Saturday, 17 February 2018

Horror roundup

The Witchmaker (1969) - Atmospheric if kind of dull horror, by L.Q. Jones and his mates, later to make the similar Brotherhood of Satan (1970),  good production values, nice sets lit in a Poe-Corman-ish manner, and swampy locations, but hasn't got much going for it.  The end has a neat climax that prefigures the later Devil's Rain, but features a lot more swamp drownings.

Moon Zero Two (1969) - Not as fun as it should be, ITC-like, got that live-action Gerry Anderson feel where the heroes are even wooden and characterless than puppets. It's all very UFO - nice modelwork, girls in funny wigs, but everything's cold and although there's some fun cameos from Michael Ripper and some overdone western elements (i.e. people in cowboy outfits for no real reason), it just  doesn't gel. Warren Mitchell has fun, and Bresslaw tries his best, but take the monsters of the shonky Green Slime (1968), and put them in here - and it'd have worked.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) - Typical Spanish horror - a few interesting images - skeletal horse-riding monks' corpses massacring a steam engine, but endlessly drawn out and sloppily put together.

Tam-Lin (1970) - Ava Gardner and Ian McShane in an annoying ITC-style psychedelic erotic thriller. Nice locations. For all my childhood obsession with the Wicker Man (1973), I find that film a pleasng musical comedy with queasy horror overtones, a sort of demented Scottish sex comedy, a Pagan pantomime  where Lee is the dame and Abanazer all in one, a variety show that builds up to that wonderful thing - a virgin sacrifice. This has a similar but slightly more rigid feel, despite having Cyril Cusack as a fruity vicar. It's nicely photographed, but all the characters are annoying sex-mad flower children, sort of like Blofeld's lovelies in OHMSS (and Jenny Hanley and Joanna Lumley turn up again). It feels stretched beyond its means. If it had been a TV anthology episode, it might have worked. Roddy McDowall, in his only film as director does it quite well, but it's a nonsensical eroticisation of Scottish myth. Some moments, i.e. the fiery inferno feel like a slavesploitation film, but with hippies instead of blacks, in other words boring, rather than toe-curlingly embarrassing that you can't stop watching. Gardner is convincingly terrifying, but possibly unintentionally.

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (1970) - Freddie Francis' erotically-charged dark satire on the British family. Tonally all over the place, the innocence of the adult characters and the psycho-sexual awakening doesn't quite work. If it had been a TV production, with the more queasy sadistic elements chopped off and the childish camp played up, it might have worked in a hyped-up Avengers way, but it stands as an interesting failure. Like Tam-Lin, Goodbye Gemini (1970) and inverted in Straight On Till Morning (1972), it gives us an unlikeable figure, usually a childish killer in swinging Europe and then tries to make them sympathetic, even though when we already know they are maniacs or at least dodgy sorts. It's Alan Hawe syndrome - making a psycho a saint. You can make a killer an audience surrogate, but usually if you pair them against someone worse. Not here.

Curtains (1983) - Neatly shot in attractively bleak Canadian locations, with an interesting killer (a cousin of the androgynous Compo in Pete Walker's the Comeback), but with its cold, middle of Canadian nowhereland setting, innately dull despite itself. Despite its film setting, with John Vernon as a director, Samantha Eggar as a method actress, and Linda Thorson as one of the cast, it doesn't make much of the Hollywood North setting. There's scenes in a Canadian comedy club, and Linda Thorson reading Variety, and hr agent moaning about the trades,  but it could be anywhere, and maybe that was the point. The film they are making isn't a horror, which is a shame, as it would have created some biting satire on the industry at the time, but no, we get a horror that thinks it is a Canadian soap opera. The ending is neat, but the film itself is evidence this was a tough shoot.

Also saw similarly themed psychodramas Julie Darling (1983), where Anthony Franciosa wanders around Canada and West Germany posing as the US, to contend with his loving but crazy daughter who is either fifteen or twelve, but played by a nineteen year old, directed by a German calling himself "Paul Nicolas" (note the lack of H),  and Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982), which was a video nasty (the Young Ones watch it in their episode - "Nasty"), and stars Susan Tyrrell, the American Nurse Gladys Emmanuel as a crazy woman who loves her son too much, and despite being a nasty, was directed by sitcom/Beach Party vet William Asher, and produced by Comworld, a company initially founded as Osmond Enterprises, and then sold by Donny, Marie, Jimmy, Merle and the other ones to Burt Reynolds. Both typically duff 80s horror, made without much care. Both films could be interchangeable, if they featured the same genders in the same roles. Both belong in the same bargain bin as Mausoleum, Madhouse, Funeral Home, Mortuary, Sweet 16, and a dozen of other 80s horrors with melodramatically melancholy theme tunes and little else.

Blue Monkey (1987) - When Canadian films try to be American, they are usually a mess. This is no exception, like an overlong episode of a bland cable anthology. William Fruet is a bit of a hack. His films are usually samey, even Spasms, lots of darkness. Then again, he directed episodes of Goosebumps and a few other TV shows, so there's a reason why it feels a bit telly-ish. The OTT hair and looks of some characters seem to suggest a spoof, other details don't. At least My Bloody Valentine and Happy Birthday To Me had some off-kilter Canadian character (yet somehow Prom Night didn't - and got four sequels and a remake).

The Fly (1958). Weirdly, never seen this. Seen the sequels, and bits of the remake, but I'm not a Cronenberg fan. The  production is grand, even though it doesn't convince as Quebec. The cast is good. Vincent Price looks happy to be in a relatively plush production. It has a sexist kid - "she changed her mind - you know how women are", while Kathleen Freeman is actually quite good in a serious role. One of the better B-movies. Well performed, well staged, well-paced = a good film.

Cul De Sac (1966) - Polanski nonsense, as usual. Trying to make an Eastern European comedy in England and failing.

Happy Birthday To Me (1981) - Too much Degrassi-esque stuff (i.e. electrifying the teacher's hair during class) is in there, though having the lead (played by Melissa Sue Anderson, Blind Mary Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie) having a home life that is essentially a godawful Canadian Dynasty knockoff is fun, with the bitchy mother and her father being in Caracas. The teacher's accent I couldn't discern if she was Irish or Newfie. And Glenn Ford appears to be in a different, better film, one that J. Lee Thompson thinks he is making. There is a better film in there, but the actual film is too long. It is better directed than most  other slashers. A few choice moments sneak in - the bellringer death is a Phibes-worthy punchline.  But the doppelganger plot is confusing. A bit Clemens. One of the better-made Canadian horror ventures, but it's a disappointment.

X The Unknown (1957) - Most fun of the 50s British SF movies. Proto-UNIT era Doctor Who.


Friday, 16 February 2018

Shanks (1974)

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Shanks (1974) - William Castle's work I kind of find goofy, enjoyable as a kid, but they aren't films, really, they're gimmicks. And his non-horror stuff are usually sub-Disney comedies. I like his Old Dark House (1963), but that is a contemporary Hammer.  But usually, they're gimmicks.  And this is a gimmick - 90 minutes of Marcel Marceau in a weird kaleidoscope of 1970s suburban California and mittel-European fairyland. It's inconsequential - what you get when you spread a spesh act over 90 minutes and inflict plot on it.  There's a nice Phibesy feel to the start, the haunting soundtrack by Alex North helps, it feels almost like a US attempt to do something Czech. But the domestic drama collides with the weird fantasy elements.  Then, just as it everything seems sweet and nice, some rapey bikers come in. And it goes full on zombie film.  An interesting effort, with its zombie-puppets, but it just feels tonally all over the place. I wonder was Castle trying to go for a Willy Wonka feel, a family film that is creepy and macabre mixed in with sweetness, but the TV-level production values and hammy cast don't help.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Quickies again

Under the Mountain (1981) - TVNZ "fun", pigtailed brat in CFF-esque capers with a beach buggy versus mud-worm people. Rather silly, in a Tomorrow People-esque way. One of those kids' serials that hasn't aged well, see also Chocky (1984).

Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (1999-2000) - Sci-Fi Channel/CBC TV series, cheap Young Indiana Jones esque nonsense with Canadian-accented Frenchmen in Paris/Montreal, Michael Praed as Fogg. Cheaply shot on video. Imaginative, but it's all very cheesy.  The curse of stupidity that most 90s SF TV suffered from (Eerie, Indiana was decent, but that was a kid's show).

Salvage-1 (1979) - Pilot for a short-lived series, folksy Andy Griffith plays himself essentially (as he always did - apart from A Face In The Crowd), mostly a "zany"-annoying comedy, doesn't make the most of its junkyard moon-rocket recovery plot. Saddled with a mostly unappealing supporting cast. If it had been British, it'd have worked in a Wallace and Gromit way, but the American 70s US TV mix of cornball folksy types and workmanlike action doesn't do the idea justice. The main characters don't even go to the moon, they leave it to the bland support.

Planets Against Us (1962) - Italian Day The Earth Stood Still, photographed like a bad Italian b/w cop show.
Again, 50s-style SF isn't my forté. Maybe, watching too much Doctor Who weaned me off that sort. For example, the Blob (1958) looks good and has a great monster, but it is too routine, especially with its ancient teens (even if one is McQueen), and the 80s one has good visuals and some good ideas (the crazy pastor), but the 80s teen angle doesn't really interest me.

The Deadly Spawn (1983) - Fun monsters, good effects for a $20,000 budget, amateurish acting, and a lead character who reads Denis Gifford books. The best sort of low budget horror or SF - if it has a good monster or setting (at best, good monster + good setting + good cast = decent horror it works, though giant monsters are usually formulaic. All other stuff is mediocre, to say the least.

Brainstorm (1983) - Boring VR thriller, but not even this is an excuse to murder your wife.

Black Moon (1975) - More Louis Malle "art", i.e. mooning over a teenage girl,bathed in dubious atmosphere. Lots of pervy shots including his heroine looking over laughing kids running about naked like Ken Russell did as a child (apparently), but in a field with cows. When I watch a film, I don't want to see kids' arses.

Devil's Rain (1975) - Despite goat-Borgnine and melting Travolta, very much a poor cousin to Race With The Devil (1975).

Idaho Transfer (1973) - hippiedippy Fonda futura. Shot on video, I think. See also the similar though more imaginative Glen and Randa (1971), which weirdly stars Shelley Plimpton, then lover of Idaho Transfer star Keith Carradine (like Peter Fonda, the son of another western stalwart).

Tried watching more Woody Allen, and I can't stand his work, not because of the rumours, just never liked him, that's all. Shadows and Fog (1992) is nicely shot, despite my sort of ambivalence towards noir/expressionism.

Shock Waves (1977) - Barely any Cushing, a typically wasted regional exploiter. The underwater zombie premise is neat, but little else.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Quickies

Slithis (1978) - Quirky but badly-acted. There are a few neat images - the disfigured expert, and the titular monster. But even Humanoids from the Deep did this better. As I said, the book Nightmare USA by Stephen Thrower shows that all these regional exploitation films usually have far more interesting stories behind the scenes. Even the Evil Dead alienates me (Army of Darkness almost gets me, but the tone doesn't quite work, especially when the highlight of the film is the alternate ending).

The Golem (1979)  - Actually a Polish post-apocalyptic android story, inventive but samey, all shot in a sepia tone. Elements of Gilliam and Jeunet/Caro seep in. It's quite slow, then a soft-rock escalator/concert scene lightens things up. Typical Soviet SF, but with added stock footage.

Underground (1995) - Emir Kusturica tries too hard to do Yugoslavia's Amarcord, quirky for quirky's sake, Annoyingly quirky a la the Avengers under Clemens or Gormenghast. Kusturica also behind Harry Saltzman's last production, Time of the  Gypsies (1988). Not quite my thing. "Quirky".

Trouble In Mind (1985) - Dull Kris Kristofferson (my dad's hero) vs an out-of-drag Divine (my dad's nightmare) in boring "is it the future?" sub-Blade Runner neo-noir nonsense involving a baby.

Je T'aime, Je T'aime (1968) - Not very good Alain Resnais time-travel "art". Creep fails to commit suicide, and uses a giant crystalline breast-mushroom to time travel, and starts reflecting on his past. Spawned a whole subgenre of tepid Gallic time-slip thrillers.

Flesh Eaters (1964) - Slow, though well acted and nicely shot B/W shocker, quite bloody. Though there is an annoying beatnik,Martin Kosleck good value as a Nazi scientist, but overlong. The titular monsters are just an excuse for early gore. The explosion scenes are cleverly executed, though.

Interesting how early 1930s cinema flops of international cinema like FP1, High Treason, Just Imagine were futuristic sci-fi nonsense. Immediate post-silent sci-fi was mostly feeble. Visually interesting at times if a little samey (like the myriad 50s jungle movies or various interchangeable low-budget  50s sci-fi movies - swap jungle for desert and little separates the Flame Barrier or Pharaoh's Curse)...

The Silence of Dr. Evans (1973) - Waterloo director Sergey Bondarchuk stars in this wondrously odd Mosfilm alien abduction drama, almost a Soviet giallo, set in either or both the US or UK, with a strange faux-Western world feel, and a Engrish-lyrics theme tune with lyrics like "you are my dream, my fairy queen", "you love so freely". A psychedelic thriller that almost feels like it was made by aliens, especially in its preachy message about aliens being too smart for Earth. The air crash is particularly well done, with Indians meditating as they die.

Lobster Man From Mars (1989) - A shite Matinee with Tony Curtis. Seemingly set in the modern day when it should be the 50s.

Malevil (1981) - Fil (or considering it features the likes of Jean-Louis Trintignant, Le Lendemain).

The Manster (1959) - "American" in Japan played by Peter Dyneley (the unmistakable voice of Jeff Tracy in Thunderbirds) grows two heads. Caught between two stools - schlocky US sci-fi focused on one idea and running with it, that if you swapped 75% with another SF film of the same time, no one would notice, and the stranger, more ideas-based Japanese sort, but the head-growth scenes and rampage are fun.

Blue Sunshine (1978) - A horror for hippies, i.e. about going bald. Otherwise not much flack. The Crazies but bald.

The Lathe Of Heaven (1981) - Though shot on film, this PBS one-off feels like a US equivalent of Plays for Today like The Flipside of Dominick Hide. Dull, although Kevin Conway gives a good performance.

The Lucifer Complex (1978) - Why are Keenan Wynn and Robert Vaughn in a stitch of random footage that pretends to be a ripoff of the Boys from Brazil?

Lifespan (1976) - Forgettable Anglo-Dutch clone-y thriller.

The Lift (1983) - Dutch killer lift in dystopian future schlock, played too seriously. Jokey concept more suited to an Amicus anthology. Eventually the last segment becomes incredibly tense and atmospheric, but it is too late.

The Neptune Factor (1973) - All-star Canadian disaster movie actually a tax shelter excuse to pad undersea wildlife footage.

Rat Saviour (1976)- Attractive period Yugoslavian setting hides rat mutations, in what in the 1950s would be a typically stupid bland American horror, is a well-produced gothic thriller in Yugoslavia.

The Bubble (1966) - No budget, just an abandoned fairground - and an excuse for 3D.

Amphibian Man (1962) - More Soviet SF, from Lenfilm, though imported to US TV by National Telefilm Associates. Imagine Creature from the Black Lagoon via Tales from Europe, with all the sentimentality pushed to the forefront.

Acción Mutante (1993) - Loud, brash, horribly unlikeable - styled like a terrorist recruitment film, and as the Radio Times put it, "terminally camp". The characters don't appeal.

Coma (1978) - Boring 1970s pseudo-SF thriller. A typical 70s medical drama with conspiracy thriller elements. Maybe it is because God Genevieve Bujold is a very stiff actress.

 A Nice Plate of Spinach (1978) - a rejuvenation-themed Czech comedy with many of the same cast as Tomorrow, I Shall Wake Up And Scald Myself With Tea (1978), but does not quite translate as well, despite a fun feel, it's just children with adult voices, and adults with children's voices fighting like babies resulting in slapstick fun. Though there is fun in a kitchen, which is always a plus.

Long Live Ghosts! (1977) - Oldrich Lipsky's Barrandov-shot Czech Children's Film Foundation-esque "kids meets ghost girl" comedy, Czech 3 Investigators at Motley Hall.See also the similarly CFF-ish Saxana by Nice Plate of Spinach director Vaclav Vorlicek. (1972).

Read today that Fantastic Voyage (1966) was intended as a period piece. It might have worked better that way. It feels too much like an Irwin Allen TV show, with its gung-ho attitude to scientific problems.

Also watched Supermarionation-via Button Moon German kids TV fluff Robbi, Tobbi und Das Fliewatuut, was left unamused by the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971) and laughed at the pantosploitation joy of The Steam Video Company (1984).

The Games (1970)

Despite being a Michael Winner film, my allergy to sports movies and Ryan O'Neal (because he's a faux-Irish arsehole) and slight trepidation when it comes to Michael Crawford, spurred on by years of watching Some Mothers with the gran. It certainly catches the dynamic nature of sports, and the early US scenes (moustache-free Sam Elliott!) are a  tantalising glimpse of what Winner could have done with a a US college sex comedy.  The Australia scenes pack a punch. And the foreign locations are well-captured. I wish Winner had directed something else down under.   Crawford is very Frank in it, a childlike milkman slurping from two straws. The stock footage of Prague seems to be shot from a distance with a handheld camera in secret. Charles Aznavour's quite decent. Stanley Baker does gruff, looking like a middle-aged dad trying to emulate Ringo Starr. The plastic spectators in the stadium are obvious. Weird that Oliver Reed isn't in it, especially as Kent Smith is (who played Oliver Reed in Cat People). In all, a bit of a slog.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The Last Hunter

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The Last Hunter (1980) - Antonio Margheriti's funk-soundtracked Deer Hunter knockoff, some impressive pyrotechnics and action sequences (especially the opening sequence) can't polish a typical duff Italian war movie.  David Warbeck's Brut-strewn divorced dad "charm" remains, even when dubbed. The end theme is a bizarrely out of place nasal disco sub-Barry Manilow muse on war that sounds quite a bit like the theme to the Pumaman. Tisa Farrow, the presumably less mental sister of Mia (though considering that family's roots lie partly in Boyle*, perhaps not)  plays a journalist. The "New York" scenes are clearly Warbeck and co in an Italian park while cutting to some second unit of people in Manhattan staring at a Cutty Sark-type windjammer.  I am still fascinated by Italian exploitation, even though much of it (especially the 60s stuff) is utterly interchangeable, and most of it almost unwatchable. But somehow seeing Italian exploitation hacks trying to imitate a "serious", and over-rated American film like The Deer Hunter AND Apocalypse Now  is more fun, because it's played so earnestly.They put some effort in it, and yet there's still enough blatant cheek there.
That whole Vietnam war canon is kind of boring, even the knock-offs - although I do like Ted Kotcheff's Uncommon Valor (1983) for some reason. Maybe, cos it is somewhere between intelligent treatise on war and Rambo-ish "bring back our boys" mindless action, predating First Blood Part II, and there's an adventure element, which is usually what a war film needs for me to enjoy it, i.e. why I enjoy Von Ryan's Express but not The Great Escape. 

*Not to be rude to the people of Roscommon, I've been to Boyle. It's great, but the Sky sitcom Moone Boy set there is kind of true, everyone there is at least joyfully bonkers.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Soviet SF roundup

Sex Mission (1984) - An interesting satiric prologue with lots of 80s neon devolves into a Polish  Worm that Turned with a sperm fetish.

End of August at Hotel Ozone (1967) - Czech New Line release. Like Stalker (1979) and the always yellow-tinted junkpunk kitchen sink drudgery of Konstantin Lopushanskiy's Lenfilm ventures Letters from a Dead Man (1985, like Stalker and Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1978),  a Strugatsky adaptation) and Visitor to a Museum (1989), in that realm of Eastern European post-apocalyptic films that are just walks about desolate countryside, and enjoyed by people who don't live in desolate countryside unlike myself, so it isn't special.  Though it is lovingly black and white, bleak, beautiful, like White Horses gone Threads.

War of the Worlds - Next Century (1981)/O-Bi, O-Ba: End of Civilisation (1985) - Both Polish post-apocalyptica, both starring Jerzy Stuhr (also in ITC Popesploitation From A Far Country). War of the Worlds is not a HG Wells adaptation, but a rather dry but occasionally visually stimulating satire set in a far-future England with a major plot point based on the licence fee. O-Bi, O-Ba features glitter-glossed females, lots of neon in among walls of piled-up junk, so nice junkpunk design, lots of blue, looks like how Von Trier should have shot The Element of Crime. A stunning, Gilliamesque climax in the snow with a hot air balloon revealed to be the hero's sacred "Ark", a sign of the film's (to quote tasteofcinema.com) "caustic" wit.

Kin-Dza-Dza (1986) - Nice desert locations in a Beckett-esque comedy. Two blokes, including a Russian punk are transported to a junkpunk dystopian wasteland, suddenly via pressing a vagrant's futuristic watch and a cut, and spend times with men in junky outfits, dressed like stretched Time Bandits. Amusing but overlong.

Gorod Zero (1989) - Like the above, also from Mosfilm, a darkly humorous mystery/bureaucratic satire whose weird dieselpunk setting I can't ascertain if it is deliberate or just a product of being made in the USSR. A memorable touch is the full-size carousel dioramas housing human bodies, all of whom look like the cast of a Soviet Young Ones.

Watched 1936 Mosfilm epic Cosmic Voyage (1936), which though not great, has like Aelita (1924), epic Things to Come -ish visuals, and the less impressive, more prosaic Karel Capek homage Gibel Sensatsii (1936), starring Sergey Martinson, Frankland in the 1981 Lenfilm Hound of the Baskervilles.
 A lot of the 60s Soviet space operas look the same, but completely different to any Western SF, except perhaps sporadically, the odd bit of Italian schlock like Battle of the Worlds (1961) and Planet of the Vampires (1965). The strange settings and well-done FX and adult nature contrasted with the imported AIP-bought B-movie future of A Dream Come True (with its holiday camp space centre), Dovzhenko-Kiev's Battle Beyond the Sun, the Czech Radio Luxembourg-referencing AIP-TV comedy Man in Outer Space/Man from The First Century, Planeta Bur, the East German effort First Spaceship on Venus (actually, Crown Int. but still...) and the even more different Ikarie XB-1 (shot in B/W and featuring expensive dining parties in space). But they are still more trad Western sci-fi than the later, stranger SF to come out of Eastern Europe, though there were still worthy but dull-though-occasionally-sparky stuff like Stanislaw Lem android party Pilot Pirx's Inquest (1978), and the interminable likes of Mosfilm's trippy but outmoded psychodrama Moon Rainbow (1984), which features a sub-Moonraker laser beam fight, and Antonio Margheriti-esque Star Inspector (1980), which mixed in a ripoff of a vague description of Star Wars which b/w besuited exposition ghosts and  a naked baby chasing horses. These Mosfilm ventures were rivalled by the ambitious but like most Soviet space-goers, rather stiff and old-fashioned Ukrainian Orion's Loop (1982), with Anatoliy Mateshko, director of such films as Sony Pictures Classics' A Friend of the Deceased (1997) as well as British characters who are Russian-accented men speaking English in front of various black and Indian people, and an Obi Wan-ish ghost exposition man. There was also the MST3K-riffed Gorky Film Studio production Through The Thorns of the Stars (1981), which has Superman-esque titles, looks fabulous but is rather staid, but is rather cold, and feels sometimes like a space Emanuelle film. Gorky also made the CFF-with-a-huge-budget Teens in the Universe films.

East Germany's SF continued with the more 2001-ish but still fairly clinical Eolomea (1973) - which, per most Eastern Bloc SF has a genuinely  shonky giant stereotyped toy robot that waddles about, and In the Dust of the Stars (1976), which feels like an Eastern Bloc remake of Space: 1999. with a Eurovision-y girl group ballad theme, and space-buses that look like rubbish trucks, in some sandy desert quarry (the default setting of every Eastern European space movie), but still quite humourless despite the weird trampoline and snake dance disco sequences by Pan's People-types in filmy dresses to Krautrock. And it all ends with a mine of Beneath the Planet of the Apes-esque slaves breaking out and walking through bleak scenic backgrounds including a weird stone circle on a cliff.

On The Silver Globe (1978) - Visually compelling but overlong and nonsensical unfinished Zulawski epic. Like the first 30 seconds of the video for Loverboy by Billy Ocean, over two hours, without the funny puppets.