Monday, 29 February 2016

Return of the Fly (1958)

The return!! even though there is no real reason for why or how the humanoid fly hybrid could return, unless done deliberately. Why? because the original fly hybrid was a horrible accident, human error, and the chances of another fly just happening to zip into a teleportation cabinet again are surely very slim. None the less here we are again with good old Vincent Price in the same role from the previous movie as Francois Delambre, the brother of the late Andre Delambre, and uncle of our new protagonist, Philippe Delambre, Andre's son (seen as a young boy in the original movie).

The story follows on from the first movie with Andre's son, Philippe, deciding to take up his fathers old work and carry on developing the teleportation device from where it was last left off. Francois is not happy about this decision but eventually, after some wrangling, agrees to help Philippe in funding the work. All is trundling along fine, but alas all is not rosy behind the scenes. Philippe's best mate and work associate actually turns out to be an industrial spy after the teleportation secrets which he can then sell off. At first his snooping around goes unnoticed, but in time he is found out resulting in fisticuffs, equipment damage and of course...the fly hybrid monster. Yep there appears to be lots of fly's in this particular area of Montreal. Naturally the humanoid fly hybrid goes off on a rampage after the man that messed with his atoms, whilst Francois must go after the fly with a human head so that the process can be reversed. Will they manage it this time? The basic story outline is the same, the only real main advancement in this film is the fact that the Delambre's have developed the teleporter to be able to store objects within subspace in atom/molecule form, until they are ready to bring them back (generally small animals).

Its amusing how this movie seems to have given many future horror thrillers the same general theme. The old plot line of the father character working on something sinister, getting killed by said sinister project, and then having the son carry on that work in the sequel whilst having an abject fear of the projects contents. In the original movie Andre is partly transformed into a fly and eventually killed, his work almost tainted by a curse of...the common housefly. Now in this sequel his son carries on his work, but he also has a tremendous fear of flies, even thought in the first movie he didn't really see what happened to his father, and having a fear of flies is pretty stupid. So the plot is pretty thin and in need of a hot action injection, this is brought in by the caddish Ronald Holmes (David Frankham), a very dapper British industrial spy who is not afraid to kill to get his hands on the teleportation plans. Now this guy is a real rotter of epic proportions plus a real joy to watch as he charms and slimes his way into the Delambre's home. He's trying to sell the device plans to a stereotypical, fat Al Capone-esque type chap (Max), who will then in turn sell it on to outside interests. Both of these two are totally cheesy cliches in every way possible but are there purely to move the plot along, its just fun to watch these guys and how bloody obvious they are, its like watching a children's panto and wanting to shout out...he's behind you!

Once again Price kinda plays second fiddle to the proceedings although having more of a main role than in the first movie. This time he is more involved with the experiments and the finale, yet the main focus is solely on the young Philippe played by Brett Halsey. I was actually impressed with Halsey as he does convey a good range of emotions without hamming it up, I admit I fully expected a second rate actor with no real skills, merely hired because of his looks (it being a lesser, cheaper sequel to a much bigger movie). But lets be honest here, its was all about Frankham and his dastardly spy, yes that's right, he even outdid Price with his debonair scoundrel. The fact that Holmes is the one who purposely sends Philippe through the teleporter, purposely putting a fly inside with him, makes him even more of a dirty, rotten (sadistic?) recreant, but that's why he is so gloriously fun to watch.

Again I wasn't expecting much in the form of continuity but again I was pleasantly surprised. The basement lab set is actually the same set used from the original movie which is a real plus point allowing the viewer to slip back into the story with ease. On the effects side of things its another mixed bag really, with the sets being the same, that meant everything was visually spot on such as props, gadgets, lighting, camera angles etc...but for some unknown reason they utterly fudged up the fly head. Sure it looks good, it looks like a giant fly head with big emotionless eyes, coarse black hairs and antennae, but it was huge! Now when I say huge I mean ridiculously over-sized, to the point that it almost looked like a mistake or outright joke. Its comical to watch Halsey (or whoever) walk and run around with this big fat fly head on his shoulders, clearly way too big for his body, the movie completely loses any suspense or thrills. On the other hand (no pun intended), when Holmes thwarts an enemy agent (a goodie Brit agent trying to apprehend Holmes for previous crimes) and sticks him into the teleporter, when the guy is brought back he has the hands and feet of a guinea pig that had been previously stored in subspace by Philippe as a test run. Even though these guinea pig paws are clearly rubber gloves, it is a well created, eerie bit of makeup, especially with the petrified expression left on the dead agents face. In turn we also see a goofy yet acceptable guinea pig with human hands, and later on a fly with Philippe's human head (both superimposed I think).

As I've already said, the plot is generally the same as before, but it unfortunately degenerates into a generic monster movie towards the finale. Somehow Philippe the fly mutant manages to find Max and kill him despite the fact that Philippe didn't even know anything of Max, what he looked like, where to find him etc...Also Max never actually did anything to Philippe, he was just buying information off this Holmes guy, it was Holmes that betrayed him so badly, but Philippe kills Holmes too naturally so its all good. Price is clearly having fun with the project judging by his facial expressions throughout, naturally nothing in the film is even remotely scary and the plot is stretched to the limit. Yet its still a relatively enjoyable B-movie mainly for the odd performances and (in my opinion) the continuity. Its also filmed in black and white (unlike the first movie) which I also think looks much better and adds to the atmosphere, whilst hiding dodgy effects, which is always handy.


Saturday, 27 February 2016

Earth vs. the Spider (1958)

Also known as 'The Spider' mainly due to the success of 'The Fly' which prompted the powers that be to try and leech of that movies success with a similar title. And also known as 'Earth vs. the Giant Spider' which kinda seems more appropriate really. Anyway I think its safe to say you've guessed what this sci-fi horror is all about. This is pretty much a meat and potatoes giant bug flick from the 50's, one of many that was churned out during that decade to the point of near saturation. As you know I've reviewed many of them already, but this is easily one of the poorer efforts I'm afraid. I mean seriously, straight off the bat, its not the Earth vs the spider, its small town America vs the spider, as usual.

The plot is obvious and as simple as ABC. A giant spider (Mexican redleg tarantula apparently) is living in some deep caves not too far from some stereotypical small country bumpkin town in the middle of nowhere USA. Every now and then it seemingly pops up for dinner and chows down on local residents. Obviously its now been noticed and the locals are trying to work out what the heck is going on. Luckily some good all American youngsters accidentally discover the giant arachnid whilst looking for the father of one of them, mystery solved! It was just a huge, oversized, man-eating, tarantula all along...phew! (at least it wasn't those darn Ruskies). So naturally once everyone has been convinced of the giant beast they all decide to try and kill it with DDT, and it seems to work. So they haul it back into town for local scientists to examine, deciding that the local high school gym being the best place for it...because of course it is. Bet you can't work out what happens next eh? yes that's right, it wasn't dead after all! oh my! oh golly! and now its running amok through this American as apple pie town (after half destroying the school gym of course). So its back to the drawing board...but wait! the silly thing just crawls off back to its cave, now the townsfolk can seal it in, hazaar! But wait! those stupid all American youngsters were apparently in the cave when the townsfolk sealed the cave opening, bugger! Aaand somehow it goes on.

You can see early on this isn't gonna be one of the better giant bug B-movies, the acting from most (if not all) of the cast is pretty dire frankly, especially the two youngsters who keep going into that bloody cave. Its once they are within the cave you notice how shit this is gonna get, its when they find the giant cobweb, when I say cobweb, I mean rope net. Yes all the cobwebs are merely rope net seemingly painted white or whatever. The next big clue is when the giant spider turns up, its not exactly much of a surprise though because the thing makes a howling noise apparently. Yes that's right, in this movie the spider literately screams or howls like a banshee, in similar vein to the shark roaring in 'Jaws: The Revenge'. The giant spider is of course created in the same way most giant creatures were back then, real footage of a real tarantula against the live action footage using rear projection. The difference here is the tarantula isn't really made to walk in any specific way to incorporate its eventual surroundings in the film (like climbing over things or getting past something). It merely walks around as normal looking very awkward against the live action footage, they don't try to utilise any models or anything to help sell the illusion. The only thing we do see is the spider getting up off its back when it comes to in the school gym.

There is a slight amount of puppet work for the tarantula in spots, when we see it dangling down on a thread of webbing trying to catch the youngsters, that is a full puppet spider. And inside the school gym there is a nice large puppet spider leg for close-ups against the actors which looks suitably hilarious. The one thing that makes me giggle is the fact every one of these giant spider films uses tarantulas, and they aren't that scary looking with all the hair. Of course I know why, its because they are trainable, but it would of been awesome to see a really nasty looking spider getting used, a big fat house spider say. Footage inside the caves is clearly set work accompanied by more rear projection footage of real caves which does look quite awful. Some of the sets and props are relatively effective so I guess they just couldn't afford to expand further with that, relying on cheap stock footage.

I don't know why but I did like the brief nod to other 50's sci-fi B-movie 'The Amazing Colossal Man'. The poster being seen clear as day outside the local cinema before the spider attacks. While at the same time the marquee advertises 'Attack of the Puppet People' for all to see. Dunno why but I just kinda liked seeing that. I did also like the musical score to this movie, I believe they used a theremin? I'm not overly sure but it sounded like it. The infamous instrument best known accompanying the most classic sci-fi B-movies.

There isn't really too much to say with this, nothing that hasn't been said before with other better movies. Its clearly a rip-off of the much better 'Tarantula' and categorically fails in every way to try and equal it. The effects are bad, the plot is super weak, cast are unknown (to me), and things don't make any sense. Like why would those dumb youngsters go back into the spiders cave just to look for a piece of jewellery?! what's more important, jewellery or your life? Then there are the usual little things like, could a large tarantula actually knock down an interior brick wall? When they blow up the cave entrance they decide to dig back into via the top of the cave...but wouldn't that be incredible hard and take fudging forever! They manage it within like...10 minutes. Lastly of course there are the real humdinger questions, where exactly did this giant spider come from? how did it get so large? and are there more of them?? The movie doesn't actually acknowledge these rather important conundrums. Its not 100% pure schlock, but its getting close to it, there are better offerings out there.


Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Last Man on Earth (US/ITA, 1964)

This movie is based on the (now) very well known novel by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend. The novel has become very well known in recent years mainly down to the Will Smith vehicle of the same name, plus the well known fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger almost made a movie based around it, and the classic sci-fi movie 'The Omega Man'. Its also very well known because it was one of the first vampire stories to treat vampirism like a disease and has influenced modern movies massively. Another clear factor for me is the zombie influence this movie had. The story/plot is based on vampires, but in this movie they don't really look or move anything like vampires, they clearly look and act more like zombies. It struck me early on that this movie may well have influenced the mighty George A. Romero because the visual similarities between this movie and his cult classics are clear as day, if you ask me.

The plot revolves around a plague that has infected the entire of mankind, turning everyone into vampires, or vampire-like creatures. Morgan (Price) spends his days simply surviving, getting by as best he can. During the day he scavengers for food and supplies like garlic and mirrors to fend of the vampire hordes, and buries the dead that strewn the landscape. At the same time he also goes off vampire hunting and staking as many as he can before nightfall. Come darkness he locks himself away in his house, and waits, waits for daylight once more. Eventually he comes across a lone female who also appears to be uninfected, but all is not what it seems.

This movie was a US/Italian production shot in Italy and utilising many Italian actors, thus giving the entire feature a very spaghetti western feel. You can see straight away from the style of filming and what kinda sounded like dubbed voice work, although I'm not sure about that. The movie is supposed to be set in the US, LA I believe, but amusingly, its really obvious that its not. If I didn't know any better I would say it could be any Euro city (possibly eastern), definitely not LA though that's for sure, but being an Italian co-production you can sense the Italian vibe. The other blooper being we see Price's character climbing the steps of the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana in Rome, bit of a give away that.

Lets look at the poster, a favourite little fetish of mine depending on how awesome or shit they can be. I have often found with these old 50/60's movie posters they can either be very exciting, flashy and vibrant with striking text in a cool font, or they can be the most unimaginative, boring and dreary creations you've ever seen, as if the person behind it simply couldn't be bothered. What often amuses me is the fact these posters often lie about the movies content, complete false advertising, and this poster is no different I'm afraid. In the background you have this wicked looking haunted house silhouette, all black with glowing yellow windows, then in the foreground a creepy image of Price's face in shadow, his eye piercing white. Next to Price's face is the completely white silhouetted figure of a woman with black eyes. Now the house doesn't appear in the movie at all, its as if the image was for a completely different feature, Price's face could be for anything, whilst the white female figure makes no sense at all really. Overall I have no real clue how this poster relates to this actual movie based on Matheson's novel, it resembles one of Price's Poe/Corman movies more than anything, probably trying to ride those coattails.

This movie starts off slow I won't lie, real slow, so much so I actually became slightly bored. We mainly focus on Morgan's life, his humdrum, monotonous, depressing life of death and loneliness. We see him awaken only to prepare for a full day of vampire staking and corpse burying. He checks his house over for damage inflicted by vampires during the night, he needs to replace broken mirrors and rotten garlic that has lost its pungency, he must sharpen new stakes, refuel his stationwagon etc...Everything that most movies make out to be ultra cool comes across like a tedious day job here, a nine till five routine, no guns, no trenchcoats, no slow motion action, no glamour at all. Yet this is where Price shines, his gaunt, gloomy face is perfect to express this harrowing, gothic torture. The black and white makes everything much more solemn and atmospheric as it highlights the cracks in Price's face and the shadows around every corner. During all this there is narration from Price with his unique voice, nothing too special, its short and simple, to the point, almost feels like a documentary of some kind even.

At the same time the vampires are a let down for the movie, I'm not really sure what they were trying to do here. In the book the creatures have strength and speed, yet in this movie they are cumbersome, very slow, plodding along as if they were elderly people and seemingly dumb, or that's the way they come across. Of course I wasn't expecting effects to be anything special here, and of course they aren't. The creatures merely look like people with cheap face paint on, a bit of black around the eyes and grey faces, plus their movements leave much to be desired, they seem to be moving in slow motion on purpose. There is no real threat or thrill with this aspect which is a big problem because the creatures are the crux of the flippin' movie. We watch Morgan hide away in his house from the lumbering zombies outside, its supposed to be frightening but its not, Morgan could take them all out easily I'm sure, if not, just outrun them.

In general this movie is pretty faithful to the book which is nice, apart from the ending where things go a bit haywire. Obviously being an old movie (as I've said) its not very scary, in fact its laughably hokey with all the childish vampire imagery such as mirrors and garlic everywhere (loved how all the infected at the end all wore black, every one of them, why?). But you have to remember the book is from 54 so everything will be very dated. There are literately no action sequences of any kind here, the odd chase, the finale is the main action sequence if you can call it that, but overall its a very quiet, formal affair that focuses on the few human characters. Now that's not bad, its actually refreshing...but admittedly dull. Its nice to see Morgan in flashbacks with his friends and family before the plague struck, how he lost everything, it shows us how strong he is for managing to carry on, but also the continuous torment he suffers on a daily basis. All in all it does feel more like a Price tour de force than anything else, not so much a post-apocalyptic horror thriller, but a melancholy Vincent Price totally killing it. Ironic really seeing as he was kinda miscast here, I think. I have always found it hard to take Price too seriously because of his wonderful quirky nature and those kooky vocal cords of his, alas the man was pigeonholed by his own greatness. Funnily enough, despite all that, this could be Price's best performance, yet his least known movie.


Monday, 22 February 2016

The Fly (1958)

This was probably the first Vincent Price movie I ever saw if my memory serves me correctly, probably doesn't but eh. Again this film is actually an adaptation of a short story of the same name that was, strangely enough, first published in Playboy magazine back in 1957. A most unlikely place to find the origins for one of cinemas best cult horror creations. Oh and side note quickly, as I sometimes comment on poster quality, this movies poster is awful...just yucky and lacking any sort of imagination (the one with, presumably, Patricia Owens screaming mug on).

I'm pretty sure everyone knows the tale of this insectoid mutation, but lets have a quick recap. A man is found crushed to death under a hydraulic press, his wife is seemingly the culprit, later on she fully admits that she willingly killed her man under his instruction. When the police come along to investigate and interview her we find out what exactly happened through a long flashback. Andre Delambre (David Hedison) has been experimenting with teleportation, transporting objects through space by disintegrating them down to a molecular/atomic level and beaming them to another point, something like that, its all very Star Trek (before Star Trek was even born). Anyway he starts off with inanimate objects and has almost 100% success, frustrated after more tinkering he eventually starts experimenting on live creatures and then himself. As we all know this goes tits up when a fly gets into one of the cabinets with him and he loses his head and arm, only to be replaced with the fly's head and leg. Delambre then scrambles around trying to get help from his shocked wife Helene (Patricia Owens) to find the fly with his head and arm so he can try and reverse the process. The clock is ticking though as the flies mind is slowly taking over.

Amusing and embarrassing tit bit, at first I had no clue this film was set in French speaking Canada, I thought it was supposed to be in France for the most part, you know because all the Frenchness going on, ugh! But yes the film is actually set in Quebec where everyone apparently speaks French despite being in Canada, because whatever. The first thing that caught my attention as the story slowly unfolds is how lackadaisical the police appear to be with Helene. They have just found out she killed her husband in a highly gruesome way, there was a witness to the murder and she freely admits it without breaking a sweat or a tear. Yet they treat her ever so nicely, they don't arrest her, they don't even take her down to the station, in fact they all just sit down, have a nice cup of tea, and discuss things in a gentlemanly/upper class fashion, such levels of etiquette.

As said most of the plot actually takes place in a long flashback. We see Andre with Helene and their little boy, how happy they are in their rich surroundings, and how well his work is going. Price plays the brother of Andre and takes more of a back seat in all honesty, he merely helps Helene recount what happened, looks after the young boy and assists the police. I often think maybe Price should of played Andre? he gets top billing yet he isn't really that important to the story, that role could of been played by anyone and the character could of been anyone. It just seems weird they would cast Price yet not use him for the main role, no disrespect to Hedison but its not like he brought anything overly special to the role. Side note, look out for a young Kathleen Freeman as the Delambre's house maid.

The crux of the film are of course the transportation devices and the experiments Andre carries out. I might just add you can clearly see where future director David Cronenberg got inspiration from with his own vision in 1984. The basement lab Andre works in is very familiar in tone to the 84 version, the teleportation devices are very different naturally, here they are large glass cabinets...but the surrounding equipment, the control panels, wiring, layout of the cabinets, colour scheme etc...its all very similar if you've seen both versions. Did anyone notice the basement doors in this version? the pattern on the door? the way it slides open? the doors colour? I do believe they homage those doors in the 84 version. Its a very tiny thing but I noticed it straight away, unless its just me of course.

Anyway I think we can all agree thinks start to really get exciting as Andre starts to experiment. Yes I know the cat sequence was sad, sad and eerie, that's the whole point of course. Who doesn't get a shiver down their spine when we hear the meows from Dandelo the cat, lost somewhere in subspace, just floating molecules or atoms...I'm not sure which. Although, far be for me to spoil the eeriness but what happened to the dish he put in with Dandelo? anyone notice that? If Andre got his atoms mixed up with a fly when he went through, would Dandelo get mixed up with the dish? Yes I know Dandelo didn't reintegrate but had he, would he be half cat, half dish? As for Andre and his hood when he eventually messes up, well talk about cheesy and hilarious, I love how Helena just treats him normally and acts virtually the same despite his ominous hood. No, no, never mind about this black hood over my head, just carry on as normal, as if nothing has happened, as if everything was perfectly normal. Yes I have had a hideous accident which I informed you about in my letter, but don't fret, no medical assistance required despite the fact I've clearly done something horrendous to my head, the hood will suffice for now.

The reveal when Helena does eventually pull off his hood is of course a classic cinematic B-movie moment, the music reaching a sudden crescendo, the female screams, the zoom in on the mutated fly head with its twitching labellum or mouth section, great stuff. As you would expect the horror aspect has long since been diluted by the outrageously bad effects, for the time it was shocking but these days its merely a bloke with a rubber fly head on. The rubbery fly claw actually makes it even worse truth be told but the large compound fly eyes are very effective, easily the creepiest part on the common fly. I will admit it is kinda creepy watching this hooded bloke wander around in the basement, knowing he has a flies head, that being said, Hedison does actually perform well as the flies mind starts to corrupt his own mind, some good visual performances without dialog. One thing that did always confuse me, if Andre kept his mind when he got the flies head, did that mean the fly with the human head still kept thinking like a fly? Also, when the flies mind starts to take control of Andre's human body, did that mean that his human head on the flies body started to think like a human? I also don't really understand why Andre would have kept his mind when his head got transferred onto a flies body, why would the flies head retain his mind? Surely his mind would remain in his own head which would now be on the flies body, right? Same can be said for the flies arm/claw, how the hell does that have a mind of its own?? Oh and why are the flies head and claw human sized? wouldn't they be regular fly sized? my God how disturbing would that be!!

The movie was quite gruesome for its time and its easy to see why. If you put aside the giant fly head and disturbing image of Hedison's head and arm on a flies body about to be eaten alive by a big spider, you then have the quite shocking image (for the time) of a man's dead limp body dangling from a hydraulic press after his head has been crushed. Oh and yes there is a lot of blood on display, its dripping down the side of the press for all to see. Despite that its not really scary (although I'm sure kids wouldn't like it), its more of a body shock horror than anything, an icky, gooey, revolting horror that makes your skin crawl when you think about it. Just being caught in a spiders web is enough to make my skin crawl brrr! On one hand the film is totally ludicrous and in places makes no real sense at all, as I've pointed out. Yet on the other hand its a dark, original, enjoyable science fiction tale of mystery and horror that does have some relatively sensible and interesting notions, mainly teleportation.


Saturday, 20 February 2016

When Worlds Collide (1951)

Another super-duper title once again, this time its actually from a science fiction novel of the same name from 1933 by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. I do like this movie poster design I must say, the title powerfully emblazoned across the top in striking yellow outlined by red, the image of, presumably, a planet crashing into the Earth with humans running in terror and skyscrapers toppling. It is of course daft because the object crashing into the Earth can't be an actual planet for obvious size related reasons, it looks more like a giant comet.

The movie is your common disaster flick basically and it plays out exactly as you would think. An astronomer in South Africa discovers a rogue star (Bellus) on a collision course with Earth, 8 months and counting. Luckily this star has a planet (Zyra) orbiting it that might serve as the human races new home. Zyra will swing past the Earth first before Bellus smashed into it. This information is top secret and is only discussed within the United Nations , the top brass. The plan is to build space arks around the world to save as many people as possible, unfortunately various smug astronomers poo-poo the findings and ignore it. So the men who brought this news to the UN decide to carry on with their ark anyway, getting funds from various wealthy folk for construction. As time passes it becomes clear that the predictions were correct and other nations around the world start to construct arks whilst trying to keep order. As time ticks away the rogue star Bellus draws ever closer, construction nears completion in the US but the problem of who gets to survive is a prickly one. At the same time the lone orbiting planet Zyra makes it pass-by causing massive destruction globally. Will everything be OK? will anyone survive?? tune in next week...

Yeah so you know what to expect here, I did, and it all made me smile from ear to ear. For starters, all the top scientific, astronomy type blokes are ageing fuddy-duddies with slick back hair, a tash and wearing brown suits (when they're not in long white lab coats of course), well almost all of them. But seriously, there literately isn't a single young face in the entire UN or anyone that has anything to do with science or astronomy, love it. Its also so charming to watch these guys fiddling around with their positively ancient technology. All gathering around some huge archaic device that looks like some kind of big grey box with a light in it, looking at, what appears to be hand drawn images of the incoming star, glorious! Now I'm no science expert, and I'm not any kind of astronomy or engineering expert either...really I'm not, but some of the dialog you hear here is classic stuff. Whether or not all that fuel to weight ratio dialog with number of persons on-board was accurate or not I don't know, but at least they address it right.

Naturally this is 1951 so technology, theories and knowledge is gonna be vastly different to that of the present day but I...I just can't help myself. Look at the space ark they build for Christ's sake, it looks like something from a Bugs Bunny/Marvin the Martian Looney tune, in fact, the more I think about it the more I think it is the same!  I also love the fact that this ark can only carry 40 people yet its so big, like say what?! You have hundreds of rubes working on this thing for gratis probably, and only 40 can be saved??!! And of that 40, at least five or six seats have already been taken by the main project leader, his daughter, her boyfriend, one bloke who funded it and some kid they rescued earlier! Laugh out loud! don't forget to reserve a seat for your drinking buddy and that chap you met down the pub on Wednesday.

So putting aside all the laughable yet endearing technology and the clear as day limitations that would arise (like everything!), lets look at the effects because after all this was an effects extravaganza for the time. Well in all honesty its all actually pretty good for such an old movie. Once Zyra flies by the Earth we get a long sequence of pure destruction showcasing the effects of the day. At first we see the main cast within a building as it gets hit by earthquake tremors which works well. The whole set is shaken quite ferociously with props falling apart, falling down from all angles and even bits of the roof coming down, heck you can clearly see the actors getting hit by debris. Basically they actually shook the entire set and really made things collapse, you could be forgiven for thinking they would have merely shaken the camera and had the actors act out the motions.

Following that is a nice sequence mainly involving models ranging from volcanoes erupting, bridges collapsing, what looks like an oil refinery going up in smoke, land crumbling away, electrical substations getting destroyed, buildings getting torn apart and swept away in floods and tidal waves etc...The models are of course very obvious by their scale and movements, the old problem of water giving the game away with many shots, nonetheless they are effective overall with the odd shot holding up somewhat. For the time I fully understand how impressive they must have been, the money shots of the movie, the moments to make an audience gasp in horror. One small sequence showing a tidal wave crashing through some already submerged skyscrapers was pretty impressive, water effect superimposed against real photographic footage by the looks of it, there is also use of some stock footage and matte paintings throughout.

All in all many of the sets and props are solid looking and quite authentic, for the time, I was generally impressed, clearly effort was put in here. At other times things did look cheesy as hell though not through lack of care and attention, more nativity of the era. For instance the arks interior is hilariously bad, for a start its absolutely huge! like a long warehouse...for 40 odd people, all the seats look flimsy and the control panel is simply a dashboard of chunky dials and nobs with a large monitor to view the exterior. There wasn't an actual cockpit for this thing, everyone is in the same section, the controls are merely elevated higher than everyone else. I must also question what everyone is wearing in the finale, they all appear to be wearing the same lace-up brown macs, or coats, whatever they are they look ridiculous...but at least they have hoods right, in case it rains.

The actual ending is another stupendous pile of hokey nonsense you just can't help but love it to pieces. The ark reaches Zyra (represented by a cartoonish non-matte painting) and successfully touches down after a rather dubious model spaceship sequence. Everyone is elated to be alive and finally safe on another planet, not a single thought or word about the fate of the Earth though, oh well who cares. Without a literal care in the world they whip open the ark landing ramp to see their new home, there is a mention about atmospheric dangers but...who cares! Amazingly and conveniently the atmosphere is breathable, plus there appears to be green grass, trees, water, plants and the temperature is seemingly perfect, hurrah! But wait, what about all the other ships from Earth? from other nations, did any of them make it? haven't seen or heard of any reports about anyone else on Earth (before and after take off) for quite some time now...ah well, who cares! We're all OK, the little boy is OK, the little doggie is OK and has had puppies apparently, the new alien world sun is shining, and I've got my gal on my arm, who cares about anything else.

As with almost all of these American 50's sci-fi flicks, they are totally a product of their time, they represent the fears and paranoias of the time and this is no different. Of course we all know this, any movie buff or connoisseur knows this, but I should point it out as I'm not taking the piss out of anger or frustration, but love and enjoyment. I do enjoy these hammy sci-fi's very much and this is one of the best in my opinion, mainly down to its bold plot, great characters and excellent effects. I should quickly point out that John Hoyt as the wheelchair-bound, Mr Burns-esque millionaire, Sydney Stanton, was an absolute hoot! needed more of this misery and his doormat assistant Ferris. Thoroughly engaging doomsday disaster movie that is quite faithful to the original source material, but lets itself down with glaring plot holes really. Quite poignant at times, but ultimately priceless with its outdated visions.


Monday, 15 February 2016

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (UK, 1961)

In a decade that was chock full of various science Fiction and fantasy movies, there was this thoroughly all British affair that pretty much stood out from the crowd in terms of realism (bar one or two other classics). On a relatively small budget that was all British financing, virtually no special effects, no action and all dialog, director Val Guest managed to create quite a stir with his bleak dystopian, apocalyptic, disaster movie...where you don't actually see any disasters or anything, much.

This rather simple story follows the events on Earth after the Americans and Russians both test nuclear weapons at the same time, without either knowing...which is both amazing and typically foolish. The whole plot is told as a flashback by the main character of Peter Stenning (Edward Judd), the events in his life leading up to the tests, the discovery of the tests and what came next. Stenning works for the Daily Express in London and is basically having a frustrating time with bad assignments and a marriage gone awry. We meet various other paper employees during this course of time, such as his close colleague Bill Maguire (Leo McKern), his editor boss and of course his future love interest Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro). Life is shown as usual, the daily grind. As the weather starts to get more and more outrageous our protagonists learn of the nuclear testing that occurred and begin to question it. Eventually the truth comes out that the testing did in fact knock the Earth off its axis by 11 degrees, and has pushed its orbit closer to the Sun. What follows from this point onwards is the general reaction by the government and people to this horrific news, how life quickly changes during the ever increasing panic. There is of course a plan by world leaders to try and rectify the problem with more massive nuclear blasts, but will it work?

So like I said, there isn't much excitement in the terms of special effects, mass destruction or monsters and aliens going on here, this is very much a talkie picture. A lot of the runtime features simply life going on, the character of Stenning having a bit of a break down over his marriage, looking after his little boy, having trouble at work and his colleague covering for him. You get a lot of conversation between Stenning and Maguire about his current situation, work assignments, other colleagues and of course his new interest Jeannie Craig. Much of this is integral to the plot of course, but much of it is simply banter between the two and often other workers. Indeed McKern really shows off his acting chops in this with his gruff but kind Maguire character, large on figure, large on nose, but gentle at heart. His quips and natter really make you feel like you're watching a genuine documentary about working in the paper biz. On the flip side you also have a great performance from Judd with his own equal fast talking, cynical and downbeat character of Stenning. All I would say about this guy is Judd actually does too good a job of conveying this character across, and I found myself not liking him. He tries to be likeable and lovable but often comes across more rude, outspoken and far too controlling. None the less both actors are pretty fudging amazing and play off each other effortlessly. It all feels very natural, realistic and you can understand every word spoken, not a single line of dialog is wasted.

The irony is this film actually feels more like a real life look back at the UK during the early 60's, an actual documentary. Its fascinating to watch how life chugged along back then, the way an old fashioned big time paper actually worked with hundreds of men and machines, all finely tuned like the innards of a clock. The film throws up many themes through its story which I'm guessing was merely an accident of the era, not on purpose. The first and most obvious being how men ruled the waves back then (sexism...for all the kids at home), how women were clearly only given secretarial roles and meant to just look pretty in the background. Of course Munro's character isn't completely like that, she starts out that way but slowly transforms into a stronger character, yet she is still the damsel in distress, the weak woman needing a strong man. But you can clearly see the male dominance of all roles throughout the Express company, all smoking merrily I might add.

Another obvious theme is class structure, something mainly observed again within the Express company. Its interesting to see the big editor at the top passing an order down through the ranks of the company, from various chubby, tie wearing, moustachioed suits to another, until we get to the bowels where the skinnier working class men work the prints. I would hazard a guess that this film is actually of historical interest with its footage of the internal workings of a major paper. What's also amusing is the total reliance on old fashioned rotary dial phones, they are everywhere and the main source of communication between the string of departments. Outside its pretty much as you would expect with the British people of the verge of the wild sixties and things like the hippie movement and youth protests etc...You get both worlds, the stiff upper crust of the British Empire set against the slow emergence of a more younger liberal culture (for better or worse though?).

Next to all that there is of course the good old nuclear threat that most American movies drummed into people during the 50's and 60's. An easy way to snag people's interests and fears at the same time; making them aware, educating them (?) and terrifying them...perfect! Guest jumps on that trusty bandwagon with gusto, really elevating those anxieties to the maximum by having a double dose of nuclear bomb testing to contend with. The main difference here with this film was the fact it all looked and felt so realistic, the panic and horror was very authentic, the heat problems, lack of water, spreading illness etc...Most movies around that time usually came across a bit more silly with monsters, mutants or aliens being the outright cause or near enough.

As for the little special effects there are (not much), its serviceable. Lets be honest here, the film had a small budget and it was made in the early 60's, I think you know not to expect anything grand, this ain't Stanley Kubrick. We don't see the nuclear blasts in any way or form so that's that. The extreme heat is simply hinted at by making the performers wet, sweat stains, never seeing any H2O anywhere, simple but effective. Early on in the film and towards the finale the film is tinted yellow/orange to give the devastating impression of Sun's heat as the Earth travels closer towards it, again very simple yet effective. There is a lot of stock footage used to show natural weather disasters occurring across the globe as things go belly up, unfortunately these are obvious but meh. One of the two special effects that were actually created for the film was the swirling mist that rolls into London. Kinda cheesy looking superimposed effect (I'm guessing) that worked better when motionless and with the added misty sets. Then of course you have the ever dependable matte paintings that show us a dried up Thames along with various other hotspots around the world.

So yes this is a very good picture showing how reliable and intelligent British movie making could be. What you have is essentially a science fiction disaster flick that could easily of been utter nonsense, but instead its very suspenseful and penetrating with plenty of clever dialog. Now despite all that I must be completely honest here, and with that I must admit that I did in fact find the film slightly dull (ducks for cover!). Yes the dialog is nippy and witty, yes the acting is superb and yes the story unravels well, but its a slow burner with little to no action, sooo it was a little tough to endure at times. With that, and for the first time, I am going to admit that I will mark this film up for its well crafted content, both historically (a perfect time capsule) and performance wise. I didn't hate the film but it did drag, yet I can fully appreciate what this film achieved for the time, hence I must give kudos.


Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Corman adaptation of original Poe material number seven, again in conjunction with American International Pictures, and again with Vincent Price. Being based around a short story by Poe there isn't really enough to stretch out into a movie, its quite obvious if you look up the original material. Thusly the movie is actually made up of two short stories by Poe, the second story being Hop-Frog.

Set in medieval Italy (which is quite unique in itself), the tale follows the exploits of the cruel and powerful Prince Prospero who rules with an iron fist and also worships Satan apparently, because he really is that bad. During this age the land is stricken by a plague called the red death, no one is safe from its vile clutches. Whilst visiting a small village he controls, the Prince finds the locals starving and sick, angry at him. He is confronted by two men that insult him, so he orders their deaths, but a young woman defends the men (the daughter of the older man, lover of the other) and begs for their lives. The Prince eventually accepts her pleading and takes all three back to his castle, the two men to be killed for entertainment at his big do, whilst the girl to be...his Satanic pet or whatever, I dunno, dude is married.
Anyway, In order to try and ignore the small nagging plague problem and remain safe, the Prince basically holes himself up his castle along with many other rich nobles and friends, and throws this lavish long party. During the bash a mysterious figure cloaked in red appears and wanders through the castle rooms, the Prince follows and discovers its death himself come to take him away, along with all the other nobles.

Right so here's my problem with this movie, the adaptation of the original source material. The original Poe story is pretty short and simple in its layout, obviously making a movie would require padding, but even then you can still make the main parts faithful. Alas in this movie they haven't done this, I've read about the short story and this film simply doesn't come anywhere close and I find myself asking why, its not hard to do, pretty straight forward, and it wouldn't affect the padding they created and inserted.  The finale is clearly the worst offender for this, its sort of the same, but not really, changed too much bottom line, and what's worse is the original materials ending is so much better, more eerie, so why did they alter it?? I also (still) don't really get the final scene with the various coloured cloaked figures. What is going on here??! is there supposed to be many death figures? why the different colour cloaks? I realise that is linked to the Prince's various colour themed rooms...but how exactly? Also in the short story the red cloaked figure was supposed to represent the red death plague, basically an apparition, so again, what the bloody hell is going on with the multicoloured figures?

Now don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying the film is bad, far from it, its actually one of the best Price vehicles I've seen. Price hams it up something rotten as the dastardly Prince and he clearly loves it. He swans around in his lavish garments, silly head attire and close fitting tights, relishing every sneer, cackling evilly at the misfortune of others, totally chewing up the scenery and virtually mugging to the camera. My only issue would be, like with many Price movies, he's not really very good at being a bad guy. Sure he's extremely enjoyable to watch, no doubt about that, but in all honesty he's just too likeable, adorable and darling to be a genuinely nasty bad guy. He's definitely the perfect moustache twirling villain, a real cad and bounder when he wants to be, but that's as far as it goes, he can't really be a serious bad guy in my opinion. And that's the only down side here, I think he's suppose to be quite serious but it doesn't come off that way, how can anyone look into those bulging puppy dog eyes of his, with that charming voice, and think he's a serious baddie.

On the visual side its a typical Corman flick, you can tell a mile away because most of his movies in this genre all look the same. Again I'm not discrediting Corman, just pointing out an observation. I actually adore his visual style and the way he captures these little macabre Gothic tales. It certainly looks like he had a bit of money to play with here, although I'm unsure, but everything looks sumptuous to say the least. Its all set work naturally, and that's obvious, but they all look terrific, really lavish, highly detailed, vibrant in colour and seemingly quite expansive. Indeed there's one shot which appears to be continuous as the camera pans and follows Price as he walks from one room, through the main castle hall to another, whilst capturing the depth of the set with many other rooms and stairways in the background. Not forgetting the colour themed rooms which all look quite bizarre, but not as many as listed in the original story. I did love all the coloured candles everywhere though, they really set everything off nicely.

I do like how they incorporated another short Poe story into this, and so well too, it fits in nicely. The story of Hop-Frog, a dwarf and cripple who serves as a court jester, and his best friend Trippetta (lover in this film) who is also an extremely small proportioned woman (but not a dwarf) and dancer. In the short story they are basically slaves to an abusive King, a King that strikes Trippetta in front of seven cabinet councilmen, all of whom laugh. So in revenge, later on during a masquerade, Hop-Frog manages to trick and murder the King and his seven councilmen right in front of all the guests. This story is slotted in with the main plot as Hop-Frog serving Prince Prospero as his court jester, with Trippetta (now his lover called Esmeralda) as the court dancer. The basis of the story is played out quite faithfully accept its only one man that Hop-Frog murders for hitting his beloved, not involving the Prince obviously. That moment when Hop-Frog takes his revenge is actually quite dark for a movie such a this, you don't see too much of course but it definitely surprised me as they don't shy away from it. Overall I do like how they blended the two stories agreeably.

Most definitely one of the better and more enjoyable Price horrors I have seen in my time. Its also one of the better Corman/Poe/Price collaborations too methinks, visually pleasing all round (some luscious costumes), nice eerie ghosty story, touch of blood n guts and some classic, eccentric, quirky Price. My one and only gripe was the fact they didn't stick to the source material for key moments, sometimes that can work in a films favour, but this time I don't think it did, but that's just me.


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963)

What can I say about this title, it looks and reads brilliantly doesn't it, the only reason I watched the film. Its almost sounds like some kind of Marvel superhero character or smaller comicbook character brought to the big screen for the first time, love it. Alas this isn't a quirky comicbook hero but, even better, its another Roger Corman flick, so who can say what levels of awesomeness might be revealed there in. But seriously, just looking at the films poster is enough awesomeness cereal for me, look at it! its fecking...awesome! I just love the poster, it makes you wanna watch the film, it intrigues, excites and again looks like a wicked superhero flick (or supervillain flick), the colour scheme is spot on too.

The story follows Dr. Xavier (seriously...this isn't a comicbook flick I promise you), a man trying to increase the range of human vision because in America through the 50's and 60's, people in white lab coats did this kind of thing all the time. He develops eyedrops that should enable a human to see through the spectrums of ultraviolet, X-ray and beyond, into the unknown. So after some animal testing he goes for broke and tests it on himself, like any confident scientist would (not me!). At first things are a shock, naturally, but soon he comes to terms with his new vision and things go smoothly, very smoothly, so he continues to take the eyedrops giving himself even more diabolical wait, wrong genre. Of course this being a sci-fi horror of sorts its pretty obvious that things won't end well with this tale. Sure enough Dr. Xavier descends into a sort of madness as his vision becomes so powerful that he no longer sees as regular humans do, he sees on another level or plain, he sees the mysteries of the universe unravelled.

Let me start by saying this is not an action packed film in any way, there are no monsters, mutants, aliens, ghosts or anything of any kind like that in this picture. The film merely tells the tale of a single man who is able to see through things, of course him being a doctor the plot focuses on him helping people with medical conditions. Yeah sure there is the predictable gag about being able to see through peoples clothes in one sequence, you couldn't really not have that cheesy notion. At a party he can see all the young sexy ladies dancing around naked which you don't actually see of course, but like I said, it had to be done because that's the first thing everyone thinks of. Things get more interesting when you think about all the other devious, illegal things you could maybe get away with, exactly the same as the invisibility notion, moral ethics come into play.

Unfortunately that is one aspect I think the film could of done more with. We do see the Doc diagnosing a child who had been misdiagnosed by a fellow doctor and then saving her life in the operating theatre. After, as he loses control of his vision he still continues to takes the drops, which his close friend and colleague disagrees with, which results in a squabble and the accidental death of said friend. From this point on he goes on the run which leads to the inevitable carnival plot route, because people with these types of conditions always end up in a freak show at some point during these 50/60's sci-fi flicks. I did like this section of the film, I especially liked the stereotypically sleazy carny played by Don Rickles who doesn't even try to hide his sleaziness when showing little old ladies in to see Xavier. Could he be any more shifty?! look at his eyes woman! there's also a small uncredited role with a young Dick Miller here too. Later on we also see Xavier going to Vegas and trying his hand on the slots and cards, although I'm still not sure how being able to see the slot machine reels would allow you to win any easier, you still don't know where they will stop even if you can see all the images. Cards would be a better bet but even then, when the cards are stacked together flat, you wouldn't be able to see them, not clearly anyway. Still, I think we could of seen more with Xavier using his vision for monetary gain, the film spends so much time with him as a doctor in the first half that everything else, especially the casino stuff, feels rushed.

This isn't an effects extravaganza either I might add, what we get is very subtle, obviously basic by today's standards and there isn't much of it. Every now and then we get a POV from Xavier and his super sight. What we see are simple transparency/lens effects (superimpositions known as Spectarama) showing say...organs of a person or say, a pen underneath someone's blazer. Later on as the effects grow stronger we see a blurry, hazy, fuzzy image with all the colours of the rainbow shimmering vividly. To be honest after a time it does make your own eyes feel funny, what with all the colours, blurriness and talk of vision and eyes etc...The best and most eerie effect has to be the transformation of Xavier's eyes. For no real reason other than to look cool, his eyes eventually turn black with gold irides, later on towards the finale his eyes go completely black. Like I said it makes no sense at all really, but its just something to boost the effect of his visual powers, a cool fantasy effect which again harks back to my superhero thoughts.

The plot is admittedly highly generic and you're not really sure what Xavier's endgame is, what's his goal when things start to go wrong? I'm also unsure as how he would be able to see, literately to the centre of the universe, how would seeing the X-ray and ultra violet spectrums allow that? That is of course if he actually saw that, maybe he was just going insane from the constant kaleidoscope of bright colourful images he was seeing. Luckily the character is engaging and likeable, well performed by Ray Milland who looks effortlessly slick and cool for the whole run time. Seriously when this guy wears his protective shades, with his hair all slicked back, he has that classic, ice cool, Rat Pack air about him which really lured me in, dunno why. Considering he wasn't exactly a young man in this movie he certainly looked good. In general the film is very formulaic and doesn't really offer anything in terms of amazing original surprises. But despite that, overall, its really good retro fun, quirky with typical 1960's Americana sci-fi themes (which us fanboys love), and quite a creepy little ending which is also left open.


Monday, 8 February 2016

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Quentin Tarantino's eighth movie, it just happens to have eight in the title and its another western, clearly smitten with the genre after 'Django Unchained'. Indeed this movie was originally going to be a sequel to said movie, which could of worked out well, possibly better than this methinks, but during the writing process fate took its course. Instead we have this slow burning murder mystery, of sorts, that brings together new and old cast members from Tarantino's past, whilst being a love letter to old school 70 mm film...because he can presumably, no other reason.

The plot goes something like this. Whilst on his way to the town of Red Rock with his prisoner Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), John Ruth (Kurt Russell) picks up a Union bounty hunter named Major Marquis (Samuel L. Jackson). Ruth is suspicious but allows the Major to ride with him and his prisoner. Along the way Ruth then picks up another stranger who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). They are all forced to spend more time together than bargained for as a powerful blizzard pretty much halts their progress, so they hole up at Minnie's Haberdashery, a large stagecoach stopover/lodge in the wilderness. Within the lodge are yet more odd characters, an old Confederate General (Bruce Dern),  cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), an English gentleman or toff (Tim Roth) and a Mexican (Demian Bichir). Ruth is suspicious of everyone, convinced they are all after his prize (Daisy), whilst Marquis clearly recognises some and begins plotting further action. Eventually the heat gets turned up on the situation as Marquis begins his course of action against the man he recognises and then someone poisons the coffee, with deadly results. Its then left to the remaining lodge dwellers to try and weed out the culprit, work out what exactly happened before they all arrived at the lodge and more importantly, how certain people connect with the occurring events. So bottom line, what we have here is basically an old fashioned whodunit set in the wild west, in a log cabin type situation...with lots of profanity and gore (ugh!).

So the film is over 3 hours long, and after sitting through this spiel I fully understand why. Like many other Tarantino movies the runtime is chocked full of needless dialog, absolutely pointless, aimless nattering that doesn't really do anything other than give Tarantino fanboys a hard-on, and clearly quench the man's thirst for apparent witty, slick humour (or so he thinks). Now of course this all stems from his earlier (better) movies which I don't have to name here, but sure enough that ship has long since sailed and the moment has well and truly past...Quentin. A good example of the utterly infuriating padding that could of easily been cut out was the 'nailing the door shut' sequences. This wooden lodge where everyone is holed up, is rickety, its a bit shabby at best, and the main door is broken for some reason. So the only way to keep the door shut and keep out the battering ice cold winds is to nail it shut. Now every bloody time someone enters or leaves the bloody cabin, the others have to nail the fucking door shut. The thing is, we have to watch this little ceremony every bloody time! one guy holds the door shut while the other nails it down, two pieces of wood and a nail at either end of each piece, wash rinse and repeat...about four bloody times. Was this supposed to be funny?

Along with this you have the usual typical Tarantino traits in dialog where two people are talking to each other about something, usually plot related, yet they keep going off on completely different tangents about God knows what that has nothing to do with the plot, its just aimless chat. Then when they do actually get on with the plot, the dialog is so detailed in wording, every little microscopic detail, every question or explanation so painstakingly drawn out with repetitive dialog, back and forth, that it just drives you nuts. I find myself screaming at the screen, just get on with it!!! Did we really need the precise details of how Major Marquis supposedly made General Smithers son walk naked for miles in the freezing snow, to the brink of death, only to then have him crawl over and suck his black cock? I mean Jesus Christ! was this necessary in the plot? or was it simply another secret fetish of Tarantino played out on the big screen, I start to wonder judging by his recent political views.

As for the characters, well its a very mixed bag in my opinion. Kurt Russell sure as hell looks the part there's no doubt about that, his facial hair deserves an Oscar. Alas his acting is by far the worst of the ensemble, right from the start he seemed completely out of place, as if Jack Burton had reached the old west. Walton Goggins was just annoying as hell with his accent, not sure what region or dialect its suppose to be (not being American), but my God it got on my nerves, and again he seemed completely miscast to me. As was Madsen who simply doesn't look the part for a cowboy, not in the slightest sorry. Stick him in a slick suit or black biker leathers sure, but he doesn't pull off the cowboy look in any way at all, complete fail in casting and performance. Dern does little but what he does is fine, he certainly looks the part of an old war General, again Roth merely does what he does best...a cockney, only this time in a dapper suit. Channing Tatum as the surprise cowboy casting is another epic miscast, another actor who simply (at this time) cannot pull off the cowboy look, and Bichir as Bob the Mexican, well...I could hardly understand half the things he said. Finally Jackson does what Jackson always does, look menacing and crazy whilst shouting and saying profane words in a cool manner, nothing new here folks. The only person who really seemed to stand out with an edgy performance was Jennifer Jason Leigh as the batty prisoner Daisy. Nothing Oscar worthy I might add, and nothing you wouldn't really expect from the actress because she's always been loopy, but she's easily the best going here.

The movie looks sumptuous in places I'll give it that, the icy, snow laden landscapes, the fact it was actually snowing at times made it look even better (and colder). The authentic costumes and props really sprung to life when drenched in snow, alas interiors weren't really anything special, and what's more they looked like sets...which was genuinely surprising. The old 70 mm format certainly adds to that grandiose, classic, western vibe of old, the panavision anamorphic camera/lenses really give some of those vistas a damn good sweeping panoramic view. So yeah I can see why Tarantino would wanna go down this route with his pet project, it does help the visuals hark back to an earlier era of silver screen westerns, but the fact most of the movie is confined within a wooden lodge renders it almost useless. Sure it all looks classy but you want more than just interiors, facial close-ups and the odd snowy lodge exterior.

For the most part the movie is relatively atmospheric and engaging despite the average acting and rather predictable aggressive hijinks. Admittedly I wasn't overly sure who would die when and where, but I was pretty sure it wouldn't be pretty and not many would come out on the other side. Needless to say the movie completely falls apart (for me) as the finale grows closer and the violence gets cranked up to the maximum. You want pointless, excessive Tarantino violence for no real reason? voila! Innocent people get blown away mercilessly and blood splatters across the cabin floor as heads and nutsacks get both barrels in full anamorphic glory (Cueing the obligatory character stand-off/mown down sequence).

So yet again the hype train pulled out of the station and hit full steam as it powered towards release city, was this worth the wait? no, no it wasn't. This is of course merely my personal opinion but I have found the latest Tarantino flicks to be disappointing and overhyped, and this continues that trend. The whole thing just felt like a young boys childish wet dream, not even a decent western even, why Morricone agreed to score this I'll never know, he is way better than this. The movie is a simple whodunit with little to no originality and peppered with Tarantino trademarks which, apparently, make everything all better. Well they don't, I've seen these trademarks before and its all old hat I'm afraid. Are you still doing the whole chapter thing Quentin?? really??! bloody hell, that's so 90's! I realise the blood, gore and profanity is your trademark Quentin, but seriously? I challenge you to make a movie without any of these things, just try it, you never know, you might be surprised. Oh and how come not one person saw that trapdoor in the middle of the cabin floor??


Friday, 5 February 2016

Krull (UK/US, 1983)

Coming off the back of the massive massive Star Wars hype train was this transatlantic cult, a blend of classic fairytale fantasy and good old fashioned science fiction (kinda unique at the time). I remember seeing this on the telly back in the day (must have been late 80's I guess) and being quite scared by it, I never really saw all of it, just the dark imagery of the Beast and his eerie Ringwraith-esque minions. I even remember seeing the VHS in the old videoshops back in the early days, up on the top shelve with other grown-up looking covers (for the time obviously). Yes even the cover gave me the willies too, but can you blame me, its pretty grotesque and vivid really (and a spoiler).

Anyway the plot is pretty much your standard, Prince saves the Princess from an evil monster type situation, along with wizards, jesters, warriors and young apprentices, completely cliched hokum. The planet Krull is attacked by an evil force know as the Beast, a huge hideous creature that dwells within a giant fortress made of rock that apparently can fly through space. In time the Beast manages to gain control of the planet forcing its inhabitants to live in fear, everyone knows of the creature and its legion of faceless Slayers. Eventually the Beast's Slayers attack one of the main kingdoms of Krull, kill pretty much everyone and kidnaps the Princess in true fairytale style (might as well call him Bowser/King Koopa). Unfortunately for the Beast, the lone Prince Colwyn survives this attack and sets off to save the Princess (his future bride) with the help of a plucky band of warriors.

Now lets get one thing straight here, suspension of disbelief is required throughout this adventure, yes we all know its a hokey 80's fantasy so...duh! But seriously, this ain't no classic George Lucas or Ridley Scott flick here, this is pure cheesy cheese with extra lashings of cheese on top...with cheese. The whole idea of this movie is from the outset, kinda daft, but interesting nonetheless. The planet of Krull is a typical sword n sandals type place where everyone goes around on horseback, uses swords, armour and all manner of ancient weaponry, and there is magic and mythical creatures abound. The alien race that comes down to Krull are your typical armour suited creatures with laser guns and...errr, they also ride on horseback? Actually it makes you wonder really, apparently these aliens have swept across the galaxy conquering worlds easily (apparently), but how? They use horses, they don't seem to have any futuristic vehicles to travel around in, no heavy weaponry, they all walk really really slowly making themselves easy targets, their fortress is a flying lump of rock and their only weapons seems to be sticks that fire one laser bolt. Once that shot has been fired they reverse the stick and it becomes a sword or spear of sorts. How the fuck did this guys manage to conquer anything??! Surely they might have come across an alien race that could match their powers at some point. Luckily for the Beast and his Slayers they've stumbled across another planet full of lifeforms that only use swords to defend themselves.

As the adventure starts the hilarious plot holes do start emerge, and they are hilarious...but still cool. Colwyn (Ken Marshall) meets up with Ynyr the old one, an old Obi-Wan Kenobi type clearly. Now this guys knows everything, absolutely everything about anything, handy at the best of times. He knows exactly what can defeat the Beast (the Glaive) and where to find it which makes you wonder why he hasn't gone and got it for someone to use. Nonetheless they both trot off to get this legendary weapon which happens to be inside a massive mountain. So Ynyr points Colwyn in the right direction and waits patiently for his return. This whole sequence is really amusing, simply because the journey that Colwyn undertakes to retrieve the Glaive is arduous and long, really long! The guy must rock climb up sheer cliffs for flips sake! numerous times it seems, then he must stick his hand into molten lava (so it seems) to get the Glaive (which he finds quite easily and very quickly once inside a huge cavern). Now all this would surely take most of the day, if not days! yet he manages it within the afternoon and without getting even remotely tired apparently, because the minute he gets back they journey onwards to their next destination! I understand they need to get the plot going but Holy smouldering balls of fire! that's ridiculous!

The bulk of the story sees Colwyn firstly recruiting his band of warriors across various places. He picks up a small band of criminals that look like ugly rejects from the Mad Max universe, with even more stupid names. Its like watching Robin Hood and his unwashed band of merry men, each having their own set of skills naturally, knives, nets, battle axe etc...These cannon fodder characters are mostly faceless accept for the noticeable inclusion of a young Robbie Coltrane sporting an unusually modern haircut for a fantasy film. A young Liam '60+ action man' Neeson who should have easily played the character of Little John looking as he does, very young Grange Hill and Eastenders star Todd Carty, and sort of young epic British character actor Alun Armstrong (with hair and dodgy dog collar). Other team members include the Carry-On legend Bernard Bresslaw sporting some quite brilliant makeup and prosthetics as Rell the Cyclops, David Battley as the clownish Ergo the (not quite so) magnificent, John Welsh as The Emerald Seer...another powerful wizard type, and Graham McGrath as the young apprentice Titch who does nothing accept get in trouble.

As the band of heroes travel to various places to gather various bits of information from various people so they can catch the Black Fortress (it moves at sunrise), we go through a series of set pieces and plot exposition scenarios in different hostile/pleasant landscapes. The main one is a nice, visually pleasing, battle within a barren swampland where it amazes me how these Slayers manage to overcome any adversary frankly. There is the typical campfire setting, an icy snow setting (fortress only), rocky mountainous terrain, lush green valleys and the really cool widow of the web sequence (the full gamut of stereotypical alien terrains). Again this entire spider web premise makes no sense at all and to this day I still don't really get what's going on. Ynyr used to be in love with this woman who, for some reason, killed their only child and as punishment has been placed within this giant spiders someone. The giant spider is somehow controlled by her with an hourglass of sand? or it protects her? or keeps her prisoner? no idea how she survives, what does she eat or drink etc...She seems to be popular because many try to reach her but none ever manage it, either eaten by the spider or falling to their death (the web is over a huge chasm), I'm just not sure what she has or knows that is so important.

Anyway somehow she knows where the Black Fortress will go next, so she gives her lifeforce to Ynyr (the sand from the hourglass) so he can escape the spider, but when the sand runs out he will die? why exactly? This means the spider can now happily attack, destroy and kill the widow and her delicate web abode...but I'm not really sure why, or what would happen next with the spider. Does it wait for someone else to get trapped by persons unknown in its lair? beats the shit outta me. Despite the bizarre story behind this weird-ass sequence, the effects here are some of the best in the movie. The whole spider web set is really well designed and created, it actually looks quite real, where as the spider is truly fantastic in stop motion form. If you think along the lines of classic Ray Harryhausen, only better, then you have your vision. Sure it looks a tiny bit plastic but that's probably down to the deliberate transparent look of the creature (which I love!). But its the arachnids movements, sound effects and the top notch blending of live action, matte painting and stop motion model work, that overall create this truly spine-tingling atmosphere. It just makes me wonder why some of the other movie effects couldn't look as good.

The finale is a huge bluescreen affair that really does show its age I'm afraid, some quite hideous effects. First a rather embarrassing bluescreen ridden sequence where the remaining heroes travel on fire mares (think horses like Pegasus, but really fast and no wings) to the Black Fortress. The interior of the Black Fortress is very imaginative and surreal with a nice blend of models, sets, matte paintings and bluescreen, of course the sets are easy to spot. Then we have the main monster (Beast), simply a bloke in a big rubber suit which we don't really see too much of, hidden by smoke and shadow. It is well made and has quite scary facial features but you can't help but feel it just looks like something out of Dr Who. Pretty much the same with the Slayers, men in rubber suits that also look a bit Dr Who-ish. To add to that, the Beast doesn't really do anything, he shoots out large white balls of power from his mouth with truly awful effects but that's it. Colwyn counters that against another dreadful bluescreen effect with the Glaive which, lets be honest, is merely a ninja throwing star that acts like some kind of boomerang. So in the end Colwyn merely stabs the Beast to death, oh and then he burns it alive with his fire shooting powers that he gains with Princess Lyssa, for some reason.

I've taken the piss here a lot, a lot, but that doesn't necessarily mean I don't like this movie. As I already explained, you know exactly what to expect with this movie, you knew back in the day, and to that degree it does its job well as a light-hearted, dark, space fable of sorts. Yes there are lots of plot holes and ludicrous moments that make no sense, like what exactly are the Slayers? when they die a big slimy bug thing comes out of their heads, why does that bug thing then burrow straight into the ground? Where do these Slayers and the Beast come from? why are they trying to take over the galaxy? what did the Beast want or need with this particular Princess? was she more special than other lifeforms from other planets or did he just fancy her? What's with the big rock fortress? etc...The movie is a product of its time and shouldn't be taken apart, even though that's exactly what I've done...but! I still enjoy the movie for what it is. For me the film falls into the same type of category as some of the lesser Harryhausen movies like the Sinbad trilogy, although not quite as good. Its very much a guilty pleasure with some great moments and some awful moments, but on the plus side, an epic never again cast line up, a rousing rip-roaring score and overall a good calibre of imagination.