Cannonball 1976 ***

cannonball-3The no-hold-barred, cross-country car-race became familiar via The Gumball Rally and The Cannonball Run films; Paul Bartel’s Cannonball was a pioneering entry in this subgenre, with David Carradine’s character Coy “Cannonball” Buckman taking some inspiration from Edwin G ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker. There’s a whole lot of cannon-balling in that intro, but there’s even more in this Roger Corman film, which has a decidedly shaky tone. Bartel had ben asked by Corman to beef up the content featured in Death Race 2000, and this chaotic mess of a film does exactly that, with plenty of violent deaths which run counter to the otherwise sunny outlook. Racing against Coy and his girl Linda (Veronica Hamel from Hill Street Blues) are brother Robert Carradine, Mary Wonorov as one of the ‘game girls in a van’ team, Dick Dastardly-lite Wolfe Messer (James Keach) and singer-songwriter Penman Waters (Gerritt Graham). As if that’s not enough, there’s also Dick Miller getting beaten up while Bartel serenades him on a grand piano, blink-and-you’ll-miss them cameos from Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese, plus producer Don Simpson as a DA. Cannonball wears its thirst for carnage on its sleeve, and hopes the audience will feel the same. ‘See the worlds biggest pile-up!’ the poster screams, but the bloodshed sits uneasily with the silly comedy, and the idea of a road race in which dozens of people die is a conundrum the film’s lightweight resolution fails to address. The Cannonball myth was refined for more popular films; Bartel’s 1976 film is still something of a curiosity piece.

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The Haunting aka The Terror 1963

Seemingly improvised on the sets of another film over a fleeting period, The Haunting, better known as The Terror but not terribly well known as either, is an oddity even by Roger Corman’s standards. With Francis Ford Coppola amongst the producers and Monte Hellman on wardrobe, there’s plenty of behind the scenes talent, while in front of the camera there’s a substantial role for Corman cameo specialist Dick Miller, and a generation-spanning central twosome of Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. While no-one would doubt that Nicholson has proved many times since that he’s a great actor, he’s not quite in his comfort zone as an army officer in Napoleonic war era France. Karloff is on much more familiar ground as a widowed Baron who is haunted by the ghost of his wife. There’s some plot-twists here, seemingly improvised, that really don’t make any sense, but there’s a high curiosity value of watching such a motely crew of actors; it might come up short of horror, but The Haunting is a strange document of old and Hollywood collectively bending over to make a buck.