Tuesday 21 March 2017

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1989

Watching Albert Pyun/Cannon's South African venture Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1988 - it begins in London full of fake snow and people in pith helmets, at "Nannies R US". Nicola Cowper (of TV's Dangerfield, ultra-gritty CBBC domestic abuse thriller Break In The Sun, Dennis Potter's Dreamchild and real-life sister of The Wicker Man's Gerry Cowper)  is sent off to a very white Hawaii with Table Mountain in the back, and discovers she's looking after a dog for a punk rocker. She teams up with two brothers to find something, and this disjointed mess results in armies of sub-Hensonian Rasta-Yetis, a micro-cameo from shrill-voiced American comedian and Bob Monkhouse favourite Emo Phillips wandering about in a Bet Lynch cast-off leopard skin coat and a sudden crossover with fellow Cannon junkyard hidden world movie Alien from L.A., also directed by Albert Pyun. A troubled production - and it shows, as it literally makes no sense. One scene, we're firing laser guns at rasta-yetis,  the next we're in a sort of Blade Runner-ish neon, sort of cyberpunk world(which turns out to be Atlantis) run by vampirish alien-obsessed Afrikaner albinos not unlike the Family in the Omega Man. Is either a sequel to or a prequel to Alien from L.A.  (lampooned on Mystery Science Theatre 3000), shot on the same sets and featuring a brief appearance by Kathy Ireland in her role from that film, but sadly unlike Alien from L.A., there is no Deep Roy. Apparently, original director Rusty Lemorande was fired, Pyun took over and then he himself got fired. it shows.    
Astonishingly not produced by Harry Alan Towers. We end with a sort of televised Atlantean Eurovision Song Contest that we never see.
Not to be confused with the 1993 TV pilot of the same name where F Murray Abraham dies at the beginning, and John Neville plays a fake-English countryside resident Doctor-type with a Holly/AOL woman-type floating hologram head in a bubble who leads an expedition to a hidden world full of Yetis called Dallas and becomes a ripoff of At The Earth's Core, even with similar monster makeup.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Hennessy (1975)

Hennessy (1975), one of the early last-ditch attempts by AIP to make a mainstream film, and one of their last UK productions is weird. Rod Steiger is the lead, as an IRA man with a not-very-good accent, but he's quieter than he usually was at this time, which isn't saying much. 1970s London, as rundown as it is looks too recognisable to be Belfast in most shots, though the terraced streets look right. Its when they show high street areas that it looks very London-ish, especially when the film moves to London playing itself (though the genuine shots of second unit Belfast could almost be London if not for the mountains peeking out behind). Eric Porter and Lee Remick's accents are a bit too Southern-inflected, though Eric Porter almost gets it. Ian Hogg is too Scottish. Patrick Stewart  appears as an IRA man. He has hair, but not much of it. He's balding, but still not quite the pure slaphead the world knows and love. His accent's terrible, but it was his first film. Stanley Lebor appears as an IRA man in the same sort of sweater he'd wear in Ever Decreasing Circles (and weirdly, Peter Egan appears too, though they share no scenes). David Collings is literally a leprechaun cabbie. Some of the funeral mourners sing God Save Ireland  out of tune. Basically, Steiger is a reformed IRA man whose wife and child (7 year old Patsy Kensit) are shot by Christopher "That's My Boy" Blake, as a British soldier. An interesting film, because it is so odd. A British film with a dissident IRA hero trying to blow up the Queen on her visit to the Houses of Parliament. Rod Steiger is Niall Hennessy (yes, they say it right), a former WW2 vet who served with Montgomery, then joined the IRA and now, fuelled by the accidental murder of his family by Mollie Sugden's boy, goes off to London, smuggled in by John Hallam (who was born in Ulster, but simply because his family were evacuated, he is one of two Irish actors in it - the other being  Fair City's Oliver Maguire) and Patrick Stewart (with a bizarre West Country-Yorkshire accent, but it was his first film), where he hides with his dead mate's non-love interest widow, the possibly Catholic-but-with-a-Protestant-name Kate Brooke, played by Lee Remick (sounding a bit Oirish and being far too Hollywood glam for a downtrodden Provo widow from East Belfast) . Eric Porter and the lads learn of Hennessy's plan, and realise that blowing up the Queen is a greater risk to Ireland, and chase him, while  Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Peter Egan of the Yard investigate, Johnson literally haunted by his time in Belfast as an RUC 'tec. Hennessy sits in Remick's house, where the BBC are somehow showing footage of the funeral of Mrs. Hennessy nationally, and not just on BBC Northern Ireland. Hennessy then decides to take on the identity of a popular Corbynesque MP who protests about the city outside the Albert Hall., trapping the real MP in his vest and underwear. Remick is killed by Porter and the lads.  On Hennessy's way, we begin to see the film's other controversial element - genuine footage of the Queen, her family (even the Duke of Kent), Archbishop Robert Runcie and the Paedo PM himself, Ted Heath from an old newsreel,  intercut with shots of a newsstand selling the Sun and the Daily Mail on Westminster Bridge. The film because of this use of footage got pulled from UK release, and yet the final scenes are the best bit. They are reminiscent of the similar VIP bloodbath of the Medusa Touch (also with Remick), and is efficiently shot by director Don Sharp. Johnson manages to foil the plan, and chases Hennessy out the door, before Hogg shoots Hennessy instead, and is carted away by coppers. However, Hennessy gets up, pleading, only for Johnson to shoot him again, and he blows up, a mushroom cloud descending over Westminster. Johnson wakes up, as God Save the Queen plays. A really interesting  film. Not for all the right reasons. It's laughable, especially if you're Irish, but has a weird sense of morbid charm.  And John Scott's score is nice. It feels similar to other Brit-actioners of the period, like The Black Windmill (1974) or Brannigan (1975). It feels similar to Day of the Jackal, but at least it has more energy than that film, and dare I say it, Steiger and the various bungling IRA men are more captivating protagonists than Edward Fox in a cravat turning his nose up at Paris.  but then again, I am Irish.

Sunday 12 March 2017

TV movie-mania!

Did a marathon of Kolchak - the Night Stalker (1974-75) and the two preceding TV movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). I tried watching Kolchak a few years ago, and found it tonally all over the place. A little sweet here, a little sour there. Watched it again, and my opinion changed, I suppose. The two TV movies I hadn't really seen before and they're great - Darren McGavin is brilliant, world-weary, believable and likeable, and Simon Oakland as his boss, Vincenzo is great as this newspaper editor being forever stymied by the authorities. Dan Curtis produced both and took over from John Moxey to direct the second, and Richard Matheson adapted them from the book by Jeff Rice. Good cast. We're talking the likes of Carol Lynley, Elisha Cook, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins and Kent Smith (more on him later) in the Night Stalker, and in the Night Strangler - John Carradine as the wonderfully named Llewellyn Crossbinder and Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West herself as an old posh, rather sinister exposition-giver. The first film is set in Vegas, and Kolchak is a journalist who seeks out this series of murders, and no one believes him when he finds it's a vampire. It looks good, very cinematic, because it's shot on location, it doesn't have a set-bound backlot TV aesthetic, like most TVMs. The vampire, Janos Skorzeny, played by Barry Atwater is interesting. Unlike Curtis' previous vampire, Barnabas Collins in "Dark Shadows", he's mute, very animalistic, similarly styled but he's not a suave creature, he's just out for blood. As the series shows, vampires in this universe seem to be humanoid but they're animal-minded, they're hissing anti-social creatures, bats in human bodies, essentially. The Night Strangler is similar, but they go for a different tack. Here, the titular menace is Richard Anderson, before his role as Oscar in the various Bionic series as a 144-year-old immortal alchemist lunatic strangling belly-dancers in Seattle, and man, Seattle looks great. They also shoot in the old Underground Seattle, of which I was previously not aware, which does exist - streets from before the Great Seattle Fire that now lie underground. And they are atmospheric, they're creepy, they're the perfect place to set such an idea. You also have good performances. Wally Cox's cameo as a strange, weedy little newspaper archivist is great, Curtis directs with flair, and it was again a hit, after the original broke all ratings records for a TV movie at the time. And ABC wanted a series, but Curtis wanted another movie, the Night Killers - which sounds great. Vincenzo and Kolchak are now in Hawaii, where polticians are being replaced by androids controlled by aliens who plan to use the subterfuge as a means of allowing an invasion to take place. Sadly, ABC got their way. Out goes Curtis and Matheson, in goes Universal, and we get Kolchak: the Night Stalker, wildly seen as one of the great sci-fi series, despite one series, an influence on the X-Files, and yet...
Kolchak: The Night Stalker just isn't as good. It's thankfully not as bland as McGavin's sub-Exorcist haunted house drivel "Something Evil", despite that film being directed by a certain Mr. Spielberg. McGavin and Oakland return, but everything else is different.  We're now in Chicago, which yes, is atmospheric, full of character, but it gets samey. I wish they could have changed it, so every episode, we're in a new locale. Because now in the series, Chicago is a Hellmouth-ish magnet for all sorts of weirdness. We have new characters. We get a camp, waspish rival named Uptight Updyke, a sweet old lady columnist named Emily/Edith (it depends on the episode) and Keenan Wynn as a recurring cop. And yes, it has a great cast of guests - the likes of Scatman Crothers with a bad Haitian accent, Mary Wickes as a scientist, Tom Skerritt as two monsters and Phil Silvers amongst others.

Sameyness is a problem. Too many of the villains are mute stalkers, be it an immortal Jack the Ripper (again memories of "The Night Strangler"), a spiritual force, a killer robot (created by a female scientist named Leslie Dwyer, whom everyone thinks is male, presumably because of her Hi-De-Hi! star namesake), a female vampire, a zombie, a werewolf, et cetera. Climaxes are usually at night, with brief glimpses of the monster, and usually, the monsters have cool designs. And there's a lot of sinister female, attractive but evil characters, including Dark Shadows' own Lara Parker basically reprising her Angelique character, Cathy Lee Crosby as a Greek Hecate-worshipper (hence as exposition guy, George Demosthenes Savalas - Kojak's brother meets Kolchak) amongst others. There are some interesting ideas, a Bedknobs and Broomsticks-style walking suit of armour, and the episode "The Horror in the Heights" is probably the most fun. A neighbourhood full of elderly people is being targeted by some unspeakable horror. Swastika are appearing all over the place, Abraham Sofaer has opened up an Indian restaurant inside this mostly Jewish area, and Phil Silvers appears post-Follow That Camel as one of the residents. It turns out Sofaer is in town to hunt down the Rakshasa, a Hindu spirit which takes on the form of those its victim trusts, i.e. cops, husbands, wives, milkmen, hates Swastikas and can only be killed by crossbow. It is a fun episode, and perhaps it shows that Kolchak really should have had him touring the world. Imagine, Gargoyles in Paris, leprechauns, banshees and IRA men in Ireland, the Lambton Worm... A missed opportunity.

I was also watching Dan Curtis' Dracula (1974). Shot in Britain, it looks lovely, with some additional shooting in Yugoslavia. Palance brings some menace, Nigel Davenport is good as Van Helsing, the design and cinematography by Oswald Morris is better than some Hammer stuff, and yet it pre-empts the whole Coppola thing, i.e. Vlad the Impaler, the "Dark Shadows"-ish idea of reincarnation of a lost love in the form of Mina, and even the title - "Bram Stoker's Dracula". It feels lacking. Dracula should be more beastly. And Mina and Lucy are miscast, slightly too old. Simon Ward looks a bit lost. But John Challis, before his fame as Boycie in "Only Fools and Horses" makes a cameo. He told me on Twitter that Dan Curtis was nice to him, during their brief time on set together.

Talking about Kent Smith, I was watching, perhaps re-watching on the recommendation of Matthew Coniam, Curtis Harrington's The Cat Creature (1973). It's a TV movie from the period, and slightly more archetypal of the genre. It's set bound, it's full of ageing, past-it names (Gale Sondergaard, Keye Luke, John Carradine again, Keye Luke) and younger but still fairly veteran figures like Stuart Whitman and David Hedison. It begins with Kent Smith, thirty years after his role as "Oliver Reed" in Cat People (1942), finally being killed by a cat-lady, or a cat that jumps out of a sarcophagus, because this is a TV movie and they don't have the budget for full-body costumes (see 1977's Snowbeast for a Yeti conveyed through some close-ups, hairy hands and lots of POV). We learn that this is Meredith Baxter, before her sitcom fame in "Family Ties", as a mysterious, attractive young woman named Rena who has some weird connection to an amulet. It's fun. And the ending with Baxter swooping about in Egyptian dress, camping it up, with bat-wing sleeves is something to be witnessed.

Similar is the Aaron Spelling-produced Cruise into Terror (1978) which cashes on Bermuda Triangle mania, The Omen and disaster movies. Dirk Benedict, John Forsythe (as a priest in a bitter, sexless marriage with Lee "Lily Munsters Today/Catwoman #2" Meriwether), Christopher and Lynda Day George, Ray Milland (as an archaeologist who believes the Egyptians went to Mexico and helped the Aztecs), Stella Stevens (in one of several post-Poseidon maritime terror roles, see also The French Atlantic Affair) and Hugh O'Brian are among the cast of luminaries, finding in the Gulf of Mexico, Milland's treasured Egyptian-Aztec tomb, which we learn contains the Antichrist born the same day as Jesus, in suspended animation. It's slow. TV movies work better as 75 minutes not 90 minutes/2 hours including ad breaks. It takes over a half an hour for the treasure hunt to begin and almost an hour for the tiny papier mache sarcophagus to be recovered. It is also full of POV shots, evil suggested by huge red lights/eyes. Milland and Forsythe are the highlights, arguing over exposition and following the trail of "Sir Richard Littenhurst". The insidious child carries out Omen-ish drownings, causes women to go mad, and it peters out with an inferno and narration by Forsythe asking us if there is a Devil... Shoddy, ropey, sporadically fun, and with a proper Goldsmith knockoff for its score, all sub Ave-Satani chanting over what sounds like knock-off Bela Bartok.

I also watched a bit of Dan Curtis' similar Curse of the Black Widow, with Patty Duke (Harrington's first choice for the Cat Creature) as a spider-woman, but it was 100 minutes, which for a TV movie of that style, a bit of a chore.
And also Dan Curtis' other Kolchak-type pilot - The Norliss Tapes with Angie Dickinson and Roy Thinnes. It is fun, has nice mountain footage, and feels like a demonic Columbo. Atmospheric, it features voodoo, motels and mad sculptors building living statues. Watching Brian Clemens' Thriller, I wondered what was lacking, and realised it should have been more like this, rather than endlessly padded stories about adulterous psychopaths and American girls being stalked in English mansions by nutters (I was never a fan of the almost identical Hammer psychodramas - Fear In The Night is fun, but the others are too samey). 

TV movies of the suspense/horror genre I do enjoy. Some can be samey, i.e. Taste of Evil - a remake of Hammer's identikit psychodramas with Barbara Parkins, Roddy McDowall and a rifle-toting Barbara Stanwyck being terrorised by unlikely rapist Arthur O'Connell, or all those post-Carrie teenage girl ones e.g. The Spell (1977), Shelley Winters sorority witch yoke The Initiation of Sarah (1978) Wes Craven/Linda Blair/Lois Duncan joint Summer of Fear (1978), a film which has a clever twist where we think Lee Purcell as Blair's cousin is just your average US TV teen played by a 30-year-old, but isn't - and the Dennis Quaid/teen date rape Afterschool Special-y antics of Channel 5 favourite "Are You Alone In The House?" (1978).

The weirder ones are usually the better, i.e. 1973's Scream Pretty Peggy - Bette Davis as a woman "who never learnt to bake"  keeps mad daughter Jennifer apparently locked up in house under pretence she's in "Europe".  Peggy, an eager, ultra-plucky slightly annoying art student comes to work as housekeeper. Loaded guns are kept in drawers. Davis tries to get Peggy out, even though she's besotted with her idol, who just happens to be Davis' sculptor son (Marge Simpson's dream-husband Ted Bessell) who spends all day making statues of Lovecraftian monsters. We think it is going to be a sort of distaff Beast in the Cellar via House of Wax...
 Except Jennifer's being impersonated Psycho-style by Jeffrey in a wig and nightie, gets shot by Mum and is crushed by one of his own statues, which turns out to be Jennifer encased in amber. It turns out that he killed Jennifer, because he was in an incestuous relationship with her and she was engaged to someone else, and had to kill all his girlfriends because "Jennifer" wouldn't let him go. Davis blames herself, . Written by Jimmy Sangster and Directed by Gordon Hessler. Fun, suitably ridiculous and suitably played.

The House That Would Not Die is 1970, pre-Exorcist, but has Kitty Winn from that film as the young lead. Has Stanwyck dressed like the Don't Look Now dwarf while Richard Egan attacks her with a knife. Possession means you talk in an English accent. It's mostly long seance scenes, and kind of watchable.

Spelling-produced slasher Home for the Holidays (1972) where Jill Haworth (with dyed black hair), Eleanor Parker  and Sally Field as the various daughters of Walter Brennan are terrorised by a killer in a sou'wester. Julie Harris appears as housekeeper/second wife who everyone thinks is the murderer, because she poisoned her last husband or something, around the time she became the USA's Hylda Baker in Thicker than Water, short-lived adaptation of Nearest and Dearest. Overdone melodrama, again like House That Would Not Die by John Moxey. There's also a crazy woman-child, and lots of red herrings. It's kind of fun, but like a lot of these films, slightly too full of arguments between ageing starlets and/or up and comers who not always went onto better.

Watched others - The Devil's Daughter -where Shelley Winters (as Lilith) and Abe Vigoda arrange marriage for a young woman and play Poundland Castevets who cry "you are your father's daughter". Robert Foxworth plays youthful hero, and does a dry run for his role in Damien: Omen II. Jonathan "Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows" Frid plays the servant/fiancee. It's sensationalist enough to be watchable. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
Also saw bits of Winters' "daughter in prison" weepie "A Death of Innocence" by Joseph Stefano.It didn't catch my attention.
How Awful About Allan (1970) - starring Anthony Perkins, basically feels like a pilot for a 1970s TV series - The Adventures of Norman Bates, i.e. Psycho reduced to a bland 70s cop show aesthetic. Kent Smith appears again. He seems to crop up everywhere.
Then, there's also duff phone-calls-from-the-dead rope When Michael Calls (1972) with Ben Gazzara as "Doremus Connolly" and "Special Guest Star" Michael Douglas, at the beginning of his career  when he was still just Kirk's son. It's slightly creepy and the denouement is suitably daft, but like a lot of these films, bland, similar to the likes of Dean Stockwell-vs-teacher Jane Wyman "The Failing of Raymond", 1972's The Screaming Woman - which is 78 minutes of Olivia De Havilland screaming back at a screaming woman buried alive, She Waits (1972) with Patty Duke terrorising David McCallum, Along Came A Spider where Suzanne Pleshette dons a bizarre fur-hat/blond wig to enact revenge, the "trapped alone" likes of The Victim (1972), that John Carpenter one the name of which escapes me, etc.  Usually, everything is boiled down to generica.

Killer Bees (1974) has Gloria Swanson with three layers of headwear, hat, headscarf, and Princess Leia buns. Highlight is a scene where bees rise out of a coffin and attack a funeral mid-sermon -  "land of milk and honey". Otherwise quite bland. It's about bee-human hybrids and features less desert-based bee-car chases than the dire "town under attack" Savage Bees (with Ben Johnson fighting bees after fighting locusts with Katherine Helmond and Ron Howard in the not-very-horror-y "Waltons meets James Herbert" period drama Locusts!) and its Swarm cash-in sequel Terror Out of the Sky, which features Efrem Zimbalist running the "National Bee Center".

Also watched Kate Jackson in slow steel-drum soundtracked "fake travel company" 10 Little Indians on a cruise Death Cruise (1974) and Death at Love House (1972) where Jackson and Robert Wagner, investigating the latter's father's ex-lover, long-dead Golden Age Hollywood queen/witch Lorna Love meet the likes of John Carradine, Joan Blondell, Dorothy Lamour and Sylvia Sidney. Needless to say, Lorna Love isn't long-dead. It's an entertaining  old Hollywood tribute, shot in Harold Lloyd's house too.

Killdozer (1974) was okay, not weird enough, felt like a bad day at my dad's workplace. I read a comic based on the original story - about a killer bulldozer possessed by alien influence, and seeing bunch of a middle-aged has-been blokes in a quarry needs more energy, really.

Devil Dog Hound of Hell (1978) features Martine Beswicke leading a cult who look like the Family from the Omega Man but fresh. Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux and the Witch Mountain kids adopt cursed puppy. Family start painting satanic pictures, and the dog doesn't appear in its horned form till the end, in the night. It's very Kolchakesque, as in the series not the TV films. So not as good as the artwork, though the end has a great shot - of superimposed flames around the dog. A lot of these films only get watchable at the end, i.e. Satan's School For Girls.

Watching 1972's Gargolyes - Bernie Casey quite creepy as the lead 'goyle. Wonder did his performance influence the cartoon of the same name? And the flying effects are quite cool in their tattiness- the flying scenes look like the gargoyles are being carried by a raven, Father Ted-style. Better than the myriad "woodlands/desert chase, usually with moon in the title" TV films it nearly resembles, that I found samey, mainly because despite being Irish, I'm not a western fan. 

Monday 6 March 2017

What I have been watching. - 15/ 19 ish - Billion Dollar Brain, Forsythe, Mackenna's Gold, Ozploitation

Billion Dollar Brain (1967) is weird, again I mentioned my problem with Ken Russell. And this almost works, but it's the disassociation between visuals and characters, it's wonderfully shot, especially the surreal tankers and soldiers and eggs climax on the ice, but it all feels shallow, like a caper comedy from the period. All caricatures. Caine is playing a bad impression of himself, Ed Begley somehow doesn't go over the top enough, or maybe he does, and Russell doesn't focus on it. I find a lot of post-Bond spy thrillers kind of cold, e.g. the Quiller Memorandum, etc. The other Palmer movies never did much for me. They pass a Saturday afternoon, but no more. They feel like they should be slightly trippier.
And I was also watching Day of the Jackal ('73), which is ruined by Edward Fox's cravatted, unlikeable bullyboy snob of a protagonist.
The Odessa File is better, and it has the hauntingly merry Perry Como-Lord Snooty theme, "Christmas Dream". Apparently remade as a fan-film by the Containment/Forest of Light's Scott Jeschke, who like my friend Jason Wallace knows Maria Breese.

Also watching MacKenna's Gold (1969), which is overlong, laughably cast - with the likes of Omar Sharif, Ted "Lurch" Cassidy and Julie "Catwoman" Newmar as Native Americans, etc.

Been on an Ozploitation kick. I like the sort of widescreen style of a lot of those films. Even though some of them can be quite bland.

Snapshot (1979) - Simon Wincer/Tony Ginnane's rather ropey slasher with two almost identical female leads, a cast made up mainly of actresses from Prisoner: Cell Block H, a killer in an ice cream van, as with almost of all this genre, a nice score by Australia's Ronnie Hazlehurst, Brian "not that one, the other one" May. Ginnane was behind this, plus the great Patrick (1978), Strange Behaviour, Brian Trenchard Smith's Turkey Shoot (1982), the rather bland and confused (and a troubled production) The Survivor (1981)and even 1995's Screamers, arty nonsensical "aliens take football trophy" movie Incident at Raven's Gate (1988) and daft New Zealand period thriller Mesmerized with (1986) Jodie Foster, Harry Andrews and John Lithgow going Kiwi.

Thirst (1979) - Ginnane-produced, May-scored, rather clever modern day vampire film. About possible relations to Elisabeth Bathory, being haunted by gothic dreams, then abducted by a New World Order-ish cult who live in a castle among green fields on the edge of the bush, headed by David Hemmings and Henry Silva, and keep blood cows, i.e. humans whom they attach to milking machines and drain them of blood. The setting is brilliantly designed, resembling an actual dairy. Lovely scene where tourists are guided around "the dairy", taking snips of blood cows/calves, all upright, eyes wide open.The sacrifice/blood-drinking scenes, with everyone in evening dress are also quite striking. Nice twist ending.

Harlequin (1980) -  Again directed by Simon Wincer and produced by Tony Ginnane, Senator "Ellie" Steele, a prominent politician based on Aussie prime minister Harold Holt vanishes at sea. David Hemmings is groomed as replacement. Robert Powell plays a modern Rasputin/Jesus figure/magician in various costumes (i.e. a Mittel European doctor, a clown, a Jesus, a Leo Sayer) who heals Hemmings' son (as usual with most child stars of the era, one of the kids in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). Hemmings is in an arranged stunt marriage the son has been born into, as a sort of symbol of unity, the idea being that this is a modern version of the fall of Imperial Russia.  Set in a weird Mid-Atlantic netherworld with Governors, generic capitals and characters with either quasi-British/Australian accents or quasi-American accents (mainly American-Australian Gus Mercurio), a TV shows the BBC test-card (apparently as much a fixture down under), stations have regional American-style names with lots of disjointed letters, and the kid is voiced, in British film tradition, by a woman. Interesting film. Inventive scenes including a psychokinetic drowning scene, lots of computer text on screens, and a captivating plot. Rather underrated, albeit rather bland at times, but a better vehicle for Powell than the Survivor. Apparently, the lead role was intended for David Bowie, but producers met him and got cold feet. However, Powell is great, and the publicity cashed in on his fame as TV's Jesus of Nazareth, by prepping the idea of him being a new messiah.

Dark Age (1987) - That man Ginnane again. Aussie croc goes on rampage, eating Aborigine kids. Interesting but rather overlong film. Clever twist in that three quarters of the way in, the croc is captured, as it is an endangered breed, and then escapes. Features Ray "Alf from Home & Away" Meagher with a tache. It feels bland but slick. The whole "sacred animal" thing where the Aborigines believe its damage is actually for good is interesting. The Aborigines including the inevitable David Gulpilil are the few interesting characters. It is watchable, with the ruthless killing of a small boy (whom the Aborigines don't quite care for, because we are told he was incredibly ill), but it lacks something.

Been watching rather boring likes of Blood Beach (1980 - somewhere between a private eye movie and a country music romance, with an interesting monster subplot buried within) and the utterly ridiculous, but only slightly, sporadically fun Italian Jaws-off, Great White (1981), where James Franciscus has to emote over an eerily bisected Vic Morrow (bad Scottish accent and all, as the Quint) while a big rubber shark groans at him, a shark that is also represented with a very cheesy, fake-looking fin that one expects to be revealed as a sort of Bart Simpson: Shark-Boy type joke.

Watched Penda's Fen (1974) - arty Play for Today, didn't do anything for me, perhaps as it is saddled with an annoying, camp hero, played by Spencer Banks of ITV Doctor Who rival "Timeslip". It is sort of like an Anglia TV Raul Ruiz, like his films City of Pirates, Treasure Island & bits of Three Crowns but without the feel of weird dubbed kids TV that Ruiz's films tend to have, yet somehow get even weirder than the likes of The Legend of Tim Tyler, etc. And Ruiz at times goes into dreaded De Palma mode - split diopters take life from the image.

Thursday 2 March 2017

What I've been watching. - 1(4 refs, 5 inc. Savage Islands) mainly TV

Watching Night Gallery knock-off William Castle's Ghost Story. Sebastian Cabot's intros as a sinister hotel owner called Winston Essex are nice, but they're dropped once the series becomes "Circle of Fear" and gets more boring. Apart from the one with Martin Sheen and the fairground horse, it's dull. It's all 70s-set stories, all the same "family move into new house", like the lesser Night Galleries, but it doesn't have the weird mix of period stories and adaptations of Basil Copper and Dulcie Gray. The John Astin one where he plays a former B-movie actor turned security guard has a few interesting ghoulish effects and a slight atmosphere but it gets bogged in sentiment. And some attempt atmosphere but are kind of silly, i.e. Rip Torn badly done up as a creepy singing pensioner, which is perhaps more disturbing unintentionally. Jimmy Sangster rips off the Night Gallery Eyes story, for an episode, which features the reliable Mancunian Don Knight, always worth it for being really, the only Northern English accent in US TV in the 70s. But otherwise, disappointing.

I like to look for weirder things. I was expecting something slightly more off the wall for a William Castle TV series, but it is 70s TV...

Also been watching Clochemerle, the Galton and Simpson BBC series. I find it pleasing but not particularly funny. It's got great performers, Cyril Cusack, Kenneth Griffith, Roy Dotrice, but it feels slightly too mannered, and slightly  twee. Peter Ustinov's narration is lovely, but it just doesn't really click with me.

I've also been watching V: the original Miniseries and the 1984 sequel The Final Battle, which were in the UK/Ireland, shown as one on ITV against the Olympics in 1984. Really enjoyable, I haven't watched the "Dynasty meets Red Dawn" sequel weekly series because although it was the most expensive TV series of its era, it looks dreadful.

I found it interesting for a 80s miniseries, especially one so expensive, as it doesn't really have any star actors used for TVQ, a lot of familiar faces appear e.g. Michael Ironside being awesome as a mercenary named Ham Tyler and a pre-Freddy Robert Englund, but no one apart from I guess who was a top ratings magnet, possibly Marc Singer, but even the Beastmaster had done only adequately, and was on the cusp of being a cable regular.  The notorious lizard-baby looks like a post-Garbage Pail Kid deliberately gross kid's toy. The balloon scenes are interesting, although I wish that they focused more on the international side, which the spin-off books do (including one amazing-sounding one set in Britain and Ireland, where the Visitor Commander is called Ian, the Visitors infiltrate the Royal Family, characters are called Lord Fotheringay and Nigel Smythe-Walmsley, Visitors take over TVC, and the Resistance are headed by Patrick Seamus Kelly and the Provisional IRA, aided by Muslim terrorists based in Kerry, who use stolen Skyfighters to attack the Mothership over London).

The Ice Pirates (1984) I found fun. Ron Perlman, Anjelica Huston, Robert Urich, John "Sloth in the Goonies" Matuszak and others are literally space pirates searching for water in a weird future full of mock-medieval touches e.g. space templars in chainmal, US-based British actors, John Carradine so old that he spends all his scenes on a stretcher, and Mary "I shot J.R." Crosby (co-star of TV's Dick Turpin, fact-fans!) as a space princess with a nanny. Interesting post-Star Wars riff, with interesting segues into post-apocalyptic desert races and an interesting twist. Great soundtrack that begins as sort of sub-swashbuckly John Morris-in-Yellowbeard fare, but goes more synthy and 80s sci-fi, as it goes along. One of the  piratesploitation flop boom, eg the likes of unofficial Robert Shaw ITC swashbuckler spinoff Scarlet Buccaneer (1976), The Pirate Movie (1982), Savage Islands (1983), Yellowbeard (1983), and Cutthroat Island (1995)...

I've also been tasting bits of drama from the BBC, and realised  those too stylised post-Dennis Potter TV series eg She-Devil, Dead Head, etc. are not for me. But The Old Men At The Zoo (1983) is almost good. It is interesting, not quite as annoyingly pleased itself as the likes of A Very Peculiar Practice or any Tom Sharpe adap, got a fab cast and it is a very British dystopia/apocalypse, and it's set in a zoo for extra quirkiness. And it's prescient of Trump, to boot, with a fake USA with Bruce Boa and Robert "the Ambassador in the Final Conflict" Arden hosting NBC,  plusTVC in all its glory for Maurice Denham's country music themed Attenborough Lecture.  Seeing someone as distinguished as Robert Morley in something shot on cheap BBC VT is disconcerting. And then the bomb goes off, and Troy Kennedy Martin goes into brilliantly bleak Edge Of Darkness mode and Stuart Wilson is aged by the blast. Marius Goring becomes a Yeti-insignia-waving fascist leader using people in zoos, due to the shortage of animals, an idea not unlike the apes-as-dogs in Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, before the zoo becomes a concentration camp.

I've also realised I've watched possibly enough Quincy, Bergerac, Lovejoy, Hart To Hart, The Incredible Hunk, any of the Bionic series, Lois and Clark, Hercules/Xena, A Touch of Frost, Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders,The A-Team, Dempsey And Makepeace, Knight Rider, Airwolf, etc.

Tried watching Max Headroom but found it annoying in its cyberpunk posturing. Slightly too late 80s for my liking.