Category Archives: Sci-Fi
It’s the year 2118, and the world is divided between the West (well the US of A) and Sino-Asia. While on a mission into enemy territory to make contact with fellow operative Gregory Gallea (Monte Markham), American spy Hagen Arnold (Christopher George) discovers that the West will be destroyed in 14 days.
Hagen successfully escapes his captor, Sen Chiu (Keye Luke), but has a complete loss of memory following a plane crash. With the countdown on, a team of scientists headed by Dr Crowther (Henry Jones) and Dr Verity (Lee Delano), use a holographic memory reading device and an elaborate historical re-enactment to try and retrieve vital information from Hagen’s mind. But can they uncover the truth before its too late?
Project X is an intriguing piece of late-1960s espionage-sci-fi from producer-director William Castle, and one of the last films from the great showman who gave us the classic gimmick chillers, House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler. Unfortunately, Castle just doesn’t chime with the times here – though he does give it his best shot.
The splendidly gaudy Technicolor photography (by Harold Stine who went on to lens The Poseidon Adventure), production design (by Hal Perriraa nd Walter H Tyler, who won Oscars for The Rose Tattoo and Samson and Delilah), costumes and sets all look like they came out of an Irwin Allen TV sci-fi (think The Time Tunnel meets Lost in Space); and the story itself (as intricate and twisty as it is) feels like a feature-length Outer Limits episode. Even the cast and production crew are all drawn from TV land.
The film’s big star is Christopher George (who I grew up watching as TV’s The Immortal, then in Grizzly and Day of the Animals, and then in some Italian exploitation movies before his early death aged 52 in 1983), but Henry Jones steals every scene. For me, he will always be Dr Smith’s nefarious long-lost cousin Jeremiah in Lost in Space, but he’s a right little rascal here.
He’s not the only TV character actor to crop up in this mixed-bag, there’s also Harold Gould and Lee Delano (who were constant fixtures on prime-time TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s), and the legendary Keye Luke – but who the hell is Greta Baldwin, who plays Hagen’s love-interest? She only has three credits to her name and she’s rather bland here, plus the romantic story side-plot rather detracts from the ‘action’.
Then there’s the animated sequences created by Hanna-Barbera. They look fantastic, but they jar somewhat against the live action sequences (which includes a sequence lifted from a Jonny Quest episode). If Castle had done the whole thing as a cartoon (and a spoof), maybe it could have worked better (and become the Archer or The Venture Bros. of its day). But the end result is more Cyborg 2087 than Planet of the Apes, which came out one month before Project X.
While promoted as a sci-fi, it’s actually an old-fashioned espionage adventure dressed as sci-fi (with some social commentary shoehorned in). Van Cleave’s music score is also more spy film than sci-fi – but I loved it, especially the opening title theme and the ‘organ’.
Project X is out now on Blu-ray from 101 Films and includes two extras: an audio commentary with The Dark Side editor Allan Bryce and film writer David Flint, and Money Back Guarantee: William Castle’s Ingenious Gimmicks, which also features Allan, David and BFI archivist Vic Pratt.
Now, I actually enjoyed the film more by listening to the audio commentary, in which Allan and David discuss the film’s cast, crew and production, but also pay homage to Castle’s final directorial effort, the poetic tragic comedy horror Shanks (starring mime legend Marcel Marceau) and his last production, the superior eco-horror Bug (now these are two Castle films that so deserve a proper restoration release). Allan, of course, gets to mention his favourite film (can you guess what it is?) and David has a great story about getting drunk while watching House on Haunted Hill (with Emergo – which I believe is pronounced – ’emerge-o’ BTW).
Arrow Video FrightFest – Twenty Blood Years | Day Four – Michael Reeves, Dan Curtis, David Cronenburg and the Roache-Turner brothers
Welcome to Day Four of FrightFest, where I spent most of the time at the Discovery Screens. First up was the second Short Film Showcase, where the highlights were Theo Watkin’s sinister Service, James Cadden’s messy Five Course Meal and the existential weird-one The Obliteration of the Chickens; then there were two excellent documentaries and another chance to see David Cronenberg’s cult 1977 sci-fi Rabid ahead of tomorrow’s much-awaited screening of the Soska sisters’ remake. I ended the day back at the main screen for the demonic Oz sci-fi actioner Nekrotronic.
Oh, and we also got to see Brandon Cronenberg’s 10-min short Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences As They Come to You, about a brain implant prototype that allows a patient at an experimental psychiatric facility to relive her dreams (which had shades of daddy’s body horror films).
Here are my thoughts…
THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION OF MICHAEL REEVES
UK audiences got to see the world premiere of Diabolique magazine’s feature-length documentary on Michael Reeves, whose life was tragically cut short at the age of just 25 (from an accidental drug overdose), just when he was making inroads as one of Britain’s most exciting new film-makers. He only made three films, The Revenge of the Blood Beast (aka The She Beast), The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General (his finest achievement) – each starring a horror icon, Barbara Steele, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, but he’s now regarded as the genre’s shining light because he took his horrors out of the studio and onto the streets where generational conflict and youthful rebellion were the order of the day, fusing them with his love for Hollywood epics and the gritty violent action noir of his mentor Don Siegel.
Originally intended as an extra on a forthcoming Blu-ray release of The Sorcerers, the documentary draws on a number of sources to explore Reeves’ story; including his biographer’s Benjamin Halligan and John B Murray, as well as Reeves’ childhood pals Tom Baker (the screenwriter, not the former Time Lord) and Ian Ogilvy (who provides some very funny anecdotes), and his former girlfriend Ingrid Cranfield (who was one of the last people to see him alive). It’s all well-researched and – for those who don’t know much about Reeves – its a good primer. My only quibbles were with the repeated use of two or three photos of Reeves and Paul Ferris’ Witchfinder General score. It was also a pity that Halligan couldn’t make the introduction (thanks British Rail) as I would have like to question him about a questionable rumour concerning Vincent Price.
MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS
Growing up in the 1970s, the horror films that really made an impact on me were Burnt Offerings and Trilogy of Terror, andboth were produced by Dan Curtis. I was also a huge fan of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which often had photos from his long-running gothic TV soap Dark Shadows — oh, how I dreamed to see that show that was never played in Australia, where I grew up and I’ve had to wait decades to finally be able to experience the cult show, which is now available on Amazon Prime (I’m up to episode 887 or 1245).
In David Gregory’s second documentary to be screened at FrightFest, the life and career of the King of TV Horror is explored in great detail, as well as his later efforts (which I also remember seeing, but didn’t know he was behind it until now) – the epic miniseries Winds of War. Narrated by Ian McShane, it features lots of anecdotes from Curtis and his family, the cast and crew of the Collinwood classic and its failed 1990’s reboot (Ben Cross, Barbara Steele) and even Whoopi Goldberg.
Made two years after The Parasite Murders (aka Shivers in the UK), David Cronenberg’s now cult classic marked the non-hardcore porn film debut of Marilyn Chambers, who still takes her clothes off many times. She’s the victim of a motorbike accident which conveniently takes place just outside a plastic surgery clinic. Her life is saved by a revolutionary skin graft, but one unpleasant side effect is the blood sucking tentacle that sprouts out of her armpit. Everyone she attacks becomes infected; they go on the rampage, too, and finally the entire city of Montreal is in such turmoil that not even Santa Claus is safe.
I’ve always been a big fan of Cronenburg’s body horror classics, and it’s always a treat to see it on the big screen (although in this case, its the Prince Charles Cinema’s small screen). Even after all these years, this pseudo-intellectual exercise in sexual horror still manages to disturb (in places), and Chambers is actually rather good, catching especially well the nastier and inwardly compelling aspects of the heroine’s inward desires.
‘Wow! This kill zone for demons is like the Bat Cave’. That’s the kind of in-joke humour that litters this latest Ozploitation offering from brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner (who gave us Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead back in 2008). Looking over my notes, I’ve written ‘Pokemon-Go’, ‘Power Rangers’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Hellraiser box’, ‘McGuyver’, ‘Tony Stark’ and ‘Lifeforce’. And these all come to play in this kick-ass comic-book style adventure.
Evil Queen of the Underworld, Finnegan (Monica Bellucci, at her slinky seductive best) who oversees a soulless corporation of human husks is using a Pokemon Go-like phone app game so ancient demons can possess humans. When sanitation worker Howard (Ben O’Toole) discovers he’s part of a magical sect and could be mankind’s saviour, he is reluctantly forces with a demon hunter (David Wenham) and his gun-totting daughters to take Finnegan down…
Everything moves at a frantic pace with lots of flashing lights (there were warning signs before we entered the cinema) from the ray guns, soul sucking and many explosions, so much so that most of the characters aren’t particularly well fleshed out – although Bellucci steals every scene and I really enjoyed Bob Savea as Howard’s shit-shovelling bestie Rangi (who ends up glowing in his role – you’ll see why).
Dana Andrews, Janette Scott and Kieron Moore star in the 1965 science-fiction thriller, Crack in the World, which is now out on Blu-ray in the UK from 101 Films.
Scientist Stephen Sorenson (Dana Andrews) is determined to blast down to the earth’s core to harness the ‘limitless clean heat of the inner earth.’ Against the advice of his fellow scientist wife Maggie (Janette Scott) and his second-in-command Dr Ted Rampian (Kieron Moore), Sorenson orders the detonation of a powerful thermonuclear device.
Unfortunately, it triggers ‘earthquakes, tidal waves, and mass destruction on an apocalyptic scale’. When the scientists try to blow a hole in the path of the crack, it doubles back, and they can only wait and hope that their world can survive a big chunk being blown out of it…
Executive produced by Philip Yordan as a follow-up to 1962’s The Day of the Triffids (which so deserves a restored release), Crack in the World is a first-rate sci-fi action thriller. A dyed-blonde Janette Scott is the heroine who loses most of her clothes in the ensuing holocaust, while her Triffids co-star Kieron Moore plays the beefy hero, and Dana Andrews suffers heroically as the doomed scientist.
But its the fantastic special effects that’s the highlight here – courtesy of Eugene Lourie, whose production design and inventive special effects make it look bigger than Ben Hur. Meanwhile, director Andrew Marton, the recipient of a special Academy Award for directing the chariot race in that very epic, keeps the action moving swiftly and devises some spectacular set-pieces (like when Scott and Moore have to scramble up a lift-shaft) that’s worthy of the Master of Disaster himself, Irwin Allen (who was dominating the TV airwaves at the time with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space). Martin would later head to TV to direct a couple of childhood TV favourites, Flipper and Daktari.
The 101 Films UK Blu-ray includes a very informative audio commentary from film historian Richard Hollis and The Dark Side magazine editor Allan Bryce (I learned quite a bit — so thanks guys — now I’m hunting down a nice transfer of Krakatoa: East of Java).
From Eugene Lourie, the director of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Gorgo comes the 1958 sci-fi The Colossus of New York, which is now out on Blu-ray in the UK from 101 Films.
Colossus is a nine-foot robot with the brain of Dr Jerry Spensser (The Wild Wild West‘s Ross Martin), a brilliant scientist, killed in a car crash, whose father (Otto Kruger) is determined that his son’s mind shall go on working for humanity. But, of course, things don’t go as planned. Mourning for his wife (Mala Powers) and child (Charles Herbert), and unwilling to be the guinea pig in his father’s psychotic project, Colossus turns homicidal and goes on the rampage at the United Nations building…
Despite a storyline not too dissimilar to The Fly (which actually came out one month later), this monochrome 1958 Franken-science-fiction certainly stands on its own and deserves cult status. It moves a cracking pace and does a hell of lot on its tiny budget; even the special effects (like the robot’s death ray) are pretty cool; while the subplot in which Jerry’s son (Charles Herbert, who was also in The Fly) befriends Colossus is rather touching. Oh, and the curious silent movie-inspired musical score is by noted composer Van Cleave of Funny Face and White Christmas fame.
Playing Colossus is an uncredited 7ft 4in actor Ed Wolff, whose fantastic get-up makes him look like a cross between Batman and Herman Munster with a glowing brain. Wolf also appeared in genre favourites The Phantom Creeps (1939) and Invaders from Mars (1953), and would follow this playing a mutated Brett Halsey in Return of the Fly (1959), before his untimely death in 1966, aged 59. Now, I wonder is anyone did an action figure of Colossus, I’d certainly have one.
The 101 Films UK Blu-ray includes a terrific audio commentary with film historian Richard Hollis and The Dark Side magazine editor Allan Bryce.
Two months after the planet is ravaged by nuclear war, three astronauts stationed aboard a defence satellite – Howe (Babylon 5‘s Tim Choate), Jordan (Meatball‘s Kate Lynch) and Walker (John Walsch) – are forced to return to Earth when a hostile computer programme takes over their system.
On the ground, they encounter a lawless world where cannibalistic marauders roam and a young military despot (Kevin King) wants control of the last remaining fallout shelters. The gang’s only hope in survival lies in making an unlikely alliance with an eccentric survivalist (Nero Wolfe‘s Maury Chaykin)…
This 1985 Canadian sci-fi adventure from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures joined the wave of low-budget post-apocalyptic Mad Max 2 copycats that came out during the decade.
It’s a right bargain bin affair, with cheap production design, poor performances, a ham-fisted script and little in the way of action, excitement or anything else for that matter. And there’s nothing in the movie that suggests the atmospheric film poster bearing the skeletal remains of an astronaut in a desolate landscape ( a la Planet of the Apes).
The only redeeming feature is that the sci-fi romp features an early score from Christopher Young (who has composed of host of film genre titles from Hellraiser to the Pet Sematary reboot). Director Paul Donovan, meanwhile, went on to produce, write and direct a much more superior sci-fi, the TV series Lexx.
I’m sure it has its fans, but Def-Con 4 gets a big no from me and doesn’t really deserve a restoration. Nice packaging and artwork though.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• New 2K restoration from the original 35mm interpositive
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original lossless mono soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles
• Brave New World: interview with editor Michael Spence
• Nemesis Descending: interview with composer Christopher Young
• Interview with author Chris Poggiali on New World Pictures
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original artwork by Gary Pullin
• Illustrated collector’s booklet
The Witch | The last 30-minutes of this South Korean sci-fi blockbuster is a blood-drenched assault on the senses
10 years ago, Koo Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi) escaped from a medical facility during an incident and her memory. Now an unusually bright high school student, the farmer’s daughter enters a TV talent show which makes her a target to those who want her back. But she responds with a terrifying transformation from innocent girl into cold-blooded super killer!
Like Stranger Things, Orphan Black and its like, this South Korean sci-fi (aka Manyeo) deals with an amnesiac with latent genetically-engineered/mutant powers. Yep, we’ve seen it all before, and this one – from writer/director Park Hoon-jung – is a bit of a mixed bag. It starts off pretty slow, with some family domestics, but then comes the jaw-dropping finale – a blood-drenched assault on your senses that’s best experienced on the biggest screen possible and with a really good sound system (just to hear those bones cracking).
Kim Da-mi shines in the title role, but my favourite was Jo Min-soo as Ja-yoon’s ‘creator/mother’, Dr Baek. Channelling Joan Crawford’s mothering skills, her Dr Frankenstein-like brain surgeon is one crazy bitch indeed! One mystery I’d like solved, however, is why her superhuman children are referred to as ‘witches’. There’s no obvious explanation. Or did I miss it?
The Witch did soaring business in its native South Korea, while its full title (Part 1 – The Subversion) hints at more adventures to come. I’d be up for that – if only to get an answer to my question!
The Witch is out now on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment
2019 marks the 60th anniversary celebration of Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone TV series and on 15 April, Mediumrare Entertainment is releasing an exclusive limited edition Blu-ray box set in the UK, which will include all 156 episodes of the original classic cult TV series, which was first broadcast on 2 October 1959 and ran for five seasons.
Included in the box set are a host of goodies, including an 80-page companion book written by Marc Scott Zicree, a 60-page episode guide, two reproduction Gold Key Comics, two post cards.
There’s also a host of extras (including audio commentaries, interviews, vintage radio dramas and the unaired pilots), plus a bonus disc which includes a new biography of the show’s creator, American Masters Presents: Rod Serling Submitted for Your Approval, and a new documentary, Timeless As Infinity: Entering the Twilight Zone, featuring interviews from Serling’s family, as well as interviews from the likes of Wes Craven and Joe Dante.
The fifth dimension has never been better than with this bumper box set on one of the most unique and inventive television shows ever created.
To pre-order the exclusive limited edition 60th Anniversary Blu-ray box set, which is priced at £149.99, and is not available from any other stockists, head over to: www.thetwilightzone.co.uk
The ever-prolific Japanese film-maker Takashi Miike (Audition, Blade of the Immortal) returns with this intergalactic epic in which a team of space explorers find themselves pitched against a horde of oversized anthropomorphic cockroaches.
In the mid-21st century, humankind has been forced to look to colonising other planets as a means of combating overcrowding on Earth – their first stop, Mars. With a population of cockroaches having been introduced on Mars some 500 years prior to help prepare the way for human colonization, a manned mission sets out to the red planet with the aim of clearing away the bugs. Upon arrival, however, they discover that the roaches have evolved to huge, vicious creatures capable of wielding weapons…
Based on the popular Manga series of the same name, Terra Formars is an action-packed space adventure brought to life by one of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary filmmakers.
The Arrow Video Blu-ray release is out now with the following special features…
• High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options
• Newly-translated English subtitles
• The Making of Terra Formars: feature-length documentary
• Extended cast interviews
• Footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical and teaser trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
• Illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only)
World on a Wire (1973) | Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s virtual reality sci-fi epic is a retro noir wet dream
Originally made for German TV in 1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder‘s science-fiction thriller World on a Wire (Welt am Draht) is a frightening look into the world of virtual reality and a masterful adaptation of Daniel F Galouye’s 1964 novel Simulacron-3 (aka The Counterfeit World).
It centres around a highly-advanced project designed to elevate conventional computer technology to a new level by creating a virtual reality inhabited by computer-generated people or ‘identity units’.
When the head of the project dies mysteriously, Dr Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) becomes his successor and sets out to probe deeper. Making contact with an identity unit called Einstein (Gottfried John), Stiller faces a terrible truth: that his world is actually a simulation of another world one level above…
Forget The Matrix and its ilk, Fassbinder’s two-part TV adaptation was way ahead of its time and has been praised as a science fiction masterpiece. Featuring some familiar faces from the director’s company of actors (Berlin Alexanderplatz‘ Brigette Mira, Tenderness of the Wolves‘ Kurt Raab, Effi Briest‘s Ulli Lommel and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul’s El Hedi ben Salem), the dystopian thriller also sports superlative production design (that probably influenced Blade Runner, and certainly has an Alphaville feel about it). So, for anyone into 1970s fashion, architecture and design, the sets, costumes, lighting and location shots are a retro noir wet dream (I know I could quite happily live in this simulated world). It might be dense in parts, made more so by the heavy German accents, but taken as instalments, World on a Wire is a revelation.
This new restoration, supervised by The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas, The Departed), comes 46 years after its initial release and still pushes audiences to question the world around them.
It is now being released by Second Sight in a Limited Edition Blu-ray which includes a 50-page collectors booklet and a host of outstanding new special features.
• No Strings Attached: interview with assistant director Renate Leiffer
• Observing Fassbinder: tribute to photographer Peter Gauhe
• Looking Ahead to Today documentary
• On-set featurette
• Original Broadcast Recap
• The Simulation Argument: interview with Professor Nick Bostrom
• 50-page collectors booklet featuring new essays by Anton Bitel and Daniel Bird, archival writing by Daniel Oberhaus and Christian Braad Thomsen, stills and rare on-set photos by Peter Gauhe
If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, then Koch Media’s series of Myth Makers compilations are a must-see, offering candid memories from the actors and crew members who worked on the cult BBC sci-fi series. The latest release, The Doctors: Villains!, is a two-disc DVD collection of interviews with five fan-favourite actors whose screen villain performances have become as iconic as the show itself, plus there’s poignant tribute to one of my childhood heroes, Roger Delgado.
Recorded between 2006 and 2018, these interviews are vital historical record about what went on behind-the-scenes, and feature personal testimonies and life stories that will be of huge interest to fans of the show.
Following a new from Nicholas Briggs and Keith Barnfather, the first feature on the disc one is a 1997 tribute to Roger Delgado (1 March 1918-18 June 1973), who was the original Master (and, in my view, the definitive one). Between 1971 and 1973, the East London-born character actor featured as the primary nemesis to Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor, a fellow renegade Time Lord whose nefarious schemes spanned eight adventures and 37 episodes.
However, his untimely death – in a terrible car accident in Turkey, while filming the fourth episode of a Franco/German TV series (La Cloche tibétaine) – meant his character’s final story (which was planned to end with a big bang) had to be scrapped and resulted in Jon Pertwee’s decision to bow out of the series.
This affectionate feature includes archive interviews from fellow actors Nicholas Courtney (aka Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (aka Sgt John Benton) and Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), producer Barry Letts, director Paul Bernard, head of serials Shaun Sutton, and writer Terrance Dicks, and well as two interviews with Pertwee. There’s also some behind-the-scenes footage from the location shoot in Aldbourne, Wiltshire from The Daemons which I’ve never seen before (very exciting).
Next up is with Ian Collier (25 January 1943-1 October 2008), who played Omega (MK2) in the 1983 Peter Davison serial Arc of Infinity, and later in the Big Finish Productions audio drama Omega. Recorded in 2006, Collier, who also appeared in the 1972 Jon Pertwee adventure The Time Monster, looks back over his life and career and talks candidly about his HIV diagnosis and its negative effect on his career (and thanks Big Finish for saving it). Collier, who ends the interview with a lovely message: ‘being content and at peace with who you are is close to the secret of happiness’, passed away two years after this interview was recorded, aged 65.
Disc one concludes with an interview – recorded at an Ipswich Who convention in 2006 – with Bernard Archard (20 August 1916-1 May 2008), who had two notable roles in Doctor Who: the now missing Patrick Troughton serial The Power of the Daleks, and (one of my all-time fave episodes) as the possessed Marcus Scarman in the Tom Baker story Pyramids of Mars. This wonderful character actor, who appeared in lots of other classic British TV series and features (like 1961’s Village of the Damned), died in 2008 at the ripe age of 91.
Disc two’s first feature is on David Gooderson (b. 24 February 1941), who was the second actor to play Davros in the 1979 Tom Baker adventure Destiny of the Daleks. Beginning with a quick visit to Winspit Quarry (one of the locations used in Destiny of the Daleks, Gooderson who chats with interviewer Richard Dick about growing up in India, his memories of becoming an actor and writer (and working with the future Monty Python team), and his time on Doctor Who. Check out David’s website here: http://david-gooderson.co.uk/
Up next is an interview from 2005 with actor Peter Miles (29 August 1928-26 February 2018), who appeared in three serials, The Silurians (1970), Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974) and Genesis of the Daleks (1975), in which he famlusly played Davros’ henchman, Nyder. He has a neat story about working with Brian Blessed, but did you know he was also an accomplished jazz and soul singer, and a childhood friend of Dusty Springfield?
Finally we have the esteemed Julian Glover (b 27 March 1935), who played Richard the Lionheart in the 1965 William Hartnell serial The Crusade and ended up in the City of Death in the 1979 Tom Baker adventure. He’s been in everything from The Avengers to Game of Thrones, and a luminary of the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, James Bond and Harry Potter franchises.
If, like me, you enjoy listening to the personal memories of actors who have given us so such enjoyment playing some our favourite villainous roles, then this latest release from Koch Media is a must-have.