The current abundance of wonderfully re-mastered, high-definition editions of so many older films has given me occasion to view many works I might not have otherwise seen (or may not have wanted to, given the low technical quality of so many.) This year's list contains some films I have viewed before, but in some cases (thanks to restored versions) feel like I'm seeing for the first time. There are a few current releases reviewed as well, but they are in the margin. As has become standard, I am enjoying the older works far more than the current ones. Enjoy the list and keep watching movies!
LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973)recommended! Dir: Mario Bava (A BAY OF BLOOD, BARON BLOOD, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, THE WHIP AND THE BODY, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, PLANET OF VAMPIRES, BLACK SABBATH) My pick of the year! I'm not sure where to even begin, this film is just magical.
The production design alone is a star in this picture as is the cinematography. To take what is essentially a dream or hallucination and turn it into a technicolor delight of character, texture and point-of-view is so special here. Forget that there is murder, evil and necrophilia (yes- in one scene!) these figurative motifs are clearly in service of a much greater story-arc that takes us on a deep and emotive journey. Somehow it all works in service of the emotional landscape of the protagonist- a young woman (Elke Sommer) at a cross-roads in life, caught between relationships, who finds herself in a purgatory of sorts. There are equal parts Antonioni, Bunuel and Welles at work here- all within a quasi-horror pastiche that defies genre. Telly Savalis is brilliant as "the Devil" who is not so much a controller of fates but a subtle trickster, manipulator. Manifest in the character of a butler at a mansion (who has a hobby of making creepy life-size dolls) he even tells the main characters they probably shouldn't enter! The score is impeccably dreamy and hypnotic and is a perfect companion to the visual style which draws us in like a siren song. If there is a horror standard of a creepy house you try to escape, this is the corollary- we don't want to leave! we are tranquilized by the excesses in the realm of the mansion-purgatory. The visceral sense of this film is so exquistely palpable, I really felt emotionally transported into its universe. There is a last minute horrific end, which seals the idea that we are all sort of victims of the fates we create.
Important to note is that there is a butchered re-edit of this picture called "THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM" that was created in an effort to make it more a "horror" film and cash on on William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST which was in theaters the same year. That hacked version destroys the film completely. Please avoid that version and look only for this restored original.
LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973) Cinematography by Cecilio Paniagua / Art Direction by Nedo Azzini
BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)recommended! Dir: Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL (see review), SICARIO) One of the most immersive cinematic experiences I've ever witnessed. The film took its time, which was both its greatest asset and biggest deficit. It is rare to witness a film that loses itself in itself and does not pander to time constraints or expectations. Perhaps an acquired taste, but for me, watching this film was pure joy. Also, as with its predecessor, the film is an important moment in our cultural regards to Articifial Intelligence and at once, honors other works in A.I. Cinema, even as it marks a new milestone in such lineage.
Although considered Science-Fiction, we must consider the horror elements contained within, certainly in the lineage of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN which is heralded as a masterwork progenator of both Sci-Fi and Horror.
To anyone familiar with the history of A.I. commentary in Cinema, titles such as the recent EX MACHINA (see review), GHOST IN THE SHELL (see review), TERMINATOR, A.I., DEMON SEED (see review), I ROBOT, SURROGATES, WESTWORLD (see below), COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (see review), The SciFi Channel's BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and of course BLADERUNNER (1981); will be up to speed with the concepts in BLADERUNNER 2049. Continuing the themes these other sci-fi works have established, this new film ups the cyber-punk anty for a current generation.
(I will need to write an entire essay on this film at a later date...)
Human likenesses searching to understand their own desires to be Human in BLADERUNNER:2049
MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)recommended! Dir: Willard Hyuck (FRENCH POSTCARDS, BEST DEFENSE, HOWARD THE DUCK) Directorial entry from the writer of AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984).
Deliciously low budget, meditative, well paced and acted. Shades of Lovecraft (The Shadow Over Innsmouth) as a young woman travels up the California coast in search of her missing father. Vampire-zombies and a sinister cult come out of the woodwork as the woman and her compatriots struggle to escape. There is a terrific Carpenter/Romero-esque scene in a local shopping market where one of the characters encounters the towns-people grazing on raw meat! Something in the way the narrative unfolded slowly and didn't give too much away made this film especially compelling. Had a great atmosphere not unlike Italian Giallo thrillers and especially Mario Bava or even Dario Argento- minus the gore.
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971) recommended! Dir: Harry Kümel (MALPERUIS, REPELSTEELTJE, PARADISE LOST) Very well executed vision from Belgium filmmaker Harry Kumel. Fantastic cinematography and use of color with strong performances, screenplay and musical score. Delphine Seyrig is mesemerizing as a vampire countess who lures in and seduces a newlywed couple during a stop-over in a vacant European hotel. Surprisingly restrained entry in the erotic-vampire milieau (perhaps the greatest ever) but hardly sensationalist or exploitative. Kumel's vision mediates on high sexual tension and relationship dynamics while the vampire motif represents issues of identity and co-dependency. Its as if the spacious, vacuous hotel is a purgtory or netherworld where the young couple must face the true nature of love and togetherness. Are they prepared for what they have embarked on? Have they subconsciously invited malevolent forces into their midst? When is it too late to turn back and make different decision? Provacative themes and thick atmosphere drive the story toward its unrelenting ending.
THE LOBSTER (2015)recommended! Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos (THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, ALPS, DOGTOOTH, KINETTA) Awesome indy absurdism starring Colin Ferrel and Rachel Weisz. In a bizarre near future, anyone who is found single is given a limited time to find a mate for marriage, or is turned into an animal (of their choice.) The film chronicles the ridiculousness we put ourselves through in order to find a partner and live up to societal expectations. Directed in a very dry, matter-of-fact style, with terrific performances.
FIVE (1951)recommended! Dir: Arch Obler Very compelling and well produced low-budget, indy flick about a group of people surviving the end of the world. Similar ethical study as other apocalypse narratives (WAR OF THE WORLDS (here), OMEGA MAN, I AM LEGEND (here)) or zombie films (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, 28 DAYS LATER.) With one woman in the mix among four men, there is obligatory social tension that reveals everyone's true inner character. What principles will prevail in order for humaity to continue on? Very well executed with very little resources, proving again that "smarter" production outshines "larger" every time.
THE FLY (1958)recommended! Dir: Kurt Neuman (SHE DEVIL, ROCKETSHIP X-M) I have never seen the original THE FLY until now, even though I did see the David Cronenberg remake in the 1980's. Whereas Cronenberg likes to brood (pun intended!) over issues of biology and insanity, the original is a straight up ethical drama. Scientific hubris takes center stage as a young and dashing scientist Andre (David Hedison) creates a teleportation machine in his basement lab. When Andre over-zealously uses himself as his own guinnea pig, tragedy unfolds A fly accidentally flies into the transportation chamber with him and the machine fuses their DNA. Andre emerges half man, half beast as does the fly. Recognizing his failures, Andre destroys his work and takes himself out of the equation so that his tragic discovery never affects humanity again. There are some touching moments as Andre's wife Helene (Patricia Owens) aids him in his own suicide. Regardless of the special effects limitations of the time, there are none-the-less a few truly horrific moments as we see the fly with the scientist's head caught in a spider web about to be eaten. As dated and silly as this old sci-fi entry may seem, its cutting message resounds sharp and clear. Vincent Price is terrific of course as François, the tormented brother of the scientist, not-so-secretly in love with Helene. François and the local Sheriff (Herbert Marshall) upon realizing the horrors of what has happened in the lab, join forces to help Helene and hide the ugly truth from the press and the authorities. Strong stuff! Screenplay by James Clavell of SHOGUN fame.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1956) Dir: John Hough (AMERICAN GOTHIC, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, TWINS OF EVIL, SUDDEN TERROR) Fantastic British Horror with fantastic cinematography with script by Richard what-hasn't-he-written? Matheson. This is the film THE HAUNTING (see review below) wanted and should have been! When the "Mount Everest" of haunted houses is invaded by a scientist and several clairavoyant mediums in attempt to study the deadly phenomena within, will anyone survive? Will either Science or Superstition find a way to "cure" the house? Great commentary on personal hubris and the failures of dogma be them supernatural, scientific or just plain egotistical. Performance are all good, especially Roddy McDowell. Great production design, score and sound design as well. This film never talks down to its audience.
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) Dir: Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow Italian production of Richard Matheson's "I AM LEGEND" starring Vincent Price. Very enjoyable thanks to Price, good pacing and great set design and locations. This film serves as a good companion to the other film versions: I AM LEGEND (2007) (see here) starring Will Smith, and THE OMEGA MAN (1971) starring Charlton Heston. Unlike many tired re-makes and re-tells of classic stories, these three movies emphasize slightly different areas of Matheson's end-of-the-world tale, making for a great "volume" study.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) Dir: Rupert Julian The original starring Lon Chaney. Very well done especially for its time. Set designs, constumes and story-within-a-story structure that translates perfectly to screen.Very nice to see detailed remasters of this classic preserving it for generations to come.
GORGO (1961) Dir: Eugène Lourié (THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK) Britain's lone entry into the "Kaiju" giant-monsters (ie: Godzilla) genre. Ok I guess, not much to say about this one. Exploiters take a giant creature from its native island back to England to create a lucrative circus show (KING KONG.) However, havoc is soon unleashed when the creature turns out to just be the tiny offspring to a much bigger monster! Momma swims to England in search of her stolen baby and boy is she pissed!
RETURN OF THE FLY (1959) Dir: Edward Bernds (WORLD WITHOUT END, VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS, SPACEMASTER X-7) Loved the first one (see above) this one- not so much. Vincent Price once again stars and is an awesome team player, but this film is beneath him.
ISLAND OF TERROR (1966) Dir: Terrence Fisher (THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, THE GORGON, THE MUMMY, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, HORROR OF DRACULA, BRIDES OF DRACULA, FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE) Classy Brit-Horror starring Peter Cushing. Albeit cheesy in effects, this film has all the concepts, smarts, style and performances that today's horror films lack. Lots of Science and real-men who take charge! An aspect to the film I really appreciated was how a sort of sensationalist B-movie with silly effects, could be executed with such restraint and maturity. Cushing is of course solid as always. All in gorgeous Technicolor :-)
X THE UNKNOWN (1956) Dir: Leslie Norman (TV'S: THE AVVENGERS, THE SAINT) Lovely B&W, Brit-Horror at its best. Science is again at center stage when an energy-based life form is released from the Earth and wreaks havoc in and around a rural town and a military base. Scientists and soldiers race to understand this evolutionary aberration and devise a way to stop it. Cheeky fun! Similar to the QUATERMASS films (here), and also THE BLOB.
TORSO (1973) Dir: Sergio Martino (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, SCREAMERS, BLADE OF THE RIPPER)
Martino delivers his well-established schlock in this thriller/slasher wanna-be that isn't entirely bad. Looking and feeling like it wants to be a Dario Argento flick, TORSO rides the standard "who-dunnit" plot angle of Giallo thrillers with some ridiculous violence thrown in for sensationalist measure. Naked co-eds and a maniac on the loose provide the eye candy for what is essentially a big so what of a story. However, the third act offers some interest as the main gal (Brit sensation Suzy Kendall) is stuck in a house where all her murdered friends lay dead. Long passages of visual action without any dialogue are reminiscent of Hitchcock. Too bad the rest of the film wasn't as clever.
DEMENTIA 13 (1963) Dir: Francis Ford Coppola (APOCALYPSE NOW, RUMBLEFISH, THE GODFATHER 1-3, BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA) Been wanting to see this for a thousand years and waited until I could see a proper restored version. It was pretty much a so-what but well crafted and shot. A young Francis Coppola directed this thriller for Roger Corman. Sort of a film-noir meets horror/thriller about a family haunted by the death of a child aged sibling. Starts with a fiancee interested in the family fortune offing her husband and sweet-talking the mother, but half way through the film she is abruptly murdered! Our main protagonist then becomes the creepy family doctor whose intentions are unclear until he solves the mystery. Spoiler alert: the axe weilding killer is the younger brother. No suprise here at all. There is a really nice scene where the fiancee finds the dead girls old room and some nice trakcing shots detail her examining old toys. I dunno, not really sure why this film was made or why anybody would care about the story.
THE HAUNTING (1963) Dir: Robert Wise (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, AUDREY ROSE, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE) Interesting but awkwardly executed drama about a group of clairavoyant people taking part in a ghost study at a haunted mansion. Themes of isolation, self-worth and obsession permeate this thoughtful narrative (based on the book by Shirley Jackson.) Great production design and cinematography and properly sparing on special effects and sensationalism. The film meditates more on what it means to be haunted in any general sense, not just a supernatural one.
THE UNINVITED (1944) Dir: Lewis Allen (THE UNSEEN, SO EVIL MY LOVE) Romantic thriller about a couple staying in an old, seaside mansion. Although not an actual supernatural ghost-story, it has the mood and feel of one and ruminates on themes of possession and haunting.
WESTWORLD (1973) Dir: Michael Crichton (COMA, LOOKER, RUNAWAY) High-Concept and influential sci-fi drama about a near future where replicant androids populate an adult playground-for-the-rich resort. Since the robots are not actually human, the guests can treat them however they like regardless of any standard moral regard. This of course opens a Pandora's Box of ethical conundrums. Yul Brenner portrays a strong and silent gunslinger in WESTWORLD, a habitat where guests can enact real-life Cowboy shoot-outs without risk of actual injury- that is until he begins shooting back for real! This film gave rise to the recent Netflix original series of the same name.
FUTURE WORLD (1976) Dir: Richard T. Hefton (LOCUSTS, DEATH SCREAM, THE MYSTIC WARRIOR) Fun, B-list sequel to WESTWORLD starring Blythe Danner and Peter Fonda. Sprawling industrial locations and matter-of-fact directing keep this movie-of-the-week from becoming a throw-away, and expands the ethical universe of the first film. Now instead of just human-like androids going berserk, the new and improved resort-worlds are secretly kidnapping world leaders and replacing them with robot clones! Performances are great and production design is fun. Yul Brenner makes a cameo as the gunslinger from the previous film, in a really terrifically crafted dream sequence in the 2nd act.
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) Dir: Jim O'Connolly (HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND) Why? Because RAY HARRYHAUSEN that's why! Cowboy's and dinosaurs from a lost hidden-valley. Also some themes about hubris, tradition and opportunism. Pure awesomeness. I've seen many times but the recent BluRay HD restorations are beautiful and make it worth seeing again. (All of the Harryhausen collection that is!)
20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) Dir: Nathan Juran (JACK THE GIANT KILLER, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, THE DEADLY MANTIS) Ray Harryhausen animation sci-fi classic. Say no more! A crashed space ship in the ocean releases a captured creature from another world as a young couple endeavor to track it down and destroy it.
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) Dir: Roger Corman Review coming soon!
PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) Dir: Roger Corman Screenplay by Richard Matheson, music by Les Baxter and starring Vincent Price.
Full review coming soon!
HOUSE OF USHER (1960) Dir: Roger Corman Also has screenplay by Richard Matheson, music by Les Baxter and stars Vincent Price. Before Roger Corman was the King of the drive-in, cheezy B-movie, he was a legit low-budget director.
Full review coming soon!
THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) Dir: Roger Corman Officially titled as "Edgar Allen Poe's: THE HAUNTED PALACE", this is actually Corman's telling of H.P. Lovecraft's novel "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward." However, given the marketing success of Corman's Poe films (see above) it was decided they'd throw a Poe quote at the beginning and end of the film to justify having Poe's name in the title. So, this movie is actually a straight up Lovecraft tale. Focusing less on the far out concepts and more on the human story, Corman once again employs Vincent Price as his lead.
WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) Dir: Victor Halperin (SUPERNATURAL, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES, TORTURE SHIP) Pretty racy stuff for 1932 and it is in that context that I viewed and appreciated the film. Although the sets, matte paintings and wardrobes are all terrific, the stylized acting of the era is brutal, particularly from Lagosi, and the pacing is pretty hard to take as well. However, the story weaves some interesting concepts about drugged-induced zombie practice from Haitian Voodoo, by way of the Indian sub-continent. All manner of weird and disquieting practices of foreign lands are brought to mind as a young and very Caucasian (hence the "White" Zombie) young couple from the West visit India to be married.
THE ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957) Dir: Edward Cahn (IT! THE TERRROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, VOODOO WOMAN) Nothing spectacular but I really enjoyed this one. In the vein of WHITE ZOMBIE (see above) and very much a pre-cursor to John Carpenter's THE FOG, this feature deals with cursed zombies haunting a seaside town. The crew of a shipwrecked vessel wander the Earth (and under the Sea!) night after night in search of stolen treasure and justice for their untimely demise.
UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) Dir: Shane Carruth (PRIMER) Writer/Director Caruth also stars in this wrap-around, somewhat non-linear tale of cause and effect. Well made, interesting, clever and ultimately sort of in service of itself. Without much subtext, the film renders itself kind of a "so what?" Different characters' lives intersect with one common element- a strange, molecular, perhaps alien organism that manifests as a blue color that shows up again and again. Shades of Robert Altman, Paul Thomas Anderson and Todd Haynes are reflected in the quiet, meandering ambience and character intersections that define the film. I just wish I knew what the movie was saying, if anything at all.
LUCY (2014) Dir: Luc Besson (THE FIFTH ELEMENT, LA FEMME NIKITA, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL) Scarlett Johannsen stars in this sci-fi/actioner about a girl who is given a chemical that allows her brain to use 100% of itself, rather than the standard 10% of normal humans. The girl evolves beyond the scope of modern man into a sort of super-hero, and eventually into pure energy while a group of scientists (Morgan Freeman) race to learn all they can from her before she transcends corporeal form. I appreciated that, while bordering on a super-hero origin story, the film chose not to go that route, instead focusing on the high-concept science and the plot tension. Very slick production and effects as one would expect from Besson. Johanssen is solid as she continues her fascination with high-concept sci-fi projects (GHOST IN THE SHELL(2017), UNDER THE SKIN (2013) (here) )
ANNABELLE (2014) Dir: John R. Leonetti (THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2, MORTAL COMBAT:ANNIHILATION) Based on the seriously creepy opening flashback scene in James Wan's 2013 film THE CONJURING (see review), this tale follows the demonic trouble-makings of a possessed doll. Not as scary as the scene from THE CONJURING or Wan's earlier creepy-doll-film DEAD SILENCE (2007) (see review), or the creepiness of Richard Attenborough's MAGIC (1978) and not the "Talky Tina" episode of the Twilight Zone; this tale is more a drama of a young family trying to protect itself from the unknown. Shades of Polanski's classic ROSEMARY'S BABY. Spoiler alert: the doll never moves. Critics and audiences panned this film, I suspect because everyone expected fireworks to update all the above referenced thrillers, but alas, ANNABELLE was far more subdued. Alfre Woodard co-stars as an empathetic neighbor with a haunted past. Well made but forgettable.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2010) Dir: Troy Nixey Remake of the 1970's ABC-TV movie (see review here.) Produced by Guillermo Del Toro. After opening a sealed furnace in a secret basement of a new house, a couple and their daughter unleash malevolent forest pixies with a penchant for sharp things and an appetite for small children. Although entirely well made, I couldn't quite justify this remake as it seemed to scrap all the socio-political subtext of the original and is left having basically nothing to say.
THE POSSESSION (2012) Dir: Ole Bornedal (DELIVER US FROM EVIL, NIGHTWATCH) Well made and very well acted SO WHAT about a girl possessed by a demon trapped in a box that gets purchased at a yard sale. Its all a big metaphor for the "fracturing of the family" as the girls' recently divorced parents have to team up to implore a Jewish Rabbi (played by Hip-Hop artist Matisyahu!) to perform an exorcism. Nothing new here, please move along...
V/H/S (2012) Dir: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, Adam Wingard Anthology of shorts by up and coming directors. Some better than others but all just pointless exercises. Uses the "video cerite" caught-on-tape style of PARAMORMAL ACTIVITY or CLOVERFIELD.
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (aka: MONSTER) (1980) Dir: Barbara Peeters Creature Effects by Rob (THE THING) Bottin! Couldn't exaclty hate it and perhaps is my drive-in pick of the year (with pizza and a sixer.) Almost interesting idea of evolution making a sudden leap and fusing humans and fish into a new carnivorous species! When a big fishing corporation meddles with chemicals to create more salmon, the eco-system goes awry. Set against the backdrop of a small fishing town split over whether to support the new company or not, the locals must fight to survive. Everyone has to find their moral compass and pick a side. Fun men-in-suits creature effects take center stage as the monster horde attacks the town on its anniversary celebration. The ending offers an especially gruesome twist. From producer extraordinaire Roger Corman.
CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965) Dir: Andrew Marton (THE THIN RED LINE (1964), UNDERWATER WARRIOR, KING SOLOMON'S MINES) Silly but stylish B-lister about a scientist trying to save the world from cracking apart and in doing so, causes it to crack apart. Lots of themes of hubris and causality as well as heroism, duty and personal sacrifice, make this disaster-rama worth while.
THE NIGHT THE WORLD EXPLODED (1957) Dir: Fred F. Sears (THE GIANT CLAW, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, THE WEREWOLF) Do to "man's abuse of the Earth" a new elemental mineral is rising up from the depths of the abyss and wreaking havoc on the surface. When mixed with fresh air, the element expands until it blows up with the force of an atomic explosion. Dr. Scientist man-of-action-hero-guy has to act fast to save the World! Along with an elder scientist colleague and his just-happens-to-be-cute-and-in-love-with-him assistant, Hero-guy and company fly around the country (seemingly within mere minutes) spearheading the task of releasing man-made water supplies in order to neutralize the deadly mineral. Along the way Doc Buff and Hapless Chick discover true love. Also, the Earth is saved.
KING DINOSAUR (1955) Dir: Bert I. Gordon (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, THE FOOD OF THE GODS, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, THE CYCLOPS, BEGINNING OF THE END) B-movie master Bert I. Gordon delivers the cheese with this story of scientists who arrive on a foreign planet in its Jurassic era and fight dinosaurs! Stupid fun, with lots of green-screen lizard dino-monsters, silly characters, women who trip when they run and "Science!" That's pretty much it.
VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1961) Dir: Edward Bernds (WORLD WITHOUT END, RETURN OF THE FLY, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, SPACE MASTER X-7) Based on the Jules Verne story. Not too uninteresting low-baller about a comet that passes by the Earth and causes a pair of dueling 19th century tough guys to find themselves on another planet! Having to work together, the duo discover they are on a proto-Earth planet that is in its own Jurassic era. Battling dinosuars and warring cavemen tribes, the two men help establish some civility amongst the prehistoric homosapiens as they wait and hope for another cosmic anomoly to perhaps take them home again someday.
WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (aka: WARLORDS OF THE DEEP) (1978) Dir: Kevin Connor (THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, AT THE EARTH'S CORE, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE) My least favorite of the Kevin Connor dinosaur adventure movies. Doug McClure is back, this time as a nautical engineer whose deep-sea pod takes a father and son team of scientists to the lost cities of Atlantis.
Now, I'm a huge fan of Conner's movie trilogy of the Edgar Rice Burroughs "Caspak" series (THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT and AT THE EARTH'S CORE) It's all too easy to poke fun at the rubber suit dino-monsters, sensational concepts and B-grade production; but high-adventure pieces like this realized into film are the stuff of young boy's greatest dreams! THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT was a game changer for me at age 7, when my Dad took me to see it at the drive-in. This was shortly after I saw Nathan Juran's THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD for the first time and I was in a daze of Ray Harryhausen Dynamation Dino-Delighthood that would lead directly into my obsession for all things GODZILLA and TOHO Films; and eventually catching up to Willis O'Brien's masterful grand-daddy of them all KING KONG (1933). I'll never forget what it meant to see a movie starting up and seeing the title "Samuel Z. Arkoff presents" or "Charles H. Schneer presents" and then the tell-tale cropped-for-TV Cinemascope look. You knew you were in for one of the rare moments when a monster movie was coming on!
WORLD WITHOUT END (1978) Dir: Edward Bernds (VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (see above), RETURN OF THE FLY, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, SPACE MASTER X-7) An A.I.P.and Charles H. Schneer produced, big colorful Cinemscope adventure about astronauts time-warped into a future Earth. No dino-monsters in this one, but still in the vein of WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (see above) or JOURNEY TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, THE FANTASTIC VOYAGE or JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD, etc. Not a horror flick and mostly for kids, this innocuous romp is more like a Twilight Zone episode with a big happy ending. Stars Sci-Fi/Adventure regulars Hugh Marlowe (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS), Rod Taylor (THE BIRDS, THE TIME MACHINE) and SHIRLEY PATTERSON (THE LAND UNKNOWN, BATMAN)
THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X (aka: COSMIC MONSTERS) (1978) Dir: Gilbert Gunn
Brit-Horror B-lister that falls short. Good performances and lots-o-"SCIENCE" can't save a meandering storyline and silly third act. Over-zealous scientists playing with magnetic fields put the Earth in jeopardy until an alien visitor comes to set us straight. In the process, radiation causes insects in a small town to grow huge and attack! The premise and story idea were fine enough, but the realization just wasn't quite enough to make it work. Especially noteable performance from Forrest Tucker (THE CRAWLING EYE, THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, CHISUM and TV's F-TROOP)
IF THERE'S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE TO WATCH...
POSSESSION (1981) Dir: Andrzej Zulawski (THE DEVIL, THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT) Stars two actors I adore, Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani, in the film that launched Adjani toward A-lister status. However, I'm not taking the bait on this edgy, experimental-actors-lab disguised as a feature film. Never confuse "motion" for "progress" and just because there is a lot going on and a lot of confusion, doesn't mean anything is really happening. I had to watch this movie in parts because it wore me out very quickly. Although I made it all he way to the end, I really had little idea what was going on save for some point-of-view surrealism and metaphor and that just was not enough. If Lynch and Cronenberg teamed up on an interpretation of a Bergman script and then hired Goddard to direct, this might be that project. Either that, or give two young actors both LSD and Cocaine and turn on the camera for a while.
A young couple struggle to hold their relationship together in what seems like a last attempt to make it work. Both seem to be sliding not so slowly into insanity however and it quickly becomes unclear which real is the really-real. A lot of screaming and prolonged nervous-breakdown scenes and ACTING STUFF trail on and on until in the third act, when things turn very macabre. Having become a full fledged murderer, Adjani's character holes up in an apartment where a creature seems to be growing in the bed room. Looking something like a squid with worm arms and very much out of a Cronenberg or Lynch universe, this entity seems a stand-in for the malignant and malevolent nature of the broken marriage. This thing eventually fully forms, after crazy-wife has lots of slimey sex with it, into a duplicate doppleganger of the obsessive-hubby. Then everyone dies. Experimental whatever aside, this noisy stream-of-consciousness had little payoff.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) Dir: Ruggero Deodato (THE HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE PARK, WAVES OF LUST, JUNGLE HOLOCAUST) Oh dear. I watched this only because it is on a zillion "best cult films of all time" lists. I knew pretty much what I was in for, especially being familiar with Deodato's other 'sploitation gem THE HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE PARK (also 1980), but there were some surprises. The movie is famously known for controversy, including the arrest and trial of the director on suspicions of murder. Viewers (or a viewer- accounts differ) of the film actually thought the actors were killed for the purposes of the movie! After parading some of the actors into the courtroom, the director was exonerated. However, the film is still reviled for its animal cruelty (all true) and its general exploitative approach to- well, everything.
Although I did not like this film, I will give credit where it is due- this film was the first to do the "found footage, caught on tape" thing, way back in the late seventies (the movie wasn't released until 1980) and pretty effectively I might add. The film is actually important for several media-studies reasons other than just its revered cult status. Years before people thought SPINAL TAP was an actual band, or that THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was actually found documentary footage, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was bending the docu-genre verite angle. Among other things, part of the film is actually a fake documentary inside a fake-documentary. There is also some real-life stock footage that is mixed in at parts, confusing the viewers sense of what is real and what isn't. This was also the era of the FACES OF DEATH straight-to-video features that rekindled the "schockumentary" milieu of the 1960's, ala the MONDO CANE series. Most of the film uses a hand-held verite style for its approach although the film is entirely fiction. This style creates a looseness that both adds to the supposed documentary nature of the story, as well as helping mask the very low-budget reality of the entire production.
We begin with a news announcer explaining that a crack documentary TV crew has gone missing in the Amazon while on assignment. Curiously, we don't see the actual broadcast, rather, we see the filming of the on-camera broadcaster on location in New York City, for what will later be part of a nightly newscast. This begins our riding-along-side-the production sense that carries throughout the film. Next, a University Professor is hired by the TV network to go to the Amazon and try to find out what happened. The Films' first act is comprised of the Professor's journey through the cannibal-occupied jungles and his discovery of the murdered film crew and their still intact film footage. The next act of the movie centers around the Professor's confrontation with the TV network back in New York. The network wants to show the recovered footage but after viewing the footage, the professor protests. The third act is the professor showing the network execs the entirety of the recovered footage, which we also see. Turns out, the lost crew was actually fudging their findings and were actually responsible for countless unforgivable crimes on the natives who ultimately killed them.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is from stem to stern a criticism of the media and news coverage. It also does not exempt itself from the very same criticism as it is very much part of the very industry it is scrutinizing. This is where the film is most interesting and also where its deepest controversy lies. It is all too easy to do anything you want and justify it later by calling it "commentary." Although I think the thrust of the film is legit in this manner, the excessive sensationalism is abused, in my opinion, by the filmmakers. This is what has drawn the harshest criticism of the film for decades. Seven animals are brutally killed for the filming of the movie and all are seen in detail on screen. Nudity, rape, murder, genital mutilation, amputation, beheading, disemboweling , mutilation and yes- cannibalism are all on display and although all fake, the animal deaths are not (a tarantula, snake, pig, monkey, sea turtle and more- i forwarded past most of these.) Borrowed real-life war footage of human executions is used in one scene, as footage supposedly shot by the lost TV crew in their past assignments. It is explained that the TV crew faked this footage for ratings, although the footage in our reality actually is archival execution footage used by the filmmakers of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. This blurring of the lines is no doubt what led gullible viewers to mistakenly think CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was actually part snuff-film. By today's standards the films' tricks are easily spotted but again, this was 1980, before home video and the internet made us all hyper-savvy about media production. Whatever the intended use, the disturbing footage- real, fake, faux-fake or otherwise- is fully visible in the movie. You cannot unsee it once you've seen it and explaining it away as "commentary" doesn't make it any less gruesome. It seems odd if not counter-productive to have to watch these graphic scenes in order to speculate on the moral tenability of such graphic scenes(?)
The question remains open as to what limits one might define, regarding how to comment on form and content. If CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST wants to make its viewers sick to their stomachs while thinking about issues of media ethics, then mission sort-of accomplished. The film is certainly nauseating, but is it because of the moral questions the film puts on the table, or is it just the gore? Could this have been accomplished some other way? Sadly, for all its cleverness, the film only raises more questions as it barfs all this onto the screen and seems mostly a cop-out for sensationalism over anything else.
To no one's surprise, contemporary director and 'sploitationist-at-large Eli Roth (HOSTEL (see review), HOSTEL 2, CABIN FEVER) made a modern sequel to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (which he sites as his favorite cult film) in 2013 entitled GREEN INFERNO.
INSEMINOID (aka: "HORROR PLANET") (1981) Dir: Norman J. Warren (BLOODY NEW YEAR, SPACED OUT, PREY, TERROR) Sad ALIEN rip-off. The end.
IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) Dir: Edward L. Cahn (CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, THE SHE-CREATURE, VOODOO WOMAN, THE CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN) Dirk Sizzle-Chest and crew battle a stow-away creature on their rocket ship. Lots-o-Science and women dressed like the ladies from "The Jetson's" falling for whoever is the Alpha at the moment. Special Effects and production design almost as good as 1980's-era "Doctor Who" episode. Has been said that Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979) was loosely based on this film, which I find exceedingly hard to believe.
THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964) Dir: Terence Fisher (ISLAND OF TERROR, THE GORGON, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, THE MUMMY) Tepid and disappointing entry from horror master Terence Fisher. The black and white look and the somber feel of the opening sequences immediately brought to mind other Brit-Horror loveables like VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (see review), THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (see review), and X THE UNKNOWN (see above.) However, this promising start quickly pales into a so-so tale about cheesy alien robots (and i mean CHEEZY) taking over the world. Although I love any story about a group of folks trying to survive end-of-the-world situations (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE THING, OMEGA MAN, I AM LEGEND (see review), THE QUIET EARTH, FIVE (see above), etc.) this one seemed phoned in. Sad effects, standard characters and a thrown together ending make this one to avoid.
THE SWARM (1978) Dir: Irwin Allen (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE LOST WORLD (1960), CITY BEBEATH THE SEA, BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) OMG Michael Cane in an Irwin Allen disaster flick actually directed by Irwin Allen. Cheesy sillyness with lots of emphatic speeches and shouting by Caine and others in this made-for-TV-feeling low-baller with a rambling story and bad effects. 2+ hours of your life you'll never get back that are not nearly as inspired or contoured as EARTHQUAKE or THE POSSEIDON ADVENTURE.
THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959) Dir: Ib Melchior (THE TIME TRAVELERS) Ed Wood with slightly "better" production value. What a stinker! A directorial effort from the writer of REPTILICUS, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS and believe it or not, Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES. A team of Earth astronauts land on Mars, totally assuming there is life(?) and sure enough there is. Although more interested in brandishing weapons and engaging in long expositional dialogue than doing any Science, this "Science" expedition runs into trouble. The actors never seem aware at all as to the reality of their supposed characters. Nothing that happens (and very little does) is believable or appropriately realistic at all and most of the film is just dialogue. Most hilarious of all is the rampant sexism in the portrayal of the female character! Political-correctness aside, holy-non-dimensionality Batman! YES she trips when she runs, YES she is the cook who prepares the meals, YES she feints all the time, YES she has to be rescued, YES she is hit on by the entire crew and seems fine with it, YES she has protruding, ever-present 60's boobs and YES there is even a scene where she causes a delay because she is doing her make-up! A Science wiz, it is revealed that she is the daughter of two famous scientists. Of course she could never find her way to respectable academia on her own, it has to run in the family.(argh!) Aside from this cardboard cutout, there is a communications officer who is the dumb, fat faced Brooklyner with the one-liners. A commander who seems to think he's Frank Sinatra and does nothing more than mack on the female crew member. Finally, there's the elder scientist who seems the only one remotely in character, but an absolute lack of direction keeps all these hapless thespians from achieving anything like a real performance. Everything about the story and dialogue is like a TV sit-com, not a sci-fi feature. The stagy, constant presence of the "fourth wall" keeps the film two-dimensional at all times and more like a play than a motion picture. The exterior scenes on Mars are rendered with a post-processing effect called "CineMagic" that makes everything mono-chromatic and bathed in deep red. Not a bad look, but obviously used to blend and mask the cheap sets and the drawings and paintings used as backgrounds. The highlight of the film is a scene with a giant spider with crab-legs that looks part monkey or rodent. Although it bounces around obviously suspended from a string, you can't see the string at all- miraculous special effects! The final credits roll with a swingin' sixties jazz-a-go-go tune, against footage of an amoeba pressed against the window of the rocket ship (ala THE BLOB.) If THE ANGRY RED PLANET is supposed to be camp, it doesn't work. I enjoyed PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER much more than this zero. At least Ed Wood was trying!
TENTACLES (1977) Dir: Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR, MADHOUSE, PIRANHA ll: THE SPAWING) Italian JAWS rip-off that tries to pretend it isn't a foreign production. So bizarre I watched it twice(!) John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins and Henry Fonda lipstick this pig as an octopus is morphed into a giant monster (we guess) by toxic waste and ravages coastal areas. With the standard wide-screen, technicolor saturated, zooming cinematography of Bava, Fulci and Argento (minus the smarts) and the obviously dubbed sound design; this Spaghetti-schlocker is viscerally odd to begin with. More problematic is the thin and rambling story with mercilessly slow pacing that renders the experience even more numbing. However, it is the performances, particularly of Bo Hopkins that take the prize!
Trying to skate in on the 70's era "somber and silent tough guy" milieau, Hopkins is a dolphin trainer who uses his aquatic friends to battle the monster. Steve McQueen he is not and so relaxed he's on the verge of sleep (or at least I was) as I screamed at the screen "please someone get this guy a gallon of coffee and some lines of coke for cripes' sakes!" So obtuse are the performances they almost become a legitimate form of comedy. Huston is solid as a quirky and intrusive newspaper reporter. Winters is an overbearing mom you just want to die and Fonda is the evil corporate CEO whose scenes were obviously shot all in one afternoon at some Los Angeles location and dropped in. To try and mask the obvious Spaghetti production there are some expository pieces of dialogue explaining why some of the characters are Italian and have accents. Nice try!
As far as the creature-feature parts, stock footage and deceptive editing reveal very little, although minatures and some full-size props have some ok moments. The crowning jewel of this feature is this amazing sequence in the 2nd act where a children's boat race turns into an octo-slaughter. A point-of-view camera angle with a paper maché octopus eye in the corner of the frame carries the main "action." Having no other devices to portray the carnage- choppy, acid-trip editing techniques attempt to "infer" what is happening. An inappropriate and overbearing musical score sonically drowns everything as if to further mask the confusion. High Cinema!
SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS (1971) Dir: Don Jones (THE LOVE BUTCHER, SWEATER GIRLS, THE FOREST) Not exactly torture-porn nor sexploitation grinder per-se, but definitely a twisted 'sploitation something. Riffing on PSYCHO and any of the other impersonating-my-dead-mommy sub-genre, this zero-lister is not completely un-serious about its dark themes. Another ferrel family run amok! (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES) Perverted family drama renders everyone a mess and the ending actually leaves us feeling sad for the bad guys as much as their victims. The film is partly saved because of the earnest performances of its actors (or at least, some of them.) Definitely has the grindhouse nudity and violence, but shockingly, it is in service of the story believe it or not.
A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1973) Dir: Jess Franco Standard Horror/Porn fare from Franco that wishes it was Bava or Fulci but isn't at all. Lots of dreamy atmosphere and dark, macbre themes true to the sub-genre (you know- people in robes, candles, zombies coming up from the ground, S&M, rape, lots of hairy 70's nudity, etc, etc...) The lead character does nothing right or sensible and only seems to want to get into trouble (perhaps she does, perhaps that's the whole point.) The film is more a meditation on theme and tone than a solid narrative. I will grant that there are two funny scenes that really live up the subversive. (1) A calling hours scene where a chain smoking uncle cheerfully plays piano and the rest of the (undead) family recite prayer passages mumbling "blah, blah, blah" while standing around (or doing their nails in one case!) (2) A similar scene where our young, naive heroine walks in on the family pulling rings off a decapitated arm and, hiding the apendage behind their backs (Director Franco himself plays one of the family members), put on fake smiles, barely able to hide their laughter. The cinematography and locations are mesmerizing as is some of the soundtrack, but its all for naught. This is just an empty "sploitation" film.
GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN (1958) Dir: Richard E. Cunha (SHE DEMONS, MISSLE TO THE MOON, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, GIRL IN ROOM 13) Seemed like it might be fun at first but gets really silly. A young scientist and his romantic interest accompany an archeologist in a rural mountain town as they uncover a secret buried in the rocks. Turns out, a giant, Viking-era, early-civilzation man has been trapped in stasis and is now free to roam the countryside, slicing and dicing livestock and the locals. Will a hastily assembled hunting party from town stop him in time? No one cares(!) but the Paul Bunyon-esque goliath comes complete with furry vest and cheesy axe. Acting performances, lack of directing and cinematography make this flick a sure-to-be hit on "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
EARTH ll (1971) Dir: Tom Gries (HELTER SKELTER, SERPENT ISLAND) Feeling like a TV episode of something (in fact, this was a made-for-TV feature), this sci-fi wanna-be chronicles life on a satellite oribiting Earth that boasts an "alternative" and soveriegn status as an independent nation. Sporting tight turtlenecks amongst chrome & glass futurism, the TV caliber cast (like Marriette Hartley) endure a bland drama about a society without guns or violence. Kunundrums abound when a renegade nuclear missle drifts into a collision course with the politically neutral, pacifist space station. Think TV's "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" meets an episode of "Different Strokes" or somesuch. Not quite Neil Blomenkamp's ELYSIUM.
THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957) Dir: Nathan Juran (20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (see above), JACK THE GIANT KILLER, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN, THE DEADLY MANTIS) So ridiculous and cheezy but I liked the locations. A squishy rubber-ball prop serves to portray a giant brain-with-eyes alien that hypnotizes our human heroes, until Dirk Sizzle-Chest smacks it into submission with a sledge hammer. Makes for some great GIFS online!
NOT OF THIS EARTH (1957) Dir: Roger Corman (DAY THE WORLD ENDED, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, A BUCKET OF BLOOD, HOUSE OF USHER, PIT AND THE PNDULUM, THE RAVEN, THE TERROR, THE HAUNTED PALANCE, THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, LAST WOMAN ON EARTH, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, THE WASP WOMAN, THE TRIP, WAR OD THE SATELLITES) An alien from another planet requires human blood to develop an antidote to emminent exinction in his world. Acting like a vampire, the alien in human form preys on passers-by and his own in-house staff workers until a suspecting policeman works with a new maid to uncover the ghastly secret. Low budget to the core with cheeze-ball effects and concepts, this film looks and feels mich like an "Outer Limits" episode.
ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958) Dir: Bert I. Gordon (KING DINOSAUR, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, THE FOOD OF THE GODS, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, THE CYCLOPS, BEGINNING OF THE END)
Silly thriller about an aging puppet maker who has invented a method for shrinking living things down to miniature doll size. Turning his employess and a variety of intruders into his personal dolls, the demented old man keeps himself from lonliness with his minaturized world. When too many missing-person reports begin mounting, the law starts investigating. Knowing the end is near, the old man resolves to kill himself and all his mini-human captives. Can the tiny prisoners mount an escape in time? Canned performances and staging make this a bit of a stale "Twilight Zone" episode. Some of the set-design is fun however as the actors interact with giant objects to create the sense of their reduced size, while crude green screen effects fill in the rest. The ending wraps up a little too quickly. Not much to say about this one.
THE FLESH EATERS (1964) Dir: Jack Curtis
B&W low-baller about three ppl stranded on an island who encounter the evil creations of a Nazi-inspired scientist. Flesh eating compounds released in the water multiply and destroy all living tissue! Mad scientist dude plans to sell his doomsday creation to the highest bidder. Our hapless castaways must struggle to uncover the horrible truth and manage an escape. I contemplated actually liking this one because the performances, dialogue and camera coverage seemed rather smart for a no-budget schlocker. However, once the special effects revealed themselves, it was all downhill from there. The end is especially bad.
THE BRAIN EATERS (1958) Dir: Bruno VeSota (INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES)
Review coming soon! Or not...
MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (aka: Daikyoju Gappa) (1967) Dir: Hiroshi Nogushi Japanese Kaiju entry from the High-Seventies Godzilla pantheon. Rubber suits monsters, a mysterious island and a little boy protagonist. That's basically it.
THE HAUNTING (1999 remake) Dir: Jan DeBont (SPEED, TWISTER, LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE) This film sucked, boycott it. Whatever was decent in the original film is undermined in this re-tell. A great example of "creativity by committee" only this wasn't even an original mis-fire but a crappy attempt at a remake! Perfect example of big stars, classic script, big studio budget, new effects tech and a star director all thrown in a blender do not a movie make! The ending was a big, DUMB, Hollywood CGI fest for no reason. I feel bad for the actors, it wasn't their fault, but they'll likely wanna scrap this entry from their resumes. I hate Hollywood.