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Doctor Who: Planet of Evil: Part One (1975)
Season 13, Episode 5
"You're Insane, Salamar ..."
26 February 2018
My Favorite Doctor Who Ever and it is all about that jungle. Roger Murray-Leach was the lead designer working for BBC who designed, scrounged materials for and assembled it all inside of a week or two. It's all dangling from an overhead scaffolding. The following week it was obliterated, the only remnants production stills and this crackerjack episode, custom-written to be set in it. Like "Star Trek"'s reliance upon Gorn Rock for its location work "Doctor Who" was guilty of featuring their Gravel Pit of the Week: A forlorn, desolate and appropriately ambiguous looking real world location which could be Skarro or wherever the Tardis was supposed to have set down.

"Planet of Evil" is entirely studio bound with no outdoor location shooting. All of the sets were made for the episode and the jungle planet is more real of a place then all of those gravel pits put together. It breathes with glorious light and color effects, uses what look like pottery or electrical fixtures as space plants, and has knee deep water for the actors to splash around in while evading the Id monster imported from "Forbidden Planet". With all of the effects done with in-camera overlays and weather channel type matting the SFX on display the episode may have "aged" but so have I.

Some remark that the Morrestran ship is a let-down after the jungle set and I counter that anything would have been, and the clunky right angled minimalism of the ship continues to suit my needs as a viewer just as well as the shoulder pad v-necked space suits worn by the crew. They have cool names (Ponti, De Haan, Morelli), have cool guns that make a cool sound and several are sent heroically to their deaths in the proudest tradition of the Red Shirts of "Star Trek". They are there to be wasted onscreen to absolutely petrify the 7 - 12 year olds in the audience just itching to be scared stiff. That's why we tuned in every night. Golden stuff.

Then there's the Salamar issue. As portrayed by Sheakspearan trained actor Prentis Hancock, mission commander Salamar is the working definition of an insufferable histrionic jerk ... Or is he? I prefer a different reading of the performance, which I consider perfect for the subject matter: Salamar is insane, living mentally in an alternate inner reality where his behavior is considered normal. Because he not only holds rank but has a service record of getting things done his shipmates tolerate it and act like he is just as mellow as De Haan after a few pints in the cargo hold. Because Salamar is crazy but has never gone over the line of dysfunctionality to force a subordinate to take action Until now.

Or whatever: You watch this one for the jungle set, and an interesting "Pre-Hype" performance by Tom Baker before he had become a cultural icon. He was still working on developing whom the Doctor was, and quite frankly if he'd stayed with his rather somber persona the series might have evolved a bit further. But alas, K-9 ...
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Son of Samson (1960)
17 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Good gracious, what a movie. Been watching my Peplums again after a need to better understand the character of Hercules came up. Sure, he's called Maciste (or however its pronounced) in this one but it's essentially the same guy: Muscle-bound demigod begotten from the Sire of Zeus/Jupiter wandering the Earth righting wrongs. Here he comes upon another Peplum Egyptian Pharaonic era royal court beset by all sorts of fascinating evils furthered by the attention-riveting Chelo Alonso, perfectly as the intelligent yet bloodthirsty slave girl come to be Queen of an Empire.

Or whatever — This is one of the most violent and potentially disturbing Sword & Sandal mini- epic I can recall, with an implied body count in the thousands as she has entire human settlements wiped out to further her ambition for ultimate power. Humans torched alive on top of elaborate towers is a favored method of dispatching the unworthy, but our favorite will always be the Crocodile Pool into which assorted cast members are tossed to suffer hideously as they are devoured alive.

And you know, something tells me we're missing a proper introduction to the plot device, as a key character is dispatched fairly early into proceedings, later appearing in a manner in which their identity cannot be confirmed and is supposed to be of bother to the story. Because, I suspect, he was devoured whole by crocodiles in a scene removed from the surviving print, which only mentions the Crocodile Pool towards the end of the proceedings. This totally defies how Pepla are usually structured and in a manner which can only be the result of external meddling.

Much like a James Bond film the best Peplum thrillers establish an elaborately horrifying execution or torture device for its crazed villain's inept underlings fairly early on. The threat of ending up thrown into its workings then hangs over the rest of the plot, indeed driving its plot once the Hero has come into the story. And sure enough Mark Forrest's very capable Maciste is indeed thrown bodily into the Crocodile Pool at what would have been exactly the right moment — If we had known about the Crocodile Pool previously.

Since we do not my suspicions were raised upon a 2nd viewing when going back to make sure the movie really was as cool as I'd thought it was. And "Son of Samson" is, just off-balanced by not having the Crocodile Pool established in the mind's eye of the viewer prior to Maciste being tossed into it. And a 3rd viewing established the likely place where our introduction to its horrors should have been cemented. There is no reason for the plot to insist that the identity of a certain key character is anyone but that person … Unless, that is, he had been devoured by the crocodiles & a dummy used in his place.

The good news is that even after three viewings the film remains of fascination and deserves a restoration. Ms. Alonso is nothing shy of a revelation and her final doom is perhaps the most disturbing moment in Peplum history since Kirk Douglas had his run-in with the Lepers. I'll even forgive the movie for not having a rampaging monster for a big showdown match. Trust me: Maciste has his hands full in this one just contending with all the evil scheming afoot. Fitting in screen time for a giant cyclops or mechanical moon-men would have proved a distraction, and the film concludes on exactly the right note to leave the viewer wondering, "Wait … what was that again, with the thing?"
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On the Cutting Out of Tongues
17 November 2017
Meanwhile back at the sarcophagus, Italian filmmakers go to great lengths to create an effectively atmospheric Peplum set during the time of the Ancient Egyptian empires. Or there abouts, depends on which language version you encounter. The sets are elegant, the costumes right out of a high school textbook and the film delivers the goods if you like talky period-type drama mixed in with your Swords & Sandals. Lots of intrigue involving royal courts, family lineage, duplicitous religious leaders, and Debra Paget decked out in a Pharaonic babe-getup that is very easy on the eyes. She can lounge around eating grapes over at my place anytime and the dialog is surprisingly fluid for Italian translated to English.

All of which is routine. The film will stand out in my mind as the one where the threat of having one's tongue cut out is repeated sufficient times to prove curious. The first time was cool. The second time was odd. The third time had me wondering if the dubbing was on right, and the fourth time made me laugh. Maybe there's a drinking game to be had here. Nothing else about the film's story made much of an impression though I do not regret the time invested (wasted?), no, consumed by watching it. A mummy subplot could have been cool, or maybe more slave chicks. At least a giant cyclops or something, Guys.

Which is perhaps why having a female lead with a respectable pedigree in such a production will ultimately work against the film's appeal beyond the boundaries of genre viewers. Since Ms. Paget is the intended focus of our ardor the fate of random half naked slave chicks hurled to their doom for the entertainment of some slavering despot becomes less pressing to the needs of the plot, and sadly the filmmakers took the easy way out. Court intrigue or giant a cyclops devouring centurions? If choosing the former, bingo.
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Nightmare (1981)
The Fine Art of the Spoiler
12 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Guys, guys GUYS! People get a grip, please. There's a thing called The Spoiler, whereby commentators on films will spoil the fun of getting to see the movie for other people by carelessly revealing a pivotal development, revelation, or secret held by a movie. The fun for viewers is to get to encounter that revelation on their own without having the moment ruined by knowing about it in advance.

"Nightmares" has such a revelation and it only comes in the very last minute of the film. The payoff was fantastic, and thank goodness I had not sought out reviews of the film beforehand or the fun would have been ruined. Almost every review, post, or synopsis of the movie contains that revelation which viewers should have to earn after sitting through the rest of it. By knowing in advance the potency of the scenes which lead up to it is diluted and there were some very potent scenes here which would have suffered from advance knowledge of the revelation.

Best way to sum up the story is to say that a patient from a secret drug treatment program for the criminally insane is released prematurely, goes off his personality modifying meds, and embarks on a journey through the seedy side of America's east coast during which he commits several gruesome killings. That's the extent of what should be revealed. Anything more would spoil the mind- screw of that last minute, and reduce the meaning of the film to a checklist of slasher movie components pieced together by an oblique story which will only serve to distract genre viewers from the horror of it all.

And hence the film's current status: Regarded as a classic by some but dismissed by many more as boring & derivative. Because without coming upon that revelation on your own it is sort of a 2nd rate overly arty if competently made slasher-type horror movie rating just about 5 out of 10: Covers the bases, constructed with skill but not really having anything too spectacular with a comparatively modest body count (I believe it is eight, if you count the big flashback scene). The gore effects may or may not have been "supervised" by Tom Savini, it doesn't really matter, they serve the film well enough. The extra notoriety the controversy generated only means more opportunities for reviewers to spill the beans for audience members who could care less.

I'm glad I ignored it all. With that spoiler intact I give the film a 7 out of ten, with very tight plotting that is only revealed as being more thorough than usual once that revelation takes place. The film is very well made from a technical standpoint with an interesting use of film speeds and droll, non-sensational music. But who watches slasher movies for their plotting, technical work or soundtracks? They are traditionally a series of gruesome set pieces connected by some sort of story which may or may not hold up to the light of day when evaluated separate from the gore. This one does and that alone is somewhat remarkable. Just don't read any more reviews until after watching it or you too may be tempted to dismiss the results for being something different than the usual brainless mayhem.
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They Made the Wrong Movie
19 October 2017
Serviceable enough Italian produced historical Peplum drawing upon biblical scenario, directed by Spaghetti Western master Ferdinando Baldi at the beginning of his career. Orson Welles glowers and half-whispers his way through a marvelously pointless performance done in only by Goliath himself, who standing about twelve feet tall at 450 pounds is the focus of my thesis on the film.

Which is specifically that the Italians -- no doubt limited by 1960 era morality -- made the wrong movie. The scenes with Goliath are its best, and the most enjoyable the one where he is promised command of an army (doesn't care) a roomful of gold (been there/done that) and the prettiest most wholesome women in the kingdom attending to his every bidding. SCORE!

The hilarious scene where Goliath sits on a giant throne quaffing a barrel of wine while scantily clad damsels perform a Veil Dance for him should have been the departure point for a much more interesting story exploring just what went down. Though sadly Goliath returns on screen only to slaughter a few guards prior to his disappointingly brief showdown with David. After which the film persists in continuing for a while, missing the point that we weren't dialing in to watch Orson Welles palpitate. We were there for Goliath, and he ruled.
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Dogs (1976)
Has One Incredibly Creeped Out Sequence
26 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know guys, didn't think this movie was all so silly. Yeah OK, most of the canine cast are pooches who sort of look like they want to play, go walkies and have a snack. Perspective might have something to do with my reaction: I got bit pretty bad as an 11 year old and by a beagle, of all things. Not Snoopy but a vicious snarling little ball of teeth who would not let go and scared the crap out of me enough to turn me into a cat person for most of my life. Only as an adult in what one might refer to as middle ages have I become more fond of dogs. Cats don't care. Dogs celebrate your very existence each time you walk into the room. Mmyesh you do, Pumpkin Butt.

I also buy the premise of a swarm/pack/stampede of similar animals or insects having a collective response to stimuli which could provoke group reactions. Imagine if all the millions of mosquitoes in the Adirondacks collectively went after every living warm blooded creature en masse, all at once. Deep Woods Off and your windbreaker would not help for long. Thankfully it isn't going to happen, but if applied up the ladder of life forms one could see how it would be kind of scary to have every domesticated pet turn into my friend the beagle all at once and form up into packs of ravaging bloodthirsty killers.

The film also goes out of its way to explain the science of its premise in terms that come across as being at least as plausible as "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" so I was willing to give the film a chance. And it does have one insanely creeped out sequence which I won't ruin. I will cite ALIEN (1979) as my favorite film ever and for about ten minutes "Dogs" had me wondering if I should maybe turn a couple lights on and fix a drink. Freaked the hell out of me, with a sober plausible cast of non-sensational types making it all feel pretty familiar up until that moment. The festival of carnage which then climaxes the film and its obligatory 70s paranoid ending sort of broke the spell, which is too bad as they were onto something there for a while. Yeeeesh.

Do I recommend the movie? Sure, if you want to potentially be freaked out by something that really is as skin-crawlingly scary as a character describes it as. The snarling dogs may be unsettling to some viewers but my guess is that was sort of the point -- Horror movies used to be designed to actually scare audiences and they do a fairly good job of it. Though my sensibilities as a film consumer are also rooted in the 1970s & don't rely on mind- blowing special effects, can set aside the absurdity of seeing a poodle mutt depicted as vicious due to personal experience, and watched the movie all alone in the dark with the lights off. Which was the right decision.
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Alien (1979)
Great Movie About A Bunch Of People On An Old Space Ship Who Save A Cat
6 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
It is impossible for me to write an objective review of ALIEN simply because I believe it is not just the best motion picture film ever made, but is a pinnacle of artistic expression that owes its debt to pretty much everything that came before it. The story was a cultural funnel into which it all flowed. The only thing it can be correctly compared to might be the original 1977 release of STAR WARS even though its objectives could not have been more different. It is the most thorough and convincing portrayal of the future ever committed to celluloid. Certainly more convincing than 2001: A SPACE ODDITY, which is too sterile and gleaming. The future will not look like a dentist's office.

The future will be ugly, loud and busy. It will be a retrofitted mess of the past, present and futuristic forms. Like a city which adapts to changing times by modernizing certain parts while still facilitating its old function with its crumbling old infrastructure. If you're curious to see what the future of commercial space travel may look like watch this film. Humans will come and go, we may be tooling about on space craft, we may be crossing vast distances of space, and yes: It stands to reason we will encounter life forms startlingly different than ourselves. Unless we are very lucky it is almost inevitable that like other creatures on this planet they will react to us with fear, hostility or aggression for primal reasons related to territoriality or survival. It is doubtful we will have much in common.

We won't meet these alien life forms by looking for them. We will come across them as we go about our human ways, pressing deeper into the universe while going about our mundane business on the surfaces of worlds never meant to accommodate warm blooded protein and sugar consuming bipedal air breathers. I doubt the aliens we do find will look like HR Giger's creations, but at least in Giger we finally had an artist's vision for a life form that is suitable for the vastness of space. It is infinitely adaptable, roughly taking the form of whatever creature it gestates inside of and born ready-made to thrive in whatever the host's native environment may be. It's a weapon — natural or engineered, doesn't matter — a DNA replicating machine which mimics its host creature so it may corrupt and devour it more efficiently.

Here it takes the bastardized form of a man and effortlessly eliminates five human adults inside of 48 hours. It would have infected whatever biosphere it was introduced into, skillfully devouring, replicating, spawning and breeding until a critical mass is reached and all other forms of life in that biosphere would be eliminated in a survival of the fittest test with one inevitable outcome. The only way that its threat would be believable and frightening is if the fictional universe the story takes place in is 100% convincing. ALIEN's is, boasting the most effective production design in the history of cinema, bested only by NASA's Apollo moon landing program.

We believe in the universe it is set, the people who inhabit it, and the hardware they use to perform the tasks required by their mode of existence. If we were not thoroughly convinced the entire premise would fall like a house of cards. Ridley Scott, Dan O'cannon, Ron Shussett, Ron Cobb, Christopher Foss, H.R. Giger, John Mollo, Roger Dickens, Les Dilley, Brian Johnson, Jerry Goldsmith, Terry Rawlins, and the cast chosen to enact the story all collaborated seamlessly to produce a completely convincing facade telling a tightly plotted story about humans stumbling across an alien life form. Through duplicity and against protocol, the organism is allowed to infect the human biosphere within the ship, and the crew inevitably discover that the only way to contain the outbreak to their ship is to destroy it. It is a perfect metaphor for the necessary evils of modern life.

The film was successful and its dominance of the horror/action movie market spawned an outbreak of similarly themed films, some of which came close to replicating ALIEN's impact on our culture, but none really being able to introduce anything very useful to the premise. Queens laying eggs dumbs the creature down to familiar Terrestrial life patterns. I would prefer to think that the universe holds many surprises about how life thrives that aren't anything like the patterns we are comfortable with. The bug hunt in the first sequel is well done, but whatever success its offspring may have enjoyed all relate back to the singular vision and urgency behind the artistic quest that this film set out to resolve.

It does so in ways that go beyond the impact of individual scenes. Every film of its kind made since has been influenced by ALIEN in one way or another, and that influence will continue for as long as humans make films. Nobody will ever be able to "undo" its contributions, negate them from our society's palette. You can mix in Predators or A list casts with super-real computer effects, but it will always come back to this film and the startling possibilities it suggested. If it hadn't been done so well we wouldn't still be talking about it, proof that they really did get it right. We have only just begun to explore what forms the possibilities suggested by ALIEN may take, and someone someday will get it just as right in their own era's equivalent.

I hope I'm around to see that happen, maybe even have a hand in making it. Who knows.

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Mission Mars (1968)
One Frozen Cosmonaut to Go, Please (**Spoilers**)
5 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I love movies like this. Low budget hard science fiction effort played straight-up, non-campy, done with the best of intentions in mind with the limited resources the filmmakers had access to. If you had any doubt it's all on the level look no further than Darren McGavin as the capable no- nonsense commander of America's first manned mission to Mars. Which according to the way the film is edited feels like it took about a week, round trip.

My favorable opinion of the film likely cased by having followed the advice of skipping forward to the blast off and bypassing the preliminary nonsense. Not sure what all I missed just yet but subsequent scenes of females back at home sitting around being annoyed they have been gone so long don't bode well. The rest of the movie went swimmingly for this lover of improbable space suits, absurd model effects, studio bound alien planets, unsealed motorcycle helmets with antennae and oxygen tubes, stick figure aliens that look like Gumby dolls, space capsules equipped with office chairs, unexplained artificial gravity, absurdly entertaining music that actually works, and balloons.

On that note the film is actually quite satisfying if still clumsily made. Nothing wrong with that. One's suspension of disbelief only need be tempered by being assured that if the filmmakers had access to the budgets & resources "2001: A Space Odyssey" boasted they'd have come up winners too. They didn't, and persevered anyway with space suits consisting of downhill skiing garb, props that do nothing, and even threw in a meal in space scene: Takes up screen time, and converting contemporary food into space food only requires a few odd looking trays with futuristic utensils. Food is food.

I love the pan shots of the wind-swept Martian surface in miniature, the research balloon subplot, and the lost expedition angle with mummified (frozen?) Cosmonaut. Maybe they'd seen "Planet of the Vampires"? The aliens are great, very wise decision in not even bothering to have them move. Makes them more alien without even trying, and their use of a hand weapon on one provides the movie's biggest laugh. I love the stupid hoses connected to their motorbike helmets, the empty tool boxes they carry around, the backwards sound effects and the film's marvelously trippy color schemes. They may have been trying to play it square but this is one hell of a head movie & I'm not even stoned.

In all honesty, most viewers would likely be advised to skip it unless planning a bad movie night, which is a cliché but can still be fun. Those who enjoy low budget science fiction movies — and are inclined to admire art made under whatever circumstance the artist had at their disposal in the face of universal indifference & potential ridicule — will find a brave little movie here. The filmmakers weren't dummies, even working in a sly reference to Gemini 5's famous corned beef sandwich incident. They also knew how little they had and insisted on working with it, only to be shown up by someone more capable who had the mistakes of films such as this to learn from. For that matter I enjoyed this movie just as much as "2001" though for different reasons more related to playing space explorers with my pals after school. Or during school, whenever we could find the time and something to serve as a rocket ship. Same kind of spirit at work here.

And WTF is that theme song? LOL I want a whole CD of that. Awesome movie, just be warned about those first 17 minutes. I don't even want to look.
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Even I Have My Limits, It Seems
17 November 2016
Nope. I am not going to do it. I refuse to get into the spirit of this awful little movie, which revealed itself very quickly as an homage to The Three Stooges when one of the characters has a bit of trouble with a high pressure water hose. In Curly's capable hands such physical comedy passes beyond just being funny into some sort of sublime expression of how futile & stupid life can be, and that the best advice anyone can offer another is to save string. Here it's just funny and provided me with the film's sole laugh.

The rest of it was puzzling. At two times I "gave up" and went on to do something else with the precious time our grand creator has granted me here on earth. Life is short. The girls in the movie are tall, however, and I dig tall chicks. It can be like making love to a suspension bridge, so I went back both times to see what the film could come up with them to do, other than to look great in their space leotards. Trust me when I say that could be a whole movie just right there, though sadly they were not granted enough screen time to carry the day & the movie sucks.

I kept wondering whom it was allegedly made for, what audience was in mind while it was being constructed from script to final edit. Children *might* be entertained by it. Lovers of campy overtly corny movies will need their own hard copy so they can plan theme parties where screening it is the focus of the evening. Anyone else should just stick with "Plan 9" which was intended to be a serious movie made by a filmmaker who demonstrated far more finesse with the form than anyone here shy of the ladies' costume designer. At least they got that right.

How to put it ... I love "bad" movies, but they have to end up being bad with the best of intentions to make something meaningful. When you go out of your way to purposefully make a bad movie you are treading on thin ice. What makes the film so curious is that it was made in 1962 when such filmmaking was regarded with a certain amount of seriousness. It's pre-Elvira, suggesting that the film's creators were actually sort of ahead of their time in creating the same kind of crap that Elvira helped make fashionable.

Which I despise, rooting for the underdogs that actually made their little movies for a few thousand dollars in spite of universal indifference & critical ridicule. Going right for the jugular of critical ridicule is nothing short of cheating and this movie left me annoyed enough to come here and crab about it. Sorry.

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Special Bulletin (1983 TV Movie)
Still Worth Watching For Ideas
9 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I have now seen this ingenious made for TV movie twice: Upon original broadcast and again last night via the marvel of the internet. In 1983 I was a high school sophomore who watched in thunderstruck awe as a dark fantasy of nuclear hell played out as vividly as it had in the music of the era which captivated me. Here at last was a suitable pop culture document of how senseless it all was, with even the well-intentioned terrorist/activists being as dead wrong as the suicidal federal policies they were trying to put a stop to. It scared the living crap out of me to say the least, ringing with authenticity and dead cold delivery. The few moments where the script tries to become pat and predictable are all undermined by the activities of the players. Normality is set aside.

Upon second viewing now as a jaded adult approaching fifty some of the seams in the weave are evident. We've grown up in an era of 24hr cable news programming with one on the spot disaster coverage after another. The mother of all being coverage of the September 11th attacks, as riveting a 36 hours of nonstop news viewing endurance as I can recall. Then there's all those plane crashes, space shuttle disasters, hostage dramas, reality TV law enforcement shows, and the Ferguson riots, which were streamed live from people's smart phones. You can now pretty much cut out the middleman of the broadcast journalist and watch events unfold live via those who are there.

So there's sort of a chicken-egg thing going on here: Which came first? The cinema-verity docudrama approach of speculative fiction, or the tradition of Americans tuning in on their TV sets to watch events of horror or spectacle happen before our eyes? Which was one of the aspects which made that 1983 viewing so unforgettable — The story *happened* to the viewer and could not be stopped or paused or Tivo'd to watch it later. You had to be tuned in and paying attention, and I am struggling now to recall how or even if I knew specifically to watch. It certainly would have been a priority viewing experience if told about it. I was a young suburban punk being prepared for the coming apocalypse by the music of The Clash, British Ska bands, artist/experimenters like Eno and King Crimson, and watched Carl Sagan's COSMOS religiously. It's fatalistic anti-nuclear theme was pure and rational enough to be convincing even without "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe". We were doomed as far as I was concerned. Just a matter of circumstance and POOF. There goes 6.5 billion years of evolution.

None of what "Special Bulletin" depicts stretched outside the realm of what we thought was possible in 1983, and there wasn't opportunity to stop the proceedings during events to check IMDb or other resources (which didn't exist at the time) to try and make sense of what the hell was going on. You sort of have to surrender yourself to the passage of events shown, which was easier 32 years ago than it is now. Viewing with a 2015 sensibility the authenticity of certain moments suffer, specifically the final shootout where a live feed camera is allowed to capture the initial moments of the assault. First thing Delta would have done was get the goddamn cameras out of there, but then again this is as much a fantasy about the news media's irresponsible nature as it was about the nuclear incident. In such fantasies plausibility will be the first thing to go out the window.

So scratch watching this for an authentic demonstration of how such an event could unfold. Watch it instead for the performances, all of which are pretty much dead on, David Clennon being especially convincing as the leader of the group. It is the staging of the interplay between the media personalities which dominate the proceedings being the main shortcoming for contemporary audiences. Or rather, subsequent experience with such broadcast events have rendered the approach taken by the writers as being naive. It's never that simple, and indeed the broadcast's finest moments are when events spiral out of control and leave the commentators bereft of anything to say. Because there is nothing to say at such times, and the best thing they could do was shut the hell up. At least they got that right.
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Joey, Do you like Movies about Sasquatches
3 November 2015
Peter Graves sonorously narrates Sunn Classics uproarious Bigfoot documentary with all of the authority of Captain Crunch. The film is best remembered in my circle for a genuinely hair raising segment where Bigfoot rummages through the belongings of a group of "Boy Scouts" out camping without adult supervision. Attention is also given to the Loch Ness Monster and indeed, Graves is able to conclude with authority that it is a population of aquatic dinosaurs who have somehow escaped the ravages of time. He also concludes that Bigfoot is actually a population of 200 or more bipedal creatures who exist at one with nature, and have only come to our attention as mankind has cruelly encroached on their habitat with all our unwelcome riot & clamor.

The same approach is found in Sunn Classic's "In Search of Noah's Ark", which taught us that the Ark split in two and rests half submerged in a glacier on Mount Ararat, just waiting for earnest Christians to free it from the ice. Sunn's "The Lincoln Conspiracy" also finds in favor of a complex conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln centered around super spy / traitor Union Colonel Lafayette Baker, who would have made Oliver Stone blush with embarrassment for his ham-fisted script for "JFK". And the overlooked "The Bermuda Triangle", which posits with authority that ships, airplanes and whole civilizations have been sucked into the very bowels of the Earth itself by a misfired Atlantean particle beam accelerator, lost somewhere off the coast of Bimini.

The films are classic Americana, made with working class families who went to the movies two or three times a year in mind, demanding otherwise wholesome G-rated fare suitable for all-ages and fueled by a bizarre zeal to have it all be true even when flying in the face of common sense. "Mysterious Monsters" succeeds admirably, cashing in early on the Bigfoot craze that even "The Six Million Dollar Man" got caught up in and demanding our acceptance by appealing to our conscience rather than science. Forty years later there's still no hide or bones to study and it's to my personal disappointment that garbage films like this sort of got shoved under the carpet as people realized how stupid it all was. It is the right of earlier eras to be as slack-jawed and backward as they like. I for one marvel at garbage such as this film, celebrating with forthright authority man's unending quest to sucker each other out of a couple dollars — In this case, movie tickets, and it worked brilliantly. These movies all made gobs of money with almost nothing up front, though don't sell the talents of the filmmakers short. They knew exactly what they were doing just like the guy at the carnival sideshow knows what he is doing. It's called show business.

The results are actually highly entertaining, the one slow spot in the film being a sequence where a "psychiatrist" is shown "hypnotizing" his "patient", who relates a tale so filled with mystery as to sound not just poorly scripted, but unrehearsed. Yet that's half the fun. Not just marveling at how bad, dumb or outrageously idiotic the movie is, but in knowing that it was the best they could manage under the circumstances. Which means there's hope for the rest of us, or at least those of us who refuse to stop believing in Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs or "Ancient Aliens". Take your pick, spark up and just enjoy being smarter than the dimwits who paid money to see this, ate it up whole, and went home wanting more. Now that's funny.
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Battle 360 (2008– )
WW2 as Low Attention Span Theater
16 March 2014
Stumbled upon this series by coincidence; Had been reading up on the Battle of Santa Cruz and what the hey, gave the episode on it a try via the marvel of YouTube. It's hypnotic viewing with a compelling lead character in the WW2 era U.S.S. Enterprise, easily the greatest warship to prowl the seven seas. What's interesting and somewhat different is the high-octane barrage of busy action scenes visualized by computer animators who had seen "Return of the King". If you've ever wondered what it might have looked like to see 100 plane wave attacks from every possible angle here you go, with one of the most interesting aspects being the depiction of the anti-aircraft efforts flung into the air, something that still photos & grainy archival films from the era never make clear. Like, wow.

Brings the harrowing nature of this form of combat to home, though all of the hyperactivity succeeds at the expense of subtlety. No shot in the series lasts for more than a second, with animation effects adding flourishes to the stream of layered visual information which never lets up. And after watching a couple three episodes one gets familiar with certain sequences used as stock footage (a cost saving measure for the then expensive GCI renderings). Every last moment is also orchestrated with booming music, giving WW2 a techno metal beat between outbursts of "Victory at Sea" type strings.

I guess all this is a good thing however, since here for once is a living color version of WW2 that viewers raised in the electronic/digital age can watch both as a pop culture entertainment and historical document. The final ingredient being something to remind the attention deficit oriented viewers that the events, places & actions depicted were real, a job honorably seen through by the inclusion of veterans adding their color commentary, reflecting on what it was like to be there. It's engaging viewing, not sure how much memory retention of the facts presented will take place but that's why you hit the web after to read up a bit more. Or maybe even go find a book? Hey, you never know.
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Informative & Entertaining
25 February 2014
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.
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Tolerable Throwback
5 January 2014
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.

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Alien Terror (1971)
Bizarre Relic
14 October 2013
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.
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Masterpiece In Applied Bad Taste
21 May 2013
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.

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Terror Eyes (1989)
Interesting Home Video Era Oddity
26 July 2012
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.

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Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976 TV Movie)
There's A Reason Why It's DVD Bonus Material
26 December 2011
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.

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Quite Entertaining!
17 December 2011
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!

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Decent Farrah Era SMDM Episode
3 October 2011
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.
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Relaxingly Stupid
23 May 2011
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.

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Mean, Lean, Low Budget Later Period Spaghetti Western
15 May 2011
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!

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The Lineup (1958)
One Of The Great "Square" Movies Of All Times
16 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Finally treated myself to the Columbia Pictures Noir Classics box set featuring THE LINEUP, one of the pivotal movies I saw as a child that burned into the memory cells to the point of trauma. The story goes that me and my eight or nine year old brothers were left in the care of a babysitter who permitted us to watch something other than the "sports, PBS, or nothing" mandate which comprised TV viewing choices in our household. We *lived* to abuse the rule and babysitters were easy pickings for unauthorized TV. She never returned to sit with us again once my dad found out what she'd let us watch, God bless her.

We had no idea what we were seeing and at first it didn't seem any different than maybe "Dragnet" -- Cops and robbers, with old looking cars & hats, as ordinary as it gets. But by the time the bad guys were menacing the little girl over powdering her doll with the stuff hidden inside of it we were hysterical, and the old dude in the wheelchair getting pushed to his death shoved me over the top right along with him. I remember my younger brother trying to reassure me that it was all make-believe but by the end of the movie I was history, and one thing was for sure: I never forgot the experience even if I didn't catch its name. I was 8 and didn't know movies had names until STAR WARS.

Tried in vain to figure out what the movie was titled for years ("the gangster movie with the guy in the wheelchair" didn't get me very far with video store clerks) until stumbling upon a description of Eli Wallach's "Dancer" character on a bio writeup for him. Knew it was the movie instantly and am rewarded to find the shock sequences just as brutal and potentially disturbing as they were 35 years ago. I doubt the movie was even cut for the TV screening we caught as it was the images of people falling to horrible deaths that did me in. Have always had a fear of heights and here may be a component of how it began.

As for the movie itself it's not so much a "film noir" potboiler as it is half a dry police procedural about noble San Francisco homicide cops on the trail of a vicious gangland killer. Marvelously square and by the book. But mixed in with it and eventually wresting control of the narrative is one of the most fascinating studies in psychopathic behavior to find its way on screen. Eli Wallach's killer is easily as frightening as Andy Robinson would later be in director Don Siegel's masterpiece DIRTY HARRY, though for different reasons.

One reason is that unlike Robinson's "Killer" we actually have a chance to sort of get to know & maybe even like Dancer. With shades of Wallach's later equally psycho Tuco character from THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY surfacing in the steam room when he asks a thug who tried to cross him "You think that'll cover it?" Richard Jaeckel also comes to life as a "Wheel Man" (great 50's cop movie lingo + cheezy hood names all over this baby) who is just as crazy & promises to get them out of 'Frisco after the heat drops its net.

The film also bears an eyebrow raising similarity to another great San Francisco cop movie, BULLITT, including the dry police procedural of tracking an unknown mob connected killer, travelogue tourist footage of 'Frisco contrasted with the dingy drab tenement rooms its characters inhabit, and both films climaxing with riveting car chases along the scenic routes showing off the city at its most unromantic & frenzied light. I didn't even mind the rear projection screen footage and by golly found myself rooting for these maniacs to actually get away. You will too.

Maybe because they were more interesting than the cops who are as square (there's that word again!), by the book and incorruptible as saints to the point of satire. Even though Dancer was a psychopath and a spree killer run amok he wasn't a greedy guy. Had his set of rules & played by them, and as long as you didn't get in his way or try to cross him he could be charming for a few minutes. Then he'd waste you because that was his job, he was good at it, and even enjoyed it. No hard feelings?

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Traumatized Me As A Kid
28 October 2010
Seriously, this is one of the first movies I have a conscious recollection of seeing, 1976 sounds about right (I would have been nine). Mom probably saw the G rating and decided this would be a diverting way to keep us out of her face for a couple hours one Saturday afternoon.

I have no memory of the film's story (though presented as a documentary the bulk of it is about as factually based as your standard Godzilla movie) though certain visual images like the pathetic Ark model used bobbing around in a tank look familiar. No, the moment etched into my brain like battery acid was when some idiot playing an ancient explorer climbing Mount Ararat in search of the Ark takes a dive off a cliff.

The event both horrified me as a budding young outdoorsman, but was so patently obviously FAKE that my two brothers and I couldn't shut up talking about it and laughing about how stupid yet cool it was at the same time for the rest of the weekend -- A glorious bit of cognitive dissonance for a 9 year old mind to entertain. Then again Star Trek, the Six Million Dollar Man, cartoons, everything that was cool sort of had a dumb, fake side to it. The moment stuck with me for 34 years so it must have been impressive at 1:85:1 in a theater.

I never encountered the movie again until a buddy with a shared taste for the bizarre loaned me his long out of print tape. The movie itself is competently made but has all the overkill of a propaganda film, which is an apt way to describe the content. The film doesn't posit the theory that the Ark might be on Mount Ararat, the film regards it as a foregone conclusion with the actual location of the remains of the Ark simply being a formality yet to be dealt with. Eventually somebody will find it, you see, and then everyone will know. Uh huh.

There's also some shameless Bible-thumping going on, with what we would now regard as religious overtones to nearly every aspect of how this unlikely story is told, all of it narrated with grave authority by Brad Crandall, the voice of a number of these low budget pseudo-documentaries. As far as science or a study of history it's pretty absurd, but in terms of tapping in to a basic need within humans to be entertained by ridiculous garbage this movie has some legs. Put it on a double bill with CHARIOTS OF THE GODS in a little art house venue next to the medical marijuana store and it would sell out every night, likely to the same crowd every night. Pot heads eat this stuff up like Doritos.

It's all so sincere, so cloyingly convinced, so eager for its viewers to be swept up in rapt awe at what is essentially a hoax (another reader here comments on that aspect). But it's still entertaining with a sort of bizarre poker faced hamminess about it that only somebody really challenged by the mysteries of life would be tempted to take any of it seriously. Even as nine year olds, me and my brothers knew this was just too fake. Nice to find out we were right on the money.

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The Moneytree (1992)
What A Bummer!
11 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
So like, this dude, you know, he's pretty cool. Free spirit type, looks like his grandfather was Bob Dylan or something, like seriously. But the guy's really cool, you know? And he won't be hemmed in by the system, so he makes his living growing buds up on top of this amazing mountain. He like, works himself to death almost to bring in a good harvest, k? and then like, everyone starts throwing these heavy trips on him about how what he does is illegal & B.S. like that.

He's got a hot girlfriend, all his artist, poet & playwright friends live in the best pads and everything is like all Southern California, right? Like, sunshine and blue water, green grass. Even though the dude has to put up with a lot of crap it's worth it to him, because he's free. Free to work his balls off on something that really matters to him, which is himself, his core beliefs, and above all his pot plants. Doesn't even seem to smoke it much. Really nice guy, he's even skinny and well-groomed and dresses like Howie Mandel.

Then one of his street level re-sellers gets busted. Oops. He doesn't get ratted out or nothing but his hot rich materialistic girlfriend flips out, thinking like she's going to get busted too for being an accessory. Another friend who "diversified" into coke gets popped during a deal gone bad and he realizes that ... well, he could get busted, or die, or get shot and like, not be able to go to bars & stuff. Heavy thinking time! She gives him an ultimatum: Ditch the buds and come east with me for a job at my dad's company or goom-bye. Meanwhile, man eating wild boars are eating his pot plants, helicopters are buzzing the fields, and he gets stopped by the CHIPS dragging home a truck full of manure from his weed farm. At least I think it was manure -- the film tried to be a bit too clever in suggesting duality of both identity and actions in the film. Maybe there was weed under the manure, because he's busily trimming it in the next scene before he goes to visit his buddy in the hospital who as either dying of AIDS or cancer. Not sure which, though I still felt sorry for the bastard either way.

Now, with all of this the film already had plenty going for it, and to squeeze any more amongst the nearly pornographic closeups of mature marijuana plants was taking a risk. And that's why I admire the film even while rolling my eyes at it. It was an incredibly risky little project, the apparent actual use of actual illicit materiel in the actual film notwithstanding. There's likely a very good reason why this film is out of print; One has to wonder how up front the producers were to whomever financed the film, since theoretically they too would have been accessories after the fact for funding the project.

Unless of course they had a big cannabis bonfire at the end, maybe at a Lollapallooza show or someplace useful like that I hope. There is also of course one sad reality to this War On Drugs era fantasy which is that the Internal Revenue Service would have been very interested in how he scored this $60,000 he speaks so confidently of obtaining via his efforts. That others outside of the law would also want to take it from him is part of the calculation, and the film makes it's riskiest move by not telling us exactly what happened when someone does.

The person I saw it with drew a more favorable conclusion about the very ambiguous ending, namely that the guy got away with it somehow & it was a celebration party. I'm not so sure, if only because of the recurring theme of dual identity coming back into play with the upbeat, dreamy ending. Some may conclude that the film ultimately says that crime can pay if you're very very careful, but I think that's a bit too easy. The story is complex and layered with meaning -- too much at times, I would even argue -- and such a simple ending leaves too many questions hanging. Specifically, what were the dead guys doing at his party?

5/10: Worth looking at, but you know in all honesty, this movie bummed me out.
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