Marty's Marquee
Starcrash-Striking Distance


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STARCRASH (1979)--Directed by Luigi Cozzi. Stars Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer, Joe Spinell, David Hasselhoff, Robert Tessier, Judd Hamilton. I waited literally decades to see STARCRASH, one of dozens of STAR WARS ripoffs to bounce into theaters in the late '70s and early '80s. The promise of swashbuckling robots, exploding spaceships, monstrous golems, Marjoe Gortner's towering perm and, last but certainly not least, the fetching Caroline Munro in all her pulchritudinous splendor tantalized me seemingly forever. Was it worth the wait? Well, STARCRASH is not at all good in any way, but it's never boring, and I'm glad I finally saw it.

The incomprehensible storyline begins with space smuggler Stella Star (Munro) and her superpowered sidekick Akton (Gortner) fleeing through hyperspace (really cheap, animated squiggly lines) from their adversaries Thor (a bald, blue-faced Tessier) and Galactic Police Robot "L" (Hamilton), who speaks with a Texan (!) accent. Although Stella and Akton are hailed as worthy adversaries, they're startlingly easy to capture, and are sentenced by a silly-looking stop-motion-animated head to long prison terms. Stella is forced into hard labor feeding radium to the furnace, which is actually dropping beach balls from a medical stretcher into a large hole in the ground. Easily escaping and destroying the facility, Stella dashes through a grassy field, and is again captured by Thor and L. This time, though, it's OK, since Thor and L have engineered her escape (although they couldn't have judging from what we saw) on behalf of the Emperor of the Universe (a what-is-he-doing-here Plummer). Reunited with Akton, Stella is assigned by the Emperor to rescue his son Simon (Hasselhoff, who was on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS at the time), whose ship crashlanded on one of three planets. To extend the running time to feature length, the search party doesn't find him until they reach the third planet, which also is the home of the diabolical Count Zarth Arn (Spinell), whose dialogue sounds like Stan Lee's Dr. Doom and whose wardrobe suspiciously resembles Darth Vader's.

I'm worn out detailing just this much of the plot, since it seems to change every few minutes. New characters are added, others are dropped. Cozzi and co-screenwriter Nat Wachsberger write themselves out of corners by giving the characters previously unmentioned superpowers and into others through an alarming lack of logic, characterization and elementary school-level science. See Stella survive a night on the surface of a planet with a temperature of thousands of degrees below zero! See the Emperor's warriors invade the Count's spaceship (which is shaped like a giant hand--complete with flexing fingers!) by firing themselves inside torpedoes (!) through glass windows (!) onto the bridge! See Marjoe battle animated creatures using a lightsaber (!) that the Count's crack security staff conveniently neglected to confiscate! Best of all, watch in amazement as the Emperor rescues our heroes with the ultimate deus ex machina--a green ray that "halts the flow of time"!

The visual effects are pretty lousy all around, although there are lots of them--chintzy plastic spaceship models (complete with hanging wires), cheap animation, blurry rear-screen projection, jiggery stop-motion. The outer space backgrounds resemble Christmas trees with their bright red, yellow and blue stars, the dogfights are ineptly choreographed and, as for the makeup, Gortner and Hasselhoff wear as much mascara as Munro. It's difficult to judge the performances, due to the crude dubbing and cringe-inducing dialogue, but it's hard to imagine any cast of actors that could improve this film. Munro, one of the sexiest women ever to appear in genre movies, acts mostly with a steady array of cleavage-baring leather bikinis, Gortner delivers another performance with the same goofy grin he always uses, Spinell flares his nostrils and spins his cape, and Hasselhoff just plain looks lonely and lost.

What's glorious about STARCRASH is that, when viewed with the proper state of mind, it's quite fun. The story becomes such a mess so early in the picture that I gave up the stressful feat of actually trying to follow it, and just went along with the goofy flow instead. Every few minutes, a new threat--an army of sexy Amazon warriors, a 50-foot robot with boobs, kung-fu-kicking cavemen, sword-wielding golems--is introduced that's even funnier than the one that came before it, and every time Cozzi pulls another headscratching plothole eraser (for instance, at just the right time, it's revealed that one character can see into the future, which, of course, explains why he lets himself be hit on the head and captured over and over again...) out of his hat, it's so in-your-face audacious and shameful that I had to laugh.

Somehow Cozzi convinced Bond-film veteran John Barry to do the score, which is better than STARCRASH deserves, but still below-average for Barry. Also with Nadia Cassini as the Amazon Queen and American character actor Hamilton Camp as the voice of L. Judd Hamilton, who played L, was Munro's husband, and also appeared with her (and Spinell) in THE LAST HORROR FILM. Cozzi, who was credited in America as "Lewis Coates", also directed Lou Ferrigno in a pair of laughable Hercules adventures. Also known as THE ADVENTURES OF STELLA STAR and FEMALE SPACE INVADERS! The tagline on the original one-sheet that's hanging in my living room says, "A Space Adventure for all Time!" Hardly.

STARGATE (1994)--Directed by Roland Emmerich. Stars Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson. This surprise hit from MGM allowed director Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin to collaborate on INDEPENDENCE DAY, which became one of the biggest box-office smashes ever. Crewcutted soldier Russell and nerdy Egyptologist Spader travel through a mysterious portal of extraterrestrial origin to a parallel desert world ruled by an effeminate Sun God (Davidson's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated role in THE CRYING GAME) and populated by slaves. Filled with epic scenes and spellbinding special effects, but Russell's character is cliched, and the climax is a letdown. Emmerich and Devlin take the audience on a wild ride though, and although you may not remember much about it later, STARGATE is fun while it lasts. Music by David Arnold. Also with Viveca Lindfors, John Diehl and Alexis Cruz. Filmed in Arizona.
STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)--Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Stars Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Michael Ironside. Action-packed blockbuster based upon the 1959 novel by renowned science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. Sometime in the future, Earth is in danger of being invaded by fierce insects from outer space--and it's up to the kids from BEVERLY HILLS 90210 to stop the madness! Hotshot Johnny Rico (Van Dien) joins the service in order to follow dream girl Carmen Ibanez (creamy Richards), who plans to be a spaceship pilot. But after he's dumped, Rico not only becomes his unit's number-one topkick in the battle against the bugs, but he also falls for tough infantry chick Meyer.

Most of this plays for parody, as Verhoeven puts the blood-and-guts of war front and center, contrasting our heroes' suburban-like background with the grit of battle. The visual effects by Phil Tibbett and a number of FX companies are spellbinding; never are you less than convinced that giant bugs are overrunning the planet. And mean ones too--some of them even spit fire from antennae! The younger cast members are pretty bland, but that actually works in the film's favor. Screenplay by Ed (ROBOCOP) Neumeier. Rousing musical score by Basil Poledouris. Also with Clancy Brown, Neil Patrick Harris, Rue McClanahan. One of the best science-fiction films of the decade from the director of ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL.

STARTING OVER (1979)--Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Stars Burt Reynolds, Candice Bergen, Jill Clayburgh, Charles Durning, Frances Sternhagen. Working with a witty screenplay by James L. Brooks, who later wrote and directed TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Reynolds plays against type as a lonely magazine writer who moves to Boston following his divorce from an aspiring singer-songwriter played by Bergen. With the assistance of his touchy-feely psychiatrist brother (Durning) and sister-in-law (Sternhagen), Reynolds is set up with an eccentric schoolteacher played by Clayburgh, who specialized in eccentric young women during the '70s.
Both characters are likable, sweet, funny, but have been burned by bad relationships before, and are insecure about starting another one. Brooks also fills his script with a number of amusing supporting characters, like the members of a men's divorce support group that Reynolds joins, who freely admit that they don't know the first thing about women. Both Clayburgh and Bergen were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances in STARTING OVER. Reynolds wasn't, and it's one of the Academy's most glaring oversights. Burt shaved off his trademark mustache to play this role, and with it came his larger-than-life macho image. He's still likable and charismatic, but also more down-to-earth and someone we can easily identify with, sympathize with, and care about. Also with Austin Pendleton, Jay O. Sanders, Alfie Wise and Mary Kay Place. Kevin Bacon is allegedly in there somewhere as Young Man, but I couldn't spot him. Music by Marvin Hamilisch, who teamed with Carole Bayer Sager to write the (intentionally) wretched songs croaked by Bergen.

STATE AND MAIN (2000)--Directed by David Mamet. Stars William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Paymer, Charles Durning, Patti LuPone, Julia Stiles, Clark Gregg. Writer-director Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS) adapts his trademark rat-a-tat-tat style to screwball comedy for this rollicking swipe at Hollywood moviemaking. Fast-talking Walt Price (Macy) and his crew invade sleepy Waterford, Vermont to make a period piece called THE OLD MILL. Problem is there's no old mill in Waterford anymore (it burned down in 1960--those troublesome teenage arsonists!), so it's up to first-time screenwriter Joseph White (Hoffman) to make some script accommodations. Other invaders include leading man Bob Barrenger (Baldwin), whose proclivity for teenage girls got the crew kicked out of their former location; female lead Claire Wellesley (Parker), who demands an extra $800,000 to pop her top on camera; and profane producer Marty Rossen (Paymer). Adjusting to the Hollywood gang's frantic ways are befuddled mayor Bailey (Durning) and his trophy wife (LuPone); saucy teen Carla (Stiles); and sweet bookstore owner Ann (Pidgeon), who falls for Joseph against the wishes of her arrogant lawyer fiance Doug (Gregg).

Although satirizing Hollywood has been done to death on screen (Tom DiCillo's LIVING IN OBLIVION, Robert Altman's THE PLAYER, Alan Alda's SWEET LIBERTY--also about a film crew invading a small New England town), STATE AND MAIN feels fresh due to its razor-sharp dialogue and fine thesping by its cast. Macy comes off best as the alternately fawning and ferocious filmmaker, delivering lines like "It's not a lie. It's a gift for fiction." with aplomb. Baldwin has fun sending up his own image, while Hoffman and Pidgeon lend the film its heart. Although many may consider Mamet to be slumming with such lightweight material, STATE AND MAIN is easily one of the funniest comedies of the year, and I hardly consider it to be a waste of Mamet's abilities. Also with Ricky Jay, Jim Frangione and Michael Higgins. Theodore Shapiro delivers the cool score.

STEEL DAWN (1987)--Directed by Lance Hool. Stars Patrick Swayze, Lisa Niemi, Anthony Zerbe, Brion James, Brett Hool. An exploitative hybrid of SHANE and THE ROAD WARRIOR. Post-apocalyptic drifter Swayze takes up with widow Niemi (Swayze's real-life wife) and her son Hool. Evil land baron Zerbe, who wants Niemi's precious water supply, endangers them. Swayze is believable in the many swordfights and action scenes, and Zerbe is an accomplished villain. Filmed in Namibia.

STICK (1985)--Directed by Burt Reynolds. Stars Burt Reynolds, Candice Bergen, George Segal, Charles Durning, Dar Robinson. Film adaptation of Elmore Leonard's potboiler begins promisingly, but soon teeters into self-parody. Ex-con Reynolds returns to Miami after seven years in prison, but returns to his violent ways when his pal is murdered by druglord Durning. Burt tries hard to make an old-fashioned film noir (even acting without his toupee), but some of the performances are too tongue-in-cheek, and it's difficult to take Durning seriously as a villain with his ridiculous orange-colored wig. Stuntman Robinson makes a strong presence as an albino assassin.

THE STING (1973)--Directed by George Roy Hill. Stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Harold Gould. This enormously popular caper comedy won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay (by David S. Ward). Conman Newman and protg Redford concoct an elaborate plan to scam a fortune from '30s Chicago gangster Shaw. The stars are incredibly charming, and you'll never guess some of the intricate twists in Ward's terrific plot. Newman and Redford were both nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Jack Lemmon in SAVE THE TIGER.

STING OF DEATH (1965)--Directed by William Grefe. Stars Joe Morrison, Valerie Hawkins, John Vella, Jack Nagle. This laugh-inducing horror movie by Florida-based filmmaker Grefe features one of the most ridiculous movie monsters ever filmed. It makes the shaggy sheep monster of GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS look like an H.R. Giger creation. Middle-aged scientist Richardson (Nagle), who lives in a gorgeous mansion on a private island along with his studly subordinate John (Morrison) and deformed and creepy handyman Egon (Vella), takes a break from his studies of Portuguese men 'o war (re: jellyfish) to prepare for a visit from his beautiful daughter Karen (Hawkins) and four of her dishy college chums. Karen tries to act embarrassed when John announces he's invited some kids from the mainland for a dance party, but she quickly slips into her dancing clothes for a voracious poolside frugging session, set to the strains of a dopey pop song by "Special Singing Star" Neil Sedaka: "Do the Jellyfish"! The mixture of Sedaka's lunatic lyrics ("It's something swella/the jilla-jella jellyfish!"), the spastic dancing of the whitest and dorkiest teens on the planet, and Grefe's penchant for close-ups of gyrating female asses makes the Jellyfish scene one of horrordom's most frightening--and not because of what happens next. One of Karen's friends decides to take a swim, putting the fun brakes on this out-of-control party train when she is attacked by a slimy, er, jellyfish monster! That's right--an apparent half-man/half-jellyfish that blasts its way through the party, putting the sting on another party guest and escaping into the surrounding swamp.

No prize for guessing the monster's identity: Egon, the film's only red herring, who's doing his own secret experiments in a hidden underground cave and is transforming himself into a jellyfish-man, both to wreak vengeance on the youngsters who mock his ghastly appearance and to win the love of the fair Karen. Grefe wisely contains our glimpses of the jellyfish-man to feet and hands until the hilarious climax, where it's revealed to be a man-in-a-suit (built by Doug Hobart, who also plays the creature) with a plastic bag over his head. And it's clearly a plastic trash bag, complete with seams. Well, at least Hobart's consistent, as earlier we saw a large school of carnivorous jellyfish that were obviously plastic sandwich bags floating freely in the river! Eek! Scary!

The laughs aren't limited to the silly monster makeup. Actor Nagle spends the whole movie running around with a large round scab on his forehead that keeps changing size (the wound actually happened to Nagle the day before shooting, so Grefe wrote it into the script). A large yacht that sets off to sea amazingly becomes a much smaller and trashier boat as it sinks into the swamp. And the actionless action finale should leave you snickering.

Clearly filmed cheaply and quickly, STING OF DEATH is relatively free of the incessant padding which mars other Grefe movies (like DEATH CURSE OF TARTU), which makes it an enjoyable experience if your tolerance for stupid monster movies is high. STING's high body count, which leaves only a handful of cast members mobile at the end, helps in the watchability department, as does the bright color photography and crisp underwater scenes lensed by Julio Chavez (who also edited) and Julio Roldan. The only recognizable cast member is honey-blond Deanna Lund, who soon became a regular on Irwin Allen's LAND OF THE GIANTS TV series. Morrison appeared in Grefe's first two features, which were non-horror movies about racecar driving. Music by Al Jacobs and Lon Norman. I think airboats are cool for some reason; maybe because of all the reruns of GENTLE BEN I watched as a kid.

STIR OF ECHOES (1999)--Directed by David Koepp. Stars Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Dunn, Zachary David Cope. This ghost story based upon a 40-year-old novel by sci-fi legend Richard Matheson works pretty well for its first hour and 20 minutes, but then degenerates into a BARNABY JONES episode in its third act, jettisoning its original tone, tossing in a few scenes that blatantly rip-off CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and introducing a ridiculously contrived murder plot and climactic punchout.

Tom Witzky (Bacon) is entering a sort-of mid-life crisis. He's a Regular Joe, a blue-collar telephone worker living in a decent Chicago neighborhood (where everyone watches out for one another) with his wife Maggie (Erbe) and five-year-old son Jake (Cope). He's also disappointed in his simple life, not believing his world could be so ordinary. One night at a party, he's hypnotized by his sister-in-law Lisa (Douglas) on a lark, and when he comes to, he becomes plagued by strange visions--bloody teeth, broken fingernails, even what appears to be a spectral teenage girl sitting on his couch. Jake seems to know what Tom is going through, even reassuring his father not to be afraid. While Tom was under her spell, Lisa had placed a harmless suggestion into his brain to be more open-minded, which has actually opened a door into a supernatural plane--one in which he can communicate with the dead. He isn't sure exactly what the mysterious dead girl wants however, and when he receives a suggestion to dig, he rips up his basement, house and backyard in an effort to both solve the mystery and understand exactly what is happening to him.

It's at this point that STIR OF ECHOES begins sliding downhill. What Tom finds isn't much of a surprise, and while Bacon does a very good job of portraying a guy who is simultaneously freaked out and exhilarated by his newly acquired extraordinary ability, writer/director Koepp tosses the supernatural out the window for a violent climax containing guns, a too-convenient rescue, and some extremely unlikely mortal killers. It's almost as though Koepp, whose past screenplays include JURASSIC PARK and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, didn't have enough faith in his ghost story, and believed his audience would better relate to a lazily scripted bang-bang shootout. Koepp also creates a brief subplot involving a secret club of those who have the same ability as Tom and Jake. The idea is intriguing, but it is quickly dropped, and seems to have been added only to give Erbe more to do.

The performances are good across the board, especially those by Bacon, Erbe (in a thinly-written thankless wife role) and Douglas, who is always appealing. For a horror story that doesn't rely on special effects, the visuals are mostly well done, except for the CGI frosty breath shots. I've so far avoided comparing STIR OF ECHOES to THE SIXTH SENSE, which was released less than two months before STIR, which isn't easy to do since the two are so similar in many ways--they're both ghost stories that rely more on mood than visual effects that portray a relationship between an adult male and a young boy that can communicate with spirits where the boy is able to educate the adult as to how to come to grips with this power. THE SIXTH SENSE is definitely the better film--its performances are stronger (with that of child star Haley Joel Osment being one of the year's best), and it boasts a whopper of an ending.

Music by James Newton Howard, who also scored THE SIXTH SENSE, is routine, and doesn't add much suspense. Also with Liza Weil, Conor O'Farrell, Jennifer Morrison, Eddie "Bo" Smith Jr. and Chalon Williams. There's a cute in-joke where one character is seen reading THE SHRINKING MAN (which was turned into the 1957 sci-fi classic THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) by Richard Matheson--the same Matheson who penned the STIR OF ECHOES novel upon which this film is based!

STONE COLD (1991)--Directed by Craig R. Baxley. Stars Brian Bosworth, Lance Henriksen, William Forsythe. Ex-linebacker Boz made his film debut in this fast-moving, stunt-filled biker flick as an undercover cop who joins a murdering motorcycle gang led by the long-haired psychotic Chains (Henriksen). Former stuntman Baxley fills the screen with fights, shootouts, and even an amazing moment when Bosworth dives out of a helicopter, crashes through a skylight and lands on a marble floor without a scratch! Also with Laura Albert, Arabella Holzbog, Sam McMurray, Richard Gant and Paulo Tocha. Henriksen is great as always, and Boz handles himself pretty well for an athlete. Filmed in Arkansas. Screenwriter Walter Doniger's credits in film and TV go back to the '50s, and include such shows as SWITCH, JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE and DELVECCHIO. Music by Sylvester Levay. From the director of I COME IN PEACE.

STONE COLD DEAD (1980)--Directed by George Mendeluk. Stars Richard Crenna, Belinda J. Montgomery, Paul Williams, Linda Sorenson. Diminutive Williams is a short sniper shooting streetwalkers. Crenna is the investigating detective. Montgomery goes undercover as a hooker to help out. That's all there is to it. I have no idea what a talented actor like Crenna is doing in this mess. Filmed in Canada. From the director of KIDNAPPING OF THE PRESIDENT.

THE STONE KILLER (1973)--Directed by Michael Winner. Stars Charles Bronson, Martin Balsam, Ralph Waite, Norman Fell. Bronson delivers the goods in this incredibly violent (PG-rated!) crime drama as a New York cop transferred to Los Angeles. He becomes involved in mobster Balsam's elaborate plan to train Vietnam vets as paid assassins. Features plenty of bloody shootouts and fights, a brisk pace and a well-directed car chase. Also with David Sheiner, Paul Koslo, Jack Colvin, Alfred Ryder, Frank Campanella, Kelley Miles, Eddie Firestone, Byron Morrow, Stuart Margolin and John Ritter. Music by Roy Budd. Based on John Gardner's pulp novel A COMPLETE STATE OF DEATH. From the director of DEATH WISH.

STRAIT-JACKET (1964)--Directed by William Castle. Stars Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, George Kennedy. One of Castle's scariest is this psychological thriller played mostly seriously by its cast and featuring a good performance by Crawford in this follow-up to WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Joan is a convicted axe murderess (she lopped off the heads of her philandering husband and his lover while they slept) released from a mental institution after 20 years. She moves in with her brother (Erickson) and his wife, who raised Joan's daughter (Baker) in her absence. Getting reacquainted with a daughter she hardly knew and a changing world is difficult enough for Joan, but when a series of axe killings begin... Probably the best performance of Diane Baker's career (she worked mostly in television after this), there's also a creepy performance by a pre-star Kennedy as a sleazy handyman. Music by Van Alexander. Look for Lee Majors in his film debut (he's Joan's cheating husband!).

STRANGE BREW (1983)--Directed by Dave Thomas & Rick Moranis. Stars Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Max von Sydow, Lynne Griffin, Paul Dooley. Thomas and Moranis bring their "McKenzie Brothers" act from the SCTV show to their big screen. The two idiots get jobs at a brewery, and become inadvertently involved in von Sydow's plan to brainwash the public by poisoning their beer. Despite the film's silliness, you'll find yourself laughing out loud. Script by Moranis and Thomas.

STRANGE INVADERS (1983)--Directed by Michael Laughlin. Stars Paul LeMat, Nancy Allen, Diana Scarwid, Michael Lerner, Louise Fletcher. In this offbeat science-fiction tale reminiscent of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, Columbia University bug expert LeMat is baffled when his ex-wife never returns from her visit to her tiny Illinois hometown of Centerville. Investigating, he discovers that Centerville was invaded during the 1950s by aliens, who have turned the townspeople into bowling-ball-sized globes of sizzling blue energy and wear human masks over their lizard-like features. No one believes LeMat's story except for a supermarket tabloid reporter (Allen) and a mental patient (Lerner) whose family was abducted by the aliens. The three return to Centerville in an effort to rescue LeMat's daughter from the aliens, who plan to take her back into outer space.

Laughlin, who also made STRANGE BEHAVIOR, collaborated with Bill Condon (an Oscar winner for GODS AND MONSTERS) and Walter Halsey Davis to create an amusing tongue-in-cheek screenplay that gently parodies '50s sci-fi flicks while maintaining its affection for them. The cast, which also includes SF vets Kenneth Tobey (THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD), Mark Goddard and June Lockhart of LOST IN SPACE and Bobby "Boris" Pickett (who had a number-one record with "Monster Mash"), has a fine time sending themselves up, and LeMat is a likable yet unusual hero. The pace flags a bit towards the end, but Laughlin builds enough goodwill with the audience to keep us tuned in. The visual effects and creature makeup is pretty good, especially considering the low budget. Also with Wallace Shawn, Fiona Lewis, Charles Lane and Dey Young. Music by John Addison.

STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (1976)--Directed by Alberto DeMartino. Stars Stuart Whitman, John Saxon, Martin Landau, Carole Laure, Tisa Farrow. An excellent cast and some eye-popping action scenes highlight this Italian/Canadian crime drama filmed on location in Montreal. Police detective Saitta (Whitman), whom we initially see blasting away a trio of bank robbers Dirty Harry-style, grows suspicious when his beautiful younger sister Louise (Laure) dies unexpectedly. After exhuming the body, Saitta discovers she was poisoned, and his obsessive investigation targets George Tracer (Landau), a middle-aged college physician who was having an extramarital affair with Louise. There are other suspects in this whodunit penned by Vincent Mann and Frank Clark, and, with his partner Sgt. Matthews (Saxon) in tow, Saitta punches, kicks, shoots and drives his way through every lowlife scum in the city before discovering the killers shocking identity.

It's always great to see veteran stars like Whitman, Saxon and Landau bounce off of each other, but STRANGE SHADOWS's real draw are the stunning action set pieces, including Whitman's brutal kickfest with a trio of razor-wielding transvestites and a corker of a car chase in which two autos jump, skid, smash and screech through the busy streets of Montreal. Oddly, the American distributor, American-International, appears to have marketed STRANGE SHADOWS as a horror/mystery rather than the hard-driving crime thriller that it really is. The poster focuses on Farrow's blind music teacher character, which actually has very little to do with the story, and the American title is similar to those of the giallos directed by Dario Argento (it was originally called BLAZING MAGNUMS). I doubt horror fans will be disappointed, and DeMartino (credited as Martin Herbert) even tosses in some final-reel nudity to raise the film's exploitation value up a notch. Armando Trovajoli composed the funky score. Also with Gayle Hunnicutt, Jean LeClerc and Anthony Forrest. Also known as UNA MAGNUM SPECIAL PER TONY SAITTA, A SPECIAL MAGNUM FOR TONY SAITTA and .44 SPECIAL. The onscreen title is SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM.

A STRANGER IS WATCHING (1982)--Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Stars Kate Mulgrew, Rip Torn, James Naughton, Shawn von Schreiber. Suspenseful and well-photographed thriller from the writer/producer/director of FRIDAY THE 13TH. Psychopath Torn kidnaps an eleven-year-old girl (von Schreiber) and her dad's girlfriend, a TV reporter (Mulgrew), and hides them in a secret room located in the steamy bowels of Grand Central Station. Two years earlier, Torn had raped and murdered von Schreiber's mother in her living room. The little girl was a witness to that crime, but mistakenly identified another man as the attacker--a man who's sentenced to be executed in a matter of hours. The innocent-man-waiting-to-be-executed-for-a-crime-he-didn't-commit subplot is actually pretty superfluous, and isn't given much weight in the script (based on a best-seller by Mary Higgins Clark) by Earl MacRauch (BUCKAROO BANZAI) and Victor Miller (FRIDAY THE 13TH). The realistic photography and sets, taut direction, goosebump-delivering score by Lalo Schifrin, and above-average acting by Mulgrew and von Schreiber (who doesn't seem to have appeared in any other movies) add up to a pretty decent thriller. Torn delivers the goods in the sadism department--stabbing people with knives and screwdrivers, hitting them in the head, pushing them down flights of stairs--all shown in loving detail by director Cunningham. Also with Barbara Baxley, Stephen Joyce, Stephen Strimpell, James Russo, Frank Hamilton, Roy Poole, Vincent Spano and William Hickey. Torn appeared the same year as the villain Maax in THE BEASTMASTER.
STREET LAW (1974)--Directed by Enzo G. Castellari.  Stars Franco Nero, Barbara Bach, Giancarlo Prete.  Ordinary guy Carlo (Nero) is minding his own business when four masked men rob a post office and take him along as a hostage, administering to him a serious beating before fleeing.  When the police are slow to move, Carlo starts following them around, taking photos of them, trying to collect evidence against them.  He even blackmails Tommy, a smalltime hood (Prete), into helping him.  Carlo finally traps his abductors and calls the cops, but they screw up again and kidnap him.  After killing one of them during an escape attempt, Carlo, racked with rage and obsession, decides the only way to bring them to justice is to kill them himself, leading to a tense shootout in a gigantic, huge warehouse.
Castellari's customary slick action scenes and a fine performance by Nero (DJANGO) help distinguish this short (77 minutes) Italian crime drama.  Its brief length probably accounts for some of the story lapses, since I'm assuming it was cut heavily for its belated (1981) American release.  The beautiful Bach, as Carlo's unsympathetic wife, seems to have bore the brunt of the editing, since her character is hardly delved into at all.  The de Angelis Brothers' crazy score and a fine helping of violence contribute to the excitement.  Prete was billed as "Timothy Brent" in Castellari's GREAT WHITE and WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND.
THE STREETFIGHTER (1975)--Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa. Stars Sonny Chiba, Gerald Yamada, Tony Cetera, Doris Nakajika. First in a series of four Japanese martial-arts thrillers, all starring Chiba as a rougher, cruder version of a typical Jackie Chan hero. Chiba is Terry Tsuguri, kind of a mercenary who is approached by both the Mafia and the Yakuza to kidnap a pretty Japanese girl who is the heir to an enormous fortune. When the bad guys refuse to meet Terry's asking price, he goes to the girl's advisors offering his services as her protector. Sonny is one of the cinema's least likable heroes--he cares only about money, he treats his best friend like a slave, and he doesn't even take it easy on women, kicking and bashing them just like he does his male opponents. Film is bloody, but slickly made. My favorite shot: when Chiba busts a bad guys head open with a karate chop, it's shown in negative! Chiba fans and those who like their chopsocky a little strong should dig this. Future director Jack Sholder (THE HIDDEN) is credited with editing the title sequence.

THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO (1972)--Directed by Walter Grauman. Stars Karl Malden, Robert Wagner, Michael Douglas, Kim Darby. Quinn Martin was the executive producer of this feature-length pilot for the successful television series that aired for five seasons on ABC. Veteran homicide detective Mike Stone (Malden, who hadn't appeared on television since the '50s) and his young, college-educated partner Steve Keller (Douglas) probe the murder of a young woman found washed up on the beach. Her name was Holly Berry (Darby), and the investigation leads the detectives to slick, flashy-dressing, Jaguar-driving attorney David Farr (Wagner), who picked up Holly at a party a few days before and spent the weekend with her. Farr claims that Holly feared for her life--that a man driving a black sedan tried to run her off the road--but Keller, who demonstrates a conservative dislike of lawyers, believes Farr murdered her after Farr admits he abandoned Holly in a motel just before she was killed. Maintaining his innocence, Farr begins a search for Holly's junkie brother, who may hold the key to Holly's death. Meanwhile, there's a serial child murderer on the loose in the City By the Bay, who may also tie in to the young woman's mysterious death.

STREETS works well as both a police procedural and as a series pilot, neatly setting up the old cop/young cop premise and the novelty of on-location shooting in San Francisco. Sharply edited by Richard Brockway and solidly directed by Grauman (LADY IN A CAGE), STREETS plays almost like a horror film in its final half-hour, as we witness the killer, who believes himself to be an Angel of Death, engaging in sacrificial rites in his torture chamber cellar. Malden and Douglas, who would portray one of TV's warmest father-son relationships on the series, work well together, and Wagner, wearing longer hair and wider sideburns than usual, does a nice job fleshing out his character as someone who regrets his own selfishness that led to Holly's death.

The teleplay by Edward Hume (TWO MINUTE WARNING) was based on the novel POOR, POOR OPHELIA by Carolyn Weston. Patrick Williams's funky score flows around the cool, chaotic, familiar theme he used in the TV series. Also with Tom Bosley, John Rubinstein, Andrew Duggan, Mako, Edward Andrews, Lou Frizzell and Lawrence Dobkin, who also directed much episodic television, and continues to pop up as an actor in shows like JUDGING AMY and NYPD BLUE. Douglas went on to win two Academy Awards, one for producing Best Picture ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and one for Best Actor for WALL STREET. That's one more than Malden, who garnered a Best Supporting Actor trophy for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Malden (born Mladen Sekulovich, a name the actor frequently worked into the series) returned in 1992 for BACK TO THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, in which Mike Stone investigated Keller's death (after Douglas declined to return to the role which got him where he is today).

STRIKING DISTANCE (1993)--Directed by Rowdy Herrington. Stars Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dennis Farina. One of Willis' silliest action pics stars Bruno as a Pittsburgh river cop(!) who teams up with a cute female rookie (Parker) to chase a serial killer. The confusing screenplay (also by Herrington) is filled with red herrings, flashbacks and wild coincidences. The killer likes to torture his victims to the tune of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs' great novelty hit "Little Red Riding Hood". Also with Robert Pastorelli, Brion James, Tom Sizemore and John Mahoney. Music by Brad Fiedel. From the director of ROAD HOUSE.

Copyright 2002 Marty McKee