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Friday, July 13, 2018

Congo


Congo
1995
Frank Marshall

When the fiancé of Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) goes missing in the Congo trying to locate special diamonds, she joins up with Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), a scientist looking to return a gorilla named Amy (Misty Rosas) to her home. Amy knows sign language and is outfitted with a special rig that can translate her signs into spoken words. Also along for the ride is Herkemer Homolka (Tim Curry) a shifty Romanian ex-pat who’s looking for a lost city, and Captain Monroe Kelly (Ernie Hudson) a former British military officer and now guide through the chaotic jungles of the Congo. Waiting deep in the jungle is a race of murderous white apes that will kill anyone who stumbles upon their treasure.

Congo is a B-movie sporting a mainstream release budget. Take away the high tech plot elements and you are left with a film that would feel right at home among the jungle adventure movies of the 1940s. It has all the hallmarks of those films, mysterious natives, banana republic dictators, random animal attacks, lost cities, treasure, and lots of gorillas. Being a 1990s era production we are given some (slightly) less racist takes on the locals, and a leading woman who doesn’t bow to authority or shy away from the action.

"Clever, uh... girls?"
With the story being based on a Michael Crichton novel, the technology is put front and center, but thankfully it serves to facilitate the action and not dictate it. The characters are colorful and fun save for Walsh’s Dr. Peter Elliot who plays sidekick to his talking gorilla pal and does little else. Ernie Hudson and Tim Curry seem to be very aware of what kind of movie they are in and have a contest to see who’s fake accent is the most outrageous. Bruce Campbell makes a sadly brief appearance at the opening of the film, but he makes the most of it and plays the role with the expected hammy charm.

A large number of the special effects are practical and have aged relatively well. The ape guards of the city of Zinj look great. Amy is less than convincing, possibly because the camera has to linger on her for long periods of time. There is a very noticeable shift when the film moves from location shooting to the set that encompasses the lost city. It is a great looking set, but it does look artificial. The film concludes with a lot of CGI lava that is probably best forgotten. This is PG-13 production, so there is a little on-screen violence but much of it loses any impact it might have had due to some heavy-handed cutting.

"What's sign language for, 'I'm going to scoop out your skull and wear it for a hat?"
Congo is deeply dumb and very silly. I can’t imagine this movie ever getting made with its budget and cast if it weren’t for the monumental success of Jurassic Park (1993). That said, I haven’t thought about this movie since I saw it in the theaters over twenty years ago, but found myself reasonably engaged on a rewatch. It is a weightless action film, but it has killer apes, lasers, and plenty of B-list stars to pass the time.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Konga


Konga
1961
John Lemont

Dr. Charles Decker (Michael Gough) has gone missing in Africa and is presumed dead. He reappears one year later, a little unhinged, but now possessing the secret of a formula that can make plants and animals grow to enormous size. He uses this formula to turn a baby chimp named Konga into a vicious killer. He sends the animal to murder those scientific colleagues who mocked him in the past. A spurned lover, Margaret (Margo Johns), gives Konga an overdose of the serum and that’s when things really get out of hand… or into hand as Konga grabs Dr. Decker and rampages through London.

Michael Gough as Dr. Charles Decker drenches the screen with cartoon villainy, he can be found cruelly unloading a revolver into a cat, hypnotizing killer apes, and feeding people to giant venus fly traps. Gough is single saving grace of the movie. The rest of the actors try and make all the ridiculous goings-on feel serious, but it never works as well as it should.


Michael Gough's reaction to Batman & Robin reviews.
If King Kong (1933) taught us anything it’s that apes are great, but giant apes are even better. Konga gleefully cribs from King Kong in several ways, but instead of placing the cause of destruction on humankind’s hubris, we find the public faced with a menace that was birthed from common human jealousy. It is novel in that respect, but it could have worked better by tying Decker's rage to the animal fury of Konga. Well, at least it will be cool to see some buildings get smooshed by a giant ape, right? Right?

The ape attacks and giant plants are fun but the story is too slowly paced to keep up much interest. Two-thirds of the movie is essentially a revenge movie as Decker uses his mind-controlled ape to kill off the people who have mocked his work. When things finally get completely out of control and we are treated to Konga stomping around London, it’s too late and too brief to save the rest of the movie.

Konga's reaction to Konga reviews.
The less said the better about the fact that Decker’s serum transforms Konga the chimpanzee into Konga the ape. I feel like you could get away with that nonsense in the 1930s but by the 1960s people were well aware that chimps and apes were different animals (Well, they should be aware anyway.) The actual Konga ape costume isn’t terrible, but Paul Stockman, the actor inside, just kind of shuffles around like a guy in a costume rather than an animal. The only part of the costume that emotes are the eyes, but Konga only projects a perpetual ‘What the fuck is going on?’ stare. However, having Konga carry around Dr. Decker as his on personal Fay Wray is a delightful change-up.

Konga isn’t a good movie, and it’s not enough of a misfire to enjoy as a noble failure. The ingredients are there, a lurid plot, hammy acting, and questionable special effects, but the movie is never able to overcome its leaden pace. In the end, when (*spoiler*) Konga, and Decker lie dead in the street, there is no soliloquy or line uttered by anyone to bring the story to a close. Everyone just stands there silently staring at the corpses in the street. It is, perhaps, the perfect way to close this film.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Captive Wild Woman


Welcome to VideotAPE, Outpost Zeta's summer-long tribute to ape movies! Ape movie reviews every Friday and ape content at the Outpost Zeta Facebook page! Show your ape pride with a VideotAPE shirt!

Captive Wild Woman
1943
Edward Dmytryk

Beth (Evelyn Ankers) is reunited with herfiancé Fred Mason (Milburn Stone), an animal trainer by trade. While Mason is busy corralling loose tigers, Beth’s sister Dorthy (Martha MacVicar) is suffering from some kind of glandular problem. Beth and Mason take her to see Dr. Walters (John Carradine), a specialist in glands and also mad science. Dr. Walters enjoys grafting glands from one animal to another, causing them to transform. Now he has his eye on Dorthy and one of Mason’s recent acquisitions, a gorilla named Cheela (Ray Corrigan). Will the creature Dr. Walters creates be more monster or person?

"They called my plan to get bananas addicted to heroin mad. MAD, I TELL YOU!"
Pinnacle of ape suit actors, Ray “Crash” Corrigan does his thing as Cheela and he does a great job of not only moving like an animal but giving small glimpses of emotion as Cheela expresses rage and concern at times. However, if you go into Captive Wild Woman expecting wall-to-wall ape suit action you are going to be disappointed. What it does have is plenty of lion taming, which is exciting the first time around but quickly gets tiresome. It is also difficult to stomach as the film happily sits back and lets a tiger and lion fight for real during an extended sequence.

 I don’t think it’s possible to approach a lurid ape movie with anything approximating taste, but Captive Wild Woman certainly does give it a try. The film is only an hour long, but it does spend time with the plight of Dorthy, the snappy relationship between Beth and Mason, and even a look into the sinister mind of Dr. Walters. The acting is good, in fact much better than I would expect from a film of this ilk. John Carridine steals the movie with his increasingly unhinged performance. The scene where Dr. Walters realizes he’s going to have to kill his assistant and take her brain to implant into the ape-woman is particularly chilling.

Cheela just saw her hospital bill.
Acquanetta portrays Paula Dupree, former ape, and eventual circus act sidekick. Her role is largely silent, instead relying on physicality to emote as she moves between human and animal. It is a solid performance, I wish in the short running time they had given her more to do, especially seeing as she is supposedly the focus of the film. Acquanetta’s background is unclear, she was promoted as ‘The Venezuelan Volcano,’ and may have been Arapaho or African-American. The film does play into her ‘exotic’ looks but not nearly to the extreme I feared it might. Faint praise for sure, but this was the 1940s.

Captive Wild Woman is a better film than its premise would suggest, but it is too brief and wastes too much time not focusing on its more interesting elements. John Carridine is great as the insidious scientist behind it all, and it is worth checking out this film just for him. Captive Wild Woman spawned two sequels, Jungle Woman (1944) and The Jungle Captive (1945). This film is successful enough that I am interested in seeing where the saga of Cheela goes from here.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Time of the Apes


Welcome to VideotAPE, Outpost Zeta's summer-long tribute to ape movies! Ape movie reviews every Friday and ape content at the Outpost Zeta Facebook page! Show your ape pride with a VideotAPE shirt!

Time of the Apes
1987
Kiyo Sumi Fukazawa, Atsuo Okunaka

Catherine (Reiko Tokunaga), a lab assistant at a cryogenics lab is forced to show two awful brats,  Johnny (Masaaki Kaji) and Caroline (Hiroko Saito) around the facility. An ill-timed earthquake freezes them in a chamber they are visiting and they awaken to find themselves in a time where humans are (mostly) extinct and apes in goofy helmets and southern gentleman suits rule the world. Only with the help of the human rebel Godo (Tetsuya Ushio) do they have any hope of survival.

It is a minor miracle that Time of the Apes makes any sense at all given that it is cobbled together from 26(!) episodes of a Japanese television series called Saru no Gundan and then poorly dubbed by the notorious Sandy Frank. The end result is a narrative that never feels like it is going anywhere until it unloads a torrent of background information during the climax. Sure there is plenty of action but it starts to become numbing after a while. I am sure there is an element of satire to be found here as well, but the culture gap of a Japanese production coupled with the lunkheaded and often bizarre dubbing from makes much of it imperceptible.

"But seriously what is up with the shoulder mounted pen holder?"
Time of the Apes looks pretty awful. Everything is primarily brown and orange, more than a nod to the original Planet of the Apes (1968) sets, but now much more ugly and washed out thanks to a lone VHS release. The ape costumes aren’t terrible, but they limit the actor’s abilities to emote. Once again I think the dubbing does the story a disservice as almost every ape in the film just seems irritated about the whole series of events even when we are supposed to be sympathizing with them. Honestly, with Johnny involved, I can’t blame them. What makes these apes even more strange than their Planet counterparts is the fact they are still wearing human clothing, drive around in 1970s era cars and generally look at and act just like people. It is both amusingly off-kilter and lazy.

Our human characters range from dull to annoying. Johnny, in particular, is headstrong, carefree and I want to see him end up on the wrong side of an angry gorilla. Godo is the kind of suave turtleneck wearing action hero that seemed to infest a lot of Japanese genre films in the 1970s. Catherine and Caroline, like many female characters in this era, are relegated to the background. The humans also pick up a weird-faced ape kid named Pepe, who doesn’t do much more than run around in a striped shirt.

"Tell me about the rabbits, Godo."
Time of the Apes manages to toss in a flying saucer, a supercomputer, and some psychedelic time travel. If you have only ever seen the movie as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, there is an extended climax where Godo and crew face down EUCOM, the evil computer that ushered in the end of humanity. I’m not saying it is worth watching, but it does continually dump exposition that clears up at least some of the story.

Time of the Apes is not only an extended rip-off of Planet of the Apes, it is also a very weird rip-off of Planet of the Apes, from the costumes, the dubbing, and a time-travel twist so dumb I don’t even know what to say about it. Time of the Apes is a colossal mess… which has done nothing to stop me from watching it several times.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Demon Resurrection

 
Demon Resurrection
2008
William Hopkins

Grace (Alexis Golightly) lives with her lover John (Damian Ladd) in an isolated house in the woods. Grace’s friends show up to stage an intervention, thinking that John is supplying her with drugs. It turns out that John has in fact rescued her from a demon-worshiping cult, led by a guy named Toth (Will McDonald). The cult would very much like to have Grace back since she is carrying something horrifying in her womb. Grace and her friends soon find themselves under siege from Toth's green glowing horde of zombies.

Demon Resurrection is a good example of a film that wants to honor its 1970s and early 1980s horror roots without mindlessly aping the surface look of those films. Too often modern ‘grindhouse’ movies think they can throw some digital film damage over their shoddily made work and call it retro. Demon Resurrection takes its plot and a few visual cues from films like Burial Ground (1981) and The Blind Dead movies but it is not interested in just copying them under the guise of homage.

"Can you help me with my tie, it feels a bit noose... hahaha noose, get it? Hey where are you going?"
The zombies are very classic in their presentation. They are green glowing skeletons, slow as hell but relentless in their pursuit. They seem almost harmless but show surprising strength when they finally get their hands on someone. Toth is a fun villain, he is the kind of robe-wearing Satan worshiping baddie that is just as much of a delight to watch as it is to see him get his comeuppance. He meets his end in a fashion that wouldn’t be out of place in an E.C. horror comic.

If Demon Resurrection has any singular flaw, it is that it takes too long to get the plot moving. I could understand some viewers getting agitated wading through a few unpleasant side characters and a lengthy sex scene. Once the zombie attack gets underway, the pace and the entertainment pick up considerably.

Thigh of the Living Dead
Our protagonists aren’t nearly as interesting as the bad guys, but are they ever? In particular, there were a few (Mike) that I would have liked to see get torn apart by zombies as soon as possible (Mike). Demon Resurrection isn’t afraid to put its characters through the wringer, and throughout the runtime, I was not exactly sure who was going to make it to the end. I did really like Laurie Miller as Kate. Looking through her IMDB listing, she is primarily a stunt artist, but I thought she made a believably frightened and desperate character and I found myself rooting for her to survive her ordeals with the undead.

Demon Ressurection is low budget but still creates a throwback horror story, but it never descends into pastiche. It sets out to create a story filled with zombies, demon impregnation, evil cults, and plenty of blood. Aside from some pacing issues, it gives birth to some enjoyable horror.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Extra Terrestrial Visitors


Extra Terrestrial Visitors (aka Los Nuevos Extraterrestres aka The Pod People)
1983
Juan Piquer Simón

Tommy (Óscar Martín) is a young boy who lives out in a cabin with his mom Molly (Concha Cuetos) and the garbage human he calls his uncle. Tommy finds a cave filled with pink light and steals a giant egg from it. The egg hatches and a little tube-nosed monster is born. Tommy names the thing Trumpy and tries to make friends with it. Meanwhile, Trumpy’s parent is none too happy about some poachers smashing up all the other eggs and decides to starts busting some heads. There is also a really terrible band on vacation that gets caught up in this mess, but the less said about them the better.

Extra Terrestrial Visitors rose to infamy due to its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000 under the title Pod People, that’s is how I came to know about it and I’m certain that holds true for about 99% of people who have encountered this weird E.T. (1982) rip-off. Extra Terrestrial Visitors was originally intended to be a straightforward horror film, but with E.T.’s astounding success, the creators retrofitted it with cute aliens (not unlike E.T. which was originally intended to be much more of a horror film as well.)

"Got any Plutonian Nyborg, man?"
It should be no surprise that the man who gave us Pieces (1982) directs this film, it certainly shares that film’s complete disregard for tone, placing horror next to whimsical moments. While Pieces is a freewheeling gorefest, Extra Terrestrial Visitors is much more restrained. I can understand the producers wanting to cash-in on E.T. by cutesifying their own aliens, but I can't figure out why they still made them murder machines. Why the Little Dipper, easily the least scary constellation of all time, appears on the victims' foreheads is anyone's guess.

The aliens look supremely goofy and out of place in the moody damp woods where most of the movie is set. Everyone in this film deserves accolades for managing to not only keep a straight face every time one of the creatures is on screen but actually act as if it were a horrifying threat. Remove the aliens from this movie and you actually have something that feels like it had the potential to be decent if overdone stalk and slash horror film, but with the creatures included, you have something that is memorably absurd.

"So you're the reason the shower drain is clogged so badly."
I have a difficult time judging the actors in a film that is dubbed. I will say this much, most of the acting seems passable, but the dubbed voice of Tommy is one of the most irritating sounds imaginable. Viewing can be sheer agony since Tommy has so much screen time with the mute Trumpy.

One of my early theories about this movie was that not only was it drawing from E.T., but there was a healthy attempt to cash in on the television show ALF. Trumpy and its parent have the same basic color, furry body, and a long snout. The difference is one eats cats and the other kills crappy band members. So, I was a little surprised to find that Extra Terrestrial Visitors pre-dates ALF by three years. Extra Terrestrial Visitors does feature a kitten in a few scenes, but the cat goes mostly unmolested. Is it possible that the creators of ALF caught a screening of Extra Terrestrial Visitors somewhere and were inspired? A true mystery from the stars.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Soft Matter


Soft Matter
2018
Jim Hickox

Drs. Kriegspiel (Mary Anzalone) and Grist (Hal Schneider) are researchers conducting secret experiments to find immortality by splicing the genes of sea creatures to human DNA. Haircut (Devyn Placide) is a graffiti artist who is convinced by his friend/manager Kish (Ruby Lee Dove II) to do a last minute installation show about ghosts in a supposedly haunted building. This just happens to be the same building where the experiments are happening… oh, and an angry sea god makes himself known in a mop bucket.

Soft Matter feels in both presentation and content like the love child of Kuso (2017) and Antibirth (2016), it is vibrant, chaotic, absurd, and often gross. It takes the worn SF trope of scientists splicing animal DNA into humans and runs with it, but rarely in a direction you expect.

Street Trash: The Musical
The mutants of the story aren’t especially dangerous, but they are weird and pathetic. The best of these poor creatures is Mr. Sacks (Bradley Creel), a man composed of slime and garbage bags, he also happens to be an avid dancer. While the other mutants in the hospital just have crab arms or are a literal pile of muck in a bed, Mr. Sacks is both unnerving and endearing. The Sea God has an interesting look too and I really enjoyed the physically that Sam Stinson imbued him with. I liked the fact that he seems quite reasonable as an antagonist in the face of the scientists, but when he’s finally unleashed he’s out to kill everyone.

The humans of Soft Matter don’t fare quite as well, the two squabbling scientists begin the movie already stressed and on edge. They have nowhere to go but at each other’s throats. Grist and Kriegspiel don’t like each other and don’t really give the audience much to root for either. I will admit that I found Kriespiel’s attempt to explain to the Sea God why she will never give up the search for immortality showed more depth than I expected. Much more fun is Haircut and Kish, neither of whom seemed terribly phased by the strange things happening around them. Both Ruby Lee Dove II and Devyn Placide give wonderful performances, they had a dissociated laid-back quality and played off each other very well.

"The shape of water is the imprint of my foot in your ass."
Soft Matter is deliberately strange and very happy to revel in it, but I think it was a smart move to not be too self-aware of the fact.  There are lengthy dance numbers, the face of a god speaking from a mop bucket, and lots of off-kilter line deliveries, but it is all presented in a very matter-of-fact manner. I think anything too hyperkinetic or fourth-wall breaking would have turned a quirky story into an irritating one.

Soft Matter is more of an absurdist horror film than it is a straight-up comedy. There are plenty of campy moments and fun gross-out gags. This isn’t a film that will appeal to everyone, but if you like your sea creature based DNA mutant movies nice and weird Soft Matter is a fine choice.