Crazy Triple Features: Olive Films’ VOODOO MAN, UNDERCOVER BLUES & PHASE IV Blurays

Olive-Films-LOGOAs weird as it can be, I love to take three films that have NOTHING to do with each other and watch them back to back. Sure, nothing beats binge watching any of my favorite franchises like the HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, but this odd triple feature approach I think really encapsulates how all across the board my taste in movies can be. Thanks to the great gang at Olive Films, these CRAZY TRIPLE FEATURES nights that I have are well stocked, due to their output not being confined to just one genre. This week, I’ve chosen three recent releases of theirs and to say these films are different from each other would be an understatement, but let’s jump in regardless!

1.) VOODOO MAN (1944)

The first film to grace the Crazy Triple Features entry, is the 1944 Bela Lugosi horror film, VOODOO MAN. Bypassing the fangs and vampire-heavy approach of Lugosi’s famous performance as DRACULA, this film revolves around a doctor played by Lugosi, who has abducts young women in hopes of passing their soul and will to live into the body of his deceased wife’s body. The film opens with a young woman asking directions at a gas station, one that is a front for luring women into a detour straight into the hands of Lugosi’s Dr. Richard Marlowe character. When the news of the woman’s disappearance hits newspapers, a producer in Hollywood assigns Ralph Dawson, a screenwriter, to turn it into a script, but the writer says he’ll do it after his upcoming wedding. Soon after, the cousin of the writer’s fiance asks for directions at the gas station, and before she can be abducted, she runs into the writer, having ran out of gas due to being in a hurry. When the cousin eventually IS abducted, the writer, a sheriff, and the writer’s finance all begin to look for her, and like DRACULA, the Dr. finds the woman he’s been searching for, in the writer’s fiance.

While the film is somewhat of a short one (it has a 62 minute running time), it’s a lot of fun, I mean really, when isn’t it fun to see Lugosi in a film? It’s very interesting to see occultism, voodoo and other practices which were taboo back when the film was made, to appear in classic films. The film’s rituals are exciting to watch, and though you wish the film had a longer running time, when it finished, you’re completely entertained. It’s a film that is full of great performances, not only from Lugosi, but from George Zucco and John Carradine as Marlowe’s henchmen and Tod Andrews (billed in the film as Michael Ames) as Ralph. Andrews carries the film just as much as Lugosi, he’s great in it, playing detective and getting a good screenplay to turn into his boss in the process.

The only part of the film that takes you out of it a bit, is the very end, when Dawson turns in a screenplay called VOODOO MAN and tells the producer that he should get Bela Lugosi to star in it. It’s a silly wink to the audience, but not enough to ruin the excitement that the rest of the film gives.

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2.) UNDERCOVER BLUES (1993)

Made during a time when Hollywood would be open to the silliest of ideas, the Kathleen Turner/Dennis Quaid-led UNDERCOVER BLUES is a cute little movie about Jane and Jeff Blue, a married spy couple vacationing in New Orleans with their infant who are talked into taking on a mission involving a Russian criminal (played by Fiona Shaw) stealing bombs. If the plot sounds like a whole bunch of cheese, that’s because it is just that: a silly and cheesy film that knows exactly what kind of film it is and doesn’t take itself very serious with its execution.

Just as entertaining as the film primary plot, is a subplot that runs through the whole film, one that has a pissed off thug named “Muerte” (played hilariously by Stanley Tucci) trying to kill the couple and getting in their way the entire time. Tucci steals the film in my opinion, his anger over continuously failing at getting revenge for Quaid’s character beating the hell out of him during an attempted mugging (which also features a young Dave Chappelle as Tucci’s partner) is fun to watch, with Tucci giving one of the silliest accents in the entire film (an accent that comes second to the awful accent given by Larry Miller).

While UNDERCOVER BLUES could benefit from losing maybe one of its many subplots, it’s still a good time, and the chemistry between Turner and Quaid is great to watch. The duo makes Muerte’s life hell, and drives a couple of cops crazy, due to always being one step ahead of the game, their sights set on bringing Shaw’s villainous Novacek character down. Hollywood doesn’t make films like UNDERCOVER BLUES anymore, films that have plots so unbelievable that you have to just sit back and laugh while watching them. Good stuff.

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3.) PHASE IV (1974)

Finally, to bring this triple feature to a close, I chose famed artist Saul Bass’s directorial feature, PHASE IV, a film that is heavy on visuals (as expected from Bass), yet light on everything else. Following a cosmic event which causes ants to be of a single mind and have agendas and the desire to take everything over, PHASE IV is a film that relies very much on not only Bass’s great visual style, but amazing photography of real ants from photographer Ken Middleham. Middleham’s photography of the ants takes up a large chunk of the film, with such extreme closeups of the colonies moving, killing their former antogonists like a Mantis or spider, and eventually everything else as well.

A scientist duo played by Michael Murphy and Nigel Davenport investigate the “phases” of the ant evolution, and eventually build a secured globe-like lab in the middle of the area in which the ants are destroying houses and objects, in hopes of studying the ants and eventually killing them. As the film goes on, we learn that the ants just might be the superior ones, as they slowly infiltrate the lab, its surroundings and gain the upper hand on the two scientists.

PHASE IV‘s plot is an interesting one, but it’s the visual style that Bass gives the film’s viewers that is the real star of it. It’s very much a visual film, somewhat similar to Terrence Malick’s TREE OF LIFE. There’s dialogue and plot, but they almost come second and third to shots of the ants working on evolving and destroying, giving viewers a visual treat of a film, one that goes on without dialogue quite a few times. It’s not every day that you get to see a film where the real stars are insects, but PHASE IV is that kind of film, and a very good one at that.

 

 

 

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