Archive for Happy Birthday
Sure, posts have been pretty scarce these past few years, but “That is not dead which can eternal lie.”
One in Ten Million
Yellow Medicine Dancing Boy was born in Goshen, Connecticut on this day just one year ago. This rare white bison was born on the Mohawk Bison farm of Peter Fay. Not an albino or genetically modified, Yellow Medicine Dancing Boy is believed to be a sign of hope and unity, and some considered his birth and naming ceremony to be sacred events.
Stories of the Lakota people tell that White Buffalo Calf Woman taught them seven sacred rituals and gave them the sacred ceremonial pipe, the Chanunpa. There is a dark side to her story, however, as one of the two scouts who first found her was reduced to a pile of bones when his intentions for the white-clad beauty were revealed as less than pure. The tale of a mortal man overcome by lust for a divine beauty reminds me of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” by Robert E. Howard. In the Conan story, the barbarian predictably fares far better than the Lakota scout.
With a screenplay by Richard Sale based on his novel, The White Buffalo (1977) is a strange little western, full of dream-like imagery, dodgy special effects, and genuine frontier gibberish.
The White Buffalo (1977)
They say the last white spike was put down by “Prairie Dog” Dave Morrow last month way the hell and gone on the Cimarron. Still, James Otis is obsessed with a white buffalo that haunts his dreams, resulting in all manner of flummery. There’s suspicion that James Otis is actually the infamous “Wild” Bill Hickok, but that’s likely just sassafras. In his final western, Charles Bronson plays the haunted man wearing two names, who is in search of the white buffalo that rampages through his nightmares.
Our opening credit sequence is set to ominous, ethereal music that, along with the copious amounts of dry ice fog shades of Ridley Scott, helps to set an otherworldly mood. This ain’t no wagon train. Before we meet any of the human cast, we get a good look at our title behemoth, and it’s a mixed bag. Personally, I like the obviously animatronic critter, but some folks will find it laughable. Your mileage may vary.
We soon find it’s all a dream as Hickok wakes with a two-gun barrage that probably puts a few holes in the roof of his train berth. Bill sports slick sunglasses that are likely the byproduct of a “disease of passion”, but we’ll get to that later. Suffice it to say, he’s got problems.
After our brief introduction to Hickok, we get two more opportunities to see the monstrous white buff in action. Mountain man Charlie Zane (Jack Warden) doesn’t see the thing first-hand, but hears its roar and is forced to dodge an avalanche created by it. This scene has all the hallmarks of a traditional western tall tale, the subject of dime novels and American folklore. Zane fares far better than a poor Sioux village that gets utterly (udderly?) ravaged by the angry buffalo for no really good reason.
Crazy Horse, War Chief of the Oglalas, returns too late to prevent the carnage. When he asks “Where is the little one?”, his wife can only reply “She’s gone to the stars.” The normally stoic chief, played with surprising depth by Will Sampson, weeps openly for his dead daughter, but such public displays of emotion are considered unbecoming of a man in his role. For this transgression, he is renamed “Worm” by his father. Worm makes a pilgrimage to the site of his daughter’s burial, Enchanted Mesa, far from the whites and safe from wolves, but he is told her spirit will be tortured until he can avenge her and reclaim his true name.
When Hickok arrives in Cheyenne by train, he is astounded by the buffalo graveyard. Killed to make way for the railroad as well as deny game to the Native Americans, the bones are piled high like mounds of white coal. While catching up with an old friend, we find that Hickok’s no friend of the Indians himself, with the Sioux in particular holding a grudge for his killing of Whistler the Peacemaker.
Hickok can’t exactly count many allies on the other side of the law, either. Tom Custer (Ed Lauter) and his cavalrymen are in Cheyenne hunting “Injuns”, relaxing when we meet them in Paddy’s Saloon. As Custer relates it, “Back in Hays City in ’69, Hickok killed my horse from under me and backshot two of my best soldiers.”
Barkeep Paddy recalls differently and insists “Bill never backshot nobody, not in his whole life.”
“You’re looking to wear a marble hat,” threatens Custer, but Paddy is nonplussed.
“You never did give me goosebumps, Tom.”
This exchange and others like it are representative of the style of dialogue employed in The White Buffalo. Fans of True Grit and the HBO series Deadwood (minus the outrageous profanity) should be pretty familiar with the flowery language, but contemporary audiences may be put off. Personally, I can’t get enough of circumlocution.
A Corporal Kileen interrupts this smacktalk session to say Hickok’s on his way to the bar, so Custer and his boys set up an ambush. This set-up goes awry when Paddy reveals his true colors, passing Bill first a revolver then a shotgun so the legendary gunfighter can shoot his way out. Despite their superior numbers, Custer and what’s left of his troop are sent packing. Afterwards, Hickok inquires about “Poker” Jenny, but Paddy claims she’s now known as the Widow Schermerhorn, gone to Fetterman to open her own place. Paddy also warns Bill about the Sioux “riding the Bozeman Trial like Irish banshees.”
Hickok takes a stagecoach to Fetterman, and Slim Pickens has an amusing cameo as the put-upon driver. This sequence serves to illustrate how the world-at-large perceives the persona of Mr. Otis, not knowing that he is actually Hickok. Among the passengers is a foul-mouthed Irishman named Mr. Coxy, who makes the mistake of bringing a knife to a gunfight in trying to rob Hickok. Bill forces him out into the mud and rain at gunpoint. When the stage is assaulted by Worm, Hickok exchanges gunfire with him. Bill hits nothing, but manages to impress the driver who previously thought of Mr. Otis as a “dude”, a “green tenderfoot”, probably on account of his fancy dress.
We’re treated to another cameo as horror icon John Carradine plays Amos the Undertaker in Fetterman. While talking with Pickens’ stage driver, he lets slip that the two dead men in his cart were arguing over a White Buffalo sighting. Bill also learns that an old friend of his is in town, Charlie Zane.
Bill goes to Schermerhorn’s as James Otis, but “Poker” Jenny (a rare 1970s appearance by Kim Novak) doesn’t recognize him at first. She offers him some coffee, “strong enough to float a colt,” then quickly registers that Mr. Otis not only looks like her old pal “Cat Eyes”, it is him in the flesh.
After some smalltalk, Jenny tries to get down to business, but it seems Bill “ain’t got the gumption,” not even when Jen offers to “fly the eagle.” “One of your scarlet sisters dosed me proper,” he says, implying venereal disease. Widely circulated, it’s of dubious historicity that Bill caught VD, but it certainly fits the haunted man depicted here. Historical accuracy isn’t of paramount importance in this little Wild West fable.
Napping out at Jenny’s place, it’s nightmare time again, and Bill awakes with a start, shooting up the place and decimating some white buff heads. Bill questions why the hell Jenny has such expensive totems, worth an easy $2,000 in gold a piece, but she admits they’re not real and were painted white at her request.
The nightmare beast is very real, however, and Bill knows “If I don’t kill this buff, the dream’ll kill me. Like my own… my own fate is chasing me into the grave.”
Bill meets up with Charlie Zane at a makeshift camp saloon. It isn’t long before Zane tells Bill of his own wide-awake encounter with the white buffalo. Before Bill can get the particulars, “Whistling” Jack Kileen (Clint Walker) and his gang saunter in, all moustache and menace. Bartender Tim Brady offers Mr. Otis $500 in gold to back him against Kileen’s gang as they appear ready to rumble. Brady knows that Jack’s son was the unfortunate Corporal Kileen, shot dead by Otis in the Cheyenne ambush. Thought not called out by name, Martin Kove has a cameo as one of Brady’s men, billed in the credits as Jack McCall. McCall was a notorious buffalo hunter and the man who would later murder Hickok in Deadwood.
Provoked by the young hothead “Kid Jelly”, a shootout ensues in which Hickok kills three of Kileen’s men almost instantly with two Navy Colt revolvers. The patrons are astonished, and word quickly spreads that they’ve just witnessed THE “Wild” Bill Hickok in action. Charlie wants to immediately head out for Deadwood, but Hickok isn’t rattled. He’s not afraid of what was in the saloon, he’s afraid of what’s out there, in the wilderness, in his indeterminate future.
The next morning, Kileen and his remaining men bid Zane and Hickok adieu as they ride out of town. Director J. Lee Thompson treats us to some beautiful outdoor photography, full of snow-capped peaks, verdant pines, and boulder-strewn valleys as opposed to the stagey scenes of the film’s first half.
After a campsite discussion establishes that Hickok hates Indians with a passion reserved for one’s mortal enemies, he and Zane awaken to gunshots, finding themselves surrounded by Crow Indians. Zane quickly points out that they aren’t after them, but a single Lakota instead. Zane admires the lone buck’s bravery, but, at fifteen to one, gives him no chance. Hickok corrects him, “Fifteen to three.”
Once the Absarokee are driven off, a parlay is called between the three victors. Hickok quickly realizes that they’re all after the same white spike, but bids their one-time ally farewell just the same. Later, Hickok thinks he spots his quarry amongst the snowcapped rocks. “Old Timer, shake out a round.”
The gunshot rousts the beast, forcing it to retreat into a mountainside cave. Like a sword and sorcery hero, blazing torch in one hand, revolver in the other, Hickok warily pursues. He finds the buffalo went out another exit, but knows the time ain’t right based upon the details of his dream. “There has to be snow. Heavy snow.”
A mighty roar wakes them from their slumber inside the cave. Outside, Hickok has to put down their gored mare and finds hoofprints leading up across the mountaintop. Hickok tumbles through a carpet of pristine white in a stunning distant shot. Careless in his pursuit, Hickok doesn’t see “Whistling” Jack Kileen, snowshoed, lurking in ambush with two of his men until it is too late. Hickok is forced to take cover behind a ridge and quickly becomes pinned down.
The exchange of gunfire is interrupted by the howl of a wolf, and Hickok seems to take particular attention. After Zane takes one the men out with his rifle, Kileen spots what he believes to be the howling wolf, only for the wolf to stand up and riddle him with arrows like Boromir. Dumbstruck, Kileen’s last man stares and gets an arrow in the gut for his trouble. Worm celebrates their victory, but warns the whites that they are in Lakota land, his land.
Hickok invites the Indian to his council. Zane thinks it a clever ruse, but Hickok warns “You try hanging a wooden suit on that child and you’ll answer to me.”
Charlie is aghast. “That snow ossify your brain?” Hickok points out the eagle feather, a chief’s feather. This is no ordinary Indian hunter.
Worm thinks he knows this man, “Okute the Shooter”, the one who killed Whistler the Peacemaker, the murderer called Hickok. Bill claims “The Cheyenne call me Pahaska.” Pahaska was actually a Lakota nickname for “Buffalo” Bill Cody, meaning “long hair”. Instead of being an instance of historical inaccuracy, in the context of the film, it is likely Bill is lying about his identity just as he was under the Mr. Otis moniker.
Worm, having seen Pahaska fight with pistols, offers a long gun looted from Kileen. “Long Hair” reveals that Zane’s long gun is actually his own, forcing Worm to gift the long gun to the suspicious Charlie Zane. Charlie is shamed, and has nothing to offer in return.
“You give me shelter. You share your food.”
Zane eventually gives Worm a knife. Worm seems afraid to touch it. Is he considering how many of his kin it has murdered?
“How is the old one called?” Worm asks.
“Cheyenne call him Ochinee.” Ochinee was actually the name of a Cheyenne subchief killed in the Sand Creek Massacre, but here it is taken to be a metaphorical nickname rather than a literal one, as Ochinee translates to “One Eye”.
“The Great White Warrior of Sand Creek? You speak crookedly. This cannot be true.”
Hickok quickly realizes the disbelief is because Zane has a glass eye. Charlie pops it out, and the superstitious Lakota is taken aback until Hickok calms him by saying Zane is only clowning and that the glass eye is not magic. Worm is about to teach them how to pee (to mark territory like a wolf, a sign the White Buffalo respects) when an avalanche threatens to block them out of their cave.
A debate over who can lay claim to the White Buffalo quickly turns to politics. Hickok offers the classic argument that the land was taken by force from other tribes with lance and tomahawk, not gifted by the Great Spirit. “Today, it’s the white man’s turn.”
Hickok believes resistance is futile. “They are more than the blades of spring grass, more than the buffalo when they smothered the earth in their great herds… You will bend to the long knives or be broken. You will live as they say or die on their bayonets.”
While the two hunters come to an understanding and peace, the old timer is skeptical. The White Buffalo will surely come between them.
In the morning, Zane is surprised Worm didn’t slit their throats. Hickok laments that they didn’t have just one more day of peace. Downhill, they follow the heady scent of buffalo all day until they reach the valley floor of Hickok’s nightmares. And if we didn’t recognize it, the musical cues would fill us in that something dreadful is about to happen just before Hickok flatly spells it out. In his haste, he foolishly ignores Charlie’s suggestion to take the Winchester over the shotgun, which has only one shot left.
The White Buffalo charges for what seems like forever, but it is only a full minute of footage and, yes, the track is clearly visible for the fuzzy white buffalo machine. Just as Charlie warned, the shotgun is, in fact, frozen, so Hickok breaks it over the beast’s dome like a cricket bat.
Worm takes to the high ground, buries an arrow ineffectually in its hump, and then leaps onto its back, stabbing it repeatedly with the same arrow and lasting well longer than PBR regulation 8 seconds. The beast flees with Hickok in hot pursuit unarmed, but all eventually grows still. Hickok helps Worm up and reveals that the beast yet lives and is likely long gone.
The money shot, given away for free in the trailer, is the White Buffalo crashing through a snowdrift to attack. Hickok pulls a Colt from Worm’s belt and empties it into the thing’s head while Worm rushes forward to stab away with an arrow. Afterward, Worm is elated, but Hickok is seemingly saddened to know that he has helped usher in the end of an era.
“Why didn’t you use your gun?” he asks Worm.
“I am War Chief of the Oglalas. I cannot use the White Man’s iron. This bull had to be taken in the old way.”
Hickok correctly identifies Worm as Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse believes he and Hickok are kin, of sorts. Zane wants to backshoot Crazy Horse, but Hickok says no. “The robe belongs to Worm” (meaning the hide).
Zane can’t believe he’d so easily give up $2,000 gold.
“Charlie, I’ll make it up to you in Cheyenne.”
“You can tell your blood brother to shove it up his ass. We’re quits.” Charlie walks away with the gifted long gun, a great symbol for the subsequent treaties between Native Americans and whites.
“You have lost a friend,” Crazy Horse says.
“So it seems.”
“And found one.” Crazy Horse acknowledges that he knows “Long Hair” is Hickok, a great enemy, and while he will tell no one, they must never cross paths again. They bid goodbye to each other, forever.
The epilogue gives birth and death dates for J.B. Hickok (Born 1837, Murdered 1876) and Crazy Horse (Born 1842, Murdered 1877). Hickok was only 39 at the time of his death, but Bronson was 55 at the time of film’s release. Crazy Horse’s birth date is in dispute, putting him at 34 to 37 at the time of his death. Sampson was 43 at the time of film’s release. The choice to cast older actors was certainly a conscious one, to give the impression of men whose time was growing short.
Criticism of the film as a rip-off designed to cash in on Jaws is largely misguided, but producer Dino De Laurentiis did the film no favors during its publicity, putting it in the middle of his killer animal trilogy along with King Kong (1976) and Orca (1977). Even the poster above and trailer below try to shill the film as a monster movie. It is more appropriate to compare both Jaws and The White Buffalo to Moby Dick, the original novel about the hunt for a great white metaphorical beast.
Hickok’s dialogue is the most telling, however, and truly gets to the heart of the matter. “If I don’t kill this buff, the dream’ll kill me. Like my own… my own fate is chasing me into the grave.” The White Buffalo is dying out, and so are men like Hickok and Crazy Horse, killing each other off in the name of progress and civilization. The times they are a-changin’.
It was… The White Buffalo”
Though his coat has since turned largely golden brown, Yellow Medicine Dancing Boy will always be considered one of the elusive White Buffalo here at WeirdFlix. Many happy returns. So, take a moment today to give thanks for the wonders of the natural world around us and the diverse people and cultures who inhabit it.
Hard to believe it’s been one year since we started this shindig.
And, yes, I know it’s technically a Father’s Day cake. Just shut up and eat it.
Bishōjo to Santa Fe
Rie Miyazawa began acting and modeling at the age of 11 with an advertisement for Kit Kat. Her film debut in Seven Days’ War (1988) earned her a nod from the Nippon Academy-shō Association for Newcomer of the Year. Already a well known face, her 1991 nude photo book, Santa Fe, sold over 1.5 million copies within its first few months, making it one of the best-selling and most well known nude photo books in Japan.
Her engagement to sumo champion Takanohana dissolved, however, resulting in a period of depression and scandal, but she continued to hone her acting craft and get her life back on track. She moved to California and continued to work on stage, television, and film. In 2003, Miyazawa won her second Japanese Academy Award, this time for Best Actress in The Twilight Samurai.
The Twilight Samurai (2002)
Hiroyuki Sanada (Ringu, Sunshine) is Seibei Iguchi, nicknamed “Twilight” by his fellow samurai for his practice of running home at dusk rather than joining them for drinks at day’s end. Seibei takes his domestic responsibilities seriously, however, widowed as he is while taking care of two young daughters and his senile mother. He doesn’t have the time nor money for regular baths, let alone sake and geishas.
Seibei and his co-workers are bound to their clan by vows of honor, but their duties primarily consist of administering the castle granary. In this first installment in his Samurai Trilogy, director Yôji Yamada painstakingly recreates the world of samurai bureaucrats as it existed just prior to the Meiji Restoration. Seibei’s friend Iinuma (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) returns from Kyoto with stories of idle ronin beheading each other on the streets. During their discussion, they witness retainers training with rifles. The samurai era is clearly entering its own twilight.
Iinuma brings some other important news home to Seibei, almost as an afterthought. He has arranged a divorce for his sister Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) from Toyotaro Koda, an abusive drunk, but the son of an influential captain and a 1200-koku samurai. Seibei earns a mere 50-koku stipend, with 20 bespoken to cover his wife’s funeral, for a net 30. He has loved Tomoe since they were childhood friends, but has always been aware that he is far below her station.
What follows is a beautiful film, rich with subtext and subtle detail. Seibei is caught between his social obligations as a samurai, obligations he would gladly give up to become a peasant farmer, and his personal responsibilities to his family. His choices are clear when the two come into conflict, and it is only when the former threatens the latter that he is forced to draw his blade once more.
This is not an action-packed samurai film by any measure, but neither is it a treacly romantic fable. This is one man’s life, narrated by one of his daughters with loving candor. There are complications and revelations which propel the plot forward, and it is clear to me why this film won an unprecedented 12 Japanese Academy Awards and received the first Oscar nomination for a Japanese film in 22 years.
The opening of Ashura is reminiscent to me of an entry in the Blade franchise. A trio of Demon Wardens ride into 16th century Edo and set about dispatching their underworld foes. Instead of vampires getting sliced and turning into cinders of ash, these foul cretins explode in gibbets of fluorescent green goo. The whole thing is garish and laughable, but that’s what you get when you bring the broad fanciful strokes of kabuki theatre to film.
After our opening sequence, we catch up with Demon Warden Izumo five years later. He has withdrawn from the conflict and is trying his hand at kabuki theatre. Izumo is played by real life kabuki actor Somegorō Ichikawa, who breaks out every crazy-eyed gaze, basso profundo shout, and sly gaze from his melodramatic stage actor’s arsenal.
He soon meets Tsubaki (Rie Miyazawa), one of the Dark Camellias (her name, in fact, translates as “Camellia”). By day, they are an all-girl troupe of traveling acrobats. By night, “they steal, but are not unjust.” During one of her nocturnal activities, Izumo accidentally comes into the possession of Tsubaki’s cherished hair pin, and discovers their fates are inextricably tangled.
Izumo isn’t the only person interested in Tsubaki’s secrets, however. She is also pursued by Izumo’s former Demon Warden partner Jaku, the Riggs to his Murtaugh. While Izumo has abandoned his cause, Jaku appears to have flipped sides entirely, seduced by promises of power.
When Ashura awakens…
…her invincible castle will float on the upside-down sky…
…and demons will have dominion over the earth.
This power is apparently going to come from the return of Ashura, the demon queen, and the unwitting amnesiac Tsubaki is a key component of this prophecy according to Bizan (Kanako Higuchi). Bizan is an oni, a demon who unfortunately bears more than a passing resemblance to Rita Repulsa. She believes that when Ashura is awakened again, the queen’s faithful servants will be duly rewarded. Once Izumo gets involved on Tsubaki’s behalf, Jaku is drawn even deeper into the scheme, and there are some none-too-subtle nods at unrequited feelings towards his former partner.
Director Yōjirō Takita (Onmyoji: The Yin Yang Master, When the Last Sword is Drawn) came from humble origins, directing Japanese sexploitation films (pinku eiga) with such classy titles as Molester Train: Rumiko’s Ass. By the time he directed Ashura, Takita had achieved considerable international respectability by receiving three Japanese Academy nominations for Best Director. The fourth time was apparently the charm, as Takita finally won the award for Departures (2008), which also picked up an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.
Some of Ashura borders on the embarrassing, however, and more closely resembles something like Wicked City meets Mortal Kombat than Kwaidan. A particularly egregious example, which may betray the director’s pinku eiga roots, is the steamy love scene, complete with breathy groans, weeping sword wounds, a voyeuristic kabuki theater director, and more expository dialogue than you can shake a kendo stick at. I sadly think this may have played out better as a video game than a feature film.
Supporting Joseph Campbell and his thoughts on the universality of myth, the various plot turns are very predictable even to audiences who aren’t acquainted with Japanese legendry. This isn’t a subtle tale of deep thought and reflection that provides insight into the culture that crafted it. This is kabuki theatre, Grand Guignol, and comic books all thrown together onto the screen. On that level, it’s effective in much the same way that Snow White and the Huntsman is light fun for what it is.
Rie Miyazawa is not just another pretty face. Not content to be famous for simply being famous, she has become a respected actress with a diverse and impressive body of work. I look forward to seeing her again on that silver screen, and today, at WeirdFlix, we celebrate her birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.
Before Cobra Kai
Most children of the ’80s know Martin Kove as Sensei John Kreese, the ruthless ex-Special Forces Veteran who mentored Johnny Lawrence and his gang of punks. But before presiding over the dominant dojo, Kove was busy making awesomely weird films that are often sadly overlooked. Today, to celebrate the day he fought his way free of the womb and karate chopped the delivering doctor, we’re going to take a look at three of my faves.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
In the dystopian future year 2000 (our dystopian past), the Annual Transcontinental Road Race has replaced “The Big Game” as our nation’s most popular sporting event. Unlike that NASCAR stuff or even Formula-1, the race isn’t won by merely arriving first at the finish line. Oh no. No, to score points, you’ve got to get some pedestrians under your wheels. Dick Dastardly and Muttley would be right at home.
Now, there have been some rules changes for the 2000 race, so pay attention.
“To recap those revisions, women are still worth 10 points, more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points and toddlers under twelve now rate a big 70 points. The big score: Anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points. As always, how fast you move determines how long you live.”
Oh, and if a player uses his hand in the face-off circle to get the puck to a teammate, he will be subject to a two-minute minor penalty. No, wait. That’s NHL 2013, not Death Race 2000. My mistake.
In any event, the big favorite this year (as in every year) is Frankenstein (David Carradine), but mark my words. The smart money is on Nero the Hero (Martin Kove). His lion-themed Fiat 850 Spider really roars. For the record, I’ve never bothered with Paul W. S. Anderson’s remake/prequel from 2008 or its sequels. I can’t imagine it having the biting satire or just plain wrong fun of the 1975 original.
White Line Fever (1975)
For most of my childhood, my father busted his hump driving a truck. His routes were close to home, and he never owned his own rig or had a chimpanzee sidekick, but CB culture was alive and well in our household throughout the ’70s and well into the ’80s. It is in that anti-authoritarian era that White Line Fever came rolling into theaters on eighteen wheels of vengeance.
Inspired by the gritty westerns and pseudo-westerns of legendary bad boy director Sam Peckinpah, Jonathan Kaplan and Ken Friedman penned a script about Carrol Jo Hummer (Jan-Michael Vincent), a Vietnam veteran returning home to take over the family trucking business, only to find the shipping company in the grip of syndicate goon Buck Wessler (played with sleazy relish by Peckinpah regular L.Q. Jones). Despite the utter absence of big rigs in Kaplan’s blaxploitation “vehicle” Truck Turner (1974), Columbia Pictures’ then vice-president of worldwide production was so smitten with its success that he quickly offered Kaplan the chance to bring his newest script to the big screen. The idea of replacing horses with trucks in a contemporary western went from being Peckinpah-esque to Peckinpah himself when Sam helmed Convoy (1978) just a few years later.
Martin Kove plays lead henchman Clem. As evidenced by the iconic status of Sensei John Kreese, Kove makes a great bully. He brings a meatheaded enthusiasm that almost makes you want to root for him. Clem is clearly a man who enjoys his work, and we enjoy watching him enjoy his work.
Blood Tide (1982)
When Neil Grice (an often shirtless Martin Kove) took a vacation to the Greek islands to find his missing sister, surely he didn’t expect to have a live cat thrown at him, witness a virgin sacrifice, or receive a kiss on the cheek from James Earl Jones. Yet, that is exactly what happens, though not necessarily in that order.
Deborah Shelton plays Neil’s sister, Madeline, an art historian who is busy uncovering older and older paintings in the village monastery. Despite the nuns’ imploring and begging, Madeline continues her work until the true nature of the island’s ancient religious rites lays revealed in all its tumescent glory. Yeah, we’re talking about sea monster penis.
This particular ageless sea monster has been unwittingly released from its prison by treasure hunter Frye (the sonorous James Earl Jones). This means the virgin sacrifices must resume stat, and it isn’t long before Madeline is at the top of the list. She also feels a reverse siren song of sorts from the beast and vacillates between uncontrollable lust and repulsion regarding it and her fate. In one memorable scene, she douses herself with designer perfume and runs into the sea to check her implants for leaks just like the Antediluvian girls used to do.
The whole notion of Miss USA 1970, Deborah Shelton, as a virgin historian is laughable. While this was still a couple years before her role as victim/seductress in Body Double, she had already done a trio of Greek softcore flicks that probably “helped” her land this role. There’s an awkward hint at incest late in the film that goes unexplained and only serves to make things even weirder.
Blood Tide has all the makings of a decent horror film in the Lovecraftian vein. There’s a remote island location, a sinister cult engaging in human sacrifice to an ageless creature with supernatural influence, a Shakespeare-quoting treasure hunter engaged in a bold interracial romance with an aerobic Valley Girl, bikinis, creepy old men, flying cats, and the Hebrew sirtaki. But, as you would learn from throwing eggs, flour, milk, butter, and sugar into a bowl and setting it on fire, ingredients are not enough to make a cake. You’ll just get a mess, much like this film.
Still, it’s worth watching since it’s not too often Martin Kove gets to play the lead protagonist, even if James Earl Jones does steal some of his “thunder” as the volatile treasure hunter Frye. Blood Tide is currently in the public domain, so it can be found just about anywhere free movies are offered, including the Internet Archive.
So, students take note. Martin Kove is more than just a one-dimensional villain. He brought depth to Sensei John Kreese that helped the role transcend mere antagonism and forged a truly memorable foe. I hope that you’ll take the time to enjoy some of his lesser known works. We bow deeply in respect to him here at WeirdFlix on his birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.
Giancarlo’s Early Work
Giancarlo Giannini was born in La Spezia, Liguria, Italy on this day in 1942. At 18, Giancarlo attended Rome’s Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica. After earning a degree in electronics engineering, he returned to acting, making his debut onstage as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After appearing in some Italian films in the mid-1960s, he made his American film debut in The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969).
The Pizza Triangle (1970) put Giannini in the middle of a love triangle with fellow Accademia Nazionale alumnus Monica Vitti and Marcello Mastroianni. In typical commedia all’italiana fashion, the hijinks are punctuated with moments of great sadness, playing to Giannini’s strengths as an actor. Despite some risky choices, including off-screen narration and characters breaking the fourth wall, director Ettore Scola almost walked away with the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes.
The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)
“Giallo”, the Italian word for “yellow”, has come to be synonymous with Italian erotic thrillers. The term derives from the lurid yellow covers for cheap paperback mystery novels published from 1929 through today, many of them imported and quickly translated for the Italian market. Now, it almost exclusively refers to the stylish thrillers crafted by such highly regarded Italian horror directors as Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci.
Shot on location in Rome of 1970, Black Belly of the Tarantula is director Paolo Cavara’s entry into the genre. Cavara had already made a splash with his shockumentary, Mondo Cane, a dubious achievement that would later inspire the infamous Faces of Death series. In Black Belly, he shows remarkable restraint while still hitting the trademark notes giallo fans have come to expect.
Giancarlo Giannini is Inspector Tellini, a middle-class working slob of a detective who doesn’t seem quite sure he’s in the right career. He is called in to investigate the murder of a beautiful socialite and seemingly notorious nymphomaniac, Maria Zani (Barbara Bouchet). The most obvious suspect is her cuckolded husband, Paolo (Silvano Tranquilli), but he’s got an alibi, albeit far from airtight.
Tellini has woman troubles of his own. His wife, Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), has already made plans to swap out all of the furniture in their apartment. Like most cinematic cop wives, she finds herself torn between her desire to see her husband succeed and the emotional toll it exacts from both of them.
The title refers to the killer’s method. Employing a steel acupuncture needle to induce paralysis, the victim is left conscious but helpless while she is carved up with a gleaming silver knife. The murders are macabre and sadistic, but hardly gory in the modern sense. This is certainly not Murder, She Wrote, but neither is it the grotesquery of Saw. I’d say you could watch it comfortably with your spouse, but not your mother, if that helps draw the distinction.
As Inspector Tellini becomes entangled in the details of the case, his own career begins to unravel. The killer’s trail winds through blackmail plots, a cocaine smuggling ring, a massage parlor, and the reproductive practices of the spider wasp or tarantula hawk, all with Tellini following close behind. Not close enough to save the string of victims, however, a fact that weighs on his conscience like a ship’s anchor.
Giannini’s performance, a breathy 70s jazzpornscore by Ennio Morricone, and some inventive cinematography make this an enjoyable little thriller. You’ll probably figure it out long before the reveal, but getting there is half the fun. Highlights include the private detective known as “The Catapult”, Ginetto the waiter, and the smugglers’ strategy, as well as Bond girls Claudine Auger and Barbara Bach as the owner and employee, respectively, of the posh spa/massage parlor.
The Films of Lina Wertmüller
Starting with The Seduction of Mimi (1971), Giancarlo Giannini appeared in six of writer-director Lina Wertmüller’s films. Mimi (Giannini) is a metalworker asked to rig a local election. Defying the Mafia, he soon finds himself on the run and questioning the value of the life he’s leaving behind. This was the first of three consecutive Wertmüller film pairings of Giannini with the striking Mariangela Melato. Wertmüller picked up her first of two consecutive Palme d’Or nominations. The film was remade in 1977 as Which Way Is Up? starring Richard Pryor.
Set in Fascist Italy prior to World War II, Love and Anarchy (1973) is the tale of an anarchist (Giannini) plotting to assassinate dictator Benito Mussolini with the assistance of a pair of prostitutes. Mariangela Melato is Salomè, the more driven of the two. Though she and Tunin (Giannini) share a sexual encounter, it is the love affair between Tunin and Tripolina (Lina Polito) that drives the plot and its inevitably tragic finale. For the second year in a row, a Lina Wertmüller film was nominated for the Palme d’Or, and Giannini won Cannes’ Best Actor Award.
The most well-known Giannini/Wertmüller pairing is the intentionally divisive Swept Away (1974). Swept Away is as much about sexual politics as the ongoing Italian conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, with Giannini representing both the exploited underclass and the dominant male. Mariangela Melato complicates your sympathies as the equally helpless and thankless, quintessential rich bitch, Raffaella. Giancarlo’s son, Adriano, reprised his father’s role in the 2002 remake, but was lambasted along with co-star Madonna and her writer-director husband, Guy Ritchie.
In Seven Beauties (1975), Giannini and Wertmüller return to Italy’s turbulent fascist years circa World War II. Giancarlo plays Pasqualino, a deserter from the Italian Army who finds himself captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp where he reflects on the choices and circumstances that landed him there. Seven Beauties is a story of survival and the sacrifices, both physical and philosophical, that people will make to stay alive. Despite being highly controversial, like much of Wertmüller’s work, the film was a critical darling, with Giannini earning an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Wertmüller herself made film history by becoming the first woman to be nominated for Best Director.
A Night Full of Rain (1978) is the first Wertmüller film with original English dialogue, understandable since Giannini is cast opposite Candice Bergen (Carnal Knowledge). Their torrid love affair begins in Rome, follows to San Francisco, and ends violently on the titular night back in Rome. There is some nice subtext with news coverage of what could very well be the literal end of the world, but the unravelling relationship, told in flashback, is the true arc here. Perhaps lost in translation, the film seems to lack the wit and sarcastic whimsy of their previous collaborations, and failed to resonate with critics who found it “lifeless”.
Giancarlo Giannini stars opposite the legendary Sophia Loren in the 2001 TV-movie Francesca and Nunziata. He plays an aristocrat who marries into the 19th century pasta empire of Francesca (Loren). Nunziata (Claudia Gerini) is the orphan girl they are forced to adopt to fulfill a vow. When their son, Federico (Raoul Bova), returns and falls in love with his stepsister, things grow even more complicated for the beleaguered family.
Most of Wertmüller’s films have long, unwieldy titles as a trademark, but, in the interests of clarity and brevity, I have used the shorter English versions here. I hope you paisans don’t take me too much to task for it.
Giancarlo’s Subsequent Projects
Giannini is perhaps best known in America for his role as René Mathis in both recent James Bond franchise entries, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Mathis is an MI6 agent stationed in Montenegro. Bond villain Le Chiffre fingers Mathis as a double agent and his informant, though the evidence proves otherwise as the plot thickens. After being cleared by MI6, Mathis gets a posh retirement in Italy until being drawn into Bond’s off-the-books escapades in Quantum.
From police inspectors to secret agents to working class slobs, Giancarlo Giannini remains a compelling presence on screen. Capable of balancing a world-weary melancholy with a joie de vivre, he can elevate even mediocre material with an emotional range that captures the essence of what it means to be Italian. We salute him here at WeirdFlix on his birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.
Terry’s Early Work
Terrance Quinn was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on this day in 1952. While attending Central Michigan University, he took up acting as well as writing and directing for the stage. Finding a “Terrance Quinn” already registered with Actors Equity, he adopted the professional name “Terrance O’Quinn,” later shortening the forename to “Terry”.
Terry made a number of unremarkable television and film appearances in the early 1980s, including his feature film debut in the much-maligned Michael Cimino fiasco Heaven’s Gate. In an episode of the television series Tales of the Unexpected, he plays police officer Randy, who unwittingly takes a satchel full of stolen jewelry and negotiable bearer bonds as collateral for a $5.40 cafe check incurred by the panicked burglars. The ending is left purposefully ambiguous, so the viewer never finds out if Randy discovers the loot and what he chooses to do about it. It’s a fun little role, which leaves the requisite twist ending in Terry’s capable hands.
In 1985, Terry appeared in the film Silver Bullet as Joe Haller, Sheriff of Tarker’s Mills, Maine. The screenplay was adapted from the Stephen King novella Cycle of the Werewolf. The film was plagued with production difficulties, causing changes in script, director, and creature design, most at the behest of demanding producer Dino De Laurentiis.
Silver Bullet is the tale of a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional town. The story is narrated by an adult Jane Coslaw (Tovah Feldshuh, with the younger version played by Megan Follows). It recalls her remembrances of a fateful year (1976) in which a series of murders ravage her home of Tarker’s Mills.
Marty (Corey Haim) is Jane’s younger brother, a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair. While Marty isn’t one to let his disability stand in his way, his can-do attitude really gets under the skin of his big sis, who is tired of being overlooked in favor of the golden child (“Marty, Marty, Marty!”; see “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”, Re: The Brady Bunch). This petty jealousy comes to a head when alcoholic Uncle Red (the pitch-perfectly cast Gary Busey) comes for his monthly visit. Jane takes perverse pleasure in pointing out Red’s flaws, his alcoholism and his string of failed marriages, to the crippled nephew who idolizes him.
Marty does have good reason to hold his uncle in such high esteem. Red replaced the usual muffler on his motorized wheelchair (“The Silver Bullet”) with a cherry bomb blast pack and has promised a new, custom wheelchair is already under construction. Of course, even Marty can see that Red’s promises have a bad habit of going unfulfilled.
The Coslow Family drama takes a back seat to a string of murders, starting with a railroad worker, a would-be suicide, and an abusive father. At the local watering hole, Owen’s Bar (named after Stephen King’s own son, Owen), the town gets riled up at Sheriff Haller’s lack of progress and perceived ineptitude. By the end of the first act, Marty’s best friend Brady joins the body count. The discovery of the mangled corpse by Sheriff Haller (O’Quinn) is emotional and effective. Soon, a full-on vigilante mob is formed.
I believe it’s worth taking a moment to address a common complaint about this film and others of its era. As one critic puts it, “After three grisly deaths in a town the size of a postage stamp, you’d think the FBI would descend upon Tarker’s Mills like a tick on a june bug,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. The sad fact is that in 1976, the year in which the film is set, the term “serial killer” and the attendant concept were not widely adopted by law enforcement and were certainly not in use by the public or media. Only with the creation of the ViCAP system in 1985 was the FBI intrinsically tied to the investigation of serial murder. Additionally, without a common motive or method, it’s debatable as to whether a string of seemingly unrelated murders committed by a nebulous “maniac” constitue serial homicide. I’m not playing apologist here, but as I get older I notice more and more of this flawed understanding of history creeping into film criticism, especially films set in a time other than the year in which they were made.</rant>
What follows in the second act is a small town mystery, with Marty convincing his sister that a werewolf is on the prowl. They quickly bring Uncle Red into the investigation, though he is more than a little skeptical, comparing it to a Hardy Boys adventure. There are plenty of suspects, but the audience isn’t kept guessing for long, and I imagine most will have figured things out long before the reveal. Still, I’m not going to spoil the werewolf’s identity here. Thankfully, the trailer below keeps things mysterious as well.
Despite being based upon King’s novella, the Silver Bullet script went through a number of rewrites. Most notable is the initial plan for the werewolf to speak to demonstrate a retention of some of its human intelligence, but this was quickly scrapped. The werewolf demonstrated this trait in other ways, such as angrily beating a man to death with his own baseball bat. Gary Busey was also given license to ad lib in many of his takes. Stephen King and director Danial Attias liked some of them so much, they were kept for the final cut of the film.
The werewolf suit was designed by two-time Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi (Alien, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and many other genre classics). Producer Dino de Laurentiis was unimpressed and demanded changes that King and Rambaldi refused. With production looking to stall out, then-director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, The Beastmaster) began filming the non-werewolf scenes. Eventually, with the werewolf debate still unresolved, Coscarelli quit and was replaced by Attias. Laurentiis was forced to capitulate rather than see the film shelved, but the modern dance actor hired to portray the werewolf still failed to pass muster and was replaced by the actor playing the werewolf’s alter ego, leading to credit for a dual role. I find that the disparity between the Coscarelli-helmed human scenes and the almost campy, old-fashioned, dry ice-obscured werewolf scenes plays to the strengths of both halves of the film.
Terry O’Quinn and Gary Busey aren’t the only actors bringing their A-games to supporting roles. Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs) is natural as the proprietor and bat-wielding regulator of Owen’s Bar. Everett McGill (Quest for Fire) gets one of his first big roles in this film as Reverend Lester Lowe. Bill Smitrovich (Splash) also gets plenty of lines as local loudmouth Andy Fairton.
Terry’s Subsequent Projects
Terry landed his first starring role in The Stepfather (1987) as the title creep. A low-budget thriller, the film did well enough to spawn two sequels and a remake, though Terry reprised the role only once, in Stepfather II. Terry O’Quinn was singled out for his performance in the original, earning nominations for both an Independent Spirit Award and a Saturn Award.
Terry found steady work in supporting roles on both television and in film, but he is perhaps best known for his breakthrough role as John Locke on the hit series Lost. Having worked with series creator J. J. Abrams previously on Alias, Locke was the only main character that did not have official auditions. After a seven-episode stint on The West Wing, Abrams called O’Quinn to get him on board the fateful Oceanic Flight 815. In 2007, Terry O’Quinn was recognized for his work by being awarded the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
From small roles to big, heroes, villains, and otherwise, Terry O’Quinn has ever been a consummate professional. His characters can make you believe in werewolves, Rocketeers, cowboys, and aliens because of his conviction as an actor.
Many thanks and best wishes always.
“Acting has to be your only alternative. You can’t go into it and have a fall-back profession waiting. If you only try halfway, you are going to fail. If you are jumping from one building to the next, do not slow down before you jump. Jump. Jump hard.” — Terry O’Quinn
René’s Early Work
René Auberjonois was born in New York City on this day in 1940. Despite being a native New Yorker, René was treated as an outsider in school, due in part to his exotic name and having spent part of his early childhood in Paris. Being funny may have begun as a defense mechanism, but the positive attention drew René to the theatre.
While his family lived in an artists’ colony in Rockland County, New York, René made the acquaintance of fellow residents and actors Burgess Meredith and John Houseman. After college, René traveled from coast to coast, working with a number of prestigious theatre troupes. In 1968, René made his Broadway debut and secured a Tony Award just one year later.
René’s first big break in film came in the form of Robert Altman’s comedy M*A*S*H (1970), where he played Father Mulcahy. He would turn down the role in the subsequent television series, choosing instead to focus on a wide range of characters in film and television. In 1976, René played geologist Roy Bagley in the much maligned Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong.
Eyes of Laura Mars
In 1978, René took the role of Donald Phelps, agent to the title character in Eyes of Laura Mars. The John Carpenter screenplay was originally purchased by producer Jon Peters as a vehicle for girlfriend Barbra Streisand, but Babs found the material too violent and kinky. She did have a huge hit with the love theme, “Prisoner”, which eventually reached #21 on the Hot 100 charts. The title role went to Faye Dunaway, fresh from her Oscar-winning performance in Network.
Laura Mars (Dunaway) is a controversial fashion photographer, famous for mixing sex and violence in her shoots. Just as a coffee table book of her provocative photos is about to be published, Laura has a nightmare in which the editor, Doris Spenser (Meg Mundy), is murdered. The nightmare rattles Laura, not only because of visions of her friend’s death, but because it was experienced from the killer’s point-of-view and the crime scene closely resembles one of the photographs in her book. As Laura soon discovers, the nightmare was not just a figment of her fevered imagination, but a psychic vision, as Doris was murdered while a sleeping Laura helplessly watched.
Doris is only the beginning, however, and soon the bodies of Laura’s female friends and colleagues start piling up, each preceded by another disturbing first-person vision. This would seem to make Laura either the key witness or the killer, but when she explains that she saw a murder take place blocks away, the police grow predictably suspicious.
A quick perusal of her new book by detectives shows visual connections to a number of unsolved murders, creating a sort of chicken/egg scenario. Are her layouts influenced by a psychic link with a serial killer or is the killer influenced by her photos? This forms a recurring “media violence” theme in the film, questioning whether art imitates life or vice-versa, and to what sinister purpose?
As agent Donald Phelps, René is called upon to bring a very nuanced character to the screen. He is very directly linked to Laura on a professional level. Clearly, he cannot afford to stand by and watch her career disappear under a wash of madness and murder. On the other hand, he is a trusted friend and confidant, personally troubled by Laura’s plight, which puts him directly in harm’s way by proximity. Unless, of course, he’s the killer in question, and that’s a possibility that René’s performance has to convey as well. After all, in a supernatural thriller such as this, everyone is under suspicion, even the title character. Lieutenant John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) leads the investigation with Laura’s driver Tommy (Brad Dourif) and ex-husband Michael (Raúl Juliá) joining Donald on the list of plausible suspects.
Besides, it’s not just any actor who can be asked to dress up like Faye Dunaway and be convincing. René is certainly more believable in drag than Willem Dafoe in The Boondock Saints. Don’t fret, it’s not much of a spoiler. Watch the movie to see the bizarre context for this choice.
Legacy of Laura Mars
Despite mixed reviews, the film nearly tripled its $7 million budget. John Carpenter would go on to write and direct both Halloween and Someone’s Watching Me! (for NBC television) in 1978 and find success with both. Director Irvin Kershner’s work on Eyes of Laura Mars so impressed former student George Lucas, that Lucas tasked him with directing the sequel to the wildly successful Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back). Lucas has said of his selection, “I didn’t want Empire to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures… I was trying to build something.”
Singer-songwriter Tori Amos paid homage to the film on her 2002 concept album, Scarlet’s Walk in the song “Gold Dust”:
And somewhere Alfie cries
And says, “Enjoy his every smile
You can see in the dark
Through the eyes of Laura Mars”
As the final song on the album, “Gold Dust” capably echoes the reflective melancholy of the film. Life is fleeting and the future uncertain. “How did it go so fast?” indeed.
René’s Subsequent Projects
After Eyes of Laura Mars, René Auberjonois settled down for steady television work as prissy chief of staff Clayton Runnymede Endicott III on the political sitcom Benson. He also broke into voice acting with work on saturday morning cartoons including Smurfs, Snorks, SuperFriends, and the Rankin/Bass animated feature The Last Unicorn. Of his performance as The Skull, Last Unicorn author Peter S. Beagle said, “He could have played any role in that movie and I would have been happy… He’s that talented.”
When René’s friend, Nicholas Meyer, took the helm of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, René was offered a cameo role months before shooting began. The unbilled cameo turned into a key role as Colonel West, a conspirator who attempts to assassinate the Federation President while disguised as a Klingon. Unfortunately, his scenes were cut from theatrical release, but later reinstated for home video and some television broadcasts.
This would not be René’s last foray into the “final frontier,” however. As the shapeshifting Constable Odo, René was one of the core cast members through the entire run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Executive producer Ira Steven Behr recalls, “I was told six months before the series began that Odo was going to be a Clint Eastwood type, and when we started creating the first couple of episodes, we sent writers off to write Clint Eastwood. And then I was told Rene Auberjonois. And I said, ‘Clint Eastwood, Rene Auberjonois? Clint Eastwood, Rene Auberjonois? Does not compute.’ And then I saw what he brought to the role, and I had to call up a whole bunch of writers and say ‘Guys, I apologize, but this is better than we even imagined.’” René reportedly had doubts as to whether or not he could play the role, but his daughter Tessa had no such concerns. “Oh dad, yeah, this is yours,” she said, “you’re gonna get this.”
Odo carried on a tradition began with Mister Spock and Data as the nonhuman cast member who gives us an outsider’s perspective on humanity. It was a role he found “completely challenging and fulfilling. I never thought it would go seven years, frankly. I’m thrilled that it has, but I’m also ready to set sail on some new seas. It’s been a wonderful journey.”
When DS9 wrapped at the end of the 1990s, Auberjonois continued to play guest parts and do voice work for television before settling into another steady gig as senior partner Paul Lewiston on Boston Legal. While Lewiston often served as the voice of authority on the show rather than as a fully-formed, three-dimensional character, he lent an air of authenticity to the fictional law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. While a main cast member for the first three seasons, Paul Lewiston was reduced to a guest slot for the final two.
Whether as Donald Phelps or in his many other film and television roles, René Auberjonois often brought wit, style, and panache to the screen. We salute him here at WeirdFlix on his birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.