Sunday, July 14, 2013
Over the years I've learned that a light day is the best way to close out a Fest. After all of the marathon-ing and late nights, it's good to take an afternoon and kick back with three easy-going films that aren't going to send people away in droves (like a, say, ThanksKilling 3). With that in mind, I selected a Wes Craven movie that's just strange enough to be entertaining, a better-than-it-ought to be "alien invasion" B-movie from the 1950s, and its fourteen years later quasi-sequel directed by J.R. Ewing. Good times.
The ABCs of Movie Masochism earlier this year, so click on that link to have a gander at what you have to look forward to when you sit down and watch Wes Craven's failed attempt to kick start another franchise (and you should). The one thing I can't believe I forgot to mention was the electric blue lips! How did that escape my recap last time??? If, for some unfathomable reason, you aren't going to watch Shocker,
Horace Pinker is on death row, moments away from walking "the green mile" and he's managed as a final request to be given a TV set and a pair of jumper cables. Prisons in the 1980s, I guess. So he's doing some kind of evil ritual and out of the TV comes a pair of floating blue electric lips to grant him his wish (they say something to the effect of "If you want it, baby, you got it!") to turn into Electricity Slasher Man. In a movie where our hero (director Peter Berg, he of Battleship fame) runs into a goalpost and gains a psychic connection to a serial killer, something like electric blue lips isn't actually that out of place, but it was worth mentioning.
In the interest of full discretion, there's another reason I chose The Blob for this Summer Fest. Every year, friends of mine who live in Pennsylvania invite me to come to Blobfest, which is a weekend-long celebration of the film. It culminates with a recreation of the scene where the blob invades the movie theater and everybody runs out, and it sounds like a lot of fun. Almost without fail, Blobfest happens right around the same time I'm getting Summer Fest together, so I've never been. Maybe someday, but not yet, so I felt like The Blob should get some recognition here at Summer Fest. It is the perfect kind of summer B-movie experience, and five years in one could argue we're long overdue to watch it. Also, I love the theme song. For good measure I threw in Beware! The Blob, because what the hell, right?
They never get that sandwich because the meteorite lands near a cabin where an Old Man (Olin Howard) and his dog live, and inside said meteorite is the titular monster, which promptly affixes itself to his hand. Steve and Jane find him on the road begging for help and take him to Dr. Hallen (Stpehen Chase) and then they go about their merry way, which involves backwards drag racing with some other teenagers. Lt. Dave (Earl Rowe) doesn't really approve of this, but those crazy kids these days, right?
So we've set up a carefree atmosphere of teenagers being teenagers and police that already have every reason to doubt they're telling the truth about anything, so an audience of twenty aught thirteen should know what happens when the blob eats the old man and the doctor and his nurse. Nobody believes them because the doctor was headed out to a conference and Steve and Jane caught him just in time but we won't know for sure if they made it up or if he really was eaten by a gelatinous space monster until he arrives at the conference (or doesn't). Better sit on that for now. Those crazy kids!
Well Jane and Steve go home with their respective parents after making statements at the police station but they decide to sneak back out and find out what happened. Meanwhile, the blob continues to eat people, which makes it grow, but it only eats people with convenient excuses about needing to be somewhere else so nobody really misses them. Say what you will about this nearly brainless thing, it knows how to pick victims!
Anyway I don't want to spoil the rest of the movie because The Blob is a lot of fun in the way that you just don't get with "wink wink" B-movies these days. There's no sense of snark or mean edge to the film, just some basically decent kids trying to save everybody from a space monster before it's too late. There are parents and kid brothers and people who seem like jerks but turn out not really to be so bad after all and the solution to stopping the blob is a pretty good one that you might not immediately think of so that's good too. I hope Jane and Steve went on to have a normal date.
In reading about The Blob, you invariably find out one of two things: this is Steve McQueen's first starring role and / or that he was 27 when he made it. I guess maybe you're supposed to think it's funny that he's playing a high school student but Aneta Corseaut was twenty four, so it's not that crazy. That was pretty much par the course up through the 1990s (I mean, did you really think the kids in Scream were 18?). He's not quite the Steve McQueen you're used to - in fact, his line delivery at the beginning of the movie is pretty shaky - but he gets better throughout the film and you can see that this is a guy to pay attention to. Before too long he'll be making some really classic movies and then his grandson will be in Piranha 3D. But The Blob is good stuff.
Beware! The Blob is entertaining for different reasons, and not always good ones. It's not a sequel in the strictest sense, although it does (SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE BLOB) basically start because somebody brings home a frozen sample of the blob and leaves it on the counter. Other than that and an ending that tries to up the ante on the "movie theater" scene, it's not really related to The Blob at all.
After the blob gets out and starts eating people, we jump from one "bit" to another, involving hippies, hair stylists, cub scouts, and even a naked Turkish man (Tiger Joe Marsh) and his little dog. Most of the scenes are terrible skits (the hair stylist gets a dirty hippie who wants a haircut) that end when the blob eats them, or in the case of the scouts, go nowhere at all. Dick van Patten is nowhere to be found at the very end of the film, but two of the scouts are there to use clacking balls to... I don't even remember. Sorry. There's even a birthday party / psychedelic happening early in the movie, because why not?
Well, if you can have a blob invading a movie theater, why not a bowling alley? And if it's a bowling alley, why not have a full diner attached to one side and an ice skating rink that's "under repairs" on the other side? It makes perfect sense in the same way that the "spa" in Death Spa does. Since there's an ice skating rink and I technically implied the spoiler to how to stop the blob, I'm guessing you can figure out how the young and less interesting couple manages to save the day.
If The Blob encapsulates B-movies of the 1950s well, then I guess it would be fair to say that Beware! The Blob captures the vibe of the early 1970s. We're not quite into leisure suits or anything people would clearly associate with "the 1970s", but there are still people who hate hippies and the movie is kind of built on a variety show structure of "guest stars" who show up for no good reason and then go away just as quickly. It's not very good and not as much fun as The Blob, and you should probably never watch them back to back (as we did), but if you're in the mood for a very silly movie that also features the blob in it and you already watched The Blob and / or The Blob remake last week, I guess this is a good option. It was a light, goofy way to close out Summer Fest, and exactly the kind of movie that works in this atmosphere.
Thus ends Summer Fest 5! It was a great time with a lot of highs and only a few lows. It was ball hugging, bad science-ing, and Ninja-tastic, with just the right does of audience participation. And now we're only three months out from Horror Fest... yeesh, I need to get the lineup together!
Before the Ninja III: The Domination experience, we watched Jason Eisener's Treevenge, but I didn't feel it would be fair to let that be overshadowed by including it with the previous review. Ninja III stands alone. That said, Treevenge is no slouch. Blogorium regulars will no doubt recognize that Eisener tends to pop up here now and then, both for his film Hobo with a Shotgun and for his short films and entries into anthologies like The ABCs of Death and V/H/S 2. I like this man's short films. I like them a lot.
Douglas Fir squeal about - it's the story of Christmas as told from the perspective of the trees, from cutting down the forest to living room fixture. As blasphemous as this is going to sound (and no doubt by design of the director), the short is designed to feel like a combination of "slave narrative" and "Holocaust survival" story. No, really. It's horrifying, and made even more so by the fact that the trees speak to each other in their own language (it sounds a little bit like Ewoks) and are subtitled so we know what they're saying.
So after a horrifying set up of families being torn apart and herded in the back of trucks to unscrupulous tree dealers (the ones that are too scrawny go to the "wreath" pile), we get to the degrading "decorating" in the home, and um... how would one even put this? Inter-species man-on-tree sex? Maybe? Yeah, Eisener goes there, or at least shows us the lubed-up stump. But don't worry, because the title is certainly no misnomer. And what glorious Treevenge it is! I'll put this up on the Blogorium in December, because it's definitely going to benefit more than it would in the middle of July. Still, a quality Summer Fest entry.
After Ninja III: The Domination, when most of the audience went outside for the customary "too long" smoke break, I gave the folks inside a real dose of the scary by putting on American Juggalo. If you haven't heard of this already, American Juggalo is a documentary filmed at The Gathering of the Juggalos which consists of nothing but interviews with fans of The Insane Clown Posse. While the title is appropriate, I feel you could also call the short documentary "Faces of Meth" and that would also be totally fitting.
While it's true that there may be no more reliable punching bag than a Juggalo these days, none of the many subjects of this documentary even come close to making the case that they're misrepresented. The girl who insists she's not high, she's just "like this all the time" or the truly terrified looks on the children who were dragged along by their parents tell you that yes, this is a frightening place to be. Unless you like to have Faygo sprayed on you from people riding in the back of a bus with the top cut off, or maybe if you just like to get REALLY high and listen to ear-splitting "music" for the weekend. Apparently I traumatized the mother of two young children by showing her American Juggalo that night, but the upside is that we now have two less social disasters to worry about.
So what on earth could I follow American Juggalo with? Well, how about an aborted attempt to watch the sequel to ThanksKilling? You guys remember ThanksKilling right? The "killer turkey" movie so amazing that I watched it twice in one day during Summer Fest III? It was crude, short, and really violent, with a warped sense of humor and everybody loved it. The premise of ThanksKilling 3 seemed like it would be a worthy sequel: ThanksKilling 2: In Space (the sequel promised at the end of the first film) was so terrible that nearly every copy in existence was destroyed. Turkey sets out to find the last surviving DVD of the film and take his revenge!
I don't know if I ever mentioned this during the Summer Fest recaps, but at the end of ThanksKilling, when the "In Space" sequel was teased, I remarked that I would "happily donate some money to make that happen," which is apparently how ThanksKilling 3 came to be (via Kickstarter). I'm glad I didn't make good on that promise, because while the idea of bypassing your own sequel is a clever idea, the execution is terrible. ThanksKilling 3 is just terrible.
Instead of keeping it simple, ThanksKilling 3 expands the scope in unnecessary ways, removing the best part of the first film (Turkey) from the story for long stretches. Instead, it focuses on overlapping stories of a TV turkey roaster salesman, an intergalactic bounty hunter robot with worm sidekick, and a puppet with amnesia. In fact, there are FAR too many puppets in ThanksKilling 3, to the point that the novelty of Turkey disappears almost as much as he does. Other than a Natural Born Killers-esque "sitcom" set-up, the only character we were remotely interested in is missing from the first thirty minutes of the movie, which was as long as people were willing to sit through.
So out of courtesy, I did something that I haven't done since Horror Fest III: I turned the movie off. It didn't stop people from deciding it was time to call it a night, but for the few that stuck around, I felt like I had to make amends.
How do you make amends for something so disappointing? Well, there's always Demolition Man.
I can't imagine that anyone reading this blog doesn't already know what Demolition Man is, but if you somehow missed the entirety of the 1990s or just assumed that Sly Stallone topped out at Rocky IV, allow me to suggest you check out a very silly action movie that happens to be twenty years old this year. Sylvester Stallone vs. Wesley Snipes in a Utopian future where nobody is allowed to curse of be violent and where all restaurants are Taco Bell.
Demolition Man is a goofy movie, to be sure, but one with its fair share of fun action sequences (the fight in the museum is a standout) and succeeds in being intentionally and unintentionally funny in equal measure. It was definitely the action / sci-fi "comfort food" we desperately needed after ThanksKilling 3 arrived dead on arrival, and with the added benefit of watching it with someone who had never seen it before, which was quite amusing. So we couldn't match the highs of Ninja III: The Domination; at least I was able to level out the low of ThanksKilling 3. I'll settle for that as we head into the final stretch tomorrow...
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Holy catballs what the hell was that? Ninja III: The Domination is the kind of movie I could spend the rest of the weekend trying to explain to you and still not do it justice. There are so many inexplicable moments of sheer insanity, of downright "what were you thinking when you made this"-ness that you have to see it to believe it. Miami Connection is a collection of well intentioned failures that entertains through its earnestness, and Ninja III: The Domination still blows it out of the water for pure "WTF" factor. They're also both about ninjas (kind of).
If we're getting technical about this, Ninja III is the third film in a series that began with Enter the Ninja and continued with Revenge of the Ninja, in that all three films feature Shô Kosugi in different roles, but usually as some kind of ninja character. The star of Ninja III: The Domination is Lucinda Dickey (Breakin', Cheerleader Camp), as Christie, who is somehow both a lineman (linewoman?) and an aerobics instructor in Arizona (hey, that's where Kingdom of the Spiders took place!) who has a chance encounter with a ninja (David Chung) and is possessed by his spirit through his sword.
I know it's a cheap and easy out to drop the phrase "phallic imagery" when talking about a movie, but it's hard to argue that going from "mounting a pole" to "gripping his sword" is just a cigar, to mix metaphors a bit. There's a lot of "does that mean penis" imagery going on in the film, and I haven't even begun to cover what Ninja III is actually about. Oh no, the golf course is just the set up, because Christie is possessed by the ninja so that he can take revenge on the police who killed him. For reasons the narrative doesn't necessarily need but the audience most certainly does, we know she's being possessed by the ninja when his sword starts glowing and floats around her apartment.
Oh yeah, did I mention that this movie can roughly (and fairly) be described as "Enter the Ninja meets The Exorcist"? Because it can, but if Exorcist II: The Heretic exemplified everything people think of about trashy 70s culture, Ninja III epitomizes what people who didn't live through the 1980s imagine the decade was like. I have no idea how, even with two jobs, Christie can afford the studio apartment she has, or how she managed to decorate it like every guy in college would imagine his first apartment would look like, but the set designer and art department must have cleared out every dorm room in Arizona to make it so. In addition to free-standing lockers, a payphone, a coffee table that's clearly just a spindle, and steel girders as a bed frame, Christie also owns an arcade box with a game that looks suspiciously like a proto-Diner Dash. It turns out only to be in the movie so that it can hypnotize her with lasers (I cannot make this up) BEFORE the floating sword flies out of her closet.
During one particularly fantastic scene, the sword decides it's time to possess Christie, but she's having none of it. The apartment goes all Poltergeist and instead of freaking out she turns up her boombox and starts dancing. Take that, ninja! (SPOILER: She doesn't win - the boombox explodes).
Christie's new found ninja powers raise the attention of police officer Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett), who watches her take out would-be rapists while standing there and doing nothing, and then arrests her as a pretext for asking her out. This begins their awkward courtship, which includes the sexiest use of V-8 you're ever going to see (I'm certain of that). While Billy does wear ball-hugging pants at some point (every movie during Summer Fest apparently must have this), it's his out-of-control back hair that provides most of the "ewwww" factor. Oh, Billy is also one of the police responsible for gunning down the ninja, so conflict!
I'm leaving out so many amazing moments because you really need to see Ninja III: The Domination for yourself, but just in case I haven't sold you already, James Hong appears as a kind-of Japanese exorcist about halfway through the film, there's a ninja massacre during a policeman's funeral, a battle involving a pool table, a showdown at a Buddhist Temple, and that's all before Shô Kosugi shows up as a rival ninja who wants to stop the spirit of the ninja who took his eye. He wears the hilt of a sword as his eye patch. Again, I cannot make up how insane Ninja III is. The movie's rampant insanity caused one viewer to lose an hour and a half's worth of sewing because she was too focused on the ridiculous shenanigans onscreen. This is not a "maybe" watch - Ninja III: The Domination is a MUST watch, and the highlight of an already stellar Fest.
There must be some deeper message behind the post-Star Trek TV Show / pre-Star Trek Movies choices made by William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy. Of the three, only one of them was involved in a vaguely science-fiction project (a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers), while the other two went out west to be attacked by nature's wrath (giant, killer bunnies and
I can understand why Kingdom of the Spiders was a longtime staple of Saturday afternoon matinees on television, because it's basically as "safe" a movie about killer spiders as you can get (only Eight Legged Freaks is more tame). Aside from what appears to be a genuinely terrified actor having tarantulas dumped on him while he pretends to fly a plane and the scene where Woody Strode (Spartacus)'s wife completely misunderstands how to use a gun to fight spiders, there's no really graphic or disturbing content. Well, aside from the subplot about Rack's (yes, Shatner's character's name is Rack Hansen) sister-in-law trying to jump his bones when he comes to visit his niece. Okay, so Rack's brother is dead, but brother swapping is arguably not appropriate.
But I think I covered most of this in the Horror Fest recap of Kingdom of the Spiders. This time I wanted to mention how hilarious the concept of "Spider Mounds" were to the Summer Fest crowd. Bad Science has been a running theme throughout the weekend, and I don't suspect we're done with it yet, but there's something about 70s "Nature Gone Amok" films that brings out the worst of it. And I don't just mean the most renowned veteranarian in Arizona happily drinking beer on the front porch of the Sherrif's house when entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) arrives and he proceeds to gloat that she thought he was a gas station attendant when they first met.
Then again, we're talking about William Shatner here, as a veterinarian, which is to say he's just playing William Shatner. And the sight of William Shatner covered in tarantulas in the basement of a motel (the first scene I ever saw from Kingdom of the Spiders) is worth the price of admission. The vaguely apocalyptic ending is pretty good, too, but I'm positive I mentioned that last time as well.
Bear Force One... You know, I could tell you about it, or I could just let you watch it for yourselves. It's not very long - just long enough not to wear out its welcome, so settle in and get ready for some "what the living crapballs is happening?"
See what I mean? It goes just to the brink of being "too much" but never gets boring. I enjoy a good "home made" B-movie (like last year's Rise of the Animals) more than most do, I guess. There's something to be said for a "can-do" attitude and a good sense of humor.
For whatever failings Prisoners of the Lost Universe has (and there are many), Death Spa and Killer Workout were the palette cleanser we needed to get back on track for Saturday. While it is rare that I'll program one movie, let alone two, sight unseen*, I had enough faith in the slasher movies of the 1980s not to let me down and went in blind. And I'm glad I did.
If I were to compare Death Spa to anything, I guess you could call it a spiritual successor to Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It isn't quite as formless as Death Bed, but amidst the three or four competing plots in Death Spa, there's definitely a "this gym / health center / indoor swimming pool is haunted and is killing people." A ghost is using the totally automated system against people who go there, seemingly at random. To say much more about who the ghost is or what it wants would spoil parts of the movie that generate the most "what the hell?" moments.
Fortunately, there's a bunch of other crap in Death Spa I can talk about that's just as weird. Like the group shower scene where the spa shoots tiles at naked ladies, or the killer fish (yes, a killer fish in a gym). There's the package loading ramp at the bottom of the stairs in the basement that serves no purpose, or the "Parologist" (I'm assuming he studies haunted rocks) hired by the owner to investigate the haunting. There's the conspiracy to shut down the gym before the big Mardi Gras party (no amount of killings will close this Death Spa!) and the question of whether the place is haunted or if somebody is killing people in order to make it look like it is.
SPOILER ALERT: It's both. Yes, on top of the ghost, there are people also killing random gym members to make the owner look bad. And the owner's brother-in-law has an, um, "unhealthy" relationship with his dead sister. The dead sister who set herself on fire after a miscarriage left her wheelchair bound (the flashbacks to this are unto themselves strange enough to recommend Death Spa).
There's so much going on in Death Spa that I can't possibly cover all of it, and yet it manages to hang together well enough that you want to know how the hell it's going to resolve them. And it does. Well, kind of. But even that's fun to watch too. Also, Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond) has an extended cameo where he only has to appear at the beginning and the end of the movie and gets to live (SPOILER).
There's some procedural work done by Detective Lieutenant Morgan (David James Campbell), and an undercover agent posing as a new employee (Uh, I forgot his character's name and IMDB isn't helping), but mostly it's a slasher movie from the 1980s, which means some creative kills, a twist-y backstory for the killer, and lots of nudity. Actually, not as much nudity as you'd expect, and a lot less than Death Spa, but there's MUCH more time devoted to the aerobics routines Jaimy (Teresa Vander Woude) puts together, many of which appear to offer no exercise value whatsoever. So while you don't get as much nudity, there's a lot more jiggling.
But don't worry, ladies, there's also a lot of guys in impossibly short shorts too. This unintentional recurring motif of Summer Fest was perhaps never more in evidence than during Killer Workout.
What really helped Killer Workout as a companion piece to Death Spa was the weird touches, like David James Campbell's unfortunately high-pitched voice, one that in no way matches his imposing physical presence. It made it nearly impossible to take him seriously, all the way up to his final scene that must have, in some abstract way, inspired the series Dexter. There was also the guy we nicknamed "Johnny Pervo" with his pervo mustache that we later realized was two different characters that just looked alike and both happened to be sleazeballs.
And then there's the "twist" of the film, which the Cap'n will immodestly admit I called twenty minutes in, about who the killer is. What I didn't realize until the "reveal" was it tied into a prologue most of us had forgotten about involving a tanning bed accident. Unlike Death Spa, Killer Workout doesn't have a supernatural angle, but it does have what one viewer described as "pudding tits."
The two films do share some interesting connections, though: both Death Spa and Killer Workout close on freeze-frames of the villain, implying that both of them secretly won (well, in Killer Workout, it's flat out saying they did). And in Killer Workout, the reputation for murder makes the gym a target for vandals, one of whom spray paints "DEATH SPA" on the window... interesting...
Up next is a blast from Horror Fest past with the return of Kingdom of the Spiders!
* Not since the Matango / See No Evil debacle at Horror Fest IV.
I thought that Prisoners of the Lost Universe would be a good matinee movie to get the ball rolling for day two. It seemed like the kind of movie that plays well in the background on a Saturday afternoon while people are coming in and out and getting settled in for the main attraction. And it is. Unfortunately, nobody was milling about or at the very best half-paying attention to the movie. They were giving it all of their attention, which is more than a movie like Prisoners of the Lost Universe knows what to do with.
The main attraction of the film was Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica - both of 'em), who stars at the heroic TV Cable repairman Dan (he might be an electrician, but all that has to do with the movie is he has access to cables - seriously). Dan wrecks his truck not because of his ball-huggingly tight jeans - a trend of tight pants that would unfortunately become a running theme at Summer Fest - but because reporter Carrie Madison (Kay Lenz) runs him off the road on her way to interview a crazy scientist. They argue in such a way that they can only fall in love later, but apparently nobody told the actors that, so the fight is actually pretty mean spirited and insulting.
But who cares about Dan? Carrie is going to talk to a mad scientist (Kenneth Hendel), the inventor of a machine that transports matter to another dimension, one that he knows nothing about. So of course, he gets knocked into the teleporter, and in her infinite wisdom, Carrie follows him, and so does Dan (who just happened to wander up to the same house and break in because that's what the hero would do).
This "lost universe" has some time dilation, and they all end up arriving at different points than the others, so there's a LOT of wandering around aimlessly before Dan and Carrie meet up and eventually have sex. I mean, it was inevitable, right? First she meets a caveman and saves him which will come in handy several times throughout the movie (call it deus ex neanderthal), but it's the scrogging as a result of nonexistent sexual tension we'd been waiting for. After they do the deed (off camera), Kleel (John Saxon) shows up. No one can kill Kleel, as he tells us repeatedly, and he shoots Dan and takes Carrie to be the new bride in his warrior tribe. Yes, shoots, as in with a musket.
Now we have some dramatic momentum to carry us through the film, but it translates into Dan wandering around, getting together a "team" consisting of a horse thief, a green guy, the aforementioned caveman, and one of Kleel's ex-brides, which takes an hour to do, during which NOTHING interesting happens. It was excruciatingly slow paced and I feared Fest-ers were going to revolt. They were getting antsy and we hadn't even finished our first movie yet.
I'd like to say that the (literally) explosive climax of the film made up for it, but Prisoners of the Lost Universe doesn't do much well. It can't even pretend to take place in California at the beginning, because most American cars don't have steering wheels on the right side of the car (it was filmed in South Africa), and it's not quite bad enough to be enjoyable. Fortunately, the films that followed - a double feature - more than made up for this stuttered opening to Day Two.
There's no excuse for Lifeforce to be as tedious as it is; there's simply too much talent involved behind the camera to explain how something with such a "can't miss" premise could be this, pun intended, lifeless. If, in 1985, I told you that the director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was teaming up with the writer of Alien to make a movie about Space Vampires who create a zombie-like plague in London while Haley's Comet passes over, and oh by the way the lead vampire is played by Mathilda May, who spends 90% of her time on-screen in the nude, you'd already be buying tickets.
And that's before the icing on the cake that John Dykstra (Star Wars) would be handling visual effects and Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther) would write the score. This is an assemblage of talent rarely seen for a movie about naked space vampires, dammit! Add to the equation a small role by Patrick Stewart, two years out from Star Trek: The Next Generation but already having appeared in Dune and Excalibur. I guess some people might have known Steve Railsback from Helter Skelter or The Stunt Man (he'll always be Duane Barry, the man who kidnapped Dana Scully on The X-Files).
When the coffins are discovered to be intact in the otherwise burnt-out Churchill, they are returned to the European Space Research Centre and an effort is made to conduct an autopsy on the female. She awakens, and with vampiric powers, draws the "life force" out of a guard (visualized as electricity rather than blood), leaving him a quasi-mummified zombie (if it helps, think of the zombies in Night of the Creeps). She then walks out of the facility, despite the better (?) efforts of security, and is free to venture into the English countryside, cavorting nakedly.
(That last part I simply have to assume since we don't see her again for quite a while).
I suspect that it's this first part which is remembered by every guy who was once thirteen years old and saw Lifeforce on Cinemax or something to that effect. Not to be crude, but I can't blame them for being "finished" after May wanders off into the night, so they didn't stick around for the long, often tedious parts in between when she returns in dream sequences or at the very end.
For most of the movie, we're unraveling the mystery of "where she went" and "what does she want" with Col. Colin Caine (Peter Firth) and the only survivor of the Churchill, Colonel tom Carsen (Railsback), who knows what really happened to the crew and why the ship immolated. That information is doled out at a glacial pace, including a flashback that is then altered with the "real" flashback of what happened, at which point we really don't care anymore.
The only important part of Carlsen tagging along is that he shares a psychic link with the vampire and can "sense" her when she takes over the bodies of other people. This leads to interrogations of possible "victims" where Carlsen shakes them and demands that she gets "out of my head!," and, in what may be the highlight of the film's drawn out mid-section, when he nearly locks lips with Patrick Stewart's Dr. Armstrong. (Stewart indicated, by the way, that his was his first on-screen kiss)
Unfortunately, by the time we get to London overrun by zombie-vampire things and more all-nude encounters with May (one time comprised of blood and the other in a church basement), the damage has been done. People have fallen asleep on the couch and the Cap'n is just barely staying awake, mostly out of a "dammit, if nobody else will, I'll finish this damned thing!"
I suppose you could say that Hooper was past his prime (there are the continued arguments about whether he really directed Poltergeist or not) but I would point out that Dan O'Bannon, who in addition to writing the screenplay for Alien also wrote and directed Return of the Living Dead the very same year Lifeforce came out. Return of the Living Dead is exactly the kind of movie that Lifeforce should have been, in terms of embracing its B-movie roots, if not necessarily tonally. Lifeforce doesn't need to be parodic, per se, but it damn well would have benefited from embracing a pulpier tone. I haven't read Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires, but it appears that O'Bannon and co-writer Don Jakoby (Arachnophobia, Blue Thunder) augmented some of the more outlandish elements in adapting the novel.
The end result seems to be a film that wants to be serious but also feels the need to have a 20-year-old ballerina wandering around without clothes for as long as possible. And sometimes shoot electricity out of her crotch. Somehow the two sides of Lifeforce's ambitions never join to make a cohesive whole. Instead, we're left with a movie designed to appeal to young men that runs out of steam, stumbles along for another hour, and then reaches a hastily cobbled together apocalyptic climax, with some unintentional hilarity in the meantime.
Luckily, things could only go up from Lifeforce... right? Stay tuned for Saturday's coverage, beginning with Prisoners of the Lost Universe. Surely that's an improvement...
There's something you should probably know about Miami Connection (no "the"), and it's not that the movie takes place in Orlando: the story of how Miami Connection came to be, and subsequently, almost "not to be," is more interesting than almost anything that happens in the movie. Don't get me wrong - watching a bunch of non-actor, non-musician, martial arts students and their motivational speaker master try to tell Romeo and Juliet with motorcycle riding ninjas and rocking synthesizer tunes has entertainment value. It's just not as crazy as how Miami Connection even made its way to a re-release, courtesy of Drafthouse Films.
I don't want to rehash it, because every single review I read had a recap, so I'm just going to put a link to this CNN article that covers the basics pretty well. Just know that Miami Connection only had a slightly longer theatrical lifespan than Death Bed: The Bed That Eats and that we were a hurricane away from never being able to watch this movie. Whether you determine that to be a good or bad thing is entirely up to you.
But instead of covering well tread ground, I thought I'd point out for all the things that Kim and co-director Woo-Sang Park (Chinatown 2) - under the pseudonym "Richard W. Park" - do badly, they do manage to set up plot elements and pay them off later. Not consistently, and perhaps not always very well, but there IS an attempt to introduce a seemingly pointless plot element and then come back to it later.
For example, let's take the scene where Kim and two students are sparring on the campus of the University of Central Florida for what feels like fifteen minutes. In addition to demonstrating that Kim is very good at making his students look foolish, the scene also establishes knife defense and foreshadows how the climactic battle will end, all while seeming to be playful, pointless padding.
Much has been made of the "I found my father" subplot of Miami Connection, mostly in the quasi-ironic "for your consideration" video on Youtube, but most of the movie is a series of "Dragon Sound does something, is followed by the rival band, and fights" until it's time to do that all over again. This goofy attempt to add pathos to one of the members at least goes somewhere, and more importantly, leads directly to the final showdown between the ninjas from Miami and our heroes, who spent most of the film never even in the same room together. Dare I say it even tricks us into believing there might be tragedy befalling our happy-go-lucky band of misfits?
Okay, so I'm giving Miami Connection more credit than most people are willing to, but it only seems fair to approach this review in a manner other than "ha ha, it's SO BAD and you're going to laugh at how bad it is" because that's the general consensus. Miami Connection is, at times, like the line in Ghost World when Enid says "this is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again." There's an undeniable earnestness behind all of the lack of acting chops, and everybody's giving it their very best. It's just not always enough.
But damn if "Friends Forever" and "Against The Ninja" aren't catchy songs. And sometimes, the movie that seems to be going nowhere takes the time to foreshadow, which is more than I can say for some of the movies we're watching this weekend...
Speaking of which, our next film is Lifeforce, from a list of people who are too talented to make something this boring...
Friday, July 12, 2013
This doesn't really fit into any of the actual coverage of Summer Fest, but because of its highly successful airing on Syfy the night before, nearly everybody who came over on Saturday and Sunday asked the Cap'n about Sharknado. Now it just so happens that the Cap'n and Cranpire sampled some of Sharknado before the crowds arrived, so we found ourselves repeatedly explaining that (as usual) The Asylum had misled viewers as to what a "sharknado" is.
We couldn't really judge the performances of Ian Ziering, John Heard, or Tara Reid, but let's assume they were terrible. I highly doubt folks will be contesting me on this one.
Good for The Asylum and for Syfy for tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, even if its a part that none of us knew existed, and I hope that Ghost Shark or whatever it's called with Richard Moll goes as well for you. Surely it's working out better than Atlantic Rim, a movie I rejected from Summer Fest after ten minutes. And yes, the Cap'n changed tenses in the middle of this post, and just did it again. Thanks, Sharknado.
If only you were called Shartnado - it's not something I'd be more likely to watch, but for some reason seems funnier to say.
Starcrash (which I keep thinking I need to separate into two words) is one of those knock-offs of Star Wars that you'd like to pretend Roger Corman would be doing even if George Lucas hadn't struck box office gold two years earlier. In fact, I went so far as to "pretend" that Starcrash clearly wasn't a rip-off of "a galaxy far, far away" until I looked at the tagline for the film, one that describes it thusly:
"Star Wars meets Barbarella in the ultimate inter-galactic adventure!"
So never mind, let's stop pretending that Starcrash (and for that matter, Battle Beyond the Stars) is anything but a crass attempt by a legendary B-movie producer to cash in on a more popular film. It's not as though Corman was the only guy trying to make a buck off of a "space adventure" film in the late 1970s / early 1980s, he just does it so transparently that you can't even pretend Starcrash is its own movie devoid of the obvious comparisons.
In fairness, I should point out that Roger Corman didn't direct Starcrash - that distinction belongs to Luigi Cozzi (Contamination, The Killer Must Kill Again), under the pseudonym "Lewis Coates." I suppose it's meant to hide the fact that this is an Italian co-production, although there's a degree of suspicious dubbing mixed throughout the film (that, or Shout Factory's Blu-Ray goes out of sync repeatedly during scenes with very specific actors).
The "Barbarella" component of the film comes, I suppose, from Caroline Munro, who plays Stella Star, one half of a.... uh... smuggling (?) duo of space ne'er do wells. Alongside Acton (Marjoe Gortner), her robot (?) friend, Stella cruises around the galaxy until she's captured by bounty hunter Thor (Robert Tessier) and robot policeman
It's not really important why, but Stella manages to kill all of the prisoners AND guards in her prison while escaping, and then inadvertently destroys the prison itself only to be picked up by L and Thor. They've come to release her so that she and Acton can help the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) to defeat the evil Count Zarth Arn (Maniac's Joe Spinell). If they have time, they should also rescue the Emperor's son. First, they'll need to travel to the "haunted worlds" in order to find his secret weapon, which is really an excuse to visit different planets with different "menaces."
For example, there's the planet of the Amazon Warriors, the Ice Planet, the Planet of the Cavemen, and finally some other planet where the secret weapon is. Or maybe that's the cavemen one... look, the movie doesn't make a sustained impression, I'm afraid. Mostly they serve the purpose of having cheesy fight scenes, to demonstrate some adequate stop motion animation, or to freeze L and Stella Star for the express purpose of thawing her out very slowly. It's nice to know that the defrosting machine conveniently placed in the middle of the ship can also restore her hair to optimal volume despite being covered in something that loosely fits the definition of "ice."
In one of Starcrash's many "oh, now you're telling us this?" moments, we learn that Acton knew which planet the weapon was on THE ENTIRE TIME but neglected to tell Stella Star this. I think he just got a kick out of hearing L complain about how nervous everything makes him. He's really a pretty poorly programmed Robot Space Cop, but at least they got that "good ol' country" accent right.
Given provocation, I could go on for days about the things in Starcrash that made us scratch our heads while watching this movie, but instead I'd like to focus on the extended cameo of Christopher Plummer. You've probably heard the phrase "phoning it in" when referring to an actor who is clearly doing a movie because he owes somebody a favor or was caught doing something he shouldn't, but Plummer really takes it to a new level.
Apparently inspired by the stories of Marlon Brando filming The Godfather*, Plummer seems to have asked for his lines to be written on cue cards, often placed above eye level or well above the camera. He's constantly looking around at nothing, delivering a line, pausing, and then looking around again. As Starcrash progresses, it seems like having more than one line per cue card was too much for Baron Von Trapp, so he delivers one line, then looks around aimlessly until he finds the next cue card, and then reads that one. Sometimes he looks directly into the camera.
My favorite moment is when Plummer, as a hologram recruiting Stella Star and Acton, finishes a monologue, begins to walk away, and then does a one-quarter turn back to our heroes to finish a thought. As a hologram.
He also happens to have the kind of useful weapon that could, oh,, you know, prevent THE ENTIRE FINAL BATTLE OF THE MOVIE - the ability TO STOP TIME. But he only uses it to help our heroes (and himself) escape the Count's weapon when he shows up to what is clearly a trap. He tells them "you don't become Emperor without having a few tricks up your sleeve" or something to that effect, and then freezes time on the entire planet so that they can return to his ship before it explodes.
His son isn't much brighter, but he is David Hasselfhoff, in a third act reveal (although, if you're paying attention, you know it's the Emperor's son because he's the only hero we've been introduced to since Stella Star and company left the Emperor's ship). When Stella is captured by the cavemen (who, no joke, say "ooga booga"), the Hoff appears with a golden helmet that shoots lasers to scare them off. When he and Stella escape after they return (and in greater numbers), he promptly THROWS THE HELMET AWAY and picks up a club to fight them with. Fortunately, Acton has a
Pretending that Starcrash is some hidden gem from the post-Star Wars era is not something you're likely to see me do (ever), but I'll admit it has its dumb charms. The film is too long and unnecessarily episodic for such a flimsy narrative, and the acting is not great, but it's watchable. You'll have a hard time not filling in the Star Wars lines that Starcrash sets up but tries very hard not to get caught copying, and with properly lowered expectations, I'd daresay you might enjoy the experience. I'm sure Roger Corman enjoyed the money I gave him to buy Starcrash on Blu-Ray, something which raised more than a few eyebrows at Summer Fest**.
Up next, Miami Connection, a movie with a story more compelling than anything on-screen, but my goodness what ends up on-screen is something special indeed...
* Pure, but not unfounded conjecture, based on the available evidence onscreen.
** By that I mean the "why is Starcrash on Blu-Ray" eyebrow raising.
To kick off Summer Fest, I decided it would be fun to continue in the vein of Bad Movie Night favorite She Devil and present another sci-fi / horror hybrid from the 1950s about the inherent danger of femininity. Why? Because in the mid-twentieth century, B-movie filmmakers were obsessed with it, and none of them seemed to be able to make a decent picture out of it. Which is not to say they couldn't make an entertaining picture: it just wasn't the type of entertainment they planned on.
The Astounding She Monster, after a long explanation of other planets that fear the "danger" that Earth poses and how they've determined to "destroy us before we destroy them" then shifts to a fairly mundane kidnapping story told in the least sensible way possible. After a "socialite" leaves her house (one that I'd swear is the same location used for She Devil), two gangsters immediately run her off of the road and force her into their car, leaving hers abandoned in the road for the police to find.
So that's suspenseful, if seemingly unconnected, but it's worth noting that they then pull into the driveway that she just pulled out of, where her house is. They kidnap her and drive her home, presumably so that somewhere between when the police find her car and when we next see them, the socialite can change her coat and the gangsters can pick up a drunken tag-along. Why? It's never entirely clear, but it makes splitting them up later possible.
Meanwhile, a geologist who lives in the woods with his dog sees a meteorite land not far from their secluded cabin. The narrator explains he's the "innocent bystander" in this story, which I suppose is true. We don't see him again until after the Astounding She Monster starts wandering around, scaring animals and causing the camera to go all "drunk cam."
She / It eventually wanders into the road, causing the kidnappers to crash their car (at least, I think that's what happened). Fortunately, this is a contingency in their precision plan, so they head up a road into the woods and eventually end up at a secluded (albeit spacious) cabin. I wonder who might live there?
Just in case you weren't already convinced that the cast and crew were making it up as they went along, our geologist responds to one of the hoodlums taking the keys to his Jeep by telling him it "isn't safe" to drive at night and that they should stay with him until morning. I'm not exaggerating this at all - he actually advises a man holding him at gunpoint NOT to leave, and this is before he knows about their hostage.
As you can imagine, the tense situation in the cabin between heroes and villains is only compounded when the Astounding She Monster (sporting proto-Romulan eye makeup) shuffles on up to the cabin and kills one of the gangsters (and the poor dog, who for no apparent reason had to go outside to help fix the Jeep). After running in and out and in and out of the cabin to the point of absurdity, the geologist discovers she's protected by a thin layer of radioactive metal and they concoct a way to kill the Astounding She Monster, only to reveal the film's great twist about why she was actually on Earth.
If nothing else, I will give the film credit for making good on its promise of the Black Bear the geologist constantly warns of being outside. Aside from that, pretty much everything that happens in The Astounding She Monster is because that's what has to happen to pad out the running time to 67 minutes. If you can imagine a Mad Magazine spoof of an episode of The Twilight Zone adapted by Ed Wood, you're in the ball park of The Astounding She Monster.
That said, the film is (unintentionally) hilarious - whether struggling to apply logic to the early section of the movie, where nobody but the narrator is speaking (including when the gangsters turn on the radio and the narrator is explaining that the police are closing in on them) to determining exactly how a geologist who lives alone in the woods is going to explain having the missing socialite and a dead body in his bedroom to the police when they arrive, it's a constant source of laughter. While I sincerely doubt director Richard V. Ashcroft (who only made two other movies after this) intended that to be the case, there's something to be said for the accidental end result.
A note on the poster: it's a great example of selling a product more titillating than the finished result. While one of the gangsters refers to the She Monster as "nude," it's fairly evident she's wearing a body suit and there's nothing "sexy" at all about her in the movie. She shambles about, often unsure what to do with her arms, leaving the end result more comical than sensual, if that was even the goal.
Up next: Roger Corman presents a movie that is not at all a knock-off of Star Wars - the coincidentally titled Star Crash!