Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Critters (1986)

Looking back I cannot for the life of me remember how I got to see this movie. I know I first saw it when I was quite young but I'm surprised I was allowed to see it. Its really quite puzzling frankly. I'm guessing my dad (the sci-fi fan) may have let it pass as it was more of a silly sci-fi comedy horror rather than an all out nasty horror (bit like 'An American Werewolf in London') Anyway somehow I saw it...and became a relatively big fan of the franchise.

Its amazing to think that this movies story was actually (apparently) written long before we got Joe Dante's 1984 classic 'Gremlins'. As with many movies that become influential classics there often follows a raft of copycats varying in quality. After its initial release Critters was widely regarded as such a copycat, albeit one of the best copycats. Alongside that you had other movies such as the Ghoulies franchise, 'Munchies', 'Hobgoblin', 'Elves', 'Beasties', and maybe to a certain extent the Leprechaun franchise. Despite that Critters plot was actually very different to Joe Dante's movie.

The plot is your typical science-fiction hokum that could quite easily of come from the pages of a 1950's script. A prison in space (on an asteroid) houses a species of deadly creatures called Crites. The Crites manage to escape the prison and fly off towards Earth. The space prisons alien warden immediately hires two space bounty hunters to track down the Crites before they manage to feed (before midnight?). The Crites naturally make their merry way to Earth and touchdown right in the middle of rural America, because where else? Before you can say bon appétit the Crites are attacking everyone and everything in site.

Now even though this movie is called 'Critters' and follows the little carnivorous creatures from A to B; technically you could call this movie 'Bounty Hunters' because essentially its more about their story than anything else. The Crites are merely a basic plot device to defeat, the human family in danger are merely there for the risk factor. The bounty hunters are the characters you get behind and cheer for because they are ice cool, quirky, funny, and the movie is always better with them in a scene. Hell most of the movie is simply following the bounty hunters as they search for the Crites. Once they find them they are able to eliminate the critters easily with their huge space guns, its just a matter of finding the little darlings.

The bounty hunters are also shape-shifters (one called Ug, the other apparently nameless) with glowing green blobs for heads. They both literally have glowing green, featureless putty-like heads which effects wise actually works really nicely. We don't find out where they are from or anything about their backgrounds at tall. We don't even know what they actually look like in their original form. They are shape-shifters, they have an original form which we assume is the glowing green putty-like form. But then why do they always retain a human male form in general?

It is the shape-shifting special effects sequence that wowed me as a child back in the day. When the bounty hunter begins to morph into his intended target (in this case a human male). Clearly the crew have made a full sized (?) human head out of different layers of wax or putty or plasticine or whatever. They have then slowly and carefully heated this head, presumably one stage at a time, so each layer can run and melt away to reveal the next layer underneath. Each layer obviously represents skin, muscle, blood, bone, tissue etc...Once this was completed they then ran the recording backwards as if all the layers were slowly growing or merging into place over the skull as the aliens head morphed. The trick is a simple one but extremely effective and memorable here as one of the cool gory moments.

Ug is the main bounty hunter with the bulk of the dialog, he is the hero character basically. You can tell this because he chooses a human male rock star (the fictitious Johnny Steele) for his 'face' when they initially come to Earth. This means he's got that Mick Jagger type of look about him with flowing locks, a sexy voice, he's slim, and has high cheek bones. Whilst at the same time he has the cool calm serious demeanor of Clint Eastwood. You could say he's an anti-hero really because he's not exactly kind to humans initially. He's not bad or anything but he doesn't mollycoddle them, its only towards the end that he becomes more sensitive towards the humans.

Johnny Steele: Power of the Night. The best fake band (and fake hit song) ever? I must also point out that the score and soundtrack for this movie are so delightfully 80's. If that's your bag then I highly recommend this. Go Google it now, now!!

His partner on the other hand is a bit of a loose cannon with his space gun. This guy is kinda twitchy and won't hesitate to whip out his weapon and blow something away with no regard to any humans nearby. He also cannot decide on a face to transform into and is constantly changing throughout the movie. They are a slightly mismatched pair for sure with Ug being the more calm and level-head hunter. Still this doesn't stop the pair of them destroying a whole load of shit together, Ug certainly doesn't rein his partner in much.

The Crites are (as I'm sure you are aware) little fuzzy rodent-like creatures with tiny arms and legs, glowing red eyes, and a large maw full of razor sharp teeth. They are basically hand and animatronic operated puppets depending on the scene and shot. They look pretty different from Joe Dante's Gremlins but the way in which they were created and shot are very similar. So in general you'll have scenes where a critter will be a fully animatronic puppet for a closeup on its face, and its effective. Then other scenes where the critter is operating something and you get a closeup of its little arm and claw, and its kinda basic lookin'. And then scenes where the critter is clearly a puppet or doll. When they curl up into furry balls and roll around (how they get around quickly), its a bit tacky looking.

Alas the history and evolution of the Crites is not really explained well in this movie. Again like the bounty hunters we do not know where they come from, why they must eat all the time, how they can eat all the time being so small, why are they going to space prison? (guessing they ate someone or something). They are clearly intelligent creatures with emotions and thought because they can speak to each other, they fear things, they can be happy, and they can fly spaceships. But they also appear to be inherently evil towards anything...if they can eat it, they don't care. It is also shown that the Crites can grow to enormous sizes when they carry on eating, but this only happens to one of them, why not all? This rather large Crite also kidnaps the young female towards the finale, but why?? Were they gonna use her as a hostage? Use her for food? Breed with her?? Who knows.

The humans in peril are of course you're typical all-American rural types, not rednecks but just good honest country folk. They live on a very nice picturesque farm with a white picket fence and a large well presented house. The father (Billy Bush) has a very strong southern accent, he's firm and seemingly a good man. Whilst the mother (a very gorgeous looking Dee Wallace) is very much a 50's looking type of house wife and offers up some more classic scream queen type antics. Their daughter (Nadine Van der Velde) is also seemingly a good girl, very attractive, and is seeing a rather well-to-do flashy young jock with a cringeworthy ponytail and Porsche (a very young Billy Zane). And then we have their son Brad (Scott Grimes) who seems completely unrelated being ginger, looks a bit like a young girl if you ask me, and has an obsession with making homemade...explosives?! Foreshadowing tip, the explosives will obviously come in handy.

This just leaves old Charlie (Don Keith Opper) who is the stereotypical town drunk and conspiracy nutjob. This guy clearly spends most of his time getting pissed and shouting his mouth off about all sorts of conspiracies surrounding aliens and the government etc...We first meet Charlie in the local jail (the drunk tank) sleeping off his last bender. He's a scrawny goofy looking guy who is kind gentle and helpful. In this movie he kinda plays Brad's sidekick and second and third fiddle to both the bounty hunters and the rest of the family. Opper does get a more meaty part when Ug's bounty hunter partner transforms into Charlies visage, but other than that the character of Charlie does very little really. And yet this character goes on to become this franchises main protagonist, which is odd.

End of the day what do you have here? A movie about little alien furry balls with sharp teeth that eat pretty much anything. Its all set in a small American as apple pie hick town complete with a local drunk and a tobacco chewing, aging, balding, fat Sheriff (M. Emmet Walsh). You can't really get much more cliched and cornball than that. Its clear to see this movie didn't have a great deal of money to work with, but its also clear they made every penny count. This was an early New Line Cinema B-movie release that was pretty blatantly trying to ride the coattails of a larger A-movie, but quite surprisingly had enough of its own ideas to stand on its own. Yes those ideas weren't exactly fresh (now or then) but the super creativity in effects along with other simple quirky visuals really helped this to stand out in the crowd.

Oh and that special button that somehow magically rebuilt the farmhouse right at the end, how the flip does that work??


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Another year and another old franchise is brought screaming and kicking back into the present. For better or worse? Well that's always the million dollar question and often its the latter. And with that in mind I dived into the sequel/reboot (bit of both really isn't it) of one of my favourite movies...with much trepidation.

The Plot: Its now 2049 and now all older model replicants are illegal (newer models are legal). We now follow a replicant blade runner called K (Ryan Gosling). After retiring a rogue replicant K discovers a box buried in the ground which contains a mysterious skeleton. Turns out the skeleton belonged to a female replicant and bares the marks of a caesarean delivery. K is now tasked with finding the child and retiring it. He takes the remains to the Wallace Corporation, which took over the Tyrell Corporation, to identify the remains. The replicant is of course Rachel from the first movie which will in turn eventually lead K back to Deckard (Harrison Ford). Of course Wallace CEO Niander Wallace wants to know how replicants are reproducing so he sends his combat model replicant Luv to get the remains and track K to find the child.

The Visuals: Oh man its dark here, its so really really murky dirty and dark. Like has mankind somehow blocked the sun out and everyone lives in perpetual darkness and rain, like lots and lots of rain. But seriously, we all know the first movie was a dark moody vision of the future so its of no surprise that that has continued here (despite the fact that outside the cities there is still green countryside and blue skies, apparently).

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have certainly recaptured the original movies looks...and then some. Every scene, every shot, every sequence feels like something you'd see in an art museum exhibition. The imagery ranges from stunning to super stunning utilising vivid colours, muted colours, barren wastelands, surreal interiors, and of course bleak dystopian cityscapes. Anyone who knows this franchise will know what to expect for sure, but what you see here is still gonna blow your socks off. Whilst some scenes look like something straight out of your standard futuristic anime vision of Tokyo complete with huge holograms and neon signage everywhere. Other (interior) scenes do certainly seem to have a 'Prometheus' vibe about them. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a sequence involving the Weyland Corporation.

Indeed whilst some sequences do look highly imaginative, at the same time they can be quite bizarre also. Most interior shots of the Wallace Corporation are wildly outlandish and alien looking. In fact some of it is so alien looking it actually comes across as less authentic and more showcase, literally like an exhibition of the future by a designer. On the flip side it seems impossible to escape the more obligatory dystopian visuals. As already mentioned you have the typical Futuristic far east vibe; but then you also have the typical grotty wastelands and ruins where typically hostile scavengers eek out an existence. An abandoned ghostly city (Las Vegas) is also a pretty standard sci-fi trope but in this case its visually breathtaking because its enveloped in, an apparent, eternal dazzling sunset coloured haze. Without that haze these scenes would look pretty dull and standard.

The Score: After much tinkering around with different people at the helm at various times, eventually Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch were hired. The aim was to get the score back to the roots of the franchise, more in line with Vangelis's iconic score. With that in mind do I think they achieved that? Well yes and no. On one hand parts of the score is very original, very bombastic with its very loud blasts of electronic synth. But it does also tend to feel a bit too heavy or videogame-esque in places more than anything. On the other hand the more recognisable parts of the score (that remind you of the original film) are good but tend to feel a bit too close; as if they just modified Vangelis's actual work instead of coming up with their own. That's fine, but then maybe just use Vangelis? Sticking Vangelis's original score over the finale merely confirms that they should of used it throughout.

The World of 2049: So what's really changed here? Not much by the looks of it. The cities (or at least LA) still look like highly polluted, rain drenched, flying traffic infested urban sprawls festooned with various (oriental influenced) neon signage. Vegas is now (ghost town remember) awash with radiation after a dirty bomb struck it (bomb? What??). We don't see much else of the world but apparently the climate is f*cked up which has led to California suffering almost permanent winters and the sea reaches inland up to Sepulveda Boulevard. Oh and said state is also overcrowded with refugees, so an accurate portrait of California for the future then. But where did all the Asian people go from the original film?

In this age K can now appear to lead a normal life with a hologram partner. To the point where said female hologram actually falls in love with him and arranges for a prostitute to pop round so she can 'merge' with the prostitute and have sex with K. I found this...odd, to say the least. So is this female hologram programmed to so this? Did K request the hologram like this? Did K programme the hologram himself? Also full blown gigantic neon advertisements can interact with you which seems kinda pointless. I did like how they advanced the technology from the point of view of the original movie. In other words this films future tech is based and advanced on from the future tech of the 1982 film, not our reality based future. Hence plenty of analog tech and Atari are apparently still a big company.

The whole police protocol baseline test that K must undergo in order to remain...emotionally reliant I guess, seemed overdone to me. He seemingly undergoes this everyday I think, at the end of his shift. Its quite clear that K has been taking and passing this test for quite some time and is a solid blade runner. Yet at one point he fails the test and is immediately branded rogue. By this point I would of thought failing the test wouldn't be that big of a deal. I would of thought something like that would/could be easily sorted as part of a constant police monitoring programme because surely over time it will have occurred often. I just don't see how it would be a major problem anymore, in the early days maybe but now?

Also K stages Deckard's death at the end, intending to claim that Deckard drowned in the crashed spinner (or whatever flying car that was). But how does that work?? Surely anyone could quite easily find the crashed vehicle reasonably quickly (especially a man like Wallace) and discover no body. With all the tech in this world I'm sure Deckard would get found out soon enough (ahem...sequel).

Niander Wallace and Luv: I can't deny that Leto fit the bill here perfectly with his smooth baby-faced looks. But I can't help but think that both Wallace and his brutal assistant Luv were slightly generic. Wallace is a highly perceptive, intelligent, calm, and softly spoken man. He is blind but we do not know if he was born this way or not (I originally thought he was a replicant). He also has a sadistic streak about him and a clear God complex as he refers to himself as a father to all of his (replicant) creations. He really did come across to me as your typical 80's kimono wearing bad guy who dwells in his large lair sending out cronies to do his dirty work. That leads us to Luv who is Wallace's female replicant enforcer. And that's all you need to know really. She's your typical menacing, equally sadistic enforcer type who knows martial arts, meh.

Its worth noting that in this sequel the replicants do not appear to have the noticeable shine in their eyes anymore. I put that down to the obvious evolution of replicants, the slow blurring of both human and replicant. Well that plus the whole managing to give birth thing also.

Overall the lack of a proper score throughout this film is but one issue I had in a string of issues that all led me to one real conclusion. What is the actual purpose of this film? I'm a solid fan of the original 1982 Ridley Scott masterpiece. Back in the days of yore (the 80's) when I was young I didn't really like or appreciate it. Later in life I have since grown to understand the film, I like (but not love) it. But I have never really thought the film required anything more, and that's the problem (on top of the fact this franchise is highly divisive which was proven at the box office. If you didn't like the first film...forget it).

This new feature doesn't really feel like it needed. Yes the visuals are (inevitably) lavish and opulent, yes the acting is solid on the whole, and yes the package overall is well put together (kudos). But the story just felt kinda dull, not really important, not really required. There is little action which was to be expected, but also no real moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Nothing that rouses your emotions and adrenaline. Nothing that almost brings you to the brink of tears ( the rain, yes I'm referring to that iconic scene).

The original movie is fine as a stand alone film. It offers intrigue that doesn't require a bow on top, it doesn't really need anything further. This just felt like a sequel for the sake of having a sequel. As though they did it merely because they could, because Ford is still alive, because they could basically remake the original with better visuals. That's essentially how this came across to me. And despite being a good science-fiction film, it still can't touch the original.


Friday, 11 May 2018

The Crow (1994)

Back in the day there weren't really very many comicbook movies, they existed but most were pretty poor or wasted opportunities. Richard Donner turned things around somewhat with his now iconic Superman movie in 1978; but it wasn't really until the late 80's that Tim Burton's surprisingly decent Batman movie literally changed the game for the genre. But despite that things still took time to actually change in a positive way. There were a few movies that weren't too bad and looked good (in some cases very good), but failed to really light up the box office or gain much interest after their release eg. Dick Tracy (1990), Darkman (1990) and The Rocketeer (1991).

But putting basic comicbook movies aside, apart from Tim Burton's vision for Batman in 1989 there was literally no such thing as a gothic comicbook movie, it was virtually a new untapped genre. Tim Burton had certainly given cinema audiences a strong dose of gothic grandeur but no one had really seen a dark, gritty, violent, adult action movie in that visual style, yet.

Then along came James O'Barr and his dark personal opus. In 1978 O'Barr's fiancée was killed by a drunk driver (two weeks before her 18th birthday) which left him virtually destroyed inside. A talented artist O'Barr began working on a personal creation in a way to cope with his loss. With the combination of his own grief and a local murder case in Detroit, The Crow was born. The tale of young couple Eric and Shelley who are both murdered on their wedding night (Devils Night, the night before Halloween) by a vicious gang. One year later Eric is brought back from the grave by a mysterious supernatural crow, at the same time giving him powers of strength and invulnerability. Eric is seemingly granted the chance to exact revenge upon his killers so that both he and his fiancées soul can finally rest in peace.

So lets look at the various differences between the Comic and the movie. Now whilst the movie was generally well directed and included almost everything from the original source material, there are many differences. But I must stress that whilst these differences are typically very Hollywood, they aren't necessarily bad. As a large plot alteration was basically somewhat required for the movie, this meant major changes to almost all the characters. This included most of the villains, some goodies, and the removal of some characters along with the inclusion of new ones.

Firstly in the comic the entire murder of both Eric (no last name of Draven in the comic) and Shelley is nothing more than a random attack by the drug crazed gang. There is no purpose behind it and thusly Eric's story is pure and simple revenge, no other factors. In the comic there is also no head honcho running the show, its just a bunch of thugs. For the movie they had to add more romance and a narrative in the form of both Eric and Shelley fighting unlawful tenant eviction from their apartment (owned by Top Dollar) which leads to the fatal attack; and of course they had to add a big boss villain for Eric to showdown with. Of course its still not really that good because essentially...what does Top Dollar want to achieve? He just wants to see the city burn? And then??

Devils Night: The night before Halloween which the movie centres around and is often mentioned. In the comic Devils Night is not mentioned.

Eric: In the comic Eric is clearly based more on the classic rocker look of the 80's, but fitter and more toned. He has a very stereotypical 80's rock hairstyle matched with a slightly anime look to the face. At times he also looks like a young jacked-up Rod Stewart. In the movie Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) has a very early 90's MTV music video vibe about him, mainly because it was the early 90's and that long black leather trench coat trend was started by this very movie. Its also interesting to note that in the comic there is no mention of Eric being a musician, playing the guitar. That seems to be another Hollywoodism to boost his ice cool sexual appeal.

Tin-Tin: Visually he looks about the same in both the comic and the movie (an African American male). He is still the first to be killed by Eric in both the comic and movie, but by gunshot to the head I believe. In the movie they also gave him some more personality with the addition of being a knife wielding expert (played with aplomb by Laurence Mason).

Top Dollar: In the comic this guy is just a regular gang member, a regular drug pusher. Again visually he looks about the same (a white male) apart from a beard in the comic. He is the second gang member to be killed by Eric in the comic, again via gunshot to the head. For the movie Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) has been promoted to the main crime boss and controls everything, including ordering the hit on Eric and Shelley's apartment. He's a white westerner with an obvious appreciation for Japanese culture judging by his samurai-esque hair and choice of weaponry. He is also a very clean cut dapper looking villain dressing in period styled attire complete with old fashioned officer boots.

Tom Tom/Skank: Tom Tom does not appear in the movie, instead this character seems to have been combined with Skank. Where as in the comic Skank is not a part of T-Bird's crew, Tom Tom is. Skank is killed early on in the comic, after Tin-Tin and Top Dollar via decapitation. In the comic Skank looks very different to his movie counterpart, same gender and race but just very different. The movie version of Skank (Angel David) is basically a cowardly character. All mouth but weaker than the rest, possibly abused by the rest, used as bait by Top Dollar, and eventually tossed out of a window by Eric.

Gideon: Again visually this character is similar in both comic and movie. Both are middle aged, tubby with facial hair. Only main difference is in the movie Gideon is bald (played by Jon Polito). This characters fate differs once again as in the comic Eric guns him down, where as Top Dollar executes him in the movie.

Funboy: This character looks very similar when comparing the movie version (Michael Massee) to the comic. A white male with long flowing blonde hair. In terms of his fate, its similar but with varying degrees of impact. In the movie its quite a powerful scene with Eric also rescuing Sarah's mother Darla. In the comic Funboy regrets and shows remorse for his previous crimes. He offers Eric a deal that if he gives him T-Bird's location, Eric will allow him to commit suicide (fourth to die) by overdose instead of Eric killing him.

T-Bird: This character displays the biggest change visually. In the comic he seems to be an African American male with long dreads, where as in the movie he's a short white male played by David Patrick Kelly. In both the comic and the movie T-Bird is the leader of the gang but in the comic he is the final character to die at the hands of Eric. Surprisingly, much like Tin-Tin and Top Dollar, T-Bird isn't as big of a character as he is in the movie. Overall all the villains in the comic are far more throwaway type characters than displayed in the movie; they are simply cannon fodder for Eric to slaughter.

Then in the movie you also have Sgt. Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) who is a composite of two comic characters; namely Captain Hook and a nervous rookie beat cop. Top Dollar (in the movie) has a sexy sultry female sidekick called Myca (Bai Ling) who doesn't appear in the comic. This character is a little weird as Top Dollar refers to her as his half-sister yet he also seems to have an obvious sexual relationship with her so...kinky? Myca also seems to be some of dark oracle or witch, something which is never really fully explained but merely hinted at throughout the movie. The young girl in the comic who Eric befriends is called Sherri, in the movie its changed to Sarah. In the movie you have the henchman called Grange (Tony Todd), who was based on the character of Shelby the giant in the comic. And finally the mysterious Death-like character called the Skull Cowboy is completely absent from the movie except for a deleted scene.

Its also worth noting that in the comic the actual crow is far more supernatural than in the movie. In the comic the crow not only leads Eric around but also talks to him, passes him information, goads him, berates him for dwelling on past memories etc...In the movie Eric simply follows the crow and occasionally sees what it sees, but no talking. The movie also introduced the notion that if the crow is killed, then whoever it raised from the dead can be injured or even killed again. As if the crow is merely a shield for each unsettled soul and its body. But how can you kill someone who's already dead? Unless their body (the shell) becomes mortal again which enables you to mortally wound it? Could the Crow take that persons soul to another body if needs be? This is a major plot issue that carries through into the sequel.

Of course there are many more little Hollywood touches that are included simply to make the whole feature more appealing to a mass audience. Before Eric kills T-Bird in his rather nice 1973 Ford Thunderbird, there is an entirely pointless car chase with the cops. Despite Eric being invincible he allows himself to get his ass kicked and shot on numerous occasions just so we the audience think there might be a threat or risk to the protagonist. Eric ends up needing Albrecht's help throughout despite being invincible; again to give us a sense of risk, some human compassion amongst the carnage. The hugely over the top climax in the huge gothic cathedral that leads to a very over the top sword fight on its roof amongst its gothic gargoyles and spires. This also felt extremely ripped off from Tim Burton's Batman finale. And finally the fact that Top Dollar is now interested in the occult/supernatural and has a witch-like sidekick to help him try and unlock the crows powers. Again this gives us a sense of risk for the protagonist which was totally absent in the comic where Eric was unstoppable.

For the most part the effects for this movie have admittedly not aged well (they weren't exactly great for the time). Whilst its nice that practical effects were used for a lot of the movie you can unfortunately see them very clearly. Various model/miniature shots of buildings and cityscapes do look pretty ropy in places, especially when live action (projection?) shots of cars were added to them (the fires look even worse because they did use projection technology for those). The big finale in the cathedral is an example of how the effects and sets did work effectively, but at the same time still a tad fake looking. The shadows and lighting helped in setting the mood but also in covering these obvious flaws.

Hell in all honesty even Eric's grave and surrounding graveyard looks pretty hokey these days, looks totally plastic. The only images/sequences that still do look quite good are basically all the shots with the trained raven (yes raven, not a crow). These are all genuinely innovative and highly atmospheric despite being obvious superimposed shots with thick black lines around all the edges.

Speaking of Eric, considering how early CGI effects were back in 1993/4 it is actually very impressive how the effects crew were able to superimpose Brandon Lee's face into certain shots. Lee had completed most of the required scenes needed but after his death rewrites and reshoots were needed. Using a body double strategically obscured by shadows the team merely slapped Lee's face on top of the body doubles face and kept the reveals minimal. For the most part the results being an effective quick glimpse which does look a little off-kilter but generally works fine. Other times the team had to use completely different footage of Lee and superimpose him against a totally different background. Eric breaking down in front of a broken mirror in his old apartment, and stumbling into said apartment for the first time were both entirely superimposed shots combined with CGI. Amazingly I never even knew this, never even noticed, which shows how good it was.

Where as some practical effects might now look incredibly dated, the stunts and action were handled very well. There aren't that many blazing action scenes but what we do get is very satisfying. Each gangster takedown by Eric does deliver a sense of justice, you do feel vindication for both Eric and Shelley. Although they don't follow the source material 100% there is a nice sense of variation and imagination in these death sequences. There is one highly impressive shot of a stunt double taking the full force of an equally impressive explosion in the scene where Eric blows up Gideon's pawn shop. I'm genuinely not sure how this guy didn't get burnt in this shot.

The main gun fight between Eric and various gang members in a dark dingy club is a highly vibrant and atmospheric sequence which is heightened by its accompanying thumping soundtrack. The blazing gun muzzles lighting up the gloomy room, the sparse lighting, the various baddies getting sliced diced and blown away by a frenzied Eric hellbent on revenge. Looking back the editing is a tad questionable as you can tell they chopped this sequence up (work print shows us how much they cut), but it does still work nicely. Alas the same can't be said for the helicopter chase sequence across the rooftops which really does highlight some terribly dated and obvious superimposed shots against model backgrounds.

The Soundtrack: What can I say? One of the best movie soundtracks ever? Yep its up there. Back in the 90's there were a few things that nearly every young person into rock agreed on. Nirvana were the dogs bollocks and you had to own 'The Crow' soundtrack. It was almost mandatory, the way things were. And frankly who could blame them, the tracks on this compilation are now almost as iconic as the movie itself. In fact most of these tracks are probably known as well as they are solely because of the movie. Admittedly at the time I didn't know who most of these bands were but most were instantly likeable and fit so well with the movie. They even had two bands (Medicine and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult) cameo in the movie which sometimes can date a movie badly. Not here, somehow they just blend in perfectly as trashy acts in a scummy nightclub. Heck for a long time I didn't even know they were real bands.

But not only is the soundtrack fantastic the score is also top notch. The calm yet haunting orchestral score that accompanies Eric throughout the movie is terrific; a beautifully emotional selection of pieces that really can bring a tear to your eye (considering the circumstances of the movie). The final curtain of the movie and fade out to Jane Siberry's It Can't Rain all the Time still brings a lump to my throat.

Brandon: Would this movie have such a cult status had Brandon not died? Well this is the million dollar question isn't it. In all honesty I would have to say no and I say this because, although its a morbid thing to say, the death of Brandon added to the supernatural vibe/element of this movie. I mean, you couldn't script it any better if you think about it, its almost like a horror story in itself. A movie about someone dying before their time only to come back from the grave to tie things up; and then at the same time in reality that exact incident occurs to the actor performing in the paranormal feature. Had this occurred in any old silly action/adventure flick then the whole scenario would be totally different. It was the nature of this specific film that made the difference. The final interviews with Brandon where he speaks about mortality merely serve to ramp up the eerie atmosphere tenfold.

Unsurprisingly I do indeed consider this movie a cult classic. Lighting in a bottle. It was a game changer. A tour de force that came outta nowhere and kickstarted an entire genre and trend that stood the test of time. It positively dripped with gothic splendour and dark energy which even to this day many movies simply can't top. The movie is a totally different beast to the original comicbook but still manages to stand on its own offering an alternative (dare I say better) version. Yes you can argue that the movies plot is chock full of holes, makes no sense, and the characters are one dimensional. For instance Eric was just a regular guy before he died. But when he comes back from the dead he's suddenly an expert with all weapons, he can fight and perform various acrobatic moves. So the crow somehow gives you the power of being a martial arts military expert? And why the hell does Eric eventually have what looks like black bin liners and rope wrapped around him?

Nevertheless, the movie virtually overcomes all of this simply through solid direction from Alex Proyas, great pace, terrific set pieces, a superb atmosphere, quality performances, and of course Lee who haunts every frame with his strong yet ethereal performance. The über intense brooding superhero in the darkness. You could almost compare this movie to 'Robocop' in the fact that it made such a lasting impact and many of its stars (the villains) seemed to disappear after the fact, apparently not capitalising on the hit. I do think the movie would still have been a classic had Brandon not died, but not on the same level. Changes were made after his death which changed the movie in the long run, was the movie better for that? I guess we may never know that, debatable.

People seem to forget about this movie nowadays which I find incredible seeing as, along with Batman 89 and 'Blade', its easily one of the greatest comicbook movies ever made. Amazingly better than its source material in many ways. People talk about wanting good R rated comicbook flicks, yeah they already did that and this is it.


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

Sounds good doesn't it? I was expecting a black and white masterpiece of the 50's when I first came across this. Alas its actually from the mid 70's which means its in colour and full of dodgy hairstyles and fashion. Still, can't not be intrigued with a title like that huh.

So somewhere in rural (always rural) Wisconsin a meteorite crash lands which lights up the sky on impact (literally lights up the sky with some awful colour effects). Now somehow, don't ask me how, but somehow this meteorite contains lots of spiders, all of which look remarkably like spiders here on Earth (don't question it). These spiders seem to vary in size from your regular tarantula size (because they are tarantulas), to dog size, to house size.

I'm not too sure how these spiders survived the impact but they do appear to be cocooned within small circular rocks (rocks which also contain diamonds!). So I guess that sorts that (?). But do they spawn in the rocks? Do they use the rocks as shields against the vacuum of space? What do they feed on? Where did they come from? When they emerge on Earth why do they start to grow slowly? Why do they grow to such enormous sizes?

The main crux of the movie is of course the spiders, but leading up to that there are various boring subplots surrounding various characters. We are introduced to each individual and shown what type of person they are. Not that that matters much because this was a low-budget affair only intent on showing you spiders eating people. But sure enough, this being the countryside most of the townsfolk are hick types bordering on rednecks. Most of these rather unwashed looking characters are generally either in troubled relationships or simply up to no good such as one character trying to sweet talk an underage female (gulp!).

I guess I should point out that a few of the actors in this movie are/were well known stars on American TV shows as well as movies of the time. Director Bill Rebane managed to do what Quentin Tarantino once did which was gather together a bunch of forgotten stars (probably on the cheap) who were happy for the work. Obviously the quality of film and outcome differed slightly.

Anyway back to the arachnids (effects). So what are they like, the effects. Well whaddaya think they're gonna be like? Obviously all the effects are pretty much on the cheap and homemade, but with much care and attention. There are plenty of wispy cobwebs hanging about the place and they do use quite a lot of real tarantulas which is quite effective for certain shots. There are also some bigger shock sequences such as a house (room set) being torn apart by the giant spider; and a guy getting mauled by the giant spider in his car which leads to a crash and explosion. I was actually reasonably impressed with the real tarantulas popping out of the ball shaped diamond encrusted space rocks (almost like eggs). Clearly they did put real tarantulas inside these balls and sprung them open to reveal the creepy contents.

The larger spiders is where things obviously go down hill somewhat. A large dog sized spider leaps onto one female character at one point which is quite amusing. Its very obvious someone threw this rubber spider at the actress...and its quality stuff. The oversized fangs, wobbly legs, and eyes are especially top quality. But its the giant spider that wreaks havoc on the town that is the big draw. Apparently the effects guys built this thing out of a VW Beetle; simply covering it with black fur, big legs, and using the rear lights as eyes. The crew operated the legs from inside the car. Ingenious if I do say so myself because the bottom half of the spider vehicle is always out of sight, which does actually give the solid illusion of a slow moving giant spider roaming the US countryside. There are quite a few shots showing this thing in the distance and it genuinely does look quite good.

Its was also quite gory too. This giant VW spider has big fangs below its (two) big red eyes and doesn't hesitate to slam them into its victims as they are dragged up into its gaping maw. I assume the crew inside are pulling the actor inside the car via the sunroof when the spider eats someone. But this simply action is well edited and accompanied by a good gallon of blood that flows down the victims body. All in all its pretty satisfying to see people getting eaten by this mega arachnid or watch crowds of people flee from it. That and the individually moving legs, overall its a solid effect cleverly thought out.

I love how despite everything that occurs you never see any real police, army, or scientific presence. Its like no one outside that town knows whats going on at all and no one thinks to call for any external help. Pretty much all the characters are scummy or too gruff and you don't care about them. Plenty of stock footage, a staple of these cheap crappy movies. Day and night switching between shots in classic Ed Wood style. The movies explanation for the spider invasion is ridiculous, an interdimensional gateway. The solution? A Caltech neutron initiator ('it just might work!'), like yeah...whatever you say bud. Apparently they drop this thing in the meteorite crater and switch it on. This does something that closes the interdimensional gate which in turn causes all the spiders to melt (an admittedly neat little melty effect sequence). Like I said, don't question it.

You probably know not to expect too much from a movie like this. A cheap sci-fi B-movie that looks like its been shot on a camcorder. Visually it looks like a shoddy exploitation movie at times. Those 70's styles and especially the violent and panicky street mob sequences. Its a throwback to the corny giant bug movies of the 50's (check that poster), yet they made it to genuinely compete with 'Jaws'! Somehow this went on to make quite a bit of money for Transcentury Pictures and has since become a cult. I can understand why but for me personally I think it would be a lot more enjoyable and effective in black and white (and set in the glorious 50's).

'if it doesn't work, then old buddy we've got company for dinner'