Sunday, March 29, 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
If you have never seen THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES you really should take the time to do so right now! LINK! Or, as an alternative, you can listen to Peter Cushing narrate the film's story in a mere forty-five minutes in this amazing extra originally produced for the B-side of the soundtrack LP. Even if you've seen the film already it's very cool to hear Mr. Cushing relate this tale and it makes me wish Hammer had gotten him to do more such promotional recordings. Enjoy!
Monday, March 23, 2015
Friday, March 20, 2015
When I was a young lad first reading comic books The Invaders was one of my favorite series. I loved the WWII setting, the characters and the cool vision of the Marvel Universe at the dawning of the first super heroes. The original run lasted 41 issues (along with several Annuals and Giant Sized specials) but there have been a few attempts to revive the group in the decades since. Sadly, all those new series have failed and I'm unhappy to note that the latest - and best - of these attempts has just folded after only 15 issues.
A year and a half ago writer James Robinson revamped the team in a modern day form that was brilliant in how it brought the original cast back together and made the problem of the 70 years of time between their formation and the present day immaterial. The end of this brief run bothers me because it was really very good and I begin to doubt if being well written and beautifully drawn is enough in the current comic world. Robinson had a great handle on the characters and the stories he was telling were fantastic - by the time he had brought in the original Deathlok I was in heaven! Maybe the book only appealed to older readers interested in mostly obscure heroes?
Oh well. It was good while it lasted, which is probably the best way to look at any comic book series.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Horror Express opens in the early 1900s with Sir Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) discovering the fossilized remains of a "missing link" in a cave in China. Sensing the importance of his find, Saxton has it boxed up and loaded onto the Trans-Siberian Express for a return to Europe. Trouble starts before the prize archeological discovery has left the train station. A thief attempting to get into the crate is found dead, his eyes as white as a boiled egg. On the train Saxton is joined by his scientific rival, Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), and a multitude of other characters. There's Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza), a crazed monk who claims there is something evil about the crated fossil; the monk's employer, Count Petrovski (George Rigaud), a wealthy Polish nobleman; Irina (Silvia Tortosa), the count's sexy wife; Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña), who tries to puzzle out the series of strange deaths on the train; a chess playing engineer (Ángel del Pozo) who is also a burgeoning rocket scientist; and a beautiful female spy (Helga Liné,Horror Rises from the Tomb) trying to purloin the secret of a new type of steel from the Count! In short order the fossil comes back to life and kills several people, leaving the victims with white eyes and smoothed brains. From these anatomical clues Wells and Saxton surmise that the creature must be able to absorb the memories and experiences of its victims, killing them in the process.
Just when the film seems set to be a 'beast on the loose' movie, Inspector Mirov shoots the monster dead and is possessed by the alien intelligence that's hidden within the creature for two million years. Not suspecting this turn of events, Wells and Saxton are surprised when a fresh corpse turns up with telltale white eyes. Then a boorish Cossack commander (Telly Savalas, On Her Majesty's Secret Service) stops and boards the train, intent on conducting his own military investigation.
Horror Express is one of the most deliriously fun bits of sci-fi tinged horror nonsense to ever come out of Europe. It was mostly overlooked at the time of its original release and treated terribly afterwards, which is a shame. With a game cast, a lively script and an interesting setting, director Eugenio Martín creates a fast, effective fright-fest that's just smart enough to know when to distract us with another plot twist. Many critics have said that the film's script doesn't hold up if examined closely, and that is true. But who cares? Horror Express throws so many ideas and characters at the audience that it's almost impossible to nail down the logic lapses until well after the credits have run and how often can you say that about a Euro-Cult genre piece. Just as you have adjusted to one strange idea, another one pops up which inevitably dovetails into another, etc.
The film is exciting and interesting from beginning to end and almost never shows its very modest budget. Most of the characters are very well drawn with a minimum of exposition and a great deal of smart acting giving just the right amount of nuance. With a cast this large it would've been easy to lose track of one or more people but the script gives each person at least one small scene to establish themselves. Later, when the creature menaces them we aren't just watching a simple stalk and kill sequence. Since we've gotten to know a little about the characters, their peril is that much more effective. This film is a fine example of using a claustrophobic set to maximum atmospheric effect. The cramped hallways and perpetually rocking train cars start to feel smaller and more coffin-like as we speed along the tracks. By the end, the darkness of the night has become such a natural state that the sunlight on snow in the final scene brings a sigh of relief. The escape from darkness into light is the perfect image to close the film on.
Of course, any horror film that manages to cast both Cushing and Lee has gotten off to the right start — this movie makes the rare move of writing them as friends instead of enemies. It is one of the better pleasures of the film to see the two great horror stars as heroes working together trying to understand and stop the murderous beast. Even though Lee and Cushing starred in over twenty films together they were almost always antagonists, or at least kept apart for much of the running time. Here they share many scenes and take great advantage of the wit in the dialog, playing off each other wonderfully. Cushing gets some great (intentionally) funny lines which he delivers with relish; Lee becomes a bit of an action hero near the movie's climax. The only role I can think of that allowed Lee to be such a strong hero is the wonderful The Devil Rides Out and his performance here stands up very well in comparison. These actors made better films both together and separately, but few of them were as much fun as Horror Express.
If you are interested, we did a podcast covering the film a while back and it can be accessed HERE.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Friday, March 13, 2015
Thursday, March 12, 2015
As you can tell from the epic run time of this episode, we have a lot to say about this film. We discuss many things including the film's two different English dubs; the director's inspirations and aspirations; the film's insanely high body count; the unexplained leaps in the narrative; the psychedelic fashions on display; the memorable score; the possible psychic connection between the Big G and the young boy character; the criticisms the film levels against nearly every strata of Japanese society; the very real (and grotesque) monster murder committed by Godzilla; the coded drug use of a central character and much more. It is easy to see why this is such a divisive film in the series but it's fascinating in a way that many other Godzilla tales just can't manage. It's one of the strangest monster movies of all time and it's mesmerizing for just that reason!
We also take the time to respond to an email taking us to task for our kind words about the 2014 American made Godzilla film. Both
Troy and I go point by
point through this passionate letter to delineate our disagreements with and
occasional understanding of the problems raised about the film. If you have any
comments on the Smog Monster, the newest entry in the series or any other
Godzilla related topic, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be
glad to address your thoughts in our next Controversial Kaiju episode. Thanks
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Monday, March 09, 2015
Until very recently I had never heard of this RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) rip-off but it seems to have quite the cult following. It was the second film from the team that brought the world the first 3-D spaghetti western called COMIN' AT YA in 1981. Strangely, although I knew nothing of this film, I actually saw COMIN' AT YA in the theater in its original release. I was taken to see it by my mom's second husband in what I can only imagine was an attempt to bond with thirteen year old me. I can remember thinking the 3-D was pretty cool if headache inducing but can remember little else about this very late to the game Italian western. I'd love to get the chance to rewatch it but the current DVD is OOP and expensive!
But back to TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS - it's not a good film by any stretch but I can see why people might have some affection for it. It's goofy in ways it really should NOT be, but its all done with a real sense of fun and the desire to just entertain an audience. It's dumb, silly and filled with scenes that exist just to shove some object at the camera to let you know its still in 3-D. I have to admit that it was worth seeing but not probably worth rewatching- at least for me. But I did listen to the first forty minutes of the commentary track on the DVD. Its done by a big fan of the film and I have to say it is something I think I'll return to and finish eventually. His enthusiasm didn't turn me into a fan but it did make me appreciate his affection for the movie and I did get caught up in the fun of learning about this odd piece of cinema history.
Saturday, March 07, 2015
Thursday, March 05, 2015
I was able to get to the theater twice in February and I had a blast both times.
First up was the expensive science fiction adventure epic JUPITER ASCENDING from the Wachowskis. Delayed from a release last year I had fears about this one but I found my fears to be unnecessary as the siblings seem to still have their skills intact. Of course, I'm a defender of the Matrix sequels and I loved SPEED RACER so understand that I did not enter the screening imagining the worst and what I got was a grand pulp inspired space opera - awesome!
The main inspirations for the film seem to have been the mad, galaxy-spanning SF stories of the pulp magazine era, the covers of those same magazines, the book and film of The Wizard of Oz and the entire cinematic output of Terry Gilliam. The storyline is straightforward to the point of simplicity and the characters are basic types that gain depth and nobility as the film zips along. The story is similar to the classic myths of a young peasant who learns of their special birthright and eminence in the ruling hierarchy. This elevates the young person (girl, in this case) to a place of importance but also puts them in mortal danger from which they are protested by skilled warriors and wise advisors. You know - the same tales ripped off by Star Wars!
The film is being slagged by most people as 'at best' eye candy and 'at worst' sci-fi silliness. I would claim that it is both of these things and more- an audacious attempt to craft a new science fiction universe that seems truly alive. It is rare these day that filmmakers are given the latitude to make a movie that builds a crazy futuristic vision wholly out of new (if very familiar) material. JUPITER ASCENDING isn't based on a series of YA novels, connected to the Marvel Universe or part of any previously known property - it is its own rough beast stalking the theater screen, wanting to be seen. It is pure fun from the top of its gorgeously designed visuals all the way down to its SF/fantasy trope bones. It is the kind of movie I am glad can still be made even as I know it will take years before there is a chance the sneering masses will think of it as anything other than some silly crap they were smart to avoid.
My second trip to the theater was even more impressive. I have been a huge fan of director Matthew Vaughn since his debut LAYER CAKE (2004). That film was a razor sharp British crime tale with the future James Bond Daniel Craig proving his ability to carry a movie. In many ways KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is a follow up to that film but amped up to a scale that makes the first movie seem reserved by comparison.
As was Vaughn's 2010 graphically violent super-hero movie KICK ASS, this is adapted from a Mark Millar comic book making this his third comic book to screen translation in a row. To my eyes he is getting better and better at this form of filmmaking. His X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) saved that franchise from near death after the mess of the previous Wolverine film but this movie proves that he can bring an entire new franchise to the public successfully. Make no mistake- there will be sequels to this film and I could not be more thrilled by the prospect.
KINGSMAN is a modern spy film about a group of extra-governmental agents that work to destroy threats to the world. Very much a British organization, the group maintains a small unit of spies with Arthurian code names, impeccable dress requirements and unfailing good manners. Although the film hinges on a disturbing worldwide threat from Valentine (a lisping Sam L. Jackson having a ball) the real joys of the movie are our introduction to this world as we watch a young man recruited and trained to join the organization. Colin Firth is excellent as the older spy bringing the younger man into the secrets of spycraft and trying to point him toward a more constructive, positive life. Mark Strong is also wonderful as one of the other members of Kingsman and Michael Caine is given a great supporting role as the head of the group as well.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)- 8 (wonderful)
LONDON BY NIGHT (1937)- 6 (fog bound mystery with some shaky British accents)
JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)- 8
STONEHERST ASYLUM (2014)- 9 (beautiful gothic horror romance)
VIGILANTE (1983)- 7 (well done Death Wish variant with an abrupt ending)
DEMONIC TOYS (1992)- 4 (not very good Charles Band production)
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)- 10 (loved it!)
DOLLMAN (1991)- 4 (another crappy Band production)
COMMAND PERFORMANCE (2009)- 7 (solid Dolph Lundgren action movie)
THE HOUSE THE VANISHED (1974)- 7 (a.k.a. Scream and...Die - solid Jose Larraz thriller)
79 A.D. (1962)- 8 (excellent sword & sandal story - full length version)
INNOCENT BYSTANDERS (1972)- 7 (well done spy thriller)
COLD IN JULY (2014)- 8
THE WILD NORTH (1952)- 8 (rewatch)
JADE (1995)- 3 (slick and stupid)
JOHN WICK (2014) - 8
LUCY (2014)- 5 (based on junk science and dumb as a bag of hammers but kind of entertaining)
THE RUNAWAY BUS (1954)- 6 (fun little British mystery)