B Movie Glory: Route 666

I was a bit disappointed that at no point during a film about a haunted highway did the song “Highway To Hell” play on the soundtrack, especially a horror flick with the sort of shoot ‘em up, classic rock vibes that Route 666 has, but oh well. This is a mostly silly, sometimes entertaining bit of B trash with a fantastic premise that doesn’t quite get the mileage it may have in a better film. Lou Diamond Phillips and Lori Petty are a charismatic pair of US Marshals escorting a fugitive mob informant (Steven Williams, The X Files, True Detective, Jason Goes To Hell) from some heat scorched, one horse desert town into LA to testify against some very bad people. What they don’t know is that the particular stretch of desolate interstate they’ve picked for a shortcut is home to the ghosts of some even worse people, who have noticed them trespassing on their road and are now out for blood. If this simple concept had been stripped bare and milked for all its worth in blessed Grindhouse simplicity I feel like the film would have fared better, but there’s just so many dangling subplots including a Russian hitman dispatched to kill them, rival federal agents they clash with over jurisdiction and even an indigenous shaman (Gary Farmer) with supernatural powers who guides Phillips hotshot gunslinger into the path of his Native American lineage, which ties into the ghost convicts who were in an ill fated chain gang decades before. Then there’s the great L.Q. Jones as a very untrustworthy county sheriff who get involved in the whole mess too, and it all feels like wanton clutter orbiting a concept that could have stood rock solid on its own and feels like it would have made an awesome episode of Tales From The Crypt back in the day. While the shootouts are mostly lame, distended sequences that feel too long, not kinetic enough and filled with dingy, lethargic soundtrack choices, the special effects and editing used to bring the ghost convicts alive really fascinated me. Unconventional techniques, strange fade in/fade outs, surprisingly artistic makeup and just the way they move and interact with their surroundings had me thinking of the otherworldly Woodsman in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks The Return and it wouldn’t surprise me if the guy saw this random little horror flick and took sneaky inspiration. I’ll also say that Lori Petty absolutely rocks and I wish she’d had a more prolific career, she can take any role, no matter how creatively limited it’s written and give it this down to earth, punky personality that just radiates forth, she’s truly a wondrous talent. It’s a decent enough B flick with a great premise that gets a bit muddled, but has enough to entertain.

-Nate Hill

The Unsung Hero by Kent Hill

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It is always a delight indeed to sit down with the director of one of my favorite movies. Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama, Lone Wolf McQuade), acclaimed filmmaker and photographic artist extraordinaire has given us all, not only great cinema, but now his first book, Western Portraits: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen (Edition Olms, 2019). Rendered in evocative tones reminiscent of Edward Sheriff Curtis’s immortal images, the stylized photographs in Western Portraits capture the allure and mystique of the Old West, complete with authentic costuming, weaponry and settings. Among the subjects who posed for the book are the popular actors Karl Malden, David Carradine, R. G. Armstrong, Stefanie Powers, L. Q. Jones, Denver Pyle and 77 others.

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From the epic feature film to the TV series and serial, this coffee table book puts the story of character actors and the significance of their memorable roles into an entertaining perspective. Appealing at once to lovers of classic cinema, Western history aficionados, writers, scholars and collectors of nostalgia and fine art photography, Western Portraits of Great Character Actors: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen will awaken movie memories in people’s hearts while introducing others to the amazing work of these acting artists, serving as a record of the best of the Hollywood Western.

With collaborators C. Courtney Joyner – a writer whose first major output was a string of more than 25 movie screenplays beginning with The Offspring starring Vincent Price, and Prison directed by Renny Harlin. His novels include the new fantasy-adventure Nemo Rising and the Shotgun Western series, which have both been optioned for television – and Roger Corman – Legendary film director-producer – who contributed the foreword for Western Portraits alongside Joyner’s crafted series of insightful essays to accompany the photographs.

He learnt the art of story-boarding from the great Alfred Hitchcock, he learnt to make pasta with Sergio Leone, and has directed the man we remember as the American Ninja. Steve is so full of stories I hope his next book is definitely an autobiography, but in the meantime we have this glorious work to sit and marvel at. Some of the greatest character actors of all time (that have also been my guests, in the persons of Tim Thomerson and Fred Williamson) take center stage in a book the is the ultimate amalgamation of fine art and Hollywood yesteryear.

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Brooklyn native Steve Carver studied photography at the University of Buffalo and Washington University in St. Louis. He pursued a formal education in film-making at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies, also participating in the Directors Guild of America’s apprenticeship program. Prolific motion picture producer Roger Corman hired Carver to direct four movies, including Big Bad Mama. Carver also directed American action star Chuck Norris in An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade.

Martin Campbell’s The Mask Of Zorro

Martin Campbell’s The Mask Of Zorro still holds up today, thanks mostly to its sumptuous, sultry production design and three passionate, swashbuckling and delightfully self aware performances from Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones and Antonio Banderas. This was one of the first more intense and violent adventure films I saw as a young’un, and while the PG13 heroics seem tame in comparison to other films, it still has that menacing edge for me. Hopkins is a scene stealer as Don Diego, the fearless rascal who takes up the mantle of Zorro and passes it along to haughty young thief Alejandro (Banderas) years after he’s betrayed by despicable nobleman Montero (Stuart Wilson, slimy and then some). The real eye catcher is drop dead gorgeous Zeta Jones as Diego’s daughter Elena, whose swordplay and roguish attitude both match and spar with that of Banderas, their chemistry onscreen is pure Latin fire in full flame. It gets quite lighthearted and theatrical at times but this is after all Zorro and not Batman we’re talking about here, he’s kind of like the Latin Lone Ranger and the flamboyant flourish is part of the charm. The supporting cast is fun too, but Matt Letscher is a bit vanilla to play the dastardly secondary villain who literally keeps heads in a jar, they would have been better off going the grizzled character actor route instead of a golden boy like him. All is well with Maury Chaykin as a testy prison warden and the late L.Q. Jones as a crusty outlaw who mentors young Banderas and has arguably the most memorable scene of the film. The star power of our three leads is where it’s at though, Banderas is smokin’ good in the charcoal black outfit waving the classic needle sword around in people’s faces, Hopkins exudes an amused nobility and Jones… man, you don’t find beauty and charisma like that every day. James Horner’s score is a trumpet blast of celebratory cues that fires up the action energetically, Cecilia Montiel’s production design lovingly brings the world and time period to life, while Campbell paints in broad, playful director’s strokes, all to bring us what has become an adventure classic. There is a sequel, but it’s kind of a listless, gaudy retread that loses the magic in cheesy set pieces, stick with this diamond instead .

-Nate Hill