Saturday, 14 December 2019

Wicked City (1987)

Or 'Supernatural Beast City' as it's known in Japan was another creation by Hideyuki Kikuchi (of Vampire Hunter D fame). This anime is based on Kikuchi's six novel series called 'Black Guard'. Funnily enough this anime movie was also directed by 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust' director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and animated by Japanese animation studio Madhouse. The team works, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

So what's it all about? Well I kinda think of this as an early adult version of 'Men In Black' (possibly a strong influence of said movie). Basically towards the end of the 20th-century humans coexist with another dimension that is inhabited by supernatural demons called 'Black World'. This other dimension is only known to the select few, it's a top-secret kept from the general public and is policed by a secret organisation of special agents (on both sides) called Black Watch.

The two worlds coexist via a peace treaty which is due to be renewed between the two sides. Unfortunately a militant group of demon radicals from Black World want to stop the treaty for their own nefarious purposes. So on the human side, agent Renzaburõ Taki, and on the demon side, agent Makie, are both assigned to protect the treaty signatory in Tokyo.

Now to say this movie has a sexual element combined with an element of body horror would be an understatement. This was one of the first anime movies I remember seeing as a young teen purely for one thing, the first sex scene between the protagonist and a Black World radical in human form. Sounds normal, allow me to explain. For starters this sex scene is pretty in-depth all things considered, certainly an eye-opener for newbies to the genre. Anywho the real shocker comes from the girl who transforms into a spider-like humanoid with spider-like limbs (no hands) and a tooth laden vagina...yup. But wait, I'm not done. Not only that, but she walks on all fours like some kind of quadrupedal posessed horror movie nightmare and she shoots webbing out from said tooth laden vagina...yeah. She then proceeds to try and bite off Taki's junk with her vagina (for fecks sake!).

So there's that character. Throughout the movie there are various other Black World demons we come across which also serve up some rather gruesome visuals. Two radicals again attack Taki at the airport. One appears to have tentacles growing from his torso. He gets his head shot off which then proceeds to grow smaller tentacles and walk on its own in a spider-like fashion. Yes I too immediately thought of 'John Carpenter's The Thing'. The other radical seemed to have a huge tooth laden maw in his chest. Later on we see the treaty signatory almost absorbed into another female radical body in yet another sex sequence. Another female radical with mind control powers and a huge vagina-like opening in her chest (talk about subtext!). And the main antagonist of the story turns out to be your typical tentacle sprouting demon with a rock-like humanoid skin which he/it eventually sheds to reveal a more terrifying toothy monster.

Remember when I mentioned a sexual element? Yep well get ready because there is also two (yes two) full-blown animated rape sequences in here too. Firstly Makie is captured by a huge slimy snake-like slug demon which coils around her (she's also naked), and then proceeds to literally f*ck her mouth with its rather phallic-looking tongue...ahem! Then later on poor old Makie is captured, restrained and strung up by the wrists, and then thoroughly gang-raped by two Black World radicals. It does tend to come across as if the character of Makie is more of a fetish implement than anything. I know about the Japanese and their love of tentacles, schoolgirl uniforms and whatnot.

I think one thing that does stand out to me is the fact that no one is ever around in this movie. Tokyo is often empty. Narita airport was empty. Every battle never seems to raise any alarm from anyone or alert any police no matter where it takes place. One action sequence takes place inside a long tunnel for cars yet there are no other cars to be seen, no other humans, no traffic nothing. I know its a minor silly gripe but it did stand to me. The same can be said about the often seen 'frozen face' thing with anime movies. By that I mean the fact that you get loads (and I mean loads) of close-up shots of characters faces that are almost frozen, no movement.

I should also point out another often seen trope in anime movies, and that's the wise old man character. In many anime movies I've seen there is often an aged wise old man character (sometimes a bad guy) who is usually very small, sometimes fat but usually skinny, ugly, troll-like almost, and usually the comedic relief. Often these characters also tend to look more cartoony in appearance than the other main characters. In 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust' there was the Dungeon Master-like character who led the Barbarois. In 'Ninja Scroll' there was the character of Dakuan. And here in 'Wicked City' there is the treaty signatory Giuseppe Mayart. A Yoda-like character who, like Dakuan from 'Ninja Scroll', harbours secret powers and skills.

Anyway whilst the overall plot is very simple I did find the ending somewhat baffling. Taki and Makie both face off against Shadow the villain but are finding it tough going. Even the wise old Mayart is having trouble. But low and behold Makie is able to land the final blow because...she is pregnant? Yep by this point Makie is expecting a (half-human) child with Taki and that has increased her powers (remember she is a demon from the Black World). Not sure why but there you go. Apparently this was the crafty plan all along by both parties of Black Watch and all overseen by undercover Black World agent Mayart. Taki and Makie are perfect for each other. To create the perfect half-human half-demon...person...who will ensure everlasting peace between the two dimensions, somehow. So I guess its a John Connor scenario?

This is definitely one of the more surreal anime movies I've seen, but it wasn't unpleasant (apart from the spider-woman). If anything the movie draws you in with morbid curiosity to see what crops up next. The sexual undercurrent throughout is both disturbing and again engaging I can't deny. Watching a huge wet slimy slippery snake-like creature have its wicked way with the highly attractive female lead is something you can't look away from even though you know it's not supposed to be good (I think, can't tell with these anime/manga franchises as we all know the original lure way back was the animated sex and violence).

Again the animation is top banana. Slick and smooth as butter with, I think, the odd touch of CGI? Yes the story is cliched, the main characters aren't too original, and many of the Black World demons are, by today's standards, a bit derivative (obviously so in some cases). But the sheer explicitness of the movie is admittedly a draw. This is one of those animes that does live up to the adult rating hype that you might recall from back in the day. Oh and yes it does have yet another one of those crappy Japanese songs over the end credits that sounds like a karaoke recording.


Monday, 9 December 2019

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)

Due to the popularity of the original 1985 anime movie the fans wanted another D flick, a sequel. So with that in mind, over then years later, director Yoshiaki Kawajiri went about planning a follow-up that would be based on the third book in original creator Hideyuki Kikuchi's book series.

So what's happening this time? Well nothing much has changed actually. The year is 12,090 AD and vampires still rule the Earth with their technology and supernatural powers. Nonetheless our good-looking fearless half-breed vampire hunter D is still at it, still tracking down and killing the undead. But would you Adam and Eve it! Another silly girl has gotten herself kidnapped by one of these pesky bloodsuckers. A vampire nobleman named Meier Link has, supposedly, run off with Charlotte. Her father Elbourne hires D to find her and bring her home, or, if she is turned...kill her. So it's another stereotypical plotline again, only this time D has competition from a team of vampire hunters called the Marcus Brothers. Whilst Link hires a team of mutants called the Barbarois.

Now the biggest change here when you see this anime is obviously the visuals. Not that there is anything wrong with the original 1985 look (I personally prefer it), but this 2000 movie is by far a more spectacular offering. The animation was helmed by Japanese animation studio Madhouse Inc. and boy do they nail this. Now I'm no anime expert, in fact I know nothing and have only seen around five anime movies, but for me this was the best-looking anime movie I've 'Ninja Scroll'. It's virtually common knowledge that anime looks and moves beautifully and if you ever wanna prove that to someone then show them this movie.

The animation is incredible in this movie. Every shot, every frame, every sequence is like a work of art with loads of details. But apart from the main characters its really everything else that stands out, from major to minor. For example, the animation on D's horse as it gallops looks completely accurate to a real horse. The way D's cape billows and flaps in the wind is perfect. The details on smaller simple bits of scenery like playing cards, mechanics, interior and exterior decoration, garments, weapons etc...are sharp. The composition of Every shot is awe-inspiring, it all looks so good, so epic. And of course the locations/backdrops are far more lavish than before. The dark and gloomy village at the start and the sumptuously gothic looking castle at the end are prime examples of the amounts of detail and design that went into this movie. My simple words do it no justice truth be told but believe when I say there isn't a single part of this movie that doesn't look eye-poppingly good.

As already stated another change this time is the inclusion of a few more characters, mainly the Marcus Brothers. Now these vampire hunters felt a bit cliched to me, your typical anime-type looking characters really. On the other hand they also gave me strong 'Blade II' vibes (although this movie came out before 'Blade II'). But yeah you have the huge hulking male Nolt with a huge hulking axe weapon. The feisty female Leila. Skinny guy Kyle who is good at throwing blades. A malnourished looking disabled psychic called Grove. And their leader Borgoff who looks like a typical samurai type bloke chompin' on a cigar. They also drive around in this armoured tank thing that looks like it's been borrowed from 'Mad Max 2'.

Still, the Marcus brothers are solid bunch of characters that offer more than the main antagonist or his wannabe bride. Alas Meier Link doesn't really give us much and merely comes across like a horny emo teen trying to have his way with a young girl (didn't really like his design either. What's with the hair beads?). He wants her but doesn't want to drag her into his undead world, kinda cliche. If you want the girl just bite her and be done with it. As for Link's obsession Charlotte Elbourne, she does nothing for the entire movie, virtually lifeless. She is merely a walking plot device for Link, D, and the brothers. It's not really surprising that D and Leila get the best plot narrative when discussing their lives in one recuperation scene.

Despite how good this feature looks and some brilliant action scenes (the first graveyard battle) there are still, for me, negative points that were either unexplained or just plain odd. For example, in an early desert set scene D comes across these gigantic manta-ray-like creatures that seemingly live under the desert dunes but can also fly. They don't do anything, they just emerge from the dunes and fly whilst D uses them like stepping stones across the desert. What was that about?  Then on the Marcus brothers team is Grove, the disabled psychic, but what is his power exactly? He can create a ghostly entity that can...shoot laser beams? There is also still a weird issue with technology in this franchise. People use horses (and carriages) even when vehicles are clearly available. There are also various types of guns around yet the main characters use old fashioned weapons like swords and axes.

Then of course there's the whole storyline of vampires using spaceships (spaceships??) to get to 'the city of the night'  which just felt a bit naff frankly. Is this city on another planet? Is it real or a metaphor for death? I must also mention the added plot twists involving the long-dead vampire ghost Carmilla who roams the castle of Chaythe (where Link is trying to get to and where the spaceship is). I felt she wasn't really needed. Her role and plot twist just seemed to be a twist for the sake of a twist. I felt like that was time that could have been used for D's battle with Link.

This leads me to the mutant Barbarois. Link hired the Barbarois to protect him, he paid them a hundred million Dollars, so Dollars are still a thing then? But this had me thinking, what would mutants living in some underground temple thing want with money? They didn't appear to use any technology, but surely they wouldn't need it with their mutant skills. And once again, as with the first movie, I question how life on Earth got to this point with mutants of such a wide variety of powers. Take Caroline for example, a female who can change into trees and vines etc...basically she's like an X-Men character. I also found the Barbarois leader looked just like a more evil version of the Dungeon Master from 'Dungeons & Dragons'.

The few negatives aside this gothic western fantasy is still one of the best animes I've come across. The quality in the visuals is second to none despite the fact I actually do kinda prefer the more simplistic look of the first movie. But the slicker visuals and animation really boost the action sequences this time; seeing mutant Benge backflip away from view as a string of silver arrows strike the ground. The highly detailed horse-drawn carriage of Link crossing a massive elaborate arch bridge leading to the even more intricately detailed castle Chaythe. Or the staggeringly atmospheric and excellent graveyard battle. Add to that a genuine orchestral score to set the mood and the obligatory graphic violence (with some nudity) which suits this franchise so well.

Call me crazy but I actually prefer the original anime movie over this. Why? I dunno really, I guess the original just has that simplistic charm which warms my cockles. It's like comparing slick modern-day videogame graphics to retro pixel graphics. For me retro pixel graphics win every time, even though I do admire and enjoy slick modern-day graphics. You don't need to have seen the original movie to enjoy this, but I recommend both.


Saturday, 7 December 2019

Vampire Hunter D (1988)

Again I'm harking back to my teenage years in the 90's. Back then I had a passing interest in manga/anime which had slowly begun to rear its stylish head in the UK. Typically the slow progression was mainly down to its limited availability and in the UK that meant one place only, Forbidden Plane (and various independent comic stores). This would lead to the occasional discovery of certain anime movies which piqued my interest mainly down to the franchise in question or the often sexy looking box art (and by sexy I mean awesomely good...or sometimes actually kinky).

So me being a bit of a goth and having a love of all things vampiric (amongst other notable classic ghouls), 'Vampire Hunter D' really struck a chord with me. On the one hand, whilst I was intrigued I did find the look of the movie (going by the limited pictures on the case) to be a little off for my liking. Sure it was vampires and big creepy castles etc...but it obviously had that distinct Japanese vibe to it which kinda looked a bit odd. Even to this day it's still a strange combination to see a classic Universal monster mixed into the world of anime. This was also one reason (aside from it being solid) why the movie did so well as it was one of the first, if not the first, anime to cross science-fiction with classic gothic elements. 

So what's it's about? Well its quite simple really. Set in a post-nuclear holocaust world, the year of 12,090 AD, A young attractive girl named Doris (Doris?) is attacked and bitten by a very old and powerful vampire named Count Magnus. A bit later Doris comes across a lone mysterious stranger called D who happens to be a dhampir (half human half vampire). She asks him for help in killing Count Magnus in order to prevent herself from turning into a vampire. What follows is your typical action-based adventure with D basically taking the vampire down and rescuing Doris who inevitably gets kidnapped by the Count.

This anime is based on a 1983 Japanese novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi and it does seemingly require you to read that book first. Why? Well the movie doesn't really explain anything. For example, it is not really explained what happened to Earth and how the nuclear holocaust occurred. This naturally leads to the question of how vampires arose, where did they come from? Are they a mutation of some kind? Turns out that these vampires are also incredibly skilled in science and technology (as well as the obligatory supernatural powers) which led to them ruling over humans so easily for so long. But how did all that happen? Apparently this science and technology (along with supernatural powers) helped the vampires fill this world with mutants, monsters, and of course the undead. But none of that is really delved into. Vampires have also essentially brainwashed humans over the decades into believing that the classic weapons that can be used against vampires, such as crosses, are ineffective. Again things like this are not delved into in the movie.

The same can be said about the protagonist D. We know he is a dhampir (interesting and curious use of Balkan folklore). A half-breed, a daywalker so to speak, but that is all. We aren't given any background information on D. Visually he is tall, slim, elegant, handsome with long flowing hair, dapper looking, seemingly a westerner (as are all anime characters often), and he is armed with a lovely long narrow sword. Oh and his horse is...a cyborg?? He is the archetype of the classic Hollywood lone cowboy who rides into town to clean up the place. In this case the town is a small old fashioned Eastern European styled village. But on top of that D has another unexplained oddity, his left hand seems to be possessed by a demon or symbiote of some kind. This is represented by a demonic-looking face in the palm of his hand that seems to have powers unto itself. In other words his hand can do things like vacuum up things into its mouth (D's palm). But presumably these things aren't going into D's body, or arm, they must be going into some other realm or dimension within the demon/symbiote.

So the plot is full of wild west tropes and cliches, it's essentially a western with vampires. Not a problem but it has to be pointed out, this isn't an original concept. That aside the main plus points obviously revolve around the animation which as you may expect with anime is top notch. Whilst it may not be as good as current anime it's still bloody (no pun intended) good and really gets you in the mood. A scene where vampires and their werewolf minions can be heard approaching the village from a distance is really brilliantly creepy. The generally dark misty ethereal visuals alongside classic gothic visuals are brilliantly conveyed, but admittedly at times typical Japanese anime styles and choices in designs do sit a tad uncomfortably alongside them. The vampire's castle interior isn't quite what I would have expected frankly.

Again being anime there will be blood and gore, hardly unprecedented levels to be honest but there are some great scenes. One scene where D loses his possessed hand and it takes on a life of its own to save D actually reminded me of Sam Riami's iconic horror franchise The Evil Dead. One thing I liked about the gore in this is that it actually felt warranted, for obvious reasons. It didn't feel gratuitous or over the top. That being said there are still some scenes of typical anime nudity which, when I was younger I thought was awesome, now I'm older feels kinda unnecessary. I should also point out that, in typical anime fashion, the soundtrack and score are also pretty dire. Most of it is ugly synthesized stuff that feels completely out of place set against the classically styled visuals. And at the end you get one of those typically horrible Japanese songs which sounds like a cheap tacky karaoke recording.

So yeah, overall this is definitely a very slick package. I mean what more could you want? An ice-cool half-vampire hunting protagonist in the realms of Neo before Neo was even a thing. Gorgeous animation and overall visuals. A solid English voiceover cast (dunno who they are though). And a curious yet fully engaging blend of ideas and themes. Sure it's cliched as hell and basically a western with a fantasy spin, but it works well and most probably helped spawn many other familiar franchises.


Friday, 29 November 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Being British and having grown up in the UK (except in 1987 where I lived with my parents in the US for that year) I don't really have any experience with Mr. Rogers and his long-running show. I know of Mr. Rogers, I have heard of Mr. Rogers, but I never grew up with Mr. Rogers so I am unable to deliver any real childhood memories. Even when living in the US for that one year I never recall watching his show (as far as I can remember).

I have always put Mr. Rogers in the same kind of category as Sesame Street or Blue Peter here in the UK. One of those long-running legendary shows for children that has amassed epic levels of respect, praise, awards, and memories for so many of all backgrounds (although the UK shows haven't run as long as the US ones). Some of the very few television programs that will live on forever (in their respective countries) having truly made a difference in so many people's lives. That's how I tend to look at it anyway.

I guess the first thing that surprised me was the fact that Rogers was in fact the same Mr. Rogers you saw on TV. It almost seemed too good to be true that the kind, pragmatic, casual yet well-dressed person you saw TV was the same person off TV. Behind the curtain Rogers was indeed still the same man who cared for educating and listening to children in a sensible way whilst upholding his strong religious Christian beliefs...and not in a creepy way. Mind you I say that but I can't deny that watching this biopic did make me question the man at times. He came across as so sensitive and in-tune with kids that doubts couldn't help but form in my mind. Not to mention all the odd little quirks and rituals he had.

Another thing that surprised me was the content Rogers would confront children with. There was me thinking his show was a kind of long-running early variety show with different acts, cartoons, and guests. Turns out Rogers dealt with serious issues. He didn't shy away from talking to the kids about such things like death, divorce, love, depression etc...Sure he did so with the aid of various puppets, songs, and some guests all within a little imaginary model neighborhood, but he still spoke about these subjects. Rogers was able to connect with kids at a very personal level by seeing them as people, simple really. Yes kids aren't adults but they aren't completely stupid, they still understand things, they still feel and obviously have emotions. Rogers had a gift and was able to tap into that, he could communicate with kids about serious matters.

But it wasn't just kids, Rogers did the same for adults apparently too. Maybe not as much and maybe with not as much success but he still did his best. We see that he actually worked with prison inmates at one point. There was also a time when he met a fully grown gorilla and engaged in some pretty amazing sign-language conversations. He subtly taught kids about race, equality, and tolerance in a segment where he simply paddled in a kids pool with one of his regular show guests (who was African American). And he would address (now historical) disasters with kids so they understood what was happening simply because Rogers believed kids needed to learn the truth and not be shielded. The fact that not telling the actual truth can be actually more scary for kids. Gotta hand it to the guy, he had balls.

I think one of the hardest segments to watch in this film was seeing Rogers struggle to address the 9/11 attacks in New York. Clearly he knew he had to talk about it, you can hear others saying so in the film. But the sight of Rogers genuinely trying to find the words to try and deal with such a horrific disaster was heartbreaking. It was as if he was beaten at that moment, there was nothing he could say to soothe the pain.

All that aside I did find this biopic slightly slow at times I can't deny. There is a lot of archive footage (obviously) showcasing Rogers back in the day as he talks about his goals and beliefs. There is a lot of archive footage (obviously) of the show from when it first started, through the decades from black and white to colour, and all the various elements within. We see various guests, the puppets, the model neighborhood, behind the scenes, the sets, the crew, Rogers wife etc...Very much in the same vein as any solid extra you'd get on a new Bluray release. Whilst this is all interesting for the most part, not [b]all[/b] of it is totally engaging. Gotta be truthful here. Especially from a visual perspective, the later shows in colour are far more engaging than the admittedly slow and dull looking black and white era shows. There's nothing quite as iconic as watching Rogers stroll on set and proceed to change into his trademark sneakers and red colour. Retro (and modern) US TV has a distinct look about it that I can't really explain. It always seemed much more colourful, as if it had been shot in Technicolor from the 1950's.

So in conclusion, this is a film where you will most probably choke up at some point. It's hard to pinpoint where and why to be honest, unless you are a lifelong adult fan reliving your childhood memories. But this biopic is so warm, heartfelt, and full of positivity that at times it just makes you cry, it's practically inevitable. In the end, I think what I find the most ironic and sad is that in this current day and age a man like Mr. Rogers would probably find himself under attack (from certain groups) for his race, his gender, his close work with children, and his religion. Twitter would probably horrify him. Mr. Rogers would not work in this present day, and that's the saddest truth of all.


Monday, 25 November 2019

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

This movie was my introduction to this classic 80's horror franchise back when I was an underage kid who definitely shouldn't have been watching it. The ironic thing being, I didn't watch this sneakily behind my parents back, oh no. I actually saw this one night with my dad! I can't remember how or why this happened but I think it happened to come on one night and my dad (who normally would never watch anything like this) decided...oh what the hell. I think he must have thought it was OK for me to watch seeing as he was there. Either that or he just forgot I was there or didn't realise what the movie was about, probably the very latter. Anyway, it scared the shit outta me alright, bad move dad.

So I don't really think I need to go into the plot, but just in case. The movie (kinda) picks up from the previous sequel with an adult Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews this time) heading back to Crystal Lake in order to make sure Jason is dead. Tommy makes his way to the cemetery with his friend, and future Jason fodder, Allen. They both proceed to dig up Jason's corpse (because Jason being buried isn't enough?) much to the hesitation of Allen. Upon seeing the corpse Tommy has a flashback and gets a tiny bit upset, so he proceeds to stab at the corpse with a metal railing he easily pulled off the metal fence.

Allen watches bemused by Tommy's actions. Then before you can say...this is freaking me out, lightning strikes the metal bar and brings Jason's corpse back to life. Initially everything seems OK and the duo prepares to leave. But wouldn't you know it, old Jason climbs out of the grave, kills Allen, and starts off after Tommy. What follows is Tommy's desperate and unsuccessful attempts to warn the locals of Jason's return and Jason's highly successful ever-increasing body count.

Now I haven't seen many of these iconic slashers for some time, but I know without a doubt that this movie is by far my favourite...and in my opinion the best example in the series of a classic 80's horror (with 'Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan' a close second). It took some time for this franchise to really get into gear in my opinion. It's like they didn't realise that the franchise worked better when being more tongue-in-cheek and almost comicbook-esque. The first few movies were too serious whilst not being particularly scary; and of course we didn't actually get the iconic hockey mask until the third flick. Until that point it was a block running around with a flippin' burlap sack on his head (looked shit).

K so let's have some fun here. We know this franchise was initially trying to ride the coattails of the 'Halloween' franchise and luckily the people in charge knew they couldn't carry on doing that. Hence we have this gloriously stupid yet wholly entertaining entry to save the day. Setting aside the fact that Tommy digs up Jason's corpse and then stabs at it over and over, the actual corpse is at first completely unrecognisable. There is no face, no muscle, no anything! Just a vaguely human-shaped mound of decayed flesh covered in worms cobwebs and earth. At this point Jason is essentially a fragile-looking mummy. Yet the minute the corpse is struck by lightning it somehow gets eyeballs that work. And the next minute he's bounding out of the grave looking like he's been drinking protein shakes for the last six months.

From here on its a Jason tour de force as he effortlessly kills plenty of innocent yet very stupid people in various silly ways. But hold on, where did Jason get his clothes? Pretty sure his corpse didn't have anything on, it would have rotted away. So where did he find such perfect fitting attire? From his boots to his gloves, did he pop into a local store? Lucky for Jason Tommy brought his favourite hockey mask along too huh, otherwise he'd have to pick up a balaclava or something. Speaking of the various stupid victims, twas also pretty lucky that one just happened to have a machete on-hand eh. Not sure why you'd need a machete when you're paintballing though.

Did anyone ever wonder why so many people were out and about at night, in the woods, when the weather is clearly bad? Like one of Jason's victims were a couple literally having a picnic in the middle of the woods at night. Who does that? Then there was the other couple driving a shitty Volkswagon Beetle down some dirt track through the woods at night, like you do. There is the old grumpy drink obsessed gravedigger who seems harmless enough but that doesn't matter to Jason. And what 80's slasher horror is complete without the stereotypically good-looking young couple having sex that end up getting killed gruesomely.

It's also highly amusing and annoying how the local Sheriff (David Kagen) absolutely refuses to listen to Tommy at any point in the movie, literally until he actually sees Jason in the flesh (ahem) before his own demise. The guy is obsessed that Tommy is behind all the recent murders that are popping up everywhere despite the fact that for half the time Tommy is locked up in his jail! Ha! You keep thinking how on earth this cop is coming to these conclusions. Simple geography and physics put Tommy in the clear but this guy ain't having none of it. Doesn't help that he's also obsessing over his hot blonde daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) who's been eyeing up Tommy the whole time. She loves a bad boy behind bars I guess. Turns out she's the bad girl while Tommy is the only down to earth person in the area (the Sheriff's Deputy is obsessed with his 'Terminator' laser sight gun).

The movie finally comes to a close back at Camp Crystal Lake which this time actually has kids at the camp. One by one the young adults are taken out by Jason as the kids cower under their beds. Is Jason evil enough to murder little children? Well I guess he isn't or he just doesn't quite get around to it because other better targets keep popping up just in the nick of time. Again looking back it is amusing seeing these cabins. I say cabin but they look like basic garden sheds for Pete's sake. They look like a high wind would knock them down. The slightest bit of cold weather and you'd freeze to death, doesn't matter about the single fireplace geez! You call those thin things windows?? Feck me!

So Tommy knows that he's gotta kill Jason in the lake where he originally died, because occult-like reasons, don't question it. So luring Jason into the lake Tommy (on a boat) manages to wrap a chain with a large boulder attached (how on earth did he manage to get that to the boat?) around Jason's neck. The silly part is at no point does it actually look like that chain is tight around Jason's neck. It looks like he could just remove it quite easily. You also have to wonder if Jason couldn't maybe break the chain seeing as he now has super zombie strength in this movie. It's also weird how when sunk at the bottom of the lake, Jason simply floats there and doesn't attempt to free himself. Not to mention the fact he is still able to grab Megan's leg, this lake must be shallow! Luckily the boat propellor is able to reach Jason (eh?) and seemingly cut him up, even though at the very end he still looks in one piece.

I tend to put this movie in the same category as 'Evil Dead 2' in the sense that its a classic in the franchise, a cult, and a good movie within the genre. Whilst no one is gonna say this movie is a great movie outside the genre, within the genre it's definitely a cracker. As I've already said, this movie is basically the epitome of 80's horror. There is an even balance to the horror and humour. The humour itself is at times self-aware whilst at other times a bit goofy. Whereas the horror can swing from pretty creepy to also being somewhat goofy. The effects and visuals are solid and the cast do their job well enough despite their characters all being pretty hollow. Continuity and just run with it. Director McLoughlin clearly knew what he wanted to do and how to go about it (possibly taking inspiration from earlier horror-comedy classics). Look out for a wicked rock tune from Alice Cooper in the end credits.


Monday, 2 September 2019

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

So it's 1983 and you wanna make a movie, what's hot? Well 'Star Wars' changed the face of cinema in 1978 and is still going strong with the third sequel in cinemas at the time. I know! Let's make a Star Wars-esque rip-off! A futuristic western with a Han Solo-esque hero, oh and just to be sure...we'll rip-off 'Mad Max 2' too. Greenlight!

K so Wolff (Peter Strauss) is a salvage operator, a bit of a rogue, and all-round good lookin' hero, you can tell by his cool name. Wolff has a debt problem and no he doesn't owe any large slugs money, ahem. Luckily he picks up an alert after a ship crashes on a hostile planet. Three sexy ladies have survived but have also been taken hostage by the locals (space pirates). On the planet Wolff finds two battling factions, the Scavs and the Zoners. The Scavs seem to be the goodies whilst the zoners, you get the idea. So the zoners have run off with the sexy ladies and taken them to their zone (hence their name) which is ruled by 'Overdog'. So it's Wolff's mission to rescue them, that's it (seriously).

One of the first things to happen in this fun-filled movie is a quite impressive battle on the hostile planet Terra XI. Wolff manages to find the three women with the Scavs and their large...train? Before much heroic schmoozing can be done the baddie Zoners attack and all hell breaks loose. Now this sequence is very much in line with the big finale in 'Mad Max 2', but instead of an oil tanker we have a train with gun turrets and...sails? This action sequence does appear to be (in retrospect) the main set piece of the flick. It does look like they blew everything on this action sequence and in all honesty it does look and feel good. You have goodies and baddies hand-to-hand fighting all over the shop. Laser battles, engine propelled gliders, motorbikes with roll cages etc...But don't worry, you know who's who because the bad guys all wear black.

Naturally the bad guys escape with the ladies so it's Wolff's job to get them back. It's at this point we discover that Wolff's female sidekick, who has been killed in the battle, is actually an android or Gynoid. This doesn't actually add anything to the plot of the movie but it does allow the opportunity for some pretty nifty special effects (for the time). I only mention it because the visual effects for this were pretty good. But never fear, we get plenty more female representation as Wolff stumbles across another attractive young lady in the form of Niki (Molly Ringwald), a tracker. She tried to steal Wolff's sweet moon buggy vehicle for reasons. When caught she begs Wolff to hire her as his tracker, or allow her on the mission. Wolff eventually allows it because...she's cute.

On the way to the forbidden zone the duo bicker and kinda fall out numerous times in very unconvincing ways. Of course they always work things out cos she's cute and he's gruff and good lookin'. Think Han and Leia, wash rinse and repeat. They also come up against some...mermaids? Some Amazonian type female warriors, and some sea creatures/monsters. All as cheesy as they sound. But again Wolff stumbles across another hero who can join in the adventure. This time it's his old, errr...salvage rival? Washington (Ernie Hudson), another good lookin' gruff space cowboy type dude. Wolff and Washington go way back and don't trust each other that much. But they put all that aside and team up cos...cliches.

Eventually the trio reach the forbidden zone which is like some bleak dystopian nightmare landscape with a huge industrial structure where all the baddies live. Kinda weird really because up until this point the landscape has been all desert with lovely weather. As you might expect all the bad guys that dwell within are clad in black attire with your typical Mad Max-esque addons like metal spikes, eye patches and whatnot. They also have a large arena with a maze loaded with deadly booby traps. They enjoy watching their captives get killed in this. As for Overdog (Michael Ironside), well he turns out to be this weird biomechanical looking human fused with various metallic industrial parts to enhance himself. Think of Pinhead but more industrial. I'm not sure if he was attached to the metal structure or just winched around by a crane, but he definitely has (robotic?) metal claws for arms.

I won't spoil the ending but I'm sure you can guess how this turns out. This movie is inherently silly and a blatant copy of many other much better bigger films. But I believe the cast knew this and were simply enjoying the ride. Ironside easily being the most outrageously over the top in a glorious display of cornball villainous acting. But despite all the cheese this movie does actually look pretty good all the way through. As said there are some great action sequences with solid stunts and pyrotechnics. There are some lovely matte paintings dotted here and there. Some terrific little bits of makeup and prosthetics. And the location work is spot on, very effective. Bereft of originality for sure, but overall it's a charming little space romp that I would recommend for all fans of sci-fi. 


Monday, 26 August 2019

The Barbarians (ITL/US, 1987)

Right so here we are with what appears to be, judging by the quite amazing poster, the He-Man movie we all wanted? I mean come on, look at that poster! Drink it in my friends. Allow your eyes to slowly guide up and down the full length of this phenomenal piece and take in its majesty. Glorious, utterly glorious.

But who the hell are these guys? Who is making up this duo of perfectly moulded glazed muscularity? Well the two leads are identical twins Peter and David Paul of the USA. These guys jumped on-board the trendy new muscularity bandwagon which was kicked off in the early 70's by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, and Sylvester Stallone. As we all know Arnie and Sly virtually created the action-man-muscles gold rush of the 80's and this led to many many many clones and knock-offs, both in terms of movies and stars. Some took off (JCVD and Dolph Lundgren), and some did not. 

The Paul brothers (actually known as 'the barbarians') somewhat took off (briefly) with a little trio of tacky movies that were your typical tongue-in-cheek comedy trash that mainly focused on their massive size. 'Think Big' in 1989, 'Double Trouble' in 1992, and 'Twin Sitters' in 1994. It doesn't really take a genius to tell what these movies are all about, the clue is in the titles. Naturally all their movies required them to get topless for the most part...because muscles. Without this there is no movie. What I find amazing is how many of these muscle-bound stars have done flicks about looking after kids.

So what happens in this low budget Italian Hyborean rip-off world? Well as youngsters the heroic duo are adopted by a gypsy-esque tribe (the Ragnicks) who are led by a Queen (Virginia Bryant) and guided by a weird-looking spiritual type called Ibar (Franco Pistoni). Then along comes the baddie warlord Kadar (Richard Lynch) and his stereotypical minions who slaughter most of the tribe because he's after some magical mcguffin that belongs to the Ragnicks Queen. Anyway the only reason for all this is simply Kadar wants to gain more power and...take over the world? Standard baddie plan really. The young duo are then dumped into slavery where they grow up into massively powerful barbarians, as you do. What follows is obviously the barbarians getting revenge on Kadar, oh and getting back the magical mcguffin and saving the now enslaved Queen. Standard hero plan really.

 Now I'm not gonna berate this movie completely, yes we all know its trash, but there are some positives here. Firstly The Paul twins do admittedly look really good in this movie. The fact you have twins who are identical in massive muscular physique is actually pretty unique, or was (everyone's a meathead these days it seems). These two really do look good dressed up in their barbarian attire. As already mentioned they do actually look very He-Man-esque with their chunky body armour and large weapons, more so than Lundgren did surprisingly. They could easily fit into any larger scale, more well-known fantasy flick with ease, visually anyway. And let me be clear, their bods do look highly impressive to boot. Not up to Arnie standard but its damn close if you ask me.  They aren't as 'cut' as Arnie, Arnie was huge but with a narrow action-figure waistline. But in terms of solid bulk and bicep size, they are a sight to behold, especially when they both stand next to each other.

I must also point out the general look of this movie, again its actually pretty good. The sets are clearly sets for sure but they still look quite good. Clearly much time and effort was spent in creating these sets and it shows. The slave arena and quarters inside of Kadar's city naturally look very Roman/gladiatorial in style but bugger me it all works, it all looks good. I laughed at the large raised platform that Kadar has his throne on which for some reason seems to be supported by slaves in a highly unstable way. Secret tombs and some forbidden land sets also look really atmospheric in a nice Sam Raimi kind of way. There is some good use of locations to add some much-needed depth to the proceedings; and the Ragnicks general appearance, attire and makeup wise, was also well done. I noticed the attire/headpiece for Franco Pistoni's character of Ibar is very familiar. Did George Lucas steal this idea I wonder?

And finally kudos on the few monsters we see here. Firstly there is a wolfman warrior guy for some reason. He doesn't last too long and obviously the effect is basic but hey it's all makeup, prosthetics, and a bodysuit. It's real and not some shitty CGI effect, and bottom line it ain't half bad either. Then there is the dragon sequence. Now again it's basic but bugger me, credit where credits due, they tried and it's a good effort. A full-scale creation that looms out of a murky swamp? Yes please. The duo defeats the beast by cutting open its belly and going inside to reclaim the mcguffin (which the dragon had consumed with some baddie henchmen). Great stuff.

But alas there is a multitude of obvious issues with this movie which can't really be listed for time purposes. But off the top of my head, why does the King and Queen of this fantasy realm roam around like gypsies? Why not actually set up shop with a proper Kingdom? Because they value entertainment for the people over security and riches? What a load of do-gooding crap! Kind renders the need of the magical mcguffin pointless too because surely Kadar can just wipe all these clowns out without magic. But wait! The magical mcguffin is basically a gem that enables power and entertainment? What?? A powerful gem passed on down from Queen to Queen that stores the skills of all who perform near it which in turn makes it even more powerful. Say what?? So why does Kadar want this again? To dance his troubles away?

Also, whilst in slavery the heroic duo are unaware of the fact each has an identical twin. The baddies want it kept that way too just to be on the safe side. Yet the Dirtmaster (Michael Berryman) decides to have the duo fight each other for a grand spectacle (cos they are the best). So at no point did it occur to him that they might recognise each other? Yes they're wearing helmets but helmets can come off mate. Baddies are dumb, but in this movie the heroic duo is dumber (although on purpose).

Anyway you get my drift here. Overall the movie is most definitely bereft of genuine quality but certainly not charm and enthusiasm from the all involved. Of course the plot is a cornball mess of overused cliches and stereotypes from the clone ridden barbarian/fantasy genre that was exhausted back in the early to mid 80's (Kadar has an evil mystical witch, played by Eva La Rue, as his second in command. Standard practice for all baddies). Of course the main leads can't act, but they know this and are clearly having a blast trying their best. Of course the movie cannot be taken seriously, but again everyone knows this and is on-board for the ride. Of course the Paul twins are soaked in oil for literally every minute of the movie. Of course George Eastman makes a cameo (standard practice for Italian rip-off flicks). And of course one of the Paul twins makes that really bizarre and annoying animalistic howl from his throat. What the feck is that about? Is that his calling card?

This movie easily fits into the 'so bad it's good' category. Not exactly a must-see flick for regular moviegoers, but for any barbarian/Hyborean/fantasy fanboys out there it's well worth a butchers. And of course for any low budget Italian rip-off fans, it's probably worth a look also. Its better than 'Deathstalker' put it that way.


Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Con Air (1995)

Right, believe it or not but there was a time (the flashy 90's) when Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (and originally Don Simpson) was king of the box office action genre. Spread throughout the 90's we had to endure a string of style over substance action vehicles that were literally all about the visuals and not much else. Kicking off with 'Crimson Tide' then followed by 'Bad Boys', 'The Rock', 'Con Air', 'Armageddon', and finishing with 'Gone in Sixty Seconds' at the start of the millennium.

So let's get down to the brass tacks here, 'Con Air' is essentially a 90's version of The Fast and the Furious franchise, albeit the later movies in that franchise. In fact you could easily have a movie called 'Con Air vs Fast and Furious' and it would totally make sense. Except 'Con Air' was far more manly than that camp Vin Diesel shit. This movie was all about plosions, guns, muscles, and quips. It was pretty much a man's man movie, no girls allowed. All the blokes in the cinemas watching this were chompin' on Yorkie bars dagnabbit! Your muscles had to be a certain size to even get into the screenings for fecks sake! Yup, this movie was all about big male balls. Total man stuff, gruff sweaty man muscles, lookin' cool, soundin' cool, and not giving a feck about anything. If any of this offended you then you were shit outta luck.

But what's funny is the plot is actually kinda original and kinda cool. Unlike the repetitive superhero crap we constantly get now or the yawn-inducing farse that is the Fast and Furious franchise, 'Con Air' actually had a neat little concept. Yeah sure it was still cheesy as feck and made no sense but the basic idea was sound. A special airline for the transportation of criminals gets hijacked by the cons, simple yet effective. Who knew there was such a thing as convict air? Not me. That alone intrigued me to find out more. So yes the premise is a simple hijacking but it still gave you something a bit different.

But aside from guns, muscles, and sweat, this movie was also the perfect recipe for a stunning cast. You've got a plane full of convicts, who can we cast? I know, lets cast all the top characters actors we can muster. Sorted. Let's make no bones about it, this movies cast is highly impressive, even though at the time most were still relatively unknown. Yes tis true, believe it or not but at the time some of these top stars were small fry. Take Danny Trejo for instance, before 'Con Air' he was merely known as that guy who starred in a few Robert Rodriguez flicks as a baddie. Ving Rhames was solely known for 'Pulp Fiction'. Nick Chinlund was merely another background baddie guy. Rachel Ticotin was the chick from 'Total Recall'.  And then you had various actors who you probably recognised from various smaller things such as M.C. Gainey, Renoly Santiago, Jesse Borrego, and Steve Eastin.

Of course the movie is ludicrous, utterly flawed in many ways. But this is what has made it something of a cult. The hyperbolic performances are one thing but the plot gaffs, cliches, stereotypes, and decisions are another. For starters, at the start these guys at the bar seem to pick on Cameron Poe (Nic Cage) purely because he's with a pretty woman. They literally act like children and start bullying Poe seemingly because they are jealous. Then later on (after school?) they actually wait for Poe (in the pissing rain) in the carpark so they can beat him up? How long did they wait?? And really?

When Poe is convicted and sent to prison, the minute he walks into the cell block all the prisoners start jeering him...because prison cliches. Also Poe has a workout routine montage...because cliches. Also Poe doesn't seem to get his haircut whilst in prison, why? Yes its prison but I'm sure there are basic facilities for things like that. Not everyone walks around with hair down to their shoulders. You'd also think he'd get it cut before leaving to see his family again.

Then there are many little touches that just beg questions. Vince Larkin (John Cusack) keeps referring to the airliner with the convicts on as 'his plane'. Is it really his plane? Like does he own it or something? He is always worrying about the plane like it's his personal property. What the hell happened to Pinball (Dave Chappelle)? He gets left behind by mistake and whilst attempting to get back on he gets sucked up by the landing gear?? He's literally running by the side of the plane and we are meant to believe he somehow gets caught up in the wheels? Later on we are shown a terribly fake Pinball/Chappelle body in the bowels of the plane all in one piece, eh??

At one point more cons are transferred onto the plane during a sandstorm which allows Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) and co to wear masks. But what if there hadn't been a sandstorm? What would they have done then? And how come no guards recognised Cyrus or his voice?? When Larkin discovers where the convict plane is heading he races off in DEA agent Malloy's flashy sports car (bit of obvious glitzy car porn). But where did he get the keys? Then later on in the desert the cops walk into the most obvious trap set by the cons. During the following shootout against the cops, Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo) seems to only be interested in raping guard Bishop (Rachel Ticotin). Maybe escape first, rape later? Then during one of the movies numerous big finales Swamp Thing (M.C. Gainey) must land the plane on the Las Vegas strip. How does this not cause mass chaos destruction and death?? 

And I guess I have to mention the bizarre death of Cyrus. In another one of the movies big finales, Cyrus and co escape from the downed plane in a fire truck, causing yet more chaos and destruction. Eventually they obviously crash said fire truck (into a construction site) which leads to Cyrus being, somehow, decapitated by some highly dangerous rock crushing machine. The oddity of this death is how Cyrus' body manages to get into this position of being decapitated in the first place; and why exactly a dangerous machine like this is still running at night with no one around supervising.

Then, of course, there is the total curveball of Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) being touted and paraded around the entire movie as the most dangerous bad guy ever, only to do absolutely nothing. This guy is feared by the badass criminals because he is the killer of killers, but he does zip. Kudos for the setup but what actually is the deal with Greene? What was the point? At one point he clearly states how he once wore the head of one of his victims (a little girl) as a hat through three states. Then later on we see him getting all cozy with this little girl and we are meant to fear the worst. But he doesn't kill her, he doesn't do anything, and then we see him gambling in Vegas right at the end as if he's decided to change his life. But did he? Did he change? Or was this last scene just for laughs? (it totally was).

To be clear, this movie and all involved were aware of what the goal was here. I myself am also aware of what the aim was, what this movie was doing. And by that I mean (in case you haven't already guessed) its a nonstop thrill ride that isn't supposed to be taken seriously. Now whilst you could say that overrides all my points (which it kinda does), that doesn't mean you can't point them out and maybe mention that the movie could have been much much better had these issues been addressed. Take 'The Rock' for example, that's a very similar movie which is in my view the better movie because it's a tad more grounded, at times.

But overall, yeah, sit back, relax, grab some victuals and pop, and strap yourself in for a movie that utterly screams Michael Bay but isn't. High energy, high-octane, fast food, popcorn fodder. The movie doesn't give a rats ass and neither should you, but please take my review into consideration. The not politically correct equivalent to most modern action flicks, well anything with Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson in basically.