Saturday, January 21, 2017

THE BEES (1978)


The horror sub-genre generally known as 'nature attacks' blossomed in the 1970's and probably reached perfection with Jaws (1975). Certainly Jaws was not the first movie to put humans at the mercy of a relentless animal antagonist but it's success guaranteed that it would never be the last. Being very well respected and the most profitable film of its type there was little doubt that more such movies would be made but while much fun can be had watching the various carbon copies with monsters of all types, it's the nature attacks tales that stretch outside the basic formula of Jaws that are the most interesting. That's not to say that most of these films are good but they are usually fascinating viewing just to see what threat from the animal kingdom can be blown up to epic proportions to frighten the public. I'm sure the producers of The Bees had Hitchcock's brilliant The Birds in mind as a template but that is a level of competence that this film could never reach.


Somewhere in South America a United Nations science outpost has Dr. Miller (Claudio Brook) running some tests and experiments on African killer bees. Miller is part of a team that is working to figure out a way to increase the production of honey and their plan is to crossbreed African killer bees with less deadly bees to create a new, less aggressive but highly industrious breed. Unfortunately the lure of top grade honey is too enticing for a local villager who, along with his young son, sneaks into the killer bee compound at night. The pair of would be thieves disturb the bees resulting in the son’s death and the father's disfigurement. The nearby villagers blame the death on Dr. Miller so they storm the research compound releasing the bees and killing Dr. Miller.


Dr. Miller’s wife Sandra (Angel Tompkins) smuggles some of the remaining bees back to America and takes them to Dr. Sigmund Hummel (John Carradine) who also happens to be her uncle. Siggy, as he is called, is the head man of this UN bee project in the States and has been working in the field for years. With the assistance of John Norman (John Saxon) and Sandra Dr. Hummel tries to continue Dr. Miller’s work. While their work progresses a group of greedy American businessmen try illegally importing some killer bees of their own into the United States. Their plan goes horribly wrong and their courier is killed in transit releasing his bee stash into North America and off we go into disaster film territory. The bees set up shop in a cave near a public park (!), begin multiplying, building hives and occasionally stinging a person to death.


As the bees become a bigger and more deadly problem threatening to destroy the entire human race the UN team begin to make some real progress and actually slow the insects' advance for a while. But at that point the bees evolve into a species smarter and more deadly than anyone could have imagined leaving Dr. Norman fighting to find a way to communicate with the creatures to stave off the end of humanity. I don't want to give away the completely mad ending so that the curious can marvel at it's unusual solution to the problem. I'll just say that the ending is almost worth getting through the rest of  the movie just to witness.

Let's be clear about this now - The Bees is a terrible film. It's inept in a dozen different ways with awful dialog, a ridiculous romance angle, ham-fisted villainy and generally wretched acting. The only two actors that make it out of this mess with their self-respect intact are Saxon and Carradine even if that venerable actor is saddled with a truly stupid German accent. I love John Carradine and it was great to see him featured so prominently in a film this late in his career. He’s good in his role but I did find myself constantly distracted by the sight of his arthritic, crippled hands. I'm aware of Mr. Carradine's arthritis problems later in life but this was the first time I've seen a director choose not to hide this deformity onscreen. It drew my attention repeatedly and made me wince whenever I saw him holding things or picking up objects. Saxon is the only actor that seems to be rewriting his dialog on the fly which is to say that his lines sound the least stilted and juvenile throughout. Saxon finds a way to seem naturalistic in his role even when he is being asked to do some pretty dumb things and, as a plus, he gets to have a gratuitous fist fight.  


I wish The Bees was a better movie. I really enjoy the nature attacks sub-genre and the idea of swarms of malevolent insects engulfing people automatically gives me the chills so I'm a fair mark for the story being told here. But this film is so poorly produced and badly written that it is impossible to ever take anything seriously. I can get behind the film's basic message of dialing back the harm we do to the environment before we damage something vital but the entire affair just seems like an under budgeted amateur mess. Most of the time it feels like a 1970's Saturday morning cartoon script that somehow got made into a feature film. On the plus side I do have to give the director credit for some creative use of (a lot) of stock footage to show the military's fight against the invading bee horde. This footage is well integrated and the scenes of the Rose Parade were very well done with a surprise appearance by President Gerald Ford before the bees descend.

Just one more note about the film that I can't ignore. The sort of jazzy score by Richard Gillis is pretty bad and entirely inappropriate to the events it is used under. It feels like music written for another story idea that got grafted onto this film out of necessity. It is almost always out of place and distracting especially after the seventh or eighth time the same few bars of music leap out of the soundtrack to emphasize whatever is happening.   The music might work in another movie but here it's overused and it's repetitive nature just grates on the viewer's nerves.

Luckily for fans of nature amok movies The Bees has been release on Blu-ray by the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome. The movie looks and sounds fantastic putting to shame the poor quality transfers from video sources I've seen in the past. In fact, I can't imagine a better looking presentation of the film and one might even say the excellence in evidence here is better than the film deserves. The only special features are the movie's trailer and a very nice ten minute interview with the film’s director Alfredo Zacarias. Zacarias speaks with a lot of passion about The Bees and it's clear he really felt he was doing something important. I certainly don't think this is a good movie but I can appreciate the work the director put into this project and hearing his story from his own lips might have been the best part of this Blu-Ray. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971) trailer on YouTube



Because every now and then you need to see Paul Naschy as a tortured man turned into a werewolf against his will. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

What I Watched in December


This monthly post is long overdue so I'm going to be brief and get the list posted. I saw eight (!) movies in the theater in December and I've already written about a few of them so follow the links below to read my thoughts on those.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN was a film I was going to skip as I have fallen out of love with Tim Burton and his increasingly shallow films. I was prompted to see this one by a British review that praised it and I'm glad I did. Eva Green is a marvel and the film works very well.

DON'T BREATHE is a good but not great variation on the home invasion idea. It's effective, tense and minutely explores it's chosen environment to terrifying ends.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is a very weak sequel to the first Reacher film. Although the action scenes are well handled the connective tissue and story itself are thin and uninvolving.

THE ACCOUNTANT is a excellent crime film and one that skillfully accomplishes many different things. The main character is fascinating as are the various ways he has constructed his world to both survive and thrive. The film holds many surprises and is very well acted.

BAD SANTA 2 is a case of going back to a well that was mostly dry. It's not a bad film but it is too much of a retread of the first even if the new setting and new characters do liven things up a bit. Kathy Bates is great as Thornton's mean spirited criminal mother but she's about the only real surprise the film has up its sleeve. 

The List 

DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) - 8 
DEAD RECKONING (1947)- 7 (lesser Bogart noir)
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016) - 8
BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006) - 6 (rewatch)
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) - 7 (rewatch)
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015) - 8 (rewatch)
KRAMPUS (2015) - 8 (rewatch)
SILENT NIGHT (2012) - 5 (remake is too cartoonish)
DON'T BREATHE (2016) - 7
ELVES (1989)- 3
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (2016) - 5 (weak sequel)
SNOWED UNDER (1936) - 6 (fun but too tame little farce with excellent female leads)
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) - 7
THE ACCOUNTANT (2016) - 8
STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE (2016) - 8 
MONTANA MOON (1930) - 5 (pre-code drama with Joan Crawford)
DR. STRANGE (1978) - 6 (actually not bad for a 70's TV movie)
ARRIVAL (2016) - 9
BAD SANTA 2 (2016) - 6




Sunday, January 15, 2017

CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) Coming to Blu-Ray!


For years I have longed for a good video release of this little gem and now it appears that my begging and crying has finally paid off! 

NEW UK/US TITLE: Caltiki the Immortal Monster (Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD)
A unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases these two legendary filmmakers at their most inventive

North American pre-orders links should be live soon!
Release Dates: 10/11 April
Arrow Video presents a collaboration between two giants of Italian cult cinema – Riccardo Freda (The Vampires, The Horrible Dr Hichcock) and Mario Bava (5 Dolls for an August Moon, Blood and Black Lace)!
A team of archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors) descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god Caltiki.
Though Riccardo Freda received sole directing credit, a significant portion of the film was in fact the work of Mario Bava, who also served as its cinematographer and was responsible its striking special effects. Drawing on a diverse array of influences, from The Quatermass Experiment to the works of HP Lovecraft, Caltiki the Immortal Monster is a unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases these two legendary filmmakers at their most inventive. Presented here for the first time in a newly restored high definition transfer, Caltiki shines – and terrifies! – like never before.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• From Quatermass to Caltiki, a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic monster movies on Caltiki
• Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master, an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
• The Genesis of Caltiki, an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
• Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
• Alternate opening titles for the US version
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti



Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Bloody Pit #49 - MR SUPERINVISIBLE (1970)


We return to the films of Antonio Margheriti and the decade of the 1970's to see what an Italian made Disney film would look like. You might remember the kind of film we're talking about if you are of a certain age -THAT DARN CAT, GUS, THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG, THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES and certainly THE LOVE BUG which turned a cheap German made car into a fun loving childhood hero. Somehow. And when European producers wish to capitalize on the big budget hits of Hollywood they do the easiest thing possible to create a movie that the public will mistake for American fodder - they hire an American star! In this case, Dean Jones, lead actor in several Disney kiddie features was lured to Italy to make a film just as cute and stupid as the pabulum being force-fed to the little bastards by Uncle Walt's fantasy machine. How well it succeeds will be a test of your own nostalgia or, perhaps, your lack of patience with resolutely silly stories. 

John Hudson joins me to dig into this ridiculous science fiction comedy and, as difficult a watch as it was for grown men, there are joys amide the pain. Not a lot of joys, but enough to keep us from losing our minds. We talk about the good cast, the odd choice of aspect ratio, the fantastic music, the Italian Peter Lorre, pointless animal testing and bizarre tropes that get trotted out in this genre of Saturday afternoon kiddie matinee.

Of course, we also spend a sad amount of time lamenting the extremely short time the mythical Invisible Chimp is a part of the story. Clearly he was a highly paid ape and they could only afford him for a couple of days! As a bonus (?), I also take a minute to complain loudly about one of the dumbest turns of phrase/jokes/sad bits of non-humor from the past that is present in this film in the very first seconds. Sometimes I just have to get things off my chest even if it might make me sound like an old man screaming at clouds. Sorry.

Thank you for downloading and listening to the show. Mr. Hudson and I plan to step up production of these Margheriti episodes this year and we even go so far as to announce the next two films we'll cover. We love going through these films and it is a blast see that there are others out there interested enough in his work to listen to us praise him. Join us over on The Bloody Pit Facebook page (which I forgot to mention in this show) or write us a review in iTunes or wherever you find our show. See you next time! 






Wednesday, January 11, 2017

MISTER SUPERINVISIBLE (1970) on YouTube!



I don't know if I can so much recommend this film as warn you about it. If you of a certain age you might have some memories of the various Disney kiddie feature films starring Dean Jones. He was in THAT DARN CAT! (1965), THE UGLY DACHSHUND (1966), THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK (1971) and, or course, THE LOVE BUG (1968) and a couple of its sequels. He became a household name for a decade or more because of these films and they were both popular and profitable. So it was not difficult to figure that European producers would try to mimic this successful formula and who better to make this effort as well as possible than Antonio Margheriti? 

Podcast on the way! 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Brief Thoughts - ARRIVAL (2016)


Ted Chiang is a science fiction writer of some note and many accomplishments. I've only read a few of his short stories but each one has been brilliant showing the author's skill at thinking through an idea to something hidden just on the other side. If I had known ARRIVAL (2016) was based on his fiction I would have seen it opening weekend.

I will not ruin any of the many pleasures this carefully crafted film has to offer but I will take a moment to complain about some of the criticisms I read about the story that kept me from seeing the film until the end of the year. If the only thing you want to talk about after this powerful film has concluded is that it was stupid for an alien race to travel to our planet but not already be able to communicate with us you can officially go straight to hell. The entire film revolves around the fact that the aliens are struggling to find a way to talk to us and even their worldwide project using multiple sites and contact styles is massively difficult. One might make the rather easy leap to think that the complexity of the task and the hardships involved in the struggle just might be the damned point. Or at least one of them. Idiots.

But, to be clear, ARRIVAL is one of the best films I saw in 2016 and well worth seeing. It's thoughtful, smart, emotional and satisfying in ways I had forgotten science fiction can be. I'm not ashamed to say I wept tears of both sadness and joy.