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Friday, September 23, 2016

Attack of the 50ft Woman

Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman
1958
Nathan Juran

Hard drinking socialite, Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes) encounters a strange white sphere in the road. A giant hand lunges out to grab at her, but she runs away. Her two-timing husband, Harry (William Hudson) sees her story as an opportunity to have her committed, so he can take her money and run off with local girl, Honey (Yvette Vickers). Nancy becomes with obsessed with finding the ship and proving that she isn’t crazy. Eventually she and Harry do find it. Harry panics and runs, leaving Nancy to her fate. That fate is to become a 50ft giant who would like nothing better than get revenge on Harry and Honey.

What I appreciate the most about Attack of the 50ft Woman is the fact that there are no squeaky clean heroes. Many SF and horror movies from the 1950s will have their fair share of morally questionable people, but there is almost always at least one square jawed hero in place to represent what is ‘normal.’ The closest we come to that in this film is probably Nancy Archer’s butler, Jess (Ken Terrell) who is loyal to a fault. Everyone else is various levels of incompetent and selfish, from Nancy’s philandering would-be murderous husband, to the feckless deputy who is completely ineffectual. There’s a delightful kind of ruthlessness throughout the movie, people take advantage of each other, bad things happen, and lots of people die.

"You people disgust me."
Even though the actual attack probably occupies less than ten minutes of the film, there are a number of strange moments leading up to it. The alien spaceship is a featureless white sphere, and inside is a huge bald humanoid wearing what appears to be a gladiator costume. In Nancy’s first encounter with the alien, we just see this enormous rubbery hand extend out the swipe at her. It’s a moment that is both comical and just a surreal enough to be a little unnerving. Later scenes where characters find the sphere just sitting quietly in the desert, and explore the interior add just enough weirdness to the movie’s parade of sleazy behavior to give it an interesting narrative texture.

"Uh, that's not what we meant, when we said, 'Raise the roof, ' Nancy."
The special effects err mostly on the cheap side. The giant alien is badly matted into his scenes, but then again maybe he was meant to be mostly transparent. The single huge rubbery hand is used both to represent the alien and Nancy attacking things. The camera seems to linger on it clumsily flopping around for comically long periods of time. On the other hand, Nancy does get to tear off the roof of a bar during the climax, and the model work is rather good. As you might expect, the size of the giants is very inconsistent, and for some reason Nancy completely changes her hair after she grows. In a normal film these things might be problems, but in something as loopy as Attack of the 50ft Woman, than can only be viewed as features.

Even sleazier and stranger than its title would suggest, Attack of the 50ft Woman, is an enjoyable low-budget mess. It’s only sixty-five minutes long and it uses every one of those minutes to maximum effect.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cat Women of the Moon


Cat-Women of the Moon
1953
Arthur Hilton

[Frustrated by the lack of 3D in this 3D movie, I made this week's groan inducing captioned photos in anaglyph 3D. Bust out your red/blue glasses and give them a try!]

Mankind’s first journey to the moon  is staffed by, the stiffest captain in cinema, Laird (Sonny Tufts), a lecherous goof, Kip (Victor Joy), a scam artist looking to make a quick buck, Walt Walters (Douglas Fowley) , a reckless half-wit, Doug (William Phipps), and a lone women who as to put up with their nonsense, Helen (Marie Windsor). Helen is acting a little weird, mentioning someone named Alpha, and knowing the exact coordinates of where to land.  Turns out that Helen has been telepathically contacted by a group of women who live on the moon. Their leader Alpha (Carol Brewster) wants Helen to dispose of her crewmates and help the Cat-Women escape to Earth.

There’s a sub-genre of SF where a band of astronauts land on a planet only to be confronted with beautiful women. If Cat-Women of the Moon isn’t the first film in this sub-genre (that probably goes to the Russian film, Aelita (1924), it could be the most archetypal. It has all the questionable science, more questionable gender attitudes, and plenty of the gee-wiz thrill of exploring space present in 1950s science fiction film.

Walt Disney puts the moves on a Cat-Woman.
The biggest failing of Cat-Women of the Moon are the characters, every male is either, irritating, stupid, or both. Even the lead, Kip, whom we are supposed to sympathize with, is unabashedly drooling over Helen every chance he gets. Laird is so by-the-book it quickly gets to the point where it feels unrealistic. The less the said about the money grubbing Walt Walters, the better. Also, who the hell is lazy enough to name a character Walt Walters?

For all its numerous flaws there are a few moments that work very well. Helen’s first message over the radio, “Hello, Alpha we’re on our way,” has a haunting overtone that lends the first few moments on the moon, with its desolate caves and strangely empty city, some real mystery. The movie decides to interrupt this unusually brooding moment with a giant spider attack, but that has its own kind of charm.
Attack of the Giant Leeches 2000
I watched the Rhino 3-D release of this film. Rhino’s presentation cobbles together what surviving 3-D scenes still exist and mixes them with a standard 2-D presentation. Maybe I was spoiled by their release of Robot Monster (1953) and its unusually good anaglyph 3-D, but the 3-D in this film is abysmal. The constant switching back and forth between versions was aggravating at best. Thankfully, the movie barely clocks in at over and hour, a little longer and it would have been headache inducing.

Give a Cat Women of the Moon a try, if you’re in the mood for some unabashed 1950s pulp SF. It’s short enough to not be too bothersome and there are some moments to be enjoyed. I would maybe forgo the 3-D version, since it isn’t complete and barely works. If you’re looking for a superior ‘Planet of Women’ film from 1953, you might be better off watching, Abbot and Costello Go to Mars (1953).

Friday, September 9, 2016

Antibirth



Antibirth
2016
Danny Perez

Lou (Natasha Lyonne) lives in a messy trailer home at the edge of a decrepit city that swarms with military veterans turned drug addicts. Lou and her friend, Sadie (Chloë Sevigny) party and drink their nights away. One evening, Lou discovers that she might be pregnant. As she tries to track down who is responsible, she finds herself getting wrapped up in a far reaching, and not to mention, quite scummy conspiracy. Threatened by shadowy forces from outside and the rapidly growing thing in her womb, Lou meets Lorna (Meg Tilly) a spaced out vet who tells her she is only the beginning of something terrible that could end the world.

Antibirth is a science-fiction/horror/black comedy/psychedelic bit of weirdness that draws inspiration from the grungy yet colorful carnage of Street Trash (1987) and the anarchic paranoia of Repo Man (1984). As far as actual plot goes, Antibirth is pretty light. We follow Lou as she stumbles from plot point to plot point with occasional glimpses into the other people who have become embroiled in her plight. Where Antibirth really generates interest, is in the way it chaotically approaches this simple plot with a mix of colorful visuals, bizarre music cues, and a large helping of vulgarity.

"Who wants some more LSD Cooler™?
Lou is a willfully unpleasant character, she’s crass, she’s hopelessly awash in her own addictions, and she really doesn’t seem to care much about other people. She is the focus of the film, and it’s a tribute to Lyonne’s portrayal that I still be became invested in Lou’s plight despite her rough edges. It's interesting to not that the movie never passes judgement on Lou for her various addictions, it's often played for laughs, but in an odd way it turns out to be a commendable aspect of her. She never compromises herself, even if that means slowly wrecking her body. It probably doesn’t hurt that virtually everyone else is the film is an unrepentant scumbag. The notable exception is Lorna, who appears kind, but is flighty and odd. I couldn’t find myself getting comfortable with her, I kept waiting for her to do something bad.

The world Lou inhabits is in shambles. Nearly every building is run down and littered with garbage. Most people are there to indulge in their vices and escape whatever happened in their past. They aren’t afraid to use other people to get it. It is a fascinatingly awful place to live, and a lot of the film’s energy comes from watching Lou barrel through all of it looking for answers. A counterpoint to all this grit are colorful psychedelic edits and interludes, one of the most notable taking place in a bowling alley/ children’s birthday restaurant.

Apply bacon liberally to neck.
Antibirth is an interesting film in that it can be extremely repellent and weird, but still accessible. It’s colorful flourishes and angular storytelling keep the viewer engaged even when the film pushes back with unsavory characters, excessive substance abuse, and the occasional burst of weird violence. Antibirth is a mean spirited bad trip of a movie and it works perfectly within those parameters. If you have a chance to see it and like having your buttons pushed, I would definitely check it out.

Friday, September 2, 2016

VHS Summer Week #10 - Video Grab Bag #2!

Seven Dwarfs and Friends
1988
Amvest Video Corporation


Packaged as a cheap way to shut your kids up for half an hour, Seven Dwarfs and Friends packs some true oddities into the mix. For starters, it’s hosted by Happy Hamster. Happy is a costumed hamster who is inexplicably wearing a Michael Jackson coat. (Well, not entirely inexplicable, Happy Hamster was in another Amvest venture, a rip-off of Alvin and the Chipmunks with high pitched renditions of pop songs, at least until a copyright infringement lawsuit was brought against the company.) The cartoons are perhaps even more inexplicable.
  • The Winged Scourge: Disney’s Seven Dwarfs spend 5 minutes killing mosquitoes
  • The Thrifty Pig: A Nazi wolf (complete with swastika armband!) attempts to blow down the well made house of some British pigs.
  • Mechanical Cow: An early black and white cartoon about a nightmarish robot cow.
  • Hooked Bear: Probably the only typical cartoon on the whole tape. A bear attempts to eat some fish despite the best attempts of a park ranger.
"Make sure to put mom's credit card back in her purse after you order."
After the cartoons, Happy comes back to tempt kids into joining a club and getting an official Kid Pics t-shirt. I would to find of these for real. There's a whole weird sleazy undertone to pitch and there were reportedly many people who received nothing for their membership, and in fact had their information sold to child "beauty pagents." Amvest, you are truly one for the ages.


That’s Edutainment
2016
Basement Labs


From the group that brought you, Night of the Living Glitch (2016)  comes a beautiful transparent cassette tape housed in a transparent case. I get the feeling that That’s Edutainment is made to be enjoyed more as an object than as a video to watch. The relative difficulty in getting the tape out of the package and the brittle plastic of the tape bear this out . Nonetheless, I persisted and was awarded with 120 minutes of warped and glitched educational videos from the 1980s backed by some atmospheric electronic music. The videos range from lab safety, how to use  AOL and a sped-up selection of b-movies. It’s a really cool combination, and is perfect for having something playing in the background during a party or event. That’s Edutainment is a great example of using VHS analog aesthetics in a modern way. Every part of the video tape experience is considered, from the physical cassette itself, to the contents within. You can check out Basement Labs here: http://www.thebasementlabsworldwide.com/

Behind the scenes at Outpost Zeta.


Video Aspirin
1987
Bob Greenberg


Whereas That’s Edutainment sought to evoke the weirdness of VHS deliberately, Video Aspirin achieves it naturally.  This 18 minute video is nominally supposed to help the viewer relax through a series of  massages, counting, and an acronym that makes no sense. However, its combo of kitschy music, dated clothing, cheap sets, and video effects all combine to make something very strange. I suppose that the techniques can help, but at that same time there is something unsettling about it all. Video Aspirin is an example of how the home video market was looking everywhere for a niche to fill. It is through unusual creations like this that VHS had and still has a far reaching cultural impact. There is simply nothing like it.

SCAN ME!

Friday, August 26, 2016

VHS Summer Week #9




How the Sky Will Melt
2015
Matthew Wade

Often when a modern film invokes a retro aesthetic, there is a tendency to overstate the look of the past. Sometimes this is intentional and used satirically, and sometimes it’s simply all of the most recognizable elements of an era being thrown onto the screen at once. The trick is, that a time period with a pronounced look doesn’t feel unusual at the time, it’s just part of the milieu of then modern sensibilities. I find it a more interesting use of retro styling when it is used to create a sense of timelessness. The film may have a particularly dated look, but there are anachronisms that create a sense of distance and unfamiliarity. The strange mix of technology in It Follows (2014) is an excellent example. How the Sky will Melt uses the low resolution flavor of the late 1970s/early 1980s to place an ambiguous story in an equally ambiguous time and place.

Brought to you in Squarevision
Gwen (Sara Lynch) has returned to hometown following the death of a bandmate. Her band is popular enough that she finds herself avoiding any publicity while encountering a few jealous friends that she had left behind. In a malaise she finds herself aimless as she pilfers the hills near the beach for strange colorful eggs that have hallucinogenic qualities. As Gwen’s paranoia begins into to grow, her friend, London (Scott Alonzo) watches a figure fall to earth. The being, which is neither alive nor dead is seemingly inert, but soon it awakens, straining Gwen’s already fragile reality.

Shot on Super 8 and released on VHS, How the Sky Will Melt evokes the soft dream like nature of catching something on late night television while half-asleep. The look of it evokes the techno doom of Idaho Transfer (1973), or Where Have All the People Gone? (1974). At same time there is an early New Wave vibe that feels akin to Liquid Sky (1982). That is not to say How the Sky Will Melt is a simple pastiche, it is very much interested in telling its own wandering nightmare of a story.

"What? Do I have something on my face?"
The narrative of the film is very reluctant to straight out explain anything, it forces the viewer to try and pry each moment open and see what’s lurking between the sparse dialogue. Thankfully, the movie also plays fair, it does answer most of the questions it raises. The things it leaves open are even stranger and more terrifying because of it. I did not expect the movie to dip into horror the way it does, but it works very well as the growing knot of tension at the heart of everything.

The acting is often amateurish, but the strange line deliveries often help the weird aura of the film rather than harm it. Occasionally the low tech production is a little too rough with muddy dark scenes and strange edits, but these are small flaws in a really engrossing larger work.

Aesthetically, and narratively strange, How the Sky Will Melt is a fascinatingly odd experience and one I would definitely recommend both as a standalone film and an example of how the medium of VHS can have merit in and of itself.

Friday, August 19, 2016

VHS Summer Week #8



Dream Stalker
1991
Christopher Mills

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) left an indelible mark on popular culture. Monsters with a spark of personality were in, and everyone was scrambling to create their own charismatic killer. The advent of home video meant that anyone with a few dollars could cobble together a movie, and the fledgling rental industry was so starved for content it didn’t take much to get your tape distributed around town, possibly even around the nation if you were persistent.  However, by 1991, both Freddy Kruger and the shot-on-video movie had more or less run their course. This makes Dream Stalker even more of curiosity than it already is.

Slightly too legible to be a black metal band logo...

Recounting the plot of Dream Stalker is, at best, very difficult. The story is series of dreams within dreams, but the gist of the it involves Brittany (Valerie Williams) and her boyfriend Ricky (Mark Dias). She’s a model and he’s a motocross superstar. He ends up dead via exploding bike (or something, it’s very unclear) and Brittany may either being bringing him back to life as Dead Ricky with her psychic powers or he’s haunting her through a cheap gift and killing her friends and potential lovers. There is also the distinct possibility that neither of those plot points is actually what's happening.

Dream Stalker is an incoherent mess. A story that employs a dream narrative with a lot of reality bending can work, but it requires a very deft touch, and masterful editing. Dream Stalker doesn’t have any of that, but it tries to fill in the gaps with gore and nudity. The sound is often drowned out by wind noise, or blaring music. The lighting ranges from surprisingly good to ‘I can’t tell what the hell is happening.’ The special effects in Dream Stalker are a delight, much better than I would expect from an SOV feature. Dead Ricky’s disfigured face is the highlight of the whole production.

"Microsoft tells me you haven't installed Windows 10, yet..."

There are dozens of quirky moments that take Dream Stalker from being just another SOV movie to something special. Whether it’s Dead Ricky kindly putting on a condom before molesting Brittany, stunts gone wrong but left in the movie anyway, tough street kids who look liked they just walked out of Sears, or the single lamest roll down a steep hill that's been put to video. Dream Stalker never makes sense, but it certainly never stops having things happen on the screen.

For a late-in-the-game, shot -on-video movie, Dream Stalker would fit right in with such films as Things (1989), Boardinghouse (1982), and Sledgehammer (1983). It can be a chore to sit through with a constant undermining of the story in way that doesn’t blow minds, it just annoys. There is, without a doubt, a lot of love put into the production and there some effective moments here and there. It can be a difficult watch, but I think it's worth it for the occasional treat that Dream Stalker delivers.

Friday, August 12, 2016

VHS Summer Week #7


On Sunday, August 7th, 2016, Outpost Zeta hosted its first VHS_Party as part of VHS SUMMER. Ever since I started looking more into VCR culture and the people who collect it, I’ve seen fun events spring up around the U.S., complete with tape trading and movie screenings. I started looking for venues that would work within the O/Z budget (i.e. free). Not much response at first, but thankfully a local venue called Vega got in touch with me. They had a date open, but it was only two weeks out, so I had to scramble to make sure we had everything we needed.

With assistance from nerdyvinyl and Soft Sandalwood, we set up a Facebook event page, did some cross posting, and bothered friends about it. I had to do  a quick tech test (I had to get a component to HDMI converter) and prep a few tapes. My goal was to run the entire event from video tape, I could have cheated and used VHS rips from a laptop, but it was my first time out and I wanted it to be authentic.

We opened the night with a fifteen minute slideshow of VHS covers ranging from beautiful to lurid and often both at the same time. I set it to music from NewRetroWave’s Crypt EP. We also screened a video by Com Truise, and finally a little Simpsonwave.


Following that, there was a short feature, Creepy Classics (1987). This is a thirty-minute tape made by Hallmark which was sold with a purchase at their stores. The video features Vincent Price introducing an assortment of horror film trailers and movie clips from the 1950s and 60s. The selection was pretty well trod ground, but Price is always a complete delight to watch on screen. He gave it his all, even with something as disposable as this tape. The strangest part of this video is the fact that it pretty much shows the entirety of Christopher Lee’s killer severed hand segment from Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965).

Master arm-wrestler, Paco Queruak.
Our feature presentation was one of my favorite movies, Hands of Steel (1986). A dystopic action extravaganza that combines, cyborgs, arm-wrestling, and writing things on toilet rolls in a way that only Italian genre cinema can do it. I know that Code Red has plans to release this on Blu-ray, and I’m excited to see it cleaned up, but it does possess a low rent grungy charm that compliments VHS perfectly.

The audience (All fifteen of them) wanted more, so without much hesitation, I introduced (and re-introduced to some) the joys of Alien Warrior (1986).  This science-fiction/kung-fu/gangsploitation/religious action comedy is one hundred minutes of confounding acting, direction, and script choices. Best of all, it only exists on VHS where it belongs.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening. They drank and ate lots of food, which should make the venue happy. They cheered and yelled at the screen, which makes me happy. I had brought some tapes to trade, but we didn’t have any other tape traders arrive, hopefully next time.

The Wal-Mart Special makes its first public appearance.
Did I say next time? Yes, I did. I’m happy to announce that Outpost Zeta will holding its next VHS_Party on October 17th, 2016. Follow the O/Z Facebook page so that you don’t miss out on the official event.

Thanks to everyone who helped, and thanks to everyone who came down to watch.

Be kind, rewind.