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Friday, April 9, 2021

Frankenstein 1970


Frankenstein 1970
1958
Howard W. Koch

Much like How to Make to a Monster (1958) which came out in the same year, Frankenstein 1970 takes a self-reflexive look at popular monsters of time. Frankenstein 1970 never goes as far as How to Make a Monster but does open with a fun narrative trick as we watch what we think is a by now rote scene of Frankenstein’s monster chasing a woman into a lake to murder her. Someone off screen yells cut and the shot is pulled back to reveal that we are in fact watching a Frankenstein movie being filmed.

The legend of Frankenstein gets quite update here, Victor Frankenstein was a real person who really did experiment with creating life from dead bodies. Only here his descendant was co-opted by the Nazis, tortured, and forced to work for them. Now permanently injured and running low on funds he takes money from a film crew looking to create a celebration of the original Frankenstein’s work. Frankenstein's lab is modernized complete with atomic reactor and other more high-tech elements at his disposal. He even has the original monster with which he hopes to get working again. 

"I think perhaps you need to start moisturizing."

Frankenstein's motives and history are much more compelling than anything the paper-thin characters of the film crew have to offer. It is thankful that Boris Karloff puts on such a compelling performance while we wait around for the good doctor to finally get to harvesting their organs for his monster. Frankenstein 1970 is not particularly gruesome, you do see the odd body part here and there, but it largely plays things safe. The monster itself is a mixed bag. I particularly liked it when it has just a skull head but later it lumbers around wrapped in bandages and with what looks like a giant pillowcase on its head. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares.

Aside from the opening a few scenes shot on location most of the film takes place in Frankenstein’s castle complete with caves, and his lab. It makes good use of the widescreen format making everything lusher and grander where it could easily could have looked cheap and small. For a film allegedly shot for $110,000 (about $1,000,000 in 2021 dollars) it looks and sounds good. The score is typical bombastic stuff you find in many movies of the 1950s and I didn’t find it particularly interesting. Along with the updating of Frankenstein’s life and his tools I wonder if a more modernized soundtrack with a Theremin or other electronic sounds would have been more appropriate and memorable.

This Charmin squeezes you.

Frankenstein 1970 is a small film with just enough engaging elements to keep you watching through its runtime. The final moment is strong idea executed poorly. Frankenstein’s need to create is given a poignant reason but it feels almost like an afterthought rather than the shocking climax it should have been. Still, the film is worth a look, especially to see Boris Karloff late in his career deliver another fun performance.


Friday, April 2, 2021

The Arrival


The Arrival
1991
David Schmoeller

The Arrival shows a lot of promise from the start. We are introduced to Max Page on his 72nd birthday, a blue glowing meteor crashes into Earth and we are off to our story, or so we think. In defiance of most b-movie conventions where efficiency is the goal, The Arrival takes it time in getting around to engaging its central premise. It is not wasted time either, we spend it getting to know Max Page (Robert Sampson/Joseph Culp) as he undergoes his transformation from old man to middle aged vampire.

The Arrival sets up a lot of interesting concepts. We have Max’s slow descent into vampirism coupled with his increasing alien nature. The most intriguing element is Max’s reoccurring dream of a strange woman in all white environments that often involve blood. Both elements are introduced early on and serve to lift the story up above most direct to video films of the time, both visually and narratively. It is a pity they are all but forgotten by the end of the film.

Old Man Gawps at Cloud

After what looks to be a slow burn to get to the blood drinking, The Arrival starts to make big time jumps so that we can get to a young Max as he meets up with various women, seduces them and then slices them open with a scalpel to get to their delicious blood. He’s also become extremely strong and very resistant to bullets. Max’s characterization falls apart at this stage. Half the time he’s a cold machine who acts the Terminator without the charm and the rest of the time he’s a warm caring guy who can save children from car accidents and fall in love with a nurse he met earlier.

There is seemingly no pattern or narrative tell as to why this happens. A key element to tracking Max down comes from the fact that he’s attracted to estrogen and I think it would be easy to tie his increasingly strange behavior to when he gets hungry, but the story is too muddled to pull this off. By the time John Saxon’s detective gets involved the film turns into basically another story of a serial killer and the woman he loves. The police procedural takes over and we get a convoluted means of stopping Max which amounts to poisoning him and then shooting him a whole bunch.

Thelma and Louise and... Steve

Aside from an effective final moment the entire alien element of the film feels wasted. Max’s newfound youth, the visions he has, and even his growing alien nature are all intriguing but eventually they are all eschewed for yet another detective drama. I was waiting for further alien things from him, perhaps even some kind of final transformation but nothing like that ever comes. The third act is well paced but it feels like a letdown after what set everything in motion. A man in the throws of alien induced vampirism is a great premise and if anyone if look for something remake, The Arrival is a good place to start.



Friday, March 26, 2021

Slaxx


Slaxx
2020
Elza Kephart

It is a common horror trope to just take a random object and turn it into a monster. Stephen King has been often parodied for just this trope and perhaps not without some merit, Christine (1983), Maximum Overdrive (1986), and the Mangler (1995) are just a few of his stories that received a movie adaption. The list of other killer object movies goes on The Lift (1983), Rubber (2010), and Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (1977), just to name a few. So along comes a movie called Slaxx about a killer pair of jeans. I didn’t expect much from it. I certainly didn’t expect it to have things to see about capitalism and worker exploitation.

Still better than JNCOs.

The set-up for Slaxx is extremely simple. CC, The Canadian Cotton Company is a high-end fashion store that is setting up all an night for the reveal of their latest product, a pair of jeans that can change shape to fit any body type (and by any they mean between sizes 0 and 2). These new jeans have a different agenda and are eager to murder everyone they come across. Libby (Romane Denis), the newest hire struggles to survive on her first night at her work. What do these pants want and what drives them to kill? Also why do they like Bollywood music?

Slaxx is thin on plot but also keeps things short with a 77-minute running time. Things get off to a start quickly with a brief introduction to all the characters and then the pants on the loose by the twenty-minute mark. From there the film doesn’t hold back from the bloodletting including some deliciously gooey practical effects. The movie tears through it’s cast so quickly, I was wondering what the heck they were planning to do with the rest of the running time.

You probably won't believe this, but this
scene makes sense in context.

It is here that Slaxx takes a turn that is both silly and attempts to create some more depth to story. The killer pants are compelled to dance to Bollywood music. Why? Well, you will just have to watch to discover that, but ultimately this becomes a way to talk about the exploitation of child labor, GMOs, and what hyper-capitalism is doing to people. Slaxx is too breezy and absurd to stick this tonal change completely but it does elevate the whole production above being just a simple satire of slasher films.

The look of Slaxx is hyperreal. There is a retro 1980s neon aesthetic but with a very slick Apple Store vibe. The soundtrack is filled with synthesizer tunes that keep the already quick pace moving along.

Slaxx can only get so serious because in the end we are dealing with killer pants rendered with some very dodgy special effects, but as a light horror comedy I appreciated how it tries to bring all these elements together even if it isn’t completely successful. If you’ve ever worked retail, shopped for clothes on Black Friday, or spent some time critiquing capitalism you’ll find something to enjoy in Slaxx.



Friday, March 19, 2021

Forever Evil


Forever Evil
1987
Roger Evans

Forever Evil feels like an Evil Dead (1981) fan film that spirals out of control into a two-hour epic of cosmic horror. Mind you, this is a two-hour cosmic horror epic on the budget of a short film. but what it lacks in technical expertise it more than makes up for in pure love for the genre. Forever Evil is ambitious for sure and I think it is often overlooked in the pantheon of Lovecraft inspired movies. 

The first act of Forever Evil is more or less Evil Dead on even less of a budget. A group of friends gather at a cabin the woods. They drink and fool around. They make weak jokes about each other. We are supposed to be caught off guard when the horror finally takes hold, but the homage is so obvious that it never becomes suspenseful. Where Evil Dead delivers its horror in a number of inventive ways, Forever Evil lacks that spark. It does engage in some gruesome baby removal so kudos for stepping over the line a little bit.

"I'VE BEEN RUBBING MY WOOL SOCKS ON
THE CARPET FOR THREE HOURS!"

Had Forever Evil ended there it would be mostly forgotten as a simple Evil Dead rip-off. It is after this point that the film finds its own direction as a mystical detective story complete with Lovecraftian hints of a cosmic horror while never directly referencing Lovecraft’s work itself. There is an intriguing element of murders coinciding with a quasar’s activity. There are the requisite ancient tomes and talks of old gods. It is all a fun love note to Lovecraft's work.

Our hero Marc (Red Mitchell) is a beefy, all too smart, bad ass and charmer. He lacks the comedic smugness or cowardice of Bruce Campbell and instead plays the role perfectly straight. Mitchell’s performance is fine but the character is more power fantasy than person. I have to make special note of his invention which is teased as something amazing near the beginning of the film and later it turns out to be a wrist mounted harpoon gun that can pull a small log. In a way it is the perfect metaphor for the ambition of Forever Evil versus. what it can deliver.

"No log is safe from me."

Reggie (Tracy Huffman) serves as Marc’s sidekick/love interest. She is also assured and competent. Having two very capable characters can make for an interesting story but horror really requires our protagonists to be on their back foot for most of the film. Here they are almost never in that position.

Forever Evil invests much of its focus on the main antagonist, a zombie played by Kent T. Johnson. Here is where the effects and make-up really shine as the zombie becomes increasingly damaged and decayed as the movie progresses. He’s a fun monster and used effectively. It shows that Forever Evil does boast some decent gore when it wants to.

Forever Evil is an earnest yet occasionally silly foray into cosmic horror by people who obviously love the genre and that love shine through despite its many shortcomings. It clocks in at two hours long thanks to a laborious set-up but once it settles into it's own story things move quickly. 



Friday, March 12, 2021

Haunted


Haunted
1977
Alessandro De Gaetano

Haunted is a strange movie but I should not expect less from the person who brought us UFO Target Earth (1974). Hitchcock is well known for bringing us the idea that the audience anticipating a ticking time bomb in a room while the characters do not is what creates suspense. The ticking time bomb of Haunted is a phone booth installed in a near-by cemetery. Does it create suspense? Not really. But it does generate a lot of confusion which seems to be the weapon of choice for this film.

Haunted begins with an opening text which is rarely a good sign. In this case it tells us about a Native American woman is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to die. The film then proceeds the shows us the thing they just made us read about rending the opening text useless. The accused, Abanaki (Ann Michelle) has her top removed for some reason before she is sent off to die in the desert which gives us laborious shots of her tits as she rides off. This moment introduces Haunted's 2nd most notorious element, a constant barrage of 1970s folk and soft rock. It opens with a theme song called ‘Indian Woman’ which is terrible but also sets the stage for what is to come.

"Huh, looks like there's stuff happening way over there."

Haunted’s setting is an interesting element, a dying tourist trap in the form of an old west town. Patrick (Jim Negele) and Russel (Brad Rearden) are brothers who are inheriting the place after their father died in a car accident. Their mother, Michelle (Virginia Mayo), was blinded and now suffers from dementia. This doesn’t sit well with their uncle, Andrew, who has lusted after Michelle for some time. This family also just happens to be related to the people who sent Abanaki off to die over a century ago. The reincarnation of Abanaki comes in the form of Jennifer Baines who’s car just happens to break down at the tourist spot. She quickly falls in love with Patrick and gains the ire of Andrew. Her past self is driving her to revenge even though she doesn’t know it yet.

Haunted sets all its pieces up and then… never quite figures out what to do. There is a lot of laying around while folk music plays, extensive flowery speeches from grandma, and Aldo Ray being sweaty and angry. To its credit Haunted does build a spooky atmosphere but it never builds much of a story. It all culminates in a bizarre Rube Goldberg revenge scheme that does indeed rely on the fact there is a phone booth recently installed in the cemetery.

"Why do we keep the pool balls in the fridge anyway?"

Like UFO: Target Earth, Haunted is slow and dreamy but with virtually no story. Also, like UFO: Target Earth there is an undeniably compelling weirdness at work that keeps bringing me back to this film. If you have an affinity for that particularly 1970s brand of occultism, Haunted might work for you, for everyone else I wouldn’t answer the phone in that graveyard.



Friday, March 5, 2021

Beast from the Beginning of Time


Beast from the Beginning of Time
1965
Tom Leahy

One of the joys of being a fan is finding something new in a genre you’ve scoured for ages. Beast from the Beginning of Time is low budget horror film from the period where low budget horror films were shifting from space monsters and atomic horrors of the 1950’s to the more visceral and grounded horror of the 1960s and beyond. It is a curious mishmash of wonky science-fiction elements and gore, despite its many flaws it deserves a wider audience.

Beast from the Beginning of Time is barely over an hour long, but it expends most of it first half concentrating on bickering scientists and academics. There is a whole circle of snarky professionals saying terrible things about their coworkers. I have watched this film several times now to take notes and I still am unable to connect this coterie of eggheads to their various beefs. With a more polished script this utterly mundane first act could be a clever way to lure an audience into a lull and then hit them with violent caveman antics but here it mostly confuses and irritates.

"Hey a little privacy here!"

Thankfully, someone gets impaled by shovel and we are into the good stuff. A monsterous prehistoric man has been resurrected by lighting and now runs rampant. Beast from the Beginning of Time is gleeful in its gore. Blood is spilled, arms are ripped off, and skulls crushed. The start black and white photography makes the special make-up appear quite gruesome. We never get a very clear view of the caveman but he has some reptilian elements that make him unique.

To go along with this gore is some of the zaniest science I’ve seen in a film. Our caveman is a)60 million years-old giving him a 53-million-year head start on the rest of us b) He’s filled with static electricity from a lightning strike that has put his cells into suspended animation. This lets him wake up, take a dozen bullets, and kill again before going dormant for a while, and  c) he can only be killed with something from this own time and in this case it is a stegosaurus spike which would have existed 90 million years before him but who’s counting?

"It's true, I'm filled with delicious and authentic Vermont maple syrup."

If you grind through the early part of the film to get to the caveman on a killing spree you are in for a treat. The horror in the film is ramped up through the use of small claustrophobic spaces and in what surely was a cost effective measure to save on building sets, many scenes are shown against a black background with  only a single light source and it works wonder to heighten the unreal feeling of the whole situation. 

The Beast from the Beginning of Time is an interesting and nearly lost bit of early gore cinema that is worth the time to check out if for nothing else to see what might be the most scientifically inaccurate film of the 1960s.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Doppelganger

Doppelganger
1993
Avi Nesher

I remember seeing photos of Doppelganger in Fangoria as a kid. Some of the effects looked interesting, but for whatever reason, I never followed up on it. I remember seeing the cover in the video store and once again nothing about it really drove me to see it. There is sat in the back of my brain for 28 years until I saw it available for streaming on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I can’t exactly call Doppelganger a revelation, but it definitely evoked a reaction. Doppelganger is a mess. It is loud and ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense. However, it all works together to create a delicious mess that is brilliantly watchable and fun.

In the 1990s Drew Barrymore was making the transition from child to adult star and she was taking on more explicit roles. Doppelganger follows the trend that began most notably with Poison Ivy (1992) which sees her not only perform some sexy scenes, but she also gets to be evil and violent. Barrymore is giving the questionable material of Doppelganger everything she’s got, and it shows. She dominates a movie that could have buried her in characters with funny accents, wind machines, and slimy rubber monsters.

Drew looking for her agent.

At first glance, Doppelganger feels like an even more overblown DePalma mystery film. The murders are explicit and grisly by early 1990s standards. The story feels like a riff on Psycho (1960), with a less than tactful take on mental health. What appears to be a relatively simple plot with the kind neat freak Holly Gooding (Gooding get it? That is the level of subtlety we are dealing with here) suspected of murdering her mother. Was it a second personality or was there something even more sinister happening?

Of course, there is something more sinister happening, it comes as hardly a surprise. The fact that the plot is explained by Sally Kellerman running a phone sex business where everyone dresses in white is, however, quite a surprise. There are many strange touches such as this that give Doppelganger its off-kilter energy. By the time we reach the climax we are faced with not only a Scooby-Dooesque plot revelation involving impossibly lifelike disguises and rubber masks but also a villain who takes the time to sit down and explain his whole scheme. It at this point that Doppelganger goes absolutely berserk with a lengthy special effects sequence that is as elaborate as it is out of place.

 

Slime was still very popular in 1993.

Doppelganger feels of its era, the early 1990s when horror was coming down from the heights of the VHS era, and the mix of comedy and horror that dominated the genre in the late 1980s. Horror was still trying to find its new voice and sadly, erotic slime horror didn’t make the mark. This relegated Doppelganger to be lost to obscurity. I am glad I took a chance on it or else I never would have found the strange little gem. Is Doppelganger good? Oh god no. Is Doppelganger memorable? Yes, without question.