B-Movie Double Bill: It's Alive and Blazing Magnum - 4th March 2011

Larry Cohen is a bit of a genius, having spent most of his career writing any random, weird thing that comes into his head and actually managing to get them made.
He stared out a writer and series runner for run of the mill TV Shows such as 'Branded' but when he did branch out into directing features it was with 'Black Caesar' one of the famous Blaxploitation films of the early 70s. It wasn't long after this and 'Hell Up In Harlem' that he penned and directed the demon baby classic that spawned not one but two sequels, 'It's Alive'.

Basically the film revolves around a family who own possibly the most ludicrously decorated 70s house ever, the mother tarts herself up to go into labour and the husband wonders around the hospital waiting room with other would-be Dads, smoking heavily and lending morons money for the vending machine. His wife then gives birth to a deformed, crazy baby that kills all the attending staff and escapes through the roof. Just another normal Friday night in a Larry Cohen film.
All this mutant baby hullabaloo leads the mother to be branded as crazier than bucket of miniature Piers Morgans, which, let's be fair, she is and she spends most of the rest of the film wondering around her home in an orange paisley nightie strobing with the olive green paisley wall paper while her husband, who is inexplicably fired from his job for having a ugly, violent offspring (surely that would result in 80% of the human race being unemployed but anyhew...),  believes himself to be in a serious melodrama and, with the police, goes on the hunt for the demented sprog, over-acting his weirdly odd little face off.

The beginning and end of the film are rather exciting, dealing, as they do, with the birth of the malevolent little quisling and then of course the inevitable capture of the mutated, toothy brat. In the middle, however, not much happens. This is most likely due to budgetary restraints, as we hardly ever see more than just bits of the deformed, veiny headed, midget oik and it doesn't so much run amok as it does occasionally leap out of hedges and kill milkmen.

The film is played more as a family melodrama than an out and out horror and in order to drag the thing out to the requisite 90 minutes the police have to do ineptly stupid things like wonder into a school where they know it is for certain without turning any lights on, also it doesn't quite have the intelligence, beyond an obvious 'child-birth is hell' subtext, that it appears to be reaching for.

Still, that said, when watched with a rowdy group at a B-Movie night it's a bit of good fun and while it isn't exactly The Brood or Rosemary's Baby, it has it's own sort of demented charm and John P. Ryan, the lead actor is a pleasure to watch as he mugs and grimaces throughout the proceedings.

6.5 out of 10 very hammy sandwiches
Points from The Wife 6 out of 10

On to our second movie of the evening and wow, what can be said about this 1976 curiosity except that it may just be one of the very best films you've never seen.

At first glance this is a B-Movie Dirty Harry rip off written and directed by some nutty Italians and filmed, no doubt for monetary reasons, in Montreal and it's interesting to note that everywhere but America sold it under names that hinted as such: Blazing Magnum, Tough Tony Siatta, The 44 Specialist and Big Magnum 77 (Which, in Britain, sounds like a new addition to the ice cream brand and everywhere else sounds like a ridiculously large sex aid). In America, however they sold it more as a horror/thriller, calling it 'Strange Shadows in an Empty Room' which I mention because, while there are certainly elements of Dirty Harry, Bullet and French Connection in there, the plot is also typical of Giallo, which is an Italian form of cinema, dabbled in most frequently by Dario Argento and his ilk, that deals with twisty turny murder and crime thriller stories, usually featuring nudity and gore, which Blazing Magnum has too, just not in abundance.
The truth of the matter is that it's a bit of both, part 70s, ruthless cop caper, part bizarre crime drama. It is curious and certainly interesting to note, however, that America and not Italy sold the film with a much more authentic Giallo sounding title and with a poster that depicts a blind woman and the feet of an obviously hanging corpse.

The plot, as far as I could figure it and not that it is relevant, had to do with a hardbitten detective, Stuart Whitman, whose wayward younger sister is killed at a party where she is being implausibly sleazed all over by Martin Landau's lips and, with John Saxon in tow, he must find out who killed her and why. Along the way they meet a blind girl, do battle with transvestites, lock up a doctor without any evidence, have one of the most ridiculous foot chases in the history of cinema, abuse possible suspects only to find they know absolutely nothing, turn up some information about some expensive and mysterious Oriental black pearls that may or may not be important, trash apartments, damage several cars during a chase sequence that is completely and utterly legendary, putting many modern big budget films to shame and, eventually, shoot down a helicopter over a city full of people with a hand gun.
In the end, the detective learns the deep, dark truth about his not so perfect sibling, they save blind Mia Farrow's sister and Martin Landau's lips are free to continue practicing medicine and dribbling all over healthy young co-eds. The city, I presume, foots the bill for all of Whitman's ridiculous and destructive crime solving methods.

So what we are talking about here is a film that has some of my favourite elements of all time: crime, mystery, horror, action, car chases, ridiculous one liners, stern men in brown 70s suits not taking shit from anyone all wrapped up in a crowd pleasing B-Movie bow. They honestly don't make them like this anymore, they would try but it would be hapless, self-referential, obvious, soulless pap and there'd be no slow motion shots of tits either.

Stuart Whitman's performance is a suitably snarling, gruff, heavy handed affair and as he is the only one with anything to do really, he makes the most of it. He seems to be literally one step away from actually chewing some scenery. John Saxon and Martin Landau, however, while it's always a bizarre pleasure to see them in a mad movie like this, don't have a whole lot to do at all and the less said about the somewhat drip-tasticly bland and weak performance of Tisa Farrow the better.

It is just a fantasticly ludicrous film, with absolutely no real morality (except it's wrong to kill Whitman's sister), a good dollop of over the top, brilliantly done action and a phenomenal 70s soundtrack complete with a funky full orchestra, perfect to watch in a group as a seriously amusing evening's entertainment but I suspect also a bit of fun as a Sunday afternoon action caper to watch by yourself.
The real shame is that it only seems to exist in a bad video to DVD transfer on the "Grindhouse Experience, Vol.2 Box Set" someone needs to do a special edition of this, possibly as a double bill with Gone With The Pope. It has completely whetted my appetite to just hunt down and watch more and more of these brilliant, old, curious B-Movies.

I will arrange another night like this one soon I think!

9 out of 10 gravelly voice creating shots of hard liquor
Points from The Wife 7 out of 10


Red State (live at Radio City Music Hall) - 5th March 2011

Unknown - 21st February 2011