Saturday, 24 March 2012

SPECTERS (1987)


Donald Pleasance had a wonderful knack of being able to make any old crap he was in seem far better than it was, and Specters is no exception. I found the film at one of my regular haunts (which is soon to be no more, which breaks my heart) in a very cool slipcase cover which echoes the covers to Bava's DEMONS and DEMONS 2, but that may just be the font used on the cover more than anything else.

During excavations in an unnamed place (looks like Rome to me), archaeologists (including Pleasance) accidentally open the gates of Hell, releasing an evil force upon the world. Well, they do eventually, as much of the film feels like a steady build-up rather than a fleshed-out story.

On the upside, there are absolutely bags of atmosphere to this thing, helped along by some clever sound design and an ominous score. The story does feel a tad incoherent (not helped much by most of the cast clearly having been dubbed over to hide the fact most of them were Italian), but it is far from a bad movie. It's a bit disjointed, yes, but on the whole it is a pleasingly old-school scare story which is light on gore and actual visceral horror, but heavy on sinister ambience.

Atmosphere alone doesn't make up for a lack of a story, but there's something about Specters I really enjoyed, even when the catacombs in which much of the action takes place are seemingly overrun with tour groups, explorers and more, all at the same time, just in time for weird shit to happen.

The edit on this copy is weird - there are a couple of scenes which literally cut out, sipping the end of lines of dialogue completely. The thing is, it doesn't appear to have been trimmed due to any issues of content - the scenes are two-headers with nothing sinister or questionable going on, so it just comes across as a drunk editor. In fact, a drunk editor may be the reason the film feels so fragmented. Still, it's worth watching if you're inclined towards oddly unnerving 80s horror. Specters isn't awful, but it's probably one for the completists.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

SPACE MARINES (1997)

The company name Green Communications and the name Talaat Captain made me very happy at the start of this film, as they were involved with a bunch of Straight To Video gems from the mid 1990s which made up a large portion of my regular rental viewing. This film is no different to those other 90s SF action flicks aside from having a far larger scale to it, which is handled with gusto, albeit with less than spectacular results.

With effects straight out of the Babylon 5 school of Making The Best Out Of Limited Resources (and even stealing things outright – there's a B5 jump gate in the first five minutes!), characters stolen outright from Aliens, a soundtrack ripped off from Starship Troopers, and villains out of some forgotten 80s cartoon, it's hard to take seriously, but if you have a taste for the ridiculous and can enjoy a film even when it's atrocious, you'll love it.

Of course, many will be confused by the title, as it's not about the iconic Space Marines of the Warhammer universe, but rather a bunch of generic marines in a generic future setting going through a generic story about a bunch of badasses fighting other badasses in order to save a dignitary and take back a cargo ship stuffed with a valuable ore. The space battles and human action scenes are straight out of everyone's boyhood dreams, which is where they should really have stayed. Space Marines is big, dumb fun with a tiny budget, and if you're in the mood, it's awesome. If not, then it's hilarious. Either way, everyone's a winner.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

CATCHING UP: MAUSOLEUM / THE HIDDEN / XTRO / TENNIS COURT / NINJA DRAGON

Hey folks. I hate it that I've not been able to post much of late, due to moving house and imminent fatherhood. Thus here is the first of a few catch-up posts featuring the sights and sounds that have been feeding my addiction recently. 

MAUSOLEUM (1983) 
I picked this up cheap on vintage big-box VHS as the cover art had always seemed amazing. The film itself is good, but it's such a schizophrenic movie that after a while it's kinda hard to follow. Switching back and forth between twisted psychodrama and demonic possession horror tropes, the film has a very weird atmosphere, but ends up being rather compelling viewing.

Starring Bobbie Bresee in the lead role of Susan, a lady who made a pact with a demon in a mausoleum as a child after the death of her mother, the film has some superb scares, but they are mixed in with some cringeworthy elements which are very much of their time (green and pink lighting inside the titular Mausoleum, for example) and some unintentionally hilarious aspects too (Check out the expressions on the odd-jobs/gardening guy).

Mausoleum really does seem to be a film with a split personality, and the irony of it actually being about a split personality/demonic possession actually works in its favour. A jarring but entertaining bit of horror trash, and a great one for fans of films with girls with glowing green eyes. Oh come on, there have to be fans of that. Rule 34, and all that stuff.

THE HIDDEN (1987) 
It's been years since I saw this genuine genre classic, and recently found the original rental release at a bargain price at a new location I've found which is feeding my need for vintage horror and sci-fi tapes (and no, I won't tell you where it is – these things are MINE- BWAHAHAHAAAA!). The trailer for The Hidden was on a load of films I watched back in the days of my original video rental addiction, and it was also one of the few films which actually lived up to the promise of its trailer.

Of course, the highlight for many a nerd like me is the gloriously tongue-in-cheek performance from Claudia Christian (aka Susan Ivanova in the Babylon 5 franchise) as a gun-toting, alien-entity-possessed stripper. I mean, stuff like that was written directly or the teenaged loser I was at the time I first saw it, and I lapped it up eagerly.

The film follows Kyle McLachlan as an oddball agent working alongside the police to crack a series of weird murders. Of course, he's - SPOILER ALERT- from space and the murders are being committed by a slimy cock/lobster type thing which inhabits peoples' bodies and turns them into psychopaths, so it's far from your run of the mill cop movie. The Hidden is very-well executed, very well paced, and delivers on every level.

XTRO (1983)
Another film I haven't seen in years, the original XTRO is a far better film than the two shoddy sequels that eventually followed it. The sequels were pretty average rampaging alien movies, but this first film was absolutely bloody mental in places.

The tape I watched of this recently was a completely uncut pre-cert release from the original release, and I must say it very nearly kept me awake that night thanks to the infamous 'women giving birth to a grown man' scene, or the demented scenes of the clown-faced dwarf dancing for the lead character which went on to become a scene involving a life-sized toy soldier gunning someone down with horrifically jerky and realistic movements.

The story may sound pretty standard at first – alien being crash lands on Earth and soon starts to do away with people in a variety of ways, but the way the film is put together is utterly nightmarish and completely unforgettable. Aside from some dodgy performances and a very limited budget, the first XTRO movie is a gem of that era of genre cinema, and a much-loved mainstay of the video rental days. Despite its effect on me that night, I'm really glad to have been able to see a pre-cert copy of it in such good condition. 

TENNIS COURT (1984)
Okay, this was a random find. I'd just had on an episode of Tales of the Unexpected on YouTube as I'm currently reading a collection of Roald Dahl's short stories which the series was based on, and came across this rather surprisingly engaging feature-length yarn from the eighties under the banner of HAMMER HOUSE OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE.

“TENNIS COURT” is a nicely chilling little story about a tennis court (duh...) which is 'haunted' by a malevolent entity. When a couple arrives at the house where the spooky indoor tennis court is after inheriting it, strange occurences start to come about, and gradually become more extreme until people are dying. Involving a spooky psychic phenomena concept, exorcism, flashbacks to the second world war and British treasure Hannah Gordon being quite marvellous, I was swept away by it and despite its weird premise really enjoyed the film.

It was the final episode of a thirteen-episode series of films, and makes me want to track down the rest of them. If you want to see it for yourself, then the whole thing is available to view n one video on Youtube at the time of writing. It's a great piece of writng and a fine piece of genre television which does come across as a feature film thanks to some clever direction and some sumptuous cinematography. Here's the full film – enjoy!




NINJA DRAGON (1986)
I have a soft spot for the eighties Ninja movies featuring Richard Harrison as an inexplicably Caucasian middle-aged man who is also a master ninja warrior. If you don't know what I'm talking about, these films were legion (I think Richard was in NINETEEN of them), and the work of a certain Joseph Lai and his IFD Arts company.

Basically Lai and cohorts like Goddfrey Ho would buy up failed and unreleased Hong Kong action and crime movies and splice them with new footage of guys in outlandish ninja costumes having epic (and physically impossible) battles whilst acting out a secondary storyline which was vaguely linked to what was going on in the recycled film footage. They were terrible in every possible way, but loved them dearly. I have always loved the audacity of these films. The sheer nerve of the people that put them out is astounding.

Anyway, I picked up a 2 disc set featuring four of these lousy films as I wanted a trip down memory lane, and I wasn't disappointed. No matter which of the four I had put on first, it would have basically been the same film. NINJA DRAGON's vague and half-arsed plot (created solely for the dubbed film that the end product would become) concerns two rival gangs of badass crime types (i.e. each is wearing a Trilby and sneering lots) battling for supremacy over some territory.

The Ninja story nailed on top of the original film attempts to weave some brightly-coloured ninjas having insane fights into what is basically a crime drama, with hilarious results (seriously – listen to some of the voices dubbed over the Chinese actors and tell me they weren't drunk off their tits and laughing the whole time in the studio). The recycled movie makes little sense, but mixed with scenes of what look like middle-aged Power Rangers, it all takes on a demented, dreamlike quality which feel like having your brain flushed out with cherryade. I NEED MORE.

Hmm. I really want a VHS copy of NINJA HUNT, my first ninja film experience from being 14 or so. That was crap too, but just as much stupid fun.

Want to watch NINJA DRAGON? Here you go: