Drashigs In Amber
The Carnival Of Monsters
UK Air date: January - February 1973
BBC Blu Ray Zone B
The Carnival Of Monsters was the second story of the tenth series of Doctor Who and, although I would have seen it when I was five years old, this is not one of the third Doctor’s adventures which stuck in my mind at that young age... as much as, say, the story introducing the Sea Devils or the Series Ten closing story The Green Death, with its giant maggots (reviewed by me on DVD here). Of course, I’d read the 60 or so Target novelisations I had at the time (on numerous occasions for many of them) and this was one I must have read at least a feew times. However, this one was very much fresher in my memory in 1981 because it was one of two stories chosen (the other being the previous serial, The Three Doctors, reviewed here) to highlight Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in the special series of repeats that year called The Five Faces Of Doctor Who... which was a bit of a cheat at the time because this limited the Tom Baker repeat to being his final story, Logopolis (the only one made to briefly feature the face of the fifth Doctor at the end of the last episode before his official, proper start on the show a month or two after the broadcast of this special set of broadcasts). I remember recording all the shows on blank audio cassettes so I could listen to them again for years afterwards... microphone crammed up against the television set (these were the days before video cassettes remember). Even so, it was still not that fresh in my mind as I re-watched the story on the new Blu Ray presentation from the BBC.
The story involves a carnival showman Zorg (played wonderfully by Leslie Dwyer) and his assistant Shirna (played by Cheryl Hall), who arrive on an up-tight planet of political unrest with their sideshow attraction, The Scope. This contains miniaturised living forms taken from their own environments without their knowledge and set to replay little dramas in replica settings of their native worlds, to be gawked at by those outside on a view screen. A bit like a mini zoo crossed with an old What The Butler Saw kind of attraction.
Meanwhile, if you’ll remember the events of the last story prior to this, for his help in the defeat of Omega, the Timelords had ended the Doctor’s exile on Earth and so this is the first time since the Troughton era that he was allowed to properly fly his TARDIS to other worlds (and, more to the point as far as the BBC is concerned... more expensive locations which had to be built to look like other worlds again). However, true to what would become form in the show, The Doctor is completely unable to navigate the TARDIS consistently or correctly and so, instead of taking popular companion Jo Grant (played by the lovely Katy Manning) to Metebelis 3 as he’d intended (he’d get there eventually), the two wind up on a ship in the 1920s in the Indian Ocean, just as it’s about to be attacked by a sea monster. Of course, after a while they realise, due to the repeat action resets of the brainwashed people on the ship, that they are in a peep show and break through the seal to the artificial environments in the scope, crawling from world to world as they try to find their way out of the machine. Also in the scope are some giant, hand puppet style monsters called Drashigs, which you are never really that worried about eating them because of the limitations of the special effects at the time and, seen briefly on screen only, the Ogrons (who were used as military enforcers by the Daleks in this era of the show, if I remember rightly) plus, in their only appearance in a Pertwee episode prior to his own reappearance in The Five Doctors, some Cybermen.
Also on the crew of the ship in the 1920s is one Lt John Andrews, who is played here by Ian Marter, who would just a couple of years later become a regular on the show for the first season or two of Tom Baker's reign, as co-companion Harry Sullivan (he would also write a few of the Target novelisations before his untimely death). He does very well here as a stubborn, blundering authority figure as he tries to imprison his stowaways every time his story resets itself.
Meanwhile, on the planet on which the Scope has arrived, the political situation with allowing aliens there for the first time could lead to an incident and blow up into a war. It’s just enough to bolster up a simplistic tale which, honestly, is one of the better stories of the show from those years. It’s fairly fast paced, even if it looks a little padded at times and, while the cliffhanger chapter endings are not exactly terrifying, it’s certainly very entertaining and I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed looking at this one again. It’s also very well acted and the costumes of Zorg and Zirna are definitely something to write home about and make Pertwee’s Doctor, wearing his green velvet jacket and proper frilly shirt (which we all should be wearing these days, I love these shirts) look positively under dressed. It also features Pertwee making prominent use of his sonic screwdriver to blow up clods of Earth in front of him in order to try and scare the Drashigs off, in one nice sequence. The sets look kind of cheap, for the most part but, you kinda expect that with Doctor Who and you may, by this point, be disappointed if they didn’t look like they were assembled by the Blue Peter team the night before.
Not a heck of a lot to say about this one, to be sure but, still, an entertaining slice of early 1970s UK science fiction tele-fantasy which certainly shows off the heroic and unquestionable authority of Pertwee’s version of The Doctor and perhaps this is one of the reasons why The Carnival Of Monsters was chosen to be part of the ‘Five Faces’ celebration. There’s a certain quaint and comfortable vibe to the story and this is always a winner for this kind of show.
Monday, 28 February 2022
Sunday, 27 February 2022
The Case Of The
The Falcon Takes Over
Directed by Irving Reis
RKO/Warner Archive DVD Region 1
Well, this is the first of a kind of sea change for The Falcon movies (yeah... but just wait until we get to the next one). The second movie, A Date With The Falcon (reviewed here), had already jettisoned the stories being based on the original short fiction while just retaining the character (pretty much like the majority of the Bond movies but at least Hollywood had a decent excuse in this instance). This one also gets rid of The Falcon's fiancé. The last one wrapped up with The Falcon (played by George Sanders) on a plane with his side kick Goldy (played by Allen Jenkins) and his girlfriend (played by Wendy Barrie) on a plane and set to land at another town and get married. Well, for some reason, this one picks up back in New York and it’s said that The Falcon’s fiancé is... out of town. Which makes no sense in terms of how the last one ended but, well, I don’t think she’s coming back to be honest because Barrie, nor the character, seem to have returned for the next one (and given how events transpire in the next one, if memory serves, then that was her last chance to return in the same capacity... but we’ll get to that when we come to it).
So anyhow, this leaves The Falcon and Goldy free to make the life of James Gleason as Inspector Mike O'Hara a misery again, as Gay Lawrence (alias The Falcon) gets accidentally embroiled in another case. And not just anybody’s case, as it happens... Phillip Marlowe’s case, in fact. Not that Marlowe is in this movie... The Falcon is standing in for him. In fact, this film is the first movie version (pre-dating Murder My Sweet by two years) of Raymond Chandler’s famous Marlowe tale Farewell My Lovely. It’s nowhere near as good as the Dick Powell version, of course... however, this is a vehicle for the title character so a lot of the plot of that one is jettisoned too.
In this version we have Ward Bond playing the Moose Malloy character who gets so many people in trouble on the trail of his ‘sweetheart’, the evil Velma. We also have a young, ‘would be’ reporter standing in as The Falcon’s main female interest in this one, played by Lynn Bari. She’s pretty good in this and basically does all the kind of things Wendy Barrie was doing in the previous two movies to an extent but, at least in this one, not everybody ends up in jail (only Goldy for a short while).
There’s not an awful lot to say about this movie, to be fair. The actors are all doing fine in their formulaic roles and the film breezes along at just over an hour. Sanders does a nice turn when he’s pretending to be drunk to stop himself being killed by Moose at one point. Of further note is Helen Gilbert in the role of Diana Kenyon. It’s easy to figure out just who she really is in this whole ‘mystery’ but, I have to say, she has a real sexual ‘femme fatale’ presence in this and I’m really surprised she only had 18 films to her credit... I think she shows real star quality here.
The film is not nearly as action packed as the last movie and, although there are a lot of moments of broad humour, it's not nearly as fast paced either which, considering this story’s source, is not completely unsurprising. People aren’t dying every five minutes in this one because the story is more convoluted than that. Well, it’s not because the writers aren't trying hard to simplify it to the extent that, well, it doesn’t really play out in as interesting way as the proper, future adaptations of the book, for sure.
And that’s me done again already with this one. A very good friend of mine, whenever I write a review which I think is way too short, always tells me that ‘short’ is good. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that but I think in the case of some of my 13 reviews of The Falcon series (more coming soon), short will have to do. The movies themselves are extremely short and, well, this one and probably many more, don’t have much of interest to note. So apologies if you feel I’ve given The Falcon Takes Over short shrift but... I don’t have much of anything else to say about it. It’s a light, breezy and reasonably entertaining movie with another solid performance by George Sanders in the title role. A role which he would relinquish at some point into the running time of the next movie but, like I said before, I’ll get to that one soon.
Wednesday, 23 February 2022
Attack Of The
Austria 2016 Directed by Dominik Hartl
ScreenBound Blu Ray Zone B
Warning: Some slight plot spoilers.
Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies is one of those blind buys I found going for a reasonable price a few years ago and thought, yeah, genius title. Of course, I always thought Lederhosen were some kind of Swiss frilly undergarment so it’s not quite the film I was expecting but, yeah, this is still a pretty solid entry into the ‘zombie comedy’ genre... following in the footsteps of movies such as Dead Snow and its sequel (reviewed here).
The film starts of strongly with a pulse beat on the score by Paul Gallister which is, I believe, deliberately reminiscent of the score to John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing (reviewed here) and a snowmobile riding around the mountain on which the entire movie is set. The snowboarder finds a zombie deer eating a human hand (I’m pretty sure the same prop hand is re-used later in the movie) and then we get the opening credits before meeting some of the main characters.
It mostly follows the exploits of Branka (played by Gabriela Marcinková), her boyfriend Steve (played by Laurie Calvert)... a snowboarder who she has dumped because of a fairly funny incident shown near the start of the movie... and their snowboarding friend Josh (played by Oscar Dyekjær Giese). But they are stranded on top of a mountain in a bar with the landlady Rita (played brilliantly by Margarete Tiesel) and a bunch of zombie humans and zombie deer.
And its the usual comedy mayhem that these films do so well, coupling silly humour with over the top gore as the young and old protagonists work together to violently dispose of the zombie threat... not without sacrifice. And, like other movies, it uses the extreme nature of the violence to help elicit some of those laughs but, unlike many, it’s also really well shot. The acting is great but the film is also beautifully lit with red and green lightning, which looks fantastic on the snow. And the compositions are quite clean and crisply defined, often using slow, fluid camera movements which draw the viewer in.
The lead characters of Branka and Steve also have really good chemistry and you’ll definitely be rooting for them to survive their encounter on the mountain. There are some nice set ups with things like one of them being caught in a bear trap while the zombie menace is right on them or another sequence where a character, I‘m not saying which, keeps getting hampered in his actions as a zombie by the undignified way in which Tina manages to damage him.
The film is quite pacey and even uses those ‘dots on a map’ moments to show where some of the characters are at certain points in the tale, which have their own charm and use multi-graphic representations when called for. They’re nicely done and there are even a few... not many but a few... surprises along the way. For instance, when Tina accidentally incapacitates a zombie by cutting him and having his innards unwind onto the floor, the pull also takes his eyeballs and teeth with it so, we’re left with a pile of intestines with a smiley face that’s trying to talk on the floor...which was a humorous touch in a film filled with much to laugh at.
Another great moment, long after the main protagonists have discovered that the zombies are mesmerised by music and stop to dance to the rhythm whenever anything is playing, is where a montage sequence of shots of a snowboarding character with various limbs and body parts flying up in the air is set to Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz. There’s another little set piece where the romance of two of the characters come to the fore and they find themselves dancing in a circle of zombies... so yeah, there are some nice things going on in this movie.
And that’s that. I’m sorry this is such a short review but, honestly, I haven’t much to say about Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies because it doesn’t get much of anything wrong, is very entertaining and makes good use of its small budget. Definitely a great movie to put on for a drunken, zombie marathon with friends, I would say. Can imagine it goes down well at horror festivals too. Certainly one I’d recommend to any fans of the genre and something I may well find myself revisiting at some point.
Tuesday, 22 February 2022
Behind The Scenes
At The Internet
by Andrew Blum
Penguin Books ISBN: 9780141049090
Just a very short review of a book I thought looked pretty interesting. Tubes, subtitled Behind The Scenes At The Internet (on my Penguin edition, at least), is one man’s journey to find, see and chart the physical space that is the internet. Yes, I know that sounds like an odd thing to want to do (which is obviously what drew me to it) but this whole thing started when Andrew Blum’s internet went down. The culprit, as it turned out, was one of the squirrels near his garden, chewing through a magic cable. Inside his mind he tried to square the slow moving, sometimes non-existent internet signal he was getting as having been caused by something in the physical world. After all, isn’t the internet, aka cyberspace, an abstract brain made up of light and information? Well, it is and it isn’t. Everything, obviously, has to be beholden to a physical housing at some point, despite the fact that our computers and phones aren’t actually hard wired to the wall for a signal anymore. It’s still a vast physical network... or at least that was my understanding of it.
One of the first things I discovered as I read his two year, globe hopping journey to fix the internet into physical space in his mind was that it’s not one big network at all... it’s lots of little networks joined together to each other, owned by different companies leasing or building the physical connections with huge amounts of money involved.
So the book is very much a travelogue of a virtual world which is, in itself, a virtual journey (especially if you’re reading it on a kindle I guess... I prefer paper myself) of the physical space which allows the everyday virtual journey across the sea of information possible... which the majority of the population of the planet must travel every day.
Now, anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I’m not even remotely technically savvy. So while many have said this account of the boxes, cables, internet exchanges etc is done in laymens’ terms... I’d have to beg to differ. There was a lot in this book that, despite having looked over these boxes and flashing lights in the place where I worked once... well... there was a lot I didn’t understand.
Luckily, the writing style of Mr. Blum was friendly and intriguing enough to tide me over the slightly brow distorting moments which came up and, I have to confess, I loved that he started his journey with a print firm in Milwaukee where, quite literally, an expensive map of the internet was being produced. Ink hitting blanket rollers, hitting paper is something I can at least understand.
Along the journey I discovered little gems of facts about the first ‘box’ at the University Of California in 1969, the Interface Message Processor (IMO), a little bit about packet switching, the transition from Network Control Protocol (NCP) to Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP - the essential gateway languages to allow various networks to talk to each other), got to virtually meet a lot of the people on the ground who really keep the internet afloat (plus their managing directors etc) and even got some descriptions of how the cables in the sea are fixed, maintained and what happens to them when they have crossed the ocean and landed on a beach somewhere.
I sucked up a description of the Docklands here in the UK being compared to J. G. Ballard’s novel High Rise and I learned how friendly a lot of these places in different areas of the world are... and just how less than friendly, obstructive and uninviting Google is. I learned about security systems and locations so that, if I were a terrorist, I could probably target some of the most important places on the planet to knock out... if I wanted to bring about the collapse of a civilisation now pretty reliant on the internet to exist (don’t try this one at home kiddies) and, above all, I got the reminder that the internet may be a hive mind but behind all the cables, connectors, wires, lights and fibres... it’s still a place which is inhabited by humans on the inside and maintained painstakingly with hard physical labour by humans on the outside too.
So yeah, while I struggled with parts (due to my own technical ignorance and through absolutely no fault of the writer), I did find Tubes - Behind The Scenes At The Internet to be a thought provoking and interesting book to read. I shall perhaps, every now and again when I’m waiting for a page to load up on my computer, hopefully remember to give a thought to the unbelievable physical journey the various bits of data are rushing through to keep me engaged with any of my internet activities, such as this blog for instance. If I had one criticism it’s that I would have liked an oversized coffee table version with loads of pictures of the various physical spaces and objects the author journeyed to, so I could fix them more easily in my mind but, barring that, this one’s definitely worth checking out if you are even remotely interested in how the thriving internet brain of the world is actually manifested in real life. A nice little tome to give some time to, I think.
Monday, 21 February 2022
When Iris Eyes
Gamera 3 - Revenge Of Iris
aka Jashin kakusei
Directed by Shûsuke Kaneko
Daiei/Toho Arrow Films
Blu Ray Zone B
Gamera 3 - Revenge Of Iris is the third and final part of the rebooted Gamera trilogy from the 1990s. Three of the regular characters return, with Shinobu Nakayama reprising the role she had in the first chapter, Yukijirô Hotaru as the comedy relief (former police inspector turned brewery worker from the previous two films) and, reprising her own role for a third time for... roughly the final third of the picture... is Steven Seagal’s daughter, Ayako Fujitani.
Fujitani’s character had her psychic bond with Gamera shattered in the previous movie but she’s kind of advising on this one because a new protagonist/antagonist played by Ai Maeda has a psychic link with the giant monster threat in this movie, who she names Iris after her cat. The cat and both her parents were killed when Gamera accidentally stepped on her house in the first movie, something we are told in a black and white footage continuation of the opening credits. Following on from a wonderful pre-credits sequence where a submarine style vessel finds loads of different Gamera skeletons on the ocean floor, those opening credits use scenes from Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe in monochrome and serves two purposes. One, it reminds audiences of Shinobu Nakayama’s character and two, it also reminds us of the multiple Gyaos monsters who are also in this film, used by the writers to a different end.
The first purpose of the Gyaos returning is so they can have a fight with Gamera early on in the picture. This is kind of needed because, well, Gamera is barely in the film until the last half an hour. The other reason is it gives a continued threat to mankind, that Gamera can go on fighting after the final credits have rolled. The story mostly deals with the creature called Iris, who is an imprisoned entity and old guardian of the south of Japan. A family have to keep it free from re-hatching and growing from generation to generation but, alas, the new Gamera hating character makes sure it hatches and then bonds with it to fight Gamera, who she hates.
And that’s about all I’m saying about the plot other than, yeah, this really does seem like a film of two halves. On the one hand we have a build up story for the first hour which is among the best in the series of Gamera films, including the majority of the Showa era. I was really enjoying it and was looking forward to seeing Gamera and Iris square of in the inevitable final fight. And it’s at this point that my problems with the movie began.
Yes, the special effects look great and somewhat spectacular but, honestly, what’s the point of all that spectacle if you can’t follow the action. The monster fight scenes in this were confusing me no end. I had a lot of trouble, due to the editing and the way it was filmed, trying to figure out just what was going on. To the point that, I was waiting for Iris to make another pass at Gamera before I realised that Gamera had already killed the beast and I hadn’t even noticed it. Which is kinda bad, right?
And it’s such a shame because the story is great and the performers are all so brilliant in this. Even the score by Kow Otani, which occasionally feels like something John Barry might have done for a mid to late 1970s Bond movie, sounds pretty great. The kaiju battles, though, are really disappointing and I had a hard time working up any enthusiasm as the ending of the movie approached (way before I expected it).
One nice moment occurs near the start of the film when half a small village community has been wiped out. A lady with a rake comes out of her hut and bashes up a Gyaos body hard. Her clothes, attitude and rake all reminded me of a similar scene in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, when the ancient lady villager takes it upon herself to kill the captured bandit. I don’t know if this scene here was a direct homage to the 1950s film but, it would be nice if it were.
It’s a shame that a fourth film to this particular era of movies was not put into production because, while Gamera destroys his foe, he suddenly has a gazillion Gyaos coming after him and, well, we are left on a kind of cliffhanger. Which is a shame but, what can you do? All in all, despite my muddled feelings from the monster fights, Gamera 3 - Revenge Of Iris is a pretty good take on the giant turtle, who keeps his trademark roar in this one, although, once again, he looks a lot less cute and more meaner than his Showa era incarnations. Definitely a good one to see if you’re a fan of the series but no good as a jumping on point, as it references the previous two films quite a lot.
Sunday, 20 February 2022
Walks Among Us
USA 1956 Directed by John Sherwood
Universal Blu Ray Zone A
John Sherwood directed the third and final of the Creature From The Black Lagoon trilogy. He would go on to shoot a much more interesting monster B-movie the following year, The Monolith Monsters but I have to say that, after the amazing first film in the Creature franchise (reviewed here) and the not so terrible follow up called Revenge Of The Creature (admittedly an aquatic retread of King Kong in a way, reviewed by me here), The Creature Walks Among Us is a pretty terrible movie and a terrible swan song for the creature who has not, to date, made a reappearance other than in a guest spot on the old Abbott And Costello TV show... despite his iconic status as one of the ‘big five’ classic Universal monsters.
There have actually been a few attempts to resurrect the character over the years, including the original script that eventually metamorphosised into the second of the Jaws sequels, Jaws 3D. Alas, the closest thing we’ve had is Guillermo del Toro's wonderful homage to the character, The Shape Of Water (reviewed here) but... well, lets just say that there seems to be an attempt to develop a new Creature movie every decade or so and I keep my finger crossed that, some day, the Gill Man will swim and claw his way back to the silver screen.
However, at time of writing, this is the last of the official Gill Man movies and, like I said, it’s a shame that it turned out the way it did.
The film stars two B-movie sci-fi names of note playing the two genetics professors of the film, Dr. Thomas Morgan played by Rex Reason and Dr. William Barton played by Jeff Morrow. Barton finances a mission to capture the creature for his own twisted purposes and he takes an expedition through Florida, where the creature was last seen at the end of Revenge Of The Creature. However, Barton is a troubled fellow. Not only does he want to use the Gill Man to experiment on in an attempt to mutate mankind into creatures that don’t have to rely on oxygen to breathe so they can go into space (if I’m understanding this movie properly) but also he has a lot of problems with his wife, Marcia, played by female lead Leigh Snowden. In fact she is caught between having feelings for Dr. Morgan and also being constantly hassled for sexual attention by one of the other members of Barton’s team. This causes friction and jealousy galore until Barton murders a guy for his unwanted attention but... I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anyway, in the struggle to capture the Gill Man, it ends up accidentally dousing itself in paraffin and when Barton throws a flaming lamp at it, it goes up like a torch. They take it back to the ship but it’s outer skin has burned off and they have to perform surgery to get the creature’s auxiliary lungs, which can breathe air, to take over from its gills, which are now gone. He is then taken away to Barton’s compound, now unable to breathe the water without dying and as fodder for experimental research.
Alas, the big problem with this film is not its story, at least they were trying something different, it’s the fact that the creature of the title, without its regular visage designed by Millicent Patrick that audiences had grown to love, looks pretty rubbish in comparison to it’s original, beautiful look. It looks ugly and I’d take a bet and say that I reckon the costume design on this version is probably closer to one of the rejected concepts for the first movie. Either way, it’s like promising the audience a Superman movie, taking him away after a half an hour and then replacing him with some other guy in a dodgy cape. It doesn’t really work and, although I love the idea that he wears clothes in this... when the scientists realise his overly sensitive, evolving to human skin needs protection... it would have been great to see the original Gill Man walking around like this... not some ‘creature wannabe’ stand in. I mean, the make up isn’t terrible and certainly you still feel a lot of compassion for the creature, who is actually shown to be non-violent to those not threatening him... but I’m sure, like me, most people miss the original version of the monster after his few quick scenes in this film, before the fiery accident.
The film is put together well, the acting is good and Jeff Morrow makes for a genuinely unsympathetic character who wants to control his uninterested wife... he even plays him very well in a scene where he gets a little tipsy. However, he’s definitely the ‘human villain’ of the piece and, when he murders an ‘admirer’ of his wife and tries to put the body in the creature’s cage (the creature witnesses the murder) in order to blame the death on the titular beast... I’m sure most people feel no regret when the gill man breaks out and gives Barton his deadly ‘just dessert’.
The music in this is interesting. There’s definitely some re-use from the previous films and the uncredited team of Irvin Girtz, Henry Mancini and Heinz Roemheld have a good musical presence but, I’m pretty sure there’s at least a cue or two which have been changed and re-recorded for this film because one of them has what sounds like a slow tempo, slightly more sinister version of the famous three note Creature statement as part of its musical DNA. So, I reckon somebody was actually properly working on the music for this sequel rather than the studio just retracking the music for the entire thing. And, yes, that bass line reminiscent of what would later be associated with John Williams' famous Jaws theme is again prevalent in this one.
Other than all that though, I don’t really have a whole lot else to say about The Creature Walks Among Us. It’s certainly quite watchable but I still feel the pain of that original creature costume being absent from a lot of the running time. It certainly gives what seems like a definitive ending to the three films, with the creature wandering back to the sea where he will presumably drown... and that’s certainly a moving moment at the end. It’s just not a direction I would have liked the writers to go in and I think the fact that this was the last one in the series probably means I’m not the only one who felt like that. If you are into the title character then, of course, it’s a ‘must watch’ movie but, as a 1950s B-movie horror picture... well it’s interesting in the direction it goes but far from essential. It just doesn’t live up to the promise of the previous two pictures, I’m afraid.
Wednesday, 16 February 2022
The Hound Of
UK 1959 Directed by Terence Fisher
Hammer/Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
An overly comic book like ‘horror font’ is writ largely against James Bernard’s typical Hammer Horror sounding score, announcing the start of the famous studio’s production of what is probably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound Of The Baskervilles.
The film stars three stalwarts of Hammer films for this version of the classic... Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, André Morell as Dr. Watson and Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville, the young heir to the Baskerville fortune who is now living under the shadow of the family curse of the hound, after the recent death of the previous owner of Baskerville Manor. Cushing would, of course, play Holmes a few more times after this production in unrelated films and a TV show (as would Christopher Lee at least once) and Lee and Cushing are a great Hammer double act after they’d faced off as adversaries (of a sort) in the studio's first Frankenstein and Dracula movies (they would do it again four months later in the Hammer production of The Mummy). Morrell, however (one of the great TV incarnations of Professor Quatermass) did not apparently get on well with Lee and tended to avoid him on set.
The film starts with a ludicrous and almost unwatchably bad retelling of the Baskerville legend before finally bringing us up to present day... well, present day Victorian period... for the rest of the story, which is much better and far more entertaining than the first ten minutes or so of the movie. Now, it’s been a very long time since I read The Hound Of The Baskervilles (at least two decades) and, even with all the many movie adaptations of this particular story in the Holmes canon (this is the first to be shot in colour), I really couldn’t remember that much about the original tale. Even so, although it tends to hint the main plot points pretty well, as far as I can dimly recall a smattering of the events of the original, it seems to add its own deviations and explorations, presumably to pad the running time to feature length.
For instance, there’s a wonderful moment early on in the film where Baskerville survives an assassination attempt, thanks to Holmes, after someone has put a tarantula in one of his boots. I honestly don’t recall this scene being in the original... but it’s an entertaining moment, nonetheless.
The film rambles along agreeably at its own pace with top notch performances by all and sundry including a very naturalistic and relaxed performance by Lee, which sees him more subdued to the plot rather than his presence dominating the scenes he’s in... which is interesting. There are also fine turns by Marla Landi as the, possible, love interest for Lee’s character and Miles Malleson... well, just doing what he usually does and having his doddery old, likeably confused, Miles Malleson moments.
Regrettably, although Cushing does a fine Holmes and plays him in a most energetic, almost manic manner, he doesn’t don a fiendishly clever disguise with which to fool both the other characters and the audience as, say, Basil Rathbone might have done in his Holmes adventures. I’m convinced Cushing could have pulled off one of those master disguises in this though, if given half a chance. Also, it’s nice to see André Morell not, like many of his predecessors in the role, portraying Watson as some kind of a buffoon but as someone who Holmes has chosen to have as his companion in crime solving because he actually brings something to the party. Much as I love old Nigel Bruce’s decidedly foolish, comic relief version of Watson opposite Rathbone (and I still champion Bruce as the best), it’s nice to see the character being treated with a little more respect here.
The direction is nice and there are some nice frame designs, with Fisher favouring some unusual angles from high above the action in several scenes. Also, he makes great use of emphasising the depth of the shots through the use of different planes enhanced by foreground objects. For example, the one riveting moment in the ‘legend prelude’ is where a lady is hiding behind an arch in some ruins. The actor looking for her is in the main parts of the left of shot with the arch and her up close in the foreground right of the frame. Similarly, when the director pushes the depth again in a forest scene, the branches and leaves of a tree in the foreground of a shot mingle in with all the trees in the background to make a foreground centre space which you didn’t realise was farther away than the leaves on the tree on the right until a character walks behind them.
One very odd choice in two parts of the movie on the same set, out on the moors by a ruin, is to have the light coming from behind some structures shining a bright, almost fluorescent green like suddenly Mario Bava had somehow turned up on the set that day to perform the same task. It looks fantastic, of course, but there seems to be no natural way that lightning scheme could have come into play in the natural setting and it looks a bit ‘at odds’ with the rest of the shots in the movie.
I don’t have much more to say by way of this review other than to add that some of Bernard’s score to Dracula (aka Horror Of Dracula, reviewed here) is also apparently tracked into the movie too. If you’re a fan of any of the actors in this one, especially those in their capacity as Hammer veterans (although they weren’t quite that yet at this stage of their career), then this version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles is definitely one to add to your watch list. Three years later, Fisher would re-team with Lee for his own portrayal of Holmes in the West German/French/Italian krimi movie Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace (aka Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes) which I will be reviewing soon for this blog very soon.
Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Marry In Haste
A Date With The Falcon
Directed by Irving Reis
RKO/Warner Archive DVD Region 1
Warner: Some spoilers lurk within.
Released just three months after The Gay Falcon (reviewed here), which was the first film in this 13 movie series, A Date With The Falcon once again stars George Sanders as Gay Lawrence, Allen Jenkins as his sidekick Goldy and, contrary to what the muddleheaded IMDB has to say about the matter in their trivia section, Wendy Barrie is back as his fiancé Helen Reed. And this time, The Falcon and Helen are getting ever closer to tying the knot, if only Gay can make his rendezvous on time and take the agreed plane to cart them off to their wedding. But, of course, instead of catching the plane they are trying for... and much to Helen’s mounting ire during the course of the movie... the three become embroiled in another criminal adventure.
This is the first of many not based on the original short story by Michael Arlen (as the first film) but just using his character. However, in spite of the Hollywood tendency to spin their own yarn to suit the screen and mess things up, this one proves that the studio certainly knew their job here as it’s a much more pacier and fun film than the previous installment.
The plot involves an inventor, Waldo Sampson (played by Alec Craig), who can copy and manufacture diamonds which have exactly the same properties as real ones from which they cannot be told apart. The problem where he’s concerned, it turns out, is that he’s a ‘kindly inventor’ and has developed the formula to manufacture these as a cheap option for their use in industrial equipment like drill heads. Of course, this is not why criminals want both the formula and the man behind them and it isn’t long before Waldo is found dead... or is he? What most people don’t realise is that it’s only his twin brother who has been iced by ‘the bad guys’ and that the real Waldo has been kidnapped so the formula can be extracted from him and sold for a profit. Enter The Falcon, who finds himself accidentally involved in the case, despite trying to refuse Inspector Mike O’Hara, played by James Gleason. Something that both Helen and Goldy are a mite displeased about.
This one has quite a nice few touches that set it apart from a lot of the stuff going on in films I’ve seen from that period. Not that they’re necessarily unique, of course... just that I haven’t seen nearly enough films from this period, obviously...
One thing the story does, for instance, is have the criminals try to take out The Falcon, first by shooting at him and, when that fails, by kidnapping him as a deterrent in case he should decide to get involved. So, yeah, a kind of pro-active strategy because The Falcon’s former reputation precedes him and they want to take no chances. Thus they inevitably bring about their own future doom by involving him peripherally in the plot against his will. This is something, actually, that a lot of criminal gangs in the Doc Savage novels of the 1930s and 1940s used to try regularly, because Doc’s larger than life personality was such that if he ever got involved in their plot, their chances of carrying it out successfully would be pretty slim. So, yeah, it’s an old storytelling ruse for sure but I don’t remember it coming up too many times in the movies. It somehow feels a bit too convenient to me here, though.
The film rolls along at a breakneck pace too. The Falcon manages to get his kidnappers’ car pulled up by insulting the police in a neighbouring squad car and using their fury at him to arrest him and bring him safely out of the grasp of his captors. Once again, George Sanders shows a flair for a good comic turn and, in a later scene where he’s not concentrating on what he’s doing, perfectly times, along with Wendy Barrie, a moment where he manages to pour champagne on a table instead of in her glass without either of them noticing. This is shortly before the villains have him in their clutches once again.
As usual, his fiance gets him in even more trouble trying to get him out of it. For example, when he gets into a hotel room and finds the dead body purported to be that of the inventor, he clambers out onto the ledge outside a fifth floor hotel room to evade capture by the police when they arrive, only to have his waiting fiance on the street below make a scene and call attention to him, allowing the police to discover him. Which is a neat little thing right there... normally those ledge walk scenes in thrillers always work.
And, like the previous film, both Goldy and Helene both find themselves running afoul of the police in different situations and both end up under arrest while the police attempt to round up their number one suspect, The Falcon. Of course, all goes well at the end and, like the previous movie, everything comes out in the wash when all the guilty and innocent parties converge in the police station. This one doesn’t end up with a ‘new case’ dropping The Falcon’s way as the last film did and, that wasn’t picked up in this one anyway. Instead, we have a scene where Gay, Helen and Goldy are in a plane and on their way to their wedding destination. Whether the next film picks up from that I can’t remember (it’s been a few decades since I last watched these) but I’ll find out soon enough courtesy of Warner Archives’ two volume collection of the films in the series.
A Date With The Falcon has less stunning shot set ups in it compared to the prior movie but makes up for it with a wittier script, a lively and continually twisty plot and, of course, a nice ensemble of actors who have good chemistry together. Definitely a good time if you like 1940s mystery thrillers and I look forward to the next ones. It’s just a shame that George Sanders... oh no, wait, I’ll get to that in a couple of Falcon movie reviews’ time.
Monday, 14 February 2022
Grandmaster Bash And
The Fu-rious Strive
The Seven Grandmasters
aka Jue quan
Taiwan 1977 Directed by Joseph Kuo
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B
Well this is an interesting movie, for sure. I was gifted, this Christmas, with the new Cinematic Vengeance - Joseph Kuo Blu Ray boxed set from Eureka Masters Of cinema, something I wanted because... apart from some brief dalliances with some nice Shaw Brothers movies (and their artistic descendents) over the years... martial arts is not a genre of cinema I’ve followed that closely or bothered to educate myself much in. I guess I need to change that and this is my first stab at taking a look at this rich legacy, now being tackled by some of the UK boutique labels and slowly resurfacing from out of the back of pirate VHS and DVD-Rs which you could pick up in certain areas of London over the last few decades.
The Seven Grandmasters is a curious film as there is no pre-amble into it and a decidedly hasty exit from the story at the end. I mean, I’m used to many films starting with important sequences while the credits are playing but this one really is hasty, offering up what amounts to a dialogue sequence with the odd opening credit almost infiltrating it by stealth in what, to my Western eyes, seems a decidedly rushed manner.
This is not, however, a sign of questionable quality of the movie. Yes, it’s a low budget exploitation actioner but this in no way hides the fact that it’s a well crafted film which, I have to say, rarely gets boring. This one tells the story of a Grandmaster of Kung Fu who runs a fighting school. He is anonymously questioned/challenged as to his fighting credentials one day before he is due to retire. So he takes a few of his best students and starts touring China to challenge and fight various other Grandmasters to a friendly duel, one after the other, to reinforce his position so he can retire undefeated. So, yeah, within 20 minutes we have four spectacular fight scenes already. I don’t think there are actually seven Grandmasters in this but... maybe I was having trouble with my adding (to paraphrase a character from a completely different genre).
Thrown into the mix, Seven Samurai style, is a young man in almost a comic relief role, who desperately wants the master to train him... shunned but following around the small group until his charm and usefulness during trying circumstances leads to him being accepted as another student by the Grandmaster. After the one interminable training montage where the young man eventually exceeds the abilities of the other students, we come to a point where he finds out the master is the very man who killed his father... and has to try and kill him in a duel. But, soon after the duel starts, the real villain (a dead spit for Pai Mei in various other films... culminating in his Western film appearances in the Kill Bill movies) tries to kill them both and, between them, the two good guys conquer the villain before the film, without giving any pause or epilogue, just suddenly finishes.
And it’s quite brilliant in places (apart from the drawn out training montage, it has to be said). The influence of the fighting styles used in the film is easily evident in the number of big budget Hollywood movies which now seem to emulate this same stuff (I believe the fight choreographer from this one was tapped, many years later, to perform the same duties on The Matrix movies and it certainly shows in a lot of those kind of movies contemporary to it, too). So lots of dodging arms, legs and heads and the constant ‘resetting’ of fighting stances as adversaries struggle spectacularly to find an opening weak spot in their opponent’s defences. It’s good stuff.
The only real problem I had with it is in one in particular of the fights, which you seem to see in a lot of Hollywood movies showcasing Eastern culture these days. Yep, it’s the old ‘if you can take this bowl of tea (or insert whatever beverage or concoction is the focus of the scene) from me without spilling a drop’ style combat and it follows the same patterns and looks spectacular enough... except there was at least one point in the fighting that the tea bowl was clearly tilted through a 90 degree angle and held there for a few seconds... the bowl magically still full of tea in one of the next shots when, really, it shouldn’t still be there at all.
But yeah... it was a pretty good film. At first I thought the music was an original score and, indeed, it’s credited to Fu-Liang Chou. But there seems to be an awful lot of needle-drop cues in this thing as well. I couldn’t identify one piece which was clearly tracked in from a 50s or 60s, sleepy time American Western but it was certainly a dead giveaway when one of the main characters is introduced to the Grandmaster using the melody of one of the more comical tracks from Ennio Morricone’s score to The Big Gundown. So, yeah, that was definitely a ‘pop you out of the action’, finger point moment, for sure.
And that’s all I have to say about this one. For the most part I really enjoyed the movie although, it has to be said, there are no extras accompanying Eureka’s wonderful transfer of the pretty good looking print. Also, I got bogged down at the start by having a choice between watching it in Mandarin or Cantonese and, honestly, I had no idea which was the best one to watch. I just wish people would stop giving me choices on these things but, at least I knew enough to not watch the English dub, I guess. Although saying that, the English subtitles translated a character saying he’d just received a message via carrier pigeon, with no trace of irony despite the fact that I saw the message delivered myself and it was definitely sent by ‘flying dagger’, which I personally wouldn’t translate as carrier pigeon by a long shot.
So, yeah, loved The Seven Grandmasters and would definitely recommend this one to people who like the genre. I’m really glad to have received this set and I’m looking forward to exploring the other seven films in it. So I guess there will be more kung fu film reviews on the blog sometime soon.
Sunday, 13 February 2022
Welcome To Racoon City
Directed by Johannes Roberts
I’ve got quite a lot of time for the previous live action franchise based on the Resident Evil computer games, I have to say. However, they’re not sacred to me, perhaps primarily because they let me down somewhat. The second of the six was quite disappointing but the third, fourth and fifth ones were all, like the original movie, way better than that. Alas, the sixth and final one was a real franchise killer in that the plot twist, which would have been obvious in any film to spot, completely betrayed the continuity of the preceding five films and basically contradicted the motivation behind the events of the second movie. Thereby rendering both it and the whole franchise suddenly useless and nonsensical. Yeah, I think there are a lot of fans of the franchise that went completely nuts at how bizarrely, badly written the storyline of the sixth part was. You can read my reviews of those original six films here, here, here and here.
So, it’s time for a reboot with Resident Evil - Welcome To Racooon City. A reboot that was announced, I should probably add, while the sixth film was still playing in cinemas. So, yeah... I guess they knew it was a franchise killer even then.
With this one, director Johannes Roberts takes it back to the roots of the game. As in, it’s a return to the horror elements that the early games in the series on which this was based are best known for. The original film series had taken a few key elements from the original stories in the games, kept the zombie body count element and then pushed it to its logical point... or rather, one of a couple of logical points. That is, it turned it into very much an action franchise with big guns and explosions and a few added horror elements. And I was fine with that and I guess a lot of other people must have been also... considering it ran for six movies.
With Welcome To Racoon City though, while there are certainly some big explosions and scenes of rat-a-tat-tat gunplay, for sure, it’s mainly not an action picture. Instead, the director slows things down and moves the camera around in a more exploratory manner, allowing the creepy atmosphere of a mostly deserted city (more like a small town, actually, I would say) to come forth. This one is obviously based on the first two games and, as such (and almost coincidentally, it seems to me), it also takes elements from the first two movies. So, the mansion house which leads into the underground Umbrella Corp complex is included, mostly in the final third of the picture and there’s a lot of just trying to survive the decaying town of Racoon City, as the population slowly ‘go zombie’ with the T-virus they’ve been infected with.
The cast of characters including many favourites from the various games such as Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell), Claire Redfield (played by one of my favourite up and coming genre actresses Kaya Scodelario), Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Leon Kenedy (Avan Jogia) are all cool and have good chemistry together, I think. Also, the creature effects in this one are handled a lot better than in, say, the second Resident Evil movie, where one of the big ‘man in suit’ creations was a huge let down.
And there’s some nice cinematography with some much brighter colours which really work in the darkness (the film is pretty much all set over one night) with occasional more subtle palettes sneaking in if a scene calls for it. This is coupled with some slower paced, leisurely camera movement and a director and DP who know how to calm things down to not break the atmosphere. For instance, sometimes they will wait for a character who is out of focus to wander into the focus of a shot rather than bring the camera in straight away to sharp focus on them, which is nice. Also, the use of verticals to separate screen elements is something this director uses from time to time with a nice bold choice of leaving two thirds of the frame in darkness around a doorway, for example, to focus the collective eye of the audience where he wants it, by deliberately withholding the detail of the periphery. Nice.
Another thing he does... and I personally first became conscious of this technique when I first saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho... is to give time checks to the audience with some very specific times as the movie progresses. There are a few reasons for this kind of tactic but the documentary feel that Hitchcock was going for is definitely one of them. By that I mean that telling us the time is 11.17pm subconsciously fixes the time frame in your head as being something real and therefore more believable, because, otherwise, you’d round it up every time, right? The other thing this does in this specific film is ratchet up the tension because it’s established fairly early on in the picture that the Umbrella Corporation are going to destroy both their old labs and the entire town at 6am the next day. So, yeah, we keep getting time checks until, the last one of 5.59am suddenly ticks over on screen to the 6am deadline.
And, yeah, it all works. It’s not exactly a scary film but it is genuinely much more atmospheric than the previous films in the first series and it also brings in little elements from the early games like the zombie crows, which is nice. It’s also nice that it’s set on the 30th of September 1998, which is the same year I think the original game was first launched (I had a Playstation version of... I think it was Resident Evil 2 but, I wasn’t much good at solving the puzzles and got frustrated at the limited ammunition they gave you to get past zombies with). So there’s some nice moments of ‘old school’ technology such as Claire Redfield using a VHS machine or nice touches of humour when her brother asks her, “What the fuck’s a chat room?”.
And I have to say, although I don’t think it did very well at cinemas (well, gee, I guess you shouldn’t have released it during a pandemic guys... maybe just stop releasing films for five years until we’re out of this, the audience will still be there, if they didn’t die from the real life C Virus), I'd have to conclude that I really had a good time with Resident Evil - Welcome To Racoon City and I would certainly be up for a couple of sequels if somebody would green light those please. My only two complaints are that, a couple of the screen transitions seemed a little sloppy on their timing and, well, good lord people, how long does it take for a crack police team to realise you have to shoot a zombie in the head to kill it. Apparently forever, if you go by most of the characters here. But, yeah, those minor grumbles aside, I thought this slow burn of a movie was pretty great and a refreshing spin on the Resident Evil live action franchise. Fingers crossed for a sequel.
Wednesday, 9 February 2022
Abbott And Costello
Meet The Mummy
Directed by Charles Lamont
Universal Blu Ray Zone A
Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy was the penultimate film that the two stars made together but the last one they made for Universal Pictures. They were still big stars enough, though, that when they are yelling each others names out through the picture, they are still yelling “Abbott” and “Costello”... even though, according to the end credits, they are playing characters with entirely different names.
The film is technically a continuation, in some respects, of the original Mummy franchise but, for some reason, the name of the title creature has been changed from Kharis as he was in the previous four films to Klaris in this movie (and is played by Eddie Parker, who used to be stunt double for Lon Chaney Jr when he was bandaged up as Kharis). Perhaps the background continuity to the other films in the series was not strong enough for writers to use the same character but, then again, this is The Mummy franchise we’re talking about. Any pretense of continuity from film to film stopped making sense long before 1955.
Anyhow, regardless of the title, Klaris the Mummy is actually only in it for a few minutes at the start of the picture and then for roughly the last ten minutes. All the rest of the screen action is taken up by Bud and Lou’s comedy shenanigans as they play two guys in Egypt who accidentally stumble on a double plot following a professor’s discovery of the tomb of Klaris. They get mistaken for the professor’s killers and also get on the wrong side of two different bad guy factions... one a nefarious woman called Madame Rontru (played by Marie Windsor) who wants the cursed medallion of the Mummy that Costello accidentally eats in a restaurant scene, which will lead her to the treasure of Klaris. And then there’s the leader of the followers of Klaris, who just needs everybody dead to the secrets of the mummy and to ensure its treasure are protected.
Anyway, even without the presence of Klaris for most of the movie, it’s a fine comedy vehicle for Bud and Lou and they do a lot of nice little sketches throughout. For example, there’s the usual buffoonery with Lou as he discovers both the living mummy and the dead professor but, every time he tries to show Bud, one or other of them has changed location and are no longer where he left them. There’s also a nice ‘lose the medallion’ sequence between Bud and Lou in a restaurant which is when Lou accidentally eats the all important medallion. And there’s a nice example of their classic comedy chemistry when word play around a pick and a shovel causes a lot of chaos.
I noticed that Lou is breaking the fourth wall even more here than in the last two pictures I saw with him in it and it’s very much a thing for getting the audience engaged in the pair’s routines. For instance, when he places the medallion as the top layer under the bun of a hamburger he makes a motion for the audience to be quiet so Bud doesn’t realise what is going on. It’s a nice touch and it seems to work really well for them.
The villains are a little nasty in some ways but it’s kinda telling that, when Klaris is no more and everyone is wondering what to do, Bud saves the day and gets all of them to work in collaboration in the next ‘get rich quick’ scheme. Which is a nice gesture and not something I remember seeing done too often during cinema’s golden era.
One nice thing was when I spotted a guy playing a newspaper reporter for about a minute near the start of the film. Well, not so much spotted as heard. The character is looking down for his shots and he has his hat pulled down pretty far but I thought I recognised the voice so I looked him up to make sure and, sure enough, the guy in question was, indeed, Donald Kerr in an uncredited role. That’s right, the guy who played the comic relief character of newspaper reporter Happy Hapgood in the Buster Crabbe serial Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars is once again playing a reporter in this movie.
Other than this, there’s nothing much more for me to say about Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy other than there’s a nice, if predictable, running snake joke when Lou starts playing a specific musical instrument next to a basket. It’s an enjoyable romp which is a bit better, I think, than Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man (reviewed here) but still not as strong as Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (reviewed here). There are a couple of half hearted musical routines which threaten to stop it dead a few times but the comedy hijinks are eminently watchable and I’ll probably revisit this movie again in ten or so years time, I should think. Worth a look if you’re a lover of Abbott And Costello but, perhaps not an essential part of the classic Universal monsters canon.
Tuesday, 8 February 2022
Nuclear Dinos VS
Psychedelic Apes -
From Parallel Universes to
Atomic Dinosaurs - The Weirdest
Theories of Science and History
by Alex Boese
Psychedelic Apes, advertised on the front of the book with the additional subtitle/strap line From Parallel Universes to Atomic Dinosaurs - The Weirdest Theories of Science and History, is one of those books I try and find every year which fulfils the criterion of a non-fiction book about something interesting that doesn’t have a filmic or comic book slant to it. Although, it has to be said, many of the theories which the book depicts in its entertaining fashion will be mostly taken, by the majority of readers, as not falling anywhere near the ‘non-fiction’ category either, I suspect. It is, as its cover spiel suggests, a look at some of the unorthodox and, therefore often entertaining, alternate theories put forward by scientists over the years. I think I saw this one fly by my Twitter timeline and, looking at it, the author Alex Boese has a few books on his CV, all with equally provocative titles which I shall probably have to look out for.
Okay... now I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading this, since I am inexplicably known to certain acquaintances as having somewhat unorthodox views about things myself, that Boese has really gone out of his way to not ridicule the various theories and hypotheses which he explores here. Instead... and he says as much in his introduction... he has allowed them room to breathe and brought in the arguments for and against the various ideas he’s chosen, out of the many wild theories that exist, treating them with a certain respect. In doing so, I actually found myself not only not being able to disprove many of the theories inherent in the book but, also, as I went along, began to have more of an understanding of certain branches of science. More on that in a minute but for now...
Following an introduction where, among other things, he makes clear to the reader what scientists mean by theories and hypotheses... one is supported by a set of evidence, the second is not (although I now believe, after having read this, that evidence may well be a subjective element of the equation). The book is nicely laid out in five big chapters called 1. Cosmological Conundrums, 2. A Pale Peculiar Dot, 3. It’s Alive, 4. The Rise Of The Psychedelic Ape and 5. Mushroom Gods And Phantom Time. Each chapter will then house a brief, one to two page introduction as to the thematic link of the chapter before then being split into seven subsections per chapter, each one detailing a theory in a few pages, most of which are doing exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak. However, one thing he also does is include one theory, in each chapter, which was ridiculed by the scientific community for many years/decades/centuries before certain articles of evidence (and perhaps fashion, who knows?) caused a major flip flop in thinking and those particular theories are now actually accepted as the true way of things.
So yeah, he covers quite ridiculous sounding ideas such as reality as a computer simulation, parallel universes (perhaps more popularly known these days, once again, as multiverses), an expanding planet Earth, the shadow world of hard to detect alien life forms on our planet, life on Mars, the ‘stoned ape’ theory (that argues quite credibly, in my opinion, that our hairy ancestors were driven by the ingestion of magic mushrooms which gave rise to humanity and various elements of an expanded mind such as speech), the systematic dumbing down of human intelligence from century to century (yeah, I think we can all see that one), the possibility that the dark ages didn’t actually exist, that Greek writer Homer was in fact a woman and that Christ was either Julius Caesar or, in one interesting theory, Jesus was actually a mushroom... among many others.
Perhaps my favourite one was an argument very hard to either prove or, indeed disprove, as it turns out, that certain dinosaurs did in fact have great intelligence and managed to wipe themselves out in a nuclear war. Yeah, this stuff sounds far fetched but, when you read why the people who explore these concepts (lots of these theories are come up with simultaneously by more than one person, often not in collusion), there are actually some very logical, sound basis for their conclusions.
Now, okay, I found myself unable to argue with many of the theories on offer in here but, as various scientists have obviously argued vehemently against them... and considering they argued just as emphatically over the years against theories which they are now accepting as truth... I had to conclude that some of these theories were an actual possibility. Not only that, though...
As I was reading through it became abundantly clear just how many accepted ‘truths’ of science concerning history and the nature of our reality actually had as little or no evidence to support them either. My faith in science was completely rattled by this tome because it seems many of the theories we hold dear are just popular guesses. The fact that Boese pointed out that the entirety of chimpanzee history of the past is based on just three found teeth didn’t help restore any faith in the concept of scientific proof as I read through. Neither did his revelation (to me) that most of pre-history (and even closer history) is pieced together by guesses which are the equivalent of somebody trying to piece together the plot of a long lost movie with only a few frames of film to build up a picture from. It’s shaky at best and, frankly, it never seems to be at its best from what I can make out.
So yeah, all in all I’d have to conclude that Psychedelic Apes is a pretty entertaining but also somewhat enlightening, surprisingly. It’s not what I was expecting it to be and my already slightly open minded state is now permanently ajar for any rogue theory with any kind of corroboration which comes along, frankly. I can’t recommend this one enough, especially since it’s all done in ‘laymens’ terms and isn’t remotely clouded by scientific jargon or obstacles. I shall, indeed, be reading more of this guys work in the future.
Monday, 7 February 2022
Gamera 2 - Attack Of Legion
aka Gamera 2 - Region shurai
Directed by Shûsuke Kaneko
Daiei/Toho Arrow Films Blu Ray Zone B
Okay, Gamera 2 - Attack Of Legion is the second of the 1990s reboot series, again as featured in Arrow’s mammoth Gamera - The Complete Collection boxed edition (and in one of the two, smaller reissues of that collection now, I believe). And, yes, if you’re wondering why the monster aliens in this film are called Legion, it is that exact biblical reference that seems to get used as a crutch for evil in many movies.
And this is a real legion of foes as they are basically flying crab/grasshopper looking aliens who are a hive mind, controlled by a bigger soldier version who is the guardian of a giant seed pod which these specific beasties are trying to launch from the Earth into space, to make more of their kind. Which will also wipe out humanity, obviously. The military prove useless against these things and so, once again, everyone’s favourite, giant sized flying turtle, Gamera, steps up to the plate, so to speak, to three times do battle with these creatures.
Now I don’t pretend to understand all the monster science that gets bandied about in the film, the aliens mania for collecting glass and silicon is all explained along with their obsession with building hive pods in major cities but it all just seems like window dressing to me and I especially didn’t understand Gamera’s rebirth after the aliens pretty much kill him and, nor did I understand the golden space rays which allowed him to open up his shell and deliver his death stroke at the end.
That being said, the film is nicely paced and structured for the main human leads to build up the weight of the plot and the director more than builds up the resourcefulness and lethal capabilities of the aliens. It’s almost a third of the way through the running time before Gamera even turns up. Included in the humans, Steven Seagal’s daughter, Ayako Fujitani, returns as the unsolicited ‘Gamera whisperer’ from the last movie, in what amounts to an extended cameo of a support role where she is established and used for a few important scenes although, as I said, I totally didn’t understand the power of the vigil she kind of heads up, which leads to the re-animation of the once defeated Gamera.
Gamera himself is much redesigned from his last appearance. He no longer looks like the cute defender of Earth and looks much more like a bestial monster. I felt less empathy with him this time around for sure. Also, the first few times we hear his roar it seems to have been altered quite a lot, sounding much more like a cross between his original voice and something more Godzilla-like, although he does seem to re-find his classic voice before the end of the film. Ditto with Kow Otani’s score, which is not as fun as the Showa era movies but certainly fits the film well with a more modern sensibility... however, there’s one sub-theme which occurs more than once in the last third of the movie which does, I feel, bear more than just a passing similarity to one of Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla themes. I guess modern audience’s expectations dictated that kind of approach to the music as much as anything else.
The action footage is fine though, with some spectacular lightning style effects as the big Legion soldier generates power from between its mandibles and fires at Gamera. The editing never threatens to lose the audience or leave them behind as to what is going on during the action and, also, Kaneko does a couple of those striking, sideways wipes in the non-action scenes which work really well. There are also some fairly grim or, at least, substantially darker moments in the film... such as when Gamera’s blood splashes all over a skyscraper from which of the human protagonists are watching the kaiju battle and then slowly drips down the windows.
All in all, although I don’t have as much to say about this entry into the franchise (yes, it’s a very short review, I apologise), Gamera 2 - Attack Of Legion is a fine installment in the series although, I have to say, still not as engaging as many of the early Showa era films but, nevertheless, a huge box office success in Japan on the year of its release. A solid monster effort but, as I said, lacking the fun and cuteness of the earlier films, perhaps.
Sunday, 6 February 2022
Sex And Lucia
aka Lucía y el sexo
Directed by Julio Medem
Palisades Tartan DVD Region 2
Warning: Look, to try and get this one
straight in my head as I review it, I think
it’s going to have to have some spoilers...
for which I apologise.
Sex And Lucia is one of those movies I managed to miss in the cinema when it came out back in 2001. Years later I found a DVD of the movie going as part of a ‘£3 when you buy something else’ offer in Fopp records and now, a few years after even that, I’ve finally caught up with the film, not realising I’m not entirely unfamiliar with this director’s work, actually... although, barring one other, I haven’t seen much else by this director since the 1990s.
The film sets things up with an uncomfortable telephone conversation between Lucia and her long term lover, a published but tormented writer, as she is trying to balance her waitressing job while fearing for his life through an act of suicide on the other end of the line. When she gets home she discovers him gone, a half heard phone call from the police confirms her suspicions that he is dead. Then she goes to an island that he always loved, to come to terms with what’s happened but then starts to travel back in her mind to how she met him and we start to see a series of narratives around the writer, his fictionalised (or is it) account of the narratives and the various women in his life who weave in and out of the story.
The writer is Lorenzo, played by Tristán Ulloa. The four women... well, three women and one little girl... are Lucia (played by Paz Vega), Elena (played by Najwa Nimri), Belen (played by Elena Anaya... who I knew from Wonder Woman, reviewed here and this director’s own Room In Rome, reviewed here) and Lorenzo’s young daughter Luna (played by Silvia Llanos), who he only meets for the first time quite a while into the narrative.
The film is a beautiful example of different interpenetrating story lines, as each of the narratives which you are watching cross cut in the most bizarrely coincidental of ways until, by the end, you realise that even though most of them don’t know it until they’re at the finishing post, that everyone in the narrative is actually connected to each other as the story strands transcend the audience’s initial perceptions of how the time settings of each tale are playing out. It’s a deliberately chopped and fragmented look at the narrative and it must have been hard to keep everything working in this way... but it does work and the sense of things coming together one after the other is part of the charm of the film, it has to be said. This includes a massive perception switch near the end... a trick played on the audience which is heralded quite a few times as the structure of the writer’s account is discussed and, although I could kinda see it coming from a long way off as a result of that, it’s a nice moment because it helps the film find a resolution of sorts. It’s also, perhaps, saying that some narratives can retain an illusion of flexibility to head towards something which is not, entirely, unlike a Hollywood ending, it has to be said.
The film is beautifully shot and colour palettes sometimes offset each other (I suspect I’ll pick up an underlying design scheme matching the story structure on a second watch) with very early scenes, for example, favouring warm browns and reds which are immediately contrasted, when Lucia arrives at the island, with largely washed out blues and icy whites.
Another thing which makes this absolutely hypnotic is the amount of wonderful performances by all the key players. They all work together absolutely brilliantly and it all helps maintain the illusion of a story which feels like it could suddenly go in any direction with scenes of tragedy and devastating loss making strange but comfortable bed fellows with scenes of joy and laughter.
There’s also a fair amount of nudity and sex and I was kinda surprised that the DVD I bought is actually uncut, now I’ve seen it. It’s been given a standard 18 rating over here but some of the sexual content is usually only reserved for an R18 certificate (which means something is only allowed to be sold in a sex shop... unless that’s been changed recently but this is an old disc now). For example, the use of erect penises and things being done to them is rarely allowed in commercial cinema over here (I was originally going to call this review Writer’s Cock but then decided against it for... a couple of reasons). Apparently the original US release of this was censored by two minutes.
Perhaps my only real criticism of the film is the score by Alberto Iglesias. For some reason this just felt a little anemic next to events on screen and I felt the music distracted rather than served the drama in this case. It’s rare for me to say something that critical about a film score, to be honest, so... yeah, I must have really hated that aspect of the film, I guess.
All in all, though, I would certainly recommend Sex And Lucia to pretty much most ‘friends of film’, both to ardent cinephiles or semi-casual viewers like myself. There’s a lot to love about this movie and, honestly, Paz Vega is particularly cute as the character by whom we are introduced to the initial threads of the interwoven story components. Definitely check this one out if you get the opportunity.
Wednesday, 2 February 2022
aka Alyce Kills
USA Directed by Jay Lee
Lionsgate 2011 DVD Region 2
Warning: Full story spoilers reside within.
I can’t remember if I picked Alyce up at FrightFest or ordered it for a very low price online but I must have read something good about it somewhere. I have to admit, I bought this one thinking it would be a horror movie but it’s actually not, it’s more of an adult themed drama. I mean, it nearly pushes over into the serial killer genre of thriller but, since a lot of the murders committed by the title character are spur of the moment decisions, I think it kinda side steps that category too, to be honest. In the same way, I guess, that Scorcese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver is not a serial killer movie. Maybe we can agree to label this one up as a psycho-drama?
Either way, the film is not quite what I expected and, although I thought it had a problem or two, it’s actually a pretty good movie. The basic story is as follows (don’t read the next two paragraphs if you’re worried about spoilers)...
Alyce’s and her best friend Carroll go for a night out but, as it’s beginning, Carroll finds out her boyfriend has been cheating on her and the two go off to get roaring drunk. They return to Alyce’s apartment and almost ‘get it on’, as they say but Alyce is disappointed that Carroll isn’t really serious about starting up a lesbian relationship with her at this point. Instead, they go to see Carroll’s drug dealer and get wasted on ‘E’ and more booze and, when they are completely high on the stuff, they decide to get even higher by climbing to the roof of Alyce’s apartment block. Things go south very quickly then, at high speed, as Alyce inadvertently pushes Carroll from the roof of the building, is traumatised and returns to her apartment. The next morning she gives the police an alibi but then finds out that Carroll isn’t dead, just so smashed up with her shattered jaw and bitten off tongue that she can’t even talk (although it’s obvious she’s more than a little angry with Alyce).
So, to help get over things (and contribute to her losing her job in the process), she starts trading sexual favours for drugs from Carroll’s drug dealer and, after a while, the psycho switch in Alyce’s distressed head gets flipped. She returns to the hospital to smother Carroll and, after a while, kill’s Carroll’s ex when he comes to her apartment... then his new girlfriend when she does the same and then, finally, she goes all ‘Travis Bickle’ on the drug dealer and his entourage. That’s the basic story right there.
The film is very good for most of the time and, in part, that’s down to the excellent performances of lead actress Jade Dornfeld in the title role and Amara Zaragoza as Carroll. The first 20 mins of the film is literally just the two of them ‘girly bonding’ and, well, it doesn’t get boring because it just seems so natural. I can’t help but think some of this dialogue must have come from improvised rehearsals because the authenticity of the lines and the way the actresses deliver them is fantastic.
The direction and cinematography are superb too. Considering they pull no punches on the grittiness, goriness and language of various situations... such as Alyce trying to dispose of the boyfriends body by cutting it up and bashing it about in her flat using knives, hammers, baseball bat, microwave, liquidiser and hacksaw etc (and then tries to do the same for everyone else, with a certain level of bloody detail which is outstanding)... the film looks really beautifully lit and framed. I admit to being a little less shocked and more jaded than the director might have liked for his prospective audience but I did appreciate the details of her cutting the flesh off the hand until there’s nothing left but the skeletal remains etc. They did that well. But, it’s Dornfeld’s matter of fact and sometimes quite humorous attitude during those scenes that make them work.
There are some nice moments where the director gives us a window into where Alyce’s mind is at, for example, by having her masturbate to disturbing images of war and misery on the news channel of her television but, ultimately, the beauty of the way everything is presented kinda undercuts or dilutes any possible disturbing aspect of the film, I thought. There is a hint in the first half of the film, when Alyce starts seeing Carroll’s vengeful ‘pre-ghost’ in her head, when I thought the director was going to take us into full on horror film territory but, alas, that whole little sub-plot kinda gets dropped in the second half of the movie.
One of the things that I didn’t understand was that, despite the name being spelled differently in the title, the writer/director slips in a lot of Lewis Carroll references. So a guy will be giving her a choice of pills/drinks, she is referred to as living her life fallen down the rabbit hole, she has a cover version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit playing on her car radio and, of course, the groan inducing moment when you discover Carroll Lewis’ surname. This theme kind of drops out halfway through, though it does briefly re-emerge when Alyce is cutting up one of the body’s and says the ‘off with your head’ line. Again, though, I’m not sure where the director is going with this because the film isn’t really much of an analogy or version of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass novels, at least as far as I could tell. So, I confess, the links weren’t strong enough for me to take that stuff all that seriously.
The film isn’t particularly scary, I’d have to say... even though there’s one moment where the director homages the famous ‘bus sequence’ from Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s original 1942 version of Cat People. The original scare was and, still kinda is, quite a brilliant moment but, alas, a similar scene here doesn’t have anything like the same impact, it’s sad to say. Although, having said that, I did appreciate the reference being there in the first place.
So, a flawed movie perhaps, in terms of that kind of stuff but very successful in other ways. I especially liked the opening 20 minutes or so before the violence started and kinda liked the way the violence was filmed when those kinds of scenes did inevitably come. Alyce probably isn’t for everyone but, if you are interested in a standout performance by the actress playing the title role and some, somewhat off-beat moments you don’t necessarily see coming, then it’s worth giving this one a go. Also, lovers of gory movies might find the level of detail in the more bloodier scenes worth a look, if you’re that way inclined. Especially at the low prices you can get it for on the Amazon marketplace where the postage is probably more than the cost of the film (97p for a used copy, at time of publishing this review, seems like a good buy to me). Take a look some time because, whether you buy into the narrative or not, it does weave its own little atmosphere which may not be easily found elsewhere.