Tag 1990s

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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killer Crocodile 2 (1990)

Killer Crocodile 2 (1990)

Liza Post is a New York journalist interested in a story about the cleaning up of a stretch of polluted river and swamp in the Caribbean which is to be made into a holiday resort. However she finds out that some barrels of radioactive material are unaccounted for when she arrives to investigate. This nuclear waste, responsible for mutating a giant crocodile that wreaked havoc in this area before it was cleaned up, has given rise to another giant crocodile which is killing off anyone unfortunate to be on the water. Crocodile hunter Kevin Jones, responsible for killing the original monster, is called on for help when Liza goes missing.

 

Quite why, in 1990, the Italians were still trying to rip off Jaws remains to be seen. That fad had all but died everywhere else thanks to the countless scores of shameless imitators in the years following Spielberg’s original. But the Italians still saw quick cash in this sub-genre and were content to churn out these progressively-worse creature features. The first Killer Crocodile was passable at best – the typical product of Italian exploitation cinema with cheap special effects, over-the-top gore, sloppy editing, actors desperately slumming and then being dubbed by even worse voice actors and soundtracks which were usually the most original thing on offer.

If a lot of Killer Crocodile 2 looks familiar, it’s because that it was shot at the same time as Killer Crocodile just with different directors shooting different parts (the special effects guy was given a week to shoot extra for this sequel). In fact the films are so alike that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. There even seems to be a lot of similarities with earlier Italian exploitation croc flick The Big Alligator River. Three films which blur into one is never a good sign of the quality and originality of any of them. At least two of the stars of the original, Richard Anthony Crenna and Ennio Girolami, are back reprising their roles to add some continuity.

Killer Crocodile 2 is a flimsy sequel which for all intents and purposes could have been edited together using leftover footage and outtakes instead of separately-shot material. There’s little in the way of story and what there is could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. Set pieces are impractical (the croc seems to be able to rear itself out of the water and walk along the surface), laughable (one character falls off the back of the croc and the slow motion shot of him falling makes it look like he’s taken a parachute dive out of a helicopter for the amount of air time he gets) and badly edited (in one attack scene the croc’s position relevant to a boat changes with every shot, giving the impression that the croc is swimming away from its meal).

This isn’t to say that Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t have its moments. There’s a decent attack scene in which the croc bursts through the wall of a jungle hut to snack on its occupants. Some scenes just embody the “anything goes” nature of these Italian exploitation films. In America, harming kids is a major no-go area as far as films go but the Italians think nothing of feeding a boatful of kids and their guardian nun to the crocodile after it attacks their boat. Not high on scares or quality but definitely top for some unintentional chuckles!

I’m not sure whether it’s the same crocodile model from the original or a new one but it looks alright. The problem is that you see too much of it and so its effect gets less and less over time. Crocodiles are clever hunters in real life, remaining hidden for as long as possible before they strike but this reptile is quite happy posing for the camera. In the final confrontation, it appears that a toy model with an action figure strapped to its back is thrown into a pond to recreate the effect of Kevin attempting to ride on its back. Not exactly cutting edge effects work but good for some laughs.

Riz Ortolani does his best John Williams impersonation with an overplayed score that sounds so much like the Jaws theme that it’s a wonder Universal didn’t come calling with the legal papers.

 

I think you get the message that Killer Crocodile 2 is very low on quality and originality but very high on cheap cheese. It is every inch the lazy cut-and-paste job that it was meant to be, designed to maximise profit whilst cutting costs at every opportunity. You may find some daft amusement from this but the original is a far better film overall, something that I never thought I’d see myself write.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Travelers from the future arrive in present day Tokyo bringing news with them that that in the next century, Godzilla will return to Japan and destroy it once and for all. They have a solution though: to travel back in time and destroy the dinosaur that eventually mutates into Godzilla after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Earth people agree but they find out that it is a dastardly plan by the time travellers to unleash their new monster on Japan: King Ghidorah. Without Godzilla to save them, who will save Japan from this three-headed terror?

 

The feeble Return of Godzilla in 1984 and the disappointing Godzilla Vs Biollante in 1989 certainly revived interest in Godzilla after a nine year gap but the results had been somewhat underwhelming. Had Toho made a mistake in shelving Godzilla for so long before he was reborn in the 80s? Return of Godzilla was a poor man’s remake of the original with more cutting edge special effects and Godzilla Vs Biollate saw the giant lizard return to his old school roots by pairing off against another giant monster. But they were hardly classic entries in the series which had become more known for its city-stomping and monster tag team fights than any serious post-atomic messages. With Toho’s 50th anniversary approaching, they wanted to celebrate in style by giving Godzilla an old school opponent to fight. King Kong was primarily considered but the rights were too costly and so Toho decided to take a step into Godzilla’s past and resurrect one of his most famous and feared (and my favourite) opponents – King Ghidorah – in order to give their anniversary some major box office clout.

Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is arguably where the second wave of Godzilla films really kicked off in earnest. Whilst it doesn’t totally eschew the more serious nature of the previous two films, it allowed some more of the camp and alien invader nonsense of the past to creep back in and soften the edges somewhat. What you get is one of the best instalments of the entire franchise, if you can make it past the first half an hour of complete and utter gibberish that is. The film is ambitious, I’ll credit it with that. Not just content with introducing some aliens with a blatantly-sinister agenda like the 60s and 70s had in abundance, the film borrows from The Terminator with a futuristic android who can run faster and is stronger than anyone as well as a confusing time travel story.

This is one really perplexing film where the film messes around with its own timeline so much that it gets out of control. It tries to be clever, toying with the story by jumping backwards and forwards in time with the old cause and effect routine but it’s not as smart as it thinks it is. Temporal paradoxes are not the strongest point of Godzilla films and if you even try to decipher the logistics behind most of what happens here (events here also effect the following sequels which make reference to this a fair bit) then you’ll be left scratching your head in confusion. The idea behind going back to reveal Godzilla’s origins is good but the execution is appalling as the film flits between 1904, 194 and 2204. At some points during the film, Godzilla is the hero and Ghidorah is the bad guy and then roles are reversed once the films shifts the time continuum. To be honest, once the fights begin, the head-scratching ends.

Forgetting the silly story and focusing on the stronger points of the Godzilla films, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah eventually delivers giant monster battles all brought to life with then-modern special effects of the 90s. The miniature cities look convincing and there’s plenty of explosions and buildings crashing down as the monsters fight each other hand-to-hand and then later with their beam weapons. This is the first of the modern day Godzilla films to really go to town on the destruction and it all looks fantastic, giving you a tantalising taste of what was to come later in the decade.

King Ghidorah gets a sleek new update for the 20th century, having his majestic and awe-inspiring three-headed form retained in earnest. My only disappointment with this new version of the monster is that it lacks the classic roar that the old King Ghidorah had. This new roar sounds pretty feeble and couldn’t be any less intimidating if it tried. Godzilla retains more of the animalistic look that the previous two films had given him, a far cry from the cheesy perma-grinning superhero of the 60s, and he’s back to being really angry with Japan. It’s a suit made to look primal, aggressive and dinosaur-like and it succeeds in keeping the monster from becoming too human. In a funny way, when the monsters fight each other it’s almost like they remember their prior history – impossible since this takes place in a different timeline but you still get the sense of some deep personal issues between the two!

Sadly, the English language release of the film contains some of the worst dubbing I’ve ever heard – the travellers from the future, two of whom are American, are dubbed by some atrocious English-speaking people that I wouldn’t even call voice actors. Whoever was doing the hiring seems to have gone out of the way to find the two silliest voices to dub over. Thankfully a lot of their droning is drowned out by the quality score by returning composer Akira Ifukube, brought back to the series to give it some much-needed audio impact. He resurrects some of his classic old themes including the brilliant Monster Zero March.

 

With an ambitious, if convoluted, story, some excellent special effects and plenty of monster fighting, Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah is one of the most entertaining instalments of the series. But both Godzilla and King Ghidorah come a little too late in the film to hold it back from being one of the true classics.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆