Saturday, October 21, 2017

217. The Amazing Transparent Man

217. The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Writer: Jack Lewis
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

An ex-major breaks a safe-cracker out of jail to use as a guinea pig for an invisibility ray with hopes of eventually building an invisible army. Things go awry though when the safe-cracker develops his own plans.

I wrote about this movie almost ten years ago in the second PD Project post. The movie hasn’t improved with time.

Nor is it any worse. The movie itself is just under an hour so it doesn’t get too bogged down with anything—it doesn’t have time to. The basic story is bank robbing safe-cracker extraordinaire Joey Faust is busted out of prison by Major Krenner. Krenner has kidnapped a German scientist, Dr. Ulof, to develop an invisibility ray. Faust will be the titular transparent man dispatched to steal nuclear materials from a nearby government base. After some post-invisibility violent negotiations, Faust agrees to do the job for an exorbitant amount of money.

Krenner’s particularly villainous. He was an Army spy during WWII which is how he found Dr. Ulof. He manages to smuggle Ulof out of Germany, but kidnaps the doctor’s daughter and holds the two of them captive to make Ulof develop the invisibility ray. Krenner’s ultimate plan is to create an army of invisible men and sell the technology to the highest military bidder.

Faust is a bank robber, though, and sees the opportunities invisibility affords him in that field. After doing the first job stealing nuclear material, Faust convinces Krenner’s accomplice to take him to a bank instead of the military base. However, the invisibility starts wearing off during the robbery and Faust is identified.

Krenner hears about the robbery on the radio and realizes he’s been betrayed. Faust arrives in time to knock him out and asks Ulof why the invisibility wore off. Ulof tells him there’s something wrong with the ray and that Faust is going to die. He can either run and live a brief time or sacrifice himself to thwart Krenner’s plans. Faust agrees to stay and Dr. Ulof and his daughter escape. While Faust fights Krenner, the nuclear material stolen earlier explodes and wipes out, we’re told in the epilogue, most of the county. Faust is dead, but so are Krenner’s evil plans. THE END.

The movie’s pretty stripped-down and low budget, but that may be to its credit. The idea at the core of the plot is sound and it ticks every box that you expect from a story like this without any extra baggage. Sure, that does mean certain emotional moments move too quickly, for example, Krenner’s henchman who’s been loyal because he thinks Krenner has info about his daughter breaks down and switches sides when Krenner’s accomplice tells him Krenner’s been lying and the girl is dead. The emotional beats are all the right ones, but they arrive exactly as quickly as I relayed them in that sentence. The henchman’s reason for his loyalty, how he’s been fooled, and him being turned all happens within a minute.

That said, there’s no filler here. Every moment is essential to the plot, defines the characters and their situation, and moves things forward. In other words, it’s competently made, it’s just not remarkably made. When I watched it before, I said it’d be nice to see this redone as a student film because it’s right within the possibilities of what a student film could do. I stand by that assessment.

The movie’s in the public domain and I uploaded it to archive.org here just over a decade ago (how long have I been at this?). The movie’s not a recommend, but I’m not going to warn anyone away from it either. It’s fine for a lazy Saturday afternoon or if you want some easy riffing material. This was featured as episode 623 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and is available on the forthcoming Vol. XXXIX if you want to see someone else’s take on it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

216. Slashed Dreams

216. Slashed Dreams (1975)
Director: James Polakof
Writers: James Keach, James Polakof, and David Pritchard
From: Chilling
Watch: archive.org

Two friends go hiking to find their friend’s cabin and explore their feelings for each other. Then one is assaulted by backwoods yahoos.

Ready for a fun one folks? Then skip this movie cause it blows. I’m starting here so you can save yourself some time, maybe check out a different flick from the archives. I mean, this is my 216th review. You have options.

Okay.

Slashed Dreams opens with Jenny reading a letter from her friend Michael. He dropped out of college a few years earlier and went into the mountains to find himself. Surprisingly, it worked, and he’s very happy in a cabin he’s built. Jenny’s friend Robert creeps on her without saying a word and then her boyfriend Marshal, who’s a dick, takes her away. Excited about the emotional possibilities this opening scene is laying out? I know I am.

They go to class where the instructor is using Age of Aquarius language to float really conservative, “our unmoored, amoral culture” ideas. Jenny and Marshall arrive late, Robert is somehow already there, and we hear his voice.

1000% smackable smug prick.

Jenny talks about Michael finding peace in nature, Marshall poo-poos the idea, and rejects all the hippie-dippy stuff about leaving to find yourself. He says the real excitement is happening on campus with all the people planning their lives. It’s a good point. Unfortunately, he’s a complete cock when he’s making it, belittling Jenny the whole time.

I don’t know why I’m telling you all this stuff about the prologue—this is all prologue!—it’s just that this is when the movie still feels like it has promise.

They’re all at a frat party that night, Jenny and Robert are dancing and floating the idea of going to visit Michael. Marshall tells one of Jenny’s friends that he’s in love with Jenny and doesn’t trust Robert. The friend says they’ve been best friends since they were kids. Then Marshall is emotionally abusive some more and tells everyone to go to the mountains to see Michael. On the way, he throws a can of beer across Robert’s windshield and then almost has a head-on collision with him and Jenny. Jenny dumps him there and that’s the end of Marshall’s presence in the movie. Wave goodbye everyone, he was the only source of interesting drama in this picture.

The rest, or until the 2/3rds mark, is Robert and Jenny hiking through the woods, hanging out in an empty cabin, and skinny dipping, all to the sounds of the worst kind of treacly 70’s folk-pop. The music always gets it wrong, making the whole movie seem like a laid-back exploration of this couple’s budding relationship. Only there doesn’t seem to be any will they/won’t they/could you care tension. They’re in couple mode the moment Marshall disappears.

So they’re just in the woods with no sense of threat or tension when two backwoods types living in the mountain appear. They spy on the couple skinny dipping and then make some uncomfortable comments. They leave and the couple, deciding everything’s okay for no explicable reason, go back to the cabin. That night, the yokels break in and rape Jenny. After they leave, Robert tries to comfort her and then goes outside to stand watch. The treacly music starts up again implying that the drama here is whether their relationship will be able to endure this.



I have to mention it because it’s so perfect. The Shockmarathons podcast did an episode on this movie and one of their hosts said Slashed Dreams, “at this moment, becomes one of the most unwatchable movies ever.” You are correct, sir.

The next morning, Michael, Robert Englund himself, finally shows up, and goes in to talk to Jenny. He’s just beavering away until he finally mentions the rape—the rape that just happened hours before in the very place they’re talking—and tells her she needs to get it out of her mind, sort of like the poison oak he has on his legs. The more he thinks about it, the more it itches.

Fuck you, movie.

Outside, Robert, the real victim in all this, hears a noise and goes to find the yokels arguing with each other. One wants to go back and murder the couple, the other wants to go back and finish raping her. One cuts the other and then Robert rushes out to attack uninjured one with a hatchet, poorly. They wrestle around a bit, Robert shoves they guy’s face in the mud, and the yokels run away as Jenny and Michael run up. The trio all laugh because “those two won’t be back any time soon.”

Cut to all three of them skinny dipping. Jenny gets out, goes into the cabin, and reads a poem about pain. Then she and Robert traipse off into the sunset. THE END.

What

the Actual

FUCK?!

This is a dull, empty movie where nothing happens for forty minutes that then drops in rape and tries to make it meaningful by having the victim read a poem about the liberating nature of pain. No catharsis, no justice, no closure on her assailants, just they run off into the woods because they’re afraid of the smug fuck that can’t fight. This movie is insufferable when it’s not interminable, and that doesn’t even include the Rudy Vallee cameo where he tries to sell them licorice.

While this is not as bad as Cave Girl or Going Steady, movies that titter at and revel in their rapey elements, it’s relentlessly twee without anything cute and imagines itself charming when every element is utterly charmless. I mean, the emotional arc of the movie, if there is one, is focused on Robert: he finally gets the girl he’s been Nice Guy™-ing for over a decade only to see her get raped, which really cramps his style, man, but he makes it okay by wrestling one of the attackers a bit, kind of.

Just wretched. Instead of watching this movie, I’d recommend The Shockmarathons podcast. They have a deeply informed perspective on the movies they cover and, unique among the bad movie podcasts I listen to, are actively building upon their discussions episode-by-episode. In other words, rather than have occasional running gags or throwbacks, each movie’s discussed within the context of what they’ve talked about before. It makes the cultural context of each movie clearer.

This movie, though, sucks on toast. Avoid it if you can. That said, it is in the public domain so I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here. Cut it up to use the nature shots for something better, or pull the music to design your own endurance test. Just stop at about the 40-minute mark. That’s when it goes from dull to “Why?!”

Saturday, October 14, 2017

215. Scared to Death

215. Scared to Death (1947)
Director: Christy Cabanne
Writer: Walter Abbott
From: Pure Terror
Watch: archive.org

A woman arrives at the morgue and narrates, for the audience, the story of how she was murdered.

A brief studio cheapie that’s most notable for being the only color film to star Bela Lugosi. While it’s better than a lot of the Ed Wood movies he did later, it’s still pretty disappointing. There’s a real sense that the movie was banking on his reputation as being a horror icon to do the work of selling the movie.

The film is set up as a giant flashback. Laura, our narrator, has been murdered, but they don’t know precisely how. Then her voice arrives on the soundtrack telling us her story. Only Laura’s voice-over never adds anything to the movie, never provides any foreshadowing, never even gives us a sense of her character by having her describe things that are happening in the flashback. In fact, Laura’s not in the movie much at all. We see more of her lying dead as the movie fades back to her than we do in the movie itself.

Anyway, we cut from her on the table to her being examined by her father-in-law, Dr. Van Ee. He’s trying to put a blindfold on her, but she panics and tells him to stop. She accuses him of conspiring with her husband to force her into a divorce. They’d be happy if she left, but take forever to explain why. She leaves as another patient arrives—a woman seemingly trying to blackmail the doctor with knowledge that only a person he presumed dead would have. The doc kicks her out and then Lugosi, the doctor’s cousin, arrives. They used to run a racket together as touring illusionists and Lugosi is the person presumed dead. He’s not there for blackmail, though, just to rest for the night.

So much for that mystery.

Really Lugsoi’s there to play up the red herring of the doctor being in some way villainous or to be his own red herring. Meanwhile, Laura is in her room and gets sent a mask in the mail that makes her scream. Through details we learn from other characters, we can put together that Laura used to be part of a double-act at The Green Room. Lugosi remembers her and says, to no one, “The Green Man may get you yet.” Things escalate in the house with more people arriving, the maid being hypnotized to feign death, and then everyone goes into the parlor to find Laura hypnotized to perform her act from before.

During the war, Laura betrayed her partner—her then husband—to the Nazis and sent him a green blindfold for his execution. She wanted him to know she’d betrayed him. She did it, not for the money, but to be free of him and his control over her despite him being “good.” The movie’s really invested in you not being that bothered by her murder. She takes off the blindfold, sees a mask coming at her from the window, and dies of a heart attack. The husband is caught in the yard disguised as the woman who came to see the doctor earlier and we fade back to the coroner’s office where he says she was “scared to death.” THE END

It’s pretty stupid. Normally I’d find something like this charming, but it’s just throwing everything into a pot and making nothing from it. The doctor’s past and all his strange behavior, including lying about being attacked, comes to nothing. The house is full of secret passages for no reason. Lugosi has a deaf-mute little person working as his assistant because...creepy? Plus there’s a bumbling private security officer in love with the maid and a reporter who shows up for no reason with his ditzy assistant. Even the son, the man who wants a divorce, vanishes from the movie for the majority. The reason he wants the divorce, by the way, is that he married Laura the night he met her on a drunken bet.

The worst thing the movie does is make the killer someone you couldn’t possibly know. The woman who seemed to be blackmailing the doctor at the beginning was actually a character never named or described until the final scene, in disguise (so you wouldn’t know the person you didn’t know).

This is not as bad as some of the other flicks I’ve watched, it’s certainly not offensive, but it’s strangely bad. Like the decision to cut back to Laura in the morgue all the time. The cuts dissolve to her lying still and then immediately dissolve back to the movie, sometimes the same scene. Plus they’re almost never scenes that she’s in. She’s telling a story of all the things she didn’t witness.

The movie is almost, but not quite, compellingly bad, and I recommend it on those terms. It’s not fun on its own and I wouldn’t recommend it to watch ironically, but if you have friends and want to laugh at something, this movie is so consistently wrong-footed that you’d have a good time. It’s in the public domain and there are several copies available on archive.org. I’ve linked to the MPEG-2 version, because that’s what I do.

Friday, October 13, 2017

214. Oasis of the Zombies

214. Oasis of the Zombies aka La tumba de los muertos vivientes(1982)
Director: Jesús Franco
Writers: Jesús Franco from a story by Ramón Llidó
From: Chilling
Treasure hunters in search of Nazi gold instead suffer the depredations of the zombies haunting the site.
A pair of women in hot pants take a break from driving through the desert to wander through an oasis with the camera cutting to fullframe shots of their butts while they’re walking. This is proto-Michael Bay. Anyway, they find abandoned Nazi gear, then get killed by zombies, and we cut to titles. You know it’s going to be a good one already.

The real start of the movie is a man in a mustache telling another man in a mustache that he knows the location of lost Nazi gold and produces a map. Mustache 2 kills him and leaves to find the treasure. Cut to mustache’s son getting a letter notifying him of his father’s death as well as a letter telling the story of how mustache found the gold.

Flashback to mustache as a British Captain fighting the Nazis in Africa. He sets up an ambush near an oasis, kills all the Nazis, but the entirety of his side is killed as well. A Sheik finds Capt. Mustache and the Sheik’s daughter nurses him back to health. They fall in love and hook up when mustache leaves to return to the war. Two years later, he returns to the Sheik to learn that the woman died giving birth to his son. He goes home only to learn that the Nazis he ambushed were transporting smuggled gold. In the present day, the son decides to go find the gold and his friends come along.

Meanwhile, murderous mustache has arrived at the oasis with his team. His assistants plot against him, but then the zombies kill them. Murderous mustache is attacked, but manages to escape, stumbling and raving about “the living dead.”

Kids arrive, meet murderous mustache just as he dies, and get told vague legends about the oasis and zombies. They meet the Sheik who tells the kid that the Sheik’s daughter was his mother and advises him against going to the oasis. He and his friends go anyway. When they get there, they find another group of treasure hunters they’d met in town dead, except a young woman. She survived the zombie attack, tells them to leave, because zombies, but they decide to stay. And she sticks around.

Despite the zom… but she knows… why would you not just… I mean, she has her own car and…

They start digging for gold, zombies attack that night, and everyone but the main kid and his girlfriend die. Weirdly, they try to fight off the zombies by making a ring of fire around their camp with gasoline... that they take from their Jeep... instead of getting into their Jeep and driving away.

I am shocked by this terrible line.
The couple is found lying in the desert by the Sheik who asks his grandson,
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I mainly found myself.”
Then they get into the Jeep and drive back to town. THE END

I mean, you know it’s going to be stupid from the start, but, with the initial promise of zombies, Nazis, or even zombie Nazis, you’re hoping for a different kind of stupid, a more delicious exploration of the ridiculous. Instead, there are very few zombies, almost no Nazis (although all the Nazis get killed, which is a plus), and just a rambling group of nobodies going into the desert. We know from the start that the oasis is full of zombies, so it just becomes waiting for the characters to fall into the trap.

Nothing in this movie has consequence. Murderous mustache kills mustache leading the kid to search for the lost gold. However, there’s no meeting between the two where they know the situation, no character moment of them reacting to each other. Everything’s just about getting people to that oasis and filling almost 90 minutes of screen time.

This movie should be in the public domain, but has been GATT’d so it’s not. It is pretty easy to find if you’re so inclined, though. It’s silly enough to be riffable, but maybe too empty and boring even for that. The most laugh-out-loud moments are some of the make-up on the zombies and that final exchange between the Sheik and the kid. It’s 100% unearned and unjustified. “I mainly found myself.” What? How? When was that even part of what this was about? The movie doesn’t really crescendo into absurdity—the final zombie attack is pretty shabby and ignorable—so much as drop a dollop of “What?” on this bland desert dessert. You can safely skip it.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

209. Silver Needle in the Sky

209. Silver Needle in the Sky (1954)
Director: Hollingsworth Morse
Writer: Fritz Blocki
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger blah blah blah blah. His crew yadda yadda yadda until phhhbt phhhbt, phhhbt-phhhbt-phhhbt. Cleolanta dispatches argle bargle poot poot poot, but they don’t realize Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Zzzzzzzzzzzzz ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz and thus the day is saved.

I can’t pretend to care about Rocky Jones movies anymore, and I was barely pretending to care the last time I wrote about them. This is the sixth Rocky Jones movie I’ve watched, and the fifth in the series, not that watching them out of order makes any difference. The production order, by the way, is Beyond the Moon, Gypsy Moon, Menace From Outer Space, Manhunt in Space, Silver Needle in the Sky, and Crash of the Moons. I hope there aren’t any more in these sets because I honestly don’t know if I can take another one.

The plot is pretty meaningless: the United Worlds sets up a conference of scientists, Cleolanta’s planet isn’t invited and she takes it as an insult so she sends her loyal servant to kidnap the head scientist. He does and manages to capture Rocky Jones as well, but one of Cleolanta’s other flunkies screws things up by trying to double-cross Cleolanta’s second and make him look bad.

Rocky and the scientists are trapped in a conference room with a timed lock so they’ll escape in three hours. The flunky, though, turns off the air supply so they’ll all suffocate. “Fortunately,” Bobby, the junior adventurekateer who’s always traveling with Rocky, is able to fit through the air vent, knock the grate in the control room free with his head (yeah, a major plot point involves a child banging his own head against a wall), and save the day. Cleolanta locks both her servant and the flunky up together for a few months so they can fight it out. THE END.

The more I watch these movies, the less there is to see. This one dragged even though I was literally watching it on fast-forward. I set VLC to play it back at the fastest speed where I could still understand the dialogue, and, even then, scenes dragged with nothing going on. My criticisms, by the way, aren’t an issue of elements not aging well or the movie being made in a different culture, the producers themselves didn’t try.

The movie opens, not with the movie’s title card, but the serial’s title card including the “Chapter 1” subtitle. At the end, the announcer, who was presumably present in every TV broadcast but hasn’t been present in any of these movie edits, pops in to encourage kids to tune in again next week. They didn’t even bother to sort that out.

Obviously, this isn’t a recommend. I’m trying to figure out if it’s the worst Rocky Jones movie I’ve seen so far. It has its fair share of “the goddamn kid,” but I’m not sure it’s as annoying as The Gypsy Moon which is framed around Bobby not wanting to read and then seeing parallels to The Odyssey in everything. As slow as this movie is, that one grinds to a halt over and over again to let Bobby monologue about The Odyssey and how it compares to their own adventure. As with all the others, this is under copyright protecting us all from accidentally coming across it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

208. The Impossible Kid

208. The Impossible Kid aka The Impossible Kid of Kung Fu(1982)
Director: Eddie Nicart
Writers: Greg Macabenta from a story by Cora Caballes
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org, Cinema Insomnia
Interpol Agent 00, aka Weng Weng, is assigned to hunt down a group of terrorists kidnapping and killing Manila industrialists. Will Weng Weng stop these terrorists before they achieve their extortionist goals or will he fall victim to their diabolical plans?
The only thing of note about this movie is it stars Ernesto de la Cruz, aka Weng Weng, a 2’ 9” Filipino martial arts actor. He was born with primordial dwarfism and currently holds the world’s record for shortest person to have a starring role in a movie. This is a sequel to For Y’ur Height Only, Weng’s first appearance as Agent 00 (and maybe a second movie called Agent 00, though I can’t confirm that it exists).

The series spoofs/rip-offs of James Bond films and I have to include that slash because, frankly, I’m not sure which the movie is doing. Were these cheap Filipino James Bond rip-offs that they decided to cast Weng Weng in or did they intend these as Weng Weng vehicles and decide it’d be hilarious if he were a less-than-a-meter-tall James Bond? It’s hard to say because it’s certainly ripping off spy movies left and right, but it doesn’t seem to play up Weng Weng’s size as a joke. There are scenes where characters react, but it’s never a big reaction. Instead it’s, “Who’s this little person? Oh, you’re the guy from INTERPOL. Okay.” Everything’s played completely straight which makes all of it that much more absurd. So, kudos I guess.

What do I say about this movie? I fell asleep while watching it, but I’d eaten the better part of a pizza so there were extenuating circumstances. Also, I watched the Cinema Insomnia version because I bought a Roku specifically for the precursor to OSI 74 and I’m a Patron of the channel through Patreon. However, I almost never watch it (or anything that’s not a Misery Mill movie), so I decided to scroll through the shows and movies they had on offer and find something from the Misery Mill list. That led me to the Movie Nightmares’ version of Sisters of Death and this movie getting the Insomniac treatment. So while I’m ostensibly supposed to be talking about the movie, I’m more interested in talking about Cinema Insomnia and horror host shows in general, but that’s a much longer post than I intend right now.

The movie in brief: Weng Weng foils a kidnapping of a prominent Filipino businessman and afterward gets the details that it’s part of a series of kidnappings and ransoms. One man was murdered, another released after he paid the 2 million Pesos. Weng is sent to the Philippine Consul of Industrialists (PCI) who have just received a video from the kidnappers. A man in a white hood claiming his group are nationalists, not terrorists, *ahem*, says he wants 1 billion Pesos total from the members of the PCI in one week or he’ll start killing them one by one. Then the tape explodes.

Weng Weng works the case, gets targeted by the gang running the operation, and eventually starts to suspect that Manolo, the head of the PCI, is actually organizing the whole scheme. Nothing really leads to this conclusion, or to anything else in the movie to be honest, but he’s right. Manolo uses his influence to try to get Weng pulled from the case, and does, but that makes no material difference. Weng gets captured by the gang, is nearly killed, but is saved at the last minute by a random woman that’s fallen in love with him. He hides on the gang’s boat, grabs the money when it’s handed off, and fights his way to freedom, revealing Manolo’s role in it all. THE END.

This is one of those films that just sort of washes over you. It’s just action set piece after action set piece strung together with terribly dubbed dialogue. So there’s certainly a camp pleasure in just how bad it is as well as an exploitation pleasure in seeing this little person involved in these big fight sequences. As I said before, it’s all played pretty straight, but it’s hard not to see something absurd in a car chase that involves a man riding a pocket bike that looks, on him, like a full-sized motorcycle. It’s clunky, but knowingly silly, which tends to point up the silliness of the source material itself. The problem, in other words, isn’t taking Weng Weng seriously, it’s taking James Bond seriously.

As I said, I watched the Cinema Insomnia version of this, which I kind of enjoyed. The movie was uncut so, with host segments and ads, it was 2-and-a-half hours long. In other words, the movie exhausted me, the show didn’t. As Jonathan Ian Mathers of Neurotically Yours said of Cinema Insomnia itself, the joy of horror host shows is less the movies than the hosts themselves, and he’s right, especially when it comes to z-grade public domain flicks like The Impossible Kid. Mr. Lobo, the host, does a good job and the host segments are compelling, maybe moreso than the movie. In this episode, Mr. Lobo is forced by one of his sponsors to host this film along with their client, rockstar Slob Zombie. Apparently it’s one of Slob’s favorite films. Only the movie, literally, stinks and Slob is nowhere to be found. As the show goes on, Lobo starts to receive ransom videos from a terrorist aping the terrorist from the movie, who says he’s holding Slob hostage. The gags go from willfully goofy (“Slob Zombie”) to warped gags representing a deep knowledge of b-movies, and I dug them.

What I enjoyed most, though, was that there were actual gags and a personality. There was a sensibility that informed what was happening. The show includes vintage ads as well as OSI 74 ads and actual sponsors, and I don’t begrudge any of that. Vintage ads just aren’t my aesthetic even though these were chosen because they related to the content of the movie. So, again, there’s clearly a sensibility and aesthetic underlying all the decisions. How well it works for you comes down to a matter of taste, but this worked for me and if I can swap out a Cinema Insomnia version for one of the straight versions of a Misery Mill pic in the future, I definitely will.

Also, as I alluded to above, the movie seems to be public domain. I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy from my dvd to archive.org here. As I said, the movie’s fine. Maybe set it up as a double feature with some other cheapo Filipino films like Black Cobra 2 or 3. Definitely riffable and pleasantly absurd on its own.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

207. Top Line

207. Top Line aka Alien Terminator (1988)
Director: Nello Rossati
Writers: Roberto Gianviti and Nello Rossati
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
An alcoholic writer discovered a crashed UFO, but as he tries to make the information public, he uncovers a massive conspiracy involving every level of all governments and maybe even aliens themselves.
Author Ted Angelo is on a bender in Colombia when he learns his ex-wife and boss has cut off his expense account. She gives him enough money to fly back to his homeland of Italy, but he cashes in the ticket to do more drinking.

He visits his maid’s boyfriend to examine some Spanish artifacts the boyfriend claims to have salvaged from the ocean and take pictures of them back to his historian friend.

Sorry, what? The first point doesn’t lead to the second point? That’s not a mistake on my part, that’s how this movie is structured. This is, honestly, “Wait, what?” the Movie. It’s not even that the movie moves from action sequence to action sequence, it moves from conclusion of a scene to conclusion of a scene. No establishing shots, no exposition, no set-up of who anyone is or what’s going on. You only get the, “and that’s why it’s important!” moments, but you never know who’s talking about what or why.

So. Ted takes the pictures and a journal to his friend who says it’s a major discovery so Ted puts out feelers for buyers. The friend suggests a liaison who does purchasing for a former Nazi. Then the friend turns up dead. So Ted visits the Nazi instead.

Yeah. Everyone’s really chill about working with a literally-ran-the-camps Nazi. It’s kind of like CPAC that way.

Nazi tells Ted the stuff is fake and then sends people to try to kill him. Ted escapes them, and the Nazi, and manages to kill the Nazi by burying him under salt. Ted returns to the boyfriend and demands to know where the stuff actually came from. They go into the mountains where they find a boat somehow within the mountain itself. Then Ted realizes they’re actually in a spaceship.

He calls a TV producer in the states, tells them to send a crew, but the crew turn out to be assassins that Ted, basically, accidentally kills. He and his dead friend’s assistant go on the run, consider telling the Russians, but Ted sees a Russian on TV that he’d previously seen visiting the Nazi. That’s when he realizes all the governments are involved and potentially colluding with the aliens themselves.

Ted gets in touch with his ex-wife who arranges a boat to smuggle him out, but as he and assistant are waiting to catch it, the titular Alien Terminator arrives and chases them onto a farm. Luckily the Terminator is wearing red so they get a bull to kill it. That night, they find the boat with Ted’s ex-wife, and discover that another Terminator is piloting it. Ted kills it, learns his ex-wife is an alien, and the assistant kills her.

Epilogue: Ted and the assistant are living with an isolated aboriginal tribe. The assistant is very pregnant and Ted is typing away at a typewriter, preparing to unleash the truth about the aliens running our world. THE END.

This movie is weird, yo. It’s not as hilariously bad as Alien Species, which is a shame, because it’s just about as disjointed. Alien Species was a mockbuster, a direct-to-video movie made to trick people into thinking it’s a big-budget effort currently in theaters. In Alien Species’ case, the movie was Independence Day, I think, but the inexplicably-titled Top Line is something a little different.

This is an Italian rip-off of something big. The poster makes it look like they wanted people to think this was an Indiana Jones-esque adventure (and it trods some of the same ground that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would many years later), but it was also called Alien Terminator, so it’s trying to cash in on the Schwarzenegger film. The random cyborg at the end certainly speaks to that.

The randomness of the movie is part of its appeal—how much crazy crap from other movies can you cram in here? It’s just that it’s so disjointed and rarely hits the potential peaks of real absurdity. The sequence with the terminator at the end is hilarious because it becomes, for this film, a big action spectacle, and that’s mostly him just walking through crowded spaces. Nothing else quite rises to that, not even Ted running across a field of cacti while being chased, slowly, by the Nazi in a car. I spent the movie constantly going, “What?” but not in a shocked and delighted way, moreso like a dog being shown a card trick.

This movie was confusing when it should have been absurd, and that’s a disappointment. I’m not saying it’s not watchable—it moved well enough—but it’s probably best enjoyed with some light riffing. It doesn’t even rise to the level of offering much ironic entertainment.