Destination Inner Space (1966)

Destination Inner Space (1966)

TERROR from the DEPTHS of the SEA!

A submarine commander is sent to the underwater research facility Aquasphere to investigate strange sonar readings which turn out to be the result of a UFO landing on the ocean floor. He takes some crew members out to investigate the spaceship and return with a strange pod about the size of an air tank. Back at base, the pod begins to grow in size before bursting open to reveal a strange amphibian-like alien which begins to terrorise the facility.

 

Ever wonder what would have happened if The Creature from the Black Lagoon had got it together with It! The Terror from Beyond Space? Thought not but just in case you had, then the offspring would clearly resemble Destination Inner Space. A low budget hybrid of the two films, Destination Inner Space is hokey 60s sci-fi at its most evident, generating more unintentional laughs than anything else.

Nowadays, we’d call this an underwater Alien clone like Leviathan but back in the 60s this was reasonably fresh material. However it’s clear from the first few awful miniature shots that this was never going to be given a chance to be anything more than a throwaway drive-in movie which presumably tagged along with a bigger budgeted production. Destination Inner Space is plodding, routine and rather dull, with only the odd moment of inspiration to keep it going. We all know the type of film: a by-the-book plot with a host of square-jawed American military heroes and dames trapped inside a confined space with something deadly after them. Space. Underwater. The Antarctic. Remote Pacific islands. It makes no difference. The manliest character will vanquish the beast, protect the girl and save the day.

Scott Brady is said manliest character. As Commander Wayne, he struts around in his uniform dishing out instructions to everyone. You never get the sense that he isn’t in control, even when he’s wrestling with the alien. Smart and tough in equal measure, he’s like an underwater John Wayne. He has wisecracks for everything and is never one to be left hanging during an exchange. Recognisable Asian-American actor James Hong pops up in a role as the only non-white member of the research team and he’s the cook no less. Talk about racial profiling! But Destination Inner Space isn’t exactly a film to get strung up on developing characters. There is slightly more than usual and it helps the film a little bit when the alien does start causing chaos. But only a little bit.

The problem with Destination Inner Space is that it’s so ‘meh.’ There’s no excitement, no tension, no suspense and little in the way of action. Fall asleep for ten minutes and when you wake up, you won’t have missed a beat. It’s that type of film. You watch it for the sake of watching, not because you’re curious as to what will happen. The underwater diving sequences are the best part of the film: bright, colourful and well-filmed and Destination Inner Space uses the aquatic setting to good effect. Though the interior sets look rather ramshackle, you do get the sense that these people are stranded underwater and running out of time and air. It’s a shame that nothing much happens with them.

The alien looks ridiculous but, with a whole host of old school innocence about its appearance, it’s impossible to be harsh on it. Staggering around with a gormless, open-mouthed expression on its face and a large fin which makes it look like a punk rocker, the costume is at least colourful and . Director Francis D. Lyon knows he can’t get away with hiding this thing for too long so goes for the jugular from the start. There’s no gradual reveal or keeping it off-screen because the audience would just laugh whenever they saw it midway through the film. Best to get it out of the way before it starts killing. The great thing about the costume is its practicality – the bulky fin I mentioned and the large head and ‘hunchback’ appearance is so that the stuntman could wear his breathing apparatus underneath. This lends the genuine underwater scenes a nice credibility. He’s certainly no Ricou Browning from The Creature from the Black Lagoon but Ron Burke is no slouch when it comes to gracing the monster with an aurora of the unhuman.

 

Largely unknown to all but die-hard sci-fi fans, I only found out about Destination Inner Space through a colourful trailers compilation on Youtube. The fact that it’s a load of rubbish makes its obscurity valid. The alien suit is worth a look for a good chuckle to see ‘how they did it in the olden days’ but anyone looking for a decent sci-fi flick best look elsewhere.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Survival against all odds!

After a volcanic eruption kills most of his tribe, the fierce Mali asserts leadership over the survivors and takes them on an arduous trek across a desert region to find a new land. A tribe of more advanced blonde-haired people welcomes them. Mali takes a mate from the other tribe and she gives birth to two twin boys – the peaceful and intelligent, fair-headed Toomak and the cruel, dark-haired Rool. As the two boys grow up, they compete for the role of tribal leader and the beautiful Nala.

 

I pinched most of this synopsis from elsewhere because without reading up on it, I wouldn’t have had the faintest clue about what was going on. I’m not sure how someone thought that a film about cavemen without any real dialogue for the entire duration would be a good thing but here we go with Creatures the World Forgot. Following on from their previous successes with One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Hammer looked to make their trilogy of caveman films complete with a final instalment in the early 70s. However, Hammer was struggling to recapture its earlier successes during this period and were wanting to cut overheads in order to start clawing back money they were losing on lavish productions. So the studio decided early on to remove any notion of dinosaurs in this, leaving it a rather peculiar outing with lots of grunting, people in need of a good barber and a few bare breasts along the way.

On the flip side to this, Creatures the World Forgot is one of the more realistic caveman films out there simply for the fact that it doesn’t have the loincloth-wearing, spear-throwing savages up against a horde of hungry dinosaurs. There are some weird creatures in this but they’re smaller beasts designed to be tackled hand-to-hand rather than pluck up stragglers with their teeth – the least said about the man in the bear suit, the better. Ironically, in being the cheapest of the prehistoric films it made, Hammer turned this one in the most faithful to anthropology as it has been proven that millions of years separated the dinosaurs from man, despite countless fantasy films attempting to show otherwise. So no dinosaurs = realistic. However no dinosaurs = boredom as well.

The lack of dialogue is interesting. On one hand, I’ll give the filmmakers credit for at least trying to stand out from the crowd and make something original and innovative. On the other hand, the film fails miserably to excite or grip its audience because it is hard to get emotionally-involved with a bunch of mutes (or I should say grunters). It’s confusing at times trying to translate what is going on as multiple grunts and groans happen at once. Not helping things is a plot which moves across a number of years and which sees the young boys grow up. Too many similar-looking cavemen and cavewoman grace the screen, making it hard to identify any of them and the already-sparse narrative slowly winds its way along looking for something to showcase its characters. There are some hand-to-hand fights between individuals and between tribes, and there are moments where the cavemen have to face off against aforementioned creatures. But these lack any sense of real excitement or engagement – if we don’t know who is fighting who, why should we care?

It’s hard to really comment on the acting here though most of the cast can grunt and beat their chests like the best of them. I wonder how this was sold to agents when these actors signed up: “Get paid a few hundred quid for a few days shooting in Africa and you won’t have to say a word on camera.” There is no narration to kick the film off or end it either. The only notable star is Julie Ege, an actress that Hammer were pinning their hopes on to be the next big screen sex symbol. Whilst not in the same league as Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., at least Ege’s appearance looks rougher, readier and less dolled up to the eyes with make-up making it more realistic.  To get a flavour of the type of audience this was marketed at in Germany, the sight of Ege in a fur-lined bikini was slapped on the posters under the reworded title of Sex Vor 6 Millionen Jahren. Minor titillation aside, the title has nothing to do with the eventual film.

Speaking of Africa, the film gains major points for looking the part. Shot in the Namibian desert, the cinematography is excellent, enhancing the ‘forgotten world’ vibe and really creating the sense that this is a snapshot from prehistory. The spectacular scenery doesn’t make up for the lack of anything remotely exciting happening on it however.

 

Often considered one of Hammer’s worst films, it’s easy to see why Creatures the World Forgot has been given that moniker. If this was the sort of film they were banking on bringing back the good times, then it is no wonder Hammer limped along for the next few years before they stopped making films at the end of the decade.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Konga (1961)

Konga (1961)

Not since “King Kong”…has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!

After being presumed dead in a plane crash, Doctor Charles Decker returns to England where he proclaims to have found a way of growing plants and animals to enormous size. Using Konga, his pet chimp, Decker is determined to prove his naysayers wrong. But as Decker grows more determined and Konga gets bigger and stronger, he begins to send the simian out to kill those who oppose him.

 

Hokey sci-fi horror from the 60s, Konga is part-King Kong, part-Frankenstein and full-on cheese. Brought to the screen by American International Pictures, the studio behind infamous B-movies such as It Conquered the World, Invasion of the Saucer Men, I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Earth Vs The Spider, Konga was one of a number of British-made B-movies to stem from a partnership that AIP struck with UK-based studios. Now looking very dated, suitably campy and very silly, these films were head-and-shoulders apart from their American counterparts. Circus of Horrors, featuring Anton Diffring, and Horrors of the Black Museum, also starring Michael Gough, were a pale shadow of the Hammer horror output of the 50s and 60s but stood up reasonably well when compared to The Brain Eaters or Attack of the Giant Leeches. Konga joined the list in 1961 and though it’s no King Kong, it’s certainly better than War of the Colossal Beast.

Name-dropping aside, it’s hard to see which niche market they were aiming for with Konga. As I’ve said, it’s no King Kong. Save for the titular characters both being gorillas, there’s little similarity between the two. There are lots of the mad scientist tropes here too and the film does run like a proto-slasher with the gorilla acting as the masked killer. Whatever the aim, the eventual output delivers plenty of cheesy entertainment which lovers of B-movies would find right up their alley. The plot is the standard scientist takes his revenge story which is rather flimsily done from the start as Decker’s motivations for suddenly turning to murder are a step too far for even his character. But the shenanigans that ensues allows for plenty of diversity with what happens. Attempted rape. Man-eating plants. Some groovy 60s cats jiving to rock ‘n’ roll in the back of a van. You name it, it’s here.

Michael Gough was most likely a nice guy in real life and I have nothing personal against him but on screen across a number of his earlier films, he just oozes this hateable arrogance. It’s a testament to Gough’s ability as an actor that he manages to sculpt such obnoxious, devious and smarmy characters as Decker here or Bancroft in Horrors of the Black Museum. I really can’t stand the guy when he’s in this zone and the films are far the better for it. He’s in full-on rage mode, snarling and barking out instructions and commands to everyone around him. Gough plays it straight, which is puzzling given the nonsense going on, and the film works the better for it. Sadly the rest of the cast are nowhere near his level and he stands god-like over them, stealing every scene and dominating with every line of dialogue. This is Gough’s vehicle and he’ll be damned if anyone, even a giant gorilla, will upstage him.

Konga looks awful though, save for the early scenes when he’s actually a real-life chimp. Somehow in this enlarging process, Konga turns from a chimp into a gorilla but science and realism isn’t exactly this film’s strongest suit. The stuntman-inside-a-suit never worked on screen for anyone (think of those daft 50s films like Robot Monster or any time a gorilla showed up in a Three Stooges short) and this one is no exception. There’s something inherently daft about human eyes behind the mask which ruins the impression being attempted. Things go from bad to worse when Konga grows to gigantic proportions. Apart from some nifty miniature work when he breaks out of his house, the rest of the scenes of Konga stomping around London are ruined by a matte line around the gorilla which gives him some sort of radioactive glow. The less about the toy doll (Decker) that the stuntman is carrying around with him the better.

The film sells itself as some sort of King Kong pretender, with the art work depicting a rampage through London that would have Gorgo or Behemoth quivering in fear. When Konga does grow to gigantic size and escapes in the finale, you’d expect this to be so. Apparently standing around growling at bystanders is what classed as a rampage those days! Konga doesn’t do anything and in the climactic shots, stands in front of Big Ben. A ‘Kong climbing up the Empire State Building’ moment threatens but never materialises. The film ends on a whimper with no hint of any damage done to the capital.

 

Konga is innocent and inoffensive fun. It’s very talky, fails to deliver a satisfactory finale and smacks of cheap special effects. However there is something charming about watching a man in a third-rate gorilla outfit throwing dolls around miniature models of London. Worth a watch to see one of the UK’s most underrated actors, Michael Gough, chew the scenery as if he hasn’t eaten for years.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Girls Nite Out (1982)

Girls Nite Out (1982)A group of college students celebrating a basketball victory are about to take part in the radio station’s annual scavenger hunt. Unbeknownst to them, a lunatic from the local asylum has escaped and kills the student who is the university’s bear mascot before stealing the costume. As the students embark on a night of fun and frolics, they fall victim one-by-one to the killer.

 

Girls Nite Out is a little known slasher from the early 80s. There’s usually a good reason for that and within fifteen minutes of this, you’ll know exactly what. Someone forgot to preview the film before release because otherwise they’d have realised just how slow and pointless the opening half an hour is. The film introduces far too many student characters in a short space of time and expects us to remember who they all are later on. In fact I’d swear a whole load of new characters were drafted in when they get involved with the scavenger hunt. Whilst I’m all for a bit of character development, this opening salvo goes on way too long. Goofing around, drinking, smoking and splitting up with each other seem to be the only things these college kids do. They’ve got relationships worse than some of the infamous soap operas.

You’d think that all of this character build-up to actually lead somewhere later in the film but you’d be wrong. With too many characters in the film, some of them get side-lined for too long. Others come into the fray who appeared to be minor players earlier on. Even with this characterisation put to the sword, you’d hope that with an abundance of drunken students staggering around campus, that the body count would be significantly high. Sadly, not even half of these characters are killed off. It just gets me as to why so much time is spent developing them all and setting them up for the chop. But hey, the party scene needs a lot of people dancing and drinking and having fun.

After what must be the longest sorority party scene on film, the killer finally starts cutting down the cast about forty minutes in when the scavenger hunt begins. Pity that no one really seems to bother with the hunt save for a couple of girls. The rest of the characters continue about their business like nothing is going on. Considering the scavenger hunt was supposed to be the big central event where everything kicked off, it’s a let-down to see how little focus there is on it. But let-downs are common in a film which runs the slasher gauntlet but fails to provide even the most miniscule amount of nudity. For an early 80s slasher, this is unusual.

Even during the second half of the film, there’s still too much goofiness surrounding the more serious slash. This isn’t meant to be a spoof so the amount of time the screenplay spends on having the characters talking wacky or doing crazy student things is just mind-blowing. The thing with Girls Nite Out is that once this silliness calms down and the film spends time on its horror elements, it’s a pretty effective shocker. It’s no Halloween for sure and it’s as derivative as hell but there are some good jumps, a few moments of tension and an atmosphere which slowly gets worse and worse as the killer strikes. Lighting is spot on and there’s some decent stalk scenes which crank up the heart a few beats.

The bear costume sounds like a daft idea for a killer but it’s actually handled fairly reasonably here, as the killer modifies the hands with knives, turning it into some sort of hairy Freddy Kruger prototype in the process! Even though these are only knives, the weapons and the manner in which they are used, seem novel and original. The costume looks comical but this is perfect material for a slasher film, adding a nice element of creepiness to proceedings. Some of the kill scenes are fairly brutal too, though not so much to do with the physical violence on display but of the misogynistic malice shown by the killer, shouting “whore, slut, bitch” as he slices his way through the cast. Don’t worry though, as the film progresses the kills get bloodier and bloodier. You’ll get little of the way of eye-pops or decapitations or even more standard axes in the head and a lot of kills do happen off-screen but those that are seen are reasonable.

Only notable cast member Hal Holbrook completely phones in his performance as the campus security guard with a link between the killer’s original spree and the current one. I guess the majority of the budget went on paying royalties to the artists whose songs are played on the radio station (there’s lots of famous ones too). The rest of the interchangeable cast fall into usual stereotypes (jocks, nerds, etc.) but they don’t follow the standard character arcs. The nice and wholesome pretty girl who looks to be getting set up as the ‘Final Girl’ doesn’t face off with the killer and spends most of the film drinking and having sex. Her boyfriend, Teddy, who could be called a ‘Final Boy’ even though that is a huge stretch, doesn’t cover himself in glory, cheating on her and being a general asshole throughout the film. But the film never plays true to form across a number of tropes and even ends abruptly, finishing on one of the most random and confusing endings to a slasher ever. After Girls Nite Out finishes, you’ll wonder whether what you had just seen was genius or incompetence. There is seemingly no resolution and the revealing of the killer is totally out of leftfield.

 

Girls Nite Out is one for the slasher purist only and even then it’s a bit of a slog to get to anything remotely genre-worthy. The novelty of the killer’s costume may be worth a shout and the pop soundtrack keeps things flowing very 80s, if nothing else. But this is sporadically entertaining and instantly forgettable.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Dynarama Means Supreme Adventure!

Sinbad and his crew accidentally acquire part of a mysterious golden tablet which was being delivered to Koura, an evil magician. Upon arriving in the kingdom of Marabia and speaking to the Vizier, Sinbad finds out that Koura had planned to find all three parts of the tablet which would show him the way to a fountain of youth and provide him with the necessary powers to rule Marabia forever. With Sinbad’s piece and the Vizier’s piece, they set sail to find the final piece of the tablet and put a stop to Koura’s evil plans.

 

After The Valley of Gwangi’s disappointing box office returns, stop motion effects maestro Ray Harryhausen and long-time producer Charles H. Schneer returned to the world of fantasy adventure. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad had been a rip-roaring success in 1958 and Jason and the Argonauts provided even more of a triumph in 1963 but other films such as First Men in the Moon and Mysterious Island had failed to set the world alight. Interest in this type of special effects driven film had dwindled. A couple of other projects had stalled and Harryhausen needed to get something off the ground. So it was decided that Sinbad would return, fifteen years after last sailing onto the big screen. He returned not just once here but again a couple of years later in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Whilst fondly remembered nowadays for their innocent charm, neither of these Sinbad films rank up there with Harryhausen’s best work.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is a good fantasy film but not a great one. Whilst it doesn’t feel as epic as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (the monsters, whilst impressive, are less grand than the cyclops or the roc), you certainly get more of an exotic feel. The locations are more varied, the costumes more lavish and the colours more plentiful. Heck, even the cast look more Arabian so as not to repeat the same mistake of featuring a white-centric cast portraying Arabian sailors. Whilst the budget for this film was considerably low for the type of movie it was, the production design and the cinematography really give it that full-on fantasy feel. These truly feel like foreign lands, inhabited by strange beasts and even stranger tribes.

Like the majority of the films that he did special effects for, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad has a plot which is merely a dot-to-dot connection between all of the Ray Harryhausen-engineered special effects set pieces. You really do get the sense that the film is just biding its time between the next Harryhausen monster popping up, with the flimsy plot acting as a pointless Macguffin for Sinbad to set sail. The problem with the two later Sinbad films opposed to Harryhausen’s earlier hits is that the pacing was dreadful. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is the worst culprit, saving almost all of its good stuff until the final third. It’s quite a slog to get through and then when you eventually do get to see the monsters, generally speaking they’re pretty unimpressive considering the standards that Harryhausen had set.

There’s the usual variety of monsters taken from all manner of mythology, religion and folk tale but apart from one fantastic creation, the rest just aren’t memorable in the slightest. You remember the Cyclops. You remember Talos. You remember the skeletons. You’ll remember little from this. The centaur and the griffin which fight at the end of the film are well-designed but they look like poor imitations of more popular Harryhausen monsters and don’t really generate the ‘wow’ factor from the audience. There is the customary monster versus monster tussle which doesn’t really create any excitement and is a shadow of previous encounters. The ships figure head which comes to life in creaking wooden glory is decent because it’s slightly different to what Harryhausen usually created but doesn’t do an awful lot and doesn’t really pose much danger. Previously, these were the highlight of the films but it seemed like Harryhausen was running low on ideas and they end up looking like afterthoughts, shoe-horned into the film rather than having the film built up around them.

The one major gripe I have is with the homonculus, the small winged creature which acts as Koura’s eyes and ears early in the film. Whilst the effect itself is typical Harryhausen (and again seems to be a rehash of previous monsters), I fail to see the need for it to be included in the film. Could they just have Koura use a crystal ball or something to spy on Sinbad? It seems like the animation wasted precious time for Harryhausen when he could have been focusing on something bigger and better for Sinbad to fight. He did the same thing again in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger by animating a baboon for a large portion of the film when a real-life monkey would have been sufficient to see to the needs of the plot.

Thankfully, these weaker rehashes of earlier work are rectified with the inclusion of Kali, the six-armed fighting statue. Not taking into the account the religious ramifications of bringing to life such a thing, the monster is amazing. The fight between Kali and Sinbad’s crew is superbly choreographed and highly exciting as the statue moves around swinging swords and really getting stuck in. It’s a pity that this wasn’t the final set piece of the film because it’s as good as anything you’ll see in any of Harryhausen’s films and the film never really gets back up to full speed after it. Coupled with a barnstorming musical accompaniment from composer Miklós Rózsa and the scene is the film’s highlight. If you want to see where George Lucas got his inspiration for General Grievous from, check this scene out.

John Phillip Law looks more like an Arabian sailor than his predecessor did and manages to deliver the goods where it matters. He’s not the best actor and some of his delivery is a bit stunted but he is more than capable of handling himself in the action scenes. Tom Baker makes for a suitably slimy Koura, adding a right amount of nastiness to a role which is sometimes dogged by camp and cheese but genuinely looks like a fun role to be playing. Caroline Munro looks stunning in a low-cut, cleavage-heavy dress as the slave girl Margiana and provides the necessary eye candy. I’m hard-pressed to think of any woman who looked as drop-dead gorgeous during the 70s and 80s than Ms Munro. Rounding off the cast are a whole host of supporting actors to provide Sinbad with an always-expendable crew. You wonder why so many men volunteer to sail with him when the history of survival for his crew is not good in any of these films.

 

Harryhausen would only make two more films after this one. Realising that father time and father technology were catching up, he called it a day after Clash of the Titans. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad clearly shows that the ideas were running low and he was running out of steam by this point. It’s a decent Saturday afternoon timewaster and still infinitely better than the likes of today’s soulless CGI-driven drivel.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Millennium Bug, The (2011)

The Millennium Bug (2011

What’s Bugging You?

Fearing that the Y2K Bug will bring about the end of civilisation as the year 1999 draws to a close, Byron Haskin takes his new wife and his daughter camping at an old ghost town in the Sierra Diablo Mountains. But whilst there, they are kidnapped by a bunch of inbred hillbillies who need new breeding stock for their family. However, the arrival of the millennium also coincides with the once-every-thousand-years appearance of a giant monster which starts devouring everything in its path.

 

Part The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, part low rent Sy Fy creature feature movie, The Millennium Bug is a strange independent horror film which has come around about ten years too late. The Y2K Bug was THE talking point in the months running up to New Year’s Eve in 1999, with thousands of people across the world barricading themselves up in shelters, arming themselves with guns and stocking up on food in case the world ended thanks to the perceived-inability of some clocks to compute that 2000 was actually 2000 and not 1900. As it turns out, nothing happened that night and those people suddenly found themselves looking a little bit silly and wasting a lot of time, energy and money preparing for the apocalypse that never was.

Continuing along with this silliness comes The Millennium Bug, the directorial debut from Kenneth Cran, which delivers a plenty of low key fun without ever threatening to turn into a full blown cult classic. Those expecting the monster of the title to be the main focus of the film will be disappointed, at least for the first half of the film. The Millennium Bug plays out like a poor man’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes at first, introducing the standard genre tropes of a bunch of middle-class Americans being subjected to an arduous ordeal at the hands of some inbred hillbillies. Though it’s played tongue-in-cheek, it’s still very much run-of-the-mill backwoods horror material which has been played out to death over the last ten years or so. Banjo-strumming rednecks with mutant kids are hardly innovative inclusions into an overcrowded genre pool but that’s about the only characterisation you’ll get from them, or any of the characters for that matter. I’ve seen a few people say that they were about to switch off at this point and I was one of them because it’s not really what you’re expecting.

However, things do go a bit crazy when the titular big appears halfway through and the film changes gears. Heading into more traditional monster movie territory, The Millennium Bug suddenly gains the momentum it urgently needed in the first half and begins to showcase the obvious talents of the filmmakers across a number of areas. Whilst the script is still pretty muddled, at least the focus of the film is now squarely on the monster and the gory goodness that it brings with it.

I had expected the bug to be on the same size and scale as the usual Sy Fy or Asylum creature feature flicks so was surprised to see it looking like some reject from a Godzilla film. The thing is huge! The makers of the film, going under the moniker of No CGI Films, clearly set their stall out from the beginning and eschew any form of CGI, opting to bring to life the monster through the use of old school techniques including using miniatures and Godzilla-style man-in-a-suit moments. The use of these practical effects over CGI has its perks and pitfalls but at least gives the film a low budget, almost drive-in quality. This looks like it could have been some late 80s/early 90s straight-to-video monster movie. If you’ve been brought up on a diet of CGI extravagance then this may not be to your liking. But the mixture of miniatures and models and some clever camera tricky really go a long way to sending you right back in time to an era of simpler filmmaking. Major credit needs to go to the effects department because they do a far better job of bringing to life this gigantic fiend than 90% of big budget blockbusters have done using teams of animators on computers.

It isn’t just the monster that is ‘au natural’ but the gore is very much of the Sam Raimi / Peter Jackson old school variety.  The bug does chomp down on a few people, with an animatronic mouth filled with rows of massive teeth being used to good effect, but there is also lots of human on human violence as the hillbillies and family fight it out too. Expect axes to the face and a few stabbings with a generous helping of blood to go with them.

 

The Millennium Bug is a frustrating film. On one hand, you have a really solid monster movie with some excellent effects and lashings of gore. But on the other hand you have a poor backwoods horror film which comes off more campy than threatening. The two elements never work well together and the muddled approach that results from this really stops the film from breaking through to the next level. It’s a little rough in places, to be expected given that it’s a debut film, but you could do a lot worse.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Gory! Ghastly! Ghoulish!

Forty years to the day since the last manifestation of their dreaded vampirism, the Karnstein heirs use the blood of an innocent to resurrect the evil that was the beautiful Carmilla. Taking the name of Mircalla, she heads to an all-girls school to indulge in the blood of nubile victims. As the school tries to cope with the sudden surge in dead bodies, horror writer Richard LeStrange falls in love with Mircalla and tries to persuade her to forsake her vampire ways.

 

Starting with The Vampire Lovers and ending with Twins of Evil, Lust for a Vampire was the second of Hammer’s loose ‘Karnstein’ vampire trilogy featuring a female bombshell in the role of an undead bloodsucking menace which were based on the Gothic novel Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Basically a female Dracula, the first film set male pulses racing and censors into a frenzy over its frank depictions of lesbian vampires, extremely daring for its time. Desperate to tap into this new well of potential, Hammer decided to keep the ideas going and this infusion of softcore eroticism with their traditional Gothic approach was to continue. After all, it wasn’t like Hammer to milk an idea for all it was worth…… (Seven Frankenstein films, eight Dracula films and four Mummy films).

Dracula was old hat by the time The Vampire Lovers rolled out. Hammer began to realise that no one wanted to see some ever-aging old man (no offence to Mr Lee!) lust after and get jiggy with young women, not when the alternative was to witness smoking hot young lesbians lust after and get jiggy with young women. The stark sexuality of The Vampire Lovers was a clear decision to showcase what Hammer believed its audience was now craving: stunning young ladies in various states of undress sinking their bloody fangs into each other. Times were a changing but sadly beneath the sexed-up surface, Hammer had big problems.

Lust for a Vampire had a bit of a troubled pre-production. Original director Terence Fisher had to pull out due to a leg break. Peter Cushing withdrew when his wife became ill. And Ingrid Pitt, who shot to fame in the original as Carmilla, refused to return for whatever reason. So the potential of what may have been had these three talents been present remains to be seen. But In many ways, Lust for a Vampire is the embodiment of what was going wrong with Hammer in the late 60s and early 70s, with or without the presence of that trio of talent. Struggling to find new material which had the same impact of The Curse of Frankenstein or Dracula, the studio was recycling the same old stories time and time again. Changes were being made both in front of and behind the cameras, with the likes of the old guard of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Terence Fisher becoming side-lined in favour of newer, fresher talent trying to make the same impact as this trio had done when Hammer hit the big time (though Fisher was due to direct this until he broke his leg).

Despite the changes, Lust for a Vampire is little more than your typical Hammer vampire film. There’s a lot of nice eye candy with the lavish sets, colourful garbs and anatomically-pleasing actresses. There’s the usual music, the array of characters populating the background of the film and the Gothic vibe still flows freely. But it had all become very mechanical by this point, even a little cynical. I mean why set a film about lesbian vampires inside an all-girls’ school? Events happen just as you’d expect them to. There’s no unpredictability anymore and everything runs like clockwork, from the opening kill scene right to the angry villagers storming the castle at the end. A few scenes of decent atmosphere, including a fantastic resurrection sequence and eerie midnight romp in a fog-shrouded graveyard, are scattered throughout but on the whole this is been there, done that material.

Jimmy Sangster, was the man who wrote the screenplays for Hammer’s big three hitters from the late 50s, takes the helm for this one but can’t seem to rejuvenate the same tired formula. With pen in hand, Sangster did some amazing work but was unable to replicate this behind the camera. Also joining in the new guard is Ralph Bates who made a couple of appearances in Hammer films during the late 60s and early 70s, clearly being groomed as a younger, more dashing version of Cushing or Lee. Bates’ performance as the feeble-minded teacher is pretty good and the scene in which he begs the vampire to bite him and turn him into a servant (and thus pleasure him) is a highlight.

The real star of the show is the actress who took over the lead role from Ingrid Pitt. Yutte Stensgaard is just as easy on the eyes, if not more so, and is the archetypal image of the buxom Hammer leading lady from this era. The role involves her shedding clothes frequently (no complaints here), bearing some false vampire teeth from time-to-time and erm, did I mention removing her clothes? Stensgaard’s voice has been dubbed over and she’s not the greatest actress but could be pound-for-pound one of Hammer’s most sensual, exotic leading actresses. Her character is torn between her vampiric urges and the man that truly loves her and Stensgaard’s natural vulnerability is well-matched for this dual role. She was very much a one-hit wonder and I doubt too many other actresses made as an indelible impression as her in the vampire genre.

 

Lust for a Vampire is most likely the Hammer film most adults will have in mind if they’re asked to talk about the elements of the typical Hammer film and that’s mainly down to its stunning star. Overall, it’s passable entertainment, nowhere near as rampantly sexy as it’s made out and generally does what it has to do with minimum fuss, providing just enough of the good stuff to keep you ticking over.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Raptor Ranch (2013)

Raptor Ranch (2013)

They are very hungry

A small Texas town becomes a walking buffet when the dinosaur creations of an eccentric rancher escape from their pens and begin to wreak havoc. Rumoured to be raising some kind of exotic emus, the mad little scientist is breeding raptors, which is unfortunate for the mixed group of people who happen to arrive at his ranch the moment all hell breaks loose.

 

Raptor Ranch. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Sounds like one of those blatantly-obvious film titles that sum up the entire film in two words, doesn’t it? Sounds like a goofy, fun time to spend ninety minutes, right? Well you’re spot on two out of the three. Ever since Snakes on a Plane launched a no-nonsense, no-frills title, low budget filmmakers everywhere have opted to tell it how it is with their films. Are you not the least bit curious as to what a raptor ranch may be?

I’m still not entirely sure I know what a raptor ranch is supposed to be after watching this. I didn’t even know what was happening to be honest. I must have drifted off at some point. How did the dinosaurs get there? Why was only one old guy keeping them captive in pens with all sorts of highly-expensive equipment lying around? Who paid for him to do so? Doesn’t anyone ever bat an eyelid when they see him picking road kill off the kerb on a daily basis? Considering how grand the billion-dollar dinosaur set-up was in Jurassic Park, it’s impossible to believe that this one man could do the same job at a cut-price.

Raptor Ranch starts off like any other Sy Fy Original or Asylum creature feature and I was already gunning for the remote control. But it starts to improve not too far in, steadily maintaining interest until it trails off towards the end. I think the problem was, goofy title aside (and even then it was renamed The Dinosaur Experiment in some countries), that the director wanted to turn this into a horror-comedy but didn’t have a clue how to do so. There are moments when the ridiculousness of the situation threatens to boil over into slapstick. There are moments when characters say inappropriate but funny things given their circumstances. And the comic tone is light at times, if generally non-existent. Sometimes the humour is too forced and in other scenes the humour is natural. It’s a very uneven experience to say the least.

It’s good to see the characters develop a little bit in a film like this. It was looking like Raptor Ranch would go down the usual creature feature route with the number of stereotypes and caricatures it was presenting to the audience but, once the cast starts to thin out a bit, a really strange thing happens – the characters begin to grow personalities! Yes, they start to become funnier, more manic and generally more likeable than they have any right to be. Low-rent action star Lorenzo Lamas gets top billing but he share no screen time with any of the other major characters and his brief scenes look to have been added at a later date to pad out the running time and add another name to the front cover. It’s up to buxom singer Jana Mashonee to fill out the film and she does so pretty well in her tank top. It’s not rocket science to see why she was cast so the film cuts to the chase pretty early and has her parading around in a pair of Daisy Dukes. She’s a lot better in the role than her appearance would suggest.

The usual dodgy low rent special effects come out to play, with lacklustre explosions and corny dinosaurs being the name of the game. A large portion of the film is set at night so the effects look better than they would usually do but when one specific shot of a dinosaur is re-used countless times, it’s hardly rocket science to work out that the budget wasn’t exactly generous. It’s when the day arrives that the special effects come off looking as bad as they actually are. There are some practical effects hidden amongst the computer stuff and they look great. I really wished filmmakers had more confidence in their creations nowadays as they add much-needed realism to an otherwise silly plot. The T-Rex model head looks particularly good given the obvious limitations with the budget. In fact, the T-Rex is given far more to do throughout the film compared to the raptors so Dinosaur Ranch would have sounded more appropriate.

If there is one irritating thing, it’s that the dinosaurs are shown from almost the first scene. It’s daft to give away everything in the opening reel but once the novelty of seeing the dinosaurs has worn off, what is left for audiences to look forward to? They get well fed throughout the film and attacks are generally well-spaced out. The film does get bloody too and the red stuff flows freely as the dinosaurs begin to snack on the cast. Hardly the most exciting and nerve-wracking tension but at least some of the attack scenes provide some cheap thrills.

 

Raptor Ranch was a little better than I expected it to be. In a sub-genre of low budget dinosaur movies that includes Raptor Island, Planet Raptor, the Carnosaur films and Raptor, it’s got a few good things going for it. Hardly the worst genre effort out there but still needed a lot of work.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Beneath (2013)

Beneath (2013)

They’re only friends on the surface

Six high school friends celebrating graduation with trip to a remote lake find themselves stranded in a rowboat after being attacked by a man-eating fish. With their options for reaching land beginning to dwindle, they start to consider more extreme measures of survival, they must decide who must be sacrificed as they fight their way back to shore.

 

One quick glance and you’d mistake Beneath for yet another Jaws-style clone featuring an aquatic monster. That’s how it looks like it is being sold with the front cover of the blu-ray showcasing the monster in its toothy glory. For a little part of Beneath, that’s the type of film you’ll get. In fact, Beneath reminded me a lot of one of the segments from Creepshow II entitled ‘The Raft’ where a group of college friends are stuck on a platform in the middle of a lake with a dangerous monster preventing their escape. But, pardon the expression, beneath the surface there is something else at work here. The monster is only half of the problem. Hence why Beneath……

The killer fish is simply a catalyst for events. Like many a horror film, the monster is there simply to turn up the pressure on the humans and get them to start making decisions that sees us revert back to type: primitive, savage and generally bloodthirsty creatures. Strip back away all of the domesticated and moralised gloss and we’re animals, capable of amazing acts of barbarism and cruelty (one only needs to watch one or two daily news reports to see the sort of things we, as a race, are capable of). Thrown into some life-or-death scenario like this and we would forget the ‘rules’ that keep us in check. Survival of the fittest comes back into play. Romero’s zombie films were perfect examples of this: look at Day of the Dead for instance and see how little zombie interaction there is for the middle third of the film. Beneath follows the same idea.

The fish does do a fair bit of damage throughout the film and it’s always lurking around for its next meal. But as the situation worsens, the characters begin to turn on each other, realising that the only way to survive is to sacrifice someone to keep the fish ‘occupied’ whilst they continue to paddle to shore. The fish becomes second nature to the evils of humanity. However, there is a problem I have with Beneath and the direction it suddenly takes here: it doesn’t take long for the characters to turn on each other. Like literally within the space of a few hours. And not even just arguing or bickering like you’d see elsewhere. This is full on murder – throwing people overboard to an inevitable and gory death. I know their situation is perilous but seriously, how could they call these people friends if they could stab you in the back at the first chance they got?

The fish looks as good/bad as it needs to be. It’s got massive bug-eyes, long razor-sharp teeth and isn’t the biggest fish to grace the Earth. The film never explains the fish or why no one is really trying to decipher where something that looks like it came from the time of dinosaurs is living and swimming and eating in this lake. It’s just taken for matter of fact. It’s brought to life with an animatronic model so there’s a nice sense of realism to the effects. You never get a look at it for more than a few seconds at a time but it swims around realistically, surfaces when you least expect it and has plenty of jaw movement so kudos to the prop makers for having the guts to make something practical rather than CGI it. But as I’ve said, the fish isn’t the real focus and it works much the better for it.

The cast of characters are well-rounded and though they do fall into teenage stereotypes, the film isn’t one to play upon genre tropes for too long. In fact there are a few scenes in which these stereotypes are played to, particularly some of the tense decision moments where the survivors are making cases for who should stay on the boat and who should go for help (i.e. try and swim and be eaten), and the strengths and weaknesses of each token role are laid bare. The characters also have a fair bit of back story to them and a lot of this dirty linen is dragged up as they plead and beg for their lives. The dialogue can seem a little clunky at times but the performances on the whole are very good. Mark Margolis, famous for his portrayal of mute drug lord Tito Salamanca (the ‘ding ding ding ding’ guy) from TV’s Breaking Bad, pops up in a brief role as the ‘Crazy Ralph’ character who warns the kids not to go out onto the lake and whom no one listens to.

 

Beneath was a pleasant surprise. I went in expecting a low budget Jaws clone and was met with something more thought-provoking which didn’t pander to the genre norms and actually had an interesting take on the usual creature feature film. It does have its flaws and it’s by far from being completely watchable but Beneath is worth a look if there’s nothing else that takes your interest.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆