Tag 1990s

King Cobra (1999)

King Cobra (1999)

30 Feet Of Pure Terror!

A giant experimental King Cobra snake escapes a research lab and takes up residence in a small brewery town which is about to host its annual beer festival.

 

Who needs a lot of plot description when one line summaries will do? Very obviously a low budget Anaconda rip-off/cash-in, King Cobra is a typical example of late 90s and early 00s straight-to-DVD monster movies. Little creativity, little imagination, little scope and little reward for watching, the films are all interchangeable with one another, especially if you’ve seen upwards of twenty killer snake films in the same period of time like I have.

The star of the show is the snake and surprisingly, this isn’t some slithering CGI scare machine, it’s an animatronic model. Designed by the Chiodo Brothers (who did the remarkable make-up effects on the cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space), the snake doesn’t get an awful lot of screen time which is a shame because whenever it is on camera, the size and scale of it looks amazing. Having something physical on-set for the cast to visualise and interact with is always preferable to CGI post-production effects. The snake does have a limited range of motion but the copious use of POV shots try to mask that fact. Unfortunately, this also means that you won’t get to see much during the kill scenes. These tend to be brief affairs with the faintest hint of violence and blood. I guess these had to be sacrificed because the budget clearly went into the snake but the snake rarely looks like it attacks anyone as a lot happens off-screen.

Despite the decent special effects, King Cobra‘s major weakness is its script. It follows the routine Jaws formula with a monster finding its way into a small town celebrating some form of anniversary or festival and where the mayor wants to keep everything monster-related hush-hush as to avoid the event being cancelled or the town losing business. The first half sees the monster causing carnage around the town and the second half sees an intrepid group of people attempt to capture it. There’s nothing remotely original about it and you could quite easily replace the snake with various different monsters, serial killers or aliens and the end result would still be the same. There’s no style or substance to proceedings, just a monotonous going through the motions vibe. No one here was out to make a good film. They’re just in it to pay the bills until the next film comes along and it shows.

King Cobra is painfully slow and very dull. This is probably because there are plenty of scenes which lead nowhere and a couple of plot threads that have no bearing on anything that happens. There’s no sense of fun or excitement at all, and the scenes without the snake really drag the pace of the film down. Also not helping matters in the unserious tone. Either go full out spoof or play it straight but King Cobra bizarrely trends some middle ground, where it is too daft to be serious but not witty or goofy enough to laugh with (or at).

Pat Morita, forever known around the world as Mr Miyagi (from the original The Karate Kid), gets the top billing and plays up to stereotypical as a wise old snake hunter who gets to spout lots of facts and statistics and make it sound scientific. He looks a bit embarrassed to be starring in this but the royalties from his big hit won’t cover the bills forever! Scott Hillenbrand is the other ‘star’ and he’s also one of the co-directors which is a tad convenient if you ask me. Hillenbrand is just as wooden in front of the camera as he is clueless behind it. Erik Estrada has a cameo appearance as a flamboyant gay man so it’s not like the actors really had to push themselves into their roles.

 

King Cobra just doesn’t do anything fresh or remotely exciting, save for the decent snake special effects. The film has all been done before and done better too. It’s just too unoriginal to be interesting anymore, even down to the blatant “hey we want a sequel” ending (which thankfully never came to fruition).

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)

Pinocchio's Revenge (1996)

Evil comes with strings attached

Defence Attorney Jennifer Garrick acquires a Pinocchio puppet from a condemned serial killer. Her little daughter, Zoe, finds the puppet and, believing that it is a birthday present, begins to grow attached to her new puppet friend. Suddenly, accidents begin to happen around the house and at school and Zoe blames Pinocchio. However no one will believe her. As her behaviour deteriorates and people start to go missing, Jennifer begins to wonder just what is going on with Zoe and her puppet.

 

I don’t think that Pinocchio’s Revenge could try any harder to be Child’s Play if it tried. Clearly out to ape the successful horror film that introduced the world to Chucky, Pinocchio’s Revenge tries to turn everyone’s favourite ‘wooden puppet who wanted to become a boy’ (unless you can name another wooden puppet) into a similar sort of slasher-thriller. The comparisons between the two are inevitable and being the later, lower budgeted one, Pinocchio’s Revenge suffers right from the start.

It’s impossible to shake the feeling of Child’s Play at any point. Pinocchio’s Revenge rips it off so bad it’s a wonder that the studio didn’t pursue legal proceedings. However unlike the latter, Pinocchio’s Revenge fails to deliver any consistent scares, tension or thrills though it does deliver some sporadic moments of decency. Director Kevin Tenney was the man behind classic 80s horror-comedy Night of the Demons so we know he’s got the ability to make something entertaining. Sadly, Pinocchio’s Revenge is not that something. No matter how hard Tenney tries, he just can’t make the notion of a killer wooden puppet seem scary because of the associations we have of the character from the animated Disney film. Pinocchio is just not a psycho killer, he’s a cute little wooden puppet who just wants to be a boy.

We’re given very little information as to the background to the puppet. In fact we don’t even know how the puppet came to live in the first place. Is it possessed by the spirit of the killer, Gotto? Did Zoe’s rage and anger cause the puppet to come to life? There’s no sense of ambiguity despite the film trying to mislead the audience a few times. Is the puppet alive or is it really Zoe who is doing the killing? Well the clue is in the title after all but on the few occasions when the boundaries between the two become blurred, the film tries to punch above its weight. The final twists and ending to the film make me wish that the rest of the film had been more deserving. Pinocchio’s Revenge is such a misleading title too because there’s no real need for the puppet to start killing people. He’s not out to get revenge on anyone, just killing people who get in the way of the relationship between Zoe and her mother for some reason.

It doesn’t help that Pinocchio doesn’t start his ‘revenge’ until the final act and even then it’s not that bloody or violent. The first half of the film is drawn-out to try and create some mood going in to the kills later on but it doesn’t do a great job of creating it. Once people start winding up dead, the pace picks up a little more but even then there isn’t a massive body count. So many potential victims and so little carnage. But what would you expect from an alleged killer that looks as ridiculous as the chap on the poster. The Pinocchio puppet looks awful. It’s big, crudely carved, its eyes can only roll left and right and its mouth doesn’t even move when it talks, surely the easiest of effects to achieve. What’s worse is that the puppet is a foul-mouthed little bugger but the voice is not intimidating in the slightest. You just want him to shut up.

Brittany Alyse Smith, as Zoe, delivers a mixed performance. On some occasions her overly cute, sweet little girl delivery is so adorable that you can’t help but empathise with her. But in other scenes, her delivery is loud, forced and too energetic, showing her lack of maturity in delivering the lines. Rosalind Allen is better as her mother but this is hardly an actor’s film, especially when she’s forced to talk to and deal with a killer puppet! To write any jokes about ‘wooden’ acting at this point would be pretty pointless. Also, there is a shower scene featuring some full frontal nudity and I will avoid the whole ‘Pinocchio gets wood’ jokes too.

 

Pinocchio’s Revenge is derivative and, at times, just a drag to sit through but there are a couple of good moments and Tenney does at least try to play everything as seriously as possible. Whether that was the best option or not remains to be seen. Thankfully we were spared a sequel.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Space (1991)

Dead Space (1991)

No Place To Hide

After receiving a distress signal from the Phaebon research facility, Commander Krieger and his robot sidekick Tinpan respond straight away. Arriving on the planet, Krieger is told that there is no problem but due to damage his ship sustained during a fight in space, he is forced to stay and carry out repairs. The scientists on board the facility were attempting to find a cure for the deadly Delta 5 disease and created an even more deadly anti-virus to destroy it. But the anti-virus has become sentient, growing into a large creature which is now living off the crew members on board.

 

Dead Space bears no relation to the successful video game series (though I do note costume similarities between the game’s main character, Isaac Clarke, and the robot sidekick in the film). In fact it is a remake of Roger Corman’s cult classic Alien clone Forbidden World, a film which (though lacking in many qualities) is one of Corman’s best films. Dead Space is a rip off of a rip off of a landmark film which is almost like wearing third generation hand-me down clothes which have been worn and worn to death in the years since the original owner put them on for the first time. Shot in just seventeen days, Dead Space will do little to convince you otherwise.

The plots in Dead Space and Forbidden World are almost identical: the intergalactic hero and his robot sidekick responding to a distress signal from a research station; the virus-like creature which has escaped it’s incubation; the team of scientists both in denial about what they have created and in fear of what may happen; and the inevitable carnage which ensues when the creature grows bigger and hungrier and begins to kill everyone off. There’s even a random and completely-irrelevant-to-the-rest-of-the-film sequence at the beginning just like in Forbidden World where our hero is involved in a space dogfight for no apparent reason other than to recycle footage from Battle Beyond the Stars and kill about five minutes of screen time.

The big difference between the two films is the presence and/or absence of the trashy elements which made Forbidden World such a cult hit. Dead Space sorely needed an injection of gore, nudity and general low budget sleaze – it’s the film that Forbidden World would be if it removed most of its gore, naked chick quota and copious amount of sleaze and cheese. There’s nothing here to get overly worked over. Odd moments of blood, including a decent head-ripping late in the film, are not enough to save it. Dead Space doesn’t even attempt to send a wink towards the audience with its content. It’s played straight, serious and without a hint of irony or self-awareness.

Dead Space commits the cardinal sin of movie making and that is it to be boring. Even though it’s got a seventy-two minute run time, the film feels twice as long as that. Characters skulk around in the sparsely-decorated corridors talking about how they’re going to find and stop the creature for scene-upon-scene of innate tedium. The first hour grinds itself through the motions, only really picking up in the finale when the creature is given the big reveal, which is too little too late. The monster itself looks terribly static in the brief glimpses we get of it. For the majority of the film, it is masked in insane amounts of smoke/fog/ice when it’s outside the station or just dimmed in dingy rooms and corridors when it’s inside. It’s a pity because the design looks good, though you won’t get to see it walking around on two legs like the Xenomorph-wannabe from the cover artwork.

Fans of TV shows will be quick to spot Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as one of the scientists on board the station. No doubt this is the type of film he’ll be wanting to hide on his CV now that he’s pretty famous in Hollywood right now. Cranston isn’t great but given where he’s ended up, it’s easy to ignore it. The rest of the cast are pretty horrible, including Marc Singer as Krieger who is introduced to the audience laying down naked in some sort of steam room. Only, unlike in Forbidden World, the hero of the day only gets to dream about the female scientists naked rather than get down and dirty in the flesh.

 

Dead Space is just that – a completely lifeless amount of time between opening and closing credits where there’s little to see, little to hear and little to worry about. You’d expect better from the low budget canon of Roger Corman, even if by ‘better’ I mean sleazy and cheesy. This is neither and all the worse for it.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

He’s Home… But He’s Not Alone.

Young Derek is left traumatised when his father is killed by a mysterious Christmas present that was left for him on the doorstep in the middle of the night. The present was meant for Derek with a warning not to open until Christmas. It turns out that a local toymaker is making these deadly presents with the intention of killing children and Derek is next on his list.

 

Having long-abandoned the killer Santa theme, the Silent Night, Deadly Night series did what John Carpenter had originally envisioned for the Halloween franchise: making standalone horror films linked together with a particular holiday theme, in this case Christmas. Whilst this only lasted for two films once the traditional slasher stuff had finished in Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!, it still provided a platform for some interesting non-traditional Christmas horror material. Horror producer and director Brian Yuzna, one of the men behind the Re-Animator films, was in the producer’s seat for this one and his knowledgeable touch is clear to see. There is a definitive Halloween III: Season of the Witch vibe to this sequel in which an evil businessman plans to murder children during one of the year’s biggest holidays. Whilst this isn’t on the same scale, there’s still a cruel and devilish tinge to the proceedings here. Like a gift that keeps on giving, the film contains plenty of bizarre ideas and moments which will leave you wide-eyed in amazement.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is a solid horror flick which doesn’t take itself too seriously and would have probably been more successful standing on its own two feet instead of being tagged with the sequel moniker. It’s got an obvious second-rate budget which holds it back on numerous occasions but it’s got far more to do with the festive season than the bulk of the other sequels and manages to inject some mean-spirited fun into its running time. This is still not a film for the Christmas purists who will be enraged at the sight of a man dressed in a Santa suit kidnaping a small boy or toys coming to life killing people. But hey, people don’t take this stuff seriously, do they?

The interesting premise was never going to live up to potential so it’s to the films credit that it manages to come out as good as it does. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker dangerously settles into a quasi-slasher formula during the middle portion of the film, as someone gets in possession of a killer toy and is promptly dispatched by said toy, but this is dropped for the finale. One can only wonder how much effective the kills would have been with a bigger budget (or whether they have been cut down). The standout sequence featuring the babysitter and her boyfriend being attacked by a multitude of toys in the bedroom is imaginatively realised. Robotic hands, snakes, army soldiers, tanks, and a remote-controlled car with circular saw add-ons launch an assault upon the unsuspecting couple. Considering all of the toys are actual props, the way in which the sequence is devised really gives you the illusion that these killing machines have life. The idea of a face-hugging Santa toy is a bit absurd, though the face change in ‘mood’ from happy Santa (with the toy playing festive music) to the maniac Santa (with the funeral march now the music of choice) is a nice touch).

Veteran actor Mickey Rooney is the evil toymaker, which is an ironic bit of casting given how vocal Rooney was in showing his hatred for the original when it was released amidst a storm of controversy in 1984. I guess he needed the money for his Christmas presents in 1991. Rooney is fantastic in the role, barking mad and frothing at the mouth in some scenes as he rages against his son, Pino. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable, though two people from the previous sequel are brought back for very brief cameos, no doubt to add continuity to the series.

Anyone who figures out why Rooney’s character is called Joe Petto will then figure out the plot twist at the end of the film. Believe me, it was totally out of nowhere but I liked it. Films that take creative chances with the material and do something out of the ordinary always get bonus marks in my book, even if the execution isn’t so hot. Thankfully, whilst Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker‘s twist makes no sense in the slightest, the manner of its execution is staged well enough to get you to suspend your disbelief for a few moments.

 

If it’s not the sight of a robot dry-humping a woman whilst shouting “I love you mommy” or the street kid wearing rocket-propelled skates, it’s the manner in which Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker goes about its business with the minimal fuss that will have you smiling afterwards. It’s never going to become a seasonal classic but for a fourth sequel it holds up far better than it has any right to and will provide a different alternative to the usual Christmas-themed horror suspects at that time of the year.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lighthouse (1999)

Lighthouse (1999)

The brightest light hides your darkest fear

A prison transport ship carrying some notorious criminals, including serial killer Leo Rook, runs around during a storm and the crew are forced to abandon ship. The few survivors, a mixture of guards and prisoners, manage to take shelter at a nearby lighthouse but Rook also managed to escape from the ship before it sank. Now with no way off the island, the survivors are slowly picked off one-by-one.

 

A British film with a prolonged production? That’s not something unusual in an era where it seems to be harder and harder for talented British filmmakers to get their foot onto the bottom rung of the movie making ladder. Lighthouse started development in 1994, began shooting in 1998, was eventually finished by 1999, was released in the US in 2000 as Dead of Night, and finally ‘came home’ for the first time in 2002 for a cinematic release. That’s a crazy production schedule so it’s a good job that, for the most, Lighthouse comes out as respectable as it does. Well, as respectable as another generic slasher flick could be.

Lighthouse‘s main strength is its cracking location. The lighthouse and surrounding island is the perfect place to set a horror film. Set at night, the film does a great job of turning this environment into an intimidating, inhospitable place where the only light source is the constantly-rotating lighthouse beam. Inside is no better, with damp, dingy rooms and spiralling staircases leading to all manner of possibilities for the characters to play hide and seek with the killer. At times, director Simon Hunter is in danger of lavishing too much style into the film – this is a slasher after all, not some art house flick. But once this gets a little overbearing, Lighthouse ditches it all in favour of more routine slasher trickery.

It’s these early scenes with the characters exploring the island, blissfully unaware that Rook has beaten them there, which are the film’s strongest point. Before the decapitating gets underway in earnest, Lighthouse protracts the tension with a series of scenes which will get right under your skin: the highlight scene being where the ship’s alcoholic captain ventures off in search of the toilet only to have the killer enter a few minutes later, unaware of the potential victim hiding in the cubicle. What follows is a nerve-wracking few minutes where the captain peeks underneath the cubicle to see a pair of blood-splattered feet pacing up and down.

It’s good to see a British slasher try and deviate from the norm a little by choosing not to populate the film with teenage characters, instead giving us a selection of adult characters to root for (with a bunch of British character actors assuming the roles). Unfortunately just because they’re adults doesn’t mean to say that we’re going to like them any better and Lighthouse seems to go out of its way to make these survivors as bland and as lacklustre as possible. The leads, James Purefoy and Rachel Shelley, are saddled with particularly worthless characters. Thankfully, despite the victims providing little in the way of human entertainment, Christopher Adamson’s Leo Rook killer more than makes up for the short-change. He’s a sinister-looking character, physically imposing to boot, and more than capable (and willing) to kill and decapitate his victims. He likes to keep the heads as trophies. No attempt is made to give him any sort of back story other than the fact he’s a notorious killer but once he escapes, there’s no real need to turn him onto a multi-layered character. He’s a killer, plain and simple, in the classic mould of Michael Myers.

Novelty value of the setting aside, Lighthouse falls into many of the same pitfalls as its American cousins. Once the first couple of kills have taken place, Lighthouse drifts into a repetitive series of “is he there or isn’t he?” moments where the survivors are trying to guess where Rook is hiding. The atmosphere and tension from the first half gives way to predictable plotting, unnecessary explosions and forced romantic sub-plots. The dull characters begin to make silly decisions such as splitting up or venturing outside in the dark. As the number of survivors starts to dwindle and the creativity dries up, Rook begins to grow stronger and stronger, surviving the inevitable electrocution, burning and stabbing that the Final Girl throws his way. No amount of gore and rolling heads can make up for the stupidity and shoulder-shrugging nature of the script in the second half of the film.

 

Lighthouse is a slightly better-than-routine slasher, a bit more violent and gritty than most, set inside a novel location and with some decent technical skill surrounding it. Due to the nature of the material, it is never able to break out in the way that it should and the sub-genre conventions end up swamping the film towards the end. A solid effort from the Brits but nothing that will be rocking the foundations of the sub-genre.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999)

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return (1999)

The latest and most horrorfying chapter…

Hannah travels back to her hometown of Gatlin in order to trace her biological mother. Unbeknownst to Hannah, she is the key figure in the fulfilment of a prophecy foretold by Isaac, the cult leader of the corn-god worshipping children who slaughtered their parents many years earlier. Her arrival awakens Isaac from a fifteen year-long coma and he sets about putting his plan in motion to bring about ‘He Who Walks Behind the Rows.’

 

It’s hard to believe that they churned out as many sequels to such a mediocre horror film as Children of the Corn. I can understand the likes of Freddy, Jason or Michael Myers getting constant sequels in their respective franchises because they’re pop culture icons now, not just horror characters. But Children of the Corn? There was hardly enough mileage for one film, let alone an entire franchise.

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return plays out exactly like a tired sixth instalment of a franchise would. Short on fresh ideas and bogged down by previously poor sequels, the film wisely opts to act as a direct follow-up to the original, pretending that the other films never happened. It’s a smart move as it allows some breathing room in the story but then again, the story was never short of breath to begin with. In trying to replicate the original by bringing back its main villain, Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return just shows how tedious the formula has become – or rather how tedious it was to begin with. The problem with these sequels is that they all blur into one because they’re so unmemorable.

At least the series finally shows a bit of continuity here with the return of Isaac, once again played by actor John Franklin who doesn’t look to have aged one bit since his original appearance. But then again, I thought that character was killed off, not simply drifted into a coma where he was forgotten about while the rest of the sequels took place. Isaac’s return is the big lure for this sequel as he was a creepy and nasty piece of work before and could have worked well as the antagonist once again. Franklin co-wrote the script and it’s blatantly obvious that he’s trying to carve himself a niche here by transforming Isaac into a horror icon that can become the focal point of the series. You’d think that Franklin would do himself some favours with the script but all he ends up doing is giving Isaac a load of nonsensical Biblical dialogue which will irritate everyone to no end. He’s no Freddy Krueger when it comes to the gift of the gab.

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return has its best moments early on as the script tries to tie the film in with the events of the first one. Isaac starts off strongly as the focal point but as the film goes on, it becomes less about him and more about the new group of children that are worshipping He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Isaac’s return then becomes a side-issue as the film leads into a stupendous final third in which logic goes out of the window, plot holes increase in size ten-fold and common sense is ignored. Characters see dead animals everywhere which are revealed to be warning signs. Events occur which are then revealed to be dream sequences. This rug-pulling is only effective once or twice in a film before the audience gets annoyed at the cheap tactics being employed by the writers and Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return outstays its welcome long before it should.

Thankfully, at eighty-two minutes, the film doesn’t spend too long writhing around in its own agony. The same can’t be said for the respectable names who appear in the cast. Some well-known actors like Stacy Keach and Nancy Allen appear in supporting roles but they look embarrassed to be here and I don’t blame them. Keach hams it up to no end as a crazy resident and Allen looks to have walked in off another set. The only shining light is newcomer Natalie Ramsey who plays the lead role. She does a good job in investing her character with a little spirit and pluckiness (plus it helps that she looks mighty fine doing it too). But she gets lost in the mix, a victim of some daft script decisions which have her flitting between being a clever know-it-all who will never fall victim to these kids, and a Penelope Pitstop-style dim heroine who seems to stumble into every problematic scenario possible.

 

Having been in a coma on life support for the years since the original, you’d have thought Isaac would want to come back with a bang and relish his new lease of life. Instead, Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return brings him back with a whimper and realisation that his plug should have been pulled years earlier, along with the franchise.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

Godzilla Vs Destroyah (1995)

It’s a Major Monster Meltdown!

Godzilla’s heart is on the verge of a nuclear meltdown and he is nearing death, which is worrying for the planet as the eventual radioactive fallout would create a huge firewall around the world, destroying all life. The G-Force, an anti-Godzilla task force set up to stop Godzilla, are tasked with finding a solution to this rapidly-approaching problem. Meanwhile, the remnants of the oxygen destroyer weapon used to kill the first Godzilla has somehow mutated into a horrid monster which threatens to destroy Japan. Can Godzilla stop the beast before meltdown?

 

After a successful resurrection in the late 80s and early 90s, Toho decided it was time to time to kill off Godzilla as they had ‘creatively run out of ideas’ for him. It’s a bit rich that they said that, having made twenty-one other films about a giant radioactive monster! Having just signed the rights across for the disastrous 90s American version too, Toho also felt that it would be impractical to have two competing franchises running at the same time so the time was right to retire their version (oh how they wish they had been in possession of a crystal ball!). I’m not revealing any spoilers here that I shouldn’t do because it was public knowledge that Godzilla would be killed off in Godzilla Vs Destroyah. Toho publicised the hell out of it for obvious cash reasons and made sure that, for once, a Godzilla film would have a definite ending.

Simply put, Godzilla Vs Destroyah is one of the finest Godzilla films ever made. Toho put everything they had into giving him an amazing send-off. Gone is the ludicrous camp that infested the 70s. Gone is the silly comic book vibe. Gone is the tag team wrestling. Gone are the alien invasion plots. Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the most dark, grim and downbeat film in the series. This is brutal, physical and no-holds barred monster movie making at its most lethal and disheartening. It is the culmination of years of trying to mesh modern day special effects with the old man-in-a-suit methods of monster making from Toho’s past. They’ve come a long, long way from the days of trying to spot the zipper on the rubber suit.

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was the biggest Godzilla production that Toho had produced and very penny of the budget goes up onto the screen in some form. The new Godzilla suit, brought to life with a fiery orange glow and blowing out smoke every few minutes, is a remarkable special effect which must have been hell for the stuntman inside. Godzilla looks more reptile-like than ever but the addition of the glowing orange skin really makes this version of the monster more human than ever before. We can almost feel the pain of the monster as he roars and breaths fire, slowly dying a horrible death. It’s a shame that they didn’t let loose the chains and have him completely run riot across Japan like never before and he conveniently serves the bulk of his rage for Destroyah.

Destroyah is one of Godzilla’s most physically imposing opponents ever envisioned. There are numerous stages to the monster’s development but it is the final incarnation which provides the ghastly Devil-like creature that Godzilla battles during the finale. It’s like something out a H.P. Lovecraft tale. Destroyah gets billed as Godzilla’s most fearsome rival and whilst the two monsters do battle, the result is never really in question. Godzilla doesn’t lose, ever…or does he in his final fight? Regardless of who wins, the two monsters smash the hell out of Tokyo in the amazing night time battle at the end of the film.

This final confrontation is one of Toho’s finest special effects extravaganzas. I thought the three way battle between Godzilla, Rodan and Mechagodzilla in 1993′s Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla was impressive yet this blows the socks of it by a mile. There is all manner of beam weaponry exchanged between the two monsters, with explosions, sparks and clouds of smoke going up every few minutes. The superbly detailed miniature cities take a pummelling here and the whole thing is captured with some fantastic shots. Shooting the fight at night really hammers home how much Toho had learnt about these type of scenes.

The main problem with Godzilla Vs Destroyah is the rather weird detour it takes quite early on during one of Destroyah’s early stages of development. This turns into some sort of pseudo-Aliens flick as a team of soldiers is picked off one-by-one by loads of mini-Destroyahs inside a warehouse. The human aspect of Godzilla films was never really embraced as anything except filler in between the monster fights and there are no exceptions here. Some of the faces from the previous films return for one last hurrah, including Megumi Odaka as Miki Saegusa, who sets a record of six consecutive appearances in Godzilla films. Toho were never ones to adhere to any sort of continuity with the Godzilla series so to see her back again is a bit of a shock. This is even more puzzling when you consider that Godzilla Vs Destroyah cherry picks what it wants to take from the previous couple of films including Godzilla Vs Space Godzilla but mainly refers back to (and includes footage from) the 1954 original.

Of course, what would a Godzilla film be without a classic soundtrack courtesy of Akira Ifukube. Not only was Godzilla bowing out but this was Ifukube’s swansong for the series and he saves some of his best until last. The fight music is riveting as always but it is the final piece during Godzilla’s meltdown which not only draws an end to Godzilla’s career but Ifukube’s as well. It’s a highly emotional pairing and if you’re a fan of Godzilla, I dare you to remain dry-eyed as we witness the colossal monster wither away before our eyes.

 

Godzilla Vs Destroyah was and still is the pinnacle of Toho’s Godzilla films. It’s an absolute must for any true Godzilla fan – action-packed, featuring the best special effects of the series and featuring an unforgettable finale. Whilst Toho would resurrect Godzilla only a few years later in Godzilla 2000, this, for me, is his ultimate swansong.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Rocketeer, The (1991)

The Rocketeer (1991)Cliff Secord is a young pilot whose dream of entering into a big air race with his new plane are ruined when a shoot-out involving cars on the ground below him forces him to crash-land. But whilst he is grounded, Secord stumbles across a top secret rocket pack that was hidden inside the cockpit of another plane in the hanger. Strapping on the invention, he finds that he can fly and with the assistance of his mechanic friend, Peevy, he becomes the Rocketeer. It isn’t long before he attracts the attentions of the Mafia, the FBI and Neville Sinclair, one of Hollywood’s top actors, who has a secret of his own.

 

Long before Iron Man hit the cinemas, another flying superhero who wore metal was one of the sole flag bearers of a niche genre which had yet to hit its stride, Batman and Superman aside. The Rocketeer was ahead of its time. Had it been made during the comic book boom of the late 00s, it would have a found a bigger, more appreciative audience. But it was a flop when it was released in 1991 and I’m not quite sure why. The Rocketeer blows the socks off a lot of today’s superhero efforts and is a lot of fun in its own quaint, charming way. Thankfully, over the years it has grown a decent cult following.

Think Iron Man meets Raiders of the Lost Ark and you won’t go too far wrong in preparing yourself for The Rocketeer. The film is set in the late 30s and a lot of effort goes into bringing to life that era with a wide variety of cars, clothes, music, hairstyles and dating etiquette on show. This wouldn’t have worked in a modern setting and the old fashioned, vintage feel helps bring the story to life in a lot more fantastical fashion – the notion of a rocket pack may not seem so far-fetched to someone in the present day as opposed to someone living in 30s America. The period setting also allows the inclusion of those favourite whipping boys, the Nazis, as the bad guys.

The retro feel of the film really allows the film to embrace its Saturday morning serial roots in much the same manner that Raiders of the Lost Ark managed to replicate so well. The film is very episodic, with the Rocketeer going from one scrape to the next and getting involved in all manner of gun battles, fist fights and battles atop blimps. The action sequences are dealt with perfectly well – this is a family-friendly Disney live-action film after all and so there’s nothing here that will offend or cause concern. The majority of action set pieces and special effects are done using old school techniques including using some well-trained stuntmen. Though some of the flying sequences with the Rocketeer look a bit dated now, they still serve their function. Everything is all very innocent and gentle, as you’d expect from the House of Mouse. It’s too bad we don’t really get enough of them. To say this superhero is meant to fly, he doesn’t do an awful lot of it.

Sadly, The Rocketeer lacks the spark that made Raiders tick – the self-referential humour. Yes there are a handful of in-jokes and sight gags but they’re sparsely scattered around the film. The throwaway material works well with gentle humour and whilst The Rocketeer never gets serious, it fails to find the funny bone as well. Coupled with the shortage of truly captivating action sequences, the film consistently threatens to come crashing back down to Earth with a bump. Thankfully the film is light enough to be able to take the rough and tumble of some poor pacing. Things never get overly boring but at the same time there seems to be a lack of energy underneath.

The Rocketeer’s main weakness comes from its leading man, Bill Campbell. Whilst he’s not terrible in the role, his performance is so average that it is hard to remember anything worthwhile he says or does in the film. The role really needed someone more charismatic and memorable to bring the character to life. Considering the supporting cast of Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton who all outshine him, Campbell is wooden and dull. Dalton, in particular, is having a blast (having hung up his 007 tux two years earlier) as a Nazi spy doubling up as a successful Hollywood actor. If anyone ever doubted whether Dalton had the charisma to pull off Bond (he was always one of, if not my favourite, actors to play Ian Fleming’s suave spy) then this role proves he did.

James Horner provides the soundtrack and seems content to rip off his previous scores once again. Aliens and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were classic scores yet Horner continually recycles his old work to remind us of how good he once was.

 

A bit cheesy, full of clichés and as light and fluffy as cotton wool, The Rocketeer is nevertheless an entertaining, family-friendly superhero film which deserved far better success than it had. Not every superhero film has to be uber-serious like The Dark Knight or Man of Steel.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Unknown Origin (1995)

Unknown Origin (1995)

Only one species can rule the Earth….it may no longer be human

An underwater research facility set up in the year 2020 to mine for resources receives a distress call from a similar Russian base nearby. A team is sent to investigate and offer assistance but when they arrive, they find that most of the crew are dead. They take back the surviving Russian crew member and a few bodies to study but when they arrive back at the facility, the Russian has some sort of fit and a strange, parasitic organism escapes from his mouth. The science team discovers that the organism is actually an alien being which has been perfectly preserved for millions of years underwater until the Russian released it. What’s worse is that it needs a human host in order to survive, living off the victim’s bodily fluids until they die before moving on to the next host.

 

Made for television and shot in eighteen days, Unknown Origin is basically Aliens meets The Thing underwater but coming from producer Roger Corman I’d expect no less a shameless cash-ins of far superior films. Undersea horrors had come and gone in the late 80s with the likes of Deep Star Six and Leviathan but, always one to milk an idea dry, Corman decided to go back to the cash cow another time to see if it had any pennies left. Sadly this cow was short on change.

If you’ve seen The Thing, and most likely everyone who is visiting this site will have, then you’ll be familiar with the set-up at a remote location, this time underwater instead of the Antarctic, and a crew of assorted individuals who encounter an alien life form which has the ability to imitate humans. There’s little hiding it as the inspiration for Unknown Origin. Events happen almost like-for-like, with the crew visiting a foreign base (only Russians this time instead of Norwegians) where they find that those pesky foreigners have been digging something alien out of the rocks (or ice) which has been buried there for millions of years. Once the danger has been inadvertently brought back on board the station, all hell breaks loose as the creature finds new victims to consume.

Not content with rehashing The Thing, there is also an android crew member (Alien) and a slimy corporation calling the shots (Aliens) thrown in for good measure. They really did try and cover all of the necessary bases with this one. It’s just a shame that they forgot to include anything fresh and worthwhile because the film is as mechanical as it comes, clunking through each set piece and scenario with a lacklustre drive. The film knows we’ve all seen this sort of thing before but instead of getting on with it, it tries to drag it out as though it’s original material, almost in petulant rebellion against the audience.

Despite the unashamed plagiarism, Unknown Origin can’t even muster anything worthwhile to show for its efforts. The pace is dreary, the narrative uneventful and there’s a void of excitement and scares. The film looks low budget too and there’s little hiding it: the undersea station is too well lit, too sparsely detailed and looks too nice to live in (though I’m sure interior decoration was never a factor in the construction of the International Space Station) to even remotely come off as a threatening environment to be trapped in.

The penny-pinching continues as some footage is recycled from a couple of Corman’s previous films, including the exterior shots of the underwater base and a couple of explosions. I guess if you own the rights to the footage, it’s yours to do with as you please. Those expecting the miniscule budget to have gone towards the creature effects will also be sorely disappointed as the silly little toy alien that emerges from people’s mouths looks to have been purchased in a joke shop. As for the rest of the time that characters are being used as hosts, it’s just down to the actor to change their mannerisms a bit and pretend that there’s something ‘different’ about the character. It saves on money but doesn’t add any excitement whenever a character is revealed to be under alien control.

The cast is interesting. Roddy McDowall is the token big name on show and he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. He has this permanent scowl on his face, delivers his lines with his usual softly spoken voice and looks disinterested as if the sooner he’d finished his lines, the sooner he could go and put his feet up. I’m sure McDowall wasn’t actually like that but that’s the impression you get here. William Shatner’s daughter Melanie provides the glamour, Richard Biggs would go on to sci-fi fame in Babylon 5 and Alex Hyde-White has the dubious distinction of playing the first Mr Fantastic in Roger Corman’s unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie.

 

Unknown Origin is, unsurprisingly, a load of uninspired tosh. Devoid of ideas despite leeching off the best that the genre has to offer, it’s formulaic, pedestrian and ultimately a total waste of time. Those with a burning desire to see whether Captain Kirk’s daughter can act any better than her old man should really watch one of her other films.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Terror Within II, The (1991)

The Terror Within 2 (1991)

Out there lurked danger….but the real terror came from within.

After the underground bunker that David and his team were hiding inside was destroyed in a mutant attack along with everyone else, he heads off across the desolate, plague-infested landscape in search of the Rocky Mountain outpost where he believes another team is holed up. On his way, he rescues Ariel from a mutant attack but, when they encounter a tribe of survivors, he is unable to prevent her from being raped by another mutant. Eventually they arrive at the outpost where they are welcomed inside by the team. However that is the least of their worries as not only is Ariel ready to give birth to a monstrous offspring but the team have also inadvertently allowed the severed finger of another mutant to re-grow back to full size inside their compound.

 

I could honestly go into further details about the plot as it’s a rather convoluted sequence of events that leads to a couple of the mutants being let loose inside the bunker. But hey, we’re looking at a cheap direct-to-video sequel to a cheap direct-to-video sci-fi horror film where creativity is a bare minimum and recycling everything is the order of the day. If you’ve seen The Terror Within then you’ve already seen The Terror Within II, virtually the same film as its predecessor as a rag-tag bunch of human survivors headed up by a famous name (Full Metal Jacket‘s infamous drill instructor, R. Lee Ermey, taking over the George Kennedy role) allow those mutated humans to infiltrate their underground facility where lots of Alien-clone hi-jinks ensue. Though there are some plot deviations, the standard monster-on-the-loose formula is adhered to the letter.

In many ways it’s everything I like about a true sequel. The sets look the same. The exterior locations look the same. Characters discuss events that have happened and everything seems to fit into a big jigsaw. It’s obvious that this takes place within the same fictional future as the original and the same story is continued. Everything fits nicely together so it’s a real shame that the film is almost an identical retread, save for the first twenty minutes or so. Even thinking back about it now, I’m hard-pressed to remember which parts were from which film.

As I’ve said, if you’ve seen the original (and why would you be watching the sequel if you haven’t?) then this is virtually the same film. If you’ve seen Alien or any of the countless low budget monster-on-the-loose-in-a-confined-space rip-offs then you’ll have seen this. The expendable crew of stereotyped characters decide to hunt down the creature and before you can say “let’s split up so we explore more space but also make ourselves easier targets” they’ve getting ripped apart in gory death scenes. There’s little in the way of tension or scares, just exploitative elements which enhance the film’s low budget nature.

I said in my review for The Terror Within that the monsters really reminded me of the recent Feast films and not just for appearances. These are horny monsters who are happy to destroy the males and breed with the females. Monster-rape has always been a taboo in the horror genre and both of these films have tackled the issue with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. The monsters look like men in shabby fancy dress outfits but I’ll take them over CGI monsters any day of the week.

Having been cast in the main role in the first one and having survived the onslaught of the mutated humanoid, Andrew Stevens is back as David. Only this time he’s writing and directing the sequel too. It’s a canny move on his part having creative control. Not only does his character get to rescue and then have sex with the lovely Clare Hoak (he conveniently waits to jump in and save her until after her brother has just been savaged, thus eliminating the sibling competition) but as the director he had the say on who was cast in the other roles. He populates the film with a bunch of good-looking women (if the result of the apocalypse was like this where hot, nubile young women eager to shed their clothes for surviving males were the only ones to survive then let’s get those red buttons pushed) and even finds a role for his mam, Stella Stevens (who looked good for her age as well). R. Lee Ermey is wasted in his role.

 

So what is there to be had from The Terror Within II? Well if you enjoyed the first one, chances are you’ll enjoy this as they’re virtually the same film, only split across two instalments. I would have liked to see Stevens try something a little different with the story here, rather than being a shameless remake. But the cheap and cheesy B-grade elements keep things ticking over until the end and it’s never boring, just familiar.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆