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The Plague Dogs (1982)
Some minor spoilers
This is an excellent animation, the second to be produced by Nepenthe following from 1978's "Watership Down". Although I prefer Watership Down, The Plague Dogs is certainly darker and more distressing/despairing/depressing, hence the PG rating (rather than Watership's U). Like Watership Down, Plague Dogs was written by Richard Adams, his statement against the horrors of vivisection.
The story follows Rowf and Snitter, two dogs who escape from an animal research laboratory (just outside the Lakeland village of Coniston), and their attempts to evade capture, at first by farmers for killing sheep, and later by soldiers for reasons more sinister.
By today's standards the animation does not look at all smooth - though I prefer this handmade quality, and I also appreciate the synthesised soundtrack, though it lapses into silliness at times. What sticks in the memory are the horrible things that continue to happen after Rowf and Snitter escape the lab, and how the animation comes to capture this. It is unusual to see animation being used to depict the horrible (being as I for one normally see it used for more saccharin Disneyesque purposes), but it works, just as Watership Down did. (Spoiler, next sentence) One particular scene of a shotgun accident works very well, in fact.
The fact that it works well shouldn't stop this film being shown to children, that is to say: those who are old/mature enough to move on from the sentimentality of Disney et- al (bearing in mind its PG status). It could never be described as anything like sentimental. In fact, it starkly narrates our hopelessly backward thinking on life, and our senseless, thoughtless actions to its detriment. The fact that it narrated our heartless idiocy may have contributed to the film's poor takings, despite an excellent cast.
For a film that did not perform well at the box office, there are a surprising number of copies available: on DVD versions have been published by Anchor Bay and "Hollywood DVD" (Air Media), I own the latter which is Region 0 (all PAL regions)... and it's the worst encoding I've ever seen on a DVD! From other reviews I'm told the Anchor Bay version is little better, and both versions are truncated. I regard my copy as a stopgap until the original full length 1982 version is released, rather than the 1984 cut. It was however, the cheapest DVD I've ever brought at £1.49.
Nonetheless, it's extraordinary that a film of this calibre should have become so forgotten, and I strongly recommend it (even the badly mastered edited editions).
For the fact fans among you:
"Nepenthe": Mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, is an ancient Egyptian drug for the relief of melancholia.
Coniston, the location of the animal research station, actually exists... though to the best of my knowledge there has never been an animal research station in or near the village. The village is in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria (North-West of England)
(Spoiler) The original book had a happy (or at least happier) ending.
The original book had illustrations by Alfred Wainwright!
The Big Bus (1976)
Raise the flags of all nations!
I probably shouldn't like this film, but sweet damn, I do. Very much.
By way of synopsis: this is the story of the inaugural non-stop atomic bus service from New York to Denver. Cyclops, an articulated twin deck bus (with a swimming pool and a bowling alley on board of course), is beset by various unlikely perils en route.
This venerable spoof predates "Airplane!" by four years, and is at least its equal in cheesy quality. This film is cheese, and it's matured for 28 years. With no word of a lie, it is THE cheesiest film I have ever seen, and I've witnessed some fine acts of cheese.
And there are some pretty bad moments to be sure, the sort of moments where you cringe so violently that ligaments tear, but there's comedy of fine calibre in this too: both by way of deadpan "throwaway" lines, and the overall situation (sublimely funny).
The grandfather of a genre (and I'd argue, an exemplar), The Big Bus deserves far more recognition than it presently receives. A fine spoof with no high ideas of itself, which doesn't need to stoop low... by virtue of starting low. Perhaps that's my favourite thing about this film: it was written, acted, and produced without shame. And for that, it's the best quality low quality you'll ever see.