Tag Archives: United Film Distribution Company

Sleepaway Camp (1983, Robert Hiltzik)

Sleepaway Camp has two things going for it on a consistent basis–Benjamin Davis’s cinematography (it’s not flashy, but it’s exceptionally competent) and the special effects. There aren’t a lot of gore shots in Camp, but director Hiltzik makes sure they count. He can’t do the suspense sequences, which is a bit of a problem, but I’m not sure where to start with all the film’s problems.

Some of it is a perfectly fine dumb camp movie. It’s mean in that “jocks versus the norms” eighties way, but there’s a cool counselor (Paul DeAngelo–who shockingly doesn’t turn out to be a prick) and Hiltzik is definitely trying with the camp stuff. The scenes with the counselors explaining how an activity works and whatever? Hiltzik worked on those scenes.

Or he just hired photogenic camp counselors.

But it’s not just some dumb movie about Jonathan Tiersten’s bringing his shy cousin (Felissa Rose) to his favorite summer camp, where she romances his best friend, Christopher Collet, and feuds with his ex-girlfriend, Karen Fields. No, it’s not got a serial killer on the loose. At first, the serial killer after some of the downright evil and then just stupidly bad people in the camp. Eventually, however, the killer starts targeting even the innocent and what’s going to happen. Will sleazy camp owner Mike Kellin pin it on Tiersten, or is something else going on?

It’s not a good mystery–there isn’t one–so Hiltzik slaps a twist ending on it. That twist ending has certain very uncomfortable foreshadowing throughout the film and it’s clear, even though Hiltzik wanted to write about a bunch of kids at a summer camp being in danger, he never had any sympathy for any of the characters. Otherwise, maybe the script would’ve been better.

But there’s nothing to be done about his direction. Or Edward Bilous’s score.

Decent moments from Tiersten, Collet, sort of Kellin, definitely Paul DeAngelo and maybe a handful of others. Rose’s part is awful. It’s hard to gauge the performance. Desiree Gould turns in a performance out of a Saturday Night Live dinner theatre sketch. Not the best way to start a picture.

Sleepaway Camp, partially thanks to Hiltzik’s misunderstanding of MacGuffins and general weirdness about sex, is nowhere near as endearing as it should be.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert Hiltzik; director of photography, Benjamin Davis; edited by Ron Kalish and Sharyn L. Ross; music by Edward Bilous; production designer, William Bilowit; produced by Jerry Silva and Michele Tatosian; released by United Film Distribution Company.

Starring Jonathan Tiersten (Ricky), Felissa Rose (Angela), Christopher Collet (Paul), Karen Fields (Judy), Mike Kellin (Mel), Katherine Kamhi (Meg), Paul DeAngelo (Ronnie) and Desiree Gould (Aunt Martha).


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Dawn of the Dead (1978, George A. Romero)

Dawn of the Dead is relentless and exhausting. Director Romero burns out the viewer and not by the end of the film but probably three-quarters of the way through. He establishes the ground situation with a sense of impending doom, not just with the principal cast and how they’ll fare in the zombie apocalypse, but in the human condition itself. Specifically the American human condition.

It comes up a few times throughout the film, first in an awesome, horrifying action sequence and later as a talk show aside. Dawn of the Dead is a black comedy and a very effective one; Romero gets there by making the characters as real (and as self-aware) as possible. He gives his actors moments, big and small, and all of them are spectacular, whether it’s Gaylen Ross and David Emge arguing about her equal vote or the bromance between Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger.

Romero gets the character conflict out of the way relatively quickly in the film. It makes the characters more sympathetic and (potentially) more tragic. He never relies on melodrama to perturb their character arcs. Dawn is always sincere when it comes to its characters and the actors excel with Romero’s direction. There’s a plain realism to their performances, with Romero’s editing and emotive compositions elevating everything further.

The film has a number of big action sequences, usually lengthy, amid more summary sequences. Occasionally Romero goes with montage sequences, set to Dario Argento and Goblin’s fantastic score. The score does a lot for Dawn, simultaneously giving the viewer insight into the characters while celebrating the lunacy of the film itself. Not absurdity, but lunacy. From the start, Romero wants Dawn to be outlandish but always believable.

Great photography from Michael Gornick.

Dawn of the Dead is breathtaking from the first scene. Romero, whether writing, directing, editing, does phenomenal work on this picture. He gets these amazing performances out of the cast. Like I said, he burns the viewer out before the end of the film as far as hoping for a positive outcome. The last fourth of the film, after all hope has drained from the viewer’s soul, should be academic and somewhat by rote. Instead, it’s the most compelling part of Dawn. Romero and his actors have shown time and again they’re worth the emotional, intellectual investment.

It’s complex, thoughtful, exciting, hilarious, mortifying, revolting. Dawn of the Dead is wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, edited and directed by George A. Romero; director of photography, Michael Gornick; music by Goblin and Dario Argento; produced by Richard P. Rubinstein; released by United Film Distribution Company.

Starring David Emge (Stephen), Ken Foree (Peter), Scott H. Reiniger (Roger) and Gaylen Ross (Francine).


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Q (1982, Larry Cohen)

Q is sort of ripe for a remake. Not because this version has shoddy special effects–while the film’s still effective with them, they look like something out of the 1925 Lost World–but because there are three great roles in the film and nearly a fourth.

Michael Moriarty’s top-billed and definitely gives the film’s most sensational performance as a weaselly small-time crook who has a terrifying adventure and figures out how to profit from it–what sets Q apart is the relatively lengthy time spent on the politics of hunting a flying monster in New York City. It’s tragic the guy’s never been appreciated for his acting brilliance.

The real lead is David Carradine (as a cop), because even with the screen time given to Moriarty, the film’s still a police procedural. Carradine’s performance is really impressive–though he’s undone, once or twice, by Cohen’s terrible insert close-ups, which I’ll get to in a second. Then there’s Richard Roundtree, as another cop, who gets a full character in a supporting role. Roundtree’s great too and it’s too bad Cohen didn’t just make a straight prequel with him and Carradine investigating some case.

Unfortunately, as solid as Cohen’s writing is for his male characters, it’s inversely weak for the one female character. Candy Clark’s Moriarty’s girlfriend and she’s awful. It’s not her so much as bad editing and bad inserts and terrible writing. It’s real disappointing.

But, Q‘s a good movie. Better than it should be, really.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Larry Cohen; directors of photography, Robert Levi and Fred Murphy; edited by Armond Lebowitz; music by Robert O. Ragland; released by United Film Distribution Company.

Starring Michael Moriarty (Jimmy Quinn), Candy Clark (Joan), David Carradine (Shepard), Richard Roundtree (Powell), James Dixon (Lt. Murray), Malachy McCourt (Commissioner), Fred J. Scollay (Capt. Fletcher), John Capodice (Doyle) and Tony Page (Webb).


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