Archive for the 'Sci-fi' Category

13
Oct
15

The Invisible Man (1933)

invisiblemanposterWhile I would undoubtedly call myself a fan of horror films, I am by no means an expert. There are many, many holes in my horror knowledge, in part because I got started late, and in part because there is just so much stuff out there. The good news is, every year has an October, and October is just the perfect time to fill in some of those holes. When thinking about which movies to pick for 31 Days of Horror this year, James Whale’s The Invisible Man was one of the first to spring to mind.

Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) is a dedicated scientist working under Dr. Cranley’s tutelage. He and his colleague Dr. Arthur Kemp both have taken a shine to Cranley’s daughter, Flora. It seems as though Flora and Griffin have a thing going on, but even so, he can’t help but feel inadequate. Compared to Kemp, he is poor, and worries that he won’t be able to adequately provide for Flora should they ever marry. This is probably only part of Griffin’s motivation for perfecting a serum that turns him invisible, thereby giving him incredible power and the ability to take over the world!

Well, it's tough to eat through all those bandages.

Well, it’s tough to eat through all those bandages.

The only trouble with the serum? He can’t perfect the antidote. So he moseys on over to an inn during a snowstorm and demands a room. The crowd there is a little taken aback, and Jenny Hall (Una O’Connor) the lady of the establishment doesn’t quite know how to deal with his temper, or the fact that he’s covered in bandages. But they leave the man to his work for a few days. But he is soon behind on rent and still hasn’t figured out the antidote situation. Here, Griffin’s anger gets the best of him, and he storms out of the place leaving a few poor, injured souls behind.

So, he goes to the only place he can think of for help: Kemp’s home. But rather than being apologetic and asking for help, Griffin threatens Kemp if he doesn’t do as he says. Kemp tries his best to get Cranley and the police involved, but they are no match for a crazed, arrogant invisible man. Or are they?

Una O'Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

Una O’Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

This movie is so much fun. I should have known; everything else I’ve watched by Whale has had both a darkness and a sense of humor about it, and this film is no exception. Dr. Jack Griffin is only slightly sympathetic; only in the scenes with Flora where we see his vulnerability to we feel anything like pity towards the guy. The rest of the time he is incredibly bombastic and pompous, which leads to a lot of hilarious moments, frankly. But the best and funniest moments are those with Una O’Connor, who also delighted me in Bride of Frankenstein. While I guess you could call her performance a bit over-the-top, I think it definitely adds to the air of incredulity that’s already present in this film. I mean, how would you react if there was an invisible man running about?

But aside from all that stuff, what’s really impressive to me here is of course the special effects. Sure, you can see a wire here and there, but that’s not the point. Nor does it detract from the ultimate effect: it really looks like that bike is riding itself, for instance. I’m no expert in the evolution of movie effects, but I know that what these guys did here was really damn impressive for 1933. Hell, it’s impressive to me even

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

today. I could take a million stills from this movie that made me say “wow, that looks so cool!” Just knowing how hard the effects crew must have worked to make the film look this way leaves me super impressed with the final output.

So, yeah, The Invisible Man is funny, impressive and also quite scary, when you think about its implications. As I’m sure I’ve said before, sometimes old-timey flicks are a hard sell for me. I typically have difficulty getting into the brains of characters from older movies, especially the female characters. Sure enough, Flora the love interest is just about as damsel-in-distressy as you’d expect from a 1933 flick. Even so, the insertion of humor in this movie really helps alleviate some of those issues for me. The lightened tone is a good reminder that not everything is so darn serious, and doesn’t have to be read that way. If you’re a horror fan, I definitely recommend this. A great watch!

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08
Oct
15

Village of the Damned (1960)

When 2015 started I promised myself I’d read a lot of books this year. Now, here we are in October and I can say with certainty that however many books I’ve read so far doesn’t come anywhere close to anyone’s definition of “a lot.” Realizing this of course didn’t make me run to my reading nook, but instead prompted me to watch a film adaptation of one of the books I did read this year, John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. After all, it is October, and what says Halloween more than a dozen creepy kids with glowing eyes?

Just a mysteriously-induced nap in the middle of the day for the whole town of Midwich

Just a mysteriously-induced nap in the middle of the day for the whole town of Midwich

Midwich is a small, forgettable village outside of London. New folks rarely show up, and when they do they’re often met with suspicion. Everyone that lives there has known everyone else for essentially their whole lives. There’s absolutely nothing remarkable about the place. That is, until all the residents of the town experience a strange, unexplained simultaneous black-out. Literally every living thing in the confines of the village falls asleep, right in the middle of what they’re doing, at exactly the same time. Scientists from neighboring villages are unable to pinpoint the cause, and when everyone wakes up seemingly normal, it is chalked up to a harmless oddity.

Unfortunately, it turns out not to be so harmless after all. It isn’t long until the local doctor starts to notice a disturbing trend: every single woman of child-bearing age is found to be pregnant. Some even claim to still be virgins. Not only that, the babies are growing at an alarming rate, causing the doctor and the town’s one intellectual, a writer named Zellaby, to question the origin of these babies…

Beware the children with the golden eyes!

Beware the children with the golden eyes!

A few months pass, and the women uneventfully give birth to the babies. Most are strong, and they seem normal, except for their weird golden eyes. It’s when they get older that the problems start to show themselves. They seem to exert a strange control over people to get what they want. Zellaby also discovers that what one toddler learns, the rest of the group learns without being present. They’re like a unit. A big, scary, evil, golden-eyed unit. What plans do they have in store for little old Midwich?

For a flick from 1960, Village of the Damned is pretty effectively freaky. Those shining golden eyes actually look pretty good, but the actors they cast (and those awful haircuts!) do a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to making the kids look super creepy. Unsurprisingly though, the film doesn’t have half the bite the book does.

Cross these kids and they'll make you blow your own brains out.

Cross these kids and they’ll make you blow your own brains out.

Clocking in at under 80 minutes, it doesn’t even really give itself the chance to tackle some of the subtleties that make the book so great. Not only that, the characters are kind of just there; there is no time for any of them to develop personalities. You still get a good dose of Cold-War era paranoia, especially with those kids acting all robotic and pretty much sharing a brain, but the book offers so much more than this skimpy film does.

So, is that what I get for reading the book first? It’s always so hard to put my expectations on the back burner and enjoy a film isolated from its source material. The bottom line is, the story this film tells is legitimately spooky, and done well enough. I have to admit I’m curious about John Carpenter’s 1995 version; I wonder if a more modern adaptation would be willing to take more risks than obviously the 1960 version could, or would, have wanted to. But I digress. In the end Village of the Damned is just allright; it’s the “light” version of a seriously creepy story. Cliche as it is, I have to say: the book was better.

01
Oct
15

Lifeforce (1985)

Probably five or ten years ago, I watched Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce for the first time. I only remembered two things about it: 1) I didn’t like it and 2) space vampires. Q had two copies of the film, one on videocassette, which supposedly had the superior cut, and the other on DVD; the inferior cut that I must have seen previously. So, in a move to free some space on our shelves, I agreed to buy the blu-ray which had both cuts, knowing I was also agreeing to give the film another go. But all that crap is boring, can we just get to the naked vampires already?

Space is the place

Space is the place

Like any good science fiction horror flick, Lifeforce starts off on a spaceship. This particular ship, the Churchill, is out exploring Halley’s comet. When they get close to the comet, they discover a giant alien spaceship and do what no one should ever do, but what they always do in movies like this: explore it. Inside, they find some desiccated alien life forms resembling bats, and three ‘sleeping’ humanoid forms suspended in some kind of enclosure. What else to do but bring the specimens back to the spaceship? After all, this is a mission of discovery.

NAKED VAMPIRE SPACE PODS

NAKED VAMPIRE SPACE PODS

Well, the next thing you know, no one has heard anything from the Churchill for some alarming amount of time. A rescue shuttle shoots on into space to see what the hell’s going on, only to find a burned out ship and the three alien pods. Not knowing what the hell happened, they take the pods back to Earth, and that’s when shit gets totally fuckin’ naked and weird. And naked. Did I mention naked?

Steve Railsback gets a tough break.

Steve Railsback gets a tough break.

Rewatching Lifeforce a second time, it is amazing to me I didn’t remember that nearly a third of the film consists of a Mathilda May walking around completely naked sucking the life out of people. Okay, to be fair, some of that time she is lying down naked. The other thing I found perplexing was why my initial reaction was so negative; turns out the film is actually pretty good – and no, it wasn’t because of the different cuts, because we accidentally watched the longer cut and I didn’t find myself squirming in my seat or anything remotely along those lines. No, the film actually moved at a pretty decent clip, and it kept me interested.

It's never a good thing when desiccated corpses walk the earth.

It’s never a good thing when desiccated corpses walk the earth.

So, yes, there is more to Lifeforce than Mathilda May’s tits. Steve Railsback plays a perfect shell-shocked victim; frantic eyes, desperate pleas, the whole bit. Bonus getting to see a bespectacled pre-TNG Patrick Stewart play a role that doesn’t come close at all to resembling the in-control Captain Picard. But probably what impressed me most were the special effects. There’s a few Pink Floyd light-show moments, and those are cool, but the really great stuff is watching May suck the life out of her victims, and in consequence watching their desiccated corpses search for lifeforce amongst the living. Ok yeah and it’s pretty cool when they explode, too.

12
Sep
15

The Creation of the Humanoids (1962)

creationposter_3Who doesn’t enjoy mid-century science-fiction? Maybe I like it so much because we are now decades-removed from the prevalent paranoia that serves as its backbone; because its post-apocalyptic future is our kitschy past. I can look back and laugh at its naiveté, misogyny and general short-sightedness because we’ve come so far, right?

Well, yeah, maybe not that last part. And of course, not all science fiction of this period is laughable; a lot of it is legitimately good stuff. I can’t really say that’s true for The Creation of the Humanoids though! This movie is a god damn laugh riot! Seventy-five minutes of paranoid plot exposition, twists and turns that make no sense, and my favorite: the dismissal of women, even if they’re robots!

The setting is a dismal future after the atomic war. To make up for the loss in human population and low birth rate due to radiation, humans created a new breed of robots. The humans couldn’t tolerate working next to a robot that looked like a machine, so scientists worked hard to create robots that look like humans. But as the robot population grows, so does the backlash against them. The Order of Flesh and Blood is a large, aggressive conservative organization hellbent on wiping those pesky ‘clickers’ off the face of the Earth!

Robots and humans in collusion... but WHY?!

Robots and humans in collusion… but WHY?!

Trouble rears its ugly head when one of the heads of the Order, Captain Kenneth Cragis (that’s The Cragis to you) finds out his sister Esme is ‘in rapport’ with a robot! Well, this certainly won’t go over well with the Gents in The Order, many of whom already envy Cragis’s high position. He best go set Esme straight, because that woman needs her brother to tell her what to do, right?!

Well, Esme is pretty headstrong and she’s not having it. But the good news for Cragis is, he meets Esme’s friend Maxine while he’s over at Esme’s place. Party at Esme’s… at 2:30AM… just ’cause, I guess. By 4AM, Cragis and Esme are planning to get married, or ‘contract with one another.’ Cragis is still bummed about Esme’s unwillingness to ditch her robot husband, but thrilled to have met and fallen in love with his future contractor in the span of an hour and a half! I mean, who wouldn’t be? But you and I know, of course, trouble lies ahead…

Oh, Creation of the Humanoids, what a glorious disaster of a time capsule you are. On the one hand, I have to

I just can't get over The Cragis's pants. LOOK AT THOSE AMAZING PANTS!

I just can’t get over The Cragis’s pants. LOOK AT THOSE AMAZING PANTS!

admire its attempt at a positive message: don’t hate people (or, I guess in this case, things) that are trying to help you; don’t shake your fist at the advance of science and technology because you’re only hurting yourself, that kind of thing. But then I wonder how its ending can actually be consistent with that message. And no, I’m not going to spoil it for you, because the ending is so awesomely sweet you need to see it for yourself.

The presentation and pacing of this film is baffling. As I noted before, it really is nothing but exposition. There is not a single thing left up to the viewer to figure out on her own. Our friendly robot serves as narrator for virtually the entire movie. There are very few scenes where the action tells us anything, and when it does, it’s explained to us anyway – just in case we missed it. But don’t worry, that doesn’t actually mean the film is boring! The running time is short enough and the costumes and effects fun enough to gawk at that the seventy-five minutes will fly by like nothing. It is definitely worth watching, but only if you’re in it for the right reasons. I mean, I guess the movie is sort of thought-provoking, but being that it’s 2015 and these were thought-provoking ideas in 1962… well it’s kind of stuff most of us have figured out by now. I suppose you could twist some of the ideas into issues we’re dealing with today; like maybe replacing robots with climate change or something like that but frankly this movie’s probably better taken for what it is: a plea to the folks of 1962 to embrace technology, even if it means losing ourselves in it. Which, I guess here in 2015 we already have?

20
Jul
15

I Come in Peace (1990)

IComeInPeaceVHSCover_FotorFinding a videocassette like I Come in Peace for sale in a heap of garbage at a used book store or thrift shop makes all the hunting worth it. Amongst all the copies of Titanic, While You Were Sleeping, Jerry Maguire and the like, you hope and pray for something worthwhile. That moment when you see a VHS with Dolph Lundgren on it, you know you’ve won. But you know it’s the jackpot when he’s threatened by an alien on the cover!

Picture it: Houston, Texas, 1990. Jack Caine (Lundgren) is a vice cop with little regard for the rulebook. He’ll stop at nothing to put the White Boys, a bunch of white collar drug pushers, behind bars. But alas, Caine is a good guy to a fault. While his partner is doing some real dangerous undercover work with the White Boys, Caine leaves his buddy in the lurch to stop a robbery in a nearby building. That is, of course, when the White Boys discover there’s a mole in their midst and blow everything to smithereens, including Caine’s partner.

Now Caine is even more pissed than before. This is no time for the FBI to stick their heads in his business! But alas, they do, and Caine is now saddled with straight-laced, by-the-book Special Agent Larry Smith (Brian Benben). Smith of course has no patience for Caine’s renegade nature, but let’s get real, it’s not like Smith is going to fight against a muscle-bound cop like Caine too much.

So far, so normal, right? Typical story about a local cop with no regard for protocol and a tight-assed Special Agent who loves the shit out of bureaucracy. Don’t worry, the weird shit’s just around the corner: there is a tall, leather-bound dude with long blond hair who is killing people! Smith and Caine find a very alien weapon: a vibrating disk that slices and dices everyone in the room until it finds a place to lodge itself. There’s also a sudden proliferation of corpses pumped filled with heroin, but strangely the cause of death is not a drug overdose. Obviously something is fishy, but what is it? And will anyone believe Caine and Smith?

This movie is delightful, stupid fun. First of all, I don’t think I’ll ever get enough Dolph Lundgren, he’s just so much fun to watch! The “tension” between his character and Benben’s is so hilariously textbook, but I think that actually adds to this dumb movie’s charm. Then there’s this whole alien thing, which is like, what the fuck is that all about? This movie is like Predator 2 meets The Hidden with a serious anti-drug message thrown into the mix. Who comes up with this stuff, and why don’t they continue to make shit like this today?! I would totally go to a movie theater and watch silly shit like this. Knowing this is now available on blu-ray, I just might have to upgrade.

07
Oct
14

Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

On this, the 7th day of 31 Days of Horror, we bring to you only the best: a $1 purchase from an antique mall starring William Shatner! Believe it or not, after over 300 posts we still haven’t made it to a Shatner movie. How is that even possible? No better time to remedy the situation than during 31 Days of Horror.  So, without further ado, I present a masterpiece of 1970’s sci-fi horror: Kingdom of the Spiders.

The town of Verde Valley, Arizona is a sleepy little place. The weeks before the county fair are the most exciting for everyone in the town, and farmer Walter Colby is sure that his prized calf will take home first place! That is until the healthy calf suddenly falls ill without explanation or warning. Frantic, Colby calls in Rack (yes, his name is Rack; don’t worry, there’s a story behind that!) Hansen (Shatner) for help.

Little diddy 'bout Rack & Diane...

Little diddy ’bout Rack & Diane…

Unable to save the calf, the best Hansen can do is send samples to the university in Flagstaff. Worried that he’ll be quarantined, Colby can only sit and wait to hear the fate of the rest of his livestock. Hansen doesn’t seem too worried about that; he thinks his calf’s illness is an isolated, though strange, incident. All that changes when sexy, blonde out-of-towner Diane Ashley comes zipping into town in her flashy car and snazzy big-city suit! She comes from the university with the news that the calf was killed by… wait for it… SPIDER VENOM!

Hansen is incredulous: first of all, a woman is trying to tell him that one spider killed a cow? Silly, silly women; what has the world come to making women scientists?! Everyone knows women are meant to be subdued, and Hansen will surely have his way with Miss Ashley. After all, what woman wouldn’t eventually fall prey to Dr. Rack Hansen’s charms? But I digress; back to the matter at hand: spiders. Yeah, okay so our smart city lady posits that spiders, no longer able to subsist on their normal meal of insects due to the overuse of insecticides like DDT, have now banned together to attack livestock and humans in order to survive. Armed with the knowledge of the enemy, can Hansen & Ashley save Verde Valley from the spiders’ evil web?!

This pilot is covered in spiders!

This pilot is covered in spiders!

Kingdom of the Spiders might be the best buck I’ve ever spent. As surely most of you are aware, movies like this are almost always a gamble, and very rarely does the viewer come out on top. I knew that we’d be in for some enjoyment; Shatner is almost always entertaining, and he definitely lives up to his reputation here as over-actor extraordinaire. But Shatner isn’t the only thing entertaining about Kingdom, it offers the whole kit and caboodle of b-horror fun; cheesy special effects, ridiculous storyline, all sorts of distressed damsels, and some of the slowest-moving villains on screen.

Perhaps the best part about Kingdom is that it’s a 50’s movie made in 1977. If it had been in black and white and had a different star, I totally would have mistaken it for something of that era. Is it an homage to the creepy crawler flicks from the 1950’s, or is it just totally behind the time? Perhaps its concerns over environmentalism update it a bit, but its attitudes towards women and the way it is filmed make it seem like it came from another time. And that is another reason why it is such a joy to watch.

This girl's bed is covered in spiders!

This girl’s bed is covered in spiders!

This is a really dumb movie. The dialog is dumb, the story is dumb, and the people in the film are pretty dumb. But it is an absolute pleasure to watch; the pacing is just right, and in a movie like this that is typically what either saves the day or squashes its potential. It’s the perfect drive-in movie, or heck, the perfect Halloween movie! I’ll confess to being afraid of spiders; I’ve even woken up several times with night terrors caused by a dream where spiders were flying at my face, and this movie didn’t even scare me. It was just sheer, dumb fun. Next time you’re in the mood for some mind-numbing sci-fi horror, this is your movie!

06
Oct
14

The Visitor (1979)

VisitorPosterDo you like The Exorcist & The Omen, or any of their sequels? What about Rosemary’s Baby? What about every other sci-fi horror movie from the 1970’s? If you answered yes to any of these, then why waste your time re-watching any of them when you could just watch The Visitor, a dazzling blend of everything you’ve already seen before, with a weird scientological, blonde Jesus twist! That’s what we did for day 6 of 31 Days of Horror. I think I don’t regret it.

The beginning of The Visitor happens somewhere else. I’m not sure if we’re on another planet, or in another dimension, or what, but blonde Jesus is telling a bunch of bald kids about the evil Sateen, who impregnated a bunch of women so his demon seed can spread through the cosmos. During this serious lecture, in walks Jerzy (John Huston – yes, that one) signaling to blonde Jesus they’ve found the latest demon seed. It’s time to rally the bald kids and send them to Earth in search of an eight-year-old girl named Katy, a creepy, southern-drawled version of Linda Blair who uses her telekinetic powers to rig basketball games and stuff.

Katy’s mom Barbara is having an intense relationship with the owner of the interested basketball team, Raymond (Lance Henriksen). He’s trying his damndest to get her to marry him, but she won’t because she knows there’s something wrong with Katy and doesn’t want to give birth to another creepy little shithead monster thing. Of course it turns out Raymond isn’t actually in love with Katy, he is part of a satanic cabal interested in populating the world with more of Sateen’s mutant seed. If Jerzy and his band of baldies can’t steal away with Katy in time, the whole universe will feel the ripples of that evil tidal wave!

This movie is like, whoa, all over the place; it is excitingly schizophrenic in that way. It is a bit like The Sentinel or The Manitou; there’s so much going on and it’s all crazy weird conspiracy shit tinged with religion and mythology. But all of its freneticism does not work in its favor; the movie is a tangled mess of tropes and what seems like possibly a weird religious agenda. The confusion results in a muddled and incoherent plot. Of course, none of that matters to a person like me: I still loved watching it; I had to know what the hell was going to happen next, even though (or perhaps especially because) I knew whatever it was wasn’t going to make any sense and was going to be delivered with questionable dialog!

The best part about movies like The Visitor isn’t on the screen at all; it’s wondering how a film like this ever got off the ground in the first place. What compelled the writer to sit down and come up with this story? Who financed it? Why? What about the actors; what are they thinking when they deliver these terrible lines? And specific to The Visitor, how the hell did they get people like John Huston and Sam Peckinpah (yeah, he acts in this too, by the way) to be in this movie? The whole thing is just so gloriously bizarre you have to love it. Though it is obviously a pastiche of a million movies that come before it, it automatically sets itself apart from every one of those by its sheer what-the-fuckness.

Should you see The Visitor? Well, that clearly depends on what type of person you are. If you’re the kinda guy or gal that only likes “Good” movies, then, uh, NO, you should not see The Visitor. However, if you’re reading my blog right now that probably is some indication that you’re at least a little bit interested in the weirder fringes of cinema, and in that case then I direct you to watch The Visitor as soon as possible, and to get on your knees and thank the fine folks at Drafthouse Films for resurrecting this nearly-forgotten shitsterpiece.




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