Category Archives: Sci-Fi
From Eureka Entertainment comes director Fred Dekker’s jokey 1980s sci-fi comedy Night of the Creeps, in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of the Eureka Classics range.
When an alien experiment goes awry, it crashes to Earth in 1959 and infects a college student. 27 years later, his freeze-dried body is unwittingly revived by nerds Chris (Jason Lively) and JC (Steve Marshall), which releases alien slugs that turn their fellow campus students into brain-hungry zombies. Chris, CJ and Chris’ new girlfriend Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) must then team up with a troubled detective (Tom Atkins) to find a way to defeat the zombie horde…
Presented for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK, this deluxe edition of Night of the Creeps features the original director’s cut and the following special features…
DUAL FORMAT SPECIAL FEATURES
• High-definition remaster of the director’s cut
• Original stereo soundtrack and 5.1 surround audio options, presented in PCM and DTS-HD MA respectively on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary by writer/director Fred Dekker
• Audio commentary by actors Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall and Jill Whitlow
• Thrill Me: Making Night of the Creeps: an hour-long series of video pieces on the making of the film featuring new interviews with cast and crew
• Tom Atkins: Man of Action featurette
• Video Interview with Fred Dekker
• Deleted Scenes
• Original theatrical ending (which I rather prefer)
• Trivia track subtitles
• Theatrical trailer
• Limited-edition booklet featuring a new essay by critic Craig Ian Mann
• Limited Edition O-Card slipcase
Blake’s Seven: 7 Stars Liberated from the Classic TV Series! | Be prepared for six hours of Maximum Power!
It was 40 years ago this year that Terry Nation’s ‘Robin Hood meets The Dirty Dozen‘ sci-fi series Blake’s 7 blasted onto our telly screens and went on to achieve cult status after four series and 52 episodes.
Two years ago, the show’s star Gareth Thomas, who played the titular commander of the rag-tag group of rebels battling the totalitarian Terran Federation, headed off into the cosmos aged 71, and, this week, tributes are pouring in for Jacqueline Pearce (aka the glamorous evil Supreme Commander Servalan), who has also left us, aged 74, after a long battle with cancer.
So it’s weirdly timely that Koch Media have released this 2-disc DVD set compilation from the Doctor Who-centric Myth Makers series of cult TV interviews featuring six cast members, alongside visual effects consultant Mat Irvine.
Recorded over several years, these interviews were conducted by Nicholas Briggs (best known for voicing the Daleks in Doctor Who and heading up Big Finish Productions) and shot in some of the locations used in the series.
Talking about their acting careers, their time on the show and what happened after the series ended are the late Gareth Thomas (shot at Gatton Park and Betchworth Quarry, Surrey in 2003), Jan ‘Cally’ Chappell (filmed at Quex Park, Kent in 2005, which appeared in Bounty), Michael ‘Vila’ Keating (recorded this year at Windspit Quarry in Dorset, which appeared in Games, and was also used in the Doctor Who episode Destiny of the Daleks), Stephen ‘Travis No1’ Greif (shot at the location for Jewel in the New Forest in 2000) and Peter Tuddenham (who voiced Zen, ORAC and Slave), which was recorded in 2003 in Brighton, four years before Peter’s passing in 2007 aged 88.
Although they all are hugely enjoyable (particularly so Pete Tuddenham’s piece, in which he’s interviewed by ORAC, and Mat Irvine’s interview, whose outhouse contains loads of boxes filled with his handmade props from Doctor Who and Blake’s 7), the most entralling offering must be the interview with Jacqueline Pearce.
She holds nothing back as she discusses her highs (sex and drugs) and lows (mental illness), reflects on her time at RADA and in the US, her admiration for Rudolph Nureyev, and reveals what she really felt about Blake’s 7 and sci-fi in general.
Filmed in 2000, this interview captures Jacqueline at her best – exuding the glamour, warmth and vivid charm that made her such a colourful character and won her legions of fans (including myself). Her fascinating recollections would later be included in her unflinching 2012 autobiography From Byfleet to the Bush (which I highly recommend).
Are you ready for six hours of ‘Maximum Power!’?
Blake’s Seven: 7 Stars Liberated from the Classic TV Series! Out of 2-disc DVD now! Available from Amazon
When his profits are stolen following a delivery of genetically modified pigs, maverick space trucker John Canyon (Dennis Hopper) takes a profitable, no-questions-asked cargo to Earth, accompanied by apprentice trucker Mike (Stephen Dorff) and hitchhiker Cindy (Debi Mazar). But when they are captured by pirates, led by Captain Macanudo (Charles Dance), they discover the secret cargo is an army of androids that capitalist corp chief EJ Saggs (Shane Rimmer) plans to use to takeover the Earth…
I cannot believe I have never seen Space Truckers – and its by one of my fave genre directors too – Stuart Gordon (aka Mr Re-Animator), who got this gig on the back of success of 1992’s Fortress starring Christopher Lambert (whatever happened to him, btw?). So why did I miss this first time round? Well that’s because it never got a theatrical release, only HBO TV screening. But now Second Sight has brought out this must-get Blu-ray so that sci-fi fans can pay a much over-do revisit.
Gordon’s cast is a most excellent one and everyone plays it serious, especially scenery chewer Hopper, who plays a likeable hero this time round. Stephen Dorff and Debi Mazar provide the eye candy, especially when they step out of their cybergoth-meets-Starlight Express costumes and get all naked and sweaty. Cheers star George Wendt fame sneaks in a bizarre cameo before being sucked out into space, and its great to see Shane Rimmer in anything.
Charles Dance, meanwhile, steals the show as the disfigured half-man, half-machine ‘sonofabitch gimp rapist murderer’, who looks like a leather daddy steampunk version of Long John Silver, with a metal claw. He also gets some great lines like ‘If I had an anus, I’d probably soil myself’. Also making some excellent cameos are fanboy favourites Vernon Wells, Barbara Crampton and Sandra Dickinson.
Famed conceptual artist Hajime Sorayama created the designs for the space vehicles and the fantastic sleek and sexy six-foot robots. Interestingly, having just watched the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, I couldn’t help notice how similar its robot design was to Sorayama’s – as was a key story element, when the Hub is breached and our heroes need to find a way to escape.
Space Truckers is all about fun and lots and lots of colour… in fact, there’s so much of it on display, its almost eye-watering. But it all works to highlight the film’s overall retro feel – making it a great companion piece to Flash Gordon and TV’s Buck Rogers, but also Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror follow-up Shock Treatment.
If you like your sci-fi colourful, camp and with an extra dose of cheese, then you are going to love Space Truckers. Oh! And watch out for the old lady in the cubicle – she’s a scream!
Out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Second Sight, with a host of special extras…
• Space Trucking with Stuart Gordon: A new interview with director Stuart Gordon
• Scoring Space Truckers: A new interview with composer Colin Towns (its a great score BTW!)
• The Art of Space Truckers: A new interview with art director Simon Lamont
• Cover art by Rich Davies
• English subtitles
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) | The Technicolor comic-strip adventure blasts off in HD
The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes.
In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William Buck Rogers,
are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life-support systems,
and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later…
Following the success of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, US TV producer Glen A Larson turned his attention to the iconic American comic-strip character Buck Rogers, which he developed into a big-budget TV series for Universal.
Actor Gil Gerard was handpicked by Larson to play Buck (now an astronaut instead of a World War One dirigible pilot), but Gerard only accepted the role after changes were made to make the character more human than hero, but with a witty sense of humour (which Gerard often improvised).
Assisting the hairy-chested Bond-esque hero in his ‘Dynasty meets The Love Boat in space’ adventures were Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gary), her boss Dr Elias Huer (Tim O’Connor), friendly robot Twiki (played by Felix Silla and voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc), and sentient computer, Dr Theopolis (voiced by Eric Server).
The show ran for two seasons from 1979-1981, earning itself a legion of fans and even caused the ratings for Doctor Who in the UK to plummet.
The first season saw Buck assisting Earth’s Defence Directorate with a range of external threats, which saw a host of guest stars (including a few from the 1960s Batman series) playing either that week’s villain or someone in need of Buck’s help (see them all below).
The second season found Buck, Wilma and Twiki joining an intergalactic mission to seek out the lost ‘tribes’ of humanity. Set aboard The Destroyer, they were joined by Admiral Efram Asimov (Jay Garner), scientist Dr Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White), alien Hawk (Thom Christopher) and prissy robot Crichton (voiced by Jeff David).
Following a stunning HD ‘Twiki’, the Technicolor disco-era sci-fi adventure is back and it looks and sounds better than ever. Boasting impressive sets and special effects (the spaceships, matt paintings and stargates all echoing the show’s comic book origins), and lots of big-hair, slinky outfits and sparkling lipgloss, as well as a great theme tune, this is one cult TV series that deserves a revisit. Let the adventures begin anew…
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Fabulous Films
DISC-BY-DISC EPISODE GUIDE
• Awakening: Awoken in the year 2491, Buck goes on trial, accused by being in league with Draconian Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her henchman Kane (Henry Silva). The feature-length opener was helmed by Daniel Haller, the former art director of the Corman-Price-Poe films.
• Planet of the Slave Girls: Jack Palance chews the scenery as a Messianic slave trader plotting to invade the Earth. This feature-length episode also has Buster Crabbe (aka the original Buck Rogers from the 1930s serials) making a cameo, as well as Roddy (Batman‘s Bookworm) McDowall and McDonald Carey (These Are The Damned).
• Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Theatrical version of the pilot episode in Standard Definition.
• Vegas in Space: A notorious smuggler (Cesar Romero, aka Batman‘s The Joker) seeks help in rescuing his ‘daughter’ from a crime boss (Richard Lynch).
• The Plot to Kill a City: Frank Gorshin (Batman‘s The Riddler) guests as the leader of a group of terrorists with unique abilities trying to sabotage New Chicago’s anti-matter power plant. Watch out for Anthony James (aka The Chauffeur in Burnt Offerings) as the deformed Varek.
• The Return of the Fighting 69th: A gang of oldies (led by Peter Graves) set out to stop the vengeful Corliss (Robert Quarry) from releasing a nerve gas.
• Unchained Woman: Buck springs a female inmate (Jamie Lee Curtis) from a penal colony, only to encounter a malfunctioning android prison guard.
• Planet of the Amazon Women: Jay Robinson (aka Dr Shrinker) guests a slave trader who auctions male prisoners off to the female population of the planet Xantia.
• Cosmic Wiz Kid: Gary ‘What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?’ Coleman plays Hieronymous Fox, a child super-genius who gets kidnapped by Ray ‘Uncle Martin’ Walston.
• Escape from Wedded Bliss: Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her cronies, Tigerman (HB Haggerty) and Kane (now played by Michael Ansara) return with an alien weapon.
• Cruise Ship to the Stars: A beauty queen (Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten) is targeted by a transmute (Kimberly Beck and Trisha Boble) who is plotting to sell her genetics on the black market. Watch out for Return of the Fly‘s Brett Halsey as the Cruise Ship Captain. Tragically, Stratten was murdered eight months after this episode aired.
• Space Vampire: Buck and Wilma encounter a freighter crew infected by a mysterious virus. This week’s guest stars included Christopher Stone (aka Jaime Somers’ love interest in The Bionic Woman).
• Happy Birthday, Buck: Dr Huer finds an assassin is out to get him, while Buck turns bodyguard for a psychic (Dallas‘ Morgan Brittany). Blackploitation star Tamara ‘Cleopatra’ Dobson also guest stars.
• A Blast for Buck: Theo tries to solve a riddle in this clip show, which sees Gary Coleman back as Hieronymous Fox.
• Ardala Returns: The pesky princess and Kane create a clone of Buck.
• Twiki is Missing: John P Ryan (It’s Alive, Class of 1999) guests as a mining operator who sends out his psychic enforcers (including Dr Strange‘s Eddie Benton) to steal Twiki.
• Olympiad: US soap star Judith Chapman seeks Buck’s help to help her boyfriend defect from his repressive home world. This patriotic episode also guest starred Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ Paul Mantee.
• A Dream of Jennifer: A host of familiar names crop in this episode in which Buck is lured into a trap set by the warring Kovens, including Mary Woronov, Paul Koslo, Anne Lockhart and even Dennis Haysbert (who would go onto play an assortment of roles on the show).
• Space Rockers: Mind-altering music frequencies from popular band Andromeda are used to cause the galaxy’s youth to riot. Broadway star Jerry Orbach is the guest villain, and the funky song causing all the chaos was composed by Johnny Harris.
• Buck’s Duel to the Death: A ruthless warlord with a cybernetic implant (exploitation actor William Smith) challenges Buck.
• Flight of the War Witch: Princess Ardala is forced to help Buck go to the aid of the Pendarans, who are being ruled by an enemy race, the Zaads. Batman’s Julie Newmar is the War Witch, while other guest stars include Sam Jaffe, Vera Miles and Sid Haig. Available in two parts and as a feature-length episode.
• Time of the Hawk: Season Two sees Buck, Wilma and Twiki join the crew of The Searcher and provides a great introduction for new character, Hawk: a part-human/part-bird alien with links to Easter Island.
• Journey to the Oasis: This two-parter sees Star Trek‘s Mark Lenard guest starring as Wilma’s former love interest and an ambassador that The Searcher escorts to a peace conference.
• The Guardians: Buck must fulfill his promise to a dying man in taking a cursed box to its new keeper (Harry Townes). The Outer Limits‘ Control Voice Vic Perrin plays the original Guardian, Star Trek‘s BarBara Luna is Koori and Buck’s mum is The Partridge Family‘s Rosemary DeCamp.
• Mark of the Saurian: Reptilian beings in human form give Buck nightmares. The Leech Woman‘s Kim Hamilton and Coffy‘s Barry Cahill guest star.
• The Golden Man: An alien with molecular-altering powers is sought out in a bid to save the Searcher from being destroyed. Dukes of Hazzard‘s Bruce M Fischer, voice actor Roger Rose and Anthony James guest star.
• The Crystals: Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street) plays a young girl on the planet Philoctetes is discovered to have a genetic link with a marauding mummy.
• The Satyr: Buck starts turning into a mythological creature while searching for lost colonists on the planet Arcadis. This episode scored the show’s only Emmy (for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition) and was directed by Victor French (from Little House on the Prairie fame).
• Shgoratchx! Seven dwarves with telekinetic powers cause trouble and strife for the Searcher crew. Terror of Tiny Town‘s Billy Curtis and future Ewok Tony Cox guest star.
• The Hand of Goral: Buck, Hawk and Wilma find themselves on board a duplicate of the Searcher.
• Testimony of a Traitor: William Sylvester (Devil Doll, 2001: A Space Odyssey) guests as Buck goes on trial for high treason.
• The Dorian Secret: A Dorian warship threatens to destroy the Searcher unless a woman hiding a deadly secret be handed over to them. This was the final episode of the series.
• Journey to Oasis: This is the two-part syndicated version of another Daniel Haller-directed episode.
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