Monday 26 February 2018

And there's more...19 - Fathom, Target, Magic Toyshop, Little Girl who Lives Down the Lane, Hindenburg, The Deep, Inferno, 92 in the Shade, Saint Jack, Blood of the Vampire, Kiss of the Vampire

Fathom (1966) - Raquel Welch in spy vehicle, better than the avarage Eurospy joint but then other Eurospy films don't have Richard Briers as the love interest, still typical insubstantial, but sporadically entertaining - not surprising as it was intended to be made by Lindsay Shonteff. The spy formula works better in film than TV (because all those ITC shows repeat themselves, even The Man from Uncle gets increasingly samey and interchangeable). The IPCRESS File (1965) is decent, because it goes somewhere different, Funeral in Berlin (1966) is generically boring (though Hugh Burden is good as a Mandarin-gowned official),  and Billion Dollar Brain is a surrealist mess.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976) - Attractive but obnoxious, rather pervy Canadian melodrama. Jodie Foster as a hateful little brat, the nearest one will get to James Harries - The Motion Picture. Martin Sheen plays a paedo.

Innocent Blood (1992) - As a  fan of An American Werewolf in London, it disappoints that Landis' followup is like an episode of Tales from the Crypt, and I'm not a gangster man either.

The Magic Toyshop (1987) - Dennis Potter-y Angela Carter "what a kid thinks adult drama is like" nonsense.

Hopscotch (1980) - Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau in amiable, bloodless but smarmy, and aimless spy comedy. End has Matthau undercover as a British Asian man buying  Mitchell Beazley cookbooks, but thankfully, he does a plummy RP. It's friendly, but it's a mess. An excuse for globetrotting. George Baker has a large role. It feels too jolly. No one gets killed, but there's no jeopardy.

Target (1985) - Actually quite fun, better than similar KGB/CIA nonsense from the period. Got some ace action (including a tuk-tuk chase) and easy to follow, even in German.  Better than most of Hackman's 80s output, which I find unappealing. Got a synthy video company intro-type soundtrack.

Also been watching elements of the Adventures of Beans Baxter (-1987),  a typically uneven though at times inventively broad Vancouver-shot spy-comedy series from Fox by Savage Steve Holland, master of uneven but broad teen comedies, who not surprisingly, went into cartoons after this. Although there are some moments, i.e. the Halloween episode with some well-designed pumpkin monsters and a dance sequence cribbed from Strange Behaviour, "Lightnin' Strikes" and Jonathan Ward is an appealing hero, it feels too much like Saved By The Bell (or considering the filming location, Degrassi High) crossed with the stupider episodes of the Man from Uncle. Holland's stuff goes  a bit too above the line marked "stupid", while trying to aim at "daft" (something the slightly better Never Too Young To Die (1986) does - John Stamos is stiff, but Gene Simmons as a hermaphrodite showgirl super-bitch is definitely wonderfully, astonishingly daft). This would perhaps work better as a cartoon, i.e. Kim Possible, which did this much better but as a cartoon.
Although the similar but better-done Teen Agent (1991), another Canadian production also worked, but that had a SAW-produced soundtrack and Roger Daltrey as Britain's greatest secret agent and Roger Rees being brilliant as a villain called Augustus Steranko, the head of the EU (yes, it's a Eurosceptic spy movie - no wonder they shot it in Montreal rather than Paris), and was probably one of the few non-Bond films to somehow capture that elusive "Bond joy", i.e. it's that rare thing - a decent Bond knockoff that doesn't go into default travelogue mode. The only good thing Richard Grieco's done. And also the Duncan Jax series are astonishing, but for so many different reasons.

Why am I only lukewarm to Robert Aldrich's films? I'm not the biggest fan of psycho-biddy. He may be the ultimate "films that are good to watch on a Sunday afternoon" director. 

The Hindenburg (1975) - Great soundtrack, great effects and great design. A good cast, though the (lack of) accents don't work (Rene Auberjonois tries as a Brit, bless him). But a visual feast. The best-looking disaster movie, even if it is almost documentary-like, but it works because it is so precise, like a finely tuned clock.

The Deep (1977) - Another feast of weird accents - Eli Wallach's attempts at imitating Robert Shaw are to be heard to be believe. And again visually strong, with a cast that have some fun, and a good soundtrack. It does bore a bit, but it's not that bad. It holds itself together and doesn't embarrass itself, unlike the Island (1980).

Inferno (1980) - I admit I am not an Argento fan. Suspiria (1977) I like the idea of, and I like Jessica Harper, and I like some of the characters and the German setting, and that gets by on that, but even Creepers/Phenomena (-1985) I find a chore, although that may be in the dialogue and the soundtrack. With Inferno, so much style, almost no substance, especially being a dubbed Italian movie, saddled with clunky dialogue.Though unlike other Italian filmmakers, his New York is not grotty and realistic, shot guerilla-style but this weird backlot-y anytown. Beautifully shot nonsense, as usual, but still nonsense.Choice dialogue - "Do you know the Three Sisters?" "What, the black singers?"

92 in the Shade (1975) -  Peter Fonda-Warren Oates drama about nothing, not as good as Race with the Devil, but a nice portrayal of a  bromance". Not for me.

Saint Jack (1979) - Slightly too sleazy and aimless (i.e. "documentary-like") for my liking, livens up when Joss Ackland, Denholm Elliot, James Villiers and Rodney Bewes (as token Northerner) appear as drunks in a bar.  Made by the usually wandering Peter Bogdanovich for his old pal Roger Corman and New World, it doesn't know what it is, exploitation or a drama. Gazzara is good, and there is a transvestite dance scene to the theme from Goldfinger, which the Broccolis got a bit touchy about, especially as there's a blink and you'll miss it bit from George Lazenby too (and Villiers of course was in a Bond). It does capture Singapore in all its sleazy disgusting glamour. Based on a book by Paul Theroux. One is reminded of his son Louis' trip to Thailand, where similarly dirty old Brits were seen wandering about Asia for sex.

Blood of the Vampire (1958)  -Stylistically, a nice Hammer imitation, although so generic, it could almost be a spoof if there were any jokes in there. Victor Maddern's hunchback an annoyance. Le Mesurier turns up as a judge, Bernard Bresslaw as a thief. Donald Wolfit is OTT,  by the end but it isn't a great film. It is gothic by numbers. Not   as good as Kiss Of The Vampire (1963), which at times looks like it could be Hammer's best vampire film up to that point, with a great opening, Clifford Evans a decent Van Helsing figure, and great sets and a great climax. You can see Hammer are learning, but it doesn't hold together, though it may be more memorable in many respects than most of the other Hammer vampire films. Apart from Evans and Edward de Souza, the lead cast aren't especially memorable (though Peter Maddern is good as the local official), and it is hard to take seriously at times, i.e. the little car our heroes drive in. And Noel Willman is a relatively weak villain, less a vampire overlord and more a vaguely sinister Ulster Protestant clergyman/minor Unionist. The problem with it I feel are the rather unmemorable and silly cadre of vampires, and Jennifer Daniel is a little bland.

Points of view - on gothic horror and Dracula - Ramblings part 1 - 12- exc. Price

My favourite adap of Dracula is the 1981 BBC radio serial Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula, Timothy West as Watson. Interesting how it dovetails Holmes and Watson into the mystery.

My favourite Dracula film - well I think the best Hammer Dracula is Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), followed by AD (1972). I like the opening of the Monster Squad (1987) and Duncan Regehr is magnificent, but the kids are a bit annoying. I like Horror of Dracula (1958), but I feel Mina and Lucy are a little miscast, i.e. they already feel like housewives. And MichaelGough I think has a little bit too little to do, he's a bit lost as the wet Harker-type romantic lead. It is weird how they shift roles between characters, and it is a bit too much of a drawing room drama, but it comes to life with the little cameos of Bayldon, Malleson, Woodbridge, etc. and there's real energy in the chase bits, but Dracula should be a chase, and the plot feels slowed down.
Lugosi (1931) is unsurpassable, that and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) the best Universals.
Also Love at First Bite (1979) is great, especially Arte Johnson's Renfield, which spawned a bunch of laughless but almost loveably terrible vampire spoofs, Nocturna, Mama Dracula (1980 - which escalates into a vampire variety show, and has a nice Roy Budd soundtrack but thinks "Peter von Blood" is a funny name, when the overrated Dr. Blood's Coffin already had a Peter Blood),  and of course Young Frankenstein spawned Son of Dracula (1974), the Harry Nilsson musical with Ringo as Merlin and set in a future with the Channel Tunnel, and despite Freddie Jones' Frankenstein is quite rubbish, descending into a vampire Sextette, complete with Ringo and Keith Moon.
Nosferatu 1979 isn't great, the Louis Jourdan one is a little overlong and flouncy though Jourdan has presence.
Blacula (1973) is fun, the sequel a bit of a stretch. The Langella one (1979) is dreadful, even though it has some nice design at the beginning, the Whitby bits are fun but then it goes downhill.
Francis Ford Dracula's Bram Stoker's Coppola (1992) is well-designed in parts, but it mostly looks like a  horribly anachronistic FMV videogame. Hopkins tries his best, but has to go panto due to lack of material. Oldman is unspeakable, and Keanu looks like Dash X from Eerie, Indiana when he gets grey hair. Tom Waits is fun.

I prefer period horror when it is rooted in Victoriana. I'm not a fan of Poe or Mittel-Europe. Per Price I kind of like House of Wax and The Fly (not so much the sequels/remakes - Return of the Fly is sort of the Fly if it were an Outer Limits ep), but I massively prefer Vincent's British films. Because often in the AIP Corman films, the cast apart from Price aren't good, until they bring in Lorre, Hazel Court, Karloff, Barbara Steele too, but they dub her. I'm not quite a Poe fan. Masque of the Red Death's good though it lags, Tomb of Ligeia I can't stand but The Premature Burial I like because of the whole Molly Malone thing, but the Poes are usually boring,they feel like cheap US sitcoms or western shows. Especially The Raven - which is almost an episode of Bewitched.

 I prefer the 70s gothic, run-down Britain, even the 20s dieselpunk of the Phibes films.I like the Night of the Demon-type supernatural menace infringing on the mundane - not hauntings, I find them samey though sometimes they can almost be rewarding i.e. Full Circle, despite Farrow.

Friday 23 February 2018

Animation roundup + 8

Dinner for Adele (1978) - The Czech Nick Carter - some over-mannered comedy and some amusing Little Shop of Horrors-ish violin-loving plant monster schtick that is infinitely better for being the work of Jan Svankmajer.But otherwise, imagine an annoying Czech Great Race, see also some of director Oldrich Lipsky's other films, a lot of them fairytale-ish, like all those deliberately charming but rather staid Jackanory-ish fairytale films churned out by Soviet TV, e.g. the Soviet Mary Poppins and Gorky Film's Academia Pana Kleska.
I prefer Svankmajer's less surreal for the sake it, more recognisable, less experimental stuff. Was watching episodes of Adam 84, an early 80s Czech sci-fi series, somewhere between the Tripods and Star Maidens, with some Svankmajer animation and a Captain Zep-ish classroom. All very rum, but because it is Czech, it goes through some unexpected areas.

Been glimpsing a few Canadian Christmas  TV specials, Teddy Bear's Picnic, the schamltzy but visual Nilus the Sandman (voiced by Long John Baldry, a prolific CanCon animation voice, thus providing a link between Up The Chastity Belt and Sonic the Hedgehog), and For Better or Worse have the same anodyne feeling. But most Christmas specials do. This is the anodyne side of Canadian animation. Even the For Better or For Worse specials don't quite have the henpecked frenetic feel of the domestic shorts of the National Film Board of Canada. The unusual spark of NFB shots such as Caroline Leaf's magical The Street and Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa, less so in her Two Sisters. 

Ishu Patel's NFB work, even the Punjabi Noggin of How Death Came To Earth (1971) feel like overlong title sequences for ethnic programming.

The Journey of the Melonia (1989) - Attractive but inconsequential Swedish SVT adaptation of the Tempest, with a Worzel Gummidge-ish scarecrow-fish Caliban.

Epic (1985) - Stunning prehistoric tale about dingos, dinosaurs and lost children by Australian animation pioneer Yoram Gross, with narration by John Huston. Better animated and more serious than Gross' earlier ventures, the Dot movies and the creepy Little Convict, and not cos it has Rolf in it.

The Wind and the Song (1959) - Bretislav Pojar's short, beautiful if a little too trad, an adult Andy Pandy versus a lion, armed with an accordion.

Delta Space Mission (1981) - Romanian Movie Channel regular anime-alike, straightforward space mission from Romaniafilm,  with a Terrahawks-y soundtrack. Voice Marcel Iures later starred as the shifty foreign doctor in Wicklow-shot "itinerant, farmer and vet vs cow-monster" horror Isolation with Ruth Negga and John Lynch.

Also been watching other slightly-more-Eastern European favourites such as Lotte Reiniger's striking colour work, Karel Zeman's work and clumsy stop-motion baldies Pat and Mat, simplistic woodsman filler Boris the Bold/Jan Rumcajs, and Zagreb film's Professor Balthazar - a Doctor Snuggles type educator in some charming but fairly unremarkable little shorts featuring Mice who did a Robert Powell at Big Ben and aliens who sing giallo soundtrack-like jingles.

Been watching Bruno Bozzetto's glorious Mr. Rossi films, like an Italian proto-Wallace and Gromit. The Dreams of Mr. Rossi is the weakest, Mr. Rossi's Vacation goes from inventive caravans including the Nautilus to an Italian Animal Farm rip-off to Alpine fun to funny animal frolics to fourth wall-freaking frenzies, while Mr. Rossi Searches For Happiness includes time travel, Alias the Jester cosplay, rocket houses, singing tree trunks and racist native caricatures with bones through their noses!

Also watched one of the 70s Agaton Sax animations, but the style doesn't fit the character as well as the Quentin Blake drawings, and the whole thing resembles a cartoon Edgar Wallace krimi, and London looks like Stockholm.

Saturday 17 February 2018

Horror roundup - 32 (36 inc. the Fly/It's Alive sequels, 37 inc. Brotherhood of Satan)- Dreamscape, Last Voyage, F/X, It's Alive, Moon Zero Two, Three O'Clock High, Tam-Lin, Mumsy, Nanny, the Fly, X the Unknown,

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.

The Last Voyage (1960) - It's probably a good film, but its novelty is ruined by the fact that a. the crux of the film was used again and again as stock footage, and b. The Poseidon Adventure is more fun. The Last Voyage is rather dry, and the documentary style means characters are secondary. I like my disaster movies fun (though I am bored by the overlong Towering Inferno (1974)).

Flesh + Blood (1985) - Though I like Total Recall, I find Verhoeven's other dramas unwatchable. This is basically an R-rated, sexy, bloody reboot of his old Rutger Hauer kids' TV show Floris, but for the VHS age. The equivalent of making White Horses into an Emanuelle knockoff.

Dreamscape (1984) - A rather forgettable conspiracy thriller with a good cast, and a better poster. Like a lot of 70s films pre-Elm Street, e.g. The Premonition (1976), etc. - films that were emblematic that US horror in the 70s was kind of forgettable, even with good casts, the indie films tend to be oddly bland and oddly transgressive at the same time, and that those with higher aspirations just bore.

F/X (1986) and F/X 2 (1989) - the thing with these films is that the tone is not heightened enough for Bryan Brown and his character.  Needed to be a bit more pulpy/superhero ish, the problem with pulp adaptations or spiritual adaptations. The second one isn't as good but has a good twist. And the theme tune's by Imagination. 

The Girl in the Yellow Pyjamas (1977) - Typically routine giallo, Mel Ferrer and Ray Milland appear, lifted by being shot in Australia. A typical Italian potboiler (the titular girl is a burnt corpse with a remaining eyeball in a golden nightie) lifted by some well-shot Australian scenery. Pity the film isn't as good as the theme tune by international disco-chanteuse of mystery, Amanda Lear.

It's Alive (1974) - A good drama. Neatly performed, but Larry Cohen's stuff is like marmite. The characters aren't likeable, apart from John P. Ryan's excellent performance (It's Alive III misses his presence, Michael Moriarty is good but he doesn't do haunted like Ryan),  and the budget does restrict. The sequels expand the world, but it becomes silly. A Return to Salem's Lot (1986), The Stuff  (1985) and God Told Me To  (1976) I find are Larry Cohen's best films. The rest tend to be messes, enjoyable messes at times but still. I think he is like Brian Clemens, a decent, dependable TV writer (and I have kind of gone off episodic TV drama - too samey, even the anthologies) and a more interesting man than most of his films, who can at times come up with something brilliant, but a lot of his work is unique but messy. sometimes either too weird or not weird enough to work.

Three O'Clock High (1987) - Typical 80s high schooler - a subgenre I never warmed to once I became a teenager (see also US sex comedies), enlivened by a few sub-Raimi jokes and some good performances by the adults - John P. Ryan, Philip Baker Hall, Jeffrey Tambor and Charles Macaulay.  

Equinox (1970) - Good monsters, but otherwise an amateurish venture on a level somewhere between Blood Feast and Creation of the Humanoids. Clearly made by monster-mad kids, but still a home movie.

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1958  - B/W) - Noirish but not very engrossing sub-Creature from the Black Lagoon fare, same makeup team and all.

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, 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, 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  a dozen or 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.

Dr. Dowell's Testament (1980) - Slow, overlong Soviet twist from Lenfilm on the tired old "ranting disembodied brain/head" genre of sci-fi. Set in an overcast Caribbean, i.e. the Black Sea. Quite unique though, gives its subgenre a weird spin.

The Fly (1958). Weirdly, never seen this. Seen the sequels, and bits of the remake, but I'm not a Cronenberg fan (The Brood's too clinical, The Dead Zone the same, it is good, the cold Canadian landscape works, but it's too serious and a little bland - could have been a bit more like The Medusa Touch but actually consistently good). As for the 1958 The Fly, 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 - B/W) - 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 - B/W) - 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 - 10- more SF, Devil's Rain, Brainstorm, Shock Waves, Woody Allen, Shadows and Fog

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. Douglas Trumbull's future as a theme park attraction designer shows. A few interesting visual camera tricks don't make a film.

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. There is a nice atmosphere and some nice visuals, a sort of folk horror mood, but the kids' arses ruin it.

Devil's Rain (1975) - Despite goat-Borgnine and melting Travolta, very much a poor cousin to Race With The Devil (1975). It's slow, confused, padded out with a flashback involving a badly-dubbed Claudio Brook as a Puritan, and dead characters come back alive. WTF?

Idaho Transfer (1973) - Couldn't make it through this godawful hippiedippy Fonda futura. Shot on video, I think.

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. But it feels like a 90s indie film in 30s expressionist drag.

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 -30 exc. tv - some of these I barely sat through, to be honest = that bad - Slithis, Golem, Czech, Fantastic Voyage, Euro-SF

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 ones with good casts tend to be oddly bland and oddly transgressive at the same time, but no real fun. For a film to be fun, a mix of good plot, good direction, good cast, good imagery.

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 - B/W) - 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 (1933 - B/W), High Treason (1929 - B/W), Just Imagine (1930 - B/W) 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). Depressing.

The Manster (1959 - B/W) - "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 (TV- 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.
Again, there were very few good Canadian films of this era. I even found voodoo killer-child nonsense Cathy's Curse (1977) a load of cobblers, and not even visually awesome like The Visitor (-1979). See also the space-Beachcombers boredom of Starship Invasions (1977).

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 western town and suspended Halloween masks - 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  and laughed at the pantosploitation joy of The Steam Video Company.

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

Image result for the last hunter
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. Some inappropriately jolly When I'm 64-alike music accompanies an out of place jungle football scene. 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. Margheriti's films tend to have action, but they always feel hollow. His Indiana Jones knockoffs like Hunters of the Golden Cobra and Ark of the Sun God (1982) are less glossy than Last Hunter, with scenes clearly shot on short ends without a script, guerrilla-style. They feel amateurish, more like those teenage fans' recreation of Raiders than even say, King Solomon's Mines (1985).
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 - 24

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 "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 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.

Some more reviews - 3 -Persecution, Lucky Touch, Gargantuas

Persecution (1974) - Young Ralph Bates smothers Lana Turner's cat in milk.  Something about revenge. A bit Thriller-ish. Not very good. Unless you have a fetish for drowning cats in milk, and bestial necrophiliac psycho-traumas that cause a grown man's voice to change backwards. British cat-monster films tend to be awful. See also The Legacy (1978) and the semi-Amicus awfulness of Cat People (1982).

War of the Gargantuas (1968) has an on-film music show, with a song about "hidden microphone in my heart"  in between the two hairy men fighting. Aside from the stunning climactic shot of two creatures fighting as they fall into an exploding volcano, typical Japnese kaiju schlock.

That Lucky Touch (1975) - Military-themed romcom with Roger Moore and Susannah York that is tonally awkward, like an episode of the Persuaders. Not great. Needed to be more of an adventure.