- Salute of the Juggers aka The Blood of Heroes (1989) - There are lots of sport movies where the underdog team, usually lead by some 'could have been a contender' has-been, wins through in the final moments of the movie. There are plenty of SF movies with brutal gladiatorial contests at their centre. There are many many movies where the young naive talented rookies grab a chance at the big time at the expense of those around them. Salute of the Juggers (a dreadful title) combines all three and, damn me, it gets away with it! In a post apocalyptic world - think Mad Max without the budget, Rutger Hauer (as the old has-been) and Joan Chen (as the new kid on the block) beat the living shit out of anyone who gets in their way as they try to win a game called 'jugging', the object of which is to shove a dog's skull on a stick before someone throws 100 rocks at a sheet of metal - or the other guys break your legs. There's precious little back story - or even front story. Most of the set (and costume) design consists of old tyres and chunks of Hessian sacking. The characters are paper thin and most of the time is spent watching people hitting each other in the face. But it bloody works. Not great, but well worth a look.
- Alienator (1990) - Hooooo-boy! My DVD player now smells bad. Opening with an establishing shot lifted from a Gerry Anderson TV show and establishing Jan-Michael Vincent in my mind as one of the great bad actors of the century (even before we got to the opening credits) Alienator is your typical running-around-the-woods-staying-alive while-being-pursued-by-a-relentless-threat movie. This time the threat comes from a semi-naked seven-foot female android with a ray gun glued to her arm and a bleached ferret stuck to her head who is relentlessly pursuing an escaped killer, who dresses in one of Gary Glitter's cast-off stage costumes, and the fun-loving arseholes he befriends on Earth (well, they don't really befriend him - they run him over in their truck and don't bother leaving the movie afterwards).
Is this a washing-machine component which I see before me? Come, let me clutch thee...
The director, Fred Olen Ray, has made over 100 films. No-one has managed to watch any of them all the way through. The only other film of his I've tried to watch was called Bad Girls from Mars and I didn't get more than three minutes in before I gave up. Why don't I ever learn? Anyway, the Terminatrix is defeated when someone on a roof throws some chicken-wire over her this has the effects of "syphoning off all her electrons in alignment with the earth's axis" (sic) which is total unbelievable bollocks, anyone who has ever wrestled with chicken-wire knows you can't throw it off a roof like that. How he got it up there in the first place in the few second of screen time allowed for the act is a mystery too - it's dreadful stuff to work with, always goes in the wrong direction and then coils back at you, but anyway, even after she has had all her electron syphoned off she comes back to life and kills the real baddy. The end. ('Terminatrix'? Hmmmm, I think I just had a really bad movie idea...)
Edit: And someone beat me to it... Terminatrix (1995) "In the future, killer sex-droids rule the universe... "
- Encounters in the Deep (1979) - After a voice-over waffling about the mysterious mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle and the 'undoubted truth' of UFOs (the off-screen narrator interviewed an equally off-screen fictional scientist to prove it) a pulsating green light and a high-pitched noise sink a (not very big) model battleship. After a brief interlude, with some very dodgy dubbing work as an under-paid voice-over artist puts on a 'Black' accent ("Sho 'nuff, Sir") for a minor character, a honeymooning couple suffer a similar fate. The father of the girl finances a 'scientist', who has a radical new theory of something vague, to find her. An hour of screen time later, most of which is spent watching people swim about in Scuba gear or sat around on a boat having meaningless conversations, the daughter returns, magnificently backlight and surrounded by vasalene smeared on the lens:" Hello Daddy, come with me!" There are, she vaguely explains, aliens and they are beneficent. All the cast go away, walking slowly into light and smoke followed by a clunky spaceship shot.
So, all the boring bits of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with a bit of Cocoon thrown in for good measure, all done at a leadenly plodding pace with all the characters speaking in 'Manglish'. The strange mangled English that appears in the mouths of Spanish and Italian actors when they get dubbed from a translated script - like this indigestible chunk of stream of conciousness prattle:It's quite a relief when they stop talking and just swim around pointlessly for a bit. And even more of a relief when they all fuck off to outer space. A very long 82 minutes.
Daddy Warbucks: "How do you explain it Peters?"
Professor Peters: "The only explanation that is logical is the existance of strong magnetic fields - on the other hand what we have seen proves without a doubt, that these grottos were once on the surface."
Daddy Warbucks: "Yes, but... Professor, forgive me. What I would like for you to explain what relation exists between the magnetic fields and the fact that once this region was not underwater - and the disappearances."
Captain Whateverhisnamewas: "Umm... the explanation of those disappearances should be associated with the presence of underwater currents caused by the attraction of the magnetic fields."
Professor Peters: "That however doesn't explain in any way those disappearances. We need some sign. So it seems that it is evident the cause of the phenomena, no one known factor exists - and only in this ocean is it possible to find a solution."
Daddy Warbucks: "Would it be possible, Professor, for you to be more precise?"
Professor Peters: "Well according to Ballantine's (?) theory there exist forces from outer space situated below the seas, John Spencer sustains, however, that other beings from outer space visit us periodically on this planet - carrying out authentic kidnappings. Unifying these two theories, I've come to the conclusion, that these disappearances are due to the workings of extra-human intelligences and that they work hidden in the depth of the seas."
Daddy Warbucks:"In spite of common sense telling me otherwise, I hope that you will be able to prove what you say is true. The hypothesis I mean."
Professor Peters: "In the future that which seems impossible will be normal. According to Einstein, these unidentified objects are a kind of space ship which existed on our planet millions of years ago, and are now trying to return."
Daddy Warbucks:"I only hope this is scientific truth and not mere illusion."
The surrealness factor was ramped up slightly on this one by my copy* repeating a scene. The same couple of shots just immediately appears again for no reason. Very odd. But it does give you a chance to watch one of the actors suffering from a magnificent lack of direction. He's obviously been told to get out of the frame to let the shot focus on our leads as they have an earnest discussion, but has no idea why he's going. He delivers his line and then just ambles off.
*Which came on the 23rd Century label - always a sign of quality.
- Stalker (1979) - 163 minutes of staring at the back of three blokes heads as they wander round a desolate landscape being very bleak and Russian about everything.
- Orgy of the Dead (1965) - a film of immense ineptitude which would have disappeared into obscurity if the (very meagre) script hadn't been penned by the famously not good Edward D Wood Jr. As it is, it is almost unwatchable. As a framing device, a couple have a car crash and witness 'The Emperor of The Night' watching a series of female undead dance in a graveyard. It's Tam O'Shanter but crap. The Emperor is played by fake medium, and Ed Wood regular, Criswell, who can't deliver a two word sentence without putting the emphasis on the wrong one, and the female 'undead' are portrayed by a stream of burlesque bump-and-grind 'dancers' who happened to be passing the studio door and needed a quick fifty bucks. I've got to say it; erotic dancing wasn't very erotic in the early 60s. At best it resembled badly done copies of the 'exotic' dances that inflamed the passions of actors playing Genghis Khan and various Roman Emperors in the sword and sandal epics of the fifties*, all arm waving and the odd 'oriental' head wiggle, but performed here wearing only a G-string and a wig; at worst it was"I'll just jog about making it up as I go along and throw in a couple of clumsy arabesques - to make it look arty - and shoogle my tits". The acts - and this movie was no more than a series of these girls shaking their bits - varied from the bored repetition of a nightly chore, to the cringingly inept (one girl was so embarrassingly clumsy and timid it felt shameful watching her), to the frankly weird - one girl's entire routine consisted of leaning forward and jiggling her right leg. This made her boobs bounce about like they were having epileptic fits - which she did for about 5 minutes of screen time. Okay... Yup... Next? After a while, bored, and thinking I didn't care if I never saw another boob again in my life (sic!), I checked the elapsed running time - 25 minutes. A long night.
*"Have that one washed and brought to my tent!"
- Aurora ( 1998 ) - micro-budget SF movie which played like Scott of the Antarctic meets Ice Cold in Alex on an alien planet, with next to no plot, SFX that had been done on a home PC, and some terrible direction in places - the director had no concept of the 'line of action' and dropped some real clangers - but it's better than any of the movies I've never made. Just. It was refreshing though to see a low budget SF film that didn't head off in the usual easy crowd pleasing body count slasher horror monster direction, there are only two deaths in this movie - one off screen and both are credible and not gratuitous. Most of the time is spent watching people walking across desert terrain or sitting in a tent.
- The Last Patrol (2000) - Dolf Lungren in Mad Max mode. Odd.
- Baron Prásil (aka The Fabulous Baron Munchausen 1961) - A wonderful Film. The copy I have is in Czech with Spanish subtitles but it doesn't matter. The visuals tell the story and are so stunning they don't really need any words - what few words there are are voice-over narration - (my good friend Mr. Bali Hai has a few on his Flickr photostream here). There isn't a bum frame in this whole movie.
- Planeta Bur (1962) - Russian SF. Finally I get to see the original. I have previously seen two American 'versions' of this movie. Roger Corman got lots of mileage out of this one when he bought the US rights, releasing it as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet in 1965 with the only female member of the first manned expedition to Venus edited out and Faith Domergue and Basil Rathbone edited in as replacements. Then, three years later in 1968, they in turn were edited out and a new sub-plot was added with Mamie Van Doren and sundry other busty young women added in the roles of Venusian mermaids (with some pretty obvious Californian Beach Bunny tan lines in inappropriate places if I remember rightly - I notice these things). The film was re-released as Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, the mermaid scenes were directed by Peter Bogdonavich. Like all Soviet SF that I've seen it's slow, contemplative, looks great, and what it lacks in plot and action makes up for in optimism and sheer 'otherness'. Not sure what I mean by 'otherness', but I like it.
- THX 1138 - The not 'New Improved, All Singing All Dancing, Now With Added Special Effects!' Director's Cut that came out a few years ago, but the original 1971 cut* which confirmed some suspicions I had that all the buggering about and adding special effects did nothing much to improve things, but also confounded me slightly by showing that I had in some parts misremembered the movie. I had always though that, without exception, everyone wore white, and that the coloured clothing occasionally to be seen in the re-edit (hereinafter to be known as THX 1139) was another of Lucas' post hoc buggering abouts. I was wrong. There are brief moments where red and pink clothed extras are seen wandering about. It's a minor detail I know but one that whipped the carpet from under one of my set-piece fulminations about dicking about with perfectly very good movies for no real reason.
The original trailer that came on the same disc is incredibly brightly coloured. The marketing people obviously thought they would have trouble marketing something so starkly white and abstract and managed to make the movie look more like a contemporary action thriller by using differently colour-corrected footage. (God, I'm such a nerd!)
*Not strictly true. Apparently (according to IMDb) In the original release the movie includes a one minute clip from Things to Come (1936) before the opening credits. When re-released in the late-1970s this clip was replaced by a clip from the serial Buck Rogers (1939). So I just watched the late-1970s re-released version. (THX 1138½?)
- Aquamarine (2006) - it had a mermaid in it; the girls were happy. I spent most of my time trying to work out why I was convinced it had been filmed in Australia (the film was set in Florida) and wondering how many times our lead actresses were going to do the 'Well, d'uh/did she just say that?' confused smile thing. Answers: Because it was, and lots.
- The Chronicles of Riddick (2006) - okay, It's time to take David Twohy's toy box away from him. Back in the days when he had no money to throw shitloads of SFX at the screen he used to make, not perfect, but interesting SF movies like Timescape and The Arrival then he made Pitch Black... and there's another one on the way.
- Moon (2009) - now this is what low budget SF film making can be! Character and plot driven with essentially one set, one actor and a good script - that made sense! (Pick me up off the floor!) Director Duncan Jones, in one of the extras on the DVD, mentions paying homage to Silent Running, 2001, Alien, and Solyaris (as we are now supposed to call it after the Soderberg remake colonised the name 'Solaris') and, bored as I am with the modern movies makers seemingly incessant need to homage everything they've ever watched, I'm more than happy to see someone returning to that kind of solid, 'grown up' Science Fiction school of film.
- Strawberry Blonde (1941) - one of my all time favourite feelgood movies. Starring James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland (who never looked more gorgeous than in this film), Rita Hayworth, Alan Hale, Jack Carson, and George Tobias, it's a slight piece of fluff written by the brothers Epstein (who wrote Casablanca the next year), directed by Raoul Walsh (who had just made High Sierra), and photographed by the great James Wong Howe. Another Warner Brothers production line movie that worked. It appears never to have been released on DVD in this country and used VHS copies on Amazon start at £27.25!
- 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) - what a soulless piece of shit! A real paint by numbers dumb dumb movie. Basically what happens is the world is doomed, and it stays doomed right up to a couple of minutes before the end of the movie when the rampaging intergalactic monster about to devour the planet just explodes and goes away because somebody does something unexplained for motives that aren't clear. The End. What!? All the characters (the heroes especially) are arseholes and played with such an amazing lack of enthusiasm it was almost painful to watch. I wonder if anyone on this movie woke up in the mornings and thought "Woohooo! We're making a movie!"? I doubt it. The only thing I can find positive to say about it is that it was better than the first one.
- Critters 2: The Main Course ( 1988 ) - and before David Twohy made not perfect but interesting SF movies like Timescape and The Arrival he scripted drive-in fodder like this. A couple of of the gags made me laugh but half an hour later I couldn't tell you anything about either of them. Fortunately he did write in one of the vital SF movie ingredients - a large breasted semi-naked woman with a big ray gun - kept me amused anyway.
- Neon City (1991) - Aha! I see how this one happened: one day the director suddenly didn't have a brilliant idea and went and filmed it. What ended up on the screen was Stagecoach done a la Mad Max. The post-apocalyptic overland bus to Neon City, populated with a set of stock characters, is attacked by Indians or mutant biker stuntmen or something. Whoever the baddies were, they were very anonymous and very easily disposed of. The tensions on the bus were not very tense and it was all very dull really. A very long 99 minutes. Not quite boring exactly but not as interesting as the people who made it thought it was.
- Azur et Asmar (2006) - plodding (but pretty) animated fairy tale of love, adventure, and well-meaning heavy handed messages about racial tolerance. Lots of well-meaning heavy handed messages about racial tolerance. So many in fact that somewhere about half way through I was getting urges to go out and kick an Arab to make them stop.
- How to Train Your Dragon (2010) - Great fun. Glad to see that someone in Dreamworks has finally had the courage to make a kids movie without all the referencing and homaging, and just have enough confidence in the material and the audience. The biggest thrills for me though was that I was watching it in a real cinema and I was watching it with both my daughters. A real Dad moment.
- Ghost Rider (2007) - Nicolas Cage IS the Ghost Rider - stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze who gives up his soul to become a hellblazing vigilante, fighting power hungry Blackheart, the son of the devil himself. Back in the days when I read comics I always thought Ghost Rider was pretty crap. Even the presence of Sam Elliot doing his usually wonderful Western Narrator shtick fails to save the movie version from being pretty crap too. I haven't seen many Nicolas Cage films. Does he always do a lot of pointing? He seemed to spend half the time in this movie doing Elvis pointing at things.
- Species 2 ( 1998 ) - what a Piece. Of. Shit. It made the first one look good. Seriously, this made Species look like a solid, well-crafted, race against time thriller. Species 2 was just an exploitative gory mess. Next! (At least number 3 doesn't have Mumbling Michael Madeson in it.) This one (2) does add an interesting and bizarre addition to the list of seemingly innocuous substances that will destroy rampaging aliens (Triffids dissolving in sea water etc.). The aliens in this series have a violent allergy to the DNA of people carrying the gene for Cycle Cell Anaemia (or even 'Sickle Cell Anaemia' - damn spellchecker). So, in the climax to this bloody mess, the hero plunges a pitchfork into the leg of the only black character and then jabs it into the alien - which promptly expires with a lot of screaming and thrashing about. Like I said, a piece of shit.
The best bits
- Project Shadowchaser (aka Shadowchaser 1992) - It's Die Hard with a killer android! Plodding bore with more "Oh for heaven's sake! Who wrote this crap?" moments than seven or eight of your standard averagely bad movies. Project Shadowchaser spawned three sequels. The two I have seen (3 & 4) have nothing to do with the first one, apart from having the same actor (Frank Zagarino) play an emotionless killer android. I have no idea what else he can do but he is very good at playing an emotionless killer android. Very good at turning his head 90º really fast without blinking. It's a talent.
- A Little Princess (1995) - (again). I cried (again).