Tuesday, December 1, 2009

RIP Paul Naschy

Sad, sad news today that Spanish horror writer, director and star Paul Naschy has died from cancer at the age of 75.

Over the years he's starred in loads of films, most famously a series of werewolf films (The Mark of the Werewolf imdb) as well as countless other horror films and a handfull of satires and dramas set in Spain, which only became possible as the years of Franco-era Spanish censorship faded away.

El País has a Spanish language article here

Sad day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Scream and Scream Again

Scream and Scream Again? Sigh. With a name so dull can we really expect anything much from this 1970 UK horror flick? I mean, Scream and Scream again? How prosaic.

What could it possibly offer us to whet our appetites? Oh, Vincent Price is in it, you say? [One eyebrow raises...] Now there's something, Mr Price has a bit of a reputation as horror supremo of the 60s/70s... perhaps you could tell me more?

Peter Cushing? Well I'll be damned; not one, but two of the best horror actors to hit the screen. [Second eyebrow raises] This almost sounds worth watching: to hell with the plot, it's got Price and Cushing in it. So... a little more info?

Christopher Lee? [Damn, no more eyebrows to raise] Christopher Lee as well? What a trio! Now I really don't care what the plot's about. Who could? It hardly matters at all! But, you know, since we're here, tell me something about the actual story...

Mad scientists? CraZed killers? Genetically created Frankenstein-a-like super-beings? Shady (Soviet-in-all-but-name) foreign powers? Vats of acid?

The ingredients of this film are so good as to be almost untrue. In fact, if I'm brutally honest, the ingredients are too good; the film simply can't live up to its summary. Though (a lot of) fun, Scream And Scream Again is sadly less than the sum of its parts. It's as if we have several films here at once; the foreign spy adventure is treading on the heels of the police-detective thriller which in turn keeps bumping into the mad-scientist sci-fi body horror. There's just too many films happening at once here.

Perhaps if it were made nowadays it would've hit the two hour mark and made the story a bit more clear with an extra 30 mins. Or, then again, perhaps there was no clear story. The disappointing thing is that this film really does feel like it should make sense; we have several characters fleshed out in detail, we have wonderful ideas and we have a really fast paced story but... it's just too fast for its own good. Whether it was always intended to be this way or was cut down for running-time's sake I may never know; it certainly seems as if it's just a little too savagely edited.

All this sounds like I didn't enjoy it. I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it immensely. From start to finish there wasn't a single dull moment (which puts it above nearly every other film on this blog...) and I loved it. I just didn't necessarily understand it all very well..

Price, Lee and Cushing are all as reliably smashing as you could hope for, which it makes it all the more remarkable that Alfred Marks, as Superintendant Bellaver, completely steals the show. Grumpy, rude and oh-so-British, this is a fantastic performance and one that the film would be poorer without.

If you come to watch Scream and Scream Again with expectations as high as its ambitions you will be sorely disappointed; it's ambitions are just far too high. If you come to watch it expecting middle of the the road 70s Brit horror you'll be pleasantly surprised. Highly recommended and good fun; just make sure you pay attention or you'll be far too confused.

Oh, and the whacky science towards the end is just great...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poster Hunt #5 - The Erotic Adventures of Zorro

What with November being quite busy and the poster for The Killer Shrews being quite so fab, Poster Hunt got left somewhat by the wayside this month.

Still, just over half-way through, the showcase of fabulous and/or strange posters returns with the Erotic Adventures of Zorro. How classy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Killer Shrews

If I asked you to think of a fictional movie-title that would be undoubtedly awful, entirely silly and should probably never be made, do you think you could come up with better than The Killer Shrews?

Sometimes I really do wonder how on earth these things get pitched before creation. THis is low budget, but no so low that it didn't have some funding. The conversation must have gone something along the lines of:

Mr Money: So, what is this film you were asking for funding for?

Jay Simms (screenplay): Ah, well. It's going to be an exploration of the dangers of science. We're talking themes of genetic mutation, we're talking science going bad, human achievement getting so far ahead of itself that it puts humanity in danger. We want people to think about science, about whether it's a good thing, about where the limits of 'playing God' lie.

Mr Money: (yawning) yeah, yeah. Ok, same old, same old. Isn't that what every science fiction book and film has tried to do? So what makes you the new HG Wells? What's the actual premise?

JS: Well, let me buy another round first. Whiskey as well? Yep? Good.

[goes to bar]

JS: Where were we?

Mr Money: You're explaining the premise of your story? Where's it set?

JS: Well, we're opting for an island. You know, our heroes are trapped on an island with these beasts. We're going to set it up so that they can't leave: I'm thinking hurricane or tropical storm, that conveniently imprisons these people on the island at exactly the worst moment, when these monsters are at their most dangerous.

Mr Money: You mean like full moon or something? Are we talking werewolf?

JS: Erm.. not exactly. No. We're talking animals that have been made larger and more vicious through scientific experiments. They've escaped from the lab and are roaming the island. So our heroes arrive just as they're running out of food and turning on their creators. More drinks?
Barman! Two pints, two whiskies ... make them doubles!

Mr Money: Go on...

JS: Well we'll obviously go for the trapped-survivor tensions. We've got it mapped out perfectly, pair of scientists - one completely work-obsessed - pretty blonde girl with nasty coward boyfriend and one handsome rogueish seaman. Oh and we'll throw in a black guy and a Mexican as well

Mr Money: They're the expendable characters?

JS: Oh yes, we'll kill them off with little or no time wasted on characters or emotions.

Mr Money: Well, I must say, that all sounds rather good. What did you say the monsters were again? Was it savage dogs? Spiders?

JS: Not exactly...

Mr Money: Well come on, tell me, I want to know...

JS: Ah... shrews.

[Long silence]

Mr Money: Shrews?

JS: Shrews. Savage, dog sized shrews with massive pointy teeth.

Mr Money: Shrews? I think I'm going to need another drink before I sign that cheque....

And, after that next drink he signed over his cash and so The Killer Shrews was made. Replete with dogs-in-furry-costumes playing the shrews, this is one of the most ridiculous films I've seen. It's not even that bad: well paced and you're guarranteed to be laughing throughout...


Friday, October 30, 2009

Lady Terminator

Oh me, oh my. Where to begin?

Sometimes, someone recommends you a film and it's pretty good. You note down the recommendation, you go off and watch it and you are pleased. This friend of yours made a good recommendation.

Sometimes however, the recommended film is so mind-bendingly brilliant/bizarre that you are left in shock; you are almost angry that no-one has recommended this film before. Lady Terminator was made 1983. That means it has existed for all 21 years of my life. With this firmly in mind, how is it possible that I haven't seen it before? The world has been hiding a gem from me!

I'll try and sell it to you: it's an 80s Indonesian exploitation action-movie, that robs heavily from Cameron's Terminator and can't quite work out whether it's set in New York or Indonesia. If that doesn't sell it to you, I don't know what will. I guess if that summary isn't appealing then it probably just isn't your kind of film; you're missing out.

In a tour-de-force of sublime bonkers-ness, Lady Terminator mixes bizarre Asian folklore with unstoppable killing machines. The (entirely unecessary) back-story presents us with an angry goddess-lady who, defeated by some guy, swears revenge on his grand-daughter (yes... so far so odd). She achieves this by er.... throwing her soul into a bit of the sea and hoping that something will happen.

Something does indeed happen: young anthropology student, Tania, goes diving in the area and is posessed by the soul of this rogue goddess, returning to surface as a murderous beast on a killing rampage. Oh yeah, she's also pretty much totally invincible. Cue long gunfights, a ridiculously brilliant body-count and blood splatters all over the place.

I really did enjoy this film so much that it pains me to say anything bad about it. Yes, the vast majority of the special effects are crappy, yes, the acting is basically atrocious, yes, the dubbing leaves much to be desired.... but all these complaints are missing the point. What we have here is a brilliant mix of crazy fantasy and Terminator imitation that is enormously fun for all of its 80 minute run-time.

I can't recommend it highly enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quest for the Lost City aka The Final Sactrifice

The version I watched said 'Quest for the Lost City' on the titles, but this was the best cover art for it.

OK, OK, let's get the good bits out of the way first, that shouldn't take long. The cinematography here is pretty good: for a decidedly low budget flick, they never try to do anything beyond their means and it's preet well shot.

It's just a shame that the screenplay, plot, acting, etc. just wasn't anywhere near as good. At the time of writing, this film was the 14th worst rated on IMDb, which should give you some idea what we're dealing with. In truth, this is nowhere near as bad as that makes it sound; this film was given the MST3K treatment and as such got far more exposure than it otherwise would've done. Were it not for this, it'd surely merely be wallowing amongst the 'rubbish' rather than the 'shockingly awful'.

Hero Troy, look pensive

I'll have to break this into two halves; as my opinion changed quite dramatically halfway through. At first, and for a good 30 minutes of its 78 minutes, I really couldn't understand why this was made. Budget films tend to aim towards a niche; you have cheap gore films - made by fans of gory films for fans of gory films -, exploitation flicks - more often than not with added nudity to attract an otherwise uninterested audience, etc. etc. What I'm getting at is that you can usually tell roughly who a low budget film is made for.

Bad guys! With weapons!
Here, however, I was completely puzzled. A boy (I really have no idea how old he was supposed to be...) called Troy discovers his dead father's archaeology file and finds a map to a Lost City, no sooner has he done so, than mysterious baddies turn up at his house with the intention of retrieving it. So far, so sub-Indiana-Jones-good. But who watches sub-Indiana Jones adventures? It was clear that it had never been anywhere near a cinema and you could hardly imagine (at this stage) anyone, child or adult, getting terribly excited about it on vhs...

Bad Guys! With weapons! In car! Oh, the trauma!

Some while after Troy has teamed up with the ageing, moustachioed Zap Rowsdower (!) however, things take a turn for the more bonkers as it emerges that they are battling a weird cult (who killed Troy's dad, no less) who are descendants of a pre-American Indian hyper-intelligent civilization who er... mysteriously died. Taking their fabulous, 'better-than-anything-in-Egypt' city with them. These rifle and chainsaw wielding descendants, lead by the impossibly deep-voiced 'Satoris', are trying to sacrifice enough people to the idol, so as to restore their city. Mmmm....right, Ok then.

At this point, yes it is still sub-Indiana Jones (and it will continue to be) but at least it's a bit more fun. We've had balaclava-wearing baddies chasing our heroes through the words, revelations about Zap's past and an implausably easy 'secret' map key (Honestly: you draw a big cross on the map. Where the lines make an 'x', that's where you want to go...). I am beginning to wonder about this Lost City however (a Lost City surely always deserves capital letters, no?). Perhaps the reason that most films that I've seen use distant and exotic locations is that, as an ignorant Western audience, we know so little about the places that it seems quite possible that someone wandering through a jungle could stumble upon a previously long-lost civilization (hey, that's more or less what happened with Machu Picchu...). It seems that little bit less likely that a mega-city is going to turn up in Canada. So, at this point I begin to wonder: the film is only called Quest for the Lost City. Quest is no guarrantee that it'll turn up... could they really be that cheap as to trick me out of my Lost City? How dare they...

I won't reveal anything about how the ending is acchieved, but I will say this: they come up with the goods on the Lost City and, even more extraordinary, it's pretty good and convincing.

This film is not a masterpiece but neither is it deserving of it's record-breaking disdain. The plot is basically rubbish and the acting is functional at best, but it does carefully avoid overstretching itself, a weakness often found in cheap films. However unconvincing what's actually going on is, visually it is always convincing. You get the sense that with a bit of cash for better cameras and some effects, this would be quite a pretty films.

Of course, you could throw as much money at it as you like, but the plot would still be rubbish...

[Sadly I can't find a trailer. The MST3K version is on youtube, but that's just not the same]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Microwave Massacre

Oh dear, here we go again. I definitely don't plan to make this the norm, but I'm afraid that this is my second spoiler filled post. I think I can justify it again though. With Underwater City, I didn't feel to bad about giving spoilers as 1)You will probably never see it 2)If the opportunity does arise, you should probably turn it down. Forewarned is forearmed, afterall, and Underwater City isn't a particularly attractive prospect.

Here, it's a somewhat different case, as Microwave Massacre is really an awful lot of fun. I think I can still get away with spoilers though as 1)You will probably never see it (it's out-of-print, though copies are floating around on ebay) and 2)Knowing what happens really won't spoil your enjoyment of this great-fun low-budget cannibalistic slasher.

So here we go. This post will be somewhat heavier on pictures than words as they really do most of the talking for themselves. Infact, this is less of a review than just telling the story. I'm sorry. But I can promise that telling the story will make you want to watch it far more than a review ever could!

The story revolves around Donald, a middle-aged construction worker. Poor Donald is just an average guy really; he likes the simple things - he works, he has a beer and then he goes home to his wife for some good ol' home-cooked American food. Except, just his wife, since buying a super new microwave only wants to cook exotic foreign dishes. Stand-up rows over "food you can't pronounce" ensue and Donald gets more and more miserable.

So far, so normal. At this stage the film really is showing very little promise. The dialogue is clunky to say the least and nothing much is happening. Donald's exchanges with his (younger, hipper) co-workers are fairly funny but nothing much to shout about. They do slip in a brilliant visual gag though... as Donald's work-mates get out their humble foil-wrapped sandwhiches, Donald fishes in his cool-box for the lunch his wife has prepared him: an entire crab in a massive bap!

With tension rising, you just know something's going to break, and break it does. After getting perhaps a little too drunk, Donald returns home in a rage and drunkenly kills his wife. Whoops.

At this point the movie is still distinctly so-so. We're a good chunk through and there's no hint of a massacre, the microwave is only lurking in the corner and you could perhaps feel a little cheated. But persevere! as things are about to get a whole lot better.

Being a little bit inexperienced at this murdering lark, Donald cuts her up into pieces, sticks her in the fridge and is content to forget about her for a bit.

Completely by accident however, Donald mixes up the left-over food from the fridge and finds himself munching on a piece of his late wife. Even more surprising is that she tastes pretty good! Once over his initial revulsion, Donald tucks in quite happily and soon begins eating her for every meal .... including lunch at work.

Donald's co-workers agree that the meat is pretty good; by this point the film's great fun. Watching Donald and his work-mates tucking into chunks of human flesh is begining to give us something of what the film promised. Still not really a massacre though....

Oh wait, here we go! Running low on surplies and very conscious that his wife is rather tough as meat goes, Donald soon begins to solicit girls on the street and bring them home. Once there, they all seem a little puzzled by how little desire he shows for them. What they don't realise until too late is that it's not so much their bodies that Donald is interested in as their flesh! He chops, slices, dices and microwaves. Then shares it with his - now much friendlier - work-mates.

I shall leave the (slightly lacklustre) ending not entirely spoiled; although I think you know by now more or less what you're in for.

It's a fun film and, at 76 minutes, I'd recommend it unreservedly. Although a little slow to get going and boasting some astonishingly wooden acting, this film is a lot of fun - and be honest: you're not going to let bad acting put you off low-budget campy horror are you? Sometimes, when watching decidedly low-brow, low-budget films there is a tendency to wonder "how did it ever seem a good idea to make this?". By the end of Microwave Massacres though, I'm sure you'll be wondering how it could ever seem like a good idea NOT to make this. Flawed, cheap and trashy, Microwave Massacres is a triumph of b-movie cinema.

The trailer here happily labels it the "worst horror film ever"!

(I tell a lie: it isn't entirely out of print and is infact available from Anthem DVD in the USA, looks like there was never a Region 2 DVD though)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Poster Hunt #4 - The Incredible 2 Headed Transplant

As we've moved into October, it's about time that Poster Hunt returned with another helping of cinematic presentation wonder...

This time, we've left behind the Nazisploitation and Spillane's Man-Woman violence and moved to the uh.. somewhat unrecognised 'Head Transplant' sub-genre. Infact, The Incredible 2 Headed Transplant is IMDb user's 6th Favourite Head Transplant film. Out of 6.

It was released to DVD fairly recently, coupled with the The Thing With Two Heads. I think there might be a theme running there....

Several site claim to have the full film available to view online. The ones I tried didn't seem to be working (my connection is slowww) and, to be honest, I didn't try too hard. This is one of those where I suspect the poster is better than the film...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Murder Party

Murder Party. Has there ever been a film so perfectly summed up by it's title? Apart from Underwater City of course. Oh, or Godzilla Vs. SpaceGodzilla. Or actually pretty much half of the films I watch....

Regardless, Murder Party is both described by and lives up to it's title. And the tagline? "Everybody Dies"? Believe it.

The film has split it's viewers. With IMDb boards claiming that it is both the best film of 2007 and the "worst movie I have ever seen". I have to say I don't understand the haters at all; this film is a work of genius. It's well-thought out, darkly comic and really great fun. The only negative point I'd pick up on is that it's perhaps not the best paced film of all time; more on that soon.

The premise is this: a handfull of achingly hip art-students have formed a plan. They, being so terribly avant-garde (darling) are going to break boundaries, smash taboos and cross lines like never before. Modern Art often sets out to shock or offend. Or both. These guys are going to smash previous efforts out of the water; they are planning to murder in the name of Art. To this end, they scatter invites to come alone to a "Murder Party" on Halloween, in the hope that some dumb lonely fool will take the bait and turn up. Needless to say, he does. Dressed as a Knight in carboard armour.

It's all here: the characters are perfect larger-than-life stereotypes. From face-painted coke-snorting video-artist Lexi, through heavily side-burned Paul - ever reaching for his medium format camera - to Alexander, rich-kid art poser, giving pre-prepared pseudo-intellectual speeches.

The humour here is curious. Many of the complaints on IMDb are that "it was supposed to be funny and we didn't laugh once in the whole film". Well... I'm not sure if I laughed out loud once either, it's just not that kind of funny - but it's certainly not meant to be either. This is one of the only films where you could ever hear "paper-mache elements of a massive multi-media meta-structure" coupled with "staple a pancake to his face and push him infront of a train". There's slapstick, there's violence, there's perfectly pitched piss-taking of art-students (Lexi wants to film the murder and call it 'Valediction in Black', Alexander assures them that the hapless Knight's death certificate will read 'Art' as cause of death). I might not have laughed out loud as I watched, but I didn't stop grinning at all.

Now for the problem with the pacing. The film divides more or less into three sections. The setting up of the premise and the capture of the Brown Knight is never less than interesting. The end third is completely bonkers, with some brilliant bloodshed all over the place. But the middle third? The middle-third is undoubtedly the cleverest bit; the dialogue is pretty incredible, but never means a lot. They play an inspired game of 'truth or dare', preceded by shooting up CIA-grade Truth Serum (supplied by 'Zycho' the Eastern-European (?) drug-dealer). The only shame is that the clever middle-third doesn't amount to much in terms of plot; it creates the brilliantly realised characters, yes, but never really reaches its full potential, which is a shame.

But, despite any of these criticisms, the film is fantastic. Being low-budget should never be an excuse for a film's failings but here we need no excuse. The budget here has been spent impeccably; almost never do they attempt to create an effect beyond their budget (though Macon's burns would be debateable...), which is so often the failing of a low-budget film. No, this is a case of ambition kept carefully within budget and it is all the better for it.

I have tried to give almost nothing away about the end-segment, and I believe it'll be all the better for it. This is by no means a perfect film, but it is definitely a very good film, a funny film, and a film that suggests good things for an inexperienced director's career.

If I needed to say it again, the ending is totally awesome.

I would never normally advertise a DVD, but hey, this costs a fiver in the UK or just 8 bucks in the Us. It's easily worth that much.

Trailer here:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Underwater City

In general, I do my best to avoid giving spoilers in these blog posts. I try to describe a film without telling you any of the major twists and I try to use screenshots that give a sense of the action without giving anything away. I should say in advance, then, that this post includes spoilers. Though quite how you could spoil Underwater City is beyond me...

Underwater City does (surprisingly enough) exactly what it says on the tin. It is the story of a scientist's plan to build a city on the seabed, totally self-sufficient and capable of sustaining life indefinitely. He has to justify his intentions (with vague claims about the seabed being the only safe post-nuclear-winter hideout) to his contracted builder, who is far more keen to get on with building a city on the moon.

The version I had was recorded from tv, so not the best quality...

So far, so good. If I was writing the script here, I'd feel I've got a good premise. So we're going to send a bunch of characters deep underwater to build this city and.... then what? What will be do with these characters? What disasters could befall them?

Sadly the real script-writers also seem to have got stuck at this point. Literally nothing happens. The film is only 75 mins or so long and it uses up a good 60 of these setting up the underwater city with no real hitch. We've got heaps of characters; the scientist, the architent, the navy lieutenant, his new wife, a dietician etc etc... and no story.

[Here comes spoilers, but face it: you're never going to watch this anyway!] Suddenly, in the last 15 minutes we discover that the entire city has mistakenly been built on a thin layer over a massive ocean trench, the person who discovers this falls through to his death, delegates from Washington arrive to confirm the city as a part of America, the whole thing starts to fall apart, everyone escapes.

What? I mean seriopusly... what? Not only does all the action of the film take place in the last 15 minutes, but it's also not half as exciting as that sounds! They explain away the mistake of the city's location by pointing out that the diver who was conducting the geological survey fell into an Ocean trench and died. No-one ever completed the survey. ... Hang on! The guy checking whether it was safe to build there DIED. And no-one thought that maybe that implies it was unsafe? Apparently not...

The (only) review on IMDb labels it as pleasant, inoffensive sci-fi, and is pretty much spot-on. There is nothing scary, nothing controversial, nothing rude... it's not even particularly bad, just not very good either. It's the kind of film that should be shown on bank-holidays in the daytime.

It also contains perhaps my favourite line ever uttered on screen:
"A swift current, as fast as a mighty river, but much faster"

Oh dear...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dark City

[I don't know if the version I saw was the director's cut...]
In my recent post on The Black Windmill, I mentioned that I watched a number of films that I would define as the criminally ignored. Well, if there is any film that earns the title "Criminally Ignored", it must surely be Dark City.

Dark City is a beautiful film, Dark City is an interesting film, Dark City is a good, but most of all, Dark City is an underrated film.

It's not hard to see how and why it was elbowed so cruelly from the limelight that it so clearly deserved; Dark City was filmed at almost exactly the same time as the Matrix, it was filmed using many of the same sets as the Matrix, it shared many of the same concerns as the Matrix. In fact, watching it after having seen the Matrix, you might easily think that they'd lifted large quantities from the Matrix.

Both films show us a world in which the naive citizens are unaware of the scheme which they are a part of, a world which strange characters with a collective consciousness control, alter and move through as they please, a world where one somewhat unwilling hero represents the hope for humanity by escaping from the confines of his artificial-reality prison. Yes, the two films are really that similar.

There are, despite this, many diferences too. Part of the central thrill of the Matrix (and no-doubt a key factor in it's success) is how intune it was with technology and our paranoia about computers and computer control. Whilst the Matrix is a virtual reality prison, Dark City relies on much more traditional (and so prosaic) fears. Here, rather than robot 'agents', the fake city is manipulated by aliens who are studying humans, each night they alter the city, fiddling with individual memories and observing our reactions. They turn rich into poor, poor into rich, invent backstories of happy summers and tragic memories. If anything, this is more threatening than the Matrix; our lives are not simply faked from day one, but altered every night without our knowing. Every single memory you have may well be artficial.

So why wasn't it as successful as the Matrix? Visually, though very different, it is absolutely on par, for all the leather-clad cool of the Wachowski Bros. offering, here we have a city of film noir beauty, all night-time streets, phosphorescant street-lamps and chain-smoking detectives. So what WAS the crucial deciding factor? (For the purposes of artistic interest we are ignoring anything as dull as advertising budgets etc)

The answer, to my mind at least, is that there is very little between the films in terms of real merit, but only in terms of their awareness of the interests of the age (or the zeitgeist if you will...). The Matrix tapped perfectly into our interest at the time of release; where technology was on a balancing point between the realm of the hacker uber-nerd (Neo) and a means of control. Much as the zombie movies of the 70s mirrored Cold-War nuke paranoir, the Matrix excited us because it was able to tap into our fears at time. By comparison, however good a film Dark City may be (and it IS a good film) its aliens, its detectives and its film-noir atmosphere were far less striking.

Oh yeah, all that and the fact that it gets pretty silly towards the end...

Definitely worth a watch though.

Trailer follows: