In celebration of Sound on Sight’s 7th anniversary, writers were asked to come up with articles that present their childhood favorites in the realm of films, TV shows, books or games.
I chose films and anyone who has any familiarity with my writing knows I am virtually incapable of writing an article about a single film so I’m going to focus on a number of movies I saw in my youth.
Growing up in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, I was fortunate enough to have my own room and my own TV set.
My family didn’t go out to the cinema very often so my introduction to movies was primarily through television.
The household cable television was limited to the family room and the parental restrictions that went with that so a far as movie watching went, it was mostly just me in my room where there were no limitations regarding what I could watch or how late I stay up doing so.
I watched countless films in those days on all available channels, some on cable but most of the films I loved turned up on the great independent stations Channel 19 out of Cincinnati and Channel 22 out of Dayton.
Of the vast number of films I saw on TV when I was young, a number of them had a real impact on me.
I revisited those films years later when I became a video store addict and, far from being disappointing, these particular films became all-time favorites of mine.
These films are in alphabetical order and some are grouped together for obvious reasons.
The Andromeda Strain (Robert Wise, 1971)
When someone brings up 1970s science fiction cinema, I don’t think Star Wars. I think of the grim classics The Andromeda Strain, Phase IV and Westworld.
An alien virus wipes out a small town in the desert and a group of scientists gather in an underground research facility and battle against time to find a way to combat the lethal microscopic entity in what remains the best Michael Crichton book to film adaptation.
Unforgettable moments from The Andromeda Strain include the investigation of the dead town early in the film and the intense race against time near the film’s end as James Olson’s character has to scale a ladder while being shot at by laser beams designed to kill escaped test animals.
Readers interested in more of the best of humankind’s battles with alien life forms, see my article “Human vs. Alien Films: The Must-Sees” here.
For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965)
This is by far my favorite Sergio Leone film. Was then, is now.
Lee Van Cleef turns in one of his best performances a bounty-hunting rival to Clint Eastwood’s character as the duo pursues a deadly gang leader.
Van Cleef and Eastwood make a spectacular screen duo it would’ve been incredible to see in another film that followed the same characters.
I’ve never been a big fan of Leone’s highly influential Fistful of Dollars (1964) and I find the director’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) to be less focused and less impactful than For Few Dollars More despite some fabulous moments.
Those cinephiles who consider that statement heresy probably wouldn’t like the fact that I’m not a big fan of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, either.
Grizzly & Day of the Animals (William Girdler, 1976 & 1977)
I love Revolt of Nature horror films. So much so I wrote an article for this site called “Revolt of Nature Horror Films: The Must-Sees” you can check out here.
I saw both of Girdler’s post-Jaws subgenre classics growing up and when I caught up with them in my video store days was impressed that I liked both films-flaws and all-even more than when I saw them originally.
Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
This is one of three films I saw before my video store days that scared the living hell out of me.
The other two films-also seen on television-were John Carpenter’s The Thing (on cable) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (on broadcast TV).
Later viewings of The Shining-a film I still admire a great deal-didn’t have quite as much impact on me as later viewings of Halloween and The Thing.
Halloween is one of the great psychopath films and even in the face of unnecessary sequels and an ocean of imitators it remains an all-time horror classic.
House of Usher & The Pit & Pendulum (Roger Corman, 1960 & 1961)
The Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films were a strong presence on the independent TV stations back in the day.
I’m a fan of the anthology film Tales of Terror and the highly entertaining comic fantasy The Raven but it is these first two films in the cycle that are all-time favorites.
As a young viewer, I loved the dark, brooding quality of the films and was really struck by the idea of a film character being doomed by his genealogy.
I became a lifelong Vincent Price fan at an early age because of these films that also helped introduce me to the works of legendary horror writer/screenwriter Richard Matheson.
The Mechanic (Michael Winner, 1972)
This is by far my favorite Charles Bronson film.
Winner’s 1974 Death Wish cemented Bronson’s status as an American box-office draw but The Mechanic and its tale of an aging hitman and his apprentice is by far the superior film and features Charles Bronson’s finest lead acting performance.
A lot of credit for the film’s quality goes to screenwriter Lewis John Carlino who also wrote John Frankenheimer’s Seconds based on David Ely’s novel.
The Mechanic starts off with a spectacular introduction to Bronson’s methodical assassin character.
Phase IV (Saul Bass, 1974)
Phase IV is the most cerebral and unusual of the Revolt of Nature cycle of the 1970s and details the investigation into an ever-growing colony of super-intelligent ants that turns into a battle with the fate of human race hanging in the balance.
Unforgettable moments from the visually striking Phase IV include the accidental killing of a fleeing couple as they are sprayed by a toxic yellow liquid and the fate of Nigel Davenport’s driven scientist character as he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time near the film’s end.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Blake Edwards, 1976)
This is my personal favorite of the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers Pink Panther films due in no small part to the fantastic performance of Herbert Lom.
Sellers is great in the Clouseau role as always and Lom, his Dreyfus character now insane and plotting world domination, is the perfect villainous match.
Lom’s is one of many performances featured in my first article on Sound on Sight called “Supporting Actors: The Overlooked & Underrated” that looks at award-worthy supporting film performances that don’t get enough critical attention.
Play It Again, Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972)
I’m a huge fan of the early Woody Allen comedies (as the aliens in Allen’s 1980 Stardust Memories call them “the early funny ones”) Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (1972), Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975).
Of this period of Allen comedies, the hilarious Play It Again, Sam remains my favorite. Despite being directed by Herbert Ross based on the Woody Allen screenplay adaptation of Allen’s stage play, in my mind this is still very much a Woody Allen film as Ross’ directing style is indistinguishable from Allen’s.
The film features Allen regulars Diane Keaton and the underrated Tony Roberts.
The Return of Count Yorga (Bob Kelljan, 1971)
This is a horror film that I saw on VHS many years after my initial viewing of it on late night TV and like Grizzly and Day of the Animals, The Return of Count Yorga turned out to be even better than I remembered.
This low-budget vampire film is highly effective and memorable largely because of the great performance of Robert Quarry in the title role.
I didn’t see the original Count Yorga, Vampire until I after I revisited the sequel and while the first Count Yorga film is a solid must-see with a spectacular Quarry performance, it doesn’t reach the heights of The Return of Count Yorga.
Rumor has it that American International Pictures was planning a Dr. Phibes vs. Count Yorga film but that the plans were dropped when neither the second Phibes film nor the second Count Yorga film performed as expected at the box office.
Sigh…..what could have been.
Rituals (Peter Carter, 1977)
I absolutely love this movie.
This is a rural massacre film about a group of doctors led by Hal Holbrook’s character that find themselves the target of a deadly, unseen assailant during a wilderness outing.
Excellent acting is part of Rituals’ well-made and intense cinematic package and this film deserves mention alongside Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) in any discussion of the best the rural massacre subgenre has to offer.
I owned this film on VHS but was unaware that it was an edited version for many years. Code Red brought out the uncut version on DVD a few years back.
God bless you, Code Red.
The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
I saw a lot of 1950s science fiction films on TV growing up-and I mean a lot-including the original 1951 version of The Thing.
I liked the first screen incarnation and still do but nothing could prepare a young viewer for the tense and gruesome spectacle of Carpenter’s film about an Arctic station invaded by a shape-shifting life form.
It took time but this box-office failure is now rightfully considered a classic. That the mind-blowing nightmarish imagery of The Thing severely damaged Carpenter’s career at the time is absurd, even more so in the light of the level of graphic violence that is now commonplace in horror cinema.
A considerable amount of credit must also go to the great acting ensemble led by Kurt Russell.
The Three Musketeers & Four Musketeers (Richard Lester, 1973 & 1974)
Unlike a lot of cinephiles who love the 1970s, the swashbuckling tale of good vs. evil that has stuck with me the most over the years is not Star Wars-not even close-it is this film which was shot as one long story then split into two parts for release.
The films feature an incredible performance by Oliver Reed-one of his greatest-and the swordplay choreographed by the great William Hobbs is superb.
The ensemble cast of Reed, Michael York, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain has great chemistry and Lester’s take on the famous Alexandre Dumas novel leaves all other versions in the dust.
Westworld (Michael Crichton, 1973)
This is the greatest film about an amusement park gone wrong ever made. That’s right, fans of Steven Spielberg’s goofy Jurassic Park, you read that correctly.
The most unforgettable moment of Westworld is the confrontation between Richard Benjamin and James Brolin’s characters with Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger after the park’s scientists lose control of the machines.
In the course of this scene, Brynner’s character is transformed from an amusement park prop into a killing machine, the previously light tone of the film is completely jettisoned and Richard Benjamin’s character finds himself a prisoner in a nightmare.
Remy Kramer’s High Velocity (1976)-a hard to find film about mercenaries on an ill-fated rescue mission-was my first experience with a truly downbeat film ending.
I saw it when I was very young on TV and even though I doubt it would hold up for me today, it left a real impression on me.
Happy Anniversary Sound on Sight and here’s to many more years and continued growth.
Special thanks to Rick D. and Justine Smith for their ongoing support.