjoy this film. If cockroaches bother you unduly then do not watch the last segment of this film – you have been warned! Even on repeat viewings, I often skip the last segment. It’s great but boy does it give me the heebie-jeebies.

 

From Dusk Till Dawn

Prior to sending up exploitation films with Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed a vampire exploitation film called From Dusk Till Dawn. This movie is available on instant Netflix. The two sequels are not available but you aren’t missing much as Rodriguez didn’t direct the sequels and Tarantino didn’t write them.

From Dusk Till Dawn

WATCH: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – “Robbers-on-the-lam Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) take an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires. That’s when director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) abruptly switches from hostage drama to tongue-in-cheek, vampiric melee, creating a blood-stained ode to 1960s Mexican horror movies.”

This is a rude, crude and violent tale as might be expected from Tarantino and Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino overacts as always but it comes off well here as do George Clooney and Harvey Keitel in more restrained performances. It takes a good long while for the vampires to show up but once they do, it’s a non-stop thrill ride. There are small, fun over-the-top performances from the lovely Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, make-up wizard Tom Savini, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. The special effects are lavish and over-the-top and they take a page from the Evil Dead book and use green blood to help with the ratings board.

People watchers: look for cameos by John Saxon and makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger and a small role by Michael Parks as Earl McGraw (a role he repeats in Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse).