Friday, July 15, 2016

081. Slipstream and 082. I Eat Your Skin

Jump to I Eat Your Skin (1971)

081. Slipstream (1989)
Director: Steven Lisberger
Writer: Tony Kayden
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

In a post-apocalyptic world dominated by a globe-spanning wind known as “the slipstream,” Matt Owens steals the fugitive Byron from lawman Tasker to claim the bounty for himself. Now it’s a race to get downstream before Tasker catches up to them or any of the myriad threats they encounter seal their fate.

Byron is on the run from lawman Tasker (Mark Hamill) and his partner Belitski. Just as Byron is about to ride the titular slipstream—the super-wind that dominates the planet after worldwide ecological catastrophe—the pair capture him. However, they lose him at a little dive bar once huckster Matt Owens (Bill Paxton) learns there’s a bounty out on Byron and kidnaps him. As they’re escaping, Tasker shoots Owens with a poisoned dart that includes a tracking device. Now the movie is off and running with a very straightforward chase narrative.

Only it’s not. There’s never any sense of a clock in this film or any tension arising from how close Tasker and Belitski may be to Byron and Owens. Instead, the movie plays out almost as a picaresque of this only-just post-apocalyptic world. Characters talk about what they were doing before the “Convergence” that caused all the destruction, but the spaces seem generations away from anything we’d call familiar or modern day. I mean, Owens makes a pitstop at his home where all the people he knows are sitting in a hot tub together, fully clothed. Meanwhile, Tasker and Belitski are talking about quitting the law game and opening up a mink farm. Throughout the movie, Owens talks about opening a hot-air balloon company. I never imagined an apocalypse that left people considering small-business loans.

So they move on. Byron and Owens land in a village populated by wind cultists and then travel to a hidden city where the rich try to live in a manner they remember. Tasker periodically catches up with them, is thwarted, and finally gets killed by Byron after having killed a woman Byron had fallen in love with.

Oh, and Byron’s an android. That comes out about halfway through and it plays out in a very Commander Data-ish sort of way. And that’s really it. The movie doesn’t have a driving plot or much incident at all, it’s mostly a half-hearted tour through this science-fantasy landscape that can never quite make up its mind as to what it’s supposed to be.

This film is an odd duck that should be much better than it is. It has an amazing cast including Mark Hamill, Bill Paxton, and Bob Peck, along with cameos from Robbie Coltrane, F. Murray Abraham, and Ben Kingsley. The director did Tron and the producer did Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. There’s no lack of talent or skill here, but every part of the movie doesn’t work, but only just. The line deliveries—especially by Belitski—are just a little off, the metaphors are just a touch too heavy-handed, and the sense of place never quite congeals. The movie’s slow and boring, which you can get away with if you’re presenting something fantastical, but the images and ideas here are so pedestrian.

That said, this is highly-riffable. It’s a bit excruciating to watch alone, but has so many poor line deliveries and odd choices that you can rip it up one side and down the other. This feels like something Mystery Science Theater 3000 should have done. I see mentions online of it being public domain, including on the film’s Wikipedia page (which is worth a read just for the sad story of how this tanked Gary Kurtz’s career), but that seems unlikely. It’s more likely an orphaned work, which is slightly different. Either way, it’s not too hard to find and can be a lot of fun with the right friends.


082. I Eat Your Skin aka Zombie aka Zombie Bloodbath (1971)
Director: Del Tenney
Writer: Del Tenney
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: Elvira, Shocker Internet Drive-In, archive.org

Tom Harris travels to Voodoo Island to research an upcoming book. While there, he finds sacrificial rites, zombies stalking the island, and a mad scientist's plot to conquer the world.

The movie opens with a voodoo ceremony that, frankly, sets the wrong tone. It's boring, annoying, and potentially racist, which are certainly things that can be said of the film, but it lacks the breezy, almost flip tone of the rest of the movie.

We cut from the over-long opening to the pool at a swanky resort. Author Tom Harris is telling a story to a group of enraptured women when his agent shows up telling him to leave. The agent has found out about a mysterious place called “Voodoo Island” that should be a great setting for Tom's next book. When one of the womens' husbands tries to chase Tom down, Tom decides it is time to leave.

Tom, his agent, and his agent's wife fly to the island, arriving just as they run out of gas. Tom goes looking for help and finds a local who is then decapitated by a zombie. The overseer of the island's plantation saves Tom and takes him and the rest of his party to the plantation where he works for a doctor who's researching a cure for cancer. The doctor's daughter Jeannie is also on the island and Tom immediately begins courting her.

Things escalate: zombies keep appearing, there are rumors of an upcoming sacrifice that will involve Jeannie, and things keep interfering with Tom's attempts to leave the island. Ultimately, it's revealed that the doctor has developed not a cure for cancer, but the zombie formula and the overseer has been using local Voodoo traditions to seize control and create an indestructible zombie army. The doctor kills the overseer before he can sacrifice Jeannie, the doctor gets stabbed, and Tom, Jennie, the agent, and his wife manage to escape the island just before it blows up.

There is the trope that Mystery Science Theater 3000 pilloried constantly of the doughy white guy who really doesn't do anything. Tom doesn't so much investigate things as stumble upon information. The movie avoids the worst parts of that trope, though, by having Tom constantly trying to get off the island. He's not interested in the mystery, he's not trying to figure out the source of the zombies, he's trying to GTFO at the first sign of trouble and take his friends with him.

Plus the film has a flippant tone. The agent and his wife are always joke-bickering with each other that feels like a nod to screwball comedies and they spend most of the movie just getting drunk together. In fact, the ethic of the movie could be described as trying to get back poolside before the martinis arrive. I dug that tone.

Yes, there are slow parts, and, yes, there are goofy effects: the zombie make-up looks like dried oatmeal and, despite the title, no skin gets eaten. You do see a zombie walk into a moving propeller while carrying a box of explosives, so I appreciated that. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. There is an episode of Elvira's Movie Macabre that features it and, since it's in the public domain, there are several copies on archive.org (that link goes to the MPEG version). It's also featured as part of the Shocker Internet Drive-In double-feature. Any is a good way to see the movie for yourself, and I recommend it. It's light, breezy, short, easily-riffable but fun enough on its own.

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