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John Hough

Five Sleazy Pieces

[Originally published in Movietone News 25, September 1973]

Recently I encountered a phenomenon—I refuse to call it a book—labeled The Only Good Indian and coauthored by Ralph and Natasha Friars. Its specific sins against the English language and any recognizable form of ratiocination are catalogued elsewhere in this issue. I mention this pseudo-scholarly study of the American Indian’s martyrdom by cinematic slings and arrows only because it exemplifies a particularly cavalier attitude towards product and consumer alike, an attitude rampant not only in selfrighteous critical tracts like the Friars’, but also in an increasing number of current films. People like the Friars don’t have to make sense (either stylistically or thematically), don’t have to work at selling their shoddy wares even on the level of persuasive polemic. Why? Because their readers are pre-sold, previously primed to ingest that which already constipates their thinking. Not, admittedly, a new process—this recycling of pap that effects no change, no growth, only a mild to offensive case of intellectual flatulence. Still, recent movies like The Last of Sheila, The Harrad Experiment, and most particularly Badge 373, Harry in Your Pocket, and The Legend of Hell House impel one to speculate about a spiraling trend towards just this sort of bland diet in the cinema.

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The Last of Sheila cashes in on the audience’s putative taste for the games (rich) people play, not to mention psychic stripping, a spectacle many in our group-therapy-ridden society have come to relish in and for itself with or without any therapeutic payoff for the individual involved. Broadway composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim—who, with close friend Tony Perkins, wrote Sheila‘s screenplay—is reputedly hooked on the puzzle-game habit himself. Perhaps as a result, the film retains the half-thought-out, initially grabby but ultimately flabby quality of a neat idea cooked up by old buddies with shared interests over late-night scotches.

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Review: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

Coming away from Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, an MTN colleague remarked that it had to be the most confused movie to cross our path in a long while. I disagreed, preferring to reserve the term “confused” for films that have somewhere they want to go but can’t quite decide how to get there, or others that may have more (perhaps very interesting) things to say than they can encompass. I felt that the makers of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry knew exactly what they were doing: they had nothing whatsoever to “say,” but they did have a handy file-card index of issues and ideas that other road-movie makers had addressed themselves to, and they could pull a card every five minutes and insert its text into somebody’s dialogue. Result: a quasi-intellectual zapper to occupy coequal status with the other disconnected shocks in the movie, be they the most unimaginative of scatological putdowns (any verbal exchange in excess of five lines can be handily terminated by having one party tell the other to “Kiss my ass!”), utterly unmotivated characterological turnabouts (two old buddies fall out, two sworn enemies fall in, and the three persons involved become the best of comrades, all within less than three minutes), or—who’d ever guess?!—car crashes.

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Blu-ray/DVD: Hammer Films’ ‘Twins of Evil’

Hammer Films, the British studio that revived the classic horror film in the late 1950s with a lusty mix of gothic repression, lurid debauchery, sensationalistic set pieces, and bleeding color, struggled to keep up in seventies as rival studios became even more lurid and censorship standards brought nudity into mainstream cinema. The Hammer formula was getting tired, and so were the directors, so new blood (so to speak) was brought in.

Twins of Evil (CAV), the third film in what has been called Hammer’s “Karnstein Trilogy,” is scripted by Tudor Gates (who came to Hammer by way of Mario Bava) and directed by John Hough (who came from television, notably “The Avengers,” where he learned sleek style and visual wit).

It’s another twist on Sheridan Le Fanu’s female vampire story “Carmilla,” this one announced right in the title. Playboy centerfolds Madeleine and Mary Collinson play the titular twin orphans, beautiful young women who arrive from the cultural capital of Venice to the repressive, superstitious, northern European town of Karnstein. This isolated village is ruled by a debauched Count (Damien Thomas) and terrorized by a severe Puritan sect of witch hunters that calls themselves “The Brotherhood.” Led by the obsessive Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), who sees sin everywhere, they behave no better than a lynch mob: too terrified to confront the politically protected Count, the only true evil in the land, they target beautiful single women and burn them at the stake, ostensibly to end to evil killing the townsfolk but more clearly purging their own lust.

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Review: Brass Target

[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

Scrapers of cinematic barrel bottoms, stand advised: John Hough has laid incontestable claim to his long-sought title, the new James Goldstone. This department confesses to having been remiss in not calling your attention to the first change in the wind, the old James Goldstone’s 1977 realization of Rollercoaster, a Sensurround disaster pic so inoffensive, even moderately competent in execution, that it alienated the taken-for-granted audience for such fare and failed at the box office. At this time we can only conjecture whether Goldstone’s unanticipated lurch toward respectability will continue unchecked or prove an aberration in an otherwise execrable track record. Meanwhile Hough, the most flagrantly conscienceless hack to appear in the past decade (Sudden Terror, Treasure Island and above all the loathsome Dirty Mary Crazy Larry), has seized the day.

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