Category Archives: Sci-Fi
The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume Two (1961-1964) | Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and First Men in the Moon
From Indicator/Powerhouse comes three more classic Ray Harryhausen adventures presented with brand new 2K and 4K restorations, and containing a wealth of new and archival extras. Here’s the lowdown…
American Civil War prisoner Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) escapes in a balloon with other Confederate officers and a war correspondant Gideon Spillet (Gary Merril, aka Bette Davis’s ex) and end up on an unknown island in the Pacific along with shipwrecked aristocrats, Lady Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan). Holed up in a cave they nickname the Granite House, the plucky castways encounter strange creatures, pirates, an angry volcano and the charismatic Captain Nemo (beautifully underplayed by a blonde Herbert Lom).
This action-filled adventure, loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1874 novel, provides a field day for special effects man Ray Harryhausen, who conjures up a magnificent menagerie of oversized critters: including a giant crab (whose carapace was bought from Harrods Food Hall), a prehistoric Phorusrhacos (which looks like an oversized cassowary), a hive of bees, and a slumbering multi-tentacled cephalopod.
The picturesque Spanish locations (including Sa Conca Bay in Catalonia, and some others that would later be used in Jason and the Argonauts), evocative production design (especially the Nautilus and its Victorian-futuristic paraphernalia) and atmospheric score from composer Bernard Herrmann are an added delight to Harryhausen’s fantastical-take on a Boy’s Own-styled castaway adventure.
• 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• 2012 audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton (This is thoroughly enjoyable, and I love it when a genuinely surprised Ray keeps commenting on how sharp everything looks in the restoration – especially as he used filters to soften the actor’s faces in the first place. He also reveals many of his camera tricks, including using a cardboard cut-out for the Phorusrhacos)
• Audio commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven C. Smith (having heard everything from the master himself, I might leave this for a rainy day)
• Archive interview with Ray Harryhausen (featuring many of his storyboards)
• 2017 interview with actor Michael Craig (who talks about the difficulty of trying to act against an invisible crab on a beach filled with onlookers)
• 2017 interview with clapper loader Ray Andrew (who gives an entirely different account of that crab story)
• 2017 interview Kim Newman (on the shared cinematic universe of Jules Verne)
• Mysterious Magic: 2017 interview with visual effects animator Hal Hickel (on the huge impact Harryhausen’s work had on his career)
• Islands of Mystery: vintage black and white featurette (this one really beefs the film up – making you expect more monsters)
• Super 8 version (a cut-down version, in colour, with a narrator to paste over the gaps)
• Back to Mysterious Island: A preview of the 2008 Bluewater Comic that re-imagines the adventure for a younger generation (colourful, but not my cuppa tea, sorry)
• Isolated Bernard Herrmann score (just perfect to listen to over and over)
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Image gallery
With his father’s kingdom in the hands of a tyrant, Jason (Todd Armstrong) sets sail with the bravest men of all of Greece aboard the Argo on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, they encounter a host of mythical creatures and rescue Medea (Nancy Kovack), the high priestess of Colchis, who soon causes problems for the crew when she falls in love with Jason…
This spectacular mythological adventure marked the pinnacle in the career of Ray Harryhausen. A landmark in the history of movie special effects, it was this film that inspired many a budding young film-maker – from Nick Park to Peter Jackson (who provides one of the commentaries in this Indicator/Powerhouse release) and – on a personal note – fuelled my love for myths, fantasy and ancient history.
Harryhausen’s Dynamation effects are delivered with amazing imagination (and took him almost two years to complete). Jason’s climactic sword fight with a band of resurrected skeletons remains the film’s highlight of course, while the other weird creatures including the giant bronze automaton (Ray’s take on the Colossus of Rhodes), a band of hungry harpies (who torture poor old Patrick Troughton) and the magnificient seven-headed Hydra.
As well as Troughton, a host of other recognisable British actors provide great support, including Laurence Naismith and Nigel Green as Argus and Hercules, Douglas Wimer as Jason’s nemesis Pelias, amd Michael Gwynn and Honor Blackman as Olympians Hermes and Hera. This truly is the greatest mythical adventure film ever made.
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (despite the odd flashes of grain, this really is the best presentation of Harryhausen’s film we shall ever see)
• English mono and English 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalston (This one is filled with lots of behind-the-scnes anecdotes, some we’ve heard before on the other commentaries, and much of it is also explored in the three books that Ray and Tony have published – which are also a must have)
• Audio commentary with film-maker Peter Jackson and Randy Cook (Also very interesting, as Peter and Randy cover the film’s influence and legacy, although some of their conjecture is cleared up in the Harryhausen commentary)
• Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
• The Harryhausen Legacy: archival documentary
• Ray Harryhausen interviewed by John Landis
• The Harryhausen Chronicles: archival documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy
• Original trailers & TV spots
• Previews (Ghostbusters, Close Encounters, 20 Millions Miles to Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 7th Voyage of Sinbad)
• Image gallery
The world is shocked when a team of United Nations astronauts land on the Moon in 1964 only to discover that the Victorian British beat them to it – back in 1899!
In a Dymchurch nursing home, they track down the only survivor of the expedition, 91-year-old Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd)… Bedford then tells the assembled investigators how he travelled to the Moon with his fiancée Kate (Martha Hyer) and inventor Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) in a spaceship which Cavor had coated with a revolutionary anti-gravity paste. And what did they find living beneath the Moon’s surface? Only an insectoid population with advanced technological know-how.
HG Wells’ 1901 science fiction tale gets the Dynamation treatment from Harryhausen and his 20 Million Miles to Earth director Nathan Juran, based on a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, who was best known for his Quatermass series.
This is entertaining yarn finds Lionel Jeffries going full pelt with his cranky inventor act, while the always stalwart Judd provides some energetic heroics. Martha Hyer’s Kate, meanwhile, is a spirited and feisty creation that was not in Wells’ original novel, but proves to be most welcomed here (and not just on account of her looks).
The film’s stand out creature is the giant caterpillar-like ‘moon-bull’, while the Selenites (actually kids in rubber suits) could easily have come out of a classic Doctor Who adventure or even Lost in Space (which Juran would later direct). Boasting great production values in spite of its limited budget, and having a great sense of Victoriania, this is million times better than the 1967 Jules Verne-pastiche Rocket to the Moon and a Harryhausen adventure that I can happily revisit time and again.
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (It looks fantastic, especially the sequences involving the lunar surface and the Selenites’ underground city).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Tony Dalton and Randy Cook (there’s a wealth of information on offer here from the trio, with Harryhausen spending a lot of time chuckling at the film’s more comic elements, like Jeffries’ performance and improbably science. But then Ray does say, ‘you should never over analyse fantasy’. Now that’s something I totally agree with. He also reveals that his major influence for the stairs leading to the Grand Lunar’s throne room was 1935’s She – which was produced by Merian C Cooper, whose King Kong inspired Harryhausen in the first place).
• An introduction by Harryhausen fan Randy Cook
• Tomorrow the Moon: This vintage featurette is my favourite extra as it combines behind-the-scenes footage of the film (featuring producer Charles Schneer, Harryhausen and Juran, and some of the sets, and models) with the real-life US Apollo space project.
• 2017 interviews with special effects assitant Terry Schubert (who reveals how all the effects were created in a small space on a Slough trading estate); production manager Ted Wallis, clapper loader Ray Andrew (who has some great memories of cinematographer Wilkie Cooper) and title designer Sam Suliman (who wasn’t impressed with his titles).
• Isolated score by Laurie Johnson
• Trailer commentary from John Landis (who quickly runs out things to say)
• Image gallery
Read about the First Volume of The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen HERE.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) | Jack Arnold’s big-screen adaptation of the sci-fi classic remains a gripping must-see
Businessman Scott Carey (The Monolith Monsters‘ Grant Williams) and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) are holidaying on a boat off the Californian coast when Scott is enveloped in a strange mist. Six months later, his body starts shrinking – an inch a week – which confounds the scientific world, turns Scott into a national curiosity, and causes him to lapse into a deep depression.
But when Scott starts shrinking at an ever-increasing rate, he’s soon propelled into a terrifying situation in which he becomes trapped in the basement of his home after narrowly escaping death at the hands of the family cat. Believing him dead, Louise makes plans to move, while Scott must try and find the inner strength to face even more dangers, including one very large, very aggressive spider…
Based on the 1956 novel (The Shrinking Man) by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), with a script adapted by Matheson himself, and directed by 1950s sci-fi king Jack Arnold (Creature from The Black Lagoon), this is one of the finest science-fiction films of all time.
Thanks to the expertly-designed set-ups in which Scott’s plight becomes more desperate, tense and gruelling, Arnold’s sci-fi is a thrilling ride from start to finish – and it’s all highlighted by the superbly-realised special effects – the best involving Scott going to war with the spider and a scene in which he braves a puddle-turned-maelstrom.
Rare for science fiction films of the era is that Matheson’s profound ending is kept in tact – and it’s all the better for it as we see Scott undergo an existential transformation and becomes resolved to his fate that he will continue to shrink until he is finally at one with the universe… It’s a conclusion that startles, but is also surprisingly uplifting.
Trivia buffs might like to know that the film’s tabby cat, Orangey (also known as Rhubarb) was trained and owned by Lassie and Benji animal trainer Frank Inn, and he also appeared in This Island Earth (1955), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1957) and The Comedy of Terrors (1964); while the trumpet solo heard over the opening credits is by Ray Anthony, the last surviving member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
Arrow Video’s UK Blu-ray debut of The Incredible Shrinking Man features an in-depth documentary on Jack Arnold; an interview with Matheson’s son, author Richard Christian Matheson; audio commentary; new sleeve artwork and a collector’s booklet; as well as a Super-8 presentation of the film.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) | The Jules Verne adventure classic starring James Mason thrills again in 4k
A landmark in Hollywood adventure film-making, 20th Century Fox’s 1959 adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1864 sci-fi novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, thrills again following a glorious 4k restoration.
Five years after playing Captain Nemo in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, James Mason stepped into the shoes of another classic Verne character – geologist Otto Lidenbrok (renamed Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook), who leads a daring mission into the bowels of the Earth after discovering a hidden message from Icelandic pioneeer Arne Saknussemm.
Tagging along is dedicated ‘Scottish’ geology student Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), the widow of Lindenbrook’s late partner, Carla (Arlene Dahl), and local Icelander Hans (Pétur Ronson) and his pet duck Gertrude. Heading down a fissure inside the Snæfellsjökull volcano, the amateur explorers soon find themselves in a world within a world populated by prehistoric creatures and strange natural phenomena. But following close behind is Saknussemm’s murderous descendent (Thayer David), who wants to claim the centre of the Earth for his own…
No matter how many times I have watched this film, I never tire of it. It’s a masterclass in adventure film-making and a big influence on Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (check out the rolling boulder) and Jurassic Park. The colourful subterranean sets are spectacular and work seamlessly with the gorgeously lit scenes shot in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns, while composer Bernard Hermann fills the colourful cavernous landscape with a tremendous music score that makes everything seem ominous and outer wordly.
Of the 11 prehistoric animals that appeared in Verne’s novel, only a couple end up on screen – a family of dimetrodons and a giant megalosaurus. And although they are just magnified rhinoceros iguanas with glued-on fins and a painted Tegu lizard, they’re still pretty effective and way better than the ones in Irwin Allen’s The Lost World.
James Mason is a joy to watch playing the ever curious scientist. But he wasn’t the producers original choice. That went to Clifton Webb, who had to drop out after suffering a double hernia. Mason, however, does make a great sparring partner for Arlene Dahl’s plucky widow, and it’s a nice change to see a middle-age romance blossoming before our eyes (you don’t see much of that today on the big screen).
Christian pin-up, singer Pat Boone may not convince as a Scot, but he does make for a fun hero – and also a bit of eye candy as we get to swoon over his lithe surfer bod and deep Californian tan (how very un-Scottish) when he loses his shirt and most of his tartan trousers.
The film’s other star is, of course, Hans’ pet and best friend – Gertrude the Duck. She has so much character (and I love her painted eyes), and provides the film with one of its most memorable (and tearful) scenes. Along with Captain Nemo’s pet sea lion Esmeralda in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Gertrude established the tradition of having a loveable critter join its human cast in daring adventures (remember Herbert the Rooster in 1965’s Wargods of the Deep? or Heidi the Dalmatian in 1975’s The Hindenburg?)
Eureka Classics’ 4K restoration really showcases the much-loved adventure’s fantastic production design and sound, making this a must-have in any film collection and one to watch over and over.
- 1080p presentation from a definitive 4K restoration
- Optional stereo PCM soundtrack and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options
- Isolated music and effects track (not included on my screener)
- Optional English subtitles
- Audio commentary with actress Diane Baker and film historians Steven C Smith and Nick Redman (not included on my screener so I can’t comment)
- Interview with author Kim Newman (very informative)
- A short clip featuring film’s restoration over the years
- Original theatrical trailer
- Booklet featuring Bosley Crowther’s 1959 New York Times review, archival images and poster gallery, and viewing notes.
Available to purchase here http://amzn.to/2tir1l6
Dr Cyclops (1940) | ‘Honey, I’ve shrunk the scientists!’ – Technicolor thrills await in the vintage sci-fi adventure
Deep in the South American jungle, physicist Dr Thorkel (Albert Dekker) is using a seam of radium in his mysterious experiments. When his eyesight starts to fail, he invites three scientists from the US to help him to help him complete the project.
Refusing to return home without proper explanation as to the exact nature of Thorkel’s work, the scientists, their mule driver and Thorkel’s assistant end up being shrunk down to doll size. A cat-and-mouse game then ensues as they try to escape Thorkel’s compound…
Based on a short story of the same name by Henry Kuttner, Paramount’s Dr Cyclops was the first attempt since The Mystery of the Wax Museum to use Technicolor in a horror film. It also marked a return to the genre for director Ernest Schoedsack, best known for Most Dangerous Game and King Kong, who really goes to town on the special effects, which would earn the film an Oscar nomination.
In his Classics of the Horror Film, renowned film researcher, collector and regular visitor to the UK’s famed Gothique Film Society, William K Everson, called Dr Cyclops ‘diverting hokum – but one of the wasted opportunities among films’. It’s a bit harsh, but not without some truth.
Yes, there’s virtually no horror on display, with the miniaturised cast mainly running and hiding amongst the oversized props and from a giant hand, and feigning distress in sequences featuring back projection shots of Thorkel’s snarling black cat Satanus (great name) and stock footage of a variety of animals and birds (kookaburras – in the Amazon?). While the lush colours and gay musical score does turn it into something akin to a live action cartoon adventure.
Looking like a cross between Peter Lorre’s Mr Moto and Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld with his shaved head and thick, round glasses, Dekker brings much sympathy to his scientist with a God complex (I blamed the radiation for his increasing mania); while the rest of the cast (Thomas Coley, Janice Logan, Charles Halton, Victor Kilian and Frank Yaconelli) are all effective in their respective stereotype roles.
There are, however, some genuine thrills, notably the death of one of our little heroes (who’s killed when he learns the miniaturisation effects are only temporary), the group’s efforts to train a rifle on their sleeping tormentor, and the gripping climax. Perfect for younger viewers and for revisiting on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Dr Cyclops is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films
Phew! Horror Channel FrightFest is over for another year and it was probably one of the best ever that I have attended with some great thrills and surprises amongst the 64 film shown over the Bank Holiday weekend at the Cineworld Leicester Square and The Prince Charles Cinema. Now, while I didn’t get to see all of them, I did rather burn out my retinas catching quite a few. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my Top 10, plus a couple pf runner-up faves.
THE TOP 10
• Tragedy Girls
• Cult of Chucky
• Better Watch Out
• King Cohen
• The Bar
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies
Director: Tyler MacIntyre. US. 2017. 93 mins.
If you are a fan of TV’s Scream Queens, then you will certainly LOVE this gleefully camp Heathers meets Scream slasher in which two vain high school besties (played by Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) go on a killing spree just to increase their social media standing. With stylish cinematography, charismatic performances, and a smart script (with lots of 1980s horror movie references), this was a real winner at Frightfest.
CULT OF CHUCKY
Director: Don Mancini. US. 2017. 91 mins.
Following a great Twilight Zone-homage from Hatchet’s Adam Green and Joe Lynch, FrightFesters were treated to the World Premiere of the seventh entry in the 30-year-old Killer Doll franchise – and it did not disappoint. This time round, Chucky continues to terrorise poor Mica (Fiona Dourif), who was found guilty of the murders in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. But is she just imagining things because Chuck’s old nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) seems to have Chucky’s head locked up in a safe? If you want to read more (CLICK HERE). This one will be getting a Halloween release in the UK.
BETTER WATCH OUT
Director: Chris Peckover. Australia/USA 2016. 88 mins.
It’s Christmas, and parents Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen go out for the evening leaving 12-year-old Luke (Pan’s Levi Miller) in the care of his favourite babysitter, 17-year-old Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge). But when a brick crashes through the window reading ‘You Leave, You Die’, it sets in motion a series of events that you will not expect. This Yuletide home invasion horror is enormous fun, but also very dark, featuring an intelligent, genre-bending script, and great performances from the young leads – especially Miller. It’s due out in the US on 6 October, and I do hope it gets a UK release soon.
Director: Steve Mitchell. USA 2017. 110 mins
I really enjoyed this fantastic appreciation of maverick US film auteur Larry Cohen, the writer/producer/director behind TV’s The Invaders and genre fare like It’s Alive and The Stuff. Featuring interviews with his former stars like Yaphet (Alien) Kotto and Eric Robert, and admirers like Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and John Landis, plus with the legend himself (and boy, can he talk!), this is a real must-see. If you want to know more, check out my full review (CLICK HERE).
Director: Alex de la Iglesia. Spain 2017. 104 mins.
This latest effort from the director of Day of the Beast and Witching and Bitching was one of the festival’s big highlights. It’s life as usual at Amparo’s bar in central Madrid until a group of regular customers – including hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), snooty Elena (Blanca Suárez), businessman Andrés (Joaquín Climent) and homeless beggar Israel (Jaime Ordonez) – witness two men being fatally shot as they try to leave. Who is responsible? Why aren’t the police doing anything? And why are there people wearing Hazmat suits in the square? Alex de la Iglesia’s black comic chiller puts human nature under the microscope, and it’s not a pretty picture. Death, selfishness, survival and hypocrisy are all treated with great wit and dark humour.
Director: Dominic Bridges. UK. 2017. 79 mins.
The feature debut from commercials director Dom Bridges and written by Outpost’s Rae Brunton is a twisted fusion of claustrophobic black comedy and urban morality tale, but with a bizarre spin on the home invasion premise. Contortionist Orlan (Javier Botet) secretly moves into the flat of slimy real estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) by occupying the hidden spaces of his flat (like his cupboards and wardrobe). It’s all part of the master of concealment’s plan to slowly unravel Hussein’s life and drive him insane. But does he succeed? Well, hopefully Bridges’ searing comment on race, the house market (and Brexit) will get a proper UK release soon so you can find that out for yourself. Cleverly scripted and with strong performances (especially the double-jointed Botet – whose face is usually hidden behind loads of make-up in films like the new It, The Mummy and Crimson Peak), this is a cracker of a debut from Bridges.
Director: Adam Green. US. 2017.
The big surprise at FrightFest was Adam Green unveiling the world premiere of his fourth entry in the Hatchet series with the film’s star Kane Hodder in attendance. Hatchet 3 survivor Andrew Long (Parry Shen), is now a minor celebrity who ends up back on Crowley’s swamp turf (which has been turned into a tourist attraction) when he agrees to a $1million fee to participate in a TV documentary. But when the crew’s plane crashes and wannabe filmmaker Chloe (Katie Booth) invokes Crowley’s spirit (via clips on the internet), the slaughter begins all over again. Made in secret over two years, this gory fun ride is packed with inventive, and very bloody, kills and some LOL campy humour. It also earned Green a standing ovation following the screening. Green dedicated the film to two masters of the genre – the late George A Romero and Tobe Hooper, who actually passed away on the same day as the screening (26 August).
Director: Trent Haaga. USA. 2017. 93mins
Chip (Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler) is a hapless nice guy who pumps sewage for a living and is completely infatuated with his trailer park ex-stripper girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). But she turns out be crazier than he first imagined when her plan to rob her sugar daddy goes horrible wrong. This fast-paced thriller is full of surprises, great fun and boasts some quite extreme violence.
Dir Adam Wingard. US. 2017. 101 mins.
This Netflix-produced take on the Japanese manga comes from director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and follows high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who turns self-appointed judge, jury and executioner when he comes across a supernatural notebook in which you write the name of someone you wish to die. When he begins to kill all those he deems unworthy of life, a reclusive detective (Lakeith Stanfield) sets out to end his reign of terror. Featuring great Final Destination-style set pieces, excellent performances, superb John Carpenter-inspired synth score from Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross, and Willem Dafoe voicing Ryuk, the death god who becomes Light’s moral compass, this is not to be missed. Catch it on Netflix now.
ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES
Director: Dominic Brunt. UK 2017. 80 mins.
Dominic Brunt is best known as bumbling vet Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, but he’s also a film director who has shared his passion for all things horror with his writer/actress wife Joanne Mitchell in films like Before Dawn, Bait and now this perverted shocker. A home invasion forces a mother (Kate Coogan) and two teenagers (Kurtis Lowe and Mica Proctor) to break into a country manor to steal some secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile – which is presided over by the mysterious Margaret (Sally Dexter) – is also where high-powered middle-aged men take refuge from daily life by dressing in nappies and having young women in nurses uniforms indulge them in their every perverse nursery whim. But these rich bastards also have another very sick agenda and it involves something quite monstrous in the basement. Brunt’s blunt, bloody and bonkers satire is a gleefully grotesque carnival of bad taste, over the top gore and gross-out scatological humour. It’s like Lindsay Anderson re-making Downton Abbey as a Pete Walker horror with added Benny Hill comedy touches. Just throw in some crazy claymation (courtesy of Lee Hardcastle) and some psychedelic chat with the God of Shit (voiced by Brunt) and you’ve got one of the weirdest British comedies ever made.
I ALSO LIKED…
• Freddy/Eddy – Tini Tuellman’s spine-chilling psycho suspense thriller
• Leatherface – Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s stunning prequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre
• Canaries – Peter Stray’s alien-invading black comedy
• Veronica – Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran’s gripping psychological twister
• To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story – a moving documentary about everyone’s favourite Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series (expect my full review soon, but here’s a pic of the legendary stuntman with one of his fans – me!)
Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.
Origin Wars (2016) | This buff bromance in outer space is an enjoyable slice of Saturday matinee sci-fi
Set in the future in a time of interplanetary colonisation, Sy (Twilight‘s Kellan Lutz), escapes a brutal prison where mysterious experiments have been taking place. After orchestrating an escape, Sy meets Kane (former Neighbours star, Daniel MacPherson), a lieutenant working for an off-world military contractor – EXOR (overseen by Rachel Griffiths’ Assad-like General Lynex), who have set in motion a plan to wipe out all life from the face of the planet in an attempt to cover up their crimes – when their terrifying ‘experiments’ escape.
Now, the unlikely pair must work together to rescue Kane’s daughter, Indi (Teagan Crof). Teaming up with a pair of outlaws, Gyp (Isabel Lucas) and Bill (Luke Ford), it’s a race against time for the group as they clash with EXOR in an attempt to escape while battling the marauding savage creatures…
From writer-director Shane Abbess (Infini, Gabriel), Origin Wars (aka The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One) features an inventive action-packed screenplay, an oddball bunch of characters and some damn impressive practical creature effects (think Tremors meets Labyrinth).
Newcomer Teagan Crof might be a bit on the whiny side, but Isabel Lucas and Luke Ford rock as the rough diamond couple whose armoured prison van (which reminded me of George Peppard’s Landmaster in 1977’s Damnation Alley) plays a vital role in getting our hunky bromancing heroes Lutz and McPherson to their final destination. Don’t let this an enjoyable slice of Saturday matinee sci-fi pass under your radar…
Available on Digital Download 17 July and DVD and Blu-ray 24 July, 2017 from Lionsgate UK
War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) | Ape-ocalypse Now! Adventure and spectacle never looked so awesome
Imagine if Cecil B De Mille and Irwin Allen created a Planet of Apes sequel and decided to fuse elements from The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape and Bridge on the River Kwai, while also paying homage to the original Ape movies… boom! You’ve got War for the Planet of the Apes aka Ape-ocalypse Now! – where spectacle and adventure collide on a colossal scale – but with a complex morality fable racing through.
Did I like it? Hell yes! Picking up two after the events of Dawn, Caesar and the surviving ape colony have been hiding out deep in the forest when they come under attack from a band of soldiers, who are quickly subdued. In an act of mercy, Caesar spares the lives of the survivors, but their leader, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), launches a devastating counter-attack.
With knowledge that forces from the North are heading their way, Caesar plans to send the colony out of the forest to a safe haven in the desert – but there’s a little matter of revenge against the ape-hating McCullough to sort out first…
[WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD]
What follows is Caesar undergoing an existential crisis as he struggles between becoming like his nemesis Koba whom he defeated in Dawn (but who still haunts Caesar) by getting violent revenge on the humans, and also dealing with the challenge of leading his tribe (just like Moses) to a Promised Land.
Of course he can’t do it without some help: so we have the ever-reliable Rocket (the brawn) and Maurice (the brains and Caesar’s conscience) accompanying him, along with Steve Zahn’s former zoo inmate, Bad Ape (who supplies the film’s only comic relief) and an orphaned girl (Amiah Miller) who Maurice takes under his protection – giving her the name Nova (could she be Chuck Heston’s rescued damsel from Planet of the Apes?).
The fact that little Nova can’t speak is another link to POTA where all of the humans were mute. Seems that pesky virus from Rise has had far-reaching effects. It could also provide a clue as to where this reboot franchise could be heading if War does just as well at the box office as the first two.
Caesar is soon into Heart of Darkness territory when Harrelson’s shaven-headed Kurtz-like Colonel captures the apes – including Caesar’s young son Cornelius – and forces them to work as slaves. Now, its time for Caesar to put on Dickie Attenborough’s officier’s hat and devise a Great Escape with the help of his sidekicks…
Like I said before, I loved War and those movie riffs, especially to the original Ape movies of which I’m a huge lifelong fan were a treat. The one that really tickled me was when Caesar is seen in silhouette as fires burn around him, which recalls the closing shot in Conquest of the Planet of Apes when Roddy McDowall’s Caesar delivers his ‘birth of the Planet of the Apes’ speech after defeating his captors. And those scary crucifixes seen in the first two movies also feature.
But while some may think it lazy film-making creating a movie based on the best scenes from classic big screen adventures, what makes this adventure so enthralling is the epic cinematography and the genuinely touching performances of all the motion-capture ape characters – with Andy Serkis providing some richly deep commanding vocal talent to his slightly greying and grizzled Caesar and Karin Konoval returning as my favourite – the marvellous Maurice. Then there’s the solid screenplay which brings brings lots of light and shadow and complexity to what could be seen as another ‘Apes good, Man bad’ scenario.
This is what summer blockbusters should be all about – adventure and spectacle on an awesome scale – but with a bit of heart and soul and moral complexity.
Meet Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) – who may or may not have come unstuck in time. During the Second World War, the young soldier is captured and sent to a German POW camp. On route, he witnesses the bombing of Dresden, an event that unhinges his fixity in time and causes him to live his life simultaneously as a POW, an optician in 1970’s America, and as the elderly abducted resident of a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where his captors provide him with a mate in the form of a porn star.
This thought-provoking anti-war, sci-fi from directed George Roy Hill (best known for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) is based on American author Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s most influential and popular work, the 1969 satirical semi-autobiographical novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew on the author’s own experiences as a prisoner of war when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
Thought to be impossible to film given its intertwining storylines and timelines, it went on to win the Prix du Jury at Cannes, as well as the praise of Vonnegut who remarked: ‘I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book’.
The Bach compositions used in the movie were supplied by celebrated classical pianist Glenn Gould, while the film’s star Michael Sacks later retired from the entertainment industry in the mid-1980s to become a technology industry executive for Morgan Stanley. Amongst the cast is Ron Leibman (TV’s Archer), Valerine Perrine (Lenny) and Perry King (Class of 1984).
Let’s face it! Unless you have an allergy or phobia, ants, bees, wasps and flies just don’t look that scary on the big screen. That’s why, ever since Them!’s paper mâché ants back in the 1950’s, film-makers have super-sized creepy crawlies in an attempt to frighten and entertain us filmgoers.
2012’s Dragon Wasps, is a schlocky Tomb Raider meets Predator adventure set in the jungles of Belize where an entomologist encounters armed soldiers, a drug cartel and a hive of monstrous flying bugs. And just like those other cheesy monster mash-ups Mega Piranha and Dinoshark, Dragon Wasps has a totally OTT idea about how to combat the fire-breathing CGI beasties – rubbing yourself with coca leaves and getting high in the process.
Available on DVD from Chelsea Films in the UK
Stung (2015) | Giant mutant wasps attack in the knockabout horror comedy premiering today on Horror Channel
An upper-class garden party on a country estate turns to bloody chaos when a swarm of mutated wasps descends to feast upon its guests. Trying to escape the deadly insects, catering staffers Paul (Matt O’Leary) and Julia (Jessica Cook) retreat inside of the mansion with a handful of survivors, including the town’s mayor (Lance Henriksen) and local eccentric Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr). But with each victim they consume, the wasps grow bigger and bigger, and it’s only a matter of time before the survivors finds themselves trapped inside a giant nest…
This creature feature from director Benni Diez (who did the visuals for Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia) is enormous fun, boasting a super cast playing some downright kooky characters, some gleeful gore and super SFX (both practical and digital), plus some laugh out loud in-jokes that all serve to pay homage to the big bug monster genre. Love it!
Stung is available on DVD from Entertainment One, and gets its premiere on the Horror Channel in the UK on Saturday 29 April at 10.55pm