Wednesday, July 23, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 12

This is the final posting of the PD Project Horror Collection so it's only fitting that it start off with something truly horrific:

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the face of the abyss.

Anyway...

Disc 12

The House on Haunted Hill

Vincent Price plays an eccentric millionaire who throws a party for his wife in a haunted house. Each guest is promised $50,000 if they can make it through the night. Only there seem to be schemes at work beyond what even the ghosts have planned.

I just saw this again on The It's Alive Show. Does it have its cheesy moments? Absolutely, but I remember watching this as a kid. I stumbled across it on TV after waking up in the middle of the night and it honestly scared the life out of me. There's a certain time of night, when you're a certain age, where ghost stories seem like the most reasonable things in the world.

William Castle produced and directed this as well as several other classic Vincent Price horror pics. He was doing midnight movies before there was such a thing. When I look at Horror Host shows like Elvira or The It's Alive Show, I'm struck by how much they owe William Castle. It's not that he produced so many movies that they could then build a career on, it's that he made movies that got you excited enough about ghost stories to make them a part of your life.

I uploaded the MPEG to the Internet Archive. It's a nice letterboxed print. If you haven't seen this movie before, it's well worth watching. Especially late at night when there's a storm outside--thunder or snow, doesn't matter. Get the popcorn, get under a blanket and enjoy.

The Last Man on Earth

Vincent Price plays the Last Man on Earth after a virus has killed everyone else and brought them back as vampire-like monsters.

From the excellent Richard Matheson Novel I Am Legend which had a middling remake last year starring Wil Smith and was also the basis of the film The Omega Man starring Charleton Heston. This movie sticks closer to the novel and I find it, frankly, a little dry, a little dull. It's a lot of Price wandering around while we hear his inner dialogue. While it's true to the novel, it's not edge-of-your-seat film making.

There are disagreements on that point though, especially on The It's Alive Show message board. The film's been featured several times on that show and has some ardent admirers. And there is a lot to recommend it. It's very artfully done and what I consider dull or dry can be construed as a portrayal of the monotony of living where there's nothing else in the world.

It's absolutely a movie worth watching and I'd say that goes double for the book. The novel's ending is a knock-out and so far none of the adaptations I've seen of it have gotten it right. Last Man on Earth gets the closest and watching Vincent Price at work is never a disappointment.

Dementia 13

An old Irish family is haunted by dark secrets around the death of a little girl seven years earlier. Two women, one married into the family and one soon to be, start unraveling the secrets at great risk.

Roger Corman producing a film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Yes, that Francis Ford Coppola, here credited merely as "Francis Coppola." A generally unremarkable slasher pic, it does at least have some good twists. You think the movie will be about manipulating the mother to change the will and then it becomes about something else entirely. Could have been better, but not bad for a first pic and not bad by Corman standards either.

Phantom From 10,000 Leagues

An undersea radiation experiment produces a monstrous creature, but instead of trying to destroy the creature, people are fighting over keeping it a secret.

Oh, and we end with a non-free film! What bad luck. While the film appears to be PD, the score is not and thus I cannot add it to the Internet Archive. Alas and alack.

And further gnashing of teeth, this one blows--hard. Standard 50's atomic sci-fi featuing a dumpy white hero who does nothing to save the day or affect the plot. Teeth-achingly dull. The monster at least looks neat, but not neat enough to counterbalance the absence of anything else to see in this film.

And that's it. The Horror 50-Pack is tapped out, completely watched and as fully uploaded as can be. There will be a breif hiatus from the PD Project as I gather information on the films in the Chilling Classics 50-Movie Pack and move from one American metropolis to another. In addition to starting a new pack, the format of the project will change as well. Instead of one disc of films being reviewed every Wednesday and Saturday, I'll only post a two-film, double-feature-style review every Saturday at midnight following The It's Alive Show (which broadcasts online. So enjoy that and then surf over here for more movie much to stream online). It'll take a little longer (25 weeks for the whole thing), but it'll be more consistent and give me a chance to work on other projects. So stick around, the dreck will be back soon. As long as Hollywood keeps squeezing 'em out, I'll be around to say it smells.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 11

Guess what...
puppies
see more dog pictures

I'm so excited, I threw a party but...
dog
see more dog pictures

So I decided to stop posting LOL pictures on this blog.

Disc 11

The Amazing Mr. X

A widow preparing to remarry consults a psychic after she starts being haunted by the ghost of her husband. Only not everything is as it seems.

A beautifully-shot piece of duplicity and double-crosses. The twists are so satisfying that I don't want to say anything more lest I spoil the surprise. This might be my favorite movie from the set.

Bloodlust

A group of teenagers land on the shores of an island owned by a hunter who likes to play the most dangerous game.

There are only two things worth noting about this film. 1: it stars the father from the Brady Bunch who was apparently being groomed to be a teen steam star. 2: there's a MSTie version and you're better off watching that.

This was featured as episode 0607 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 1.

The Bat

A mystery writer starts being menaced by a serial killer known as "The Bat" after renting a house with a million dollars hidden in its walls.

Vincent Price as a conniving doctor in a murder mystery. It's not bad. Not horror in any way, shape or form, but it's not bad. The revelation of the killer is a bit of a let down if you know the logic of murder mysteries and their inevitable twists. Still, a pretty good movie and an incredible print. I'm used to the films on this 50-movie mega pack being bad video rips of scratchy prints. This looks sharp, nearly pristine and it's the version I've added to the Internet Archive.

Last Woman on Earth

Something temporarily sucks all the oxygen out of the air killing everyone on earth except Mr. and Mrs. Gent and their lawyer Martin who happen to be SCUBA diving at the time. Tensions rise as Mr. Gent and Martin start fighting over Mrs. Gent, the Last Woman on Earth.

Roger Corman. Hooray! But this isn't one of his best. You'd think the movie would be about the woman coming into her own. After all, she's in demand and controls the supply, you'd think she'd own the situation. Instead it's just an hour of the older Mr. Gent and the younger Martin chaffing over the points where their worldviews don't gell. Pretty disappointing.

Next week, everything ends. Disc 12: Vincent Price x2, Roger Corman and a radioactive monster. The perfect end to a perfect project so I might as well use it for this project.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Comics Day

Slow week. I only picked up the new Hellblazer and Penny Arcade collection. I'll post about the latter later since I want to write about webcomic print collections in general.

Hellblazer 246: "Newcastle Calling" Part two of two

This two-parter manages to cover everything I love and hate about Hellblazer. Last issue, focused on a group of amateur documentarians producing a special on Constantine's punk band Mucus Membrane and they, of course, awaken some sleeping evil and embark on journeys of personal terror. This issue continues the story with a rundown of all the terror afoot in Newcastle. Constantine walks through, observes it all, puts the evil down and then explains all the relevant back story to the one surviving member of the film crew who then dies.

What I love about this story and Hellblazer in general is the really evil imagination that's brought to bear. The stories, at their best, manage to draw out the human themes of responsibility and shame and tie them to fantastical and disturbing visions of monstrosity. There's a refined nightmare logic that runs parallel to the human drama. That's what makes the series both stand out and be consistently readable.

On the other hand, that very nightmare logic disrupts the narrative. When it doesn't work you end up with some character putting on the hat of Basil Exposition to explain everything that's happened up to that point, why it happened and what it means. It's like reading a Cliff Notes of the comic within the comic itself. Unfortunately it falls upon Constantine himself to take that role this time around. While Constantine's attitude when confronting the Terror Elemental is nice, you don't actually see him deal with it. He starts the staring contest and, next time you see him, is lighting a cigarette. Tease. No doubt it'll come up later in the series as a major plot point. After all, this story is seemingly drawing on the original Newcastle story from the first year of the comic, twenty years ago. Good thing my library has most of the trades.

More satisfying, and exploring the thematic strengths of Hellblazer, is the new mini-series Chas: The Knowledge. The first issue came out a few weeks ago and you should still be able to find it on the shelves. It's a five-issue series focused on the Chas of the title, Constantine's old taxi-driving friend who can always be counted on to stick his neck out a little too far. "The Knowledge" refers to the cab-drivers' routes around London and no doubt is tied to the supernatural force that strikes at the end of the issue. While the first issue largely sets up the situation that'll play out over the next four, it reads well and really taps into the best repeating themes of the Hellblazer universe: responsibility and shame. It looks very promising.

PD Project Horror Part 10

Ladies and gentlemen, six and a half minutes of pure win:

Now,

Disc 10

Monster From a Prehistoric Planet

An expedition to gather exotic animals for a publishing magnates theme park nets a baby "Gappa." Only the creature's monstrous parents don't like that their child's been taken away and head to Japan to save it.

The formula of these kaiju/sci-fi monster movies is endlessly entertaining. The tribal culture that's lived with the monster for generations, the imperial hubris that disdains the culture's knowledge of the monster, the competing interests fighting over who'll profit from the monster, and then crap gets smashed! Woo-hoo! That's what we came here for mofos! Sure, the monster looks like a pigeon cross-bred with a lizard that's choking on a starfish, but it wouldn't be kaiju if the monster didn't look kind of stupid.

The movie can be pretty shocking though. A female scientist is asked why she isn't at home making babies and the film has Japanese people in blackface. There is some craziness going on here.

The Monster Walks

A woman returns to claim her inheritance after her father dies only to learn there is a theat stalking the house that may soon claim her life as well.

A not-overly-involved story of broken promises and double-crosses. The violin trick got me. That was pretty inventive. This movie's pretty okay. Just try not to cringe at the antics of the black driver.

The Gorilla

The Ritz Brothers play a group of private detectives hired to protect an attorney from a serial killer called "The Gorilla," only there may be more secrets in the house than they anticipated.

The movie's okay if you can ignore the painfully unfunny antics of the Ritz Brothers. They're like a low-rent Three Stooges, and the Stooges can be had cheap. The plot itself involves a variety of people posing as other people and the ample use of secret passages. Those parts are kind of fun. Also the maid/cook/whatever is kind of funny too. To top it off, Bela Lugosi plays the menacing butler.

A Shriek in the Night

A man falls to his death from the balcony of his penthouse apartment and two reporters covering the story start to wonder if it was an accident at all.

If you cut out the comic relief you'd have a really good movie. As it is, it's just a pretty good mystery where the villain is revealed to be secretly related to someone who'd been crossed by the victims. Not bad. The reporters have a snarky, screwball comedy relationship going on and you don't see that in movies anymore.

Next time, the penultimate disc, Disc 11. I'm almost loathe to reveal what's on it. I will say it features my favorite movie so far from this set.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 9

I have seen the heart of madness:

Moving on...

Disc 9

Swamp Women

An undercover police woman helps a band of female criminals escape so they can find a hidden stash of diamonds.

Roger Corman directing immoral women. This is pure pulp joy.

This was featured as episode 0503 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 10.

The World Gone Mad

A reporter investigates the murder of his DA friend who was investigating a company with crooked accounting practices.

A nice primer for what Enron and the entire sub-prime mortgage business did.

The Little Shop of Horrors

Seymour is picked on by everybody in his life until he discovers a strange plant that makes him a media sensation. Only the plant has unusual dietary needs--human blood.

Roger Corman again! Classic film remade into the classic musical. Maybe that's where they got the awful idea for whole film-to-musical craze that's been going on. Maybe Roger Corman wasn't the greatest creative mind of cinema.

Naaaaah!

Tormented

A man is haunted by the vengeful spirit of the ex-lover he allowed to die.

Bert I. Gordon hurts you, hurts you and then hurts you some more. And then he makes you watch his awful movies. This is one of his better ones, but that's not saying much. It's ultimately almost okay.

This was featured as episode 0414 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 11.

Next time, Disc 10. We're closing in on the end. Can't you feel the anticipation? Me neither. People in big stupid monster suits, big stupid gorilla suits, and two okay mystery/noir-types. Oh, and the Ritz Brothers ruin a mediocre film.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Midnight showing fools! I went early so I could spoil it for all of you! CAUSE I'M A SPOILER!

I'm lying. No spoiler. My folks did this to me with every Star Trek episode. I never wanted to watch and they'd always go, "No, you gotta see this one. This is the one where Kirk dies." And of course I had to watch. I had to find out if the toupee was really the father of all those tribbles.

I can't wholly remember the first Hellboy. I only remember not being too impressed with it and that Pittsburgh got mentioned. And I'm only marginally familiar with the "Mignolaverse." So I can't say how it compares to the first or how it measures up to the comic. I can say it was fun, an okay selection of action and comedy, but not a mix. There's the story we've seen in the ads--the ancient kingdom of Bethmora is rising against the human race and the BPRD has to stop it. The back story for the kingdom is related in an opening sequence that looks fantastic. CGI armies of little wooden soldiers--marionette-style little wooden soldiers. If I could see a movie that just looked like that I'd be thrilled.

There's a second story though. One that's not in the ads and it's a more domestic one. Hellboy's chaffing at having to stay hidden, there's stress in his relationship with Liz and now he's got a German giving him orders. The story touches on the standard Hellboy themes of destiny, choice and where his allegiances truly lie, and while those elements tie it thematically to the Bethmora story, they don't really. There's this weird supernatural almost-sit-com thing going on and then there's the monster busting. The timing is almost right to bring them together, but not quite. Both are good in and of themselves though. The funny is funny and the exciting is exciting.

And the visuals are spectacular. They were teasing us in the trailers. Del Toro is constructing truly surrealistic visions. One monster, unfortunately, looks like Chaos from Sonic Adventure, and another, a little messenger thing, looks like a reject from the Star Wars universe, but even they don't look bad. They just don't look as twisted and inventive as the other creatures.

Overall it was a lot of fun. The audience helped a lot. This is quality midnight movie fare. If you can't see it with a theater full of freaks, at least see it with a crowd. I don't think it'll hold up to thoughtful reflection so go when you'll be pleasantly distracted.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 8

Some days...

Whubble by Jaime Smart

Disc 8

The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Nosferatu

I've grouped the three of these together because there's not much to say about them. Not because they're not good but because what new thing could I say? Phantom and Hunchback are the classic silents based on the classic stories starring that classic actor Lon Chaney. And Nosferatu is of course the classic adaptation of Dracula starring Max Shreck. I hadn't seen the Chaney ones before and two things stood out: 1. They're good. Really good. 2. They're long. Really long. I didn't know silents ran that long especially since the talkies that followed were so short. They're amazing pieces and definitely worth watching especially if you've never seen a silent film before.

The Indestructible Man

An executed criminal comes back to life after a scientist performs some experiments on his body. The resurrected criminal is now hunting down those who betrayed him to get revenge.

Nothing special here except the fact that Lon Chaney Jr. as the Indestructible Man doesn't speak. And he dies in a stupid way. In fact it's kind of a stupid movie. Enjoy!

This was featured as episode 0409 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 11.

Next time, Disc 9 featuring two, count 'em two Roger Corman pictures and one by Bert I. Gordon. This is the end of all good things!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Chris Hedges on TruthDig

Chris Hedges, "Surviving the Fourth of July"

I survive the gradual, and I now fear inevitable, disintegration of our democracy because great literature and poetry, great philosophy and theology, the great works of history, remind me that there were other ages of collapse and despotism. They remind me that through it all men and women of conscience endured and communicated, at least with each other, and that it is possible to refuse to participate in the process of self-annihilation, even if this means we are pushed to the margins of society.

He expands on the idea of meaning through art--specifically literature--that he raised in I Don't Believe in Atheists (which I reviewed here) and demonstrates why he's one of my favorite writers and why I gave that book as much time as I did. He strikes a tone in this essay that's very similar to Arthur Silber's writings (another writer who's shaped a lot of my thinking lately, especially his pieces on Iran). They share a seemingly contradictory revelry in despair. I don't say that to imply that there is any sense of revelry in their writings. The despair is palpable and born of a clear-eyed, uncompromising view of reality. To put it another way, "I have found the cure for hope and it is awareness."

But why do I saw "revelry?" Because there is hope at the heart of both writers' oeuvres and both find release through art. The despair lies in what we are, the hope in what we may be. Despite the ever-repeating histories of depravity, destruction and dehumanization, the pinnacles of beauty humanity achieves endure despite the misery. That's cold comfort, certainly as even Hedges notes:

Thucydides, knowing that Athens was doomed in the war with Sparta, consoled himself with the belief that his city’s artistic and intellectual achievements would in the coming centuries overshadow raw Spartan militarism. Beauty and knowledge could, ultimately, triumph over power. But we may not live to see such a triumph.

Who can say? Maybe we will. Maybe we can only hope to see the minor triumphs in the lives of those around us. And though Arthur thinks it's too late, we are not at war with Iran yet and as long as that is the case we can fight against it. I know this is a penny-ante blog about goofy movies you can download for free, but this post is here because you do what you can. So read through these links and then talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to your pastor and congregation (if you have one), talk to whoever you know about the moves against Iran (here's Seymour Hersh's latest on the actions against Iran and why they're a catastrophically bad idea). When you see an article in the paper demanding military action against Iran, write to the editor. Tell your representatives that there's been enough death. Do what you can when you can. To paraphrase Richard Nelson Bolles, life is a choice between doing good and doing nothing, so do what good you can.

And to bring it back around to Hedges' finding solace in literature, here are three books. They aren't directly connected to this post, but they are good and that might make the daily vicissitudes of life a little easier to endure, and maybe that's the point after all.

  • Spaceman Blues: A Love Song by Brian Francis Slattery
  • Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis by Ali Smith
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The songs my music player pulled up while I was reading the Hedges piece: "No Mercy for Swine" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies and "Nearer Blessed Lord" by Nina Simone.
While writing this post: "Hateful" by the Clash and "Misery and Famine" by Bad Religion.
While revising: "We Are Alive" by Paul van Dyk.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 7

Hey, where have you been?

Ahem. Yes. After some delay I am back and so is the horror. Please, try not to cry. Here we go!

Disc 7

Bluebeard

John Carradine plays an artist who murders the women who sit for his paintings.

This is a PRC picture which means it should be awful, but it's not. It's actually pretty good. I'd go so far as to recommend it unironically, and I don't do that with many movies in this project.

The Corpse Vanishes

Bela Lugosi plays a mad scientist who uses the vital fluids of young women to keep his wife alive and beautiful.

An interesting revision of the vampire story. I can't remember much about the movie though.

This was featured as episode 0105 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be downloaded via the Digital Archive Project or watched on YouTube (in 10 parts).

Doomed to Die

Boris Karloff returns for his final performance as the detective Mr. Wong. A shipping tycoon is found shot to death in his office after one of his ships catches fire and sinks.

Not as good at The Fatal Hour, this one drags a little bit. It's fun to note how often Wong has to break the law to solve the mystery. Ends with a disappointing revelation of guilt, but it's okay until then.

Night of the Living Dead

The dead walk! The classic film that redefined our idea of zombies. Fantastic.

Next time, Disc 8: Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., Max Shreck and none of them talking.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

We Interrupt Our Programming Schedule

My DVD player seems to be rejecting the abysmal movies from this collection. It's just not playing the discs at all. Plus I'm going out of town for a little bit. So I won't be updating the PD Project for a little bit. I'll be back with the rest of the series on June 11th. Until then, Rubber Ducky.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 6

Halfway home. Ladies and gentlemen, the comic book film event of the summer: Italian Spiderman

Disc 6

The Brain that Wouldn't Die

A surgeon who's been working on reanimating dead flesh nearly kills his fiancee in a car accident, salvaging only her head. He starts looking for a woman to kill whose body he can give to his fiancee while his finacee's head rests in a pan, begging for death.

There's quite a lot wonderfully wrong with this picture and I can't, in good conscience, recommend watching it without the MST3K commentary. It's the first episode with Mike on the SOL and it's high-quality even if the movie's not.

This was featured as episode 0513 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased on its own. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Brain That Wouldn't Die.

The Killer Shrews

A group of genetically-engineered giant shrews escape their cage and start menacing people stranded on a deserted island.

Here's a drinking game to suggest to people you want to see die of alcohol poisoning--drink whenever someone on screen drinks. You can even have them pick just one character, they'll still drink themselves to death. You'd think I'm unnecessarily focusing on the alcohol consumption in this movie, but there's really nothing else going on. They drink, get "menaced" by the killer shrews (really dogs with shag carpet draped across their back--clearly friendly dogs at that), drink, talk endlessly about the plot, drink, fall into a cliched and half-hearted love triangle and, oh, what else was there? Oh yeah, drink. Hilariously bad.

This was featured as episode 0407 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 7.

King of the Zombies

A plane crashes on an isolated Caribbean island leaving the pilot, an American special agent and his valet at the mercy of a strange German doctor.

If you hop over to the Archive.org page for this movie you'll see a summary of the film in thumbnails and you'll have a pretty good idea of the character of the piece. When I first watched the movie I thought it was the most racist thing I'd ever seen. Then I saw Michael Bay's Transformers. It's not that the film's particularly hateful, it's just the revelatory nature of all these pictures. They all express the latent cultural concepts without thinking about them. What's shocking is the utter disdain that greets Mantan Moreland's character throughout the film.

There are a lot of issues at play. He's playing a stereotypical role, but it's also the role Shaggy and Scooby play in Scooby-Doo. It's the nature of the comic relief in a horor-comedy like this. Things get more complicated in the fact that Moreland's clearly the star. This is an old black and white b-horror and has, of course, a useless white guy as the hero. Moreland has the most compelling scenes. He's funny. I'd go so far as to say it's a good flick--both for his performance and as a window into the culture. Just be ready to shout, "You Nazi bastard!" a lot. It makes things easier.

Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde

The silent picture starring John Barrymore based on the horror classic by Robert Louis Stevenson.

S'alright. It's very good actually. Barrymore's great, the story's great, the production's great, lots of funny moments (many lines unintentionally homoerotic), I just don't really like silent pictures. I'm impressed by them but I also like dialog. On the other hand, I have realized that I can put the DVD player on fast-forward and still get the same movie experience.

Next up, Disc 7 with something! And something else! As well as some third thing! Beware!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 5

Before we begin, one note of apology. Last week I said this disc had two silent films. I was wrong, there's just one.

Now, awfulness!

Disc 5

Maniac

A failed actor, after killing the mad scientist he works for, decides to take over the scientist's life and continue his work.

An exploitation film that's supposed to portray various mental derangements. Now I'm a fan of mental derangement, indeed, it's the only thing that explains most political decisions. The film's logic takes some odd turns, largely making the turns it does to place women in peril. Silly overall and pretty forgettable. Metropolis

Fritz Lang's classic film about a population reduced to the roles of cogs in a machine that serves the whims of the rich.

You know, I was a film major and I never say this movie. It's a long picture and pretty neat. Nice images. My print had a crappy score that didn't sync with the film at all. Remember how people tried syncing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz? It was like that except instead of syncing up, it was more like someone left an NPR classical station on in the other room.

This film's apparently still under copyright due to some odd legal wrangling but it's that same wrangling that's created sundry versions. I dug through my video tapes and found a copy of Metropolis with a running time 15 minutes longer than the version on this DVD. Wikipedia says the original version of the film ran 210 minutes. My copy is 119. To call the ending abrupt is to make it seem far more languid and relaxed than it actually is.

The Ape

Boris Karloff plays a mad scientist who uses the spinal fluid from victims of ape attacks to develop a polio cure.

Man in a monkey suit
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Man in a monkey suit
Sis! Boom! Bah!
Man in a monkey suit
Man in a monkey suit
Man in a monkey suit
Yay!

Monster Maker

A mad scientist infects a concert pianist with acromegaly in hopes of convincing the daughter to marry him in exchange for the cure.

The movie's just over an hour and takes thirty minutes to complete the set-up. Two things recommend the film. One is that there are long stretches of silence where you can insert your own jokes. The other is there's a man in a monkey suit--a man in a monkey suit who kills! Almost. Okay, not really. But everything's better with monkeys on it. Except the new Indiana Jones.

One weird twist, it's a woman who proves to be the hero. Not much is said about it though. Where other films would have accolades or congratulations showered upon the hero, nothing of the sort is given the woman here even though she's the one who ultimately saves the day. And for those who are curious, yes, there is a white guy who doesn't do anything. It's a Sam Neufield staple.

The Vampire Bat

A small town is plagued by a series of murders that resemble vampire attacks.

I'm watching this on The It's Alive Show right now which makes me wish I hadn't watched it just a little while ago. Oh man does this movie bite. It features, as its hero, an investigator who initially dismisses claims of vampires only to completely accept the concept for pretty much no reason at all. The only up points are the wha-a-a-acky small-town Germans, the film's goofy logic and the hypochondriac aunt. I think the movie ends with a diarrhea joke, but I can't be sure. Do Epsom salts give you the trots?

Next time, Disc 6 featuring two MSTie classics, one silent classic and a Mantan Moreland flick.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 4

Before we begin, here's that pizza you ordered:

Disc 4

The Fatal Hour

Boris Karloff plays the Chinese detective Mr. Wong as he tries to solve the murder of an undercover cop who was infiltrating a smuggling ring.

Karloff=horror, even when he doesn't. I'm expecting to see a period piece starring an extra from Creature From the Black Lagoon pop up soon. It's the same logic isn't it? As for the film itself, a slightly-convoluted mystery. There's a series of murders and it's not clear until the end who did it an how. It's not bad. And even though Karloff is playing a "Chinese detective," he doesn't play the role as a cringe-inducing stereotype.

The Giant Gila Monster

A giant gila monster terrorizes a small town.

Giant radioactive monsters and incompetent rear-projection for the win!

This was featured as episode 0402 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 10.

Dead Men Walk

A man returns from the dead to wreak vengeance upon his twin, the man who condemned him.

A short, simple and relatively okay vampire-type picture. George Zucco plays both brothers so there's some fun with split-screen filming that generally works out okay.

The Mad Monster

A scientist, driven mad by his expulsion from the scientific community, develops a serum to turn his assistant into a murderous beast.

This is trying to be a werewolf story, but it can't get past its own incompetence. If you ever need an example of so-bad-it's-good, reach for this film. The mad scientist goes after each of his adversaries who all invite him into their homes and agree to do favors for him even after he berates them and calls them fools. One even comes around to the scientist's side, apologizes and promises to speak on his behalf before their colleagues, and then the scientist kills him anyway. And that doesn't even begin to talk about the brain-dead assistant who keeps getting turned into the monster without his knowledge. It's hilarious.

This was featured as episode 0103 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be downloaded via the Digital Archive Project or watched on YouTube (in 9 parts).

Saturday, Disc 5: 5 films, 2 silent, one with the least investigative investigators in film history and a man in a monkey suit! Yes!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 3

Sorry about the late update. I got distracted by Son of Rambow (which is pretty good) and then the It's Alive Show featuring First Spaceship on Venus (which isn't). First Spaceship on Venus came up before in PD Project Sci-Fi Part 8. It doesn't improve with repeat viewings.

Onward to further misery!

Disc 3

Attack of the Giant Leeches

People start disappearing after a local drunk shoots a monster in a swamp.

There actually isn't a snarky description of this film that can top what it's really about. Drunks, yahoos and losers from a backwoods nowhere that, oddly enough has its own wildlife marshal, get seized and eaten by giant leeches. Yes, the monsters look like Glad bags come to life, yes, there's a dry, charmless white guy who doesn't do anything and yet is still the "hero," and yes, there is a point where the "hero" tells them not to destroy the monsters because it'll damage the local ecosystem. In short, this is a Roger Corman film through and through. Woo-hoo!

This was featured as episode 0406 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 6.

Beast of Yucca Flats

Tor Johnson is a Russian scientist defecting to the United States only to be attacked by KGB agents the moment his plane lands. He escapes them only to wander onto a nuclear test site where the radiation from a bomb turns him into "The Beast," a rampaging monster that kills indiscriminately.

Yikes. It has been years since I've seen this but just a peek at its Wiki page is enough to remind me not to return to it. Tor Johnson, were you ever in anything good?

This was featured as episode 0912 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be downloaded via the Digital Archive Project or watched on YouTube (in 10 parts).

This is supposedly PD, but I found records at copyright.gov saying it's still under copyright--Registration Number/Date: PA0000385906 / 1988-10-11

The Screaming Skull

A newlywed couple moves into the husband's home where his new wife starts being haunted by his previous wife.

Another Gaslight-type film done a little better than Nightmare Castle even though it doesn't have Barbara Steele. Ultimately kind of weird and boring, it's most notable for the promise of the trailer: if you die while watching the film, the producers will pay for your funeral. If I get cancer, this film's going on a loop just to spite those bastards!

This was featured as episode 0621 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be downloaded via the Digital Archive Project or watched on YouTube (in 12 parts).

Revolt of the Zombies

An ancient Cambodian method of hypnotism, a man stymied in both love and career, an army of zombies bent to the whim of a mind gone mad with jealousy and betrayal.

The movie is about a man abusing zombie powder for his own ends (as though you'd use it for anything else. "It's a floor wax!" "It's a dessert topping!"), but it takes forever to get there. The first half of the movie is spent establishing the man's devolution from a moral man to a madman intent on power. In other words, filler. The ending is an absolute cop-out, even after being foreshadowed. The movie enters so-bad-its-good territory with the rear-projection journey downriver though. That's worth the price of admission alone.

But I love the unintended messages of these films. Actual quotes: "It may mean the destruction of the white race!" "When dealing with these Orientals, you deal with fatalists. Death to them is a transition to a better life." There's this constant repetition within colonial narratives of "the end of civilization!" "the very survival of our race!" "a threat to our very way of life!" The unimaginable threat of "the other"--always cast as an utterly alien other--such that the use of machines of war and atrocities against them is justified. It must be, because otherwise the invaders, us, are patently bullies, monsters and fiends.

Fun with remixing: the ghostly eyes that appear throughout the film when the zombie power is being utilized are Bela Lugosi's from the film White Zombie, mentioned earlier.

The Terror

An officer from the French Army gets lost and follows a girl to a strange castle where he finds himself in the middle of a revenge plot from beyond the grave.

Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson in a Roger Corman film with additional direction by Francis Ford Coppola. S'alright I guess. It's a neat enough story with a twist I didn't expect, but man is it plodding.

Next time, Disc 4: 2 more Misties, 2 George Zucco films (one with 2 George Zuccos) and Boris Karloff. It... kills four or so hours.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 2

Disc 2

Four movies, each one starring Bela Lugosi because Bela Lugosi equals horror, even when it doesn't.

Black Dragons

On the eve of war, major American industrialists are being murdered one by one. What's their connection to this mysterious stranger who's arrived in town and why is a Japanese dagger left with each body?

More of a revenge/mystery story than a horror movie, Bela of course plays the visiting stranger. The film has an odd logic that spills over into the pacing and the logic of the film. The conclusion arrives almost in spite of itself.

The Invisible Ghost

Bela Lugosi plays a man driven mad by the death of his wife, only she's not dead and there are strange murders occurring in his house.

It's clear, early on, that Bela's the killer. What makes the movie interesting is an innocent man gets the blame, and the chair, for it. Kind of a weird piece.

One Body Too Many

An insurance salesman is hired to guard the body of a man so his potential heirs don't try to bury it and invalidate the man's will.

This isn't horror and Bela isn't even the star of this one. He plays the butler (a funny, seemingly murderous butler, but still, just a butler). The star is actually Jack Haley (the Tin Man) who plays a bumbling insurance agent. It's a simple enough murder/comedy without much mystery. The villain just steps out from the shadows at the end and announces their guilt while trying to kill one more person. But Haley, Bela and the rest are entertaining enough. It's a fun little flick, just absurd to include it in a "horror" box set.

White Zombie

Bela Lugosi plays the evil Murder Legendre, a witch doctor who uses zombie slaves to run his sugar plantation. He's asked by a fellow islander to turn a woman into a zombie so she can be stolen away from her fiancé, only the deal has a higher cost than he could have imagined.

The first zombie movie (no kidding) and kind of neat. The film indicates Lugosi commanding the zombies by doing a close-up of just his eyes, a bit of film that was then re-used in another Halperin picture, Revolt of the Zombies (which is featured on the next disc). There's a priest in this movie who sort of appears out of nowhere. It's a little strange. In fact, there's a lot strange to this film. Lugosi took the role after doing Dracula and turning down, I think, Frankenstein. He was hoping Murder would become another staple character so he could play him in sequel after sequel. Things didn't work out that way.

Saturday, Disc 3 featuring Tor Johnson, 3 movies that were on MST3K and Roger Corman directing Jack Nicholson!

Chris Hedges's I Don't Believe In Atheists

In his new book I Don't Believe In Atheists, Chris Hedges attacks the ideology of the so-called “new atheists,” saying of Sam Harris's book The End of Faith that “His facile attack on a form of religious belief we all hate, his childish simplicity and ignorance of world affairs, as well as his demonization of Muslims, made the book tedious, at its best, and often idiotic and racist.” There's a lot of this deconstruction of the, ultimately, imperialistic and fundamentalist undertones to currently ascendant pop atheism throughout the book and it's a welcome analysis.

The problem with the book is that Hedges doesn't stick to just deconstructing the imperialist poses and intolerance of the “new atheists.” He tries to make the case for religion and in that he largely fails. It doesn't help that he makes his own facile arguments—blaming the Enlightenment for slavery and the Holocaust for example. There's also his tendency to go off on, granted, very interesting tangents, but ones that tie neither to condemnation of Utopian ideology nor his defense of a nebulous “religion” that he never really defines. For example:

“Our return to an image-based culture means the destruction of the abstract thought made possible by a literate, print-based society. Image-based societies do not grasp or cope with ambiguity, nuance, doubt and the many layers of irrational motives and urges, some of them frightening, that make human actions complex and finally unfathomable. They eschew self-criticism for amusement. They build fantastic non-reality-based belief systems that cater to human desires and illusions rather than human reality.”

Then the next paragraph:

“Believers in the Bible, as well as the Koran, were asked to embrace a hidden deity.[...] To worship God without physical representations of God made it appear as if believers were worshiping nothing. It was to give up security. It was to believe in a God that could not be seen or controlled. It was to live with paradox, uncertainty and doubt. It was to accept anxiety. To believe in this deity required abstract thinking. It made possible the moral life.”

Those are interesting points—the image-based society and the idea of God initially as an abstract—but how do they actually relate? In fact, how do they not contradict each other? Hedges criticizes “image-based societies” embracing “non-reality-based belief systems” and then, in the next paragraph, praises the Abrahamic faiths for embracing an unknown and unknowable God before they were a print-based society. How is the embracing of a “hidden deity” not exactly what he's criticizing? And while the very brief analysis of how an invisible God depended upon abstract thought, how does that make the moral life possible?

In the preface to the book he defines “spirituality” as the spiritual courage to stand up to adversity and injustice. What he calls “spirituality,” though, I call “morality,” and maybe that's what he means by making the moral life possible. He argues throughout the book in favor of empathy and empathy requires abstract thought. However that doesn't lead back to religion and certainly doesn't lead back to God. In fact the logic runs the other way—abstract thought is a prerequisite for both morality and God, but one does not require the other.

And that's the problem with his arguments for religion and thus his arguments for God in the book, they don't actually work. Hedges says, “Because there is no clear, objective definition of God, the new atheists must choose what God it is they attack. Is it the God of the mystics, the followers of the Social Gospel, the eighteenth-century deists, the Quakers, the liberation theologians, or the stern God of the patriarchs?” A fair question, but I'd say they attack the same God Hedges seems to. He repeats, constantly, that we're in a morally neutral universe, that there is no heaven or hell and we only have other people to look to for help. He denies the God of First Cause, an interventionist God and a supernaturalistic God, and pretty much any definition of God at all. So what religion, and what God, is he defending?

He's trying to defend religion as culture, history and idea. He argues that there's human wisdom in these stories and they help us understand the irrationality of the human animal—an animal capable of reason yet still ruled by instinct and the unconscious. Hedges argues that because of our irrationality, science and reason alone cannot explain or provide meaning to the human condition, but that art can. But art is not religion and he doesn't connect religion with art or explain how religion is necessary if we already have art explaining the human condition. And that's ultimately the problem with the book. It has something to say, something that needs to be said and says it well, but surrounds it with absurdities, logical leaps that don't follow and a half-hearted defense of something he doesn't seem to feel is worth defending, in fact, something he can't denounce because then what side of the debate would he be on?

To his credit, Hedges rejects ideologies that provide simple answers. It's what's allowed him to ask the hard questions of the situations he's been in and to find a deeper explanation for the human condition. But what of the drive towards the simple answers? And not just that. Why are there some people who not only consent to being ruled but want it? There are those who want a king, an emperor, the boot stamping on their face forever. What of this drive? Hedges has an extensive background in philosophies that grew out of human tragedy so it's disappointing that he puts that background to such meager use. He could ask why the “new atheists” who reject the paternalistic, authoritarian idea of God turn to cultural imperialism, a different paternalistic, authoritarian ideal, but he doesn't. He points out their basic fallacies, but not the big one, and it's that big one that's the problem.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

PD Project Horror Part 1

Before we begin, I feel it is my responsibility to inform you that the emergency party button has been activated:

Now with that out of the way, on to the PD Project, Horror 50-Pack.

Disc 1

Atom Age Vampire

A scientist trying to perfect his healing serum becomes obsessed with one of his patients--a dancing girl who's been disfigured in a car accident. As the treatment starts proving less effective, the scientist must resort to increasingly monstrous means to keep the object of his obsession beautiful.

A truly atrocious movie. Scott Bateman has been replacing the visuals with his own animation and commentary and has vastly improved the viewing experience. Here's hoping he completes the project even though he went on hiatus more than a year-and-a-half ago. Check it out at Atom Age Vampire.

Carnival of Souls

An authentic independent classic. A young woman moves to a new town after a car accident claims the lives of her friends. Only her new life starts to be affected by strange obsessions and a world that proves increasingly askew.

Compelling for the still discomfiting sequences and the plain accomplishment of the film--clearly a low-budget affair, it is never hampered by its limitations. Indeed, it exults in them milking every element in the film for maximum effect. Proof that it's good to keep things simple.

There's also the deeper elements of the story--this woman alone in the world and the world largely turning against her. The increasing unheimlich nature of her experience as the supernatural presences grow more aggressive is echoed in the life around her. She's being hemmed in by monsters both real and metaphorical.

Creature From the Haunted Sea

A smuggler transporting a despot and his guards decides to double-cross the villain by inventing a story of a sea monster. Only the monster proves less imaginary than initially believed.

Roger Corman! Roger Corman! Roger Corman! That is all.

Nightmare Castle

A jealous husband tortures his wife and her lover to death after catching them having an affair only to learn that his wife's inheritance won't go to him but to her sister. So he marries the sister and attempts to drive her mad to get the family fortune. Only how much of what the sister sees is a hallucination and how much is actually the first wife's ghost seeking revenge?

Barbara Steele makes almost anything better and thank god because there's nothing else going on here. A plodding version of the Gaslight plot with supernatural and S&M twists, but not so much so that it's compelling.

On Wednesday, Disc 2: All Bela, all the time!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

PD Project Horror 50 Pack

Here is a list of all the films in the Horror 50 Movie Mega Pack. Links go to Internet Archive pages for the DVD-quality MPEG2 versions of the films. I'll upload copies of those films that are PD and are not currently available on the Internet Archive in DVD format. There will be more specific details about each film as they come up for review.

Atom Age Vampire Carnival of Souls
Creature From the Haunted Sea Nightmare Castle
Black Dragons The Invisible Ghost
One Body Too Many White Zombie
Attack of the Giant Leeches Beast of Yucca Flats
The Screaming Skull Revolt of the Zombies
The Terror The Fatal Hour
The Giant Gila Monster Dead Men Walk
The Mad Monster Maniac
Metropolis The Ape
The Monster Maker The Vampire Bat
The Brain that Wouldn't Die The Killer Shrews
Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde King of the Zombies
Bluebeard The Corpse Vanishes
Doomed to Die Night of the Living Dead
The Indestructible Man The Phantom of the Opera
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Nosferatu
Swamp Women The World Gone Mad
The Little Shop of Horrors Tormented
Monster From a Prehistoric Planet The Monster Walks
The Gorilla A Shriek in the Night
The Amazing Mr. X Bloodlust
The Bat Last Woman on Earth
The House on Haunted Hill The Last Man on Earth
Dementia 13 Phantom From 10,000 Leagues

Monday, May 05, 2008

Tom Waits on Tour

I think this is the best tour announcement I've ever seen:

Tom Waits is coming to my town, is he coming to yours?
You better believe I'm planning my summer around this event.

Posts Pending

I'm all caught up on Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who and Torchwood so the PD Project will return Wednesday as promised.

Hopefully I'll also have some longer reviews of various books, movies and bands here in the coming weeks in addition to essays on various topics. Yes, I'm actually going to start doing this "blogging" thing I've heard so much about. Be afraid.

Finally, as promised in the earlier post, here are the mixes posted to the Internet Archive:
A Warm Place: Live
A Warm Place: Free

Enjoy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

PD Project: Pause

Sorry for the delay on the next part of the PD Project (for any of you who actually read this). Been busy with various things including trying to catch up on Battlestar Galactica in anticipation of the final season and writing proposals to make at the upcoming Texas Democratic Senatorial Convention. Kind of a dichotomy of high-brow/low-brow action it being clear which is which. Galactica is top-notch TV.

I'm also putting together several mixCDs for a group of friends. Two of the discs will be hosted through the Internet Archive and a third will be a sendspace file. I'll post links to all three here for interested parties to peruse.

Next week will see the return of the PD Project with capsule reviews of the Horror 50-Movie Mega Pack. I'm trying to get all the "available on the Archive but not in MPEG2 format" films uploaded before I begin checking which remaining ones might be PD. Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sci-Fi 50 Pack Wrap-Up

Here is a complete list of films from the Sci-Fi 50 Movie Mega Pack. Links go to the Archive.org page for the film when available. The (M) go to copies of the MST3K episode that featured the movie, again, when available. All told, 36 of the movies on the box set were PD and are currently available from the Internet Archive.

The Incredible Petrified World Queen of the Amazons
Robot Monster (M) She Gods of Shark Reef
The Amazing Transparent Man (M) The Atomic Brain (M)
Horrors of Spider Island (M) The Wasp Woman
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women
King of Kong Island Bride of the Gorilla
Attack of the Monsters (M) Gammera the Invincible (M)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (M) Teenagers From Outer Space (M)
Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Crash of the Moons (M) Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Menace From Outer Space
Hercules Against the Moon Men (M) Hercules and the Captive Women (M)
Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon Hercules Unchained (M)
The Lost Jungle Mesa of Lost Women
Assignment: Outer Space Laser Mission
Killers From Space Phantom From Space
White Pongo The Snow Creature
The Sons of Hercules: the Land of Darkness The Devil of the Desert Against the Son of Hercules (1964)
First Spaceship on Venus (M) Zontar the Thing From Venus
The Astral Factor The Galaxy Invader
Battle of the Worlds Unknown World
Blood Tide The Brain Machine
The Wild Women of Wongo Prehistoric Women
They Came From Beyond Space Warning From Space
The Phantom Planet (M) Planet Outlaws
Colossus and the Amazon Queen Eegah! (M)
Cosmos: War of the Planets Destroy All Planets

Saturday, March 15, 2008

PD Project Update

Attack of the Monsters
The Phantom Planet
and Warning From Space
are now all available in MPEG2 format from the Internet Archive.

PD Project Part 12

Sci-Fi50

    Disc 12
  • Colossus and the Amazon Queen (1960) runtime: 1:23:32

    Glauco and his friend Pirro find themselves on the island of the Amazons during a dispute over the succession of the throne. They'll need all their wits and the help of their friends to escape with their lives.
    This is just bizarre. A movie about Amazons from 1960 is going to be strange by definition, but this is even weirder. I'm not wholly sure what's going on a lot of the time. Characters make references to lines and scenes that aren't in the film. It's not clear if those moments were cut due to bad editing or if it's just a matter of poor translation.
    Also, despite the Amazons, or maybe because of them, this movie is way campier and much more homoerotic than the Hercules movies. That's not to say it's not without it's charm though. The film, or at least the translation, seems to revel in the campiness and the goofiness it affords. You get the impression a lot of the shots were cut just before everyone started cracking up. While there is a juvenile sensibility to the film that grows wearisome, it's that same sensibility that lends it a certain innocence. There's a hint of an eyebrow-raised snarkiness throughout, as though the movie's making fun of itself and inviting you in on the joke. It's nice sometimes to see something that's just goofy fun.
    Archive.org Page.

  • Eegah! (1962)

    A caveman is discovered in the desert and kidnaps a young woman.
    Another one of those movies I didn't watch again. Not only had I seen it on MST3K, I'd also seen it on The It's Alive Show. It's just a purely incompetent movie. Nothing's done right which makes it much creepier and funnier than the producers ever intended it to be.
    I'm in the process of uploading this film to the Internet Archive.
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0506 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased on its own: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Eegah!

  • Cosmos: War of the Planets (1978) runtime: 1:28:53

    A spaceship makes an emergency landing on a planet after intercepting a mysterious signal only to find the planet ruled by a robotic monster.
    The movie is trying to be a high-tech John Henry tale. The hero, Capt. Hamilton, resents having his life and actions dictated by machines. He thinks humans are innately and eternally superior. However the world his lives in is governed by a supercomputer and every act, even sex, is performed via machine. Think Woody Allen's Sleeper but in earnest.
    So naturally the planet they land on used to be home to a great civilization that eventually let robots do everything for them--including designing and building new robots. Robots revolted, destroyed the society and now have their eyes on Earth.
    Overall not a bad idea--hell, it was great in 2001--but it's so poorly done. The movie drags along, beats you over the head with its at best muddy anti-technology ideology (how do we travel to space without it?) and, like the malevolent computer intelligence, refuses to die. The amazing thing is there are some remarkably rough jump cuts in the film. The original version may have been longer. Yikes.
    Archive.org page
    AVI Archive.org page
    Wikipedia article

  • Destroy All Planets (1969) runtime: 1:29:47

    An alien race comes to Earth and tries to seize control fo Gamera to acheive their conquest.
    At what point did every Gamera movie just become a montage of previous Gamera movies? This one opens with Gamera destroying the alien spaceship, then there are two annoying kids being pricks (always with the goddamn kids in these Gamera films) and finally the aliens trap Gamera in some ray and read his mind searching for weaknesses. Of course this takes the form of a replay of his two previous adventures which eats up a good twenty minutes of screen time.
    So the aliens kidnap the two kids and use them as hostages to force Gamera to take the mind-control probe. Later, while Gmaera is destroying Tokyo (not new footage by the way. Old footage from the first Gamera movie--the black and white Gamera movie), the aliens demand the Earth surrender or they'll kill the two kids. So the world agrees to surrender rather than let the boys get hurt. Two boys. While Tokyo is being leveled and other cities are sure to follow. Even little kids wouldn't swallow that crap.
    Of course Gamera overcomes the aliens with the help of the goddamn kids who then proceed to shout Gamera's name over and over again as he faces down the aliens' final assault--a giant squid with a pointy head. Just as the beast stabs Gamera again and again with its head, so too do the voices of those children feel like a knife forever leaping into and out of my ears. A fitting way to end the Sci-Fi box--ninety minutes of unwatchable crap that finds ever-new ways to fail to meet my already lowered expectations. Well done movie. Well done.
    Archive.org page.
    Wikipedia article

That's it folks! That's the end of the Sci-Fi 50 Movie Mega Pack. Next time I'll have all the additional films added to the Internet Archive and a nice handy-dandy list of all 50 films with links to those that are free. Then I'll start on the Horror 50 Pack. Ugh.

Friday Double Feature: Doomsday and Boy Eats Girl

Doomsday – 4.5/10 as a film, -5/10 for homophobia

On April 3rd (this year!), a virus breaks out in Scotland killing people at an incredible rate. The only solution the UK government has is to seal off Scotland and leave the people to die. 27 years later, England is suffering from massive unemployment and overcrowding and now the virus is breaking out in London. However human life has been spotted in quarantined Scotland. A special team is dispatched to go into the forbidden zone and return with a cure for the disease. Only the survivors don't feel like sharing.
Our heroine, Eden Sinclair, was air-lifted out of Scotland just as the gates are closing, but not before her eye was shot out by a panicked soldier. Now she's a star police officer with a tendency towards recklessness, but always records compromising moments with her removable bionic eye. She takes her crew into the forbidden zone where they've been told people have been reduced to eating each other. So the first thing that happens when they enter the zone is they run over a cow. When they stop to look, they find themselves surrounded by cows. Because with no one around to butcher them, their breeding was unchecked so Scotland now has fields filled with slow, dumb, unsuspecting cows that don't know enough to fear humans.
Which raises the question, why were people eating each other? If there were enough cows left to form a breeding population, you'd think person pate would have been a far-distant plan b. But that's the logic of the film. It's built on the premise of “Wouldn't it be cool if...” Normally I like those movies. They have a goofy, unrestrained charm. Plus, when creative people go balls-out after an idea, they usually create something notable. Not necessarily good, but the piece will have at least one moment that'll make you sit up and take notice. Doomsday doesn't have any moment like that primarily because the people making it aren't creative. Instead of a weird new vision of a post-apocalyptic world that grew up parallel to our own world (how about isolated towns with satellite discs and diesel generators keeping tabs on history's response to their situation?), we get a tired Mad-Max-esque personality cult fighting a group that's taken over an abandoned castle and returned to a medieval lifestyle. Strictly medieval by the way. No hint of steam-punk pretensions here. No attempts to ape modern life with old technology nor any attempt to streamline and improve old technology with modern knowledge either. It's like the heroes fell back in time and then got to use guns and karate against knights. Brilliant.
But maybe you're sensing a certain campy charm to it all. I'm sorry to disappoint, but even attempts to enjoy the film's absurdities are thwarted by the writer/director's uncanny melding of incoherence and incompetence. One example that illustrates the problem throughout: the leader of the cannibal cult takes the stage to address his followers. Loud, poppy music is playing and two pole-dancers are doing their thing. Then the music shifts to the can-can and a kickline of rotund, bearded Scots come out and start doing the can-can (or would it be a bear-bear?). At least, I think they do. It sounds like a funny idea, like a moment where the movie's taking the piss out of itself and maybe even mucking about with the objectification of the pole-dancers (whose various body parts are constantly cut to, but never the whole person herself). But it doesn't actually show you the kickline. It's just cut-cut-cut-ass-cut-cut-pout-cut-cut crowd goes wild. The director has made this thing that must be seen, that only exists to be seen, that is purely a visual gag, and doesn't show you it. And this happens throughout the movie. Fight scenes so aggressively edited that they look like they were spliced by a blender. You see people get hit, but you don't know how, by who or even who took the hit. There's a car chase sequence (right after the lovingly-crafted shots of the car itself, as though there's a car ad in the midst of the movie) where you almost never see the cars hit. The BMW (and they're careful to make sure you know it's a beemer) side-swipes a car, but the evidence of the collision vanishes quickly enough. In fact, even though the BMW is rammed repeatedly, you never see an actual hit. I guess it was a rental.
And on and on. People with no imagination imagining what would be cool. Slightly worse than staring at a blank wall for an equal period of time because you can't help but think they could have done something cool and simply chose not to.
Because they included homophobia. Which I have to note, would be remiss for not pointing out. The movie has a gimp. The movie has a gimp. Guy in a full-body leathersuit kept on a leash. He's supposed to be gay. It's never said he's gay, but he's marked out as sexually “other” and that means gay. Now the gimp isn't problematic on its own. He's introduced after the lead's been captured by the cannibal leader who has her tied up and beats her. The gimp, in that context, becomes an illustration of the devolution of sexuality and humanity in the forbidden zone--he's not depraved, his entire environment is. Later though, when the gimp resurfaces, he's tied, limbs spread, to the front of a truck during the chase scene. Again, just another part of a world that's slipped free of its moorings. However, one of the good guys takes a moment to shout, “You like pain? Then you'll love this,” before side-swiping the gimp's car and sending it into another crashed vehicle where you see the gimp get smashed before bursting into flame. And you see it all clearly. Everything else in the movie is cut too closely for you to see anything, but this they luxuriate over. And the guys in the audience behind me cheered. The only other time they reacted during the movie was when the car was unveiled (they “oohed” and “ahhed” so maybe my distaste at the obvious product placement means I'm just not part of the target demo). They knew what they just saw: the fag got his. And I know, “You're being too sensitive, you're reading too much into it.” No. You see it clearly unlike everything else in the movie and it's the only time a zinger is used during the chase scene. The movie thought this was okay. Remember, the good guys are fighting cannibals. How much “other” can you get? Yet that's not “other” enough. To qualify for special attention, to be notably deserving of death, the person had to be marked out as sexually “other.” That made it okay and that ideology, that logic that says some people are deserving of death and others aren't, that there are lower breeds that can be destroyed, is inherently evil. Remember, the guys behind me thought this was cool. It's not cool.

Boy Eats Girl – 8.5/10

I rented this movie for several reasons: I've been wanting to for a while, I wanted to have a Friday double feature to post about, and I wanted something to wash the taste of Doomsday out of my mouth. So I went for the horror/comedy zombie picture. There are only two things I'm a big sucker for in movies: werewolves and zombies. And this is a zombie pic with trailers for two really awful-looking werewolf films! Score! Plus it's an Irish film.
Did I say there are only two things I'm a big sucker for?
An Irish zombie horror comedy. I think I just wet my pants.
Nathan is in love with his long-time friend Jessica, but fate (aka Jessica's father) conspires against them meeting the night he plans to tell her how he feels. In a truly spectacular depression, he empties a bottle of whiskey, considers hanging himself... and through a bizarre but not untenable series of events sets off a zombie plague.
Despite the zombies, the movie's about teen angst and it portrays it well. The kids are all snarky, sex-obsessed and generally overreacting to everything around them, which is about how I remember high school too. The movie shines in the details. It gets the way kids lie about sex to each other and assault each others' reputations. It also avoids easy dichotomies. Yes, there are kids who are bullies and villains and they die horrible deaths. But there are also kids who are absolutely unsympathetic, they're archetypes, there to be hated and then die, and the movie breathes life into them, makes them somewhat sympathetic so that you're actually a little crushed when they bite it.
The zombie make-up is okay. Fast zombies, but since they're moved by a voodoo curse and freshly dead, that's not very annoying. The movie is very Irish—Catholic Church, snakes, music by Snow Patrol—but it's those particularities that make it charming. This movie was like eighty minutes of happy for me, I don't know what else to say about it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

PD Project Part 11

Sci-Fi50

    Disc 11
  • They Came From Beyond Space (1967)

    Meteorites carrying a malevolent alien intelligence crash in rural England and begin taking over the minds of the nation's leading scientists.
    I saw this movie as part of an Elvira Movie Macabre double feature (Gamera, Super Monser was the other feature) and she says just about everything that needs to be said about this movie. What is "beyond" space? And since the aliens actually come from the moon, is that really space at all? In many ways standard sci-fi fare: dumb white-guy hero who doesn't actually figure anything out, aliens of profound intelligence thwarted by dumb luck and a warm, almost fuzzy-wuzzy conclusion that's basically, "Well why didn't you just ask? We'd be happy to help you. A-hyuck." Nice and brutally stupid. So much so that there isn't even a Wiki page for this flick. The movie was made and set in Britain but is based on a novel entitled The Gods Hate Kansas. I would guess because the Gods have been there.
    I'm in the process of uploading this film to the Internet Archive.

  • Warning From Space (1956) runtime: 1:27:48

    Aliens arrive on Earth causing a panic. However, when people figure out what the aliens really are, they find themselves facing a wholly different threat.
    Star men with one eye who must destroy humanity because of our "blood rage." "Blood rage" sounds like a metal band whose unbounded power to rock threatens the very walls of reality. I'd see that act.
    But this movie is so slow. It takes a good fifty of the ninety minutes to arrive at the eponymous "Warning." There's a battle over a formula for an explosive more powerful than an A or H bomb which seems really unnecessary but it's just one of many plot holes and inconsistencies. For instance, the aliens already developed the formula for the super-bomb but abandoned it because they recognized that it was too dangerous. Then they develop the bomb anyway to destroy the incoming planet that threatens Earth, but they need the formula--which they had already figured out an discarded a generation ago--from the professor. And what of the men who kidnap and then abandon the professor? The whole thing just doesn't add up. And none of this addresses the issue of our "blood rage," the issue the aliens were going to confront us over in the beginning of the film. What a gyp. I was promised blood rage and, being denied it, feel as though I'm about to enter one.
    I'm in the process of uploading an MPEG of this film to the Internet Archive.
    AVI Archive.org page
    Wikipedia article

  • The Phantom Planet (1961) runtime: 1:22:00

    A spaceship crashes on an invisible asteroid whose tiny inhabitants enlist the astronaut's aid in defeating their enemy.
    Honestly, I didn't watch this movie. I remember seeing the MST3K version and that's really enough. Very few of these movies warrant repeat viewing.
    I'm in the process of uploading an MPEG of this film to the Internet Archive.
    iPod Archive.org page
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0902 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 8.

  • Planet Outlaws (1953) runtime: 1:08:33

    Buck Rogers, frozen for 500 years, is awakened and joins the forces of the Hidden City against the despot Killer Kane.
    A compiled Buck Rogers serial. A least they're up front about it. Brutally cut though. It's just each episode's plot point and cliffhanger. Very little breathing room. Just plot point, plot point, plot point. To describe it as "manic" would give the impression that it's much more sedate than it is.
    Archive.org page
    Wikipedia article

I'll be back next time with the final disc, Disc 12: Colossus, Arch Hall Jr., dubbing and, of course, the king of pain, the master of cinematic disaster, Gamera!

Monday, March 10, 2008

PD Project Part 10

Sci-Fi50

    Disc 10
  • Blood Tide (1982) runtime: 1:23:11

    A newlywed couple is searching for the man's lost sister only to find her on an island that used to be home to a sacrificial cult. Strange things start to happen after an archaeologist unseals the chamber the cult used for their sacrifices.
    I'll admit that I'm a sucker for anything remotely Lovecraftian. This has forbidden cults, suspicious natives and an eldritch horror. Hell yes! Plus it has James Earl Jones saying words. He's one of those phone book guys--he could read a phone book and it'd be awesome.
    The movie loses some points for being a little slow and not really having any cults. There used to be a cult on the island, but now nobody talks about the old ways. C'mon! More secret sacrifice cult! Even Casablanca could have used that.
    There is an AVI of this film on the Internet Archive, but as I said earlier, I can't imagine a film from 1982 being in the Public Domain so I won't be adding an MPEG to the Internet Archive.

  • The Brain Machine (1977) runtime: 1:20:56

    The government co-ops an experiment on over-population to test out a machine that reads minds.
    I don't even know what this movie is about. Eighty minutes of never knowing what the hell was going on and it wasn't like there was a whole lot of action to confuse me either. It was just eighty minutes of "Huh?"
    This may be PD. I couldn't find any copyright information on it under any of its sundry titles. It seems this film literally passed like a fart in a wind tunnel--the people involved knew it happened and they were the only ones who ever will.

  • The Wild Women of Wongo (1958) runtime: 1:11:58

    After offending the Dragon God, the women of Wongo must offer themselves for sacrifice.
    After watching this movie, I had to ask if I'd offended the Dragon God and if this was my punishment. How seriously can you take a movie titled The Wild Women of Wongo? Awful acting and stupid lines, it's never clear if the movie's trying to be cute... there's no "or." This is an aggressively stupid movie that feels like it's a parody of some genre, only there's nothing quite like this film. Makes me want to weep.
    All that, though, takes the movie seriously. And after watching Prehistoric Women it's clear that there actually was some weird prehistoric people finding love genre. That doesn't mean this movie's not stupid or poorly done (long stretches of nothing happening throughout the piece), but it does have a kindergarten-level charm. You get the impression watching the film that the people involved had no idea what they were doing and thus it carries the tone of an old VHS tape of a kid embarrassing himself at a family gathering, but being too un-self-aware to realize he's embarrassing himself. I could see this film being broken out at one of the actor's 50th wedding anniversary. "What was life like back when mom and dad met? Well we have a little footage here..."
    I'm pretty sure this is PD and I'm working on an upload.
    Wikipedia article

  • Prehistoric Women (1950) runtime: 1:12:50

    A prehistoric tribe of women sets out to capture some men to make their husbands.
    This doesn't have the cheeky charm of Wongo, and I didn't like Wongo. The movie's done in the style of an anthropological documentary--footage and narration. Only the narration is largely over wrought and unnecessary. It's literally telling you what's happening on-screen. So bad. Night shots aren't even day-for-night, they're just unlit night shots. Screen's nearly black for minutes at a time. It's hard to think of anything funny to say. Wongo was at least ridiculous (and called Wongo). This doesn't even have that. It's just nothing.
    Archive.org page
    Wikipedia article

I'll be back next time with Disc 11, the penultimate disc: pain, pain with Buck Rogers, pain with the Japanese and pain with the British. And this is not the worst disc in the batch.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

PD Project Part 9

Sci-Fi50

    Disc 9
  • The Astral Factor (1976) runtime: 1:35:23

    A serial killer learns to turn himself invisible and it's up to a police lieutenant to stop him.
    There's a half-assedness here that you normally don't see outside of a third or fourth sequel. The film is not bad, it's just not much of anything. There are ham-fisted attempts at drama and character development, but it's pretty clear those moments are there to fill time rather than advance the plot. And it's a simple plot--psychic serial killer. He strangles people wile invisible. Okay, but if the cops are looking for an invisible stalker and they're staking out his next victim, why not lay some flour down and wait for foot prints? That seems like a workable early-warning system.
    Under copyright somewhere, somehow even though I couldn't find any concrete information about it on copyright.gov. There isn't any visible copyright notice on my print, but there is about a minute of black screen at the end as the closing theme plays. Since there's evidence throughout that this is a work print (I hope it's a work print. I hope they didn't intentionally release this with the A/B roll and edit-sync marks carved into the film), this might be an honest-to-god bootleg. Which is kind of neat. This film didn't see a US release until 1984 and, although it might be presumptuous of me, there's nothing from 1984 that's PD.

  • The Galaxy Invader (1985) runtime: 1:19:59

    An alien crashes and is hunted by the area's rural inhabitants. Only the inhabitants pose a greater threat to each other than the alien ever could.
    Everyone in this film is an idiot. From the townspeople to the college professor to the alien itself. It seems to be written from the point of view that "everybody's an idiot except me." I'd have to disagree with the director on that point and cite the film itself as evidence. Not one likable character. Not one. Fortunately most of them die.
    I know this says very little about the film, but there's very little to say about the film. The best scene is where the college professor and his former student who saw the alien ship crash are in a bar. They overhear one of the patrons talk about seeing the alien. So the professor tells the kid to get her to come over. What's the kid do? Shouts over to her, "Hey, c'mere a minute." The film is such that you can't tell if that's meant to be a joke or not. The entire movie's that way--is this a parody or is this done in earnest? Added bonus, the opening credits list Don Dohler for just about everything and then just about every member of the Dohler clan for the other roles and jobs. Literally like a City Council member from a backwoods town in Maine said, "I know what'll make the town lots of money: Let's make a movie! I'll even write it!" This movie is proof that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, only sometimes you just shouldn't.
    copyright: V3541D110/2006-08-16
    Wikipedia article

  • Battle of the Worlds (1961) runtime: 1:23:51

    A planetoid on a collision course with Earth suddenly stops in orbit and begins attacking our planet.
    Thrill as a planet threatens Earth even though a scientist says it's not! Amaze at the same scientist being grumpy and unapproachable! Stand in awe as he's short and brusque with people who are asking him to stop the planet from dying!
    This film could be called "Claude Raines Missed a Social Security Check." The esteemed actor is spliced into this dull sci-fi pic that's been dubbed from the Italian and he doesn't seem to be happy to be there. Makes for a bit of absurdist fun, but ultimately isn't worth much.
    This film is available on Google Video from Public Domain Torrents, but I found a copyright.gov entry for the film for "new narration, editing, and some new cinematography" which describes the Claude Raines portions and I can't find a distinct version by the claimant U P A Productions of America. So I think this film is still under copyright. PAu001073719/1987-11-25 Wikipedia article

  • Unknown World (1951) runtime: 1:13:51

    Fearing extinction due to nuclear holocaust, an expedition descends into teh Earth's crust seeking a refuge for humanity.
    An exploration picture that's a little better than the others, though there's still no real characters. Challenges are met in the course of finding an ideal cavern for... something. I was a little unclear of the mission's goals. I got the impression they were searching for a refuge because they didn't expect humanity to survive the duration of their trip. Several times they debate turning back only to press forward "because we must!" But they don't have the supplies to restart life. So why not turn back and, for example, stock up on water? Nothing happens to make it a one-way trip. Then there's the ending where the surviving characters awaken a new hope within themselves, only they didn't seem that despairing to begin with. In fact none of them seemed very anything to begin with. Which makes moments of character-based conflict more than a little odd.
    copyright: PA000D807720/1984-02-02
    Wikipedia article

I'll be back next time with Disc 10: James Earl Jones quote Othello because he can, a film from the late 70's getting all 70's on us and two films about prehistoric women finding husbands that. And all of them are much, much more painful than you can even begin to imagine. Start studying braille because you'll be cutting out your eyes real soon.