This is my second pass at 1976, so for background on the year in film I'll just refer you to the Some Other Movies From 1976 entry.
The other, other movies of that year aside, here are some things that happened in 1976:
- The Lutz Family fled their house in Amityville (for details refer to The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring).
- The Concorde embarked on its first commercial flight.
- The British Parliament established direct rule over northern Ireland.
- Patty Hearst was found guilty of robbery (for details refer to Patty Hearst).
- Star Wars began filming in Tunisia.
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started the Apple Computer Company.
- Stevie Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life (great album).
- Jimmy Carter replaced Gerald Ford as President of the United States.
- Mao Zedong stepped down as Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party.
1. The Tenant
Like all Roman Polanski movies, I could probably write an essay on this one alone.
In The Tenant Polanski directs Polanski as a man hounded by eccentric neighbors. It's the last film in his "apartment trilogy," and even though it's on the slow side DAMN that ending is great. One of the best endings to any movie I've seen in a long time. Oh, and if that doesn't sell you, (the beautiful) Isabelle Adjani is in this too. Shelley Winters (!) brings up the rear as the apartment building's concierge.
In terms of movie history, this movie marks the end of Polanski's love affair with Hollywood. Sure, there were the Manson Family murders which claimed the life of his wife Sharon Tate (see: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), but as 1977 approached he also faced conviction in the U.S. for the sexual assault of a 13-year old girl. Soon after he absconded to Europe, where he directed the remainder of his vast filmography.
Should I hate Polanski for this? There are of course only two opinions possible. Whichever opinion is yours, I hope you won't judge me too harshly for liking The Tenant.
1. God Told Me To
A detective investigates a mysterious individual after a sniper kills several people in New York. The script was well written and the acting is solid. Director Larry Cohen did this film a couple years after the slightly better remembered It's Alive, and it's obvious he had a clear idea of what this movie was supposed to be.
Fun Fact: Andy Kaufman - yes, that Andy Kaufman - appears in this for a few minutes.
Some Good Ones
1. In the Realm of the Senses
Japanese film about a prostitute who develops an erotic fixation on a married man.
When I think about sexually explicit dramas, two movies always pop into my head: Shortbus and Love. In the former you have several people who can act but look incredibly uncomfortable having sex on camera, and in the latter you have people who can't act but manage to look fairly natural in the sex scenes. I don't think either movie is very good.
In the Realm of the Senses is, compared to the above two films, much better, in that you have people who can act AND get it on convincingly in front of a camera. My only complaint about this movie is that I really did get tired of the sex. I wanted to know more about what the characters did outside their little room, and this film has very little of that.
Further Reading: On Wikipedia there's a list of unsimulated sex in film. Looking for some truly strange movies to watch? This article would be a good place to start.
2. Doctrine That Divides
BBC documentary about the reclusive Christian sect The (Exclusive) Brethren. They believe in almost complete separation from the larger, sinful community of non-believers. I'd never heard of them before, and this documentary asks a lot of interesting questions.
Some Bad Ones
1. Vigilante Force
Kris Kristofferson stars as a deputy cleaning up small town America. It makes almost zero sense from start to finish. If you look real close you can see Burt Reynold's future ex-wife Loni Anderson in the casino.
2. A Small Town in Texas
The Last Picture Show it ain't. And how dumb is this guy? Five years in prison, just back in town, and not only is he playing mind games with the local sheriff but he's also boosting envelopes full of money from crime scenes. After that point I'd had enough.
3. The Town That Dreaded Sundown
I seem to be having bad luck with movies set in Texas this month. Both this movie and (of course) A Small Town in Texas are set in Texas, and Vigilante Force might as well be set in Texas, too.
This movie is a great example of how NOT to tell a story. The tone is all over the place, veering from creepy to humorous, and every few minutes an unnecessary voiceover interrupts the flow of the movie, offering information that does little to further the plot. On top of all this there are unnecessary shots of policemen talking into radios, guys looking for car keys, and people reacting to things. To make it still worse much of this film feels anachronistic. It's as if it was shot during the previous decade, left on a shelf, and presented for public consumption in 1976.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is often held up as an early example of the slasher genre, and while it does bring later films to mind (in particular Friday the 13th), it lacks the punch of those later, better movies. I think modern critics reappraising this film might be doing so with a certain amount of wishful thinking, and perhaps also an ignorance of what made for a good horror movie in the late 1970s.
For the "so bad it's good" version of this movie start watching at one hour eight minutes. If the whole move was that bad I'd recommend it. As it is the two biologist characters spend most of the first hour talking, and in the end they never really explain why the dogs are all turning on people, or what the "linear accelerator" has to do with anything.
The director of this terrible movie, Burt Brinckeroff, came from television. The star, David McCallum, also came from television and can now be seen on NCIS. He was Jill Ireland's husband before she marred Charles Bronson. The most recognizable person in this movie, Linda Gray, would go on to appear in Dallas two years later.
1. Bugsy Malone
Alan Parker directed this look at the life of a notorious gangster. Thing is, all of the roles are played by kids. It's a gimmicky move that speaks to the weakness of the script. Scott Baio and Jodie Foster star. It was Parker's first film, and a hit in the U.K., but a failure elsewhere. Critics liked it, but then again critics also liked Pretty Baby, a movie I wish I could unsee. The songs are thoroughly annoying.
1. Murder by Death
FUCK Peter Sellers and his "Charlie Chan" thing. That's some racist shit right there. I'll always love Dr. Strangelove, but this one had me reaching for the delete button. I'm also not a Neil Simon fan, so no great loss.
So Bad It's Good
"That guy's so mean I bet he has to jack off in the morning just to get his heart started!"
What does that even mean?
And no, this isn't Cannonball Run, though it is about the same famous cross-country road race. David Carradine (NOT Burt Reynolds) stars alongside Robert "Revenge of the Nerds" Carradine and other people whose names I would have difficulty remembering. There's even a cameo by Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone.
The most memorable thing about this movie - far more memorable than the supporting cast members - is the dialogue, which is truly execrable. Towards the end you begin to wonder how the actors managed to say half those lines with a straight face.
There was, incidentally, another movie about the same coast-to-coast race the same year. This was The Gumball Rally, featuring an equally obscure group of young actors.
2. Hera Pheri
Is it just me, or is there a completely inappropriate joke about gang rape in this movie? India is/was a perplexing country. I can't say I always understand it.
Even with that aside, this movie doesn't make a lot of sense after the first half. Something about a long-lost father? Or someone who's pretending to be someone else's father? I'm really not sure.
In Hera Pheri Amitabh Bachnan and Vinod Khanna star as two con men out to strike it rich. The songs are good and at least it never gets boring. It's also 180 degrees removed from the more serious Sholay, which was reviewed in a previous entry.
Man, I love 70s movies about the future. One of my favorite things ever.
In Futureworld Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner star as two reporters investigating the Delos Corporation's newest android resort. It's the sequel to 1973's Westworld, and it's not nearly as good as its predecessor. But what it lacks in coherence it amply makes up for in sheer cheesiness. The first half kind of, sort of makes sense, but the second half feels like the scriptwriters were just throwing ideas in for the sake of weirdness. Hologram samurai that materialize into reality for no perceptible reason? Check. Weird dream sequence that does nothing to advance the plot? Check. Odd, unresolved subplot involving a maintenance man and his pet android? Check.
And what was the Delos Corporation's deal, exactly? All that money to build an adult amusement park, and no thought for security?
Fun Fact 1: this movie features some very early cgi.
Fun Fact 2: Futureworld was the first modern American movie to be released in Mainland Chinese theaters.
4. God's Gun
Super low budget Italian-Israeli (!) Western featuring Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Leif Garrett (!) and Sybil Danning. This was one of Van Cleef's last two Westerns, both of which were filmed in Israel.
Fun Fact: Actor Jack Palance was of Ukranian descent. His real name was Volodymyr Palahniuk.
1. The Farmer's Daughters
The first half of this movie is hilarious. Sometimes intentionally so, sometimes not. BUT I exit stage left where rape is implied. Rape does nothing for me. What happens after the convicts enter the farmer's house? I'll never know.
But Since You Asked So Nicely, the Plot Up Until I Turned It Off: 1. A farmer and his wife have sex while the wife complains about pies she has in the oven. 2. Their three daughters (?) watch them have sex through the window. 3. A young boy (?) comes along, and tells the daughters that watching the older couple have sex is pointless because they only ever do it in one position. 4. The three young women take the boy to a greenhouse for group sex. 5. The girls spank and urinate upon (!) the boy to prevent him from informing their parents (?). 6. The four begin having sex again, while the boy is inexplicably dry. 7. Three escaped convicts arrive in the area. 8. The three escaped convicts witness the four "frolicking." 9. The escaped convicts break into the house while the farmer and his wife are (still) having sex. 10. Two of the escaped convicts take the farmer hostage, while the third convict gets into bed with the farmer's wife.
Fun Fact 1: One of the three convicts is none other than Spalding Gray, who would go on to a notable career on stage. His Monster in a Box monologue was adapted into a film.
Fun Fact 2: Gloria Leonard (not her real name), who appears as one of the farmer's daughters, went on to publish High Society magazine and pioneer the phone sex industry. It's rumored she dated Norman Mailer in the 80s.
Fun Fact 3: Zebedy Colt (not his real name) who plays the "young boy" (even though he was well into middle age at the time), was actually gay. He had a movie career stretching back to the 30s.
Some Other Movies From 1975 (2)
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (10)
Upcoming Superhero Movies in the Order I Want to See Them 3
Some Other Movies From 2019
Note: I've also been reading Robert McParland's Best Seller: A Century of America's Favorite Books. According to this book the two biggest books of 1976 were Gore Vidal's 1876 and Leon Uris's Trinity, a book about the troubles in Northern Ireland. Woodward and Bernstein also wrote The Final Days, a follow-up on their Watergate investigation, and Gail Sheeley's Passages, a book about different stages of life, was a big hit. Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire and Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic were also well received.