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Informative & Entertaining
One of the live TV events of the OJ Simpson era: Larry King's producers put together a makeshift interview format show out in the middle of the Nevada desert, allegedly within sight of the mountains ringing the secretive Area 51, to seriously address the UFO subculture currents which were trending during the runup to the 50th anniversary of the famed Roswell Incident. It's on YouTube if you'd like to see, just search the title. No conclusions are drawn, with production segments splitting up interviews with the special's guests, led by Stanton Friedman and Kevin Randle, the two leading researchers into the Roswell quagmire.
I was convinced by the end of it that the subject was far more interesting than I'd given it credit for prior. Though it should be noted that for every Kevin Randle there's a Dr. Steven Greer, who appears on the special to represent the nutcase contingent of the flying saucer community. Daffy Duck would have been a more credible voice though there's no denying the entertainment factor behind the Dr.'s contributions to the proceedings. And in fact the most dramatic moment during the show ends up being a bright light which appears close to the horizon after dusk had fallen in the desert. That it was just a car wasn't a problem, watching it live one could taste the excitement that a time was approaching when some of the enigmas from the UFO subculture might soon be brought into the light.
Some were and just because they didn't turn out the way many may have hoped shouldn't be a problem. As for Larry King he and others made some great television out of it all, and this remains one of my favorite examples.
The Bog Creatures (2003)
What we have here in BOG CREATURES is actually a decently made modern version of the C to Z grade creature feature thrillers of the 50s & 60s updated for the cell phone era. Which means nothing too remarkable in terms of plotting, acting, or execution. Sole purpose of the film is to part unwary viewers with 85 minutes of their time with relative ease and on as limited a budget as possible. The only attributes making it any different than HORROR OF PARTY BEACH or THE GIANT GILA MONSTER is some partial nudity during a flashback sequence and a squirm-inducing scene where the film's obnoxious horny pervert character stuffs a pair of ladies' knickers into his mouth. Ew.
One thing the movie does sort of have going for it is a admirable ambiguity as to just where on earth it was filmed. The plot is set in Norway with a visit to Amsterdam for an autopsy scene, but my eyes said Connecticut. Could be anywhere, really, giving fans of the movie something concrete to speculate over. Summer school for eager young filmmakers in Minnesota, perhaps. The cast also features attractive females in their 20s comfortable scampering around in their shorts & tank tops, including foxy Debbie Rochon beautifully spilling out of hers before she chews up the scenery with a burst of acting that none other in the cast can come close to. You can do worse with your time.
The premise also has some merit as well: Scandanavian peat field holds the corpses of several unfortunates thrown into what was once a bog to their fates, conjuring up images from old National Geographic magazines of mummified bog bodies. The corpses aren't happy about it and come back to a shuffling existence suitable for PG-13 rated fare. That they are depicted with low budget makeup effects consisting of muddy shawls & garlands of moss can't be held against the film, as it does not aspire to be an SFX study in rotting flesh, severed limbs and sexual violence. If anything it screams out as an attempt at a date movie rental with strong female roles, good looking semi-neutered guys handy for a body count who aren't as smart as the female lead, and a minimum of gratuity which might come off as sexist. She may think it's dumb but likely won't break it off over having agreed to watch it with you. Safe to rent.
Which unfortunately means that horror genre fans will likely find the results lacking in the sleaze, decadence and excess that the movies it resembles deliver. Consider THE EVIL DEAD with a PG rating, strip away its veneer of artistry, reign in the plot to remove anything too arresting and that's essentially what you get. For what its worth I'll confess to having sort of enjoyed watching it as well; wishing it had ended up as something else won't get us anywhere, and indeed there's room for another go at the motif if anybody is so inspired.
The Incredible Invasion (1971)
This movie likely won't be of much use to the bulk of humans infesting the surface of the planet Earth. But it may interest Boris Karloff fans and amateur theatrical detectives who like to dissect bad movies like lab specimens. What you get here is one of the most disjointed and bizarre films ever made, a combination of what appear to be two films edited to seem like a larger whole. The first movie consists of about thirty minutes of footage featuring Boris Karloff playing a white suited scientist who invents a disintegrator ray device. The were filmed on soundstages in southern California, with some ending up in this film and others in FEAR CHAMBER, THE SNAKE PEOPLE and HOUSE OF EVIL.
The second movie was filmed after his scenes were completed in Mexico and attempts to match the Hollywood scenes with actors -- some the same -- wearing similar costumes on similar sets, reciting more or less similar toned dialog & engaged in similar actions. Idea being that they are on one side of the room and Karloff on the other: Sometimes characters who were present for both sessions walk back and forth between the scenes, which is quite strange. Their hairstyles and lighting changes subtly, creating a disjointed viewing experience that overwhelms whatever the script was about.
If memory serves, a space alien in what can only be described as an Art Neveau flying saucer gets wind of the disintegrator ray and decides it is too great a threat for mankind to posses. The alien looks like Yahoo Serious and wears a silver lame space jump suit that reminded me of David Bowie from THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. So did some of the flying saucer's design elements, consisting mostly of beakers with colored fluids bubbling through them. The spaceship is mostly shown from the inside too, requiring the viewer to sort of have to take the director's word for it's existence.
The alien takes possession of various cast members and compels them to sabotage the disintegrator ray, which is probably for the best after the local military gets wind of the situation and decides they want a portable version to serve as a weapon. This results in several conversation scenes where characters veer from the California shoot to the Mexican footage. It's a great lesson in how a film can be constructed, and we can only hope that we can learn from it or the seventy three minutes it runs is a waste.
Fans of Boris Karloff will likely be pleased, he's on screen a bit in this one and looks great in that white suit which sharp viewers will recognize as the same one from THE SNAKE PEOPLE, likely filmed earlier that day. Others are well warned to try something else.
Masterpiece In Applied Bad Taste
Seriously fun little Italian sleazefest by former spaghetti western director Anthony Ascott. His "Sartana" films were filled with nifty little gimmicks, gizmos, devices, contraptions and bizarre cinematic flourishes that set the films apart from the pack. Here his little wind up gimmick is a despicable marvel of exploitation monster mania that must be witnessed to be believed. Watching the poor little rat man claw apart the half naked female supporting players is where the heart of the film lies. It delivers the goods, doesn't apologize about what it is & gets the job over with a bit of style in under 85 minutes. None of it is really scary but a lot will make your flesh crawl, and probably laugh.
One idea that keeps coming to mind is about how the film is a study in applied bad taste right down to the wince inducing use of a real life deformed person in a freakshow role. Such things cannot be enjoyed in good conscience without beer which is used in the presence of friends: It's a howler of a party movie and a guilty pleasure to be enjoyed at times when you just want to marvel at how absurd the human species can be. I don't defend this movie for a minute but I sure am in awe of it, which in some cases will have to do.
Terror Eyes (1989)
Interesting Home Video Era Oddity
You can do worse for a very obscure little home video era horror thriller with zero boobs or beheadings. Not quite a horror anthology in the traditional sense of the word, which is why I sought it out. More sort of an extended series of loosely connected psychological thriller sections, connected by the common thread that they all feature the same actors. First up is a nifty one-set take on the "Devil's Gift" premise of an unwanted acquisition you can't seem to get rid of. I liked how ordinary it looked. Second is a bizarre version of "Groundhog Day" with a misfit two-bit loser finding himself stuck in a causality loop of greed and murder. Last segment is the most interesting with a demented twist on "Tron" with an anti-gaming violence crusader running for her life in a human sized rat maze.
Most was shot on film, the final segment on video equipment and the blend of the two mediums makes an interesting concoction. The wrap-around segment of a ditzy writer attempting to write a horror movie isn't very involving and Daniel Roebuck's presence in the film is puzzling ... Maybe he went to high school with one of the producers? He is sort of in the Peter Cushing role, the screen presence who out-acts everyone just by sitting up in his chair and looking involved. There's some decent squibbage and a melted head but no real splatter and fans of exploitation may be disappointed by how respectful the film is towards its female cast members.
For that matter the "rat maze" sequence is itself a little bit of commentary on the over-hyped nature of pop culture, it's inherent admiration of violence and misogyny, and how we all get caught up in the frenzy of consuming it every now and then. Kind of interesting to see it in the wake of the Aurora Batman massacre & reflect upon how the pop culture represented in such films found a horrifying real-world form in its barbarity. Not to minimize the event but to point out that a popular culture eventually starts breeding gross parodic versions of itself to mimic those forms which it celebrates. Sick minds latch onto base whims partly on suggestion, which means only that the madness of film violence & its de-sensitizing effect on already disturbed minds can lead to genuine chaos. Like nobody knew that already, and whoever crafted the sequence had to have an intimate familiarity with late 80s arcade gaming to have skewered it so effectively.
Commentary aside that one sequence is maybe worth the effort of seeking out this understandably obscure film for lovers of low budget regionally produced horror films. One segment finds a participant getting high scores in a video game based on the number of rapes & kills he had committed, and a genuine belly laugh awaits those who get to watch the Pac Man doggie chase it's victim. Pretty interesting stuff! the banal locations, non-acting and pert screen presence of sexy Vivian Schilling amounting to more than the sum of its parts. Just don't go in expecting disembowelings or female exterior anatomy lessons and this will give it up for you. Kept the attention of two very jaded horror film buffs who have seen "Header", and were drinking beer.
Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)
There's A Reason Why It's DVD Bonus Material
This review may displease fans of these specials, and to them I apologize in advance. I've been trying to get myself to like this Rankin/Bass production now for about four years since obtaining it on DVD and may officially be throwing in the towel here. To each his own, my sense of nostalgia forces me to sit through it even if the enjoyment factor is somewhat low. I adore R/B's classic animation approach -- which is certainly not "claymation", by the way. The models are all composed of cloth, wood and other solid non-clay like materials formed on wire armatures. "Stop motion animation" would be the proper term, not that it really matters. Just being a nerd by pointing it out.
What does matter is that this time out the story is too oblique for its own good, a complex matter involving Rudolph brought in to find the infant New Year baby who decided it didn't like having its big ears made fun of and sports off in search of his own destiny. Rudolph, called in like an adjunct member of the Justice League, is quickly on the case. Along the way they encounter several barely memorable characters and a confusing string of events set to easily forgettable songs. Red Skelton's crooning of "Turn Back the Years" doesn't rate on the same scale as the accursed "Holly Jolly Christmas" or even "There's Always Tomorrow", my most hated of all the Rankin/Bass songs. Give me "Blue Christmas" any day over that please. At least those songs were worthy enough to inspire genuine disgust, the ones presented here are merely tedious or perfunctory.
In the end what may be condemning the effort in my eyes may be a lack of recollection of seeing the special as a kid. There is a direct relation to one's repeated exposure to this kind of entertainment as a tot and appreciation for it as an adult. The other Rankin/Bass heavyweights were routinely screened on the big three networks during my coming of age years but this one seems to have slipped through the cracks. Or, more likely, was aired on non-television nights in our family household. Imagine that, nights when the kids aren't allowed to watch TV. Parents would find themselves in court these days.
Then again my folks probably conceded that Rudolph, Burgermeister-Meisterburger and Heatmiser were too cool for them to deny us a look every year. Those specials resonated on a level that goes beyond nostalgia, where with this one the hook seems to be all about nostalgia for those prior efforts: Look! it's Rudolph! and we're in for another hour with his annoyingly whiny voice. Our devotion to that special was supposed to fuel by rote an equal devotion here but the effort falls flat with a complicated story (how again does the caveman end up in a snowball fight with Ben Franklin while the giant buzzard fights with the whale?), tepid songs and a general lack of inspiration. They gave it the college try with the usual stellar production design & threw in the kitchen sink with high profile guest roles, but to what avail? There isn't even a decent parody website sending the premise up, a key indication that it sort of flunked where general audiences were concerned.
Hence the special doesn't get its own DVD but ends up as a bonus feature on the "Year Without a Santa Claus" disc where it probably belongs, with the dreadful "Nestor the Christmas Donkey" which is a downright depressing bit of holiday drivel. Devotees of the Rankin/Bass formula will certainly want to seek it out but the prospect of it becoming a tradition in its own right is fairly low even with a lack of holiday specials specific to the new year. Maybe some holidays just don't inspire the same kind of outrageous imagination which resulted in the Heatmiser or the Grinch.
Though I will concede that lack of contact with the special as a kid likely played the determining factor here. Indeed if there is a new year holiday viewing tradition I do recall fondly it was the yearly screenings of "Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World". Looked forward to it even if I didn't understand a damn thing, which oddly is how I regard this special now: I don't get it, mysteries give me a bellyache and life is short. The forty five minutes up for grabs here can be more happily assigned to a 2nd viewing of one of the masterpieces. Why waste time on a second stringer? But to each his own and I admit to watching it every year as well. Part of the yearly program even if I just don't get it.
The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977)
The scintillating aura of intrigue infusing Sunn Classic's THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY is intoxicating & addictive. Easily the company's most respectable golden era production, Bradford Dillman overacts and hams his way through the film in the role of John Wilkes Booth portrayed as a wild-eyed fanatic willing to go to any lengths to save the war for the south. He's equal part revolutionary, fall guy, idealist crackpot and stooge. Who was responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? According to this movie everyone but Booth, though it politely concedes that he did pull the trigger.
In fact the assassination itself gets very little screen time, just a minute or two really, as the film breathlessly writes an alternate version of the history leading up to & immediately after the event. Along the way we meet Booth's motley crew of would-be Presidential kidnappers turned would-be assassins (only Booth succeeded in what is depicted as a hair brained scheme for glory with the war soundly over) who seem to spend a lot of time decorating the interiors of pubs and taverns as they drink themselves into revolutionary frenzy. Not a scene goes by without Booth or one of his cronies quaffing a brandy or two, probably likely for the time but so pervasive as to suggest that Booth likely had a good buzz going when he finally decided the time was nigh.
The film is stolen however by character actor John Dehner's hypnotic performance as Colonel Lafayette Baker, an actual character from history & bizarre footnote of real life intrigue who is depicted here as the film's Fletcher Prouty (a fun name to Google if you're ever bored). Baker was an opportunist who found himself with a Union Army commission after fast-talking a general with yet another hair brained scheme to infiltrate Confederate lines as a spy. His plan worked with enough success to bring him to the attention of Lincoln and his cabinet who were looking for someone delighted with violating what we now regard as the civil & Constitutional rights of citizens to further the war effort. Even with such a fascinating genuine tale the film re-writes Baker with an almost supernatural aura to him as he manipulates, intimidates, violates and generally abuses everyone he comes in contact with to further the plot to remove Lincoln from office cooked up by his boss, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, depicted here as a James Bond villain.
In spite of the clunky and uninspired manner in which the story is told it is compulsively watchable, especially as one starts to appreciate the twisted glee in Colonel Baker's character as he unassumingly arranges for his President to be deposed, then reacts with a raised eyebrow & shrug upon learning of his murder. Just one of those things, really, with my favorite moment in the film a question to a character about why he is limping. Baker doesn't care beyond his need for an efficient footman, and the ultimate triple cross which condemns the poor hobbling creep is a brilliant maneuver in roundabout screenplay logic. The film couldn't end any other way than it does with John Wilkes Booth escaping to England where he becomes a cheese farmer.
Not really, but then again the film has a surreal quality to it that belies its ordinariness, highlighted by a droning, sonorous faux-documentary narration provided by Sunn Classic's resident voice of authority, Brad Crandall. Crandall is the bespeckled heavy-set host of their megahits BEYOND AND BACK, THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE, and my favorite, IN SEARCH OF NOAH'S ARK which I had the good fortune to see as a nine year old on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The film stuck with me for thirty five years and so did this, specifically a scene where John Anderson's foghorn voiced Lincoln hands out slices of apple on screen to a startled Union solder aide, a little aside that also stuck with me for 30 years after seeing it on television.
Is it good history? No, Booth's guilt is pretty solidly established without a conspiracy amongst members of Congress concerned about a Democrat supermajority upon reuniting north & south. Is it a good film? I doubt it, I've only seen the thing on TV and doubt that a widescreen format would improve much upon the movie's flat-footed cinematography. Episodes of "Barney Miller" were filmed with more panache, though I give it high marks for being so downright odd, like every other Sunn Classics film I've seen now as an adult. And it is a very entertaining little bit of alternate history what if? which must have been screened by Oliver Stone and his associates when preparing JFK. It's just as ridiculous in its overkill but comes off as easier to stomach, less frantic and more content with letting the story tell itself. It's also addictive, I must have watched it about a dozen times. Colonel Baker is a fix!
Decent Farrah Era SMDM Episode
Lee Majors' then better half Farrah Fawcett headlines this enjoyable non-campy "Six Million Dollar Man" episode as a headstrong local news reporter who just happens to get film footage of Col. Steve Austin performing bionic feats to save a low-budget stock footage rocket launch. What works best about this episode is that it doesn't pander to its audience. The story is actually rather grim with some grown-up violence towards the end, complex character motivations and even a nicely subtle scene where Farrah shrugs off a sexist advance by her boss. Of unintentional comic relief is Oscar Goldman's insistence on pursuing archeology as a hobby on a vacation he obsesses over, which consists of actor Richard Anderson digging a hole in the Mojave sand.
Majors and Fawcett have better screen chemistry here than in the unconvincing "Rescue of Athena One" and the episode is played straight unlike the smarmy "The Golden Pharoah". Character actor Roger Perry returns as one of the heavies, his 2nd of three SMDM appearances ("Population: Zero" and "Privacy of the Mind") and they manage to work an extensive dune buggy scene into the action -- Steve's hobby, as he is seen working on his dune buggy previously in "The Midas Touch", and one of the series' early pop culture fad tie- ins. Solid episode through & through as are all of the 2nd season, maybe not as flashy as "Nuclear Alert" or "The Seven Million Dollar Man" but still great television after forty years.
Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1970)
Seriously, this is easily one of the most lunkheaded, stupid, poorly informed and yet enjoyable "documentaries" ever made. Very relaxing viewing. I read the book as a kid and adore the film as an adult, but please. It is an entertainment, not science, and can be fun provided you're stoned enough. What is so remarkable is that the book + film literally changed and influenced our popular culture in a manner that continues to this day; "Battlestar: Galactica", "Stargate", Jack Kirby's "The Eternals", several post-60s installments of "Star Trek", the list of pop culture forms that harvested Erich Von Daniken's fanciful ramblings goes on & on, and some are quite good.
See, the problem with this film is that it tries to teach its viewers to be lazy observers & simple-Simon thinkers. For example: You see lines scratched on a desert highland which resembles the patterns of an airport viewed from above. To conclude therefore that the lines *must* be the remnants of an ancient airport to the exclusion of all other possible conclusions just because that's what it looks like suggests a grave limitation in comparative reasoning.
It also presumes that ancient alien astronauts would need an airport to land their space ships with extended diagonal runways stretching across the desert soil as far as the eyes can see. That means you are limiting the technology available to the aliens to that which would require an airport -- You are creating a foregone conclusion with only one possible explanation fitting the lazily observed data. Von Daniken even says in his book that it cannot possibly be anything else. Oh really?
Which is the basis of all conspiratorial reasoning. You conclude beforehand that the building was blown up by a controlled demolition and then you cherry pick only those clues which support that conclusion & jettison those which suggest anything else. Need spaceships? Look for depictions of angels in flight. Need space suited aliens? Any cave drawing with a stylized human figure will do, the more sloppily executed the better. Just make sure it's enigmatic enough to defy a literal interpretation and you're home free. Anything can be the result of contact with ancient alien astronauts once you let your mind wander far enough afield.
Then you start churning through the funny looking cultural artifacts, the bizarre statuettes and other cultural forms which do not resemble classically executed images of representation we are accustomed to. Bulbous head? Space alien. Stringy looking arms? Space alien. Seated or crouched position? Space alien. Non-human head attached to stylized form? Space alien. Imprecise written account from historical documents? Space alien. One would think we were passive observers in our own pre-history. I am sure the Mayans would have been amused to learn that their gods required oxygen helmets.
Then you muddle it all down with doublethink employing terms that sound scientific & reasonable, peppered with a tad of ridicule to put anyone who won't go along with your conclusion on the outside. Now it's you & a select few against the world with your secret insights and private knowledge. Everybody else becomes a bumpkin for following the "mainstream" thinking, which is usually remarkably boring in comparison to the idea of space aliens sweeping down from the heavens to teach our ancestors how to levitate railroad car sized blocks of stone. And then you pose these conclusions in the form of "questions" so that you can deny being dumb enough to have said so. You were just asking questions ... sound familiar?
But it's a fascinating movie with superb music, made by German film craftsman Harald Reinl with a visual power that is difficult to deny. One aspect of which is capturing the ancient monuments on film as they appeared in the late 1960s, before most of them were restored to their present day tourist-friendly look complete with snack stands & souvenir shops. You can really get a feel for how those Mayan cities were swallowed by the jungle, and what a jumbled mess Easter Island was before we figured out what the deal was with the statues, how they were supposed to be lined up, who made them, and why they probably did it. If the film served a useful purpose it may have been to inspire a generation or three of young scientists to figure out some of the riddles being posed.
For that matter the film represents a more innocent era for modern man, when we could gaze at mysteries like the Easter Island statues and just marvel at them in awe. Nowadays Easter Island speaks for a tragedy where a whole people were wiped out by outside invasion, famine, and eventually disease spread by contact with the Western world. Kind of a bummer compared to heroic alien cosmonauts descending in their rocket ships to immortalize themselves in stone for us to ponder over so many eons later.
If only it were. Also were I to criticize the film stylistically it is for being too one-sided. There's no voice of "the other" suggesting any contrary conclusions just like all good conspiracy theory entertainments. After all, that would distract from the stunning conclusions that all of our pre-history was shaped by contact with space aliens, since those blocks of stone are too big for even a modern day crane to move, etc etc etc. It's a marvelously stacked deck, though just as long as you are aware of that going in it can be fun to follow along at home. Just don't take any of it too seriously, the photography is great, enjoy the music, and pass the munchies dude.
I senza Dio (1972)
Mean, Lean, Low Budget Later Period Spaghetti Western
Oh sure, as far as film goes, it's awful. But if you adore Italian produced spaghetti westerns as much as I do Roberto Montero's THUNDER OVER EL PASO (as the version I saw was titled) is pretty much everything fans of Italo Westerns watch them for. Cynical anti-heroes, offbeat locations, low-rent production values, atmospheric photography, some pretty Euro damsels ready to hop in bed with the lead actor and a healthy, bone crunching quota of violence ruthlessly dished out. Plus a compelling little musical score, this one an upbeat harmonica led folker by Carlo Savina.
Polizichetti tough guy actor Antonio Sabato joins forces with Chris Avram as a pair of surprisingly vicious black hat heroes who go after a big greasy pistolero boss and his gang of cutthroats who nabbed $200,000 in gold bars. So much for the plot; The rest of the movie is an enjoyable if forgettable mish-mash of shootings, beatings, knife throwing, jail breaks, showdowns, plots, counter-plots and a few minutes cozying up with jaw droppingly beautiful Pilar Velazquez. Her pickup line "I'm 18 and I know what I like!" would work on me too.
Director Roberto Bianchi Montero is perhaps better known for his Giallo exploitation masterpiece SO SWEET SO DEAD and demonstrates a similar skill at moving the plot forward. The pace never drags and while nothing overtly spectacular or memorable happens the movie never pushes a wrong button. Even the requisite Torture Scene is over & done with without much fuss, and interestingly is inflicted by the protagonists rather than on them. Here are two guys who'd waterboard somebody without thinking about it, the only difference between themselves & the villain being that they get to score with the leading ladies.
One interesting aspect about the film is that it's pretty much an all Italian affair with no imported big-name Yankee star. Then again by 1972 the Italians no longer felt the urgency to have a recognizable name for the American markets and just got on with the business at hand of making their movies. Also for a 1972 spaghetti western it is notable for not having a comedy formula ala the Trinity films, and instead focuses squarely on the juvenile fantasy & violence angle. Good show!