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You get what you pay for!
It's the end of World War II. Amid a shootout between American soldiers and his own troops, Dr. Josef Mengele escapes Germany in a plane with something in a weird-looking machine. Flash forward to modern day Antarctica where scientists Paige and Mark are out on the ice drilling for core samples, when they uncover the (surprisingly well-preserved) Nazi plane Mengele escaped in.
Suddenly gas mask Nazis! The Nazis politely but firmly insist they come with them. And by politely I mean they clobber Mark and kidnap him and Paige, then throw a potato masher grenade to destroy the drill, the plane and the scientists' snowmobile. Except - it's an energy grenade! Boom! The evidence vanishes in a CGI explosion.
They awaken in a dark cell somewhere. Nazi soldiers in gas masks come and take Mark away, where he ends up strapped to a table with our pal Dr. Mengele (who hasn't aged a day!), who surgically removes his face because reasons.
Back at the scientists' base camp, we meet Paige's kinda sorta boyfriend, the flannel-shirted microbiologist Lucas, who butts heads with chief scientist, the very, very blonde Dr. Reistad (Jake Busey and his horse teeth) who is very much an ends-justifies-the-means kinda guy with a bad track record of losing his teams in reckless endeavors. The other scientists include Reistad's Norwegian mountain climber girlfriend Silje, Brian, Jewish scientist Blechman, curly-haired Rahul, May, and finally Angela.
When Paige and Mark don't report in, they all pile into a sno-cat an drive off looking for them. They find the destroyed plane and stuff and follow the footprints that their friends' kidnappers helpfully left for them, which end at a great wonkin' hole which they climb down.
Back in Nazi Land, Paige escapes her cell and discovers that Mark has been skinned (!) and his face has been transplanted onto Nazi soldier Hoederer. She's recaptured and Mengele is about to do something really nasty with a saw, until he realizes she's of German descent as well as a doctor, and is extremely interested in what she has to say about modern medicine.
Meanwhile, the others discover Nazi Land is at the center of the Earth (just like the title) and consists of a gigantic cavern with a jungle and a huge artificial sun. They head towards some buildings and go inside the first one they come across and get surrounded by Nazis in gas masks, and then Mengele appears with Paige in a Nazi uniform. She's one of them now! And so is Reistad! Who knew the jerkish blonde guy with the Teutonic name was gonna turn into a Nazi!
Mengele reveals he and his men are basically undead, kept alive by organ and tissue transplants, but they still keep rotting. He enlists the assistance of the captured scientists to help solve the problem of them decaying. Except Blechman. Upon learning he's Jewish, Mengele blasts him out of existence with his laser-firing Walther P38. 'Cause he's a dick like that.
Can the others escape?!
It's like Wolfenstein and Iron Sky had a twisted mutant baby. One without a decent budget. Containing such cheerful things as a fetal abortion with a vacuum cleaner, zombie gang-rape, and two scenes of someone having their face ripped off, plus Robo-Hitler (!), Jake Busey as a mad scientist, zombies melting from being injected with flesh-eating bacteria, and a laser-firing Walther P38 that completely disintegrates people. I dunno if the movie is offensive, stupid, hilarious, disgusting, or somehow crazy- awesome... or all of the above. Did I mention zombie gangbang?
The Phantom (1996)
The Bangalla Jungla. 1938. A group of men, led by the surly Quill, forces a young native boy to guide them to a cave deep in the jungle, despite the boy's protests that the area is forbidden, protected by a being known as "the ghost who walks." Quill's three men Styles, Breen and Morgan are skeptical but Quill knowingly rubs a scar on his cheek in the shape of a tiny skull and tells them not to worry about this "ghost."
Leaving the kid tied up in their truck, Quill and his men enter the cave, where they find a silver skull with green jewels for eyes. It quickly becomes apparent that this is what the men have come for. Despite a small setback (if you can call Styles being killed by a skeleton that inexplicably comes to life and strangles him a "small setback"), the crooks successfully exit with the skull and other ill- gotten loot, only to come face to face with the jungle's protector, a masked man in a purple body stocking astride a white stallion, accompanied by a ferocious wolf. No one is more terrified than Quill, who orders Breen to shoot the man. To their surprise and horror, the man, the "ghost who walks," shoots Breen's gun right out of his hand with a firearm of his own!
He is the Phantom. His horse: Hero. His wolf: Devil. He is the ghost who walks. And he protects the jungle.
The Phantom easily defeats and captures Breen and Morgan, and rescues the native boy, but Quill escapes with the silver skull. Turning the criminals over to the Jungle Patrol led by Captain Philip Horton, the Phantom returns to his cavern lair and seeks the guidance of his father's spirit. Through him, he learns that the silver skull the looters came for is one of the mystical Skulls of Touganda. There are three - one made of silver, one made of gold, and one made of jade. If all three are brought together they'll produce a powerful supernatural force deadlier than any weapon known to mankind. And Quill still has it!
In New York, Diana Palmer visits her uncle, Dave Palmer, who owns the Tribune newspaper. She finds him butting heads with businessman Xander Drax, after which Drax is compelled to leave following insinuations he has ties to the mob. Dave reveals that he's learned through a source at the library that Drax has been researching the Skulls of Touganda. He wants to go to the Bangalla Jungle to talk to Captain Horton of the matter; however, due to his age, Diana decides to go in his stead. She boards a plane for the Orient the next day, unaware that crime boss Ray Zephro and his brother Charlie are watching her, and inform Drax of her departure.
After disposing of the librarian who spoke to Dave Palmer by tricking him into looking through a microscope that has knives come out of the eyepieces, Drax sends his all-female pilot corps to intercept Diana's plane. They force it down over the sea. Diana surrenders to the pilots' leader, Sala, to spare the other passengers, and is taken captive aboard Quill's ship. The Phantom learns of her abduction from Horton, and manages to rescue her. He still fails to recover the silver skull, though. After seeing her safely back to New York, the Phantom, realizing it is Drax who is the one who is behind everything, also heads to the Big Apple in an effort to prevent the ruthless businessman from obtaining any more of the magical skulls.
Quill and Sala have delivered the silver skull to Drax. Quill tells his boss about the Phantom, claiming to have encountered and killed him before, insisting the "ghost who walks" can't die. Drax is unconcerned because he knows the location of the jade one. Worse, when the first two are brought together they'll reveal the location of the third. And with the Zephro family and the corrupt Commissioner Farley at Drax's beck and call, the Phantom is going to have his hands full fighting evil in the big city...
Billy Zane as the Phantom makes a wonderfully charismatic and jolly hero, very much in the swashbuckling, old movie serial vein, whilst Treat Williams chews the scenery and spits it out as the villainous Drax, who simply loves being sadist and evil more than any villain I've ever seen. Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy!) is decent as Diana, while I find Catherine Zeta-Jones as Sala just plain annoying. The supporting cast is pretty good, particularly James Remar as Quill and Shang Tsung himself, Cary- Hiroyuki Tagawa, as the pirate lord Kabai Sengh, a prominent villain who doesn't show up until the end.
The locations and action sequences are good, and the sets are mostly decent except for the pirate lair at the end, which looks pretty fake. The Phantom's rescue of the native boy from the truck hanging off the collapsing bridge, the escape from Quill's ship in a biplane, the chase on horseback through New York, and the climactic swordfight with the pirates all excite and delight. Only the finale is a letdown, with the magical skulls' destructive power being pretty underwhelming, performance-wise.
Blood and gore is minimal. It has a few scary bits, such as the skeleton coming to life and killing Styles, but this is nothing that I haven't already seen in a Mummy movie. Drax's death is all special effects-y and more cartoonish than violent, and even the blinding of the librarian by the infamous killer microscope occurs entirely offscreen. Really, the most violent deaths are when we see a pretty brutal direct hit from a cannonball, and when someone gets eaten by sharks. Lots of blood there. But by and large it's all fairly tame.
Bottom line, The Phantom is fun. The type of superhero movie they don't make anymore.
The Hideous Sun Demon (1959)
Don't drink and do science!
The moral of this film is don't drink and do science at the same time! Alas, Gilbert McKenna had to learn this the hard way. He went to work at the radioactive isotope lab with a severe hangover, and, surprise, surprise, there was an accident. Poor Gil went and got himself exposed to a new type of isotope he and his colleagues were working on. He's rushed to the emergency room, but shows no immediate signs of injury. No burns on anything, thoroughly stumping the ER doctor. Ann Russell and Frederick Buckell, his aforementioned colleagues, are concerned about what kind of side effects exposure to their pet isotope may have.
We get to find out soon enough. While convalescing outside in the sun, Gil starts feeling a little... weird. He freaks the hell out and thoroughly terrifies some poor old biddy who'd joined him, and, realizing that he turns into a hideous sun demon when exposed to direct sunlight, he flees home and shacks up with lounge singer Trudy Osborne, in whose home he decides to hide. But, unfortunately for all concerned, Trudy has a jealous boyfriend, and said jealous boyfriend has a gun (whether it's a Colt or a Luger the editor apparently couldn't decide). He forces the competition outside at gunpoint, whereupon Gil promptly turns into the hideous sun demon and murders him (and of course he doesn't think of actually using the gun to defend himself), then escapes.
Lt. Peterson of the police and his men are soon hot on poor Gil's trail, despite the objections of Ann, Fred and their friend Dr. Hoffman, who may or may not be German. His accent can't decide. Ever the by-the-book cop (i.e. a talking plank of wood without a personality), Peterson is hellbent on hunting and killing Gilbert, sun demon or not. The thoroughly goofy pursuit sees Gil the monster kill some cops before one particularly tough officer chases him to the top of an oil tank in the middle of nowhere, where the hideous sun demon finally meets his ultimate foe: bullets and gravity.
Pure schlock, but I loved it.
Sergeant York (1941)
A very heartwarming tale of one man's journey towards betterment.
Alvin York is a good-for-nothing hoodlum in his Tennessee hometown. At least, that's what most of the townsfolk think. The most they ever really see of Alvin is when he and his buddies get boozed up and ride around hootin' and hollerin' on horseback, shooting their guns and generally being a dangerous nuisance.
But Alvin's mother knows the truth, that there is a different side to her son. His drinking problem and his violent temper aside, he's done a commendable job of looking after the York family ever since the death of his father, working their farm and pretty much singlehandedly taking care of his mother and his two younger siblings. He's also one of the finest sharpshooters in town. When he's sober, anyway. Unfortunately, the times when Alvin is sober are few and far between lately.
Desperate, Mrs. York asks their cousin, local preacher Pastor Rosier Pile, to try and talk some sense into her hellraising son. It doesn't go so well - Alvin isn't in much of a mood to listen. During one of his rare moments of sobriety, Alvin meets and falls in love with local girl Gracie Williams, but his brutish and antagonistic nature, including beating up and driving off a fellow suitor, aren't exactly endearing him to her. Not quite getting the hint, Alvin gets it into his head that if he can own his own piece of land, Gracie will come around and agree to marry him, so he swears off the booze for a while and starts doing odd jobs in an effort to buy some land.
However, when the man selling the land swindles him and sells it to the suitor Alvin beat up, a despairing Alvin hits the bottle again and becomes worse than ever. One dark and stormy night, he drunkenly decides to get his rifle and go and murder the land salesman for cheating him, over the objections of his buddies. On the way, though, a bolt of lightning strikes his gun, and an instantly sobered-up Alvin comes to the conclusion that this is a sign from God.
He swears of drinking and becomes a pacifist. He begins making amends with everyone he's ever wronged and everyone who's ever wronged him impressing Gracie with his new ways and making her fall in love with him. But just as things are looking up for Alvin, the US enters the Great War against Germany. Alvin, who now considers violence and killing morally wrong, tries to opt out as a conscientious objector, but the military isn't having it. His sharpshooting skills are just too good for them to pass up.
Fortunately, his life in the Army isn't all that bad. His superior Major Buxton is sympathetic to his views, and Alvin also meets and befriends "Pusher" Ross and Bert Thomas. His shooting skills soon earn him a promotion to corporal as well. All too soon, though, they're being shipped off to Europe. They aren't there long before Bert gets killed by enemy mortar fire, and, under the command of Sergeant Early, they storm a heavily-fortified German machine gun position.
An attempt to flank the Germans goes disastrously wrong. Although they capture the Germans' commanding officer Major Vollmer, enemy fire forces everyone to take refuge in a trench, where they're pinned down. A wounded Early gives Alvin command and tasks him with taking out the machine gun nests. Can the conflicted Alvin find a way of winning the battle by killing as few enemy soldiers as possible? Is there a way to stop the killing but still hold true to his pacifist beliefs? Leaving the captive Vollmer with Pusher, Alvin gathers his courage and charges across the battlefield towards his destiny.
Sergeant York is an amazing movie that shows how a man can change himself to become a better person, and take this betterment with him to use his pacifist ideals to bring a conflict to as non-violent a conclusion as possible, actions for which he'd earn the Medal of Honor.
Holds you from beginning to end!
This is probably the oldest film I've ever recommended, an Alfred Hitchcock film from 1948 starring Jimmy Stewart. But despite its age it's definitely one of Mr. Hitchcock's most suspenseful films, right up there with Rear Window and Vertigo.
Behind the drawn shades of an upscale late 1940's apartment, while the rest of the city carries on about its business in blissful ignorance, college students Brandon Shaw and his best friend Phillip Morgan have just done the unthinkable. They've just gotten finished murdering their classmate and supposed friend David Kentley by strangling him with a length of rope. After finishing up and stuffing the corpse into a convenient antique trunk in the living room, they open the shades and begin preparing to host a dinner party, which, in a way, the dearly departed David will be the star of. To attend will be David's father Henry Kentley, his girlfriend Janet Walker, best friend Kenneth Lawrence, and the three boys' own professor, Rupert Cadell.
Brandon and Phillip, you see, are homicidal maniacs. Or at least Brandon is. They've committed the murder and are arranging the party as what they consider an intellectual exercise. The two are believers in the concept of the "supermen" as proposed by Friedrich Nietzsche and taught to them in school by Rupert in his philosophy class. They view themselves as superior to other people, and want to prove it by committing the "perfect murder" and getting away with it. Brandon sees the party at which all of David's friends and family will be attending as the "finishing touch" on the crime, seeing it as a means of flaunting his cleverness right under everyone else's noses, complete with serving a buffet off of the top of the trunk holding David's body, despite Phillip's misgivings and increasing unease.
Phillip is concerned Rupert (who the duo view as being a fellow "superman") will catch on to what has happened. Brandon is counting on it. Since Rupert is the one who taught them all about Nietzsche's philosophy, he is eager to impress the professor, partly, it seems, because, to him, Rupert's approval will justify the murder. He never says this outright, though.
The guests begin arriving and of course everyone notices David's absence. Especially Rupert. As the evening wears on and the party grows more and more tense, thanks particularly to Phillip drinking a lot more than he ought to in an effort to steady his nerves, and Brandon becoming increasingly more and overt in the little hints he keeps "cleverly" dropping, it begins to look like things are building towards an explosive climax. But what will happen? Will the two killers get away with their crime, or will someone find them out...?
Rope was a film that suitably impressed me the first time I saw it (on YouTube of all places!). Very gripping from beginning to end and it must've been quite daring at the time to have the killers be the protagonists, and have them be strangely likable (if utterly unsympathetic of course). The structure is also unique to me. We know who the murderers are, as well as the how and the why, and even where the body is hidden. We, like Brandon and Phillip, are one step ahead of all of the other characters. The question consequently becomes not "who killed David" but "how will they get caught?"
The arrival of Jimmy Stewart as Rupert amps up the tension, since he is just as smart and clever as our murderous duo and it becomes a subtle and weirdly polite battle of wits between him and Brandon as we watch Rupert start to slowly unravel what we already know. I think this just might be my ultimate favorite Hitchcock film besides North by Northwest and Vertigo.
Much has been said of the fact Rope is done in only a few shots. I wanna discuss how Stewart enters the picture. Most of the other guests are shown arriving via the front door, but not Rupert; the camera pans over during a wide shot of the living room and he's just suddenly there, as if he materialized out of thin air. It's subtly jarring in a way and helps set him apart from the other party guests as Brandon and Phillip's nemesis and also helps underscore how his relationship to them unfolds - he is expected but unexpected; they know he's coming but he just shows up out of the blue in a slyly startling way, and although Brandon is expecting (or hoping) Rupert will solve the mystery, Rupert's reaction to the revelation is the last thing Brandon expected.
People have said Jimmy Stewart was miscast as college professor Rupert. I totally disagree. He has a laid back, lazy, subtle and sly aura of what I can only call "benevolent menace" to him (if that makes any sense) and it helps keep the audience (as well as Brandon and Phillip!) guessing as to how much Rupert knows. His end speech is one of the most utterly powerful and emotional performances in his career I think. John Dall as Brandon deserves special mention as well.
The Satan Bug (1965)
A Deadly Game of Find-The-Virus!
Based off of Alistair MacLean's novel of the same name, The Satan Bug concerns Station 3, a top-secret research facility in the California desert where the US government engineers designer germs. One day, thieves manage to circumvent security and gain access to the main lab, where the murder chief of security Reagan and chief scientist Dr. Baxter and abscond with several specimens in airtight flasks. All but one of the flasks contain botulinus. The other is the one and only existing specimen of a new strain of polio codenamed "Satan Bug." It's so deadly that if it were unleashed, it could wipe out all life on Earth in two months.
Eric Cavanaugh of the SDI (a fictional government organization) and Station 3 director Dr. Leonard Michaelson go to the lab's former chief of security, Lee Barrett, for assistance. Barrett is a top-notch detective, but quit his job because he disagreed with the military applications of Station 3's experiments. He now works as a lawyer. But with Reagan dead, there's no one else who knows the facility better and can have any chance of recovering the viruses.
Aided by a beautiful female operative named Ann Williams, herself the daughter of Barrett's former employer General Williams, Barrett determines that the thieves were the henchmen of a wealthy sociopath named Charles Reynolds Ainsley. Ainsley, styling himself a modern-day messiah, shares Barrett's disdain for Station 3, and threatens to unleash the Satan Bug unless the lab is closed down for good. But is this really his plan...? Barrett will need to find out and fast; to prove he means business, Ainsley has had his henchmen unleash some of the botulinus in Florida, killing thousands. The Satan Bug could be next if Barrett can't track down Ainsley and the viruses fast!
Behind the camera, The Satan Bug has an impressive pedigree. Based off of a novel by Alistair MacLean and directed by John Sturges, and featuring a score by Jerry Goldsmith. In front of the camera is a different story.
First and foremost, there's the total change in setting. Although the movie is, beat for beat, a fairly accurate retelling of MacLean's novel, the book was set in England. There wasn't really much reason beyond budgetary constraints to relocate the story's setting to America and make all of the characters American. They also changed (i.e. simplified) the villain's plan. In the novel, his threat to unleash the viruses unless the lab is closed is just a smokescreen so he can achieve something completely different behind the good guys' backs, a la Simon in Die Hard with a Vengeance. That said, despite the relocation to America, I rather slightly prefer the film to the novel.
Action-wise it's mostly limited to a couple of brief fistfights and shootouts that are over fairly quickly.
The climax aboard the helicopter is just plain silly. Without warning, the pilot stops flying and turns to try to shoot Barrett who is riding in back. This results in the aircraft going into a spin with no one flying it, whilst Barret fights with Ainsley and the pilot, all while the flask containing the Satan Bug perches precariously on the edge of the seat and threatens to roll out the open door. Barrett ultimately manages to overcome the villains, kick them out, grab the flask and regain control of the chopper. Definitely one of the goofier climaxes I've seen in a while.
The cast is good, but with the exception of Richard Basehart as Dr. Hoffman (a.k.a. Ainsley), there aren't too many familiar faces in prominent roles. I will say, though, I liked George Maharis as Barrett. In terms of the supporting cast, look for James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek) as an SDI agent who shows up in a few brief scenes, and Ed Asner as henchman Veretti.
If Looks Could Kill (1991)
A decent if disjointed action flick.
In the European nation of Orenbourg, the wealthy Augustus Steranko is in the middle of a shady deal with France's finance minister to acquire gold. When the Frenchman attempts to back out, Steranko promptly has him killed. Suddenly Britain's top secret agent Blade assaults Steranko's mansion, fighting his way through his guards, only to be felled by Steranko's diminutive right-hand woman Ilsa Grunt and her deadly whip.
With Blade dead, the bigwigs over at MI6 need a replacement agent and fast. To this end, they enlist the aid of the CIA, who agree to loan them their best agent, one Michael Corben. A traitor in MI6 informs Ilsa of Agent Corben's impending arrival, and she leaves for America.
In America, a different Michael Corben, a high school student, has a problem. Graduation has come up, but since he cut his French classes to go partying all year long, he doesn't have enough credits to pass; and at Edsel High, if you don't pass your foreign language class, you don't graduate. Fortunately, though, French teacher Mrs. Grober is going to give him one last chance. The French class is going on a field trip to France in the summer, and is Michael accompanies them, he'll be allowed to pass.
So it is that a mixup occurs at the airport. Ilsa waylays and murders Michael Corben the CIA agent, whilst the identically-named Michael Corben the high school student unwittingly takes the dead spy's place on board the plane bound for France. He gets to sit in first class, much to Mrs. Grober's annoyance. Upon arriving in France, Michael is shanghaied by a British agent named Richardson and whisked away to a top-secret lab, despite his protests that he isn't the Michael Corben the British think he is. His protests end abruptly when he's shown the cool, gadget- laden red Lotus sports car he'll get to drive, and he decides he'll play along with the spy gig for a while if it means he gets to play with gadgets and avoid his fussy teacher.
Meanwhile, Ilsa, thinking she murdered a decoy, assigns Zigesfeld, an assassin with a golden robotic hand, to follow and kill the "real" Agent Corben. Also tailing Michael is a mysterious woman with some connection to the murdered Blade. Additionally, Mrs. Grober's noisy search for her missing student has MI6 thinking she is an assassin out to kill Michael; likewise, Steranko thinks she's working for MI6. Both groups set out to have her and her class eliminated, and when they end up captured by Zigesfeld and taken to Steranko's mansion, it's up to Michael and the mysterious woman to rescue them and stop Steranko's evil plans.
Written by The Monster Squad director Fred Dekker, If Looks Could Kill is a love letter to the over-the-top action films of the 60's and 70's. Unfortunately, it's a disjointed movie, tonally. On the one hand, it's too simplistic and juvenile for adults... but at the same time it's too complicated and violent for kids. It's definitely a film that failed to find an audience. Also, despite supposedly being a spoof (it tends to get categorized as a comedy), its content is played dead serious a lot of the time, especially towards the end.
This was supposed to be Richard Grieco's big break, but, alas, the movie underperformed and he never quite made it. The really great performances, though, are the villains. Roger Rees is a bit hard to swallow as the hammy Steranko, while Linda Hunt, who projects subtle, quiet menace as Ilsa, and Canadian actor Tom Rack, who has only one line in the entire film, and acts primarily with his eyes and mannerisms, and in so doing conveys barely-suppressed homicidal mania. He's definitely one of cinema's scarier henchmen characters.
The action sequences are hit and miss. Blade's assault on Steranko's mansion at the beginning is neat, but is over too quickly and poorly edited. The car chase in France is slow-moving and kind of uninteresting despite the soundtrack trying to convince us otherwise. This leaves the climax, involving a shootout with hordes of henchmen who can't aim (of course), a fistfight with Zigesfeld, and finally an attempted escape by Steranko which ends in one of the most hilariously awful helicopter crashes ever put to film. If the first half disappoints when it comes to action, then the finale definitely delivers.
The Beast Must Die (1974)
One funky werewolf movie!
Somewhere in rural England, a man is running. Everywhere he goes, his movements are tracked by hidden security cameras and a low-flying helicopter, which reports his movements to several armed men. The pursue the fugitive. However, each time they catch the man, despite being armed with guns, they let him go. This proceeds for some until the man runs onto the grounds of a mansion, where suddenly the armed men reappear and open fire and it is then revealed that their guns are loaded with blanks. The man - Tom Newcliffe - is unharmed.
Cut to a control room inside the mansion, where a refreshed Tom, now revealed as the wealthy owner of the house and all the land around it, is talking to a Polish man named Pavel. Pavel is an electronics expert and the head of the mansion's security. He has turned the isolated country estate into an impenetrable fortress patrolled by armed guards and helicopters, and overseen by security cameras and hidden microphones, both inside the house and in the woods. Tom was testing the effectiveness of the system, using himself as bait. He seems satisfied.
Pavel is slightly in the dark about why his boss wants all this added security. Tom isn't terribly forthcoming about his reasons. He tells Pavel he'll learn what it is he intends to hunt soon. Later, Tom and his wife Caroline are greeting some guests they've invited out to a weekend get-together. Or, should I say, Tom has invited them - Caroline has never even heard of half of the people he's invited. But Tom seems to know each of them intimately, having done extensive research on each of them. One by one, he introduces them to Caroline.
First up is Arthur Bennington, a former United Nations diplomat. Apparently, he and two others of the diplomatic corps got into a scrape and the other two turned up dead. Only Bennington survived. Bennington was exonerated but fired from his job. He now works as a TV show host.
Then we have Jan Gilmore, a former concert pianist. Once renowned throughout the world, he is unwelcome in certain European countries because every time he was in town to perform, there were grisly murders.
Davina Gilmore, a wealthy socialite, has been separated from her husband Jan following some kind of fight between them. According to Tom, every time she attends a party, they always come up a guest short.
Then there is Paul Foote. A former medical student turned artist, Paul and some friends, while in medical school, once ate some flesh from one of the cadavers, leading to their expulsion. Later, during his career as an artist, there was a murder, and one of Paul's paintings just happened to resemble the victim. Paul claims he saw the victim's face in a newspaper photo, but Tom isn't so sure.
Lastly, we have Dr. Christopher Lundgren, who is a Swedish archaeologist by trade but whose personal hobby is cryptzoology. In particular - and here, we see why Tom saved him for last - Lundgren is a self-professed expert on werewolves.
This shocks the other guests and Tom explains that he believes without a shadow of a doubt that one of them is a werewolf, and he aims to prove it and slay the monster. The full moon is coming up, he says, and will last for three days, and with all the added security around the house, there is no way the werewolf can escape, and he vows wait until the werewolf's identity is revealed, and then hunt and kill it - after which the remaining guests may leave.
Tom's plan seems foolproof. The security system airtight. The guards well-trained. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Before the three days are over, the Newcliffe's guest list will be quite a bit shorter...
This is a fine and fun little werewolf film, with some great performances. We have Peter Cushing doing a Swedish accent he lapses in and out of; the smarmy, acid-tongued Charles Gray; the painfully handsome and soft-spoken Anton Diffring; and, years before his turn as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, Michael Gambon. There's also Ciaran Madden, although she's a bit on the wooden side; making up for this where the fairer sex are concerned is the positively gorgeous Marlene Clark.
But the true standout performances are Calvin Lockhart as Tom Newcliffe and Tom Chadbon as Paul Foote.
Lockhart lords himself over all of the other actors, even stalwarts like Charles Gray and Peter Cushing. Lockhart's delivery is a bit stilted at times, but, nevertheless, his sheer charisma and force of personality make give his Tom an utterly magnetic and engaging screen presence. He's like a modern day Captain Ahab, too, growing more and more crazed and obsessed at figuring out who the werewolf is each time he fails to kill it.
And then we have Tom Chadbon. I loved him in that, and he's an absolute joy here. His Paul Foote is quite simply the funniest and most engaging character in the entire film. He doesn't take anything seriously and is constantly making jokes, even in the most dire circumstances; clearly, Paul operates on an entirely different plain of mental existence from the other people in the mansion.
If the movie has one weakness, it's the werewolf itself. Apparently, Amicus blew its entire budget renting a helicopter, that they had zilch left over for the monster, so the titular beast is played by an actual wolf. Or, at least, a large dog that looks reasonably enough like a wolf. Still, to Amicus' credit, they keep the critter mostly offscreen and let the suspense and the drama drive the story, and, when the shaggy abomination does rear its cute head and waggy tail, they shoot the attack scenes around the animal, and it works fairly well.
Hornets' Nest (1970)
A decent little WWII thriller.
A dark and gritty World War II adventure movie filmed on location in Italy and co-produced by the Italians, this film is quite grimdark and violent, and also possibly one of the filthiest movies I've ever seen. Everyone is always sweating and in bad need of a good bath, with messy hair that needs combing, and clothes that need a trip through the washing machine. It all adds to the realism, of course; war is dirty and messy.
Hornets' Nest stars macho man Rock Hudson, fresh off his successful starring role in the big screen adaptation of Alistair MacLean's novel Ice Station Zebra, as the determined Captain Turner. He does a pretty good job in what is essentially a one-note tough guy role, although he does, later one, get to emote a bit during scenes where Turner wonders he's doing the right thing by arming a bunch of preteen and younger kids.
Other standout performances include the achingly beautiful Sylva Koscina as Bianca, whose compassionate, kindhearted nature make it truly saddening all that she endures throughout the film. She begins by denying the crimes of the Nazis, but eventually takes up arms against them herself. Still, there is the uncomfortable scene where she's almost raped by the kids, and roughed up by Turner later, and I really have to wonder what in the world directors Phil Karlson and Franco Cirino were thinking.
There's also Mark Colleano as Aldo, and wow, can that kid act! Colleano really plays the whole "psycho teen" angle to the hilt and makes Aldo a believably dangerous and reprehensible, but still somehow pitiable character. Indeed, almost all the actors playing the boys do a good job, particularly Mauro Gravina as the adorable, ill-fated Carlo, and John Fordyce as Dino. These two are really the human face of the group of children (nevermind Dino is probably close to eighteen). If Aldo represents all that is wrong with youth, then the warm and compassionate Dino and the eager, curious and hopeful (despite the tragedy that has befallen them) Carlo represent all that is good and pure in it.
This finally brings us to the German characters, who save for Lithuanian actor Jacques Sernas as Taussig, are played almost entirely by Italians doing bad Teutonic accents. The high-ranking colonels and generals are stilted and laughable, but Sernas is pretty good. His Taussig oozes despicable arrogance and casual cruelty.
The best German character, though, and, indeed, probably the best character in the movie, is the very, very blonde Sergio Fantoni as Captain Friedrich von Hecht. He's a perfect example of an antagonist who isn't a villain. He's a decent enough guy who's just on the wrong side of an unjust war and knowingly serving an evil regime, acidly making his distaste for "you SS people" known at every turn, even at the risk of his own career and maybe even his life. Most interestingly of all is how he treats his mission to find and eliminate (or capture) Turner. Von Hecht is a hunter, you see; and he sees the American officer on the loose as a challenge that he must accept and try to overcome. For him, it's less about advancing the Nazi cause (he could care less about that) and more about the thrill of the hunt. And (mild spoiler here), he isn't one of this egomaniacal hunters drunk on his own superiority over his enemy; when his own prey bests him in the end, he accepts his defeat with dignity.
If the movie has a fault (the rape scenes aside), it is that it is a little on the unrealistic side when it comes to the battle scenes, and also can't quite seem to settle on a tone or moral. We have (essentially) untrained kids mowing down countless Nazis left and right, and it can't quite seem to decide if it wants to show war as a fun adventure or as a grim reality with tragic psychological tolls that come with children becoming killers, and its efforts to have it both ways leave it feeling a bit disjointed.
Decent but unremarkable undersea adventure movie.
Following the destruction of much of coastal Turkey by a massive tsunami, American scientists Dr. Doug Standish (a mugging Lloyd Bridges) and Dr. Craig Mosby (Brian Kelly playing kind of a sexist jerk) lead the crew of the submarine Hydronaut in a race to plant seismic sensors along fault lines on the ocean floor to create an experimental earthquake detection system in order to prevent other coastal countries from suffering the same fate. The crew consists of geologist Orin Hillyard (Marshall Thompson), electronics expert Dr. Philip Volker (David McCallum doing a hokey German accent) and marine biologist Margaret Hanford (the fetching Shirley Eaton as what basically amounts to eye candy). Also along for the ride is reclusive survival expert Hank Stahl (a delightfully curmudgeonly Keenan Wynn).
While at times enjoyable, Around the World Under the Sea is, alas, a bit on the boring side. It isn't that badly written, not for a movie of its type, anyway, but in its apparent drive to depict the science fiction elements as realistically as possible (in a "this is totally plausible" sort of way), it tends to bog down. We spend far too much time focusing on the Hydronaut crew planting the various sensors that midway through the film a montage of them doing it gets the bulk of that out of the way to make way for... well, not undersea adventure, that's for sure.
There is some of that, but it's few and far between and mostly, when the movie isn't methodically showing us in detail how they do various scientific tasks, it basically plays out like a soap opera set on a submarine: Volker wants to do a salvage dive for some valuable crystals but is opposed (for some reason the movie never bothers explaining) by Stahl, and the two have an epic chess game to decide whether they'll do it (Volker cheats!); Hanford is ostensibly Hillyard's girlfriend at the start, but starts falling for Mosby despite him being kind of a sexist pig, and on top of this she's Volker's ex and there is unresolved tension between them. The movie seems to think that this is all more interesting than giant eels and erupting undersea volcanoes. It would be wrong.
One thing of note is the sexism against Dr. Hanford that Craig Mosby has, and, to some extent, so does the movie. With comments like "she's as good with a skillet as she is with a scalpel," it at times feels like a movie from a much earlier film, far less tolerant of women in the workplace. When Hanford is late for the Hydronaut's takeoff, the chief concern regarding her is that they can't set sail without a cook (!). If nothing else, at least the poor woman gets support from Standish if no one else, who points out "She's a scientist and so are we" and doesn't find the idea of female astronauts at all unusual, and hires her on the spot even once he learns the mysterious and overqualified "M.E. Hanford" is a woman, whilst it is Mosby who objects to having a woman aboard the sub. Still, most of it just seems like lip service, as, despite Standish's insistence in her abilities, all supposed marine biologist Hanford ever really does is "woman" stuff like serving coffee while Stahl (who isn't even a scientist) does most of the specimen collecting and lab work.
This nonsense aside, it has its moments. There's a close call where Hillyard is burned by an undersea vent and has to be rescued by Volker, as well as a giant moray eel which attacks the sub, and a fairly satisfying climax involving a giant underwater volcano and a rock slide which buries the sub, trapping our heroes and forcing them to use their quick wits to escape. Recommended for viewers with lots and lots of patience. For a far better and more enjoyable undersea adventure flick, see either 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.