30 May 2009

Friday Midnight Movie

The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Lesser known when compared to some of its highly regarded 50s creature feature compatriots, The Deadly Mantis is an often maligned but certainly effective entry into the genre. Sit back and relax as way too much poor quality library footage is played as a backdrop to that 50s narrator voice giving you exposition after exposition about the US military’s northern and arctic defence systems. I hope you like library footage as The Deadly Mantis has its lions share. Take comfort in the knowledge that your in the safe monster movie hands of director Nathan Juran who would follow this with genre pieces20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), The 7thVoyage of Sinbad (1958), and First Men in The Moon (1964). The very basic plot is a staple diet of the genre, monster melted from ice, makes a few remote attacks on military outposts, military hires a couple of (good looking) scientists, creature heads towards a major US city and landmark for showdown. However what makes this film hold its head just above the waterline of good company is the Mantis himself. Forget about the humans and the story.

It’s just a great choice of creature, one that comes pre packaged with a great name (the praying mantis) and physical attributes that lend itself well to gigantism and threat. So plaudits here go to Fred Knoth for his special effects sequences. Knoth, who also worked on the fantastic effects in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) gives us some effective shots of the mantis passing along shorelines and buzzing eerily through the sea fog, the mantis vs. flame throwers, and even a very modern-day disaster movie shot of the mantis buzzing around the Manhattan skyline; a device so overused these days that its gone beyond a cliché and become a parody of the genre. The film borrows considerably from established genre heavyweights, there’s some monster peeping in through the window circa King Kong (1933), there’s the use of Washington DC iconography circa The Day the World Ended (1951), and the tunnel ending circa Them (1953). But if you like your creature features in eerie Black and White, if you like your monsters gigantic and on the prowl, and if you’ve made your way through the 50s must-haves then look no further than The Deadly Mantis for your Friday Midnight Movie.

Like Giant Bug Movies? Try these: Them (1953), Beginning of the End (1957), Mothra (1961), Mimic (1997)

29 May 2009

The Champ is Here

King of monsters? Can it be disputed? No not really. Godzilla has a massive 28 movies under his belt (29 if you count the 1997 American one, some do some don’t) and this is part 16 and in a way part 2. The Return of Godzilla invites you to forget all preceding Godzilla films, except for the 1954 original. So it’s a sequel, he hasn’t been seen for 30 years, horror fans get into Halloween H20 mode. The Return of Godzilla feels like one of those back to basics films. When a franchise gets out of control, goes too far from the source material, gets too silly, you strip it all back and start again. So there is no Godzilla versus, no other monsters, no hero Godzilla coming to the rescue, and best of all no Minilla (the annoying son of Godzilla).

So what we have here is good old bad ass Godzilla coming to shore and smashing things up; skyscrapers, power stations, bullet trains, power lines, you name it he smashes it. Yes! That’s what we want, none of this mamsy-pamsy friendly Godzilla. The film starts strongly with a cool initial encounter where Godzilla is kept in the shadows, we see glimpses of him, a scale here, and radar blip there. When he does get revealed we first see the world from his point of view has plods ominously through the mist and tackles a nuclear power plant for brunch. Then in a technique usually reserved for sexy blonde eye candy, the camera pans up from his feet (no stilettos) all the way up past his chunky frumpy thighs, to reveal that famous pug-like boxer snout of the great beast himself. Now keeping in mind the world hasn’t seen him for 30 years, this is pretty cool stuff.

Then comes the low point. Humans. The human cast and characters are almost exclusively the boring ingredient to any Godzilla film. They usually seem to be taking part in another movie altogether. In this one it’s something to do with a fisherman, a professor, the fisherman’s sister (who is coincidentally the professors assistant), a journalist, the Japanese Primemister and the US and Soviet navies. But seriously who cares. The film lights up at the beginning of the third act when the human foreplay is over and big boy makes his way to Tokyo and oh yes; it’s clobberin’ time. The attack on Tokyo harbor is fantastic as the military try in vain to keep Godzilla out at sea, that plan is a fairly epic failure. But this scene is pulled off to a plumb, showcasing all that is great about the Toho style of monster movie filmmaking. The only thing that can stop Godzilla’s rearranging of Tokyo’s architecture is a strange flying submarine known as Weapon X, and to be fair to it, it almost lands the knockout blow. But then the bizarre US Soviet subplot comes to fruition when their respective nuclear bombs detonate in the atmosphere above Tokyo causing a radioactive lightening storm that strikes Godzilla waking him for one last Balboa style round. Only in Japan. Now if that’s not an odd enough plot point things get more surreal. For no reason what so ever Godzilla is respondent to the high pitched frequency given off by migrant birds! Making winter attacks a real shitter for him. So the professor and his human chums lure Godzilla to his ultimate demise inside a volcano by mimicking the pitch of said birds. Utterly bonkers Japanese rational but fantastically entertaining and importantly they succeed at times in making the king of monsters scary again.

17 May 2009

Letdown of the Week

Day The World Ended (1955)

What it has going for it: Trying to pull positives out of Day The World Ended is like having poisonous snakes in your pants and trying to work out which one you like best. But if day The World Ended was a nest of vipers feeding upon my downstairs area then my favourite one would be Richard Denning. Denning is a Deadly Movies favourite, featuring in a massive five creature features in the 1950s, including the awesome Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). It’s also worth noting that Lori Nelso of Revenge of The Creature (1955) appears as the eye candy for Denning (good Black Lagoon link up). There’s a half decent monster design but it’s delivered in such a way that there’s little to no threat, instead it just ambles around the forest with little more menace than a disorientated rabbit with myxomatosis.

Why It’s a letdown: Because its so utterly utterly boring. The film has delusions of grandeur on a massive scale. The poster for Day The World Ended features a very cool looking post-apocalyptic monster dragging a helpless blonde away while civilisation burns to the ground in its wake. Wrong! To say the poster is an embellishment of the film’s content is an understatement. There’s no city levelling explosions or ruins, no great fireballs, just a mountain hut where the world’s only survivors meet to annoy each other and the audience. Then a wobbly foam creature turns up and kidnaps poor old Lori Nelson who by this point is probably game for anything that gets her away from the daytime TV actors who continue to do as little as possible back at the hut. The post apocalypse world has never been so dull or underplayed.

14 May 2009

Monster From The Ocean Floor (1954)

Tedious Tentacles?

Here’s a B-movie effort from legendary low budget producer Roger Corman (producer of some 385 films, this being number 2) and in true Corman style it’s a slow burner. When you're making a 50s B-movie creature feature on the cheap there’s a tried and tested formula; keep locations close to home in California, leave the monster revelation (if any) until the very end, fill the surrounding cast with cheap Mexican actors, and sell it with a great poster design. Tick, tick, tick, and tick, Monster From The Ocean Floor has them all.

Busy body vacationer Julie meets marine science boffin (and hunk?) Steve on the Mexican (Californian) beach. One thing leads to another and before you know it Steve’s whipped out his mini submarine. Julie becomes convinced by the locals that there is a sea creature in the cove, Steve being a man of science, and guitar playing superstar, dismisses this as the whimsical thinking of the infantile female brain. Cue Julie confusing everything from an octopus to a cow as being the mystical sea monster. Now its silly sub-plot time. Local stereotype Pablo, who believes there is a sea monster, encourages Julie’s quest in a bizarre plan to use her as a sacrificial offering to appease the beast and save the seaside village from the boring threat. Hurrah! Julie was right all along. Shame on you Steve, Julie is not just a hot piece of ass after all. Steve swings into action in his hysterical underwater moped to save Julie from the tedious tentacles of the monster.

Unlike other no-budget creature features of the decade this does at least try to give us a monster in the final five minutes. Which turns out to be a type of octopus after all, making the earlier octopus red herring rather pointless. The monster is a rather sad pathetic offering and comes in blurry puppet form. Saying all that, I kind of enjoyed this for what its worth, it's cheap yes, but its also rather innocent. The beach setting makes for a relaxing late night watch, and at 64 minutes running time its hard to get too bored.

Like Mexican based monster movies that never set foot in Mexico? Try War of The Colossal Beast (1954)

Want more 50s Corman creature features? Try It Conqured The World (1957), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of The Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), Night of The Blood Beast (1958), Beast From Haunted Cave (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), Attack of The giant Leeches (1959). Avoid like a flesh eating virus these 50s Corman offerings The Beast With a Million Eyes (1955) and The Brain Eaters (1958)

12 May 2009

The Rat Snuff

Food of The Gods (1976)

It’s easy to get very excited about Food of The Gods; an island bathed in mist is inhabited by giant chickens, wasps, rats, and well.., lots more rats. This was certainly enough to sell it to me, that and the awesome cover artwork. It all starts fine and dandy, some neat opening titles where we meet our leading men (pro American Footballers), great use of the mist shrouded lakes and islands of British Columbia Canada, and some very entertaining first encounters with the giant animals. Lets get a little plot out of the way. Three (quite mature) footballer jocks head to a secluded island for a little R&R horse riding-style, whereupon one jock falls victim to giant (super imposed see-through) wasps. Lead jock, played with real gusto and effort by Marjoe Gotner, decides to return to the island to investigate the badly imposed super wasps, only to encounter giant chickens, giant rats, and the cause of the local wildlife’s gigantism, a strange porridge that is bubbling up through the ground. The giant chickens and rats are realised via some great practical effects mixing puppetry and real animals placed against miniature sets and backgrounds. All of this is kitsch, but strangely effective.

The humans are on the whole pointless and annoying, but you’ve got to love Gotner’s nonsensical plans, which he carries out with the dedication and determination of a first class B-movie loon. Sadly director Bert Gordon see’s fit to fill much of the film’s second half with the actual shooting and killing of the poor bastard rats that happened to find themselves unwittingly stars of a history’s biggest rat snuff movie. That’s right, when the actors shoot their guns at the fictional giant rats we are shown actual rats being shot by what must have been small air guns. You really get to see rats all but exploding at times, including one rat’s head coming clean off. It really is a vile viewing experience and one that just can't be understood as a viable filming method. If rats getting shot isn’t enough for you, that’s fine, you get to see them drowned too. What turns out to be a promising bit of 70s late night monster trash turns into a detestable act of cruelty. How this ever got past any censorship board I’ll never know. One of the worst H G Wells adaptations it has to be said.

6 May 2009

Friday Midnight Movie

Silent Running (1972)

Don’t you just hate those reviews that compare other films to describe the film in question; you know the ones.., ‘its like this meets that’. In this case however I feel that a film-to-film comparison is the best way to kick start a look at Silent Running (1972). It’s like Star Wars (1977) meets The Shinning (1980). There I said it. But it’s true. Take the high concept elements of family friendly sci-fi’s such as Star Wars and mix that in with the 70s art-house and isolation of The Shinning and you can start to understand the type of movie Silent Running is. It feels like a film made by indie moviemakers who wanted to make a mainstream film. Like an indie movie doing an impression of a mainstream film if you will. The soundtrack (reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1967 The Graduate soundtrack), the tone, the editing, and the echo subtext are all reminiscent of 70s New Hollywood art-house. The design of the film in the form of the sets, the costumes, the robots, the gadgets, the spaceships, and space itself are right out of the mainstream sci-fi family-film handbook. It’s an intriguing, absorbing, and at times uncomfortable mix.

Silent Running is the story of one astronaut botanist (Bruce Dern) who tends the last remnants of earth’s vegetation, located in huge greenhouses in space, waiting for a time when they can return to earth to start the process of re-greening. When instructed to destroy the nature reserves and return to earth, Lovell (Dern), jettisons himself and the last remaining greenhouse into the depths of space, all alone except for a couple of helpful robot drones. 

This is a film about isolation. One man’s passion leading him to a sacrifice of extreme loneliness and therein his regrets and his search for comforting companionship amongst his robotic helpers. You really can relate to his drive to find means to create artificial friendships to stay off the madness; the type of madness that broke Jack in The Shinning. This is a great late night watch, and like many films of the period Silent Running doesn’t provide us with a comfortable ending. 

Letdown of the Week

What It has Going For It: The selling point of this film is not lost on the filmmakers. It has two massive names in the world of fiction and special effects plastered all over the original marketing. The author H G Wells supplies the source material and stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen provides his unique brand of special effects during the film’s final third. That’s some good pedigree right there. Concept wise its not to shabby either. Made In 1964 the film arrives slap bang in the middle of the space race and moon hysteria. JFK had famously marked his intentions to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. In this film it’s a UN rather than US space craft that lands man on the moon for the first time (five years before the US would do so for real), or so they think. It transpires that the jolly British had bizarrely landed on the moon some 65 years earlier in 1899. The rest of the film is a flashback of how this feat was achieved. Awesomely eccentric concept.

Why it’s a Letdown: Sadly the tone of the film is horribly misjudged. The first two thirds of this film are more like Mary Poppins than they are sci-fi creature space adventure. Much of the film is set on earth not on the moon at all. The acting is incredibly over the top; Lionel Jefferies leads the scenery chewing in a fantastically geriatric performance, but like the tone of the film as a whole, it just doesn’t fit when it comes down to the serious nature of the film’s final third.., which really feels like a separate film. Once we arrive on the moon the feel good Disney approach goes out the window in favour of a darker tone, but by this point its too late and your already treating it as slapstick clichéd comedy. For some reason Harryhausen’s excellent effects of the moon people (The Lunars) are mixed in with children in absurdly bad moon people costumes. It’s as if they could only afford so much of the effects budget. What effects there are, both visual and practical, are fantastic.., but the film itself is a messy patchwork quilt of styles and tones that just refuse to be sewn together in any coherent manner.

Like Moon Films? Try these: Applo 13 (1995 – I know they don’t get to the moon), From Earth to the Moon (1958), Stowaway to the Moon (TVM 1975), and if your really really desperate; Cat Women of the Moon (1953), Missile to the Moon (1958).

4 May 2009

Keeping Up With The Loomis'

Deadly Movie Connections

Loomis has unwittingly become the surname of choice for slasher films and can, like so many Deadly Movies connections, be traced back to the master’s Psycho (1960). Sam Loomis, played by John Gavin, was Marian Crane’s boyfriend, hopelessly searching Bates Motel for clues to the whereabouts of his awol girlfriend. The Loomis family would again pop up in the Psycho universe in Psycho 2 (1983) where Sam’s widow and Lila and daughter Mary turn up to exact some revenge on Norman.
John Carpenter’s 1979 Halloween utilised elements of Psycho to create the template that would become the modern slasher film, but this wasn’t all he borrowed. He also grabbed his leading lady from Psycho stock, Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh (Marian Crane) and he directly borrowed a character name, Sam Loomis. Although rather than the grieving boyfriend, his Loomis was Dr Sam Loomis, child psychologist and nemesis to serial killer Michael Myers. Like Psycho before it, one film in franchise is never enough for a Loomis, Dr Sam Loomis would return to Halloween four more films as well as two remakes (including 2009s H2).
Then it would be the turn of another horror legend, Wes Craven creator of horror cornerstones The Last House on The Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977),and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). In 1996 Craven’s Scream would reference and parody the forefathers horror, especially Halloween which both score and movie feature directly in the film, as does the name Loomis. Here however Loomis is on the wrong side of the knife handle. Billy Loomis is the mastermind behind the ‘Ghost Face’ killings, while his mother Mrs Loomis (going all Mrs Voorhees) would take up the knife and mask in Scream 2 (1997).

50 years, 12 films, 8 actors, 6 characters, 1 surname
Sam Loomis (John Gavin, Psycho 1960)
Lila Loomis (Vira Miles, Psycho 2 1983)
Mary Loomis (Meg Tilly, Psycho 2 1983)
Sam Loomis (Viggo Mortensen, Psycho 1998)

Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, Halloween 1978Halloween 2 1981, Halloween 4
1988, Halloween 5 1989, Halloween The Curse of Michael Myers 1995)
Dr Sam Loomis (Malcome McDowell, Halloween 2007, H2 2009)

Billy Loomis (Skreet Ulrich, Scream 1996)
Mrs Loomis (Laurie Metcalf, Scream 2 1997)

2 May 2009

Bank Holiday Midday Movies

Three slices of Doug McClure pie; mmm that’s some good pie.

This week, for one week only, DeadlyMovies.com is replacing the Friday Midnight Movie with Bank Holiday Midday Movies to celebrate three days of no work or school. There’s something about a three-day weekend that makes you want to sit about in your pants, cook up some popcorn, and hit the DVD collection. Bank Holidays, Easter, and Christmas are perfect excuses to regress into your inner child and explore those films for your childhood movie memories. Films like Ghostbusters, The Goonies, and Back to the Future are perfect examples, but here at Deadly Movies we prefer to dig a little deeper into the memory vaults of movies past. So without further ado this Bank Holiday DeadlyMovies.com recommends a treble helping of adventure with the 1970s answer to Harrison Ford; Doug McClure! Between 1975 and 1977 McClure starred in three B-movie adventure films based on Edgar Rice Burroughs books, The Land That Time Forgot (1975), At The Earth’s Core (1976), and The People That Time Forgot (1977). These films really mark a period where low budget sci-fi adventure films were coming to an end to be replaced by the high budget, high concept adventure blockbusters of the late 70s and 1980s, namely the post Star Wars era. So get on the couch and enjoy the ludicrousness that is these three helpings of McClure adventure:

The Land That time Forgot (1975): Set in World War I, McClure and a bunch of British military types overrun a German U-boat and abscond towards the Antarctic where they find themselves emerging from the icy seas into a lost tropical land known as Caprona. Here Brits, Germans, and McClure must work together to fight off cavemen, volcanoes, and best of all dinosaurs. Yes you heard it right; Germans, dinosaurs, cavemen, and Doug McClure. There’s some bad dinosaur puppet effects and some hilariously rubbish dinosaur effects, including the glider Terradactyl who’s wings don’t move. Muppets with sharp teeth aside, there are some great sets and matt paintings that add a real mystical quality to the proceedings. The film is bookended by a surprisingly brave downbeat somber ending that’s set up in the opening scenes.

At The Earth’s Core (1976): Firstly its worth pointing out here that this is a stand alone film that doesn’t run in any sequence with The Land That Time Forgot, but does share a similar tone and sense of adventure as well as again featuring angry cavemen types, more creatures, and of course Doug McClure. This time McClure travels with hammer veteran Peter Cushing, here playing against type as bumbling professor. Cushing and McClure journey to the centre of the earth via a Thunderbirds style drilling machine only to find that on arrival they are greeted by less than friendly earth core holiday reps. From here on I you get the usual capture and escape routine with a giant laughable dinosaur parrot and some heaving breasts thrown in for good measure.

The People That Time Forgot (1977): This is a direct sequel to The Land That Time Forgot whereby a search and rescue party heads out to Caprona to bring home the stranded Doug McClure. This time McClure is sporting a very rugged hobo beard. This is basically a reworking of The Land That Time Forgot, minus the Nazis, and with far more tribal wars between the islands inhabitants. You get more crappy dinosaurs (which by this stage aren’t resembling any recognizable animals but rather starting to look more like finger puppets), more heaving breasts, and the return of the rubbish gliding Terradactyl…, Yay.

There is something wonderfully old fashioned and naive about these films, they have a whimsical charm about them that doesn’t involve fast food tie-in’s. The effects may be rubbish, but over a Bank Holiday beer they are great to laugh at and laugh along with. That and you get three helpings of action man extraordinaire Doug McClure.