COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970) recommended! Dir: Joseph Sargant Eric Braeden ("Victor" from TV's The Young and the Restless, sans moustache) stars in this sci-fi/horror tale about man's Faustian bargain with a computer that becomes God. This one has kicked around on YouTube forever and I had known about it but never seen. A "Google-Talks" interview with Bill Nye reminded me of the film when Nye reflected on sci-fi movies that might possibly be prophetic. Although Nye made light of the film, I was really taken by it. Solid acting, direction and production design make for a compelling cautionary tale of scientific hubris and finding Hell via all our best intentions. Equal parts cold-war tension (FAILSAFE, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, WAR GAMES) and high-concept sci-fi (DEMON SEED, TERMINATOR, BATTLESTAR:GALACTICA, EX MACHINA) COLOSSUS does what stories of its' kind do best- act as a popular meme that expresses an entirely broad concept in one single title or phrase.
A recent discussion between Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Neuro-Scientist Sam Harris on artificial intelligence brought me back to COLOSSUS once again. As the two scholars waxed philosophic about the possibility of a self-determining AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) capable of adjusting its own source code, I found they were practically reading straight from the COLOSSUS script. In follow up discussions, Harris actually used the term "Colossus" to reference such potential, out-of-control "AGI." This reminds me how sci-fi films are not just pieces of entertainment, but high-concept thought experiments that can act as informational and cautionary tales. Whether prophetic or not, COLOSSUS was way ahead of its time and not only smart science-fiction, but also an eerily haunting horror tale.
Screenplay by James Bridges (THE PAPER CHASE, THE CHINA SYNDROME, URBAN COWBOY) and based on the novel by D.F. Jones.
HOLIDAYS (2016) recommended! An anthology feature comprised of six short films, each with a different director. The connecting theme was simply that each piece has something to do with a particular holiday. I was taken by three of the films: EASTER, ST. PATRICK'S DAY and FATHER'S DAY.
EASTER Directed by Nicholas McCarthy (THE PACT, AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR)
I found this the most substantial of the bunch because it had a lot to say and also was directly commenting on the holiday it was based around. A young girl is being tucked into bed the night before Easter. Mom explains how in the morning there will be "eggs and chicks waiting!" and, as all kids do, the girl has some basic questions that mom cannot answer. "What happens if I see the Easter Bunny in the middle of the night?" and "Did Jesus really die and then come back?" and heartbreakingly, "Will Daddy come back too?" Frustrated, Mom's response is simply to insist the girl be quiet and try to sleep. In her own room, Mom prays before a crucifix then lays back in bed in a beckoning, welcoming pose as we fade out.
In the wee hours, a large egg rolls into the living room of the house from outside and begins to hatch. The young girl gets a glass of water and discovers there is some sort of creature in the living room. Bracing to sprint back to her room, the girl is intercepted by the creature. The being is a humanoid looking cross between the Easter Bunny and Jesus Christ! complete with holes in its hands and slit in its side. Live chicks emerge from the creatures wounds and it explains that now the girl has seen him, she must take his place. "You will see many things few have seen," it explains, but that where she is going she will "never, ever see your mother again." The girl bravely agrees to do it and the creature places an egg in her mouth before they both vanish. Hearing something, Mom gets up to find the daughter has disappeared.
I really enjoyed the idea of a creature manifested from the confused symbolism of our religious myth traditions. From the point of view of a child, concepts like salvation, resurrection and trans-substantiation must make little to no sense at all. These ideas are better suited for fables and fairy-tells than real-world advice and surely leave wide amounts of room for misinterpretation. For the little girl, wondering about the realm beyond death where her father is / could be / is supposed to be, the spirit of Easter presents a mixed-hybrid of traditions, doctrines, lore and speculation. What is touching is how the girl is basically alone to figure these things out and make decisions. The creature and its' realm represent the emotional realms of our minds, where the girl embarks to forge and resolve her own world view.
ST. PATRICK'S DAY
Directed by Gary Shore (DRACULA UNTOLD)
A cerebral storytelling approach and editing style made this a bit of a "trip" montage about a woman obsessed with having a baby. Openly citing Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY right in the dialogue, the story flashes on the historical account of the snakes driven from Ireland by St. Patrick; the young woman's frustrations over being childless and un-married; and the announcement that she is suddenly pregnant with "something." Like the mother in Polanski's film, the woman completes the pregancy all the way to birth, and even delights in her twisted offspring (a giant snake) as if her desire for motherhood has eclipsed all else, especially her sanity.
What was curious about the piece to me was the rather non-linear way in which the narrative revealed itself. As the young woman stands on the playground of the school where she teaches, she sees a woman holding a baby and becomes fixated on the them. Later we see a brief flashback of this scene and I was tempted to speculate if the entire film took place in that brief instant of the woman staring at the baby. This conjured thoughts of Alain Resnais' LAST YEAR AT MERIENBAD, or perhaps one of the recent Chris Nolan films (MEMENTO, INCEPTION.) A wonderful cheeky dialogue seen between the woman and her doctor telling her she is pregnant offers some DAVID LYNCH-esque dark humor and scenes of festive pagan's dancing conjure KEN RUSSELL. In the background of the doctors' office, a young boy appears to whip someone repeatedly (his mother?) further establishing the absurdist, surreality of the scene (ala: JACOB'S LADDER.) Is this an image of Hell? Is Hell an ever cycling vision montage of the woman's obsessions?
Directed by Anthony Scott Burns
A cleverly thought out narrative of a woman who receives a tape recording from her long deceased father on Father's Day. The tape was made by the father on the day he disappeared and his voice explains how he was sorry to have left her, but if she follows the directions on the tape, they could be together again. Traveling to the place where they were last together (on the day he vanished) the woman follows the directions from Dad's voice (voice-over performance by actor Michael Gross, who played the Dad character on TV's FAMILY TIES.) The woman is led to a temple-looking building in an old deserted town and finally, through a doorway. Most compelling is that the girl can hear her own voice on the tape because she was with her father (as a little girl) when he recorded it. Obviously a meticulously pre-meditated project, Dad explains on the tape about the markings on the wall of the temple being "icons of faith" and that, "you don't get to decide when he calls for you to see him." Literally retracing their footsteps, the emotional young woman follows through the doorway across a circle of salt toward a figure sitting in the wreckage of a building. "Daddy is that you!?" she exclaims. Dad's voice continues,"...if you've followed this far, you now enter of your own free will..." as the figure turns toward her- a horrendous demon-like creature opening its mouth...
The idea of slowly revealing this mystery story via a message from the past is powerfully compelling. The fact that something is going on beyond the girl's/young woman's knowledge even as she was a part of it is truly unsettling. What the end represents is not entirely clear- was it a demon Dad had baited her into sacrificing herself for? (A project of truly cold and calculated evil- ala THE NAMELESS by Jaume Balaguero (see review)) Or is this some entryway into a spirit-realm where Father and Daughter might actually be reunited? Is it simply some suicidal folly on the part of the Father's cultish and misguided faith? The woman leaves a frantic and angry message on her Mom's answering machine before embarking to follow Dad's tape. "Why did you tell me he was dead? Why wasn't I allowed to know he was alive all this time?" As the girl approaches the demon-creature, mom calls her back, but the phone is left behind in the girls car. We never get to hear what Mom would have said.
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) recommended! Dir: James Whale (THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE INVISIBLE MAN) The concepts alone carry this original horror classic past the stilted characters and acting performances. There are some nice camera compositions and studio-sets to aid what is otherwise a mostly distanced and theatrical realization of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley master tale of Man's hubris in the face of nature - a moral cautionary-tale that was way ahead of its time. Tacked on "Hollywood Ending" is silly and clearly doesn't fit.
DRACULA (1931) recommended! Dir: Tod Browning (FREAKS, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, MIRACLES FOR SALE) The original Bela Lugosi classic that ushered in a suave and sultry version of the legendary Bram Stoker tale. Director Tod Browning manages a classy and effectively understated realization where Lugosi simply has to stand and silently stare and the chills abound.
IDAHO TRANSFER (1973) recommended! Dir: Peter Fonda
Hippy Sci-Fi! Surprisingly mature and well drawn indy about a college science program that has acheived time-travel in a lab. Although the goal was teleportation, the experiment resulted in a time-machine that simply ports you to the future or past at the same location. The story picks up where a series of students are about to port into a specific future date just past what they have learned is a global environmental apocalypse. Having trained and planned for years in secret, the students intend to be the sole suriviors of a future Earth where they collect data and send it back through the "transfer" portal. The only drawback is that the transfer process renders everyone sterile. The time travelers cannot carry on the human race, but perhaps can send back enough data to help prevent the apocalypse before it happens? However, what the idealsitic young adventurers discover about life in the future turns out to be more horrific (and pessimistic) than they could have imagined.
IKARIE XB1 (aka: VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE) (1963) recommended! Dir: Jindrich Polak (THE VISITORS, TOMORROW I'LL WAKE UP AND SCALD MYSELF WITH TEA)
Really interesting set-design and all-computer music score highlight this story of a space pilot losing his mind on an inter-galactic space ship with a small crew. Wonderful black & white cinematography and smart direction keep this tragic tale of isolation and paranoia from becoming claustrophobic to the viewer.
HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) recommended! Dir: Terence Fisher (THE MUMMY, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE GORGON, BRIDES OF DRACULA)
The one-and-only Peter Cushing stars in this Hammer Horror classic.
Review Coming Soon!
BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) recommended! Dir: Terence Fisher (FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE, ISLAND OF TERROR, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN)
Review Coming Soon!
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1931) Dir: James Whale (FRANKENSTEIN, A KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR) Oh dear. An obvious "creativity by committee" misfire that forsakes everything that worked in the first film. The studio must have pandered to a dozen different things it thought audiences would want, thus rendering a "Franken-Script" that is dead on arrival. Too bad too since it extended the original Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley story from her original book version- but only as window dressing. Some great concepts were lost on this telling. PLEASE READ THE BOOK!
KRONOS (1957) Dir: Kurt Neumann The special effects are not good and the acting isn't much better, but there is a sophistication to the concepts in this tale of an alien force that arrives in the ocean and assembles itself into a giant machine that stomps about, zapping the earth of its vital resources.
THE CLONUS HORROR (aka: PARTS) (1979) Dir: Robert S. Fiveson
Seriously low-budget feature about a private campus full of very naive young adults who all turn out to be clones whose body parts are harvested for wealthy clients. The story is told from the point of view of a clone who goes off the reservation and wanders to the city to search for the truth and expose it to the mass media. There was something enjoyably charming about the low-budget nature of this flick. Very much a predecessor of Michael Bay's THE ISLAND. What the film lacked in polish was actually what made it sort of fresh by today's standards.
INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957) Dir: Edward L. Cahn Teenagers = good, grown-ups = bad, and the alien creatures don't really matter much, in this Z grade teen-sploitation throw-away that is essentially a rip off of THE BLOB. The comedic soundtrack keeps this one light throughout. You can almost hear the farty tuba hit when someone speaks a one liner. Bizarre mix of styles in this phoned-in Sci-Fi Comedy.
DINOSAURUS! (1960) Dir: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (THE BLOB, 4-D MAN) Review coming soon!