Charlton Heston’s Mother Lode is one of those neat flicks that not only is filmed in my hometown of Vancouver (like every movie ever) and the surrounding British Columbia region, but is also set there as well. It’s an entertaining, if slight little adventure story that’s perfect to put on for a rainy afternoon on the iPad. Heston, in addition to both writing and directing, plays two roles here, but it’s a bit of a sly trick saying that because he mostly appears as one, and only briefly as the other, but no matter, the old pro works his butt off to steal every scene. He plays loner mountain man Silas McGee, an eccentric prospector whose stairs don’t quite reach the attic, living alone in the wilderness looking for that perfect gold strike. The excellent Nick Mancuso, in a role originally meant for James Brolin, is Jean Dupre, a cocky bush pilot who heads McGee’s way with his high strung girlfriend (Kim Basinger), looking for a fellow pilot who got lost and a little of the gold stuff for himself while he’s at it. As soon as they run into McGee it’s clear the old dog is crazy as shit and not to be trusted, creating a nice atmosphere of isolated paranoia and mystery as the man’s true intentions come to dark light. Mancuso is always terrifically intense and so great at subtle comic moments, this is one of his great early roles and not to be missed for any fan. Poor Basinger suffered a miscarriage while production was underway and as such seems understandably distracted, but she’s a trooper and carries her end well. Heston either does a brilliant Scottish accent, a slipshod one or a bit of both, it’s hard to tell with his rapid fire banter and eloquent, robust verbosity. He’s electric though, and freaky as all hell as the type of dodgy fellow you better pray you don’t run into out there. The action is pretty run of the mill and the film loses the tautness a thriller like this should have in parts, but it’s solid enough to not change the channel. For B.C. residents it’s an absolute treat though, especially as Mancuso’s rickety float plane arcs up over the Vancouver harbour towards the Cassiar mountains and we get to see what our city looked like back in the 80’s. Cool stuff.
Along with the classic The Crow, Brandon Lee made few other films before his heartbreaking accidental death. His natural charisma and likeability he brought to action hero roles, accenting the tough guy qualities with an angelic vulnerability, was tragically cut short by the incident. However, Rapid Fire is a gift to fans of both Lee and the action genre alike. It’s a little further away from the notoriety of The Crow, but packs a fuming punch of martial arts, gunplay and tough talking character actors strutting their stuff to a tune that any fan of the genre can hum along to. Lee plays Jake, a young college student with turmoil in his past, haunted by an incident involving a loved one in the Tienemen Square disaster. During a visit to Chicago, he inadvertently witnesses a brutal gangland murder perpetrated by drug kingpin Tony Serrano (Nick Mancuso). This immediately puts him in the hot seat and pretty much on his own after the federal agent assigned to him (Raymond J. Barry) betrays him. His only hope lies with grouchy, paternal Chicago Detective Mace Ryan (Powers Boothe) who is on his own rampaging crusade to bring down the drug trade. Jake merely wants to survive and get out of the mess he’s found himself in. Together they punch, kick, shoot and strategize their way out of getting offed by the mafia, and kick some serious scumbag ass along the way. Lee is ultimate protagonist material: his strong points arise out of the soft touch, never being brash or hogging the screen, always serving up a helping of humble that make the ass kicking resonate tenfold. Boothe is pricelessly grumpy as the haggard detective, showing brief but unmistakable glimpses of the bruised warrior’s heart beneath, rekindled by his bond with Jake. Mancuso is like a rabid pit bull let off the chain as Serrano, a truly untethered piece of geniune psychopathic anarchy. But that’s him, always the under sung wild card who lights up his scenes with wild eyed tenacity. Chinese acting legend Tzi Ma also clocks in as a heroin dealer with a short temper, looking very young which is even made into a meta joke itself. It’s pure uncut action, somehow feeling like more thanks to Lee’s incredible presence, as well as Boothe and Mancuso adding their own lively brand of spice to an already simmering stew. Essential viewing for any action disciple.
Before John Carpenter’s Halloween, there was Black Christmas, and no it’s not a Tyler Perry holiday special. It’s a slick little slasher set in a 1970’s sorority house during Christmas break, when many of the girls have gone home. Suddenly mysterious phone calls start to plague the ones still there, and one by one a murderous, unseen prowler starts to murder them. The phone calls themselves aren’t overly threatening, but instead sound like the nonsensical babbling of someone who is a couple reindeer short of a sleigh, making them all the scarier. I remember watching this years ago and being far more creeped out at the phone calls rather than the actual murders. That is a perfect example of using atmosphere to get under your audience’s skin rather than straight up gore, and a testament to the fright films of the 70’s and 80’s, which really seemed to have all the atmosphere vs. gore dials in the right positions. This positively drips with tension and ambience. The silences in between screams are almost deafening in their vacuous anticipation of terror to come, and strange as it sounds, there’s actually a nice Christmas-y feeling in places where the fear hasn’t yet struck, despite it being a horror movie. Olivia Hussey plays Jess, the main target of the killer with appropriate wide eyed intensity, Margot Kidder is briefly seen as the house mother, and horror regular John Saxon shows up as a suspicious Police Chief as well. I’d say this one achieves a state of suspense and atmosphere that can step up to the same plate as Halloween any day, it’s just a little overlooked I suppose. The house they are in is the perfect setting, a sprawling Yuletide manor of creaky hallways, desolated basements, dark, dingy attic space and an uneasy thrum of awaiting gloom that gives the words Silent Night a new meaning. The poor girls just never know when a shrill telephone ring will slice through the eerie corridors, forcing them to answer it and hear an unnerving voice warble out “It’s me, Billy” on the other end.
PS: avoid the remake at all costs. It takes everything that was creepy and restrained about this classic and turns it into a disgusting nightmare.