Thursday, December 19, 2013

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

... aka: Night of the Crow
... aka: Stephen King: The Night of the Crow
... aka: Stephen King's Night Shift Collection II

Directed by:
John Woodward

Children of the Corn (1984) is one film whose enduring popularity is completely lost on me. While I understand the nostalgia factor (I too remember being scared by it... when I was about 8 years old), the film certainly doesn't hold up well for me as an adult viewer. Filmed a year before its bloated, silly cousin, Disciples runs just 19 minutes and is a much cheaper and starker, a more succinct and effective adaptation of the same Stephen King short story. "Children" was first published in a 1977 issue of Penthouse Magazine and later turned up in King's 1978 collection "Night Shift." After several hit adaptations of his work, King began to offer film students and independent filmmakers a special discount; allowing them to adapt any of his short stories for just 1 dollar. This led to Jeffrey C. Schiro's THE BOOGEYMAN (1982), Frank Darabont's THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM (1983) and this one right out of the gate. Schiro and Darabont's shorts were paired together for the VHS release Stephen King's Night Shift Collection in 1986. The tape did well (as did pretty much anything with King's name attached to it at the time), so the same distributors got together Disciples and Jack Garrett's haunted hotel opus The Night Waiter (1987), which was not based on anything King wrote, for Stephen King's Night Shift Collection II in 1989. Later, Interglobal Home Video released these, too. Their "Night Shift Collection: Volume One" included only Darabont's short, while their "Night Shift Collection: Volume Two" included only Schiro's (which they misspelled "The Boogyman"). Yes, at one time there were two different Part I and Part II's of these tapes, so buyers beware if you're looking to purchase used VHS copies.

Set in Jonah, Oklahoma (Children placed the action in Gatlin, Nebraska where the original story is set), this starts out in 1971 when a small group of children, seemingly led by the mole-faced Billy (Steven Young), fall over into the dark side, start worshiping some evil God, view crows as being sacred, carry pouches of corn around their necks and toss bugs and frogs into a boiling pot. They eventually decide to slaughter their parents and all of the rest of the adults in town. Twelve years later, bickering couple Vicky (Eleese Lester) and Burt (Gabriel Folse) are passing through the area when they accidentally run over a little boy who jumps out into the road from a field. After inspecting the dead body and finding a corn cob knife sticking in him, they determine that they hadn't actually killed him, stick the body in their trunk and continue on; eventually arriving in Jonah, which appears to an uninhabited ghost town. Vicky insists they leave, Burt insists they stick around, and all of the creepy kids - again led by the now-adult Billy (played by director Woodward) - come crawling out of the cornfields brandishing axes and other weapons.

Clearly made on a very low-budget, this has pretty amateurish acting, but the visuals and an effective music score are pretty good compensation. Instead of over-explaining things, it opts for a more ambiguous approach, which results in a creepier film than the later feature or the 2009 TV remake. In Germany, it received a separate DVD release under the title Night of the Crow.


Beasts Are on the Streets, The (1978)

Directed by:
Peter R. Hunt

Some major road rage is going down out on a busy Texas highway and it's being instigated by Jim (Billy Green Bush) and Al (Burton Gilliam), a pair of obnoxious, beer-guzzling, good ol' boy rednecks with a deer strapped to the roof of their car. They drive like maniacs, shoot at road signs and almost run a trucker with a weak ticker off the road. A cop finally pulls them over to give them a ticket. The trucker honks and laughs as he passes. When the rednecks catch back up, they pull alongside him, rest a rifle scope on his head and pretend like they're going to shoot; only to speed off. Shaken up by the incident, the trucker pulls off the road to catch a breath, but the damage has already been done. When he gets back onto the highway, his heart gives out, he runs off the road and crashes right into the African Wildlife safari park, taking down many of the security fences in the process. The truck blows up, causing even more damage, and a massive multiple car pile-up occurs right outside the downed gates. Staff veterinarian and single mom Dr. Claire Macauley (Carol Lynley) and her boyfriend, park ranger Kevin Johnson (Dale Robinette), are soon going to have more problems on their hands than assisting in a camel's breach birth as dozens of wild, dangerous animals escape.

As terrified passengers sit in their cars shrieking their heads off, the road fills with llamas, zebras, camels, bears, lions, antelopes, tigers, ostriches, elephants, giraffes, panthers, rhinoceroses and other beasts. Because of traffic and sight-seers, many of the animals are able to make their way into the local neighborhood. The staff of the park all immediately get to work and head out with special tranquilizer guns to help round them up. The police, on the other hand, aren't so humane in their approach, and want to shoot to kill, which causes some problems. A bear and a tiger both crash an amusement park, where a couple on a hilariously try to paddleboat their way to safety. A couple of dummies in a dune buggy encounter a bunch of rhinos, elephants end up in an old woman's front yard and a little boy tries to lasso an ostrich. Some scenes try to be scary and suspenseful, while others try to be lighthearted, comic and / or cutesy.

This starts out fairly well. The premise is great and watching all manner of wild animals running loose down suburban streets and inside houses and buildings is really a whole lot of fun (and somewhat startling). Once the novelty of that wears off, things do begin to lose steam. In the second half, this concentrates most of its energy on three lions that need to be recaptured. The first is Rinaldo, the star attraction at the park, who kills some livestock and then becomes trapped in a brush fire and must be rescued with a helicopter. The second and third are a lioness named Diana and her cub. Diana scours neighborhoods, breaks through windows into houses, destroys an entire vet's lab and, finally, enters into a hospital, all while searching for her lost baby. Lots of scenes also focus on Jim the redneck, one of the guys who helped cause the problem to begin with. Jim and his buddy want in on the action so they drag Jim's sensitive teenage son into the forest late at night on a hunting trip. It all backfires in a bad way when the friend is killed by the lion and Jim accidentally shoots his son. Lesson learned.

This is the kind of movie you simply wouldn't see being made nowadays; at least not without liberal use of CGI, so for that reason alone you may want to check it out. It probably took a great deal of time and care to orchestrate the various scenes with real animals and stunt men, some of which are pretty impressive. The opening disclaimer says the animal sequences were supervised by the American Humane Society and a veterinarian. Though that may have been the case, it's hard to imagine that no animals were actually hurt while making this. They're not only out of their element, but also seen running around near fire and things exploding, jumping on and off cars and sparring with one another. Bears and tigers, dogs and lions, lions and horses and other animals are all put in scenes together and chase, fight and / or attack each other. It's not gory or all that violent and nothing is seen actually being seriously hurt, but the animals sometimes look seriously distressed being put in dangerous situations.

Joseph Barbera (of Hanna-Barbera cartoon fame) backed this project, which was filmed around Grand Prairie, Texas. The cast also includes a pre-Miami Vice Philip Michael Thomas as a park worker, screen vet Anna Lee (star of the Val Lewton production Bedlam [1946] among other things) in one brief comic scene, Laura Whyte (Blood Salvage) as Jim's wife and Bill Thurman, a regular in Larry Buchanan and S.F. Brownrigg films, as the trucker who crashes. Though this used to be on regular rotation on the cable channel TBS in the 80s and early 90s, there's never been an official DVD or VHS release.

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