Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Black Moon

Black Moon is an odd film to say the least.  You know that sequence in Ghost World where they view the weird art film?  Yeah, this movie feels like that.  As my good buddy Derek is fond of saying, this film is full of blue cupcakes.  I mean the first few moments consist of a badger wandering across the road till…yeah, it gets ran over.  The driver, a woman, gets out and off in the distance we hear the sounds of a battle.  A bit later we meet the combatants and it appears as though a literal war of the sexes is going on.  A group of female prisoners is executed.  The driver of the car is exposed as a woman but escapes. 

Eventually she abandons her car and after seeing a group of women beating a prisoner takes off running through the woods.  The film becomes a kind of nature special at this point, as the girl observes various insects and a unicorn of all things.  She meets a woman on horseback and chases after her…then sees a group of naked kids running with a large hog.  She enters a farm house and encounters a piglet sitting in a baby’s highchair.  She finds a woman upstairs having a conversation with a large rat.  This woman then describes everything that has happened to this girl, telling us its all in her imagination. 

The girl wanders around the house then returns to the old woman’s room and starts throwing alarm clocks out the window as each one goes off. She sees a soldier choking the woman, the woman choking herself and then the woman begins to choke the girl.  The girl slaps her and she dies.  She hears a man singing opera, runs out to tell him the woman is dead but he spends most of the time touching her face and neck.  The girl randomly tells us her name is Lily...and that the man's name is Lily and the woman on horseback is also Lily.  Though no one is talking to her she is having a one sided conversation with someone. 

Turns out the old woman isn’t dead she’s just hungry.  And…uh…the woman on horseback from earlier…breastfeeds her.  Yeah.  Lily gets locked in with the old woman and starts tearing the room apart.  She demands to know what is going on and her panties keep falling down as the woman laughs hysterically.  The girl manages to keep her bloomers on, eats an old piece of cheese covered in ants and sees the unicorn again.  She escapes out the window and chases after it.  Following a trail of blood she finds to a dead soldier being picked at by chickens. 

As they bury the dead soldier the unicorn walks by and spouts Shakespeare.  She catches up with the unicorn and they get into an argument.  The unicorn eventually gets frustrated and leaves.  As Lily wanders around she sees the breastfeeding woman serving dinner to mute opera guy and the naked children.  Lily finds the old woman crying and tries to comfort her.  The old woman tells us the rats name is Humphrey and they had an argument and then states she is hungry.  So again…we have another weird breast feeding sequence.  After feeding the old woman Lily finds the naked children, who begin to clap for her.  Lily sits down at the piano and plays.  The music sequence really does carry on for far too long and really adds nothing to the film.

Once the music ends mute opera guy starts chasing a falcon around the room with a sword, eventually killing it.  Breastfeeding woman fights mute opera guy in the front yard as Lily looks on.  Finding the old woman gone Lily climbs into bed and watches a snake crawl up her skirt.  Outside, the front yard is full of sheep and turkeys for no reason at all.  Lily wakes up to find the unicorn in the room with her...who apparently asked to be fed.  Lily prepares to breastfeed and the film ends.

Its difficult to review a movie like this, much less try and give a concise synopsis.  As the saying goes, it can not be described only experienced.  It feels like a weird art film.  Weird for the sake of being weird, which is the definition of blue cupcakes.  Other times the movie is interesting and has some unique imagery or dialogue.  This film is often described as a bizarre take on Alice in Wonderland.  That is actually a fairly good description.  Lily spends the whole film going from place to place, always finding something uniquely odd.

I guess you could say the film leaves it up to you to determine what the film means.  Is everything we see really a delusion experienced by Lily?  Is this really some weird future where a war between men and women rages?  If you like odd art house films then Black Moon is something you should experience.  If weird for the sake of being weird is not something you like then stay away from this film.  One bit of trivia; this film is directed by Louis Malle who also directed Au revoir les enfants.  Working at a video store, when a young Quentin Tarantino suggested Au revoir les enfants to a customer he was told, 'I don't want no Reservoir Dogs!'  What is it with unicorns?  I feel like Deckard should be running around looking for replicants as Lily is freaking out. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

House of Dark Shadows

House of Dark Shadows is a 1970 film based on the tv series Dark Shadows.  The movie begins with Willie Loomis searching for the Collins family jewels.  After deciphering several clues he discovers a hidden casket.  Thinking the jewels are inside he opens the coffin...a hand reaches out and beings to choke him.  Later, a woman is stalked and attacked by a man with a cane.  She is later found with two bite marks on her neck.  The Sheriff consults with Dr. Hoffman about the nature of the attack and learns of another attack, this time a fatal one.  Meanwhile, the mysterious figure with the cane approaches the Collinwood Estate.

This man introduces himself as Barnabas Collins, a cousin from England.  Barnabas meets Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, her brother Roger Collins, Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn, Dr. Hoffman and Professor Stokes.  Barnabas gives Elizabeth some of the fabled lost jewels and, in return, they let Barnabas stay in the old house where his 'ancestor' lived.  Barnabas bites Carolyn and puts her under his spell.  A costume ball is held and Barnabas meets Maggie Evans, who reminds him of Josette...his long lost love.  He later tells Willie the tale of how, nearly 200 years ago, Josette refused to become the bride of a vampire, refused to become one herself...and jumped off Widow's Hill and into the ocean.  Carolyn overhears this tale, becomes jealous and is attacked by Barnabas.  She eventually dies of her wounds.

Later, Dr. Hoffman is examining the blood from the victims.  Professor Stokes puts forth the theory of a vampire.  Dr. Hoffman discovers a cell that she believes could cure vampirism.  Carolyn doesn't stay dead for very long and comes to her boyfriend Todd, offering him eternal life.  Todd is later found and is put under the care of Dr. Hoffman.  While putting on makeup Dr. Hoffman discovers that Barnabas has no reflection.  Todd escapes and goes to Carolyn.  While they are together the police, armed with crosses, and with Professor Stokes, corner and kill Carolyn.  Later, Dr. Hoffman confronts Barnabas about his secret but promises that she can cure him.  Barnabas and Maggie have dinner and he gives her Josette's music box.  Willie tries to warn her about Barnabas...and he is later savagely beaten for this.

Professor Stokes confronts Barnabas about his nature...only to find that he is able to exist in the daylight.  The treatments Dr. Hoffman have been administering worked.  Later he is even able to enjoy a romantic stroll with Maggie.  Like Carolyn before her, Dr. Hoffman becomes jealous and sabotages the injections...causing Barnabas to age horribly.  Barnabas becomes enraged and kills Dr. Hoffman for this betrayal...and a quick bite from Maggie restores his youth.

Barnabas kidnaps Maggie and dresses her in a wedding gown, intending to make her his bride.  Maggie's boyfriend Jeff returns, only to find that, somehow, Professor Stokes and Roger Collins have become vampires.  He manages to kill them and heads to the old house to confront Barnabas.  Jeff makes his way inside, takes aim with a crossbow and...accidentally hits Willie instead.  After trying to warn Maggie and being beaten by Barnabas he can not let her become a vampire.  Barnabas removes the arrow from Willie and begins to hypnotize Jeff.  Just as Barnabas is about to bite Maggie, Willie stabs Barnabas with an arrow.  Free of his control Jeff shoves the arrow through the other side of his chest.  Jeff picks up Maggie and the film ends...though after the credits the fallen Barnabas turns into a bat and flies away.

This movie borrows much from the tv show.  The plot is, more or less, directly lifted from the series.  All the actors, even some of the minor ones like the Sheriff and Minister, have large roles on the show.  Even much of the music is reused.  The original storyline which played out is much different.  Carolyn is bitten and becomes a slave to Barnabas...but she never becomes a vampire and she does not die.  Nor does Dr. Hoffman die.  Another big difference is the blood.  The series had little blood.  Sometimes we would see a drop of blood on a neck wound, but that was all. 

Also on the series, Barnabas is not killed.  His death was originally planned, but when the character proved to be extremely popular he was spared.  In the movie, however, we see his original fate.  This film was made while the tv series was still running and due to that several actors had their characters written out long enough to participate in the film.  Indeed, on the series Barnabas was locked in his coffin for several weeks by a writer wanting material for a new book...which sounds a bit like Interview with the Vampire.

The idea of a reluctant vampire is extremely popular these days...but in the 1960s this was a new approach.  Many attribute Barnabas Collins with being the first vampire who did not wish to embrace his bloodlust.  Of course, this is not the case in this film, but on the series Barnabas becomes a very sympathetic character and is cured of his vampirism.  Where it not for Barnabas, would we have Lestat, Angel, Spike...or yes, even Edward Cullen? 

If you are at all curious about what Dark Shadows is then this honestly a bit of a mess.  I would suggest starting with the first dvd set...which begins with the introduction of Barnabas.  This is a film that fans of the series can appreciate...but non-fans may just end up confused.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Night Fright

Night Fright is a 1967 TV movie staring John Agar, who we previously saw in The Mole People.  Our movie opens with some teens playing kissy face.  The radio tells us a fireball was seen blazing across the sky.  Something approaches the car and...what the hell?  That was a weird transition.  From scream to laugh.  Anyway, we now switch to two other teens.  I hope they last longer than the first couple.

Oh, I hope this guy dies soon.  His acting is so bad.  He keep rambling on about leaves and gravity and such.  His pauses are more pregnant than those of Shatner... and i'm a Shatner fan.  What are you trying to say!?  So the kids run and play in the forest for ever and then...another weird jump our credits?  Eleven minutes into the movie and its like someone forgot about them.   

The police talk about finding a crashed rocket then go to a murder scene.  Murder?  Murdered by...nature?  They keep saying the girl was 'chewed up' what makes them think it was murder?  Anyway the police look for clues.  Honestly I think Scooby and Shaggy could do better.  This looking for clues sequence just goes on and on.

They finally find some weird alligator like tracks.  Does this whole movie consist of people walking in the woods?!  The biggest excitement thus far is the sheriff nearly getting ran over by the teenagers.  The movie suddenly a commercial?  Oh, just looks like one.  For a minute there I was about to head to the lobby for a snack.

So later, much later, the kids have a 'beach party'.  Looks like they're just in the woods near a lake.  Somebody better die soon.  Having a party in a place called Satan's Hollow...great idea by the way.  Nothing can possibly go wrong.  Finally, a deputy is cornered by the monster.  Even this is just a tease.  The teens are warned to stay away and most of them actually listen.  The kids that didn't leave get terrorized by the monster.  He slowly stalks a girl through the woods.  The sheriff shows up, shots the monster...then he runs away.

Later, a scientist tells us that a NASA experiment that launched animals into space is what crashed.  The animals have mutated and are responsible for the killings.  The sheriff forms a plan and everyone waits for the monster.  He uses a mannequin as a decoy and blows up the monster.  Jokes are made, hugs given, the girl is kissed and we have...The End.

Most of the movie takes place at night...or what we are supposed to believe is night.  The monster looks like a Klingon in a gorilla suit.  At one point, during the VHS boom, the movie was retitled, 'The Extraterrestrial Nasty'.  So after all this if you even consider watching this film...I pity you.  Don't do it.  This film is on the same level as Octaman or The Beast of Yucca Flats.  It's so bad and there isn't even a lot to make fun of.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Giant Behemoth

Our credits roll across screen as if rocked by the ocean.  If I were prone to sea sickness...whoa!  Everything exploded.  The a-bomb fills the screen and a scientist tells us all about it.  This is typical movie stuffs.  A-bomb bad.  Mutation.  Nature good.  Our movie shifts its focus to an old fisherman and his daughter.  Eventually he is attacked and his dying word is, 'Behemoth!'.  Not quite as dramatic as the little girl in Them!  Later, the beach is filled with dead fish.  Meanwhile, the scientist from the opening learns of the mysterious goings on and heads to Cornwall.

 They begin to investigate but come up with nothing.  Most of this stuff is just exposition...and science!  See the fish dissection!  Thrill to the radioactive water tests!  Finally, the scientists are satisfied radioactivity exists in Cornwall.  Maybe now something  interesting will happen.  On the ocean they finally spot something; the snakelike back of a sea monster.  This brief moment of excitement is followed by meetings, discussion, and more exposition.

Later, a barking dog leads a father and son to the beach where the behemoth gives them a big lethal dose of radiation.  After destroying a helicopter the monster finally shows itself.  It rises and threatens a ferry.  The monster manages to sink the ferry, killing all on-board.  The military and scientists discuss how best to destroy the beast.  The behemoth rises from the Thames and begins its rampage of London.

This is actually a nicely done sequence with people freeing in terror and some closeups of the monster.  Soldiers attack with machine gun, rifle and pistol fire but this does nothing and they are melted by radiation.  The behemoth destroying the power lines reminds me of a similar scene in the first Godzilla film.

Our lead scientists completes work on a special radium torpedo and hops in a mini-sub.  It doesn't take long for the behemoth to find the sub.  He fires into the monster's mouth and it explodes.  The Thames begins to boil and bubble like a witches cauldron.  As the two scientists dive away a radio report says that the east coast of America is full of dead fish.  The End?

The star of our film, the Behemoth, was animated by Willis O'Brien, who was responsible for the groundbreaking special effects in the original King Kong.  When the monster attacks London it is a long sequence and makes up for the long science and exposition scenes.  Ultimately, if you enjoy films like Godzilla or perhaps Gorgo, the The Giant Behemoth is something you'd enjoy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Horror Express

All aboard!  Horror Express is a 1972 horror film starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas. Or, if you perfer, Dracula, Dr. Who, and Blofeld.  This should be interesting. 

Our movie opens with Lee finding the frozen remains of what he believes to be a missing link in Manchuria.  He makes preparations to board a train, taking the remains with him.  In the meantime a man picks the lock which secures the frozen remains and later turns up dead, his eyes completely vacant of color.

Once the train gets moving and all our characters become acquainted Cushing's character pays a man to take a peak at whatever is in Lee's deadly crate.  The man looks in, sees the frozen remains and leaves...but later a hand reaches out and picks the lock.   Hearing a noise the man returns to investigate, only to be seized by the hand.  He looks into the red eye of the monster and his eyes turn white, blood runs from them, and falls dead.

When the man is discovered missing Lee is confronted and ordered to turn over the key.  He simply tosses it out a window.  The crate is eventually broken into and they find the body of the dead man.  Soldiers begin searching for the monster and one eventually finds it...but is killed.  Lee and his assistant perform an autopsy on one of the dead men.  They find the victim's brain is completely smooth.  Drained of his memory.

The monster claims another victim, a beautiful redhead who was attempting to rob a safe.  She was using Cushing anyway so I don't feel all that sorry to see her go.  Other than she was a redhead.  Love redheads.  Which, I feel compelled to point out...this movie has three of them.  In searching for the girl Cushing is seized by the monster but is saved by one of the soldiers.  The monster attempts to kill him from afar, using only its gaze to make his blood run...but the monster is shot several times and falls dead.

Lee theorizes that the creature is able to absorb peoples minds, their memories, through the eyes somehow.  Lee and Cushing examine the monster's eye and see things from its perspective.  They see dinosaurs and the Earth as seen from space.  Is the monster a demon or an alien?

The monster, who jumped into the body of the man that killed its body, kills Cushing's assistant. When the passengers become nervous about all the goings on they demand action.  Lee and Cushing begin to examine everyone's eyes, attempting to spot the monster, but this fails.  Later on Lee tells us that the monster arrived from another planet and was able to adapt itself to life on Earth.

Suddenly the train stops at a depot and soldiers rush into the train. Telly Savalas leads the soldiers and takes charge.  Eventually Lee exposes the monster to everyone and Telly not only stabs it in the back but puts a few bullets in it as well.  Wounded, the monster transfers its essence into a mad monk.  The monster cuts the lights and manages to kill most of Telly's soldiers and eventually, Telly himself.

Lee confronts the monster who tells us he is a form of energy from another galaxy.  The monster goes into this weird trance and brings all his victims back to life.  Working together Lee and Cushing manage to separate the last car where all the survivors are huddled together just moments before the train dives off a huge cliff.  The survivors watch the wreckage burn and we have...

Though this film is Spanish made it could quite easily fit in with the Hammer horror films.  If certain elements of this film feel familiar its because inspiration was taken from the novel Who Goes There? which was eventually put to film twice:  The Thing From Another World and its remake The Thing.   This film also goes against type, having Lee and Cushing act as allies instead of enemies.

The only negative aspect of this film is Telly Savalas.  He simply shows up far too late in the film.  Though he's wonderful in his scene chewing role of Kazan it's as though he shows up, acts absurd and is then killed off.  Well, at least he wasn't killed by a talking doll this time.  Ultimately though, Horror Express is a nice little horror movie and, if you're a fan of Hammer movies then this is right up your alley.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Them is a 1954 film staring James Whitmore, known to genre fans as the President of the Tribunal that tried Taylor in Planet of the Apes, but perhaps is most famous for his role as Books in The Shawshank Redemption.  Also present is James Arness who would eventually become sheriff Matt Dillon in the tv series Gunsmoke.

Our movie begins with the discovery of a small girl found wandering alone in the desert.  The police officers who find the girl investigate a trailer, thinking maybe she wandered away, only to discover it has been torn apart.  The cops visit a local grocery store and find it torn apart as well.  The mysterious culprit returns and kills one of the cops off screen.  The police and FBI are baffled.  Is there a maniac on the loose?  And why is sugar found at each crime scene?  Later, a Doctor from the Dept. of Agriculture shows up with his daughter.  The Dr. manages to jolt the little girl out of her catatonic state.  She simply screams, 'Them!' over and over.

Later the group returns to the trailer.  They find a mysterious print and while searching for more Dr. Daughter finds the source...a giant ant!  Arness and Whitmore blast it with bullets until it collapses.  The Dr. theorizes that radiation from the first atomic bomb test has mutated a nest of ants.  The Dr. is the usual kind of dysfunctional genius.  Brilliant in his deductions, but confused about simple things such as proper radio etiquette.

The Dr. devises a plan and they blast the nest with phosphorus to keep them (heh) inside due to the heat, and drop cyanide to kill the ants.  After a brief discussion about a womanz place Dr. Daughter accompanies the team and they descend into the nest.  After entering the queen's chamber they discover that two queens have managed to escape.  Now, they must discover and destroy the queen ants before they can set up a new colony.

Eventually they talk to a man in an asylum who claims to have seen flying saucer shaped ants.  This guy reminds me of Randy Quaid's character from Independence Day.  We hear the familiar Wilhelm scream several times in this film.  When the ants attack a ship one of the sailors screams out in pain and terror.  With one of the queens now dead, destroyed by the Navy off screen, Arness and Whitmore investigate the theft of 40 tons of sugar.

Later, a drunk tells about seeing ants and they eventually discover ants in the LA drainage system.  A press conference is held and LA is put under martial law and the whole ant ordeal is made public.  The army eventually enters the drains and begins searching for the queen.  Whitmore finds the nest and kills several ants but dies in the process.  The army swarms in and kills the ants.  They make their way to the queens chamber and destroy it.  Everyone watches the burning ants die and we have...The End.

Them! is perhaps the best of the giant insect films of the 50s.  With high production values and fine performances from its principal actors it never wanders into absurdity like so many other films that came before, or others who would seek to emulate it.  The sound of the ants is actually that of Hyla Avivoca, or the bird-voiced tree frog.  A little joke with one of my friends is that, while driving during the evening, the sound of these frogs often sounds very similar to that of Them!  Often we'll look at one other and say, as the little girl did, 'Them!'

Leonard Nimoy has a blink and you'll miss it role as a soldier handling reports about the ants.  The only negative thing I have to say about this film is that the romance between Arness and Dr. Daughter never quite materlizes.  He's obviously 'sweet' on her and is overprotective...but there are no fireworks.  It's very subtle though.  Sometimes we simply see them holding hands.  Put simply, if you're in the mood for a well made science fiction film from the atomic age then look no further.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a 1978 cult film that spawned the most unlikely franchise ever.  This film would eventually lead to three sequels, video games, comics and an animated series.  All this from a campy movie parody.  The movie opens with a warning telling us that when Alfred Hitchcock made The Birds people thought it was silly...until a small town was actually invaded by birds.   From this the audience is supposed to fear the mighty tomato. A brief sequence follows where a tomato rolls around and terrorizes a house wife.

Following that sequence we have the credits and the movie's theme song plays.  If for some reason you thought this was going to be a serious movie...those hopes have now been dashed as the opening credits remind me of Monty Python and The Holy Grail.  The film resumes with the police investigating the death of the house wife.  Later the police are seen near a farm in a desperate battle with the tomatoes.

A bit later several Generals and Scientists manage to squeeze into a small room for a conference on what to do about the killer tomatoes.  A japanese scientist, dubbed in english, gives a report.  Later we see that even cute teenage girls out for a swim are not safe, as the tomatoes attack them.  Obviously, the threat is serious if cute girls are in danger.  Jaws was quite popular at the time and this sequence is meant to parody it. 

A secret document on the growing tomato threat is 'misplaced' and ends up in the hands of our Lois Lane stand in...Lois Fairchild.  Meanwhile, tomatoes are still causing chaos as they attack a guy riding a dirt bike then later attack the police that were sent to assist.  I should point out our rotating cast of characters also includes a secret team composed of a master of disguise, a paratrooper, a Olympic athlete and a scuba diver.  The master of disguise assumes the identity of Hitler.  The disguise is so good that one of this own teammates tries to attack him...despite the fact he is black.

The movie is so absurd it even identifies San Fransisco as New York.  I guess I don't need to mention the guy who randomly breaks out in song.  Or the talking dog and his master who are killed by tomatoes.  The leader of the secret team is suddenly caught by two killer tomatoes but before they can attack are scared away by some unknown force.

The awkward flirting between Lois and the paratrooper reminds me of Beast From Haunted Cave...only this scene is played for laughs.  Meanwhile the master of disguise has infiltrated the tomatoes but exposes himself once he asks for ketchup.  Finally, the army takes action and engages the tomatoes in a deadly battle.

Near the end of the film we have a great car chase.  It starts off the with paratrooper's parachute getting caught in the car door.  When both vehicles sputter out he is almost able to out run the car.  Eventually a plan to destroy the tomatoes is devised.  It is discovered that the 'hit song' Puberty Love can destroy the tomatoes.  The song causes the tomatoes to shrink back to normal size and everyone stomps them.  The movie ends with a love song and...the possible rise of the killer carrots?

The tomatoes being defeated by a song certainly reminds me of Lynn Minmay from Macross.  If you've forgot about Minmay then you clearly do not remember love!  Also of musical interest, it should be noted that the singer of Puberty Love is Matt Cameron who would eventually become the drummer for Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.

There is certainly more to this movie than i've pointed out.  It's something that you need to experience for yourself.  If you enjoy Mystery Science Theater 3000, any movie parody like the Scary Movie series or bad movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space  then you'll love Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.