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I actually made it to 161. There are two missing from this list, which had somehow not been added to my IMDB watchlist. If I remember what those were I'll add them later.
Alien Autopsy (2006)
Orson Welles would have been proud!
This was a review originally written in 2006. Someone flagged it on here for abuse, but I have no idea why. Let's try again! Welles asked in his documentary F for Fake "When the authority says fake is real, what is real and what is fake?" This question can equally apply to Alien Autopsy. It has been (more or less) well established by now that the autopsy footage presented to the world by Ray Santilli in 1995 was a fake. It was claimed to have been shot during the autopsy of one of the humanoids recovered from the Roswell crash in 1947. When it was shown on television stations across the globe millions tuned in, wanting to believe that we finally had proof that we are not alone in the universe. Fast-thinking entrepreneurs made small fortunes peddling any old rubbish with a picture of an alien on it, people wrote books about it and The X-Files became the 1990s most successful TV show. So you can hardly blame Santilli and his co-conspirators for not 'fessing up that they had filmed the whole thing themselves using a plastic alien and innards from a local butcher.
That is, until now. Alien Autopsy opens with the title "Based on a true story". Santilli and his partner in crime Gary Shoefield are the executive producers of this film, and McPartlin and Donnelly play the pair in this, their feature debut. So is the production of this film the final confession that the footage wasn't real? Perhaps. More importantly, is the film any good? Again, perhaps.
McPartlin and Donnelly, better known in the UK as Ant and Dec have been a popular double act on television for well over fifteen years. They began life presenting, moved into acting, had a brief flirtation with the music business and then went back to presenting. They proved to be something of a revolution in broadcasting, drawing adult viewers to what were essentially children's shows with such parent-angering games as Beat the Barber, where the losing child had their hair completely shaved off in front of a studio audience.
The premise of the film is that whilst on a business trip in America collecting Elvis memorabilia Ray comes across the footage detailing an autopsy in Roswell, 1947. He buys this footage with plans to make money from it back in the UK. However once the film has been exposed to air it rapidly deteriorates rendering the film useless. And that should have been that, except Ray had borrowed the money from a psychopathic gangster with a sideline in standing naked in crop circles, who will kill him if he doesn't come back with the promised footage. And so all kinds of madcap shenanigans ensue as the pair recreate the film and fool both the gangster and the world. Along the way they try their best to shock the audience more used to watching their various television shows with a few firsts: They drink! They swear! They have sex! It is interesting to note that this film was part produced by Ealing Studios, and it does have the feel of a classic Ealing comedy: imagine The Lavender Hill Mob crossed with an episode of The X-Files. This also means that the tone shifts dramatically throughout, from thriller to science fiction to comedy to drama and back again, leaving what few laughs there are rather thinly spread out. Being a long-time fan of Ant and Dec (I even have some of their CDs) I didn't mind this, but those unfamiliar with the duo who are just looking for an enjoyable movie may find it difficult to settle into the film.
Overall Alien Autopsy will probably not be a box office smash. It's currently in the UK top ten but may have a harder time in the US. It's worth catching however to see how one of the greatest scams of the 1990s was pulled off, and how it is still possible that there may be intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe.
Moments of horror greatness squandered
The London Underground has something inherently creepy about it, with its long winding tunnels, the escalators taking you deeper and deeper underground, and of course the rats roaming the tracks.It a source of wonder that it is not used in horror films more often. It was used in the seventies horror Deathline aka Raw Meat, featuring a cannibalistic tribe living in a disused tunnel, and the celebrated chase sequence in American Werewolf in London. So I was pleased to see that someone else had tried to capitalise on the atmosphere of the tube at night with the recent UK production Creep.
I thought the film started off well, with a highly effective credit sequence that was genuinely unnerving, followed by a scene in the sewers that sets up the premise of there being something evil lurking below the streets of London. However, Creep went downhill from here, and I found myself wishing that I'd switched it off after this opening scene, leaving me with a favourable impression of the film. All the characters become unsympathetic and unlikable, even Potente herself, and the director felt the need to hit us over the head with social commentary about homelessness. he also made the mistake of showing the "monster" in full lighting, where he ceases to become remotely scary, and reveals his name to be Craig. How can you have a monster called Craig? It turns into an X Files-type thing, and reminds one of the episode Tombs. In fact, I was wishing Mulder and Scully would turn up and sort them all out for me.
As for the infamous sexualised violence, it is very graphic, disturbing and totally unnecessary. It seems to be there merely to shock the audience rather than for any intrinsic plot value. The trouble is it is so over the top and horrific that it actually numbs you to the rest of the horror, which is a mistake as it's only halfway through the film.
So there you go. The only redeeming feature of the film for me was a rare appearance from Ken Campbell, one of my favourite occasional actors. You don't see him very often, but when he's on screen he acts everyone else into a corner. Casting him as a sewer inspector was a stroke of genius, unfortunately the only one evident in the film.
The Body Stealers (1969)
You know, from the right angle, he DOES look like Sean Connery
The 1960s was the era of the brash, misogynistic hero who uses his fists first and asks questions later. He assumes that all women want to sleep with him, no matter what the age gap, and wears a variety of chunky knitwear a Cornish fisherman would feel comfortable in. This behaviour can all be blamed on James Bond. The mega-success of the Bond franchise lead to every other TV and movie producer falling over themselves trying to get a piece of the action. There were spies, espionage and action heroes everywhere. Now The Body Stealers is not a spy film as such, but it is Bond that it most closely resembles, despite its extra-terrestrial enemy. And unfortunately our Neil does not take the lead role, the honour falling to Patrick Allen. Allen was a great character actor in the 1960s, making many appearances in Hammer films, including the fan favourite Captain Clegg aka Night Creatures, along with assorted low-budget science fiction efforts. Here he plays a no-nonsense, womanising private detective called in by the military to solve the mystery of parachutists disappearing in mid-drop. Neil Connery is relegated to standing in the background in most of the scenes, playing an old friend of Allen's.
So, the plot goes something like this: The British Air Force are testing a new kind of parachute, but their jumpers (not the knitted kind) are vanishing into thin air before they hit the ground (incidentally Thin Air was the original title of the film, but exploitation master Tony Tenser, producer and head of Tigon, thought it wasn't catchy enough). It IS all a mystery. Allen, who used to be a parachutist himself, leaves a women he was enjoying an intimate picnic with at the order of George Sanders and moves into a seedy looking B&B by the airbase. After clumsily trying to chat up a female scientist, and meeting the chief scientist Maurice Evans (better known for his appearances under heavy makeup in the Planet of the Apes series), he starts to make his moves on a mysterious, bikini-clad blonde he meets on the beach. Meanwhile, for no given reason other than he may be a pervert of some kind, Neil Connery takes secret photos of his old mate Allen making love to this woman right there on the sand. But when he develops the photos, possibly for publication in a seedy magazine (everything was seedy in sixties low budget science fiction), he discovers that she doesn't appear in the photos! That's because she is an alien!
Are you following this? I won't continue, as I'm confusing myself as much as I'm probably confusing you, and I've seen the film. It's no wonder George Sanders spends most of his scenes looking mistily into the distance, no doubt reminiscing on his earlier days working with the likes of Visconti. Even Allen admits on the DVD commentary that he had no real idea of what was going on. Now depending on your view point, this confusing plot, and the lack of a satisfying conclusion, could lead you to believe that you have just wasted the last ninety minutes of your life. Or, if like me you have a certain fondness for sixties British science fiction then there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had from The Body Stealers. You can wonder how Neil Connery didn't do more to cash in on his brother's celebrity status (his only other film appearance of note is the notorious Italian Bond rip-off Operation Kid Brother), or whether this film was the tipping point for Sanders, resulting in his suicide just a couple of years later. You can admire how Allen's heroic chin can win over even the most resistant of women, and even speculate whether there couldn't have been an easier, lower-profile way for the alien race to abduct men to take back to their home planet.
King Kong (1976)
"No one cry when Jaws die! But when the monkey die, everybody gonna cry!"
In the mid-seventies Hollywood had gone big-budget disaster movie mad. Audiences had been shaken by Earthquake, burned by Towering Inferno (directed by Kong's own Guillerman) and drowned by The Poseidon Adventure. They'd been put off flying by the Airport series and swore never to return to the water thanks to a certain shark movie. De Laurentiis felt that the time was right for yet another special effects epic, and committed $24 million to bringing Kong to a new generation (by way of comparison, Earthquake cost a mere $7 million just two years earlier). He was originally in talks with Roman Polanski to bring this new version to the screen, and one can only imagine what that movie would have been like. Unfortunately there were certain elements Polanski was unsure of (mainly, what to do with a giant ape) which meant the project was passed on to Guillerman, a veteran of the disaster movie.
And here is the real crux of the matter: when you watch this film you begin to feel that NO ONE knew what to do with the ape. The film flows nicely along, and is quite enjoyable right up to the moment Kong is first revealed. The director and the cast bring some life and depth to the updated script, involving Grodin's search for a new oil source, finding shipwrecked Lange and stowaway Bridges along the way. They make it to the island and meet some of the natives; so far, so good. But when the atmosphere builds and Kong is finally revealed, it's a downhill slide from here.
Kong is played through the majority of the film by special effects maestro Rick Baker. Back in the seventies if the call went out for a guy to dress as an ape, he was first in line. He made his memorable debut playing a two-headed ape in The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, a film I heartily recommend for a terrific performance from Bruce Dern. In Kong the problems lies mainly in the fact that a man in an ape suite looks like, well, a man in an ape suit, and no amount of trick photography and miniature work disguises this. Kong looks truly ridiculous stomping his way through tiny trees and papier-mâché mountains, and especially during his climactic wrestle with a giant snake. He manages to show expression, particularly in his scenes with Lange's Dwan. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Dawn changed her name to Dwan to sound more interesting. She states that early in the movie. Well love, it just makes you sound like an idiot. And no one else in the movie can pronounce it properly.
As I was saying, Kong has several scenes with Dwan, and his main expression is one of arousal. Yes, Kong finds her sexy. Bridges refers to Kong as a "Gigantic turned-on ape", and he's not far wrong. There is a hilarious scene where Kong holds Dwan lovingly in his hand and slowly undresses her with one of his enormous pudgy fingers. I kid you not. And she lets him too, making only the smallest effort to retain her modesty.
De Laurentiis did have one ace up his sleeve. Along with his man-in-suit, he had Carlo Rambaldi. Better known for his later work in E.T., Rambaldi built a fully operational, life-size Kong, reaching over forty feet in height. This was going to be the effect that would amaze the audiences. And it does. It amazes you that they bothered at all, because it hardly works, only managing the most basic of facial and body movements. In the end they only used it in a couple of scenes, and the inter-cutting between it and Baker's suit is painfully obvious. One second he's motionless, the next Kong is thrashing around violently, then he's very still again. It's like an ape version of Musical Statues.
I could write all day about this movie. In short, you have to see it to believe that such a big film can be so bad, from the dialogue ("What do you think did that? A guy in an ape suit?" Er, yes?) to the scale models, which appear to have been borrowed from one of the lowest budgeted Godzilla movies. And of course, there's Kong himself, hairy and horny. All he wants is to get it on with Dwan, if only the giant snakes, evil oil companies and armed helicopters would let him.
For a PG-rated film, there's a surprising amount of blood and near-nudity in this film. The transfer quality on the DVD is excellent. The film is presented in widescreen, and the audio is clean and loud. As an extra on the R2 DVD you get a bonus disc featuring the official sequel, King Kong Lives, made in 1986 and again directed by Guillerman. This film has to be seen to be believed. It is presented in full screen, and looks like it was transferred from VHS, but you will be rewarded. Linda Hamilton stars as the surgeon who saved Kong's life, courtesy of an artificial heart, but soon lives to regret it when he escapes to get it on with a certain Lady Kong, recently arrived from Borneo. The film features tender scenes of courtship between the apes, and climaxes with Lady Kong giving birth whilst King Kong takes missiles in the chest from the military. It is played dead straight, with Hamilton weeping in the corner whilst the orchestral music swells. It is one of the funniest things I've seen in quite some time. The fact that Hamilton did this movie after Terminator shows she really needed another agent.
Masters of Horror (2005)
I was burned by "Cigarette Burns"
I saw this last week after picking up the DVD cheap. I had wanted to see it for ages, finding the plot outline very intriguing. So my disappointment was great, to say the least. I thought the lead actor was very flat. This kind of part required a performance like Johny Depp's in The Ninth Gate (of which this is almost a complete rip-off), but I guess TV budgets don't always stretch to this kind of acting ability.
I also the thought the direction was confused and dull, serving only to remind me that Carpenter hasn't done a decent movie since In the Mouth of Madness. As for the story - well, I was disappointed there as well! There was no way it could meet my expectation I guess, but I thought the payoff and explanation was poor, and the way he finally got the film anti-climactic to say the least.
This was written by one of the main contributors to AICN, and you can tell he does love his cinema, but I would have liked a better result from such a good initial premise.
I took the DVD back to the store the same day!
Fear Chamber (1968)
"It could contain the secret of our very existence!"
When Karloff completed work on The Curse of the Crimson Altar for Tigon in the UK, many believed it would be his last film. He had spent some time in hospital during the shoot, and there were a few teary eyes when the shoot was finally over and he flew home. So imagine the surprise of everyone concerned when it turned out he was already contracted to appear in another four films! This group of Mexican horrors included such near-classics as The Fear Chamber, The Incredible Invasion, Isle of the Living Dead and House of Evil. These films were all shot in a matter of weeks, with Karloff's scenes shot in California, and the rest down in Mexico. He was obviously quite frail by this point. The majority of his sixties films featured him either in a wheelchair or at least sitting/ lying down for the majority of the time, and The Fear Chamber is no exception. Despite the obvious limitations however, he still puts in a great performance.
The Fear Chamber has one of the most ludicrous plots I have come across, which given the amount of "bad" films I've watched is really saying something. To summarize: a telepathic rock which feeds on the chemical produced by fear is kept alive by an ambitious scientist and his misfit band of assistants, including his insipid daughter and her heroic boyfriend, Mexico's answer to Tor Johnson, who from now on will be referred to as Lobo, a sex-maniac dwarf, a predatory lesbian with a predilection for torture, and some kind of turban-wearing hippy guru, reminiscent of a young George Harrison.
Now that sounds like a great basis for a movie, and it certainly starts off strong. Disguised as a refuge for women looking for work, the scientists force one after another into the Fear Chamber, which is what a bad acid trip in a ghost train must be like. It is full of cobwebs, snakes, skeletons and satanic rituals, and the women finally scream themselves into unconsciousness. The precious fear juice is then extracted in the lab and fed to the hungry rock. Carried back to their beds, they wake up believing it was all a bad dream. Meanwhile Lobo develops an obsession for diamonds and has some sort of telepathic link with the rock. He also sports a lobotomy scar, which leads you to suspect that the casting sessions for this film were held at the Mexican Insane Asylum.
Karloff's character sustains an injury early on in the film, conveniently (for him) leaving him bedridden until the final reel. This is unfortunate, as when he's off the screen the films dips low, and I mean really low. The assortment of unusual characters manage to entertain some of the time, but when the focus is on the burgeoning love story between Karloff's daughter and her boyfriend you feel yourself reaching for the fast forward button.
This film has been released on DVD before, but this is the version to pick up. Not only does it feature an excellent transfer and soundtrack, it also comes with a deleted scene (see a Mexican go-go dancer get savaged by a tentacled rock!) and an excellent commentary by the writer and director of the American half, Corman veteran Jack Hill.
So in a nutshell, this is a film worth purchasing as a)it stars Boris Karloff, who is worth watching in any old rubbish (which is just as well, as he never seemed particularly picky with his roles) b)It's cheap c)It's a fascinating insight into the world of low budget movie making and in case I forgot to mention it, d) It features half-naked Mexican women being tortured in the haunted house ride from hell.
The Strangler (1964)
The dolls made him do it!
When I first discovered that this was an AMC Monsterfest release a shiver went down my spine. Not because of their commitment to supply us with scary films that chill the blood, but because my experience with AMC has been of terrible print quality, hissy sound and, well, that's bad enough. I was also nervous to discover that Victor Buono was playing a serial killer. I have only seen him in his Oscar nominated performance in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, where he seemed to be channelling Oliver Hardy. It was with some trepidation that I finally slipped the DVD in and turned down the lights.
My worst fears were confirmed right from the beginning. I'm grateful to AMC for making these films available to us at such a low price, but a little care in the transfer process wouldn't go amiss. The opening title sequence reveals it has been cropped on the sides, leaving you to guess what some of the words are supposed to be. However, once you get into the film itself this becomes less noticeable. But enough of my whining about the print, what about the movie? The Strangler is purported to be based on the case of the Boston Strangler (also the basis for a Tony Curtis movie of the same name), but how true to life it really is I couldn't say. Buono plays Leo Kroll, an overweight, single man who until recently lived with his overbearing invalid mother, played by Ellen Corby. She is now in a hospital, and berates and nags him every time he visits, reminding him that he is unattractive to women and only she can love him. It is this dominating, controlling mother that presumably led him down the path of serial strangling. He is a pleasant, unassuming lab assistant by day and a meticulous murderer by night, whose method involves strangling women with their own stockings. This conveniently means he has to wait until they've stripped down to their underwear before he moves in for the kill. It is here that the filmmakers reveal their true intentions, that titillation is the order of the day, rather than a revealing insight into the schizophrenic mind of the serial killer.
Much of the film time is spent following the police efforts to catch Kroll, who manages to elude them despite being interviewed twice as a suspect, once with a lie detector test. They also manage to miss him during a stakeout, as the police man takes an ill-timed coffee break. They also allow their chief witness, and potential next murder victim, to go home unprotected with Kroll still at large. You would not want this police force protecting you.
One of the most interesting story elements is Kroll's obsession with china dolls, which he collects and then strips after each murder. This is somehow used to signify Kroll's disturbed mind and his sexual thrill from killing these women, as the victims themselves are untouched. Unfortunately more is not made of this predilection, perhaps for fear by the director of presenting him as too perverted for audiences to relate to. We do pity Kroll, particularly when he visits his mother, and is rejected by the woman he loves/ has an unhealthy obsession with. We even view the murders through his eyes, making us complicit voyeurs in his nocturnal activities. It is as though we are meant to be on Kroll's side, and you do begin to feel concern for him that he might get caught if he's not careful.
So despite my initial misgivings and complaints about the print (yes it is over-scanned, scratched, and occasionally missing frames), I would have to recommend this film to those interested in low budget crime and thrillers. It is worth it just to ask the question "How does such a large man (and he really is) manage to break into women's apartments without being heard, or getting stuck?" The filmmakers use their low budget creatively to draw you in to the complex mind of Leo Kroll, and although there are shortcomings, particularly the convenient ending, it is definitely a good example of what can be done with a couple of cheap sets and a lot of imagination. Buono also puts in a great performance, demonstrating his immense capabilities as an actor that would also be put to use in such roles as King Tut in Batman and, er, Fat Man in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
"Welcome to the World of the Future!"
Westworld was the film that put Michael Crichton well and truly on the map as a writer and sometime director to watch out for. His story of an amazing theme park gone wrong was revisited twenty years later, only with raptors in the place of cowboys. It could have been revisited a lot earlier, had Futureworld been a lazy, hurried sequel to it's successful predecessor. Instead the filmmakers produced something entirely original that stands on its own with no prior knowledge of the first film necessary to the average viewer.
The film begins two years after the disaster at Westworld, with the newly improved theme park Delos ready to open its doors again to the rich and influential public. Peter Fonda however smells a rat, and following a tip-off that all is not well he takes a holiday there himself, with his ex-girlfriend and fellow journalist in tow. Of course it would be a short and uneventful film if he turned out to be wrong, so he doesn't. He's right. In fact, things there are worse than he thought, but I won't give it away here. Suffice it to say that it's not only the robot technology that has improved at Delos.
Futureworld plays on the question that audiences raised following the release of Westworld - can you have sex with these robots? The answer is yes, and whilst we're not shown any (this is a family film after all) both the robots and some of the guests discuss it openly. One even quips "Once you've had sex with a robot, you'll never go back!" If Futureworld was a real place, the implications would be scary indeed.
This film seems to have attracted a lot of negative reviews which surprises me, as I felt it was a well paced science fiction thriller. It was produced by American International Pictures, with Samuel Z. Arkoff at the helm, and as such it is a very slick looking film on a very low budget. It never looks cheap, despite some of the costumes looking a little too theatrical. And why shouldn't they? After all, it's a holiday camp, not a re-enactment society.
I would recommend Futureworld to anyone who is a fan of Westworld, or of seventies science fiction in general. I would imagine if you're reading this you probably fit into the latter category!
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Venus in Furs, Frankenstein in Leathers...
It was recently announced that Paul "Alien vs Predator" Anderson will be directing a remake/ sequel to this movie, imaginatively titled Death Race 3000. I have to admit to being slightly excited at this news. This is one of the seminal action movies of the seventies, and it will be interesting to see how it is done today. However, I imagine the politics will be very different. Death Race 2000 is just about the most subversive film I have ever seen. "In the year 2000 hit and run is no longer a felony... it's the national sport"? The film really does live up to that tag-line.
We are invited to travel across America with Frankenstein, the greatest racer of all time, who has had so many accidents and operations he is more machine than man, and the beautiful Annie Smith, a secret rebel desperate to bring an end to both the race and the regime. Along for the ride are other great racers, including a young Sly Stallone as Machine Gun Joe, and Calamity Jane, Matilda the Hun and Nero the Hero, all desperate to win the race and score as many points along the way. And what do points make? Funerals. That's right, for each pedestrian they hit, the more points they earn. What's great about this is it both horrifies and fascinates the audience at the same time. These racers are all sadistic murderers, willing to run over children, the elderly, even babies in prams if they think it will rack up their score. Even Frankenstein himself is a cold-blooded killer, yet slowly he wins Annie's heart, and reveals that he has a hidden agenda of his own.
When watching all this carnage you can't help but laugh at the sheer audacity of Bartel and Corman. This is black comedy at its finest. It can be read as a satire on capitalism, nationalism and even feminism, but above all else it's a guilty pleasure; a film that you know you probably shouldn't be watching, let alone enjoying. But you do. It's well worth picking up the DVD, which features a fascinating interview with producer and legend Roger Corman, as well as some trailers for other New World productions, including women in prison and a young Ron Howard. What more could you ask for?
"Are we lovers, that you thee and thou me?"
I've been a fan of Boris Karloff movies ever since I was sixteen, when Channel 4 had a late night season on Friday nights, showing great films like The Man They Couldn't Hang and The Boogie Man Will Get You. I really wish we'd have a VCR, as these films don't appear to have seen the light of day since. I've only seen Bedlam for the first time recently, but it came with great credentials (Boris Karloff AND Val Lewton) so I was more than willing to give it a try.
Karloff was born to play Master George Sims, the man who ran Bedlam, London's solution for the mentally ill or those who needed to be put away for fear of embarrassment to their families. In all his performances he manages to combine a natural warmth and sincerity with a just a hint of sadism beneath the surface. Even when playing an all out evil bad guy, like in The Black Cat, he still manages to be charming and polite. In Bedlam he is completely convincing as he ingratiates himself with the upper classes whilst threatening both the inmates and Nell Bowen, the woman who tries to improve conditions and ends up in the Institute herself.
The atmosphere portrayed in the dank, murky chambers and corridors of Bedlam is suitably dark and oppressive, and as such it invokes pity towards those incarcerated there, rather than fear. This is also probably an extension of the pity and care that Nell herself shows towards them, despite Karloff's attempts to show her compassion as limited and hypocritical.
My only real complaint about the film is the drawn out scenes between Nell and her Quaker friend who constantly reminds her of the need for non-violence and love for all around her, even Karloff himself. After a while you just want her to punch him in the face! It becomes more of a romance or even melodrama, which serves to a certain extent to undermine the more sinister elements of the film. There are also several comedic scenes with Nell's benefactor Lord Mortimer which feel slightly forced into the film, as though RKO wanted this to be lighter in tone than was usual for Lewton's horror films. Despite these minor gripes, Bedlam is still worth viewing for anyone who is a fan of Karloff, or the horror films of the 1940s. The final scenes alone, where the inmates get their revenge on the cowardly Sims, make this a film that deserves its status as a classic.
Something is amiss in Bikini Bottom...
I was lucky enough to receive this DVD as a Father's Day present, the idea being that my young son and I could watch it together. Well. I tried, but only one of us showed much interest... me! What a movie! SpongeBob and Patrick the starfish set out on a dangerous journey to find King Neptune's crown. That's the basic plot, but it really doesn't matter what they do. What's important is how they do it. And they do it well. SpongeBob is one of my favourite cartoon creations of the last ten years, and he does not disappoint in this, his first movie. It is hilarious! It's full of one liners, bizarre situations and fantastically silly animation. Like in the series there is a weird blend of live-action with the animation from time to time, which just adds to the surreal feel of the movie. This is particularly so when our two heroes hitch a lift on David Hasselhof's back. There are also some great musical moments, which are so unpredictable that you find yourself laughing uncontrollably! At least, I did anyway.
I highly recommend this movie to all children over the age of nine months, and any adults who haven't grown out of their love for cartoons on a Saturday morning. And that's not just me right? Hello? Anyone out there?
Tales of Terror (1962)
More anxiety about deceased wives and being buried alive from Poe!
I watched this Corman Poe anthology over the weekend, and really enjoyed it. I was particularly impressed with Vincent Price's performance in the Morella segment. It was very restrained and believable, compared with his sometimes theatrical performances in the other Poe pictures. The only letdown for me was the end of the segment, which was almost identical to the end of House of Usher and Tomb of Ligeia, including the same shots of the burning barn!
The Black Cat segment was a combination of this Poe story with The Cask of Amontiado. I found it very entertaining, especially Price's wine tasting. It was interesting to note that that an official wine taster was listed as a technical adviser in the credits. Price was also quite familiar with wines I understand, so he must have enjoyed sending it all up. I thought Lorre was hilarious, yet he still managed to be cruel at the same time. I understand this comical segment of the movie inspired Corman and Price to do The Raven as a comedy, as well as Torneur's Comedy of Terrors. I think these were all written by Matheson.
I enjoyed Basil Rathbone's sinister performance as the mesmerist in the final segment The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. I also found Price's disembodied voice quite chilling. It was definitely the most frightening of the three segments.
I think this was a great opportunity for Price to play three such different roles in the same movie. He was excellent, particularly in the opening segment, as I've mentioned. And once again Roger Corman came up with the goods!
To paraphrase Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, "I'm too old for this Sith".
I went to see Star Wars at my local Warner Village in Newcastle under Lyme, and who should be there in person but Darth Vader himself, Dave Prowse! I was gutted that I didn't know in advance or I'd have brought my one of my Hammer DVDs for him to sign. He once played Frankenstein's monster, created by Peter Cushing's Baron. I was there too late to go home and get it, so I just went and spoke to him instead. He seemed quite pleased that I wanted to talk about Hammer films as no doubt everyone else was all about Star Wars. He was charging £20 for signed photos, so I made do with a handshake.
As for the film itself, I was bored. It was at least an hour and a half too long. However, I'm sure that anyone under the age of seventeen will love it. I was very disappointed at Christopher Lee's brief appearance as Count Dooku. He cancelled his Manchester signing last summer that I had tickets for so he could go and do re-shoots down in Shepperton, and for what? He could have shot all that in about half an hour! So, in brief, see it if you are a child, or have children. For everyone else, stick to episodes IV - VI. I think part of my problem is that one of the things I love about the original trilogy was that it felt like you were coming in on the middle of something, like there was a history and a back-story that gave it all depth. I think it cheapens that by actually showing it. The way Anakin finally turns to the Dark Side was just a bit lame. I'd rather not have known! It is for this reason that I hope Peter Jackson never makes The Hobbit into a movie. It's the history that gives these films greater depth. We don't need to see that history made into a movie!
How to Make a Monster (1958)
How to Corrupt Innocent Young Men!
This film needs to be viewed as the third film in a trilogy. I really enjoyed I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, the latter in particular is quite hilarious in places, mostly intentionally. However, I was very impressed with How to Make a Monster. This film may qualify as the first post-modern sequel. It openly acknowledges that the first two movies were just movies. Set in American International Studios (How Arkoff and Nicholson must have wished this was true), it is an interesting satire on Hollywood politics.
It seemed that AIP were trying to move in a new direction, away from the teen-centred themes of the first two. This film focuses more on Robert H. Harris as Pete Drummond, the studio's greatest make-up man. After finding out he's being sacked by the new studio owners, he vows to get his revenge by murdering them using his own monster creations. This involves hypnotizing his two favourite teenage boys after applying their monster make-up, and the ease with which he does this suggests that murder comes easily to him. This coupled with the predatory sub-text makes him a very unpleasant person indeed. (At one point he also makes himself up as what appears to be Rondo Hatton in order to murder a security guard).
I may be accused of reading too much into what is essentially a drive-in monster movie, but HTMAM can be read as a warning to young men to avoid old predatory homosexuals, a theme which also ran through the first two movies, but more overtly so in this movie. In each film the main scientist (hey, movie make-up is a science too) has a camp, passive assistant, and they practically drool over the young male specimens at their control. This is particularly evident in IWAT Frankenstein, which focuses in great detail on the physique of the teenage monster himself. In HTMAM Drummond elucidates at great length how much he enjoys spending time with these young men, and attempts to develop a powerfully corrupting and controlling influence over them under the pretence of helping their careers.
Equally, the message of this film could simply be: If a creepy old guy invites you round for dinner, and you find he has a large collection of heads on pedestals, don't stay for dessert.
HTMAM features less overtly comical moments than I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (who can forget the classic line, "I know you have a civil tongue in your head! I sewed it there myself!), and has less to say about the awkwardness of adolescence which gave I Was a Teenage Werewolf its resonance with audiences, but is still an interesting and entertaining movie, and one which completes the trilogy with the wit and style that you associate with the majority of American International Pictures drive-in movies.
DVD extras: This DVD was released as part of The Arkoff Library Collection in the UK. Each DVD contains identical extras: a selection of original and highly amusing trailers for such classics as Earth vs the Spider, The Brain Eaters and War of the Colossal Beast. The jewel in the crown however is a fifty minute audio interview with AIP producer and B-movie legend Samuel Z. Arkoff. He starts with his own life story, and how he got into the business, and has lots of anecdotes about the hundreds of films he has been responsible for. This interview is worth the cost of the disc alone. It is worth noting that Lion's Gate Films have recently announced the R1 releases of The Arkoff Library, although there are no details yet of extras.
Scream and Scream Again (1970)
Scream at the Screen Again!
What a film! I feel slightly cheated that Vincent Price, Chris Lee and Peter Cushing were given top billing, as their total screen time probably adds up to about fifteen minutes. At least Cushing's cameo lasted longer and was slightly more interesting than his role in Dr Phibes Rises Again.
I was watching the film wondering when these completely separate plot lines were going to be drawn together. I waited... and waited... and waited some more... And finally it did! Sort of. What a bizarre film. But strangely enjoyable nonetheless. I would love to have seen each story have it's own movie though, rather than being stitched precariously together. Still, any film that gets that cast list together deserves attention, even if it does feature a theme tune from popular beat combo The Amen Corner!
The Fog (1980)
A scary film let down by a foggy script (pun intended) (SPOILER ALERT!)
I have to confess to being disappointed with with this film. The killings were too gruesome for me, which I understand were inserted on the behest of the studio after Carpenter had submitted a less gory, more atmospheric film. This is a shame, as I think the more left to the imagination, the spookier it would have been. I also think the ghosts looked more like badly dressed tramps. My biggest problem with it was the glaring plot errors and inconsistencies. Perhaps someone out there can prove me wrong, but this for me let the film down greatly - (SPOILERS BELOW)
1. The DANE driftwood that the DJ took to her lighthouse began to drip water and spelt out "6 must die". At the end of the film when they group together in the church they refer to the fact that 6 must die, and count how many people have been killed so far. At no point has the DJ left the lighthouse or made this information known to anyone else, and it certainly wouldn't have been written in the diary, so how did they know?
2. At the end when the DJ is warning the townspeople about the fog she gives a running commentary and tells everyone to go the church, as it's the only safe place. As only five people turn up at the church, are we to assume that either a) she has a very small audience, or b) the rest of the town is already dead? If it is the latter then more than six have died, and if it is neither, then is the fog not really that deadly after all?
3. The story is that the original six conspired to sink the ship so that they could use the money to build the town. The diary says that they recovered the money from the wreck. So the whole film is based on the premise that the town was built on blood money. So how come at the end the vicar finds a solid gold cross behind the wall, and says the money was melted down into that? Why would they use it all to make a gold cross that would be hidden, when they needed it to make the town? Did they not need it to make the town? If so why bother with the whole sinking the ship, killing the lepers thing in the first place?
Now you may think I'm just being picky, but these sorts of things bother me and prevent me from enjoying a film. Does anyone out there have the answers? Apart from that I didn't think it was too bad. I think Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13 were better though. John Carpenter has recently announced that Hollywood will be remaking The Fog with him as Producer. Perhaps these plot errors will be fixed! And the ghosts will look more scary!
What does the title have to do with the film? Who knows!
I've just watched this great film, and I just can't believe I haven't watched it sooner. What a movie! It's got everything a great seventies horror should have - groovy music (very reminiscent of Air's soundtrack for The Virgin Suicides), a well-spoken biker gang, hilarious suicide attempts, the living dead, as well as a bizarre occult fascination with frogs. Or were they toads? Who cares. It's a great film anyway, and I was pleasantly suprised at it's total lack of sex and gore. It just goes to show that you can have an entertaining horror film without resorting to exploitation.
And as for suprise endings, well, you'll never see this one coming, I promise you!
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Don't forget your travel-sickness tablets!
As you will no doubt be aware, this is the sequel to the highly successful spy thriller The Bourne Identity. All I want to say is that the plot, acting and direction are excellent, but there is one element that lets it down. This is a special warning to my Mum and anyone else!
This film gave us all a headache. I was with a group of friends, and we all felt a bit ill by the end. The camera movement is unrelenting. The whole thing is shot cinema verite style, and as a result is very shaky. It's like the cameraman was wearing very lumpy shoes or something. In all the fight scenes there is so much movement you can hardly tell what is happening. Every time there was a smooth, steady shot you could hear the audience collectively breath a sigh of relief.
So be warned! Don't watch this film if you're epileptic, or just easily nauseated by wobbly cameras!
The School of Rock (2003)
School of Rock rocked (original I know)
This is a great film for all the family to enjoy, unless you don't like rock music. Actually, even if you're not keen on the likes of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, you will still find something to like (even my wife liked it, and she's usually the first to complain when anything vaguely seventies comes on the stereo). Jack Black is very funny as the wannabe rocker who becomes a substitute teacher, but the real stars of the film are the pupils who are transformed from public school snobs to rockers in just a couple of weeks.
On the negative side it's not a particularly original plot (it's basically Dead Poets Society with pre-teens and loud music), although it doesn't go for the most obvious ending, and no one commits suicide.
See it now!
Another childhood memory identified (contains spoilers)
Eighteen years ago, when I was ten, I watched a short black and white film that my mum had recorded from the TV. It chilled me and my friends at the time, and the image of a frightened man in a room, and being chased down a beach, has stayed with me ever since. I've often wondered what it was, and then recently Channel 4 showed the 100 most scary moments, and there it was. And now I've finally got hold of the DVD, and it scared me all over again. The professor's nightmares are especially chilling. The sparing use of sound, the misty black and white, the use of close-ups, all these combine to make what could be quite ridiculous into something quite unsettling. The final scene in particular is horrible. I think it touches on fears we have all had at night of strange sounds in the dark, and the unmistakable feeling of a presence in the room. The way Michael Horden portrays these fears is brilliant. I love the way he is reduced from a philosophising academic to a terrified, murmuring, inarticulate shell of a man. He doesn't run around screaming like so many ghost story films tend towards. He is simply afraid and rooted to the spot, unable to comprehend the supernatural goings on right in front of him.
I challenge anyone to watch this short film and not feel afraid, and uncomfortable.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Evil Dead fans will not be disappointed.
This will just be a short review. But not too short or IMDB will keep telling me to add more lines.
THIS IS A GREAT FILM! SEE IT NOW!
Sam Raimi is brilliant. I've loved his films for years, but with Spidey he has surpassed himself. The way he balances the emotions with the action is amazing. You wouldn't expect a summer action blockbuster to have this much introspection and angst, but it does! And it works!
Lots of people will talk about the special effects, which are great, but unless you have a good story to go with it it just doesn't work (see Van Helsing for confirmation). My only gripe with this film is that Doctor Octopus is underdeveloped as a character. But that's only a small gripe.
I have a feeling that I will enjoy this film even more on subsequent viewings, and I can't wait to try. Roll on Spidey 3 in 2007!
The Undead (1957)
Even Ed Wood Jr. would have been embarrassed by this...
Now don't get me wrong, I love Roger Corman movies, but this one is surely at the bottom of the heap. I read in his autobiography that this started off as an exploitation film about hypnotic regression to cash in on the success of a book on the subject. However it became some sort of a wierd hybrid horror film instead. Just what exactly was going on here? Why were there only five trees in the whole village? Why did the hypnotist Quintus take his watch back in time but not his clothes? Why did Meg Maude have the worst witch makeup ever to make it to the big screen? What is the point of having an imp that can change into animals (including a bat on wires) but still can't get through a closed door? Why does the Devil look like Robin Hood? Who in this film is undead? They all seem pretty alive to me.
This film raises a whole lot more questions than it answers. Luckily Corman himself always had a sense of humour, and probably realised that this film wasn't going to win him any major awards. However, it will always have a place in the hearts of us low budget, Z-grade, Samuel Z. Arkoff-produced movie fans. Luckily for us, and Corman, he went on to improve his directing ability a great deal and brought us better movies like The House of Usher and Little Shop of Horrors.
Up Pompeii (1971)
Frankie Howerd will be forever remembered as the creator of the knowing glance. He develops a relationship with the audience that lets us know that he thinks this stuff is bad too. Somehow that allows us to forgive the corny puns, lame jokes and sexist humour. "Just bear with me," he seems to be saying, "It'll all be over soon." Somehow it all worked, and Up Pompeii managed to rise above its seventies comedy contemporaries to become a classic.
The film perhaps lacks the freshness of the TV series due to the loss of the studio audience. Howerd was able to react to them in a way that made the whole show appear to be improvised. This was of course down to his genius, as everything was very well rehearsed. Despite this it's still a very enjoyable film. My only complaint is that Hammer starlet Madeline Smith is not in it more!
Pauline Calf's Wedding Video (1994)
I am in this!!!
Yes folks, I had the pivotal role of background artist in this brilliant BBC comedy. You can see me just behind Pauline Calf during the hen night. I'm wearing a read t-shirt and glasses. And other clothes of course. It was very difficult not to laugh whilst this scene was being filmed. The sight of Steve Coogan in a dress was one I'll never forget in a hurry.
Paul and Pauline Calf are two of Coogan's greatest, if incredibly vulgar, creations. However, my all time favourite will always be Alan Partridge. Ah ha! One of Coogan's great skills is convincing us that Alan really does exist. When you see photos of Steve without the make-up it is a suprise to see how young he really is. Alan Partridge is one of the greatest and most memorable comedy characters to be created in the last twenty years, and his painfully embarrassing behaviour is up there with Basil Fawlty.
He has of course now hit the big time, appearing with Jackie Chan in Around the World in Eighty Days, but for us Brits he will be remembered for his humble beginnings on late night British television.
Night of the Eagle (1962)
Another triumph for black and white British horror!
I've just watched this obscure little British horror. The only name I recognised in the credits was the writer Richard Matheson. But it turns out that the director was Sidney Hayers, who also directed Circus of Horrors, before he went on to direct a lot of television, including The A Team, The New Avengers and Manimal (does anyone remember that?).
The plot is a little haywire, but this is a great film. It fits into the horror sub-genre "Housewives and school teachers who get into witchcraft", along with Horror Hotel, Hammer's The Witches, Romero's Season of the Witch and many others, probably. It's got some great visuals, partly due to the very dark black and white photography, it has genuine moments of suspense and the special effects are incredible for a film of its age and low budget. It's also known as Burn, Witch, Burn, which gives it a sensationalist twist that it doesn't really need. Night of the Eagle is a much more appropriate title. I highly recommend this if you can catch it on TV or DVD!