Friday, December 8, 2017

Dr. Who and the Daleks

Dr. Who and the Daleks
Gordon Flemying

Doctor Who, the television show, is a global icon that finds its popularity ebbing and flowing over the decades, but in the mid-1960s, its most popular villains, the Daleks, nearly eclipsed the show itself. Dalekmania ran wild in the streets (of Great Britain anyway) and kids were more than happy to pretend that they were murderous mutants rolling around in private tanks. Then again, who wouldn’t? The creators of Dr. Who and the Daleks elected to remake the television program’s initial encounter with the Daleks as a standalone film. It is difficult to separate Dr. Who and the Daleks from its source material, but I will try to review it as its own entity rather than as a footnote in a massive global property.

"I don't know why they call this a Hitachi Magic Wand,
it operates on solid scientific principals."
Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) is an absent-minded inventor who has created a vehicle called a T.A.R.D.I.S. This device can travel in time as well as in space and is bizarrely housed inside of police box that is larger inside than it is outside. Dr. Who along with his granddaughters Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara, and Barbara’s bumbling boyfriend, Ian (Roy Castle) find themselves launched into a far-flung radioactive world called Skaro, where two groups of mutants are struggling for survival. One group are the beautiful Thals, the other are meaning machine beings known as The Daleks.

It is without a doubt that Dr. Who and Daleks is aimed primarily at young children eager to see their favorite monsters make the leap to the full-color big screen. On that level it succeeds, nearly every scene is awash in lurid psychedelic color. The Daleks themselves are big, bright and shiny. They feature prominently and often lend themselves to some great screen composition by using their rigid shapes and fluid movements against the strange backdrop of their futuristic city. That said, they are a little too much of a good thing. Lengthy scenes of the Daleks taking in their monotonous electronic voices ruin much of their menace and their sinister method of execution is apparently a fire extinguisher.

The other inhabitants of Skaro, the Thals, are much less impressive, looking more like humans with shiny blonde wigs and a serious eyeshadow addiction.  Nobody is watching this movie for the Thals, but they shouldn’t feel like an afterthought. You could lift them out of this story entirely and it wouldn’t change much of the story at all.

Peter Cushing turns in a whimsical performance as Dr. Who. It is obvious he is taking delight in doing something more light-hearted in the face of his usual grim work in horror films. Jennie Linden and Roberta Tovey are fine as Barbara and Susan, albeit saddled with uninteresting roles. Roy Caste’s Ian is nominally the comic relief, but his mugging and pratfalls irritate rather amuse. I wouldn’t have been upset to see the Daleks give him a couple blasts from their fire extinguishers guns.

Dr. Who and the Daleks is a big colorful spectacle. There are some genuinely fun and beautiful looking moments, but it can’t overcome a listless plot and several redundant and annoying characters. Still, if you are looking for some featherweight adventure is not a bad way to travel through time.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
(aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti)
Jorge Grau

Enda (Cristina Galb√≥), while on the way to see her troubled sister, manages to damage the motorcycle of a man named George (Ray Lovelock). George demands a ride home in her car. Eventually, the two end up at Edna’s sister’s house, but not before they see a group of men operating some strange machinery in a field, and Edna is attacked by a dirty figure who vanishes soon afterward. Before long, the dead are stumbling about, and the police are blaming George for the number of eviscerated corpses that are showing up around town.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie sports some unusual zombies.  The film proposes a scientific reason for the dead to rise, but then turns around and gives them some seemingly supernatural powers. Sure, they shamble around and moan, they are also immensely strong, use tools, and don’t show up in photographs. They can even transfer unlife to other corpses via blood. Night of the Living Dead (1968)  gave cinema a set of zombie rules that would later be cemented in popular culture by Dawn of the Dead (1978). So, with this film falling in between those two, its zombie rules have a little more wiggle room, and its monsters are more unpredictable and strange. Throw in a (living) homicidal baby and you got yourself a pretty weird zombie movie.

You are the most irritating leather daddy I have ever met.
These eerie creatures are matched only by the misty dourness of their setting. Most of the film is set at damp hilly locations in the throes of fall. Places feel isolated to the point of being haunted. The film’s steady yet never hurried pace combines with these settings to create an atmosphere that feels almost gothic yet still modern (well, modern for 1974). The attention paid to the mood of the film does a lot of the work to elevate from being just another walking corpse movie.

The two leads are atypical as well. George is a whirlwind of machismo and pushiness that must have passed for charming several decades ago, but now just feels needlessly aggressive.  Edna is more or less a passive character through much of the film, but she is at least given some direction by having to deal with her drug-addled sister, Katie (Jeannine Mestre). Once the zombies start attacking more often, our leads have very little time to do anything but run, try, and piece together what is happening.

These hips are going to go right to my hips.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie draws heavily from Night of the Living Dead for its opening and closing moments, but it retains an identity all its own. The score is a mix of very traditional sounding spooky organ music while occasionally segueing into something funkier. The score never matches the excesses of the film, but it does manage to tie everything together well enough.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is an extremely effective and enjoyable zombie movie that manages to munch guts in a style all its own. This is one well worth digging up.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Return

The Return
Greydon Clark

The Return seems to want to capitalize on a few fads at the same time.  Interest in alien abductions and cattle mutilations continued to be strong in the early 1980s, although the whole phenomenon of UFOs was taking on a much more sinister turn thanks to a strong dose of cold war paranoia, and a view of a nuclear future that was so dire even the aliens weren’t going to save us from ourselves. A much lighter fad, thanks to the incredible success of Smokey and the Bandit (1977) among other films, was the public’s desire to see good 'ole boy American southerners and some car chases. The Return happily indulges both these things.

What The Return doesn’t indulge in is much of plot. Kids are picked and deposited by a flying saucer, and twenty-five years later, unbeknownst to our characters, a string of cattle mutilations draws these people back together again. That’s about it. The movie tries to build a little mystery around the connection between Jennifer (Cybil Shepard) and Wayne (Jean-Michael Vincent), but it is obvious what that connection is. The Return does sport an unusually strong cast including Raymond Burr, Martin Landau, and Vincent Schiavelli. Martin Landau appears to having the most of fun out the entire cast, and I would have enjoyed seeing his bumbling sheriff handling the case on his own.

Laser hair removal can be quite painful.
Speaking of bumbling, one of the irritating elements of The Return is that it forces the local cattle baron’s family to be so terminally stupid that they think Jennifer’s scientific instruments (little black boxes with lights and an antenna), are behind the string of cattle deaths. Somehow a blinking box is causing cows to eviscerate themselves and core out their own buttholes. That doesn’t exactly sell them as a threat. On top of that the alien plot to butcher the local livestock and a few townsfolk, doesn’t make much sense either. In an film with an alien presence, it’s fine for the motives of these beings to not make sense to us, they are alien after all, but in The Return it feels like they have no motive at all, they just really like cow bits.

The Return does show some pretty grisly murders, and I was surprised at how graphic they were.  The killing implement owes more than a little to lightsabers, just as nearly all of the scenes of the UFO could have been lifted straight out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Still, they are competently made and it’s always a treat to see well done practical effects. Those who come into this film hoping for some bug-eyed aliens or horrors from beyond space are going to feel disappointed; no actual aliens make an on screen appearance.

Moonlighting 2099
The Return isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either. It is a middle-of-the-road, alien movie with some tacked-on car chases and just enough of a slasher vibe to make it a little more interesting. You might watch it once, but I doubt you’ll return to it.

Friday, November 17, 2017

UFO Kidnapped

UFO Kidnapped
Geoffrey Darby

Back in early days of Nickelodeon, the cable channel had not yet clamped down on a particular formula for its programming.  At the time much of its output consisted mainly of imported shows and reruns. One of its early hits, and the show really defined Nickelodeon, was the Canadian sketch comedy show You Can’t Do That on Television. It was the first thing that was a bonafide hit for the channel. It was where Nickelodeon’s green slime fetish came from, which is still occasionally seen today over thirty years later. Nickelodeon also brought over some repackaged science fiction: The Tomorrow People, The Third Eye, and the TV movie/pilot for UFO Kidnapped, which was both an SF show, and from the creators of You Can’t Do That on Television. It seemed a surefire success, but it was never picked up as a series.

Sam Smythe (Les Lye) is a would-be burglar who is scooped up by a green ball of light emitted by a mysterious disc shaped craft. Nearby, two boys, Alasdair (Alasdair Gillis) and Kevin (Kevin Kubusheskie), along with their dog are transported away too. On board, the boys discover that they are the prisoners/pets of a couple of lumpy aliens called the Shandrillas. They also meet Klea (Klea Scott), a young woman in Victorian age dress who has been a guest of the aliens for some time. Together, along with Sam, a couple telepathic of mini-Wookies, and a horned devil-boy, they must find a way to elude their captors and get home.
The Assheadians of Altair VI
UFO Kidnapped is an SF adventure story that treats its young audience with respect. It throws out a number of concepts (aliens, black holes, time travel, parallel universes, rooms formed by thought, relativistic speeds, etc.) in a short amount of time and it expects the viewers to keep up. The children are bright without falling into the trap of making them wunderkinds. Sam is the only adult human of note in the whole show, and at first he’s bumbling and just a little dangerous, but he shows some nobility by the end which is more characterization than I expected.

UFO Kidnapped was a low budget television production from early 1980s, so the special effects are not astounding, but they are made with care. The models and the composite shotswork better than you can imagine from such a production. The alien make-up and costuming is actually good and a cut above some movies of the time. The Shandrillas look like the This Island Earth (1955) Mutant’s distant cousins. I had concerns that the Loolis (red-nosed hairy telepaths) were going to be cloyingly cute, but they are used sparingly enough to keep from becoming annoying.

"OK, that's close enough you smell like beef jerky on a wet carpet."
Why UFO Kidnapped was not picked up for series, I am not sure. It may have been too expensive a prospect for Nickelodeon. It has never been officially released, but there is a VHS sourced version available on YouTube. UFO Kidnapped is a weird footnote in children’s shows, SF, and Canadian productions. It’s definitely worth 51 minutes of your time.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Robert Emenegger, Allan Sandler

A few aliens in shining silver suits… (or they are the silver suits?), abduct a bunch of middle-aged people after carefully classifying them by skin color (the aliens must be racists…). These people wake up in a run-down building and find themselves not only having to contend with various tests performed by the aliens, but also with each other. The aliens are difficult to communicate with, and the people are jerks who can't get along. Things look very dim indeed for our heroes.

Much like The Killings at Outpost Zeta (1980) and Warp Speed (1981), from the same directors, Laboratory is a mix of low-cost visuals, questionable acting, and some chunky analog synthesizer sounds. Playing up the fascination with alien abductions, Laboratory forgoes most of the tropes associated with these kinds of stories and creates its own aesthetic of sorts. Shining discs from space are replaced with glowing orange blobs, lanky grey aliens are forsworn instead for shiny diamond encrusted disco monsters, the strange clinical interior of a spacecraft is replaced with an abandoned dorm, and anal probing makes way for stomach needles.

The story of Laboratory is extremely thin; people are abducted and run through weird tests by aliens. That is about it. There are not any big twists. The alien’s motivations are called into question, and there seems to be a moment when they turn from something sinister towards something more like beneficent space-brothers who are looking out for us. This is not really capitalized on, and for all the revelations that these creatures might not be as evil as advertised; they are still callous and more than a little cruel.

"Oh my gosh, UFO: Kidnapped is on!"
This kind of story can survive through strong characters and performances.  Sadly, there isn’t much of either to be found. The acting ranges from serviceable to irritating, while the characters themselves hover around annoying with occasional forays into, ‘Please get killed soon.’ Everyone seems relentlessly antagonistic. Better writing would show this as happening because of a confined space and severe stress, but it never comes across this way. All evidence points to some aliens just wanting to put a bunch of assholes in a room together and watch them explode.

One of my favorite aspects of these Emenegger and Sandler films is the analog synth soundtrack. Laboratory doesn’t seem to have quite as much music as some of their other films, but there are still some very eerie atonal sounds that enhance the alien and the strange situation our characters find themselves dealing with.

"Welcome, Steve, to the future... THE DISCO FUTURE."
If you are into alien abduction stories, this one is worth viewing for how atypical it can be. If you like other Emenegger and Sandler movies, this one lacks some of the finer points of their low budget, early 1980s aesthetic, but there are some interesting moments. If you are fan of annoying people acting out and being weirdly cruel to other annoying people, this just might be the perfect movie for you.

Friday, November 3, 2017

31 Monsters

I decided to make a monster card every day in October leading up to Halloween. Here they all are! Click on and you will be take to a larger image and short write-up of the monster in question!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 Monsters #31 - The Bride

The Bride is the iconic figure behind the The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). She is the best kind of monster: horrific, tragic, sympathetic, yet still other. It is a testament to her potency as a monstrous figure in that she has an extremely brief amount of screen-time in the actual film, but she has left an indelible mark on popular culture.

Likes: Staying dead
Dislikes: Arranged marriages

Happy Halloween from Outpost Zeta!