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A Cure for Wellness (2016)
Return of the Euro Horror Thriller
Seriously. Right down to the demented Count who transforms into a slavering disfigured drooling monster for the big finish down in the Eel Grotto. The plot revels in perverse psycho-sexuality rife with symbolic symbolism symbolized by a barrage of symbols that eventually become a checklist. The film wallows in overtly arty cinematography - the image of the rotund ladies swimming in the pool will stick with you - and boasts one of the most interestingly staged car crashes in movie history. You are in the car with them and for my money it was the high point of the film. Which does go on for about twenty minutes more than it should have: What is it with these film magnates insisting we invest three hours in their forty million dollar movies? Even ALIEN got in & got it done in under two hours for 1/8th of that. Take a hint.
Not sure about the eel thing. They are (sorry) repulsive slimy room-temperature cold wriggling things best left alone, in nature, where they belong. We do not wish to drink them or bathe with them, and those of a perverse mindset may be disappointed that the riveting image of Mia Goth languishing in a bathtub filled with them lasts just as long in the complete film as it does on the trailer. I would wish to prefer to think that the majority of their presence in the film is CGI manipulation of some kind - Lots of sensuously undulating swimming eel scenes, including in rehearsed groups like synchronized swimmers. Right. So, they were faked unless being found in the guts of things gutted onscreen. Like, ew.
Other than the shock sequences involving the eels the film sets out to try and disturb its viewers rather than "scare" them in the traditional sense of the term. I am claustrophobic, have a fear of drowning and will admit to being owned by the depravation tank scene. The main gist of the film is about its location(s), the arty staging of the cinematography, and it's methodology of creating ill at ease within the viewer. The story works up until the big revelatory moment, then languishes in a seemingly arbitrary repeat of certain earlier passages played with a reversed tone. It's to emphasize the disease and corruption which lurks beneath the seemingly placid appearance of this "heath spa", a horror film motif the Italians approached with more directness in films like "Slaughter Hotel".
Is the movie any good? Well, it depends on what you are looking for. I actually liked Dane DeHaan as the schnook sent to endure the action of the film, but you are not watching this for the performances. If you want outright horror with severed heads flying and stuff being blown up you can skip this one. If you like lingering in twisted Freudian psycho-fantasies where everything is a clue and every meaning has more than one interpretation, rent this immediately (selling my DVD/BR after one viewing: am good with one sitting).
If you are a fan of ghoulish old Euro Horror creakers you might want to take a look to see what has become of the form: They even burn the place down at the end, which is right out of Hammer Horror. The climactic scene of the wicked Count claiming his daughter (ew, again) to continue the bloodline right out of the Spanish made "Blood Castle" and its staging borrowed from Hammer's "Kiss of the Vampire". The waltzing scenes come from "Web of the Spider" and the creepy little girl music them from any dozens of other continental Euro Thrillers stretching across several genres.
The film even references Paul Verhoeven with a kid playing with a "Robocop" action figure during a flashback scene just like "Robocop" has a kid playing with an action figure in a flashback scene referencing another pop culture form (ROM: Space Knight). It references the reference like it symbolizes the symbolic symbols, namely to the point of overkill which many viewers will find tedious, others fascinating. I found to be more of the same of forms which I enjoy, with just, like, lots of #$*ing eels ... Blehh.
Which just goes to show that nobody's made a really new "original" horror film since "Dawn of the Dead" in 1978. It's been *that* long ...
Brad Harris Rides Again
German produced Westerns made in the former Yugoslavia during the 1960s are a pet favorite. The long running "Winnetou" series with Tarzan actor Lex Barker were as popular in Europe as the James Bond films, or any other semi-serial of related features. The best known examples of the Schnitzel Western form, they have an unreal quality about them, set in uniquely decorated East European hill country with rock formations even more bizarre in appearance to those used for locations by the Spaghetti Western directors in Spain. "The new old west" is what Roger Ebert called the look. North American Westerns all look the same, no offense intended. European made Westerns look like Star Trek episodes in comparison: "Fake", confined to tightly claustrophobic sets, populated by actors costumed for style rather than authenticity.
This is a pretty smooth one. "Sampson/Hercules" actor Brad Harris plays the secret agent who rides into a bloody landscape torn apart by Comanche raids on frontier settlements as reprisal for having traditional Native lands taken away by a would-be oil baron who sets up the U.S. Cavalry to take the fall for him. Or any other caucasians who happen by, the story opening with a massacre which would have been wholly unacceptable for American audiences in 1965. The film is brutally violent yet it's cartoon violence rather than the bloody carnage of a Peckinpah. The look mimics the American productions which inspired the Italian, French and German filmmakers who churned these things out for a decade until the fad dried out once it devolved into self-parody.
This one may not have the style or panache of a sumptuous Sergio Leone or Corbucci epic, instead still rooted in the Experimental era of the EuroWestern form prior to the grubby unwashed look of the Classic era productions. These helped set the tone, and gets the job over and done with quickly, with little time for remorse for the dead or character development. They are archetypes, roles crafted to check off list items on the formulary of Western films. Harris' tough-guy persona is well served by the role he plays, a youngish Horst Frank is enjoyable as his counterpart, and Euro Horror actor Tony Kendall is just swarthy enough to be cast as an Indian Chief without eliciting too many guffaws.
For that matter the Native Americans are regarded with surprising sympathy by the filmmakers, scoring plot points by having the Cavalry and despotic white men who drive the plot as the bad guys, their savage reprisals somehow understandable. The establishment of the Anti Hero was the great contribution by the Euro's to the idiom, and indeed contemporary viewers will be surprised at how "modern" the film feels in this unblemished English version presented by the awesome Wu Tang Collection of restored European produced Westerns.
The results may lack the sweeping epic feel of the "Winnetou" fans but was skillfully filmed in widescreen and has a passable twangy electric guitar vibrato music score which will please those who admire such things. Not as plaintively mournful as a Paella-flavored Spaghetti Western score and closer to popular music forms than an operatic Morricone concoction. In fact I'll say that the film is charming just by having less at stake than a grim, sweaty Italo Western, instead playing a cool, calculated and streamlined game of make-believe which reminds me so much of playing Cowboys & Indians as a kid. That's why we watch em, period authenticity be damned.
Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)
I Watched It So You Won't Have To
I mean, you can, if you insist. Hell I had to buy the damn thing, to know it was on my shelf as a physical unit. To say "I have "Mardis Gras Massacre" uncut on DVD", paid the right price for it (less than $15*) and yeah. I wish it was the VHS, but now I don't have to go through all the rigamarole to find one that is in decent playback condition enough to rip a copy onto my phone.
Which is where movies like this belong. In some scummy gutter like venue where men watch shamefully as stacked 70s movie babes are suggestively stripped nude, oiled, shackled to a table and eviscerated for the entertainment of jaded minds. What other reason is there to see it? And if you're going to go along with it that far you might as well own your own copy, and in the most degrading format possible. Which these days means on a phone so you can take it anywhere, gleefully sneaking some sleaze in private, at convenience, and with no one else observing how you consume it.
Rest assured I watched the damn thing with my clothes on sitting up at my desk and found the proceedings to be about as erotic as getting fresh squid at the Korean market up on Avondale Place. The nudity is all depicted in static long shots, the closeups of the Hero Torso which the guts are cut out of laboriously fake in appearance. If anything the Code Red DVD picture quality hammers home the fact that one is watching cheaply made depraved prurient junk. The women are attractive enough, but so what? If you can't see them. The movie is a pale drab exercise in applied sleaze and a working demonstration of how even the most artless and inept among us can likely squeeze out a gory low budget horror film if they put their minds to it. The filmmakers did it purely for the money with no delusion of art, artifice of reality, imagination. Or even the honest filthmongering of your basic Grand Guginol showpiece with freaks biting off chicken heads and turning into gorilla women. The fascination for me to see it an extension of a morbid interest in the DPP "Video Nasty" list, wanting to see what the furor was about, why this or that title ended up "banned" from kids who were looking for a cheap rental night thrill. Or vicarious sex criminal wishing to see his most base of fantasies played out, since he doesn't have the stomach to go through with it himself. I bet Mary Whitehouse sold more movies than any other hustler of horror schlock dreck just by being herself. Hell that's why I bought it.
The movie sucks and is awful on so many different levels, but has a kind of mindless attention to duty which is still somewhat admirable. The women all walk through the proceedings like they are waiting in a dentist's office, and the inept handling of the shock sequences deadens whatever juxtaposition of prurient fascination which make other gore-shockers border on the pornography department. This does too, but only in the sense that porn is a cheat and this stupid little movie cheats at every chance it gets to try and escape being anything less than a base voyeuristic fantasy for sick twisted minds who wish pain & suffering on their fellow human creatures.
So in that sense score one up for being able to lambast the thing for being stupid, predictable, drecky and unrewarding. Adventuresome and challenging horror thrillers are given distinction by having crap like this available to be better than, and yes even stupid "Drive-In Massacre" is better than "Madi Gras Massacre". At least that movie gave us a couple of characters to observe. Here it's just gutting mannequin dolls with strange disco music playing. Watch it if you feel the need but you're not missing anything by looking for something else. It's no "Psycho Puppet", that's for sure. There's nothing in this movie that you haven't already seen done by those who had genuine talent and vision for morbid phantasmagorical cinema shows. This one has the imagination of last season's shriveled brown iris bulbs. The taste of a warmed up leftover TV dinner. And the fun factor of a soggy sandwich bag. You can do better.
Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
Scariest Movie Ever Made
Don't even *start* with me, OK? Ten years old. Completely freaked out, hysterical. Unprepared for what we were subjected to. Sunday afternoon, HBO, over at Danny Nappi's house. With my younger brother Phil, good old Dan, a friend or two of his. All I knew was that Captain Kirk was in it. Something about spiders - We laughed. It was going to be soooo fake.
But it wasn't. The cold grip of fear began to clutch nigh about the time the guy climbed into his crop duster plane to rid the town of all them spiders. Back then we didn't know, you see? Or it was only after this that it started to sink in, that the movies weren't real. They couldn't be. Nothing could be that terrifying, and I'm talking Aliens, Things, Count Dracula. Whatever Frankenstein was lumbering around. Bring it. But no way with the god damn spiders.
They were everywhere, my 10 year old brain reasoned. In the basement. In the attic. In the back yard, up at the forest, probably even at school. Spiders, everywhere, waiting to inject us with their stingers & wrap us up in bedsheets. Hell I didn't sleep for two nights, couldn't eat for three days. Was afraid to put on my shoes, go to the store, ride a bike or do anything that might expose me to the threat of all them spiders. We made it home well enough but after that it got dark and I was not ready for night. Totally hyper aware of every crack, nook, cranny or dimpled corner around which some freaking spider could come, looking to sting me, mom, my brothers, maybe even my dad.
Is it OK to scare kids like that? I mean really scare them, scare them so much that they can't function? "Stephen stayed home on Monday because he was too terrified to leave the house after seeing "Kingdom of the Spiders" with William Shatner, and we're not kidding." That's what the note must have read, and of course I was convinced that everyone else was aware that I had been scared not just out of my wits but into a deep darkened place where kids just shouldn't go. You'd get sued for it these days.
And for years that was the Litmus Test: "Is it as terrifying as "Kingdom of the Spiders" was?" To my credit nothing ever was, even when ALIEN crept into those freudian cellar spaces where there was never any natural light and god knows what forms breed in the darkness, waiting to spring on unsuspecting halfwitted twelve year olds sent downstairs to get the laundry. Movies may have startled me or surprised me, but nothing can compare to the sheer horror that "Kingdom of the Spiders" subjected me to, and the film remains held in awe in the family to this day.
Sure, we laugh at it now. Make up drinking games to go with the action. After watching it again I said to myself "I just want to live someplace where there are beautiful women like that to take for granted, knowing they'll always be around." Maybe the biggest lesson to learn was that even Captain Kirk can get handed something waaaaay beyond his ability to cope with, making him fallible and human and, dare I say, just an actor playing a role. So we grew up that day, in a way, sitting on the carpeted floor, mouths agape at the sight of all them spiders teeming all over everything and even Captain Kirk gets covered with them. Almost even dying.
No, I've never been freaked out by a movie that way since and recall the episode with favor, a marvelous learning experience which became a rite of passage. Having made it through those two or three days after seeing "Kingdom of the Spiders" emboldened me enough to learn about them. Learn about film, how they are made, what actors do, and how it's all so fake in the end. Re-make it if you have to, but don't fool yourself. It only works for real the first time through
God Bless America.
Uchû no senshi (1988)
Does A Fan Proud
And that's saying a lot. I am not a committed fan of Japanese manga/anime type entertainment but actually found myself caring about the plight of the characters here. I've read the novel a dozen plus times & saw the 1997 film in a theater on release week. It was a riot. Total strangers hi-fived each other on the way out then went drinking together to rave about the experience to anyone who would listen. Got the video the day it streeted and came to know every line, cadence, beat and explosion. It's a party movie aimed at low attention spans and exactly the movie we deserved at the time.
This is different, a thoughtful and surprisingly low-key adaptation of the source material for Japanese television with some understandable alterations, lots of J-Pop schmaltz rock, and big weepy Manga eyes. Still far more faithful to the book than the 1997 movie, whose filmmakers must have studied this presentation for ideas - It even opens with a football game & high school dance, and our protagonist is likewise motivated by his yearning for the gal of his dreams. There is none of the rightist philosophical discourse which flavors the book. The series' futurist Utopia has none of the contradictions which flavor the 1997 film. The "bugs" are also transformed into Manga movie monsters, organic plasma spewing blobs with lots of whispy tentacles, and quite lethal enough to be worthy of the Mobile Infantry. They will do.
Yes, it shows the powered armor. LOTS of powered armor in fact, which is cool to finally get to see though the design employed has more in common with the Shogun Warriors walking angular Swiss army knife contraptions than the 9 foot tall ape like shells which encased the novel's heroes. Not that it's a problem, and the big payoff for devotees of Heinlen's novel will be the sequence saved until the final episode as the armored Starship Troopers are finally strapped into their re-entry capsules, fired from the Rodger Young, and do battle on the enemy's home planet in an impressive display of cartoon carnage. The entire sequence takes about 12 minutes but was worth every second leading up to it.
Viewers can of course skip the other five installments but by doing so will miss the journey Johnny Rico goes through learning how to control both his powered armor and his grief at the loss of his mother to the alien menace, whatever they are supposed to be. If the series has a weak spot it's that Johnny's romantic aspirations for Carmen Ibanez continue being his motivating factor long after the novel lets go to allow Johnny to focus on learning how to be an effective soldier. Yet the damnedest thing is that I found myself caring about not just Rico but his squad mates as well, suddenly realizing that they are likely facing their own deaths and understandably unnerved. They can only rely on their training, their technology, and each other against overwhelming opposition, a difficult notion to get across on a cartoon yet it somehow manages to. Only the most ruthless and adaptable survive, which is itself right out of Heinlen's Social Darwinism, no classroom lectures required and nothing lost in the translation. War will still be Hell.
The series has yet to surface on a DVD, an almost unforgivable oversight on the part of whomever holds the rights. How do you say "Get the lead out and press this already" in Japanese? The series deserves to be seen, especially considering the brainlessness of the (more or less) abysmal live action direct to DVD franchise which followed up the 1997 film. Here is a thinking person's alternative, and tracking down a fan-subtitled version of the complete six episode series took about three minutes. Look in the obvious place, you shouldn't have to spend a dime and that's a shame. I'd like to reward whomever was responsible with a purchase and have a hard copy on the shelf with the others so I can watch it again at whim -- Nice work!
... I Had To Look
... I Had To Look
No joke - I purchased my "Starship Troopers II" DVD in 2006 (used, $1, eBay) and have only just found the patience to watch it. Oh, I knew it sucked. Artless, low budget in-name only sequel to the Paul Verhoeven B-Movie anti-blockbuster. Itself an in-name only film treatment of the Robert Heinlen novel, which remains un-filmable due to its subtle complexities. And I'm not just talking about the powered armor or right wing agenda. The book was written with objectives in mind which are at odds with 21st century pop culture sensibilities. Verhoeven's film will have to do.
He refused to lower himself to reprise his movie just for money but some of the high-caliber talent behind it reunited for an inevitable franchise that has been correctly shipped direct to the DVD pressing plant, never illuminating one cinema screen. Crap like this belongs on DVD, no offense to genius Phil Tippett, who not only broke ground with his bug creations for the first film but pretty much wrote how outlandish creatures are currently portrayed onscreen with "Jurassic Park". And no offense to Ed Neumeier, who not only scripted the original film but had pushed the hyper violent cyberpunk epic previously with "Robocop". They are pros and knew what they were doing when putting this very forgettable film together. I trust they were well paid for their time.
The cast is blameless. Only one player returned from the Verhoeven film, specifically steel-eyed Brenda Strong (ship's Captain Deladier) who is brought back as a cigar-chewing female Sergeant, and while it's not a problem I don't get why. Ed Lauter lends temporary credibility to the first few minutes as a besieged MI general cut off from any hope of rescue with a small squad of troopers whom he promptly sends off into the jaws of a plot device. Its name is Dax, he is played by actor Richard Burgi, and is the best thing about the film, which threatens to come to life a couple times when he is onscreen. The second best thing is the steampunk catapult Suitcase Nuke defense system for a lost outpost only he knows how to operate, and its deployment at about the 25 minute mark is the film's climax. It's all downhill from there, including just knowing that a certain character is going to switch off a certain device at a certain moment and guarantee certain doom for anything else of an original nature happening at all.
It's not just that it's a smaller, meaner film. Small films can still be ambitious + convincing, and I like it mean sometimes. It's not just that the core plot component is derivative. The original is about the most derivative film ever made (except maybe "Robowar", LOL) but used its appropriation with bombastic unapologetic glee. Here they just check off the cliches like numbers on a list: The lost unit cut off from rescue, the creepy abandoned base with a power shortage, the gaggle of offbeat personalities making up the speaking roles (the Black Guy, the Crazy Guy, the Techno Nerd, the Green Rookie Scared Witless), the ass-kicking females who are suddenly hot when stripped to a muscle shirt with their hair down, the quirky shifty-eyed loser with the secret, the nympho who was game enough to do a nude scene, the resentful anti-hero pressed into action by circumstance ... Et cetera.
The way the film is photographed is an immediate tipoff: Almost everything is murky, cloudy, smoky, dimly lit. All hallmarks of low budget science fiction filmmakers who are trying to obscure the low budget components of their low budget sets. The main abandoned base location is also helpfully half demolished, meaning that the set designers only needed to drag in heaps of junk to obscure a few functioning prop pieces like doors and make the lights flicker. Computer generated effects fill in the gaps including the bulk of the monster design and none of it boasts the improbable believability of the first film's visceral impact. The violence, gore, and sex are unearned checklist items to be covered without the fun factor which made the first movie such a guilty pleasure masterwork. This one is just guilty, mostly with snitching its premise from the early "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Conspiracy". Which got the job done in 48 minutes for a fraction of the cost & is still a genuine freakout the first time through.
But whatever. After twelve years of not knowing I had to look and got what I deserved. No hard feelings either -- I was fortunate to see the first film in a near riotous screening at an 8th Avenue theater in NYC the week it was released; Complete strangers high-fived each other on the way out. Nothing could ever live up to that experience and I think the filmmakers were aware of it, kept their sights aimed low. Put a mean little film together, made some money, and moved on to other projects.
Worth a rental or $1 used DVD, you'll get what you pay for. Beer may help.
One of the Last Great TV Shows I Grew Up On
I recently treated myself to the current DVD box set release of this film and have been enjoying watching again. I actually didn't get to see all that much of it first time around, age 12 at time time it premiered on a weekday evening (Thursday) in a household where - no kidding - television was not permitted after 7pm on school nights. An insane prospect by modern consideration but in a 1 television household not at all difficult to enforce as long as the parental crew were in the house. But the minute they left we always had a viewing rotation worked out before the set would even be switched on, and Thursday night was always choir night. At first babysitters bribed or charmed into silence. The best one agreed the rule was inhumane and promised to help us respectfully break it IF we were good, and we were. Terry, we owe you one.
By the time we were old enough to manage ourselves we used a Lookout system by which one of us would always keep an eye on the driveway. Just in time for "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" on Thursdays at 8pm. Brilliant! until the "Mork & Mindy" fad caught on and our older brother would usually use Pecking Order clout to change the channel. Thank God we were universal in despising "Laverne & Shirley" or I would have completely missed out on Erin Grey's Wilma Deering. Holy Mother of GOD ... Yes, that got through to me as a 12 year old. Big Time.
And in the end was the reason to score the box set: YouTube reluctantly allows the series in severely compromised uploads that deny one the ability to truly enjoy Erin's fashion trend setting Spandex space leggings, form fitting jumpsuits, space suits, shimmering leotard combos, and whatever else she was sewn into for a given episode. Literally, it turns out, and being able to enjoy Wima Deering updated for the Swimsuit Issue era worth whatever bother, cost, waiting and navigating the DVDs involves. What *ever*.
Now the good news is that while re-invigorating my libido the side effect has been a discovery of what was a pretty cool show that appears to have been ruined by its own success. I'd had the 90 minute theatrical version of the enjoyable pilot episode on VHS & know every line etc. But the rest of the show has been a vague memory involving Buck tossing back shots to Princess Ardalan's chagrin, a Space Vampire, some weird "Hawk" guy, and an increasing annoyance with Twiki which has been quickly set aside. Twiki is the soul of the show and Gil Gerard's fame it's undoing. Legend has it the show's success and free buffets went to Gerard's waistline and he insisted on the alterations which resulted in the confusing, overproduced and fun-lacking 2nd season. After which the series was mercifully cancelled, though by then I was watching "COSMOS" with Dr. Carl Sagan on Thursdays along with all the other cool kids.
I'll get with the party at some point, for now though it's been super fun to re-discover the often unfairly maligned first season. The show is dismissed as campy, cheap looking, and caught up in the fads of the day, which is what hit television shows are about. You want movies, go to the movies. You want offbeat casting, bizarre period costuming, formula scripting and cheeze, you watch television. Cult interest guest stars included Jack Palance, Roddy Mcdowall, Peter Graves, Sid Haig (!!), Frank Gorshin, Richard Moll, Buster Crabbe, Robert "Count Yorga" Quarry, Michael Ansara, Henry Silva, and Woody Strode. For twisted content we get an episode with both Gary Coleman *and* Ray Walston, another with doomed Dorothy Stratten, and the odd reference to OJ Simpson ... What a show! They even disco dance with roller skates and one episode about a rock band has characters named after songs by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
What's there not to like about this show?? Unless you're some sort of malignant fun-wrecker with no sense of nostalgia. Go watch Doctor Who get gender-reassignment or something. Leave us alone.
"You're Insane, Salamar ..."
My Favorite Doctor Who Ever and it is all about that jungle. Roger Murray-Leach was the lead designer working for BBC who designed, scrounged materials for and assembled it all inside of a week or two. It's all dangling from an overhead scaffolding. The following week it was obliterated, the only remnants production stills and this crackerjack episode, custom-written to be set in it. Like "Star Trek"'s reliance upon Gorn Rock for its location work "Doctor Who" was guilty of featuring their Gravel Pit of the Week: A forlorn, desolate and appropriately ambiguous looking real world location which could be Skarro or wherever the Tardis was supposed to have set down.
"Planet of Evil" is entirely studio bound with no outdoor location shooting. All of the sets were made for the episode and the jungle planet is more real of a place then all of those gravel pits put together. It breathes with glorious light and color effects, uses what look like pottery or electrical fixtures as space plants, and has knee deep water for the actors to splash around in while evading the Id monster imported from "Forbidden Planet". With all of the effects done with in-camera overlays and weather channel type matting the SFX on display the episode may have "aged" but so have I.
Some remark that the Morrestran ship is a let-down after the jungle set and I counter that anything would have been, and the clunky right angled minimalism of the ship continues to suit my needs as a viewer just as well as the shoulder pad v-necked space suits worn by the crew. They have cool names (Ponti, De Haan, Morelli), have cool guns that make a cool sound and several are sent heroically to their deaths in the proudest tradition of the Red Shirts of "Star Trek". They are there to be wasted onscreen to absolutely petrify the 7 - 12 year olds in the audience just itching to be scared stiff. That's why we tuned in every night. Golden stuff.
Then there's the Salamar issue. As portrayed by Sheakspearan trained actor Prentis Hancock, mission commander Salamar is the working definition of an insufferable histrionic jerk ... Or is he? I prefer a different reading of the performance, which I consider perfect for the subject matter: Salamar is insane, living mentally in an alternate inner reality where his behavior is considered normal. Because he not only holds rank but has a service record of getting things done his shipmates tolerate it and act like he is just as mellow as De Haan after a few pints in the cargo hold. Because Salamar is crazy but has never gone over the line of dysfunctionality to force a subordinate to take action Until now.
Or whatever: You watch this one for the jungle set, and an interesting "Pre-Hype" performance by Tom Baker before he had become a cultural icon. He was still working on developing whom the Doctor was, and quite frankly if he'd stayed with his rather somber persona the series might have evolved a bit further. But alas, K-9 ...
Maciste nella valle dei Re (1960)
Good gracious, what a movie. Been watching my Peplums again after a need to better understand the character of Hercules came up. Sure, he's called Maciste (or however its pronounced) in this one but it's essentially the same guy: Muscle-bound demigod begotten from the Sire of Zeus/Jupiter wandering the Earth righting wrongs. Here he comes upon another Peplum Egyptian Pharaonic era royal court beset by all sorts of fascinating evils furthered by the attention-riveting Chelo Alonso, perfectly as the intelligent yet bloodthirsty slave girl come to be Queen of an Empire.
Or whatever — This is one of the most violent and potentially disturbing Sword & Sandal mini- epic I can recall, with an implied body count in the thousands as she has entire human settlements wiped out to further her ambition for ultimate power. Humans torched alive on top of elaborate towers is a favored method of dispatching the unworthy, but our favorite will always be the Crocodile Pool into which assorted cast members are tossed to suffer hideously as they are devoured alive.
And you know, something tells me we're missing a proper introduction to the plot device, as a key character is dispatched fairly early into proceedings, later appearing in a manner in which their identity cannot be confirmed and is supposed to be of bother to the story. Because, I suspect, he was devoured whole by crocodiles in a scene removed from the surviving print, which only mentions the Crocodile Pool towards the end of the proceedings. This totally defies how Pepla are usually structured and in a manner which can only be the result of external meddling.
Much like a James Bond film the best Peplum thrillers establish an elaborately horrifying execution or torture device for its crazed villain's inept underlings fairly early on. The threat of ending up thrown into its workings then hangs over the rest of the plot, indeed driving its plot once the Hero has come into the story. And sure enough Mark Forrest's very capable Maciste is indeed thrown bodily into the Crocodile Pool at what would have been exactly the right moment — If we had known about the Crocodile Pool previously.
Since we do not my suspicions were raised upon a 2nd viewing when going back to make sure the movie really was as cool as I'd thought it was. And "Son of Samson" is, just off-balanced by not having the Crocodile Pool established in the mind's eye of the viewer prior to Maciste being tossed into it. And a 3rd viewing established the likely place where our introduction to its horrors should have been cemented. There is no reason for the plot to insist that the identity of a certain key character is anyone but that person Unless, that is, he had been devoured by the crocodiles & a dummy used in his place.
The good news is that even after three viewings the film remains of fascination and deserves a restoration. Ms. Alonso is nothing shy of a revelation and her final doom is perhaps the most disturbing moment in Peplum history since Kirk Douglas had his run-in with the Lepers. I'll even forgive the movie for not having a rampaging monster for a big showdown match. Trust me: Maciste has his hands full in this one just contending with all the evil scheming afoot. Fitting in screen time for a giant cyclops or mechanical moon-men would have proved a distraction, and the film concludes on exactly the right note to leave the viewer wondering, "Wait what was that again, with the thing?"
Il sepolcro dei re (1960)
On the Cutting Out of Tongues
Meanwhile back at the sarcophagus, Italian filmmakers go to great lengths to create an effectively atmospheric Peplum set during the time of the Ancient Egyptian empires. Or there abouts, depends on which language version you encounter. The sets are elegant, the costumes right out of a high school textbook and the film delivers the goods if you like talky period-type drama mixed in with your Swords & Sandals. Lots of intrigue involving royal courts, family lineage, duplicitous religious leaders, and Debra Paget decked out in a Pharaonic babe-getup that is very easy on the eyes. She can lounge around eating grapes over at my place anytime and the dialog is surprisingly fluid for Italian translated to English.
All of which is routine. The film will stand out in my mind as the one where the threat of having one's tongue cut out is repeated sufficient times to prove curious. The first time was cool. The second time was odd. The third time had me wondering if the dubbing was on right, and the fourth time made me laugh. Maybe there's a drinking game to be had here. Nothing else about the film's story made much of an impression though I do not regret the time invested (wasted?), no, consumed by watching it. A mummy subplot could have been cool, or maybe more slave chicks. At least a giant cyclops or something, Guys.
Which is perhaps why having a female lead with a respectable pedigree in such a production will ultimately work against the film's appeal beyond the boundaries of genre viewers. Since Ms. Paget is the intended focus of our ardor the fate of random half naked slave chicks hurled to their doom for the entertainment of some slavering despot becomes less pressing to the needs of the plot, and sadly the filmmakers took the easy way out. Court intrigue or giant a cyclops devouring centurions? If choosing the former, bingo.
The Fine Art of the Spoiler
Guys, guys GUYS! People get a grip, please. There's a thing called The Spoiler, whereby commentators on films will spoil the fun of getting to see the movie for other people by carelessly revealing a pivotal development, revelation, or secret held by a movie. The fun for viewers is to get to encounter that revelation on their own without having the moment ruined by knowing about it in advance.
"Nightmares" has such a revelation and it only comes in the very last minute of the film. The payoff was fantastic, and thank goodness I had not sought out reviews of the film beforehand or the fun would have been ruined. Almost every review, post, or synopsis of the movie contains that revelation which viewers should have to earn after sitting through the rest of it. By knowing in advance the potency of the scenes which lead up to it is diluted and there were some very potent scenes here which would have suffered from advance knowledge of the revelation.
Best way to sum up the story is to say that a patient from a secret drug treatment program for the criminally insane is released prematurely, goes off his personality modifying meds, and embarks on a journey through the seedy side of America's east coast during which he commits several gruesome killings. That's the extent of what should be revealed. Anything more would spoil the mind- screw of that last minute, and reduce the meaning of the film to a checklist of slasher movie components pieced together by an oblique story which will only serve to distract genre viewers from the horror of it all.
And hence the film's current status: Regarded as a classic by some but dismissed by many more as boring & derivative. Because without coming upon that revelation on your own it is sort of a 2nd rate overly arty if competently made slasher-type horror movie rating just about 5 out of 10: Covers the bases, constructed with skill but not really having anything too spectacular with a comparatively modest body count (I believe it is eight, if you count the big flashback scene). The gore effects may or may not have been "supervised" by Tom Savini, it doesn't really matter, they serve the film well enough. The extra notoriety the controversy generated only means more opportunities for reviewers to spill the beans for audience members who could care less.
I'm glad I ignored it all. With that spoiler intact I give the film a 7 out of ten, with very tight plotting that is only revealed as being more thorough than usual once that revelation takes place. The film is very well made from a technical standpoint with an interesting use of film speeds and droll, non-sensational music. But who watches slasher movies for their plotting, technical work or soundtracks? They are traditionally a series of gruesome set pieces connected by some sort of story which may or may not hold up to the light of day when evaluated separate from the gore. This one does and that alone is somewhat remarkable. Just don't read any more reviews until after watching it or you too may be tempted to dismiss the results for being something different than the usual brainless mayhem.
David e Golia (1960)
They Made the Wrong Movie
Serviceable enough Italian produced historical Peplum drawing upon biblical scenario, directed by Spaghetti Western master Ferdinando Baldi at the beginning of his career. Orson Welles glowers and half-whispers his way through a marvelously pointless performance done in only by Goliath himself, who standing about twelve feet tall at 450 pounds is the focus of my thesis on the film.
Which is specifically that the Italians -- no doubt limited by 1960 era morality -- made the wrong movie. The scenes with Goliath are its best, and the most enjoyable the one where he is promised command of an army (doesn't care) a roomful of gold (been there/done that) and the prettiest most wholesome women in the kingdom attending to his every bidding. SCORE!
The hilarious scene where Goliath sits on a giant throne quaffing a barrel of wine while scantily clad damsels perform a Veil Dance for him should have been the departure point for a much more interesting story exploring just what went down. Though sadly Goliath returns on screen only to slaughter a few guards prior to his disappointingly brief showdown with David. After which the film persists in continuing for a while, missing the point that we weren't dialing in to watch Orson Welles palpitate. We were there for Goliath, and he ruled.
Has One Incredibly Creeped Out Sequence
I don't know guys, didn't think this movie was all so silly. Yeah OK, most of the canine cast are pooches who sort of look like they want to play, go walkies and have a snack. Perspective might have something to do with my reaction: I got bit pretty bad as an 11 year old and by a beagle, of all things. Not Snoopy but a vicious snarling little ball of teeth who would not let go and scared the crap out of me enough to turn me into a cat person for most of my life. Only as an adult in what one might refer to as middle ages have I become more fond of dogs. Cats don't care. Dogs celebrate your very existence each time you walk into the room. Mmyesh you do, Pumpkin Butt.
I also buy the premise of a swarm/pack/stampede of similar animals or insects having a collective response to stimuli which could provoke group reactions. Imagine if all the millions of mosquitoes in the Adirondacks collectively went after every living warm blooded creature en masse, all at once. Deep Woods Off and your windbreaker would not help for long. Thankfully it isn't going to happen, but if applied up the ladder of life forms one could see how it would be kind of scary to have every domesticated pet turn into my friend the beagle all at once and form up into packs of ravaging bloodthirsty killers.
The film also goes out of its way to explain the science of its premise in terms that come across as being at least as plausible as "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" so I was willing to give the film a chance. And it does have one insanely creeped out sequence which I won't ruin. I will cite ALIEN (1979) as my favorite film ever and for about ten minutes "Dogs" had me wondering if I should maybe turn a couple lights on and fix a drink. Freaked the hell out of me, with a sober plausible cast of non-sensational types making it all feel pretty familiar up until that moment. The festival of carnage which then climaxes the film and its obligatory 70s paranoid ending sort of broke the spell, which is too bad as they were onto something there for a while. Yeeeesh.
Do I recommend the movie? Sure, if you want to potentially be freaked out by something that really is as skin-crawlingly scary as a character describes it as. The snarling dogs may be unsettling to some viewers but my guess is that was sort of the point -- Horror movies used to be designed to actually scare audiences and they do a fairly good job of it. Though my sensibilities as a film consumer are also rooted in the 1970s & don't rely on mind- blowing special effects, can set aside the absurdity of seeing a poodle mutt depicted as vicious due to personal experience, and watched the movie all alone in the dark with the lights off. Which was the right decision.
Great Movie About A Bunch Of People On An Old Space Ship Who Save A Cat
It is impossible for me to write an objective review of ALIEN simply because I believe it is not just the best motion picture film ever made, but is a pinnacle of artistic expression that owes its debt to pretty much everything that came before it. The story was a cultural funnel into which it all flowed. The only thing it can be correctly compared to might be the original 1977 release of STAR WARS even though its objectives could not have been more different. It is the most thorough and convincing portrayal of the future ever committed to celluloid. Certainly more convincing than 2001: A SPACE ODDITY, which is too sterile and gleaming. The future will not look like a dentist's office.
The future will be ugly, loud and busy. It will be a retrofitted mess of the past, present and futuristic forms. Like a city which adapts to changing times by modernizing certain parts while still facilitating its old function with its crumbling old infrastructure. If you're curious to see what the future of commercial space travel may look like watch this film. Humans will come and go, we may be tooling about on space craft, we may be crossing vast distances of space, and yes: It stands to reason we will encounter life forms startlingly different than ourselves. Unless we are very lucky it is almost inevitable that like other creatures on this planet they will react to us with fear, hostility or aggression for primal reasons related to territoriality or survival. It is doubtful we will have much in common.
We won't meet these alien life forms by looking for them. We will come across them as we go about our human ways, pressing deeper into the universe while going about our mundane business on the surfaces of worlds never meant to accommodate warm blooded protein and sugar consuming bipedal air breathers. I doubt the aliens we do find will look like HR Giger's creations, but at least in Giger we finally had an artist's vision for a life form that is suitable for the vastness of space. It is infinitely adaptable, roughly taking the form of whatever creature it gestates inside of and born ready-made to thrive in whatever the host's native environment may be. It's a weapon — natural or engineered, doesn't matter — a DNA replicating machine which mimics its host creature so it may corrupt and devour it more efficiently.
Here it takes the bastardized form of a man and effortlessly eliminates five human adults inside of 48 hours. It would have infected whatever biosphere it was introduced into, skillfully devouring, replicating, spawning and breeding until a critical mass is reached and all other forms of life in that biosphere would be eliminated in a survival of the fittest test with one inevitable outcome. The only way that its threat would be believable and frightening is if the fictional universe the story takes place in is 100% convincing. ALIEN's is, boasting the most effective production design in the history of cinema, bested only by NASA's Apollo moon landing program.
We believe in the universe it is set, the people who inhabit it, and the hardware they use to perform the tasks required by their mode of existence. If we were not thoroughly convinced the entire premise would fall like a house of cards. Ridley Scott, Dan O'cannon, Ron Shussett, Ron Cobb, Christopher Foss, H.R. Giger, John Mollo, Roger Dickens, Les Dilley, Brian Johnson, Jerry Goldsmith, Terry Rawlins, and the cast chosen to enact the story all collaborated seamlessly to produce a completely convincing facade telling a tightly plotted story about humans stumbling across an alien life form. Through duplicity and against protocol, the organism is allowed to infect the human biosphere within the ship, and the crew inevitably discover that the only way to contain the outbreak to their ship is to destroy it. It is a perfect metaphor for the necessary evils of modern life.
The film was successful and its dominance of the horror/action movie market spawned an outbreak of similarly themed films, some of which came close to replicating ALIEN's impact on our culture, but none really being able to introduce anything very useful to the premise. Queens laying eggs dumbs the creature down to familiar Terrestrial life patterns. I would prefer to think that the universe holds many surprises about how life thrives that aren't anything like the patterns we are comfortable with. The bug hunt in the first sequel is well done, but whatever success its offspring may have enjoyed all relate back to the singular vision and urgency behind the artistic quest that this film set out to resolve.
It does so in ways that go beyond the impact of individual scenes. Every film of its kind made since has been influenced by ALIEN in one way or another, and that influence will continue for as long as humans make films. Nobody will ever be able to "undo" its contributions, negate them from our society's palette. You can mix in Predators or A list casts with super-real computer effects, but it will always come back to this film and the startling possibilities it suggested. If it hadn't been done so well we wouldn't still be talking about it, proof that they really did get it right. We have only just begun to explore what forms the possibilities suggested by ALIEN may take, and someone someday will get it just as right in their own era's equivalent.
I hope I'm around to see that happen, maybe even have a hand in making it. Who knows.
Mission Mars (1968)
One Frozen Cosmonaut to Go, Please (**Spoilers**)
I love movies like this. Low budget hard science fiction effort played straight-up, non-campy, done with the best of intentions in mind with the limited resources the filmmakers had access to. If you had any doubt it's all on the level look no further than Darren McGavin as the capable no- nonsense commander of America's first manned mission to Mars. Which according to the way the film is edited feels like it took about a week, round trip.
My favorable opinion of the film likely cased by having followed the advice of skipping forward to the blast off and bypassing the preliminary nonsense. Not sure what all I missed just yet but subsequent scenes of females back at home sitting around being annoyed they have been gone so long don't bode well. The rest of the movie went swimmingly for this lover of improbable space suits, absurd model effects, studio bound alien planets, unsealed motorcycle helmets with antennae and oxygen tubes, stick figure aliens that look like Gumby dolls, space capsules equipped with office chairs, unexplained artificial gravity, absurdly entertaining music that actually works, and balloons.
On that note the film is actually quite satisfying if still clumsily made. Nothing wrong with that. One's suspension of disbelief only need be tempered by being assured that if the filmmakers had access to the budgets & resources "2001: A Space Odyssey" boasted they'd have come up winners too. They didn't, and persevered anyway with space suits consisting of downhill skiing garb, props that do nothing, and even threw in a meal in space scene: Takes up screen time, and converting contemporary food into space food only requires a few odd looking trays with futuristic utensils. Food is food.
I love the pan shots of the wind-swept Martian surface in miniature, the research balloon subplot, and the lost expedition angle with mummified (frozen?) Cosmonaut. Maybe they'd seen "Planet of the Vampires"? The aliens are great, very wise decision in not even bothering to have them move. Makes them more alien without even trying, and their use of a hand weapon on one provides the movie's biggest laugh. I love the stupid hoses connected to their motorbike helmets, the empty tool boxes they carry around, the backwards sound effects and the film's marvelously trippy color schemes. They may have been trying to play it square but this is one hell of a head movie & I'm not even stoned.
In all honesty, most viewers would likely be advised to skip it unless planning a bad movie night, which is a cliché but can still be fun. Those who enjoy low budget science fiction movies — and are inclined to admire art made under whatever circumstance the artist had at their disposal in the face of universal indifference & potential ridicule — will find a brave little movie here. The filmmakers weren't dummies, even working in a sly reference to Gemini 5's famous corned beef sandwich incident. They also knew how little they had and insisted on working with it, only to be shown up by someone more capable who had the mistakes of films such as this to learn from. For that matter I enjoyed this movie just as much as "2001" though for different reasons more related to playing space explorers with my pals after school. Or during school, whenever we could find the time and something to serve as a rocket ship. Same kind of spirit at work here.
And WTF is that theme song? LOL I want a whole CD of that. Awesome movie, just be warned about those first 17 minutes. I don't even want to look.
Even I Have My Limits, It Seems
Nope. I am not going to do it. I refuse to get into the spirit of this awful little movie, which revealed itself very quickly as an homage to The Three Stooges when one of the characters has a bit of trouble with a high pressure water hose. In Curly's capable hands such physical comedy passes beyond just being funny into some sort of sublime expression of how futile & stupid life can be, and that the best advice anyone can offer another is to save string. Here it's just funny and provided me with the film's sole laugh.
The rest of it was puzzling. At two times I "gave up" and went on to do something else with the precious time our grand creator has granted me here on earth. Life is short. The girls in the movie are tall, however, and I dig tall chicks. It can be like making love to a suspension bridge, so I went back both times to see what the film could come up with them to do, other than to look great in their space leotards. Trust me when I say that could be a whole movie just right there, though sadly they were not granted enough screen time to carry the day & the movie sucks.
I kept wondering whom it was allegedly made for, what audience was in mind while it was being constructed from script to final edit. Children *might* be entertained by it. Lovers of campy overtly corny movies will need their own hard copy so they can plan theme parties where screening it is the focus of the evening. Anyone else should just stick with "Plan 9" which was intended to be a serious movie made by a filmmaker who demonstrated far more finesse with the form than anyone here shy of the ladies' costume designer. At least they got that right.
How to put it ... I love "bad" movies, but they have to end up being bad with the best of intentions to make something meaningful. When you go out of your way to purposefully make a bad movie you are treading on thin ice. What makes the film so curious is that it was made in 1962 when such filmmaking was regarded with a certain amount of seriousness. It's pre-Elvira, suggesting that the film's creators were actually sort of ahead of their time in creating the same kind of crap that Elvira helped make fashionable.
Which I despise, rooting for the underdogs that actually made their little movies for a few thousand dollars in spite of universal indifference & critical ridicule. Going right for the jugular of critical ridicule is nothing short of cheating and this movie left me annoyed enough to come here and crab about it. Sorry.
Special Bulletin (1983)
Still Worth Watching For Ideas
I have now seen this ingenious made for TV movie twice: Upon original broadcast and again last night via the marvel of the internet. In 1983 I was a high school sophomore who watched in thunderstruck awe as a dark fantasy of nuclear hell played out as vividly as it had in the music of the era which captivated me. Here at last was a suitable pop culture document of how senseless it all was, with even the well-intentioned terrorist/activists being as dead wrong as the suicidal federal policies they were trying to put a stop to. It scared the living crap out of me to say the least, ringing with authenticity and dead cold delivery. The few moments where the script tries to become pat and predictable are all undermined by the activities of the players. Normality is set aside.
Upon second viewing now as a jaded adult approaching fifty some of the seams in the weave are evident. We've grown up in an era of 24hr cable news programming with one on the spot disaster coverage after another. The mother of all being coverage of the September 11th attacks, as riveting a 36 hours of nonstop news viewing endurance as I can recall. Then there's all those plane crashes, space shuttle disasters, hostage dramas, reality TV law enforcement shows, and the Ferguson riots, which were streamed live from people's smart phones. You can now pretty much cut out the middleman of the broadcast journalist and watch events unfold live via those who are there.
So there's sort of a chicken-egg thing going on here: Which came first? The cinema-verity docudrama approach of speculative fiction, or the tradition of Americans tuning in on their TV sets to watch events of horror or spectacle happen before our eyes? Which was one of the aspects which made that 1983 viewing so unforgettable — The story *happened* to the viewer and could not be stopped or paused or Tivo'd to watch it later. You had to be tuned in and paying attention, and I am struggling now to recall how or even if I knew specifically to watch. It certainly would have been a priority viewing experience if told about it. I was a young suburban punk being prepared for the coming apocalypse by the music of The Clash, British Ska bands, artist/experimenters like Eno and King Crimson, and watched Carl Sagan's COSMOS religiously. It's fatalistic anti-nuclear theme was pure and rational enough to be convincing even without "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe". We were doomed as far as I was concerned. Just a matter of circumstance and POOF. There goes 6.5 billion years of evolution.
None of what "Special Bulletin" depicts stretched outside the realm of what we thought was possible in 1983, and there wasn't opportunity to stop the proceedings during events to check IMDb or other resources (which didn't exist at the time) to try and make sense of what the hell was going on. You sort of have to surrender yourself to the passage of events shown, which was easier 32 years ago than it is now. Viewing with a 2015 sensibility the authenticity of certain moments suffer, specifically the final shootout where a live feed camera is allowed to capture the initial moments of the assault. First thing Delta would have done was get the goddamn cameras out of there, but then again this is as much a fantasy about the news media's irresponsible nature as it was about the nuclear incident. In such fantasies plausibility will be the first thing to go out the window.
So scratch watching this for an authentic demonstration of how such an event could unfold. Watch it instead for the performances, all of which are pretty much dead on, David Clennon being especially convincing as the leader of the group. It is the staging of the interplay between the media personalities which dominate the proceedings being the main shortcoming for contemporary audiences. Or rather, subsequent experience with such broadcast events have rendered the approach taken by the writers as being naive. It's never that simple, and indeed the broadcast's finest moments are when events spiral out of control and leave the commentators bereft of anything to say. Because there is nothing to say at such times, and the best thing they could do was shut the hell up. At least they got that right.
The Mysterious Monsters (1975)
Joey, Do you like Movies about Sasquatches
Peter Graves sonorously narrates Sunn Classics uproarious Bigfoot documentary with all of the authority of Captain Crunch. The film is best remembered in my circle for a genuinely hair raising segment where Bigfoot rummages through the belongings of a group of "Boy Scouts" out camping without adult supervision. Attention is also given to the Loch Ness Monster and indeed, Graves is able to conclude with authority that it is a population of aquatic dinosaurs who have somehow escaped the ravages of time. He also concludes that Bigfoot is actually a population of 200 or more bipedal creatures who exist at one with nature, and have only come to our attention as mankind has cruelly encroached on their habitat with all our unwelcome riot & clamor.
The same approach is found in Sunn Classic's "In Search of Noah's Ark", which taught us that the Ark split in two and rests half submerged in a glacier on Mount Ararat, just waiting for earnest Christians to free it from the ice. Sunn's "The Lincoln Conspiracy" also finds in favor of a complex conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln centered around super spy / traitor Union Colonel Lafayette Baker, who would have made Oliver Stone blush with embarrassment for his ham-fisted script for "JFK". And the overlooked "The Bermuda Triangle", which posits with authority that ships, airplanes and whole civilizations have been sucked into the very bowels of the Earth itself by a misfired Atlantean particle beam accelerator, lost somewhere off the coast of Bimini.
The films are classic Americana, made with working class families who went to the movies two or three times a year in mind, demanding otherwise wholesome G-rated fare suitable for all-ages and fueled by a bizarre zeal to have it all be true even when flying in the face of common sense. "Mysterious Monsters" succeeds admirably, cashing in early on the Bigfoot craze that even "The Six Million Dollar Man" got caught up in and demanding our acceptance by appealing to our conscience rather than science. Forty years later there's still no hide or bones to study and it's to my personal disappointment that garbage films like this sort of got shoved under the carpet as people realized how stupid it all was. It is the right of earlier eras to be as slack-jawed and backward as they like. I for one marvel at garbage such as this film, celebrating with forthright authority man's unending quest to sucker each other out of a couple dollars — In this case, movie tickets, and it worked brilliantly. These movies all made gobs of money with almost nothing up front, though don't sell the talents of the filmmakers short. They knew exactly what they were doing just like the guy at the carnival sideshow knows what he is doing. It's called show business.
The results are actually highly entertaining, the one slow spot in the film being a sequence where a "psychiatrist" is shown "hypnotizing" his "patient", who relates a tale so filled with mystery as to sound not just poorly scripted, but unrehearsed. Yet that's half the fun. Not just marveling at how bad, dumb or outrageously idiotic the movie is, but in knowing that it was the best they could manage under the circumstances. Which means there's hope for the rest of us, or at least those of us who refuse to stop believing in Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs or "Ancient Aliens". Take your pick, spark up and just enjoy being smarter than the dimwits who paid money to see this, ate it up whole, and went home wanting more. Now that's funny.
Battle 360 (2008)
WW2 as Low Attention Span Theater
Stumbled upon this series by coincidence; Had been reading up on the Battle of Santa Cruz and what the hey, gave the episode on it a try via the marvel of YouTube. It's hypnotic viewing with a compelling lead character in the WW2 era U.S.S. Enterprise, easily the greatest warship to prowl the seven seas. What's interesting and somewhat different is the high-octane barrage of busy action scenes visualized by computer animators who had seen "Return of the King". If you've ever wondered what it might have looked like to see 100 plane wave attacks from every possible angle here you go, with one of the most interesting aspects being the depiction of the anti-aircraft efforts flung into the air, something that still photos & grainy archival films from the era never make clear. Like, wow.
Brings the harrowing nature of this form of combat to home, though all of the hyperactivity succeeds at the expense of subtlety. No shot in the series lasts for more than a second, with animation effects adding flourishes to the stream of layered visual information which never lets up. And after watching a couple three episodes one gets familiar with certain sequences used as stock footage (a cost saving measure for the then expensive GCI renderings). Every last moment is also orchestrated with booming music, giving WW2 a techno metal beat between outbursts of "Victory at Sea" type strings.
I guess all this is a good thing however, since here for once is a living color version of WW2 that viewers raised in the electronic/digital age can watch both as a pop culture entertainment and historical document. The final ingredient being something to remind the attention deficit oriented viewers that the events, places & actions depicted were real, a job honorably seen through by the inclusion of veterans adding their color commentary, reflecting on what it was like to be there. It's engaging viewing, not sure how much memory retention of the facts presented will take place but that's why you hit the web after to read up a bit more. Or maybe even go find a book? Hey, you never know.
Informative & Entertaining
One of the live TV events of the OJ Simpson era: Larry King's producers put together a makeshift interview format show out in the middle of the Nevada desert, allegedly within sight of the mountains ringing the secretive Area 51, to seriously address the UFO subculture currents which were trending during the runup to the 50th anniversary of the famed Roswell Incident. It's on YouTube if you'd like to see, just search the title. No conclusions are drawn, with production segments splitting up interviews with the special's guests, led by Stanton Friedman and Kevin Randle, the two leading researchers into the Roswell quagmire.
I was convinced by the end of it that the subject was far more interesting than I'd given it credit for prior. Though it should be noted that for every Kevin Randle there's a Dr. Steven Greer, who appears on the special to represent the nutcase contingent of the flying saucer community. Daffy Duck would have been a more credible voice though there's no denying the entertainment factor behind the Dr.'s contributions to the proceedings. And in fact the most dramatic moment during the show ends up being a bright light which appears close to the horizon after dusk had fallen in the desert. That it was just a car wasn't a problem, watching it live one could taste the excitement that a time was approaching when some of the enigmas from the UFO subculture might soon be brought into the light.
Some were and just because they didn't turn out the way many may have hoped shouldn't be a problem. As for Larry King he and others made some great television out of it all, and this remains one of my favorite examples.
The Bog Creatures (2003)
What we have here in BOG CREATURES is actually a decently made modern version of the C to Z grade creature feature thrillers of the 50s & 60s updated for the cell phone era. Which means nothing too remarkable in terms of plotting, acting, or execution. Sole purpose of the film is to part unwary viewers with 85 minutes of their time with relative ease and on as limited a budget as possible. The only attributes making it any different than HORROR OF PARTY BEACH or THE GIANT GILA MONSTER is some partial nudity during a flashback sequence and a squirm-inducing scene where the film's obnoxious horny pervert character stuffs a pair of ladies' knickers into his mouth. Ew.
One thing the movie does sort of have going for it is a admirable ambiguity as to just where on earth it was filmed. The plot is set in Norway with a visit to Amsterdam for an autopsy scene, but my eyes said Connecticut. Could be anywhere, really, giving fans of the movie something concrete to speculate over. Summer school for eager young filmmakers in Minnesota, perhaps. The cast also features attractive females in their 20s comfortable scampering around in their shorts & tank tops, including foxy Debbie Rochon beautifully spilling out of hers before she chews up the scenery with a burst of acting that none other in the cast can come close to. You can do worse with your time.
The premise also has some merit as well: Scandanavian peat field holds the corpses of several unfortunates thrown into what was once a bog to their fates, conjuring up images from old National Geographic magazines of mummified bog bodies. The corpses aren't happy about it and come back to a shuffling existence suitable for PG-13 rated fare. That they are depicted with low budget makeup effects consisting of muddy shawls & garlands of moss can't be held against the film, as it does not aspire to be an SFX study in rotting flesh, severed limbs and sexual violence. If anything it screams out as an attempt at a date movie rental with strong female roles, good looking semi-neutered guys handy for a body count who aren't as smart as the female lead, and a minimum of gratuity which might come off as sexist. She may think it's dumb but likely won't break it off over having agreed to watch it with you. Safe to rent.
Which unfortunately means that horror genre fans will likely find the results lacking in the sleaze, decadence and excess that the movies it resembles deliver. Consider THE EVIL DEAD with a PG rating, strip away its veneer of artistry, reign in the plot to remove anything too arresting and that's essentially what you get. For what its worth I'll confess to having sort of enjoyed watching it as well; wishing it had ended up as something else won't get us anywhere, and indeed there's room for another go at the motif if anybody is so inspired.
The Incredible Invasion (1971)
This movie likely won't be of much use to the bulk of humans infesting the surface of the planet Earth. But it may interest Boris Karloff fans and amateur theatrical detectives who like to dissect bad movies like lab specimens. What you get here is one of the most disjointed and bizarre films ever made, a combination of what appear to be two films edited to seem like a larger whole. The first movie consists of about thirty minutes of footage featuring Boris Karloff playing a white suited scientist who invents a disintegrator ray device. The were filmed on soundstages in southern California, with some ending up in this film and others in FEAR CHAMBER, THE SNAKE PEOPLE and HOUSE OF EVIL.
The second movie was filmed after his scenes were completed in Mexico and attempts to match the Hollywood scenes with actors -- some the same -- wearing similar costumes on similar sets, reciting more or less similar toned dialog & engaged in similar actions. Idea being that they are on one side of the room and Karloff on the other: Sometimes characters who were present for both sessions walk back and forth between the scenes, which is quite strange. Their hairstyles and lighting changes subtly, creating a disjointed viewing experience that overwhelms whatever the script was about.
If memory serves, a space alien in what can only be described as an Art Neveau flying saucer gets wind of the disintegrator ray and decides it is too great a threat for mankind to posses. The alien looks like Yahoo Serious and wears a silver lame space jump suit that reminded me of David Bowie from THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. So did some of the flying saucer's design elements, consisting mostly of beakers with colored fluids bubbling through them. The spaceship is mostly shown from the inside too, requiring the viewer to sort of have to take the director's word for it's existence.
The alien takes possession of various cast members and compels them to sabotage the disintegrator ray, which is probably for the best after the local military gets wind of the situation and decides they want a portable version to serve as a weapon. This results in several conversation scenes where characters veer from the California shoot to the Mexican footage. It's a great lesson in how a film can be constructed, and we can only hope that we can learn from it or the seventy three minutes it runs is a waste.
Fans of Boris Karloff will likely be pleased, he's on screen a bit in this one and looks great in that white suit which sharp viewers will recognize as the same one from THE SNAKE PEOPLE, likely filmed earlier that day. Others are well warned to try something else.
Masterpiece In Applied Bad Taste
Seriously fun little Italian sleazefest by former spaghetti western director Anthony Ascott. His "Sartana" films were filled with nifty little gimmicks, gizmos, devices, contraptions and bizarre cinematic flourishes that set the films apart from the pack. Here his little wind up gimmick is a despicable marvel of exploitation monster mania that must be witnessed to be believed. Watching the poor little rat man claw apart the half naked female supporting players is where the heart of the film lies. It delivers the goods, doesn't apologize about what it is & gets the job over with a bit of style in under 85 minutes. None of it is really scary but a lot will make your flesh crawl, and probably laugh.
One idea that keeps coming to mind is about how the film is a study in applied bad taste right down to the wince inducing use of a real life deformed person in a freakshow role. Such things cannot be enjoyed in good conscience without beer which is used in the presence of friends: It's a howler of a party movie and a guilty pleasure to be enjoyed at times when you just want to marvel at how absurd the human species can be. I don't defend this movie for a minute but I sure am in awe of it, which in some cases will have to do.
Terror Eyes (1989)
Interesting Home Video Era Oddity
You can do worse for a very obscure little home video era horror thriller with zero boobs or beheadings. Not quite a horror anthology in the traditional sense of the word, which is why I sought it out. More sort of an extended series of loosely connected psychological thriller sections, connected by the common thread that they all feature the same actors. First up is a nifty one-set take on the "Devil's Gift" premise of an unwanted acquisition you can't seem to get rid of. I liked how ordinary it looked. Second is a bizarre version of "Groundhog Day" with a misfit two-bit loser finding himself stuck in a causality loop of greed and murder. Last segment is the most interesting with a demented twist on "Tron" with an anti-gaming violence crusader running for her life in a human sized rat maze.
Most was shot on film, the final segment on video equipment and the blend of the two mediums makes an interesting concoction. The wrap-around segment of a ditzy writer attempting to write a horror movie isn't very involving and Daniel Roebuck's presence in the film is puzzling ... Maybe he went to high school with one of the producers? He is sort of in the Peter Cushing role, the screen presence who out-acts everyone just by sitting up in his chair and looking involved. There's some decent squibbage and a melted head but no real splatter and fans of exploitation may be disappointed by how respectful the film is towards its female cast members.
For that matter the "rat maze" sequence is itself a little bit of commentary on the over-hyped nature of pop culture, it's inherent admiration of violence and misogyny, and how we all get caught up in the frenzy of consuming it every now and then. Kind of interesting to see it in the wake of the Aurora Batman massacre & reflect upon how the pop culture represented in such films found a horrifying real-world form in its barbarity. Not to minimize the event but to point out that a popular culture eventually starts breeding gross parodic versions of itself to mimic those forms which it celebrates. Sick minds latch onto base whims partly on suggestion, which means only that the madness of film violence & its de-sensitizing effect on already disturbed minds can lead to genuine chaos. Like nobody knew that already, and whoever crafted the sequence had to have an intimate familiarity with late 80s arcade gaming to have skewered it so effectively.
Commentary aside that one sequence is maybe worth the effort of seeking out this understandably obscure film for lovers of low budget regionally produced horror films. One segment finds a participant getting high scores in a video game based on the number of rapes & kills he had committed, and a genuine belly laugh awaits those who get to watch the Pac Man doggie chase it's victim. Pretty interesting stuff! the banal locations, non-acting and pert screen presence of sexy Vivian Schilling amounting to more than the sum of its parts. Just don't go in expecting disembowelings or female exterior anatomy lessons and this will give it up for you. Kept the attention of two very jaded horror film buffs who have seen "Header", and were drinking beer.
Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)
There's A Reason Why It's DVD Bonus Material
This review may displease fans of these specials, and to them I apologize in advance. I've been trying to get myself to like this Rankin/Bass production now for about four years since obtaining it on DVD and may officially be throwing in the towel here. To each his own, my sense of nostalgia forces me to sit through it even if the enjoyment factor is somewhat low. I adore R/B's classic animation approach -- which is certainly not "claymation", by the way. The models are all composed of cloth, wood and other solid non-clay like materials formed on wire armatures. "Stop motion animation" would be the proper term, not that it really matters. Just being a nerd by pointing it out.
What does matter is that this time out the story is too oblique for its own good, a complex matter involving Rudolph brought in to find the infant New Year baby who decided it didn't like having its big ears made fun of and sports off in search of his own destiny. Rudolph, called in like an adjunct member of the Justice League, is quickly on the case. Along the way they encounter several barely memorable characters and a confusing string of events set to easily forgettable songs. Red Skelton's crooning of "Turn Back the Years" doesn't rate on the same scale as the accursed "Holly Jolly Christmas" or even "There's Always Tomorrow", my most hated of all the Rankin/Bass songs. Give me "Blue Christmas" any day over that please. At least those songs were worthy enough to inspire genuine disgust, the ones presented here are merely tedious or perfunctory.
In the end what may be condemning the effort in my eyes may be a lack of recollection of seeing the special as a kid. There is a direct relation to one's repeated exposure to this kind of entertainment as a tot and appreciation for it as an adult. The other Rankin/Bass heavyweights were routinely screened on the big three networks during my coming of age years but this one seems to have slipped through the cracks. Or, more likely, was aired on non-television nights in our family household. Imagine that, nights when the kids aren't allowed to watch TV. Parents would find themselves in court these days.
Then again my folks probably conceded that Rudolph, Burgermeister-Meisterburger and Heatmiser were too cool for them to deny us a look every year. Those specials resonated on a level that goes beyond nostalgia, where with this one the hook seems to be all about nostalgia for those prior efforts: Look! it's Rudolph! and we're in for another hour with his annoyingly whiny voice. Our devotion to that special was supposed to fuel by rote an equal devotion here but the effort falls flat with a complicated story (how again does the caveman end up in a snowball fight with Ben Franklin while the giant buzzard fights with the whale?), tepid songs and a general lack of inspiration. They gave it the college try with the usual stellar production design & threw in the kitchen sink with high profile guest roles, but to what avail? There isn't even a decent parody website sending the premise up, a key indication that it sort of flunked where general audiences were concerned.
Hence the special doesn't get its own DVD but ends up as a bonus feature on the "Year Without a Santa Claus" disc where it probably belongs, with the dreadful "Nestor the Christmas Donkey" which is a downright depressing bit of holiday drivel. Devotees of the Rankin/Bass formula will certainly want to seek it out but the prospect of it becoming a tradition in its own right is fairly low even with a lack of holiday specials specific to the new year. Maybe some holidays just don't inspire the same kind of outrageous imagination which resulted in the Heatmiser or the Grinch.
Though I will concede that lack of contact with the special as a kid likely played the determining factor here. Indeed if there is a new year holiday viewing tradition I do recall fondly it was the yearly screenings of "Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World". Looked forward to it even if I didn't understand a damn thing, which oddly is how I regard this special now: I don't get it, mysteries give me a bellyache and life is short. The forty five minutes up for grabs here can be more happily assigned to a 2nd viewing of one of the masterpieces. Why waste time on a second stringer? But to each his own and I admit to watching it every year as well. Part of the yearly program even if I just don't get it.