Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Movies that can't be as cool as their poster art


There is, of course, no way this film can live up this poster.

FORBIDDEN WORLD


Corman produced science fiction from the 80s it promises to be terrible but I've got to see it eventually. Amazing stuff!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

BLACK CHRISTMAS night 2006


This may sound like a sad story to tell but I assure you that for me it is not. Other than a few details that will be obvious I had a great time. After I tuned out the braindead babbling woman. Let me explain..........

Because of a logistics problem stemming from my girlfriend’s family living several hours away from my family the two of us once again this year decided to split trips for the Holidays to make it possible to enjoy ourselves. Considering that everyone had opted for doing EVERYTHING on Christmas Eve this year made the decision easier if not exactly optimum. So it was that I ended up returning to our apartment the night of the 25th alone with little information as to when Beth would be home. Knowing she wouldn’t return before the next day and tiring of reading the book I was enjoying I thought it would be fun to take in a movie. Immediately the remake of Bob Clark’s chiller BLACK CHRISTMAS hove into view and I laughed at the absurdity. Why not?

I attended the 9:30 PM showing and within seconds of getting in line for tickets I realized I’d made a mistake. There were far too many people around and there is nothing these days that can ruin a film going experience like a loud, stupid crowd of morons at a horror movie. But as I bought my ticket the theater employee made a mistake because of the cheap pass I was using and allowed me into the place for free! Free! Now that is always the right price to see a film! Alas, that was the last good news of the evening.

The theater for BLACK CHRISTMAS was packed but I thought I’d be OK as long as morons didn’t sit too close to me. One minute after I sat down the morons arrived in the shape of two large African-American women. I knew I was screwed when the dumbass nearest me could not shut up during the trailers. This proved to be a preview of the evening as this stupid wench could not go more than 90 seconds without saying something. Not something useful, coherent, intelligent or even intelligible but SOMETHING! It was as if she were incapable of shutting her mouth. I suspect she talks even in her sleep.

So, I have a running dumbass commentary track for the entire time which only imparts the blissful information that people do actually use the word ‘ax’ instead of ‘ask’ I’m sad to say. (Thank you Futurama.) Chances of enjoying the film under these circumstances are bad, but I’ve been in similar situations before and a good movie can overcome such problems. Of course, this turned out to be a terrible film.

I had hoped for the best as the writer/director is part of a duo I’ve enjoyed in the past. They made the first and third FINAL DESTINATION films, the solid remake of WILLARD and a personal favorite popcorn sci-fi junk movie THE ONE but they really blew it this time. The original film is a minor classic with some great scenes, a good cast and a chilling ending. All of these good points are reversed here with only a few cast members being worth a damn, no good scenes (unless you count the nudity showcasing shower sequence) and an ending that is ludicrous. Of course, the film had lurched into the ludicrous area long before the ending but the final 5 minutes are a wonderful example of how to make an audience laugh at your film rather than be frightened. No amount of gore will make the death of the killer in this film any less funny/stupid. And the earlier death by falling icicle was insanely stupid. In fact, looking back I begin to think this sucker might become an unintentional comedy classic for future generations.



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Invisible MASTERS

I was looking through the local newspaper checking the TV listings today when I spotted something interesting. There was an Associated Press story with the headline ’ Showtime grabs attention with original programming’. It’s a short piece about the smaller than HBO premium cable channels attempts to create edgy high quality shows to lure new viewers. The shows WEEDS, DEXTER and THE ‘L’ WORD are described briefly to point out what is different or fresh about them in relation to shows on broadcast TV. But I expected there to be a mention of the only reason I’ve been curious about the channel for the last year or so- the MASTERS OF HORROR series. There is nothing like it anywhere else on the dial and even if there is a high miss-to-hit ratio to the episodes this year it is certainly an edgy show. But there isn’t a single mention of MOH. Not one. I mean- is there another anthology horror series out there right now? One that tries to attract the best of directors in the field and puts nearly no creative controls on them? How odd, I thought.

Why would an article on this subject NOT include at least a note about such a unique show? Is it that there is still (and will always be) a prejudice against the genre? I know the show is a hit at least on a certain level as it has brought them viewers that would never have subscribed otherwise. And sales of the DVDs are solid too.

Hell! I’m probably reading too much into this. But it is odd.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I'm in THE INNER SANCTUM !

With the recent release of the Universal INNER SANCTUM films on DVD I’ve been revisiting that sextet. Always a fun hour & change they are a great view for any fan of Lon Chaney Jr. as he is center stage in every one. These were made in the 40s just as his alcohol abuse was starting to be in evidence and you can see the beginnings of the eye bags that would come to be so prominent just a few years later. But Chaney is clearly giving these quickie programmers his all even when the scripts are less than great.

Much has been written about how sub-par this series is but I’ve never felt that way. I love these mysteries much as I do the other genre productions from Universal from the 1940s. They’re not perfect but they are very entertaining with occasional flashes of amazing filmmaking skill. I suspect that the directors of the IS films sometimes took the opportunity to try new things here that might get stopped on larger, more prestigious movies. And really, the only awful one of the series still has its charms, not the least of which is the series’ reoccurring unintentionally humorous sight of multiple ladies vying for Chaney’s affections. (No- I won’t defend THE FROZEN GHOST as it is quite poorly written and sloppily plotted but I will say I have enjoyed it several times and probably will several more.)

But on this pass through the films I’ve noticed another similarity they share that has new resonance for me as I get older. In each film Chaney’s character is often asking to please be left alone. Not in a hostile way usually but simply to have some breathing room to think about his predicament. Caught up in an elaborate murder scheme or fingered for a crime he didn’t commit Chaney is constantly harried on all sides by friends, women of dubious character, police detectives, lawyers, doctors and reporters. The poor man can hardly get enough alone time to visit the bathroom it seems! So in each of these movies I see him sometimes actually begging to just be left alone so he can simply think about the mess his life has become. Maybe if he can quietly consider the situation he can understand what he must do!

Boy do I identify with this. As I get older I find my time is not my own so often that I struggle to carve out spaces each week just to sit down and think. So many projects I want to work on and so little time to devote to them. I’ve found myself looking in the mirror and wondering if I’m starting to take on the hangdog look Chaney sports in most of these movies. Of course, I’d be thrilled to have the beautiful ladies falling all over themselves to gain my attention that seems to come with his sad state but….I think a few hours alone with my thoughts would be better for me.

Who knew I’d find so much of myself in Lon Jr. –outside the WOLF MAN of course. But then, all men identify with that lusty beast! Is this just a part of getting older?

Monday, November 27, 2006

ULTRAVIOLET (2006)


Sometimes I see a movie and I know it’s not any good but I like it any way. Often it’s hard to explain what makes me like a terrible film but I think I have this one nailed down. ULTRAVIOLET strives very hard to be a ‘comic book’ film. I put quotation marks around ‘comic book’ because the writer/director has a very simple (one might even say simplistic) view of what a comic book is. For Kurt Wimmer a comic book is obviously about super powered beings that must overcome incredible odds to save the world. Period. Comic books are not about character, plot, intrigue, humor or even coherency- at least for Mr. Wimmer. Comic books are uncomplicated black & white stories in which the good guys kick ass and the bad guys are pure evil. Nuance is unknown and reflection is for wussies. As deep as a mud puddle, as logical as a hypocritical rationalization and as dumb as a clubbed puppy ULTRAVIOLET understands only one thing- ACTION! Mindlessly colorful action revved up to unbelievable levels and rammed right down the audience’s throat.

I think the only real reason this film exists at all is to fashion blindingly fast action scenes that attempt to show its intended jaded audience something it hasn’t seen before. And here is where it commits one of the cardinal sins of Hollywood Science Fiction cinema. It wants to do impossible things onscreen so it uses the catch-all ‘it’s the future’ idea to get away with completely ridiculous things. “We want our main character to run along a room’s ceiling shooting the Bad Guys ® on the floor so we’ll just throw out some pathetic techno-babble to ‘explain’ it.” With this sad method many filmmakers have put their poorly thought out ideas on the screen for folks like me to scoff at. And scoff I have!

Like any sci-fi geek worth my saltpeter I’ve spent hours cringing over the stupidity in even good science fiction movies to say nothing of crap like the STAR WARS prequels. So why did I like this film while turning my nose up at others? I guess it was because of the sheer audacity of Wimmer. I’ve been angered over and over by sad-ass screenplays that seem written by people that no longer read books. Indeed I think the reason so many films these days suck in the way they do is that most of the folks writing them NO LONGER READ. Anything. So when I realized that Wimmer was making nothing more and nothing less than a film version of a 90s Marvel comic I just laughed and went along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong- it’s DUMB! But at least it showed that the writer had read something even if what he read was terrible. And damned if I didn’t find myself enjoying it the same way I’ve enjoyed bad Marvel comics from the 90s- as slickly drawn bits of fluff with nary an original idea or concept in its overpriced pages. Just sheer forward thrust coming right at ya! Don’t think- just hang on!

So it’s a bad movie. Maybe even an epic bad movie if caught in the wrong frame of mind. But for me it was like seeing a crappy 25 cent tale done with $50 million and that was entertaining all by itself. But I do wish Wimmer would aim a bit higher with his next movie. I’m not asking for Dostoyevsky but he could do much better than Tom DeFalco. Much, much better.

Monday, November 20, 2006

THE OUTER LIMITS- Soldier

A soldier from 1800 years in Earth’s future is caught between two explosive rays and somehow catapulted back to our time. (Or, more accurately, the early 1960s). Grown in mass incubators and raised only to know war he is completely unable to understand this new world. Captured by police and placed in a padded cell his only contact is a linguist brought in to try to decipher his language. Eventually discovering the soldier speaks a version of English he is able to communicate but can’t seem to change his simple view of the world. For our time traveler there are only Us and Them and the enemy must be killed. Still, the linguist is able to make some progress while keeping the military folks at bay until another future soldier caught in the same accident arrives in our time and tracks his ‘enemy’ down.

The first of two episodes written by enfant terrible Harlan Ellison it’s also one of the best the show ever produced. Well written, well paced, well directed and wonderfully acted by a fine cast this is The Outer Limits at the top of its game. When the only complaint I can muster up is that the Soldier should have been afforded at least one change of clothes in the weeks he was confined you know things are good.

I can’t pretend to have a vast knowledge of TV directors of any era but I do know Gerd Oswald’s name. I noticed in my youth as I watched (over and over) the original Star Trek episodes that he was responsible for some for the better ones. When I saw his credit at the beginning of this show I was confident I was in good hands. Smooth and clean seems to be Mr. Oswald’s trademarks as a director. I noticed there are many scenes in which he would use a single set-up for a two or three character scene where the norm would be multiple shots. One of the best here is a three shot that has the linguist in the foreground with his back to the camera. He’s facing his wife and daughter who are framed to his right. Once the daughter’s part of the scene is over the camera pushes in to a two shot at just the right moment to emphasize the emotional exchange between the couple. It’s brilliant direction and completely seamless. Also Oswald seems to love putting the camera near the floor and shooting up at the actors. This appears to have necessitated the addition of higher than normal walls and partial ceilings for some of the sets- very different for television at the time but adding a great sense of confinement for the confused soldier. Even smaller details like the linguist’s son adapting the Soldier’s slang are well done where in less capable hands they might have felt forced. This is great science fiction TV and exactly what I look for from this series.

While it is a little creaky at the climax this is a near perfect episode that holds up to repeat viewings. It shows its age but, as with any good story, it can still delight an attentive audience.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

THE OUTER LIMITS- The Brain of Colonel Barham

The second season episode ‘The Brain of Colonel Barham’ is not one of the best the series has to offer. It’s not completely terrible but it’s not very good either, squandering a potentially great idea.

In the near future the military is planning for their first mission to Mars. The leaders of the project have decided that the first craft to venture there will be robotic. But to handle all the unforeseeable possible problems the robot needs to be controlled by a human mind. Top notch astronaut Colonel Alec Barham is slowly dying of a disease that ravages his body but leaves his brain untouched. It’s proposed to him to implant his mind in a machine and send him to the red planet. The egocentric Barham at first refuses but the idea of living forever finally sways him. Disregarding his wife’s feelings (much as he has for years) he agrees to the experiment over the objections of the project’s psychological expert Dr.McKinnon. The doctor fears that a man already so self-centered is a poor choice to use in such an experiment. As he predicted Barham begins to grow more arrogant and becomes able to control others. Somehow able to increase his brain mass he continues to gain power he becoming more dangerous until finally a confrontation takes place as our now mad brain attempts to kill his wife and Dr. McKinnon.

There are some interesting ideas floating around in this episode but none of them really come together well. The dis-embodied brain becoming all powerful is an old sci-fi staple but nothing great is done with it. I think that if we had simply gotten a speech or two from Barham that showed his gradual shift from man to madman we might have had a chilling show. It would have been nice to have some insight into his goals and his thinking as he made his attempt to control those around him. As it stands we have a half-baked story about a spurned husband lashing out at his wife over very little. And the relationship between the doctor and Mrs. Barham is poorly scripted as well with neither actor seeming to know what to do in their scenes together.

There are moments of clear and strong storytelling but they are few. The show starts well, introducing the scenario and remains good through the scene when the idea is proposed to Barham. The dialog here is good and the performances fine with the scene ending brilliantly as the presiding General verbally smacks Barham down. This opening segment shows us all we need to know about our main character perfectly even getting across the fact of his numerous marital infidelities with ease.

The second stand out moment is near the end when the General decides to talk to the now mad Barham to determine if he really is dangerous. The no nonsense ‘This crap is over’ attitude he presents is just what the flagging story needs right then. Of course, from there it limps home in a pretty obvious way but for a minute it seems like better things are coming.

This one is in the bottom third of Outer Limits shows and is probably best skipped unless you’re a completist- like me.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

THE EVIL (1978)


I've been going through the second volume of trailers from Synapse called 42nd STREET FOREVER: THE DEUCE. It's another great collection of rare and fantastic previews with the rarities really pushing my buttons this time. The standout is the amazing trailer for THE EVIL. Starring Richard Crenna in a shaggy beard and a few other actors I recognize it appears to be a full strength haunted house movie with all kinds of supernatural goings on. It really looks like a creepy ride and soME quick research has turned up Phil Hardy's review calling it better than THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE! Now I've got to see this thing! Even if Hardy is wrong (as he frequently is) that kind of recommendation is reason enough to check it out.

It apparently was released on VHS in the 80s and I've found a copy of the tape going for too much on eBay here. I'd like to get it but more than $16 for a video tape just hurts to think about.

Still.....I gotta see this film. Maybe there are better options out there. I'd better get to hunting.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

THE OUTER LIMITS- The Human Factor

On an American military base in Greenland army psychiatrist Dr. Hamilton has created a machine that enables him to tune directly into another person’s thoughts. He uses it on Major Brothers, a dangerous guilt ridden paranoid who had been brought to him because he insists the base is about to be invaded by aliens. But while the doctor and Brothers are linked mentally through the machine an accident occurs that switches their minds from one body to the other. The psychiatrist’s body now possesses the brain of Major Brothers and he is intent on blowing up the base with an atomic bomb to stop his possibly imagined aliens. Major Brothers' body now contains the doctor’s brain, but is placed in a medical cell under sedation and is unable to make anyone believe the truth. In the doctor’s body Brothers’ moves quickly to gain access to a weapon and destroy both the base and his feared invasion.

Not a great episode but not a bad one either THE HUMAN FACTOR falls somewhere in the middle. The paranoid visions Brothers has of the alien monster reaching towards him out of the snow storm is the only ‘bear’ in the show and their final explanation is good, wrapping the tale up well. The story is well developed and flows well & logically from one point to the next. This episode benefits greatly from some good pacing and strong performances from Harry Gardino (Brothers), Gary Merril (Dr. Hamilton) and Sally Kellerman as the doctor’s secretary and lab assistant. All three actors are good with the standard TV close-ups really showing off their skills at complex emotions. Each of them has at least one scene requiring them to convey conflicting feelings with no dialog and they succeed every time. Good stuff!

The first successful use of the mind melding machine is between the Doc and his secretary. During their close contact her feelings for her boss become known. She loves Hamilton but also knows he doesn’t feel the same for her. Wrapped up in his work he has never thought about that part of his life. But with Miss Kellerman around he’d have to be a eunuch to not feel something! Her feelings for the Doctor and her familiarity with his mannerisms (as well as some notes made before the experiment went bad) allow her to see through the switch and help Hamilton escape his cell. It become s a race to see if the good Doctor can find a way to switch the bad Major back to his own body before Brothers can get access to a bomb and kill everyone on the base. As the title suggests it’s the human factor that both causes the problem (guilt over a death) and solves it (love conquers logic). It’s the Human Factor that makes us our own worst enemies as well as our only saviors. Hopefully.

A good mid-range episode with some above average elements.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

THE OUTER LIMITS- The Invisible Enemy

I’ve had a great love for the original OUTER LIMITS series since my childhood. I was only able to catch a few episodes from time to time as a kid but each one was wonderful. Since the show came out on DVD I’ve been going through the whole run kind of randomly and have decided to blog my impressions. For no good reason I’m starting in the middle of the second season but will be jumping around later.

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After the first manned Mars mission ends in catastrophe a second team is sent three years later. Unsure of what caused the destruction of the first mission the four man crew is very cautious. But when a crewman disappears screaming in agony as soon as he’s out of sight of the other astronauts they begin to fear an invisible killer lurks on the red planet. Gradually the men discover what we lucky viewers have known all along- that the nearby expanse of sand is a sea in which a vicious clawed monster lives. Drawn to movement or the smell of blood this shark-like beast is clearly enjoying its tasty new snacks from another world!

Rewatching THE INVISIBLE ENEMY last night I was happy to find it stood up very well to my memories of it as a top flight episode. It’s not one of the best but it’s very solid. I really enjoy this one and have found myself thinking of it often over the years. As with many Outer Limits episodes the most memorable element is the ‘bear’ or monster and this one is no exception. I’m sure many will find the sand creature laughably fake looking with the composite shots putting it in frame with the actors being a low point. But I still feel that same sense of wonder I felt as a kid during these scenes. When the monster rises out of the sticky looking sand I’m spellbound and creeped out even as I see that there is no life in the obvious puppet’s eyes. It’s this twin feeling of being caught up in the story and knowing that its unreal that makes revisiting so many older science fiction shows appealing to me. For instance, THE INVISIBLE ENEMY had me from its beautiful opening shot of the Martian landscape as the classic old style rocket made its descent. The wonderfully detailed matte painting and crude but effective landing effects immediately pulled me in putting a smile on my face. This is comfort television. Black & white visions of a future never to be, almost out of date before they could be broadcast and imprinted on young minds. Those same young minds longing for the adventure of space travel even as they feared the unknowns repeatedly pointed out in such tales. This is wonderful stuff and truly inspiring.

Of course, the show isn’t perfect. The biggest flaw is the inclusion of one of my most hated clichés of 50s & early 60s filmed science fiction, the rascal team member. You know the rascal team member, don’t you? The guy who’s obviously too cool to be bothered with worry, too clever to be concerned and just enough of an arrogant dumbass to get himself and others killed. You know- a punk. You can spot these idiot characters immediately as they usually have sharp hair and lean against walls. I hate this stupid character type and can never understand why there is one in these kinds of stories more often than not. I guess they’re there to jump start the drama as they always do something incredible short sighted and brain-dead just in time to screw everything up. Then they play the ‘I’m so sorry. I’ll make it up SOMEHOW’ card as they nearly weep in self-disgust. And these bastards never die! They always live to the end credits no matter how much they deserve to be barbequed alive for their asinine actions. I hate these morons! As plot devices they piss me off and they smack of lazy writing. A pox on them all!

But still, this is a good episode –even with the moron punk character. I expect I’ll be watching it again pretty soon.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON (1973)


Over the past few days I’ve watched a number of horror films as Halloween approached. One of the nice things about the fall is that everyone seems to try to put out new DVDs of old horror movies and this year the new line of Elvira discs was a welcome addition to the market. Giving you the option of watching the full uncut movie with or without the hostess adding her two cents worth these DVDs are a cheap way to see pretty good copies of some rarer flicks.

So it is today that I sat down to watch WEREWOLF IN WASHINGTON (1973) starring Dean Stockwell as a presidential aide afflicted with lycanthropy. I’d heard about this one years ago but this was my first viewing and it was a doozy! By the halfway point I was laughing my ass off and simply stunned at the plain stupidity of the film! I’m assured this is an uncut print so I have to assume that at some point the producers stopped filming to save money. This is the only explanation for that fact that there seem to be whole scenes missing. I lost count of the number of times the screen would go to black after a scene and then the next sequence would begin hilariously in the middle of events. For instance- our wolf boy feels the onset of a transformation and locks himself in a bathroom in the White House. Cut to the next scene with him in full fuzzy face makeup clinging to the car roof of his intended victim! How did he get out of the White House? How did he get onto the top of the car without the driver knowing he was there? I was holding my sides with merriment and then the car stops at a strangely deserted gas station in the middle of the city. WTF! Since when?

I can’t decide if this was shot as a comedy or not. There are some really silly things but it’s played so straight that I would swear it seems to have been done strictly as a horror film. But the scene of Stockwell getting his hand stuck in a bowling ball while talking to the President couldn’t possibly be meant to be taken seriously. Could it?

Writer/director/editor Milton Moses Ginsberg would be the man to blame for this one I guess. He’s apparently still alive according to the Internet Movie Database so maybe someone can get hold of him for an interview. I’d pay good money to hear some reminiscing about this odd turd.

I’m still wondering what the funniest thing in the film is. Is it Stockwell crawling around on the floor trying to eat a rug with the cameraman’s shadow plainly visible in the shot? Is it the scene that shows us a pay phone booth on the steps of the Capitol building? Or perhaps the sight of the President of the United States on his knees trying to open a stuck bathroom stall door? Or the idea that a midget mad scientist named Dr. Kiss has a laboratory set up under the White House? Or maybe it’s the Werewolf vs. POTUS battle sequence near the end?

Come to think of it this must be a comedy. It’s just a really bad one. Man! Someone please interview Mr. Ginsberg about this mess! What the Hell was he thinking?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

October Horror reviews- International Edition

MURDER ROCK (1984) - Later period Lucio Fulci giallo. Someone is killing off the best dancers in a class from which the top students will be offered prestigious jobs. A wily police detective suspects someone in the school but can’t pin the murders on anyone- not even the people with the most to gain. This one has always had a bad reputation because of the terrible 80s music that permeates the story. It’s true the Flashdance style tunes are abysmal and unintentionally funny but they don’t make the film any less solid as a good thrill tale. The murders are fascinating and the amount of nudity on display is ……plentiful. Handled like a throwback to the 70s heyday of the great Gialli the killer is inventive and lucky with an identity always hovering just out of sight until the end. Well done if not brilliant and a welcome return to form for Fulci at a time he was being regularly attacked. The man could really make exciting cinema. (3 stars)

WILD ZERO (2000)- When is a film not very good but a whole lot of fun? When it’s this one, baby! Best described as ‘Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll band VS. A Bunch of Zombies’ there isn’t a logical moment to be found anywhere in its 90 minute running time- and that’s just fine. Completely insane from beginning to end it must be seen to be believed. Flying saucers swarm about the Earth somehow causing the dead to rise and eat the living. It’s up to Guitar Wolf and a few friends to battle these evil things and play loud rock ‘n’ roll at the same time. It’s as if someone had too much money for a music video shoot and just went berserk. The Farm Film Report guys would have loved this movie! (2 &1/2 stars)

A HOUSE OF MAD SOULS (2004)- A ghost story from Thailand that I can’t really tell you too much about. The subtitles on the DVD I watched were awful and didn’t even bother to start until after the opening credits leaving some apparently important info a complete mystery. Over long even at 82 minutes this one might have been good trimmed of about 20 minutes and subtitled by someone with a working knowledge of English- but who knows. Beautiful lead actress but what the hell was going on there at the end? Damned frustrating! (1 star)

BEAST OF BLOOD (1970)- Now that the Blood Island films have been issued on DVD in spectacular special editions the petitions can stop and other, lesser films can be pressed onto digital disc. Yes- the Holy Grail of all film history is now available and the weeping can subside. All Hail the Blood Island series- the greatest film accomplishment of all---Ok, OK! I’m bullshitting! The Blood Island films are all pretty bad but most have fantastic elements and some are even great guilty pleasures. I’m slowly working my way through them and this one is pretty damned fun. John Ashley’s doctor character returns to the island for a poorly scripted jungle romp with that maddest of mad scientists Dr. Lorca. Insanity ensues with plenty of naked breasts and green blood everywhere. If you’ve seen one of these you know what to expect and this one doesn’t disappoint- if you know what I mean. (2 stars)



Monday, October 23, 2006

October Horror Reviews

VISITING HOURS (1982)- Lee Grant plays a television talk show host and commentator who stands up for people she thinks have been wronged. Her latest crusade focuses on a battered wife convicted of an attempted murder of her husband. This stance so angers the nearly silent character played by Michael Ironside that he breaks into her house, kills her housekeeper and tries very hard to filet Miss Grant. It seems he hates women because of his strict upraising but since he seems to hate blacks, Mexicans and anyone who isn’t staring back at him from the mirror its hard to figure out his fixation on this poor lady. At least he’s an equal opportunity hater. Anyway, Grant spends the bulk of the movie in the hospital as Ironside continues to try to kill her. I have to be honest and admit the reason I rented this is because William Shatner plays Grant’s boss so I was hoping for a bit of Shatnerama. Didn’t get any of that- in fact the Shat Man is quite good throughout, But it was nice to see his toupee glisten in the stage lights. The film itself isn’t bad but it isn’t very good either. It’s a competently made, middle of the road film. Nothing special. (2 stars)

DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980)- A mad killer is stalking and strangling women in Los Angeles. Ho hum. Not a bad little film and it has some nice touches but on the whole it’s only OK. We follow both the killer and the cops as they attempt to catch him as his spree goes more out of control. There are some good performances and the script is well laid out but there is also no real spark. A few important scenes are flatly directed and most of the humor falls flat. I can’t quite see what there is here that has garnered the film such a cult following. Nice DVD though. (2 stars)

DANCE OF THE DEAD (2005) - Tobe Hooper’s Masters of Horror episode. In a post-apocalyptic world Robert England runs a hip nightclub where he stages a horrible show. Victims of a plague-like disease are injected with drugs and human blood causing them to twitch around in a parody of dance. A young girl on her first night out in the dangerous side of town recognizes one of the hideous dancers and……ya know. That’s enough plot summary. This MOH episode was bad. That it was based on a Richard Matheson story makes me sad and all I can do is recommend you avoid it. Mr. Hooper hasn’t really hit the mark in a film in over a decade and although I continue to hold out hope for his return to form I think that with this short work I may have to finally give up. (Of course, THE MANGLER was reason enough!) Not that it’s terrible exactly- just pointless. As an exercise in nihilism DANCE OF THE DEAD could be called effective but as entertainment it’s a flat line. And even the 1 hour running time was over-long. 20 minutes could have been chopped out without much effort. (1 star)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

October Horror Reviews

SERIAL KILLING 101 (2003)- I checked this out because Tom Weaver (yes that Tom Weaver!) recommended it in his Fangoria column. In an attempt to impress a cute classmate (singer Lisa Loeb who’s too old for the part), high school senior Casey tells his guidance counselor that he wants to become a serial killer. He gets the girl’s attention but even with her help he’s less than successful at becoming a killer. The pair runs through a checklist of serial killer traits, none of which describe Casey, but they forge ahead anyway to often amusing results. Meanwhile the local murders of teenage girls might be the work of a real serial killer and Casey’s choice of future vocation marks him as a suspect. He starts putting his newfound knowledge to use to find the killer but does he want him as a mentor or to stop him? Although the film is never as funny as it could be it’s still pretty damned good. The film has a great cast giving it their all and one corker of an ending. Recommended. (3 stars)

THE EYE (2002)-- Hong Kong scare film in Cantonese with English subtitles. A woman blind since the age of 2 is given a cornea transplant that restores her sight. It also seems to give her the ability to see ghosts! The film is quite good and packs an emotional punch even though I feel it gets a bit unfocused at times. Also, there are leaps of story logic that I might understand if I were more in tune with the culture. As it stands I wanted more info on a couple of topics but the strength of the story won me over completely. Directed by Hong Kong filmmakers the Pang brothers who will be making their American horror debut soon with THE MESSANGERS. Good stuff for adventurous viewers. (3 stars)

BONEDADDY (1998)-- Rutger Hauer is a retired Chicago medical examiner turned crime novelist. His newest book is a fictionalization of his most famous unsolved case involving a serial killer that taunted the police by sending them the bones of victims. Publication of the book brings the killer back out to play but everyone but Hauer thinks it must be a copy cat. Femurs start showing up and the finger bone of suspicion points to someone new every ten minutes but as the suspects narrow it looks like it might be someone very close. Hauer is very good playing the world weary egomaniac who is respected but disliked by everyone he knows. This is a better than average Canadian made thriller with a pretty good script. Nothing earth shattering but I like watching Rutger in a lead role. He’s a natural. (2 & 1/2 stars)

BODY PARTS (1991)-- I had wanted to see this movie for years and its out on DVD now so I finally scratched the itch. Too bad. The movie starts well with Jeff Fahey losing an arm in a car accident and getting a replacement from a convicted criminal. The film has brief moments when it’s OK but it consistently veers into crap territory and become so completely unbelievable that I was rolling my eyes for the last 20 minutes. It has a few interesting ideas floating around but the game cast including Brad Doriff and Kim Delaney can’t save it. It’s a shame since the core question of where in the human body ‘evil’ resides is worthy of a good horror film. This just ain’t it! (1 star)

AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982)- Has there ever been a good Amityville film? This one is a prequel telling the supposedly true story of the family that was murdered in the house. Kind of entertaining in a laugh-at-it kind of way. The family would have had to be idiots to not notice the supernatural things happening 5 freakin’ minutes after they walk through the door! Invisible grasping hands, floating furniture and free flowing blood from the walls are only a few of the tell-tale signs of EVIL that these folks ignore to their detriment. Actually the film seems more of a take off on THE EXORCIST than anything else although they do spice it up with incest and an abusive father. Entertaining for many wrong reasons this one also has the great scene of a lawyer trying to defend his client with a plea of Demonic Possession! Love it! (2 stars)



Sunday, October 15, 2006

Where are the Amicus movies?

Each October I watch as many horror films as possible within those wonderful 31 days. Not that I ONLY watch horror films during the month of All Hallows Eve but I go out of my way to see a lot of them while carving pumpkins and dressing up as a ghoul for costume parties. The other night I watched my DVD-R of TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and got into a discussion with friends about those great old Amicus anthology horror pictures. Very few of them are available on DVD and that seems a crime. This is the perfect season to enjoy those movies with their multiple stories, dry sense of humor and twist-in-the-tail endings. I have the British release of DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) but I think the only ones out on this side of the pond are ASYLUM (1973) and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970). There’s a real market out there for these babies and I can think of quite a few that some enterprising company should consider for next October. There’s the already mentioned TALES FROM THE CRYPT; VAULT OF HORROR (1973); FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1973); TORTURE GARDEN(1967); and TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973). Hell! I've never seen TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS!

Of course, I realize that one thing that might be standing in the way is the tangled rights and ownership mess with EC Comics from which many of the stories from these films originated. But surely there’s enough money to be made to get things moving. Please!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October Horror Reviews- 21st Century scares

SEED OF CHUCKY (2004)- I have a checkered history with the Chucky series of films. I liked the original quite a bit but had never bothered with the sequels until a few years ago brought BRIDE OF CHUCKY. Directed by Ronnie Yu (famous for THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR) I loved it- a delight with tongue firmly in cheek and plenty of wit. I was worried that a sequel to that film might falter but to my surprise this one is just as much fun. Residing more in the horror/comedy area than in just horror this shows a love and affection for the genre while making jokes for anyone with a sense of film history. Chucky and his bride Tiffany have birthed a son that doesn’t really have that killer instinct so prized by his parents. Also unsure as to his gender poor Glen (or Glenda) tries to fit in but complications ensue. Jennifer Tilly is great and John Waters has a very funny small role as a paparazzi. (3 stars)

THE BOOGEYMAN (2005)- Boy, was I surprised by this one. I had heard that this film was nothing too great with most reviews agreeing that it wasn’t anything more than OK. While I don’t think its fantastic this little gem is more than just OK and in some ways is actually damned good. A young man is haunted by an incident in his childhood. On a stormy night his father was pulled into a closet and taken away by The Boogey Man- the same ghoul his dad told him scary stories about. Even though years of therapy have helped him accept the idea that his dad just left his mom that night and was never heard from again the poor guy still fears the night and closed doors. When his mom passes away over the Thanksgiving weekend he goes back home to confront the house, his memories and possibly the Boogey Man. Smarter than I expected and gorgeously filmed this is a short little scare film with a gentle creepiness that really works. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here- just make one heck of a nice autumn supernatural tale. Recommended. (3 stars)

MIMIC 3: SENTINEL (2003)-- Not bad and a definite step up from MIMIC 2. The movie is simply REAR WINDOW with giant bugs and it’s done pretty well. It succeeds by remaining a small story told with a minimum of fuss and keeping the running time to a brief 75 minutes. Good acting from a strong cast that includes Lance Henrickson and Amanda Plummer. Stay away from the commentary track on the DVD, as it will make you want to smack the director for being poorly prepared to discuss the film. (2 & 1/2 stars)

HIGHWAYMEN (2004)-- A pure road revenge film that could have been made in the 70’s. The only thing that feels modern about it is it’s slick production values. It’s good but not great with no real flaws but also a certain lack emotional depth that kind of mutes the effect. Colm Feore plays a homicidal manic whose chosen weapon of murder is his big green Cadillac El Dorado. Jim Caviezel is the man who lost a loved one and is tracking the bastard down while using Rhona Mitra as victim bait. The stunt work is very good and thankfully avoids the ‘car crash equals explosion’ BS that plagues so many movies. It’s always nice to see a retro vigilante film that seems born out of the mean-spirited cycle started by DEATH WISH. For my tastes there just aren’t enough of them! (3 stars)



Monday, October 09, 2006

Horror Reviews for October- It Came from the 70s!

THE DARK (1979)- I’d heard of this film for years but had never watched it. I remember the VHS box sitting on the shelf of the local video store when I was a teenager. The amazing cover art did call my name once or twice but I was always able to resist. Turns out I was right to fight the urge to sit through this turkey. Terrible barely begins to cover it. The film’s dialog is so awful that I’m surprised that the actors agreed to speak any of it. And you can tell they all knew this was a dog because every single one of them phones in their performance. Usually good actors like Richard Jaeckel, William Devane and Keenan Wynn are terrible. There are line readings here that wouldn’t have passed muster for a 16mm student film. And the direction couldn’t be more pedestrian! It’s as if most the crew fell asleep during filming and just used what ever had made it to the print stage. Special mention should be made of the atrocious score that is one of the most unintentionally funny things I’ve ever heard in a horror film. Someone whisper-moaning ‘The Daaaaarrrk’ over synth throbing is just hysterical. Of course, there’s a lot of history about the original director being fired (Tobe Hooper?), the changing of the killer from a madman to an alien (!!) and everything being rushed- but STILL. The script alone was reason enough to stop filming. A re-write might have gotten it up from ‘crap’ to ‘passable’ but I doubt it. It would have been best to bury the whole idea and sew the ground with salt. As Beth said, “ That was a big turd!” You got that right. (1 star)

THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)-- Maybe a little better than the first Yorga film although neither is top tier vampire cinema. I love Robert Quarry as Yorga with his smart-ass answers to stupid questions in the first few scenes. His performance is great even though the slow motion shots of him running toward victims with both arms outstretched are a little silly looking. The best segment is definitely the ending, which is suspenseful and manages a nice shock before the end credits. Well done, low budget movie. (3 stars)

PATRICK (1978) -- Good, solid sci/fi horror film from Australia. Interesting premise told with some style and strongly indebted to Hitchcock (think MARNIE with telekinesis). Director Richard Franklin went on to do PSYCHO 2 and from this it’s obvious he was angling for the job. My one real complaint is that it could have been shorter. Much shorter. (2 & 1/2 stars)

SSSSSSS (1973)-- I loved seeing Strother Martin play such a quiet, intellectual character (mad scientist though he is) and he was fascinating enough to have my attention for the first hour or so. But the last 30 minutes or so kind of loses interest and gets by rote and pretty dull. Doesn’t merit a repeat viewing but worth seeing for Strother and the sight of the freak snake man make-up on one sad character. The movie is rated PG and there are some scenes where they use fake leaves and tree limbs to hide some nudity that just had me rolling my eyes. They must have wanted that PG really badly! (2 stars)



Saturday, October 07, 2006

PIECES (1982)

It was during my 9th grade year that I saw my first European horror film and it was on the big screen. Lucky me!

In the 9th and 10th grades I attended a boarding school in Chattanooga. Being trapped in a campus dorm Monday through Friday made some type of escape on the weekend absolutely necessary. Not being overly interested in drugs and only marginally interested in alcohol I usually spent a few hours each Saturday in a movie theater sucking up whatever Hollywood would throw at me. But on this particular Saturday night I was in for something a bit more…..odd.

Several of us had spotted the newspaper ads for PIECES and were taken aback by the forwardness of the rather lurid image. By this time I had heard of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE but had yet to see it so this seemed even more dangerous. If this was striving to top that film what might be sprayed across the screen? A few of us teenage boys made plans to see this sucker no matter what. Understand- we were under no illusions about the nastier elements of the film. Hell! That’s why we were daring each other to go! We saw PIECES as a test of our masculinity, a rite of passage that without experiencing might point towards us becoming less than we were capable of being. We were men in training and we could handle anything this film could throw at us! Take your best shot!

Needless to say we were appalled by what we saw. Stunned. Shocked. Sickened. Grotesque on a level none of us had seen before we were reduced to trying to ‘man up’ by making fun of the gore and pretending we weren’t scared when the sounds of a chainsaw (or, in a smart cheap scare, a motorcycle) roared out of the screen. Luckily there were enough ridiculous moments to allow us the respite of humor to salve our raw nerves. I’ll never forget one of my buddies’s stunned reaction to the killer getting into a small elevator with an intended victim while hiding the chainsaw under his coat. His ‘Is that woman blind’ was one the biggest laughs I’ve ever had in a movie theater to this day.

Although I didn’t know it at the time this was a turning point in my love of the movies. Not immediately but over the next few years I began to return to the horror genre more often and found that I preferred it to all others. The thrills of scary movies have remained my favorite viewing and exploring the European horror films has been the most fascinating area of this most frowned upon hobby of mine. Oh well.

Recently I’ve gotten the urge to revisit this movie. I know there are several cheap DVDs out there as somehow PIECES has fallen into Public Domain. But what I really want is a (God help me) Special Edition with extras. I know! I’m nuts. But there were rumors a few years ago of just such a thing from Grindhouse. And having discovered that the Spanish director of this one made a film called SLUGS a few years later I’m now interested in seeing more of Juan Piquer Simon’s…..oeuvre? With titles like MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (soon to be released!) and SEA DEVILS on the list my curiosity is aroused. Of course, he also made POD PEOPLE which was one of the worst pieces of crap Mystery Science Theater ever heckled.

So, I’m looking over the various DVDs of PIECES and I’ve ordered SLUGS. I don’t know if I’m going to enjoy this venture into the movies of one of Spain’s least known horror directors but I’m looking forward to the journey.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Horror reviews for October- Sequels nobody asked for!

A few years ago I started reviewing a lot of horror films during the month of October and emailing the mini-reviews out to my unsuspecting friends. This year I'm going to do it here! First- a few of the older ones to get me in the mood. I use a 5 star rating scale.

STARSHIP TROOPERS 2: HERO OF THE FEDERATION (2003)-- I’m one of the few, the proud, the fans of the first film. I loved its black humored satiric take on Heinlien’s rah-rah patriotism and the fact that most people miss the social commentary only makes me happier. That type of intelligent vitriol can rarely be maintained so I was unsurprised when they didn’t even try. More of a horror film than anything else, the story centers on a small number of troopers trapped behind enemy lines on a bug planet. Holing up in an abandoned fortification they slowly discover they’ve been infiltrated by a new kind of bug that takes over a human host body. Poorly written, poorly directed and just generally crappy this is one to avoid. If not for the pretty good special effects I would have dozed off. (1 star)

BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2004)-- The joy is gone. While I consider the original a classic and loved the madness of the first sequel this third trip to the well comes up dry. Herbert West has been in prison for his earlier crimes for 13 years when he is given the chance to continue his experiments behind bars. It’s great to see Jeffery Combs playing the cold-blooded West again and the movie has flashes of fun but it never comes together. A mess, but at least it leaves the door open for another sequel that might be better. Produced in Spain and at times the (funding mandated) need to have a mostly Spanish cast is a major hindrance. (1 & 1/2 stars)

GINGER SNAPS BACK: THE BEGINNING (2004)-- While I really liked both of the first two GINGER SNAPS films this one just doesn’t quite make it. It’s not bad but it has many elements that felt too 20th century for me to take the 1815 setting seriously. Still, there’s a lot in the film to like, including the ending. This one tells the tale of how the werewolf curse came to be loosed on the countryside (i.e. Canada) by events surrounding a pair of orphaned sisters attacked by beasts in the woods. Brought into a lycanthrope-besieged fort by an Indian warrior they try to survive and rid themselves of the shape changing disease. (2 & 1/2 stars)

THE HITCHER 2: I’VE BEEN WAITING (2003)-- This unnecessary sequel isn’t in the same league as the original but it isn't the disaster I expected either. C. Thomas Howell returns as the poor sucker scared forever by Rutger Hauer’s serial killer John Ryder. Still troubled by the past he and girlfriend Kari Wuhrer return to the Texas crimes to lay old ghosts to rest. Unfortunately they run across hitchhiker Jake Busey who Howell immediately suspects is Ryder reborn. Busy is great doing his patented psycho performance capped by the scene in which he removes his own finger to appear innocent. The movie isn’t bad but it isn’t great either. It is beautifully photographed and well paced but succumbs to the common sequel problem of following the original too closely. By the time a character is strung between a tractor-trailer and a truck you know they couldn’t top the first film’s darkest moment. Also it has one nagging ‘Oh, give me a break’ moment near the climax that should have been rethought. Overall, not bad and worth seeing for the sharp opening sequence at least. (2 &1/2 stars)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

One of the best of the Summer

A SCANNER DARKLY- The first animated adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story that I’m aware of turns out to be one of the best. The film follows the tale of undercover cop Bob Artor (Keanu Reeves) as he wallows in the shallow end of the drug sub-culture searching for criminals worth busting. There is very little wrong with this film and it is fantastic on nearly every level. Capturing both the detail and feel of Dick’s novel it remains very close to the book…..probably too close for it to have been a financial success. While it is very funny the downbeat ending assures it of escaping the imaginations of most of the slack-jawed mouth-breathers that would go to see this film because of its ‘drug’ plotline. This is a smart and thoughtful movie that will wear well over the years. Easily one of the years best so far.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Movies that can't be as cool as their poster art

I have actually seen this film and, even though I like it, nothing could live up to this great poster. That's one gorgeous image folks! I think I'll have to dig my old VHS out and watch this one again soon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Summer review- Part the first

Although the Summer isn’t quite over yet at the local multi-plex I think its time for an overview (brief though it may be) of the movies. I caught a good number of films this blistering season and while there were some good things out there on the whole it wasn’t a great year. I’ve already posted about POSIDON and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 both of which were OK without being at all memorable. Maybe that start should have warned me….

X-MEN 3- I refuse to call it X3- It’s the third X-MEN movie not the third movie entitled X. Easily the weakest of this ‘trilogy’ of movies. It should have been the crowning achievement but the loss of Bryan Singer made sure that just wasn’t gonna happen. The resultant film is good, a solid effort but it lacks the human touch of the first two and the feeling of competence behind the camera that Singer is capable of. Even with a hack director the story is still pretty damned good but I can’t help but feel that a better movie was possible- one that would have wrapped up things in a more satisfying and smart way. As it stands, X-MEN 3 felt like there were some things left out that might have improved the characterizations which are unfortunately paper thin. Perhaps a longer cut will be offered at some point on DVD. The actors did their best, I think, but were ill served by the weaknesses that might have been fixed with a more hands-on creator. More thought needs to be expended next time on character motivation and relationships. It’s easy to blow things up—it’s harder to make us care who might be blown up.

SUPERMAN RETURNS- This is what Bryan Singer jumped ship to make. Is it good? Yes. Is it great? Sadly, no. Superman returns from a five year absence to find Lois with a son, Lex loose and the world maybe not needing a Super Dude. There are a lot of great things in the film and overall I like it a good deal but there are problems. First, it is a bit TOO much of a re-hash of the first two Superman film from the 70’s. I know that this was done as a direct sequel to those to movies but there are a few too many copycat scenes here. The script even provides some good reasons for the scenes but they are still unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong- I liked the film but once again I felt like some vital pieces of the story had been left out of the picture. While sitting in the theater I thought there seemed to be gaps in the natural flow of the movie and afterwards a little online checking confirmed this. More than 25 minutes were trimmed to get it to a more marketable length. I’m sure we’ll get to se this missing material eventually but I’m beginning to dislike the fact that what I’m seeing theatrically often ISN’T the finished film as the creators want. Must we always wait for the Special Edition DVD to watch the full movie? Dammit! I would have loved the Krypton stuff, the new romantic relationship Ma Kent has, the scenes between Clark and his mother and anything else they had on tap. This stuff makes these movies richer for me and I don’t really care about the length. Oh- and for future reference—its time to retire Lex Luthor as the Superman villain of choice. Might I suggest Brainiac, The Parasite, Metallo, Toyman, Myzplytyk, Darksied or even Doomsday. There are a host of good Superman stories to tell. Luthor’s bizarre infatuation with real estate was good once but reusing it for this film was really pushing it.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST- One of the best things about the first film was its mind bending desire to be gloriously complicated. It went completely against the standard Hollywood script for making a Summer Movie®. Too many characters, too many plotlines, too many mysterious questions and far too many strange things happening. After hearing a chorus of terrible reviews I was worried that the sequel was going to be awful. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the most entertaining ‘event’ film of the summer. Hysterical (in two senses of the word), eye-popping, beautiful, fast and wonderfully strange this is almost the opposite of what I’d have expected. No coasting on the good will of the audience here, folks. I could almost hear the filmmakers saying, “We have a new, bigger, weirder and more convoluted story to tell and we’re going to just go berserk.” I found the negative reviews to be truly funny reading afterwards. Sometimes it’s easy to spot the reviewer’s bias against a film and there were a lot of them with the knives out for PIRATES. I think a few of these reviews were written before they saw the film! I guess it was time to take Johnny Depp down a peg. Idiots. And this was the rare film that, although loooong, didn’t wear out its welcome before the credits rolled. This is what I go to the movies in the summer to see. Big, fun and funny. I cannot wait to see the third and final film next year. Chow Yun-Fat as a Singapore sea captain? I am there!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Planet of the Vampires (1965) poster art

This is easily the best poster art for the Mario Bava masterwork PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES that I have ever seen. I found this image a few months ago and was stunned that I'd never seen it before. Haunting and beautiful, this is the perfect artwork to entice folks to see this wonderfully spooky science fiction film. Or at least folks like me!

At times I think PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is my favorite of Bava's movies. Mostly I think of DANGER:DIABOLIK as my favorite and THE MASK OF SATAN as the best but this movie really hits all my geeky buttons. Science fiction/horror/hot Italian babes/cool alien landscapes/possession/a derelit alien spacecraft with dead aliens. That's a lot of buttons! And the creepy score is great too.

I've watched the great MGM DVD of this more than 10 times over the past few years and since learning that the Italian DVD print is slightly longer I've been very tempted to buy it as well. The added bits are not supposed to be significant but.........

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Films that need a DVD release! (Another series)

A few years ago I decided to scratch an itch I’d had since childhood sightings of the big omnibus editions and finally read a Doc Savage novel. Encouraged in this by friends Jack Daves & Randy Fox I picked up a few in a used book store and have been reading them ever since. At first I read them as I could get them but at Randy’s suggestion I’m now going thought them in publication order. This is fascinating as you can watch the Doc Savage ethos slowly evolve. In the first few stories Doc was much less interested in rehabilitation with real bullets flying and necks being snapped! Later stories have him refusing to kill criminals and inventing a surgical ‘cure’ for the bad men he encounters.

The Savage books are wonderful Hero Pulps that exhibit all the strengths and weaknesses of that genre. I recommend them to curious readers with only one caveat- they are addictive and may lead to even more outrageous Pulp characters like WWI pilot/spy G-8 or the bloodthirsty vigilante The Spider! Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

As far as the George Pal film- I feel much kinder to it than I used to even though its second half feels impoverished and rushed. My first viewing of it in my teens resulted in shrugged shoulders with the only lingering after effect being the itch to read the books. The regrettable camp feel is always going to anger me but the cast is pretty good with Ely doing a fine job. I must admit that if a nice DVD was available I’d pick it up- especially if there were some nice extra goodies covering the history of the character.


I know, I know--- But I can dream.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Movies that can't be as cool as their poster art


Once again- there just ain't no way! One of the slew of bloody barbarian movies that paraded through cinemas in the wake of CONAN's huge box office take. Director Umberto Lenzi is usually much better with crime films than anything else but with character names like Ela, Isa, Vood, Rag and Tog I'm going to have to see this one. Hopefully brain-bashing violence is on tap to make my viewing more interesting.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

TARZAN- Love & Hate

I’ve been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous creation since I was a boy. Like many other kids with an appetite for adventure fiction I read the first of the Tarzan novels and fell in love with the stories of the orphaned nobleman raised by gorillas in the African jungle. His adventures fighting predatory beasts, harassing Arab poachers, finding the occasional lost city and battling nefarious bad guys seeking various treasures thrilled me page after page. It’s because I loved the Tarzan of ERB that I could hardly stand the Tarzan of Hollywood.

In the books Tarzan is of noble British blood and by the end of the first novel he is aware of his lineage and has reclaimed his title as Lord Greystoke. Possessing a great intellect as well as amazing physical ability he speaks several languages, is able to mix well in society and is easily the master of his life. ERB’s character chooses to live in Africa with his wife and family on a sprawling jungle plantation with his sworn Waziri tribesmen nearby. ERB’s character was a man to be reckoned with and feared as much for his cleverness as his knife.

When as a young lad I was able to finally see the 1932 film TARZAN OF THE APES I expected to see something close to the definitive screen version of my beloved jungle man. After all- this movie was hailed as the best Tarzan film ever made. I was sorely disappointed! Who was this monosyllabic moron calling himself Tarzan? He didn’t seem bright enough to hold two thoughts in succession much less reason or think. I suspect that Tarzan as played by Johnny Weissmuller would have had trouble negotiating a stoplight regardless of his facility with knife or vine. His inability to form complete sentences even after being around Jane for years pointed to a severe metal deficiency that appalled and finally disgusted me. I caught one of the later films in the series a year or so after seeing the first and could not believe they still had him acting like an idiot. If the dumb ass can’t dope out a spoken language he hears ever day of his life then he’s too damned stupid to be anyone’s hero! So, I decided to stick with reading an occasional original novel for my Jungle Man fix and avoided any other of Hollywood’s attempts to destroy one of fictions great characters.

But then came my college years and a group of friends with similar interests as myself. Among them was a fellow who also loved ERB’s Tarzan but had come to terms with the Weissmuller Tarzan. Pointing out that the books were always going to be around for fans to read he slowly convinced me that the Hollywood version had its good points as well. True- it had more than its fair share of idiotic elements but the films were fun entertainments and worth enjoying as what they were intended to be. No, they’re not the ‘real’ Tarzan and ERB fans may grit their teeth at the knowledge that this is how 99% of folks think of him.

And Hollywood giveth with one hand while it smacketh with the other. I honestly doubt if Tarzan would be as famous and well known if not for the hugely popular Weissmuller films. Perhaps the character endures because the black & white images from these films were absorbed into the brains of a generation or two of children hungry for adventure in the trees? Maybe one of the biggest reasons the original 24 Tarzan novels never go out of print is that young boys are curious for more of the jungle man’s tales than the films can provide?

It’s true that because of the Weissmuller Tarzan films the chances of an accurate adaptation ever being done are nearly zero. But I’ve made my peace with Hollywood’s version of Lord Greystoke. I’m watching those old films with great joy now as they come out on DVD in sets. And I’m even looking forward to each movie with anticipation. In my 30s I’m finally getting that feeling a lot of boys had sitting in a darkened theater or curled up in front of the TV for an afternoon matinee. The thrill of watching a Jungle Man swing though the trees, wrestle lions and kill crocodiles as I wonder what will happen next is wondrful. The books are better, but that’s almost always the case, isn’t it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Films that can't be as cool as their poster art (an occasional series)


I submit to you that there is no way this film can be even close to as fantastic as its amazing poster. Directed by Amando Ossorio of BLIND DEAD fame and starring Ray Milland I must eventually see it, of course. But there is no way it is even a fraction as good as this artwork would have me believe.

Friday, August 18, 2006

John Agar Rules! Part 3

In BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS our man Agar plays Steve March, a geologist working with his partner Dan (Robert Fuller) in the desert southwest. They’ve been getting odd fluctuating gamma radiation readings (!?) centered miles out in the desert and Steve insists they check it out. Once there they track the readings to a newly formed cave and are attacked by Gor-the titular brain from another world. This evil alien kills Dan and possesses the body of Steve with the intention of using his incredible destructive mind powers to take over Earth, launch an invasion of his home planet and molest Steve’s fiance Sally (Joyce Meadows)- not necessarily in that order. Steve constantly tries to fight off Gor’s control to little effect but Sally and her father become very concerned about the spasms of pain that accompany his attempts. They ridiculously decide to travel to the desert cave and there discover Vol, another brain from Arous sent to recapture the fugitive Gor. Vol explains how to kill the mad brain and just before he’s able to take over the world Sally gets this information to Agar who takes an ax to the criminal cerebellum.

Almost too fun to be believed this is a classic so-bad-its-good movie. The story is incredible with characters doing hysterically illogical things simply to advance the plot. I’m still trying to figure out why a geologist would be given clearance to attend a major nuclear test or how (or why) geologists were monitoring ‘gamma radiation readings‘. But honestly the rest of the movie could be totally boring and would still be worth seeing for the insane final scene. The sight of John Agar ax-whacking an oversized brain dangling from clearly visible wires is one of the most hilarious things this side of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. The film had to be fun for Agar as well since he gets to play two roles- good guy and bad brain. He does a good job as both but it’s the evil moments that really shine. Rarely is he more entertaining than in the sequences in which he convinces assembled world representatives of his power and issues his mad orders complete with diabolical laughter. Brilliant! Highly recommended for these who like their popcorn movies spiced with cheese.


To be continued........


Saturday, August 12, 2006

John Agar Rules! Part 2

In THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956) Agar plays Dr. Roger Bentley an archeologist working on a dig somewhere in Asia. (That’s as specific as the film gets!) He finds a tablet fragment with indications of Sumerian origins and then comes across an ancient oil lamp that points towards a local mountain. Agar along with Hugh Beaumont mounts an expedition to the summit and after much stock climbing footage they reach a high plateau scattered with crumbling Sumerian buildings. After a member of the group falls into a deep crevasse the men descend into the mountain and make the archeological discovery of the century- a living Sumerian settlement cut off from the world for thousands of years! Most of the population has become albino with extremely pale skin and sensitivity to bright light while some have ‘devolved’ into hideous mole like humanoids. The mole men are used as slave labor and treated horribly. Using his still functioning flashlight Agar convinces the rulers that he’s a messenger from one of their gods and starts romancing one of the Sumerian ‘throwbacks’ i.e. a normal looking woman named Adad (Cynthia Patrick) with a great hair stylist. Finally Agar and Beaumont instigate a Mole man rebellion making good their escape with Adad in tow.

Silly, cheesy fun from start to finish THE MOLE PEOPLE never resembles anything close to reality. When our heroes encounter the Sumerians there is a very quick nod to Agars’ ability to speak the (very dead) language but then all the members of the party suddenly can as well. The mole men are treated as beasts and constantly beaten but never use their digging ability to escape their cruel masters. And of course, isn’t Agar lucky to run across that rare ‘normal’ girl to romance and rescue? But with all the crazed fun this film offers it is Agar’s character that gives the film its entertaining high points. Arrogant to the point of annoyance Bentley is so forward in the first third of the movie that it feels like he’ll be the villain of the story. Adding to the strangeness on display is some of the dumbest dialog of any film of the period with Agar getting the lion’s share. That he was able to utter lines like “In archeology all things are possible” with a straight face shows a real acting skill.

In the right frame of mind THE MOLE PEOPLE is a blast and while never actually good it still stands as a great example of the qualities fans love about 50‘s Science Fiction movies. I love this film the way you love a not too bright pet that might chew up your shoes but is simply too cute to strangle.


To be continued...........

Thursday, August 10, 2006

John Agar Rules! Part 1

Long before I knew John Agar by name he was one of my heroes. He was the guy that took a cattle prod to the Gill Man, found a hidden underground civilization and blew up a giant spider in the desert- all without breaking a sweat! The fact that my adolescent mind could combine these three different movie roles and thereby turn Agar into a kind of superman is probably because he played similar characters in many films. Some might say they were often the EXACT same role. He was usually the smart, stoic, smiling fellow that could be counted on when the Mole Men attacked or a were-creature was stalking his fiance. These movies weren’t always very good (and Agar didn’t appreciate them at the time) but as film nuts in the 21st century have discovered his genre movies are always entertaining even if not for the reasons originally intended! Agar’s first foray into fantastic cinema was a sequel to the classic CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. It’s not his best genre film but it did give him a key contact for later greatness.


Picking up a year after the first film REVENGE OF THE CREATURE has a couple of stalwart scientists types return to the Black Lagoon to capture the monster. Using dynamite charges (!) to subdue him they transport the amphibian back to Florida and set him up in Ocean Harbor for scientific study and public viewing. Ichthyologist Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) and fellow scientist Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) begin trying to both communicate with the Gill Man and romance each other. Their romance is a bit more successful probably because Agar doesn’t poke Nelson with an electrified prod every ten minutes as he does the Creature. Finally the poor aquatic beastie manages to break free, kill a few folks and run off into the open water with gunmen in hot pursuit. Once again he has his sights set on a female and this time it’s Miss Nelson he goes in search of, putting her new fiance Agar on the offensive!

Director Jack Arnold made this as well as the first Gill man film and his strong guiding hand helps make this a fairly exciting monster romp. Though it pales in comparison to the original and makes the major error of removing the Big Guy from his jungle habitat its still a fun movie. Agar has made no secret of the fact that he hated making the series of monster epics he starred in in the 1950’s but here, as in all his performances you can see that he still threw himself into things 100%. That’s one of the things that make his genre movies so enjoyable- Mr. Agar worked hard to sell every scene, every time. This kind of enthusiasm pays off when the audience is asked to believe in incredible events and his earnest performances help sell all kinds of absurd situations. Its this aspect of what he did that makes watching Agar's films so much fun. He really seems to believe what’s going on and invites us to come along for the ride!


To be continued.......


Thursday, July 27, 2006

The 4D Man (1959)

For some reason I got the urge to watch this film again the other night. I've had the DVD for years now and before that I had taped it off cable TV. I think I've watched THE 4D MAN 5 or 6 times even though I don't think its the greatest movie in the world. Its good- but not that good. I think what draws me back again and again are elements that grab me in any movie from the period.

First, being a sucker for 50's science fiction the idea at the center of the story is very interesting. Its a pulp SF idea handled in an intelligent fashion.

Second, the cast is top notch turning in performances better than the story deserves.

And third, although riddled with nonsensical pseudo science silliness the story is involving and effective.

The film follows two brothers with different approaches to scientific research. Scott Nelson (Robert Lansing) is a hard working scientist struggling to perfect a new alloy he hopes will prove impenetrable to all force. He works for a large scientific concern in which the owner has first (and last) claim to all the credit for any projects done under his roof. Tony (James Congdon) is the younger and more impulsive sibling. He's had a hard time keeping a job as he spends most of his spare time working on his own pet theory. Tony believes that it is possible to cause two solid objects to occupy the same space at the same time merging their atomic structures. He once was able to make this near impossibility happen but has never been able to replicate the experiment. After the loss of another job Tony appeals to Scott eventually showing his one piece of evidence- a pencil he merged with a solid slab of metal. Tony thinks that the one time success had more to do with his mind than with electronics equipment. He's sure that in some way he 'willed' the two objects to merge! Scott is skeptical but one late night while fooling with the experiment on his own he too succeeds- but it's his right hand that passes through a solid piece of metal. Stunned, he shows Tony but they quickly realize that Scott can will himself through things now without help!

Asking that they keep things quiet for a while, Scott wants find a way to keep this discovery away from his employer. Tired of doing all the work for none of the public credit he's determined to introduce this astounding breakthrough himself. Of course, at this point complications ensue with a fellow scientist stealing Tony's notes and Scott becoming aware that each time he phases through something it seems to age him. Also thrown into the mix is the romantic triangle between the fetching Miss Lee Meriweather playing a research assistant and the two brothers. I know this element sounds like the melodramatic sludge it is but the actors do a very good job with the material adding depth to the clichéd love sub-plot. The actors really sell this movie on every level and without the fine performances it wouldn't be half as good.

As much as I enjoy THE 4D MAN the film does have one glaring flaw that irks me. It sports one of the most inappropriate scores of all time! On its own the film's music is not bad but the percussion heavy jazz riffs only fit the scene they're accompanying about 10% of the time. During the rest of the movie its like accidentally intercepting a radio broadcast at the drive-in. It's annoying and I'd love to have the power to re-score the picture.

I really like this film but I'm under no illusions about how many others out there will feel the love. It helps if you're a Sci-Fi geek with a taste for old style 'what if' scenarios I guess. I know I'll feel that familiar urge in about a year and be glad this gem somehow got released on DVD.

Monday, July 24, 2006

DELLAMORTE, DELLAMORE


The recent release on Region 1 DVD of DELLAMORTE, DELLAMORE under its less attractive US title of CEMETARY MAN made me dig out my old essay on the film and its symbolic content. Originally printed in one of the last issues of European Trash Cinema here it is in slightly altered form for 2006. Enjoy!

Oh! And Spoiler alert for those yet to see the film!


Michele Soavi's DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE is one of the best and most inventive horror films of the 1990's. In its beauty and violence, we can see its relationship to the work of Fulci, Romero, and of course Argento, but I think there is an even more fruitful way of examining this movie. Its surface story is a simple zombie tale spiked with humor and tragic romance and is thoroughly enjoyable on this level alone. However, this film is rife with symbolism of a complexity and depth that I have rarely seen in a horror movie. Every character and every scene has a symbolic part to play in an examination of (as the title says) Death and Love. Each time I watch the movie I see more and more, but instead of a scene by scene look at the film, I'll present a broad overview.

I noticed that the symbols come in sets of three. For instance, Francesco, Gnaghi, and Franco are all elements of the same person; Francesco falls in love with three different women; and romantic love is divided into three levels. The movie can be seen as an examination of Francesco's life with what we see as the afterlife. Francesco, because he is the center of the story, is how he lived his life. Gnaghi is the representation of the baser side of man that we grow out of, and Franco is the responsible man he could have grown into. The scenes that show these relationships are many. For instance, although Gnaghi speaks only in grants, Francesco replies in full sentences implying that he hears more than we do. Franco is Francesco's only friend and takes credit for his murders- murders he can logically have had no knowledge of. Also, Franco seems to most often call when Francesco is in the shower or in some other contemplative mood. Each character is a facet of life and how we live it or death and how we accept it.

The set of three that I find most intriguing is the three women that Dellamorte falls in love with. The fact that they are all played by the same woman made me curious and a little thought reveals what they represent. They symbolize the three classical ways that men view women throughout life--mother, virgin, and whore.

Francesco is not alive until the first woman enters his life. He decides that he must have her and this is his birth which is symbolized by him climbing out of the freshly thug grave. The widow is the mother figure-she is the first woman we love. (As for why the husband is dead, might there be some hint in the euphemistic term for the orgasm as "the little death.") This obviously plays off the Freudian Oedipal complex-the desire to love the mother and replace the father. The desire for the father's place and the fear of his discovery of that desire is exactly how the scene plays out. The film tells us the return of this man is not right because, until now the dead had come back only after 7 days, but the husband/father returns in direct response to the son (Dellamorte) physically loving the mother. This causes the mother's death but it is by the son's hand, not the husband's. This could symbolize the pain of childbirth and the agony of letting go of the grown child. (How sharper than a serpents tooth...) Also, later, it is the mother who wounds Francesco as a parallel to how our mothers forever influence the way we view women. The pain may not kill you, but it does color your perspective on love.

The second woman is representative of the way men view their first love-as a virgin. She is literally a virgin because of her phobia about sexual penetration and they fall instantly in love with each other because in this world "Who else is there?" Francesco responds to her the way we all do to first love, by doing anything to keep and make her happy. For Dellamorte, this means having his penis removed or made nonfunctionable. Any man willing to emasculate himself must truly be in love! But while he is recovering from this sacrifice, the woman is stolen from him in the standard cliched manner. She falls in love with someone who is beneath her and who treats her horribly. This other person takes her virginity and her love. As a parallel to teenage heartbreak, this makes perfect sense.

The third woman is the whore, representing the bitter way men see women after rejection and heartbreak. We should suspect this as she is very sexual from her first moment on screen. She says she loves him and wants him to stay with her. But sadly, he learns of her true nature from someone else and his response is as strong as the betrayal. His disgust with the whore is the final death of love within him. He is now bitter and wholly incapable of loving again. "This time I'm really through with love." Francesco's murder of the whore is not so much the killing of another person as it is killing the love within himself. Defeated in his quest for love three times, he can never trust again and therefore never love again.

Since Gnaghi and Franco are part of Francesco, their relationship with love is very interesting. Gnaghi represents puppy love, almost more enamored with the idea of love than with the object of his love. Gnaghi's love is complete with just the head of his beloved to cherish. Sexuality is unnecessary and (from his reactions to Francesco's love making in the film) disgusting. Exactly the response expected from the adolescent version of Dellamorte. With Francesco as the maturing man searching for love in the middle, we come to Franco as the representative of adult responsibility at the end. He is married with a family and a steady solid job-the perfect example of standard social mores. But Francesco tells Franco in a phone conversation that eventually his wife will leave him, his daughter will grow up to hate him and then he will be free. This view of love as fleeting, brief, and as solid as sand is the real cause of Dellamorte's misery. When the core reason for happiness is fated to always desert us, how can a thinking individual be truly happy? For Gnaghi/ Francesco/Franco, all three levels of love (childish/adolescent/mature) fail and serve only to point the way to the grave.

Another set of three that begs for analysis is the three people that Francesco kills in Franco's hospital room. Coming as they do after Dellamorte's swearing off of love, I feel that they represent his rejection of the higher authorities that promise happiness. First to die is the symbol of religious morality, the nun. Killing her is a rejection of the false hope of redemption held out by the church as the reward for a "good" life. Next is the doctor as a symbol of society. Killing him is a refusal to go along with the multitude of evils that society expects from us to keep the status quo. Then the nurse comes in and asks what has happened. Francesco says that they killed each other and that it was a settling of scores suggesting that perhaps society and morality are destined to destroy one another. The nurse is humanity and horrified at the rejection of the two accepted pillars of sane life. Francesco's killing of her is his repudiation of all authority and the world itself. His next move is obvious- escape. But if this is the after life, there is no escape and that is what he discovers.

I would like to stress that this is merely one way of looking at the film. After a theatrical viewing of the movie with three friends, I was swamped with other possible interpretations of the same events. One friend in fact made it a personal quest to come up with as many different readings of it as he could, as fast as he could. Some of them were amazing and some were goofy as hell, but when was the last time a horror film caused this kind of discussion? There's plenty to see in DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE and this just scratches the surface.