Tag Aliens

Quatermass Xperiment, The (1955)

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

It’s coming for YOU from Space to wipe all living things from the face of the Earth! CAN IT BE STOPPED?

A experimental space rocket, designed and launched by Professor Quatermass and his team, crash lands back to Earth. However two out of the three crew members have mysteriously vanished during the mission and the surviving member, Victor Carroon, is in bad shape and taken to a local hospital. As Quatermass and his team try to fathom out what happened to the rocket, Carroon slowly undergoes a horrible metamorphosis. Quatermass realises that he has been taken over by an alien being which absorbs everything is touches and increases itself in mass.

 

Greatness has to start somewhere and here we are with the true birth of the Hammer Films studio. Hammer, which became synonymous with horror and would reinvent the genre in the late 50s with a series of groundbreaking films, had been making film noir since the early 50s. The Quatermass Xperiment was their first major breakthrough in horror and science fiction and was seen as a gamble by the studio at the time. Originally a serialised TV play shown by the BBC in 1953, the story caught public attention and the rights to a cinematic adaptation were soon snapped up by Hammer. The film received the dreaded X certificate by the BBFC and Hammer slightly re-worked the title to play on that fact (hence the Xperiment bit). The film was a resounding success at the box office and established Hammer as a big player. It proved that there was an appetite for horror from the British cinema goers, an appetite that Hammer would satisfy two years later in The Curse of Frankenstein.

That’s not to say that The Quatermass Xperiment is an outright horror film. The science fiction elements dominate this one and though it may be a landmark British film, time has not been too kind to it from the horror viewpoint. Looking rather quaint and antiquated nowadays, it’s rather difficult to identify just what caused the BBFC to give it the X rating. Carroon’s mutated hand and the eventual appearance of the alien at the end look rather tame today but I guess back in the 50s when fear of the A-bomb and Cold War paranoia was running high, the more psychological elements may have hit a raw nerve. Looking at it now, everything happens in a rather procedural fashion, evidential of Hammer’s earlier film noir output, and it plays out more like a crime thriller for the first half.

Given the slew of sci-fi monster movies being churned out in America during the 50s, one would have expected The Quatermass Xperiment to go down the same route and the change of approach comes as a bit of a shock. But legendary screen writer Nigel Kneale, who was one of the finest sci-fi writers ever to pen a script, made his name with the BBC television play. The adaptation by Val Guest pays faithful attention to that, expanding the scope of the play for feature film length and, in turn, crafting a more thoughtful, haunting film instead of the generic gung-ho popcorn filler than the Americans were making in the same era. This is “thinking man’s science fiction” which, in some quarters, can mean that the film is rather slow. It is, there’s no question of that. The slow, methodical build-up to the finale does plod along merrily in old school British fashion. But Guest’s intelligent script keeps the mystery level high (Kneale had no involvement in the cinematic version) and, as he also directs, he’s in full control of the interesting direction that the film takes.

This is down, in no small part, to the great performance by Richard Wordsworth who plays doomed astronaut Victor Carroon. Wordsworth, who I’ve only just found out was the grandson of the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth, makes for a sympathetic and tragic character, almost Frankenstein-like in his silent portrayal (he even encounters a little girl and everything goes wrong from then onwards). We know that something is seriously wrong with Carroon but we don’t know what. The blank expressions and pain-stricken eyes hide something deadly and the film takes its time to drip-feed the audience hints as to what that could be. It’s not pleasant, that’s for sure.

Brian Donlevy seemed like a rather awkward choice to play the lead role. Donlevy was an Irish-American actor who was cast in the role in an attempt to breakthrough into the US market but in his later years he was known for his alcoholism and was troublesome to work with. Ironically it’s these qualities that make his Professor Quatermass click. Donlevy plays the role with a gruff, no-nonsense approach and turns his Quatermass into an arrogant, obnoxious, single-minded character. Given the nature of Quatermass’ almost-obsessive determination to succeed, Donlevy makes the right call to play him this way. His lack of compassion in the face of such tragedy is uncannily realistic.

It’s of no surprise to see that the finale is the part of the film which hasn’t aged well. The appearance of the rubbery alien in Westminster Abbey gets decent build-up and would have looked alright back in the 50s. But nowadays it’s a bit of a dud creation and the finale is a let-down given the build-up it had received. The alien worked so much better in the human guise of Carroon but the story dictated that the it reveal itself at the end. If it had done so earlier on, I wonder how many people would have kept watching. The finale doesn’t really spoil the rest of the film but it feels like a waste. Hammer’s budget wouldn’t stretch too far and the special effects are adequate but unconvincing.

 

The Quatermass Xperiment is one of the most influential genre films ever made and definitely one of the UK’s most important contributions to cinema. Without this film’s success and the identification of a niche market for horror in the UK, Hammer may never have decided to make The Curse of Frankenstein or Dracula, two landmark films which changed the horror genre as we know it forever. Though some of its elements lack the impact they most undoubtedly did upon its original release, The Quatermass Xperiment is one of the most intelligent and ambitious science fiction films of its era, ambitions that were challenged further in its two sequels Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit, both of which (in my opinion) are far superior. I would have loved to have seen what else Hammer could have done in the science fiction genre but they chose to focus their efforts on the horror market. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Brain, The (1988)

The Brain (1988)

The Pounding of the Afterbrain Signals Vengeance and Death!

Dr Anthony Blakely runs a local self-help television show called “Independent Thinking” which attracts a devoted audience and is in talks to go worldwide. But he’s not actually making his viewers think more independently – he’s brainwashing and mind-controlling them with the help of an alien organism he calls The Brain. It is up to local tearaway youth Jim Majelewski to stop them.

 

The Brain is a strange and daft low budget sci-fi horror that could only have been dreamt up in the 80s, an era where seemingly anyone with an outrageous idea and a bit of cash could make a movie that could go straight to home video and capitalise on the boom. Video store shelves were full of cheap and nasty horror films which enticed their audiences with lurid artwork and shocking tag lines and etched themselves into the minds of kids not old enough to take them home. When you did get old enough to watch them, you realised that you had not been missing out on anything. In fact you’re probably thanking a higher power that you were saved from wasting ninety minutes of your childhood. Sadly this is not ninety minutes that you’ll get back as an adult after watching The Brain.

For as terrible as The Brain is, I can’t see why this isn’t more of a cult favourite. Surely the lure of a giant tentacle-spewing, human-eating brain with razor-sharp teeth, bulging eyes and a spinal cord hanging down behind it would attract any horror fan to the table? Yet this film has never seen a DVD release (at time of writing), is impossible-as-hell to track down on VHS (though I did manage to obtain an American copy) and is about as obscure a film as I’ve ever written a review for. Why is something like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes such a cult favourite when a man-eating brain makes for a much more interesting synopsis?

The sight of a giant brain is not something you see very often in the cinema world. I can think of The Brain from Planet Arous as an early example and there are a few other 50s sci-fi films with ‘brain’ in their titles but the ‘giant brain’ genre has been few and far between since then. There is a big reason for this: killer brains don’t exactly send chills down the spine. Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would testify to that sentiment! But in an era of schlocky creature features, the sight of a killer brain does stand out from the pack.

The brain looks as stupid or as terrifying as you’d expect it to. In a time before computers did all of the fancy special effects, it was down to teams of make-up effects guys to create monsters and the brain is every inch a latex marvel, oozing with slime and gnashing its teeth constantly looking for food. It looks like the ridiculous special effect it is in later scenes as its massive head is clearly being pushed around on a cart or trolley. But in the same manner, it also looks horrific – a nightmarish creation which is bathed in strobe lighting whenever it appears. A lot of work has gone into creating the brain which is to be applauded for such a low rent film. You’ve definitely got to get on board and embrace the idea of a giant brain in order to enjoy it.

As for the film itself, it’s a rather random mix of ideas from Videodrome and A Nightmare on Elm Street and the entire film consists of scenes of our heroic teen characters being chased around the boiler rooms and through the woods from Blakely’s bearded assistant and the police, with a few nightmarish dream sequences scattered around for good measure. The dream sequences, particularly the first one, work quite well given the low budget special effects but look to have been included for gimmick purposes rather than any real attempt to scare.

David Gale should be familiar to horror fans as Dr Carl Hill from Re-Animator amongst other low brow 80s horror efforts. He lends his crazed over-the-top antics to another mad scientist role in this one as the man trying to take over the world with the help of the brain. There is a throwaway nod to Re-Animator in here for die-hard fans to take note of.

 

I didn’t think I could write a review and use the phrase ‘giant brain’ so much but there you have it. The Brain is a cheap schlock horror film about a giant brain – if that premise alone will satisfy your curiosity then watch it and regret it later. For cultured film fans, use your own brains and stay well clear.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Thing, The (2011)

The Thing (2011)

It’s not human. Yet.

A Norwegian scientific team discovers a strange life form frozen in ice in Antarctica and calls in expert palaeontologist Kate Lloyd to join them in their investigation. But when they bring the creature back to their base, it doesn’t stay frozen for long and begins killing and assuming the form of members of the team.

 

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favourite films, firmly taking the position of my favourite horror film by a long stretch, and has been since I first saw it at a tender age (my dad would vet certain films for me when I was a child, knowing how much I loved monsters and aliens and not being scared by splatter). Originally a critical and commercial failure due to its unfortunate cinematic release coinciding with the much friendlier alien film E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, it was only on home video that The Thing gradually begun to garner a rabid cult following and over the years, critics have not only softened their stance on it but in turn recognised it to be one of the greatest science fiction and horror films of all time. Attempts to get a sequel off the ground both with and without John Carpenter’s involvement stalled over the years. So it was with great trepidation that I heard the news that a prequel was to be given the green light. In this day and age of sequels, prequels, remakes, re-imaginings and the like, it was only a matter of time I guess. Promising to faithfully stick to the original’s isolation, paranoia and tension, as well as a core focus on practical make-up effects, I slowly began to be won over by the thought that The Thing may not turn out to be that bad overall.

Let’s just say that after I saw it in the cinema back in 2011, you could have cooked bacon on my cheeks such was my rage at how appalling it had turned out. But in the interests of fairness and not a knee-jerk reaction, I promised myself that I would put some time between watching The Thing and writing a review for it, such was my loathing and sheer disgust at the time. So here we are, a year and half later, and after re-watching it on blu-ray, the rage has cooled down and the negativity, whilst still prevalent, has been toned down.

Truth be told in hindsight, The Thing isn’t that bad….it’s just that I, and many others, were expecting a lot more. Having thirty years in between films should have given Universal enough time to do the original some justice. In dressing itself up as a prequel, The Thing feebly tries to hide the fact that it’s a shameless remake. Almost all of the major set pieces from the original are recreated in lesser form including a scene with a test which the scientists develop to determine who is human and who isn’t. Characters get trapped outside in the snow when others think they have turned. Other characters sabotage communications and vehicles so that the creature can’t escape.

Lazily casting Americans in the pivotal roles in a Norwegian research station smacks of pandering to Western audiences, with the token bearded Nordic cast being relegated to little more than alien fodder. In doing this, The Thing eliminates any possibilities for paranoia or tension as we know the more famous actors will survive. Whereas the original crafted its story around a series of character actors who, Kurt Russell aside given that he was the lead, could all have been killed off or survive in equal measure to keep the suspense and tension going right until the end, this one runs more like your typical modern horror film which is as predictable as it is dull as know who will live and die (hint – the characters who don’t say anything or speak Norwegian will have seriously shorter life spans than those who speak fluent English). The problem here is that we don’t really get to know any of the characters except for Kate, Carter and Dr Sander and so when they are killed off, there’s no emotional attachment. Who cares if that bearded guy who hasn’t said anything is killed off?

The Thing attempts to compensate for the lack of character development by featuring more alien attacks and transformations and getting to them a lot quicker. The original was a bit of a slow burner but here we can see the demands of modern audiences, spoon fed on a diet of instant Michael Bay films, being pandered to with the creature being unleashed very early on. We see a lot more of it too, which isn’t a good thing. Though the pre-release media releases promised old school special effects, what we actually get are a load of sloppy CGI monsters – the bulk of the practical make-up effects were removed or CGI’d over after test screenings failed to be impressed (no doubt these screenings were made up of teenagers who would laugh at the original if they ever saw it). Youtube footage of the various practical models in action in the warehouse looks awesome and it’s a real shame that the decision to replace them was taken. In removing this, The Thing strips away a lot of its heart and soul. These CGI cartoon monsters are soulless, lack any believability and would have been better served in a computer game version. Not only this but the way in which these CGI monsters move is totally at odds with the appearance of the creature in the original film, which is slow, stealthy and methodical in its approach, not lightning fast and happy to reveal itself at the first opportunity.

I’ll give the writers big credit for attempting to craft an entire film based around a couple of moments from the original which hinted as to what happened in the Norwegian camp. These hints are faithfully recreated here so you find out what happened to lead up to them, from the frozen corpse who has slit his throat to an axe lodged in a door and a hideously deformed body burning in the snow. On many occasions, it was arguably better to remain in the dark and use your imagination as to what happened than see it all played out – they certainly don’t detract from any subsequent re-watches of the original, yet don’t provide the satisfactory resolution that one would have expected. The look of the two films, save for the CGI special effects, also seems to work well with each other. You would believe that the two films exist in the same universe which was the intent.

But The Thing fails to convince you that it is worthy of holding a candle to the original. Taking Carpenter’s classic out of the equation and The Thing still wouldn’t work. There is virtually no character development, the special effects are poor and there’s a genuine lack of scares, tension or atmosphere. There’s nothing to grab the attention of the audience. There are no scenes which really stand out. It’s just another reasonably budgeted modern monster movie, only this time it comes with a legacy which it fails to live up to. Lest we forget that Carpenter’s film was also a remake.

 

Like the majority of the recent remakes/sequels/prequels, The Thing rehashes the same story and set pieces from its master copy yet fails to better an infinitely superior film. Like the alien being itself, The Thing is a shallow imitation of the original and whilst it’s not a bad film on its own merits, the overpowering sense of ‘why bother’ will be constantly in the forefront of your mind. This leaves no lasting impression, other than the fact you’d be better off watching the original again.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)

Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966)

Dr Who and his accomplices arrive on Earth in 2150 to find that the population has been enslaved by the evil Daleks who are using humans to mine the Earth’s core. Can Dr Who and the human resistance groups stop the Daleks before Earth is destroyed?

 

Doctor Who is a British institution. First broadcast back in 1963, the series has become one of the longest-running and most popular science fiction programmes not only in the UK but across the world. Though it has seen its fair share of ups and downs, Doctor Who has become part of popular culture for its imaginative stories and creative low budget special effects, bringing to life a variety of aliens, planets and situations that science fiction literature has come to recognise as some of the most iconic images in the genre.  One such iconic image is that of the Dalek, a mutant alien race who live inside rather unique pepper pot-shaped tank-like machines and are bent on universal conquest and domination. First seen in the Doctor Who‘s second serial, The Daleks, they quickly his most famous and deadly enemies, causing a generation of children to hide behind their sofas whenever they came on.

A pair of non-canon Doctor Who films were made by Amicus Productions in the 60s to capitalise on the phenomenal success of the TV series, with bigger budgets and production values that the TV episodes could only dream of. Both starred legendary actor Peter Cushing as The Doctor and both featured the Daleks – this was the height of a phenomena in the UK known as Dalekmania. The first film, Dr Who and the Daleks, based itself around the story for The Daleks. The second of the films, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., sees the producers return to the TV series once more, this time basing their script around the more iconic serial of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the first of the TV serials to utilise location shooting and the sight of the Daleks powering across a devastated London and emerging from the Thames have become engrained in UK TV history.

The better of the two big screen Doctor Who adventures, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. sees the campy and garish nature of the previous film being ramped up a couple of notches. It’s definitely a product of the swinging 60s and unquestionably both looks and sounds dated. Visually, the film was head and shoulders above the TV series for the time. You can only imagine how much more vibrant and innovative the skilled artists at the BBC would have been able to make the series had they had this sort of budget. But not only that, this film manages to hold its own really well against any other 60s science fiction films. The production team have really gone to town on this one, delivering a futuristic vision of a destroyed London on a low budget in stunning, colourful detail. The effects work is a mixed bag – some decent model work, some not so good. Shots of Dalek spaceships flying over London look good but then the miniature sets don’t look all that good either.

Director Gordon Flemyng was back on board and, seeing where the faults lay in the first film, manages a better all-round pace, cramming in plenty of action set pieces and lots more Dalek action, as well as holding back on some of the sillier escapades. It’s still kitsch as anything and the Daleks will never really convince you of their evil intentions due to their absurd design (I always preferred the Cybermen anyway). They get way more screen time than they really should. After all, the TV series scrimped and saved on them because they were just too costly to make and so you only ever saw a few Daleks on screen at once. The bright and gaudy look of the Daleks in the film here is a bit of a surprise, turning them into fashion hazards from an era of hippies. They come off looking like they’ve lost a battle with a couple of toddlers and a few cans of paint. But they’re in the film a lot and there are some entertaining battles between them and the human resistance to keep things ticking over.

Peter Cushing makes for an interesting selection as the Doctor. Just like in the previous film, the character is not written as a mysterious alien but rather a kindly man who has managed to build a time machine (as you do). Cushing plays him as a doddery old gent, very grandfatherly and without any hint of malice or hidden intentions. It’s an eccentric performance which shows the great range that Cushing had and would have been good to see Cushing actually get the chance to play him on a regular basis in the TV series. Strangely, despite his iconic status as a veteran British actor who regularly played villains or scientists, Cushing never appeared in the TV series.

Bernard Cribbins takes over from Roy Castle who was unavailable to return and, though there’s an ill-advised and overlong sequence of him trying to be one of the robo-men, he stops the character from becoming too bumbling and farcical. Cribbins would go on to appear in the TV series in 2007 – a massive gap of forty-one years!

 

Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. is cheap and cheerful, silly and fun. Made for kids who were fascinated with the Daleks back in the 60s, the film does what it sets out to do. If you grew up on a diet of barnstorming sci-fi films like Aliens, this may be a bit too childish and quaint for your tastes. But fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

A killer is waiting… In the past, present and future.

After escaping from the wax museum with their lives, Mark and Sarah think that the ordeal is over. But a severed hand has survived and follows Sarah home, killing her father and framing her for murder. In order to clear her name, the couple go to the late Sir Wilfred’s house to look for evidence. Here they find a pre-recorded film to play by Sir Wilfred and a compass which unlocks the doors of the universe. Travelling through time to find some evidence, Mark and Sarah must then do battle with Lord Scarabus, a time warrior, in order to get back home.

 

Yeah it’s a flimsy plot which has nothing to do with waxworks at all but Waxwork II: Lost in Time is certainly not a sequel to get lost on story. A lot more tongue-in-cheek than the original was, this sequel is virtually a series of interconnected homages based around other films – kind of like a grown-up version of Time Bandits without the little dwarves running around doing silly stuff. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and the MacGuffin of the time portals is such a contrived plot device that it’s best you switch your brain off right at the start – even the idea to go back in time and find evidence to support Sarah’s court case is ludicrously manufactured just to get the duo moving on their travels. It’s weak. We know it. I think the characters know it too. But hey, once they start flying through time, we don’t care.

Though the film picks up moments after the original ended, it’s hard to believe that the film is supposed to be following on. With Zach Galligan looking a lot older and a new actress playing Sarah, the film should have just started up a few years down the line. Plot aside, the film does work in places but it’s too sporadic to be considered a cult classic like the original despite director Anthony Hickox’s best efforts to make it one. Technically Mark and Sarah don’t even travel through time as they flit from film to film. Firstly, they arrive in Baron Frankenstein’s mansion before stumbling into a spoof of The Haunting and a spaceship which has an Alien-sized problem. The Frankenstein segment is terrible, with Martin Kemp hamming it up with an overblown German accent as the Baron, but there is a ghoulishly gory ending which I wasn’t expecting (and it was nice to see). The two following spoofs both work well.

Bruce Campbell makes an appearance in The Haunting segment and it’s one of the best parts of the film as his lofty professor has his chest ripped open and rib cage exposed. His character tries to downplay the severity of his injuries (ala the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and attempts to save him and stop the ghost result in inadvertent torture and hilarity. Campbell owns the scene and downplays his performance to a tee. The segment has also been filmed in black and white to add to the original The Haunting vibe (and there are also a few The Evil Dead nods too).

The Alien spoof drags out a guy-in-a-suit as the alien, lots of visual nods to Ridley Scott’s classic and a cast who seem to be trying their best to keep a straight face. Heavy on prosthetics and gloriously cheesy old school make-up effects, this sequence probably does the best of trying to recapture the old 80s horror-comedy feel. The alien is quite a dab hand at crushing things, especially humans, and the face-hugger style monster at the ends drips with goo. Again it’s a nice homage to Alien and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Sadly the rest of the story takes place during a Middle Ages period featuring King Arthur and the villain of the piece, Lord Scarabus (played by infamous Die Hard villain Alexander Godunov) and it’s the most boring of the segments. It’s almost as if the story ran out of budget to continually have the characters appearing on new sets every few minutes and decided to ground them in one place for the duration – unfortunately for us it is the most boring time zone in the film.

Thankfully the final fight between Mark and Scarabus involves the two men fighting through time, encountering the likes of Mr Hyde, Nosferatu, Jack the Ripper, zombies from a Dawn of the Dead-style shopping mall and some giant monster I’m assuming is meant to be Godzilla amongst others. This sequence alone is worth the wait: the film effortlessly switches between its homages as the characters tussle through the time doorways. It’s certainly a more structured finale than the original had but the rounding off of the film with the stupid court room scene ends things on a whimper. We know how ridiculous the premise had been at the time and this last scene proves it.

 

Waxwork II: Lost in Time is a slightly different take on the same material as the original but still a lot of fun nevertheless. Some of the homages seem hackneyed and just included by the makers of the film to say “hey, look we know our films” but there’s a good-natured vibe running underneath everything and whilst some of the material is gory or violent, it is never meant to be taken any other way than campy tongue-in-cheek fun.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Predators (2010)

Predators (2010)

Fear is Reborn

A group of mercenaries and killers find themselves being parachuted into a remote tropical jungle. Soon realising that they are not on Earth anymore, the group find themselves being hunted for sport by an alien species of hunters and must band together to survive.

 

Although I’m a fan of Predator 2, the movie world hasn’t been too kind to the Predator series since the classic original, culminating in the two “let’s just forget they ever happened” Alien Vs Predator films. Let’s face it, Predator pretty much did everything that could be done with the Predator monster and the rest of its cinematic appearances have been poor imitations and regurgitations of what made the original such a classic (minus Arnie, of course). So it was with great trepidation that I found out that Fox were planning to re-launch the series with a reboot-sequel (not quite sure what it’s supposed to be). Given how poorly-conceived a lot of sequels/prequels/remakes/re-imaginings have been over the last few years (The Thing anyone?), I was worried for the future of the franchise. especially since it had been so long since the last stand-alone Predator film. Could Predators be a franchise killer?

Surprisingly not though whilst Robert Rodriguez’s film doesn’t do the series any harm, Predators is still such a wasted opportunity because it does little to kick the series back into life. There’s plenty of nods to the original right down to John Debney’s rehashing of Alan Silvestri’s epic soundtrack. Taking things back basics with the return of the jungle setting, albeit on an alien planet, brings back both the colourful backdrop and the isolationist setting of the original. They’ve assembled a bunch of heavily-armoured people and thrown them into the same pressure-cooker situation as before. Jesse Ventura’s awesome mini-gun makes a welcome return. Heck, the film even has the main character cover himself in mud to avoid the Predator’s thermal vision. Whether they’re gentle nods to the original or just lazy writing remains to be seen. My pick is the latter.

So once the novelty of seeing all of these nods to the original has worn off, what is left of Predators is a standard sci-fi-action flick with only an iconic cinematic monster to lift it way above its genre brethren. As it follows the original’s story and structure virtually to the letter, it means there’s little in the way of surprises because we all know what is hunting the characters and what tactics it has up its sleeve to do so (though it does have a few new tricks). Characters are little more than stereotypes, killed off when expected and in predictable fashion. Set pieces are replicated almost like-for-like. If only Arnie or Bill Duke or Carl Weathers was around to fire off some quips to liven things up – the problem here is that everyone takes it all way too seriously. At least they brought some extra macho factor to the scenes of them blowing the jungle to pieces or tussling with the aliens.

The script is the film’s biggest problem. Between ripping off the best moments and lines of the original, it fails to provide any sort of new spark of life into the franchise. The uneven script throws in some attempted twists but they make little sense (including a pointless character turn in the finale). The pacing is also way off, with the first half of the film a slow-burner as the group attempt to piece together what has happened whilst avoiding traps before the second half crams in almost all of the action into a hectic forty-five minutes. Then it’s all guns blazing until the finale which again heavily borrows from the original. It begs the question of why I’d want to watch an inferior scene-by-scene remake when I could just go and watch the original again.

Adrien Brody may have raised some eyebrows when he was cast into the Schwarzenegger-type lead role as the gruff mercenary Royce but I’ll give the guy some major credit, he bulked up for the role, got himself into shape and really gets his teeth into the anti-hero role. Brody is no traditional leading man and he doesn’t fully convince the audience of his tough-guy persona but it’s a damned good effort. Lawrence Fishburne shows up for no apparent reason other than to cash another cheque – it’s an embarrassingly throwaway role that anyone could have played but it seems like Fishburne was cast to add another star name to the poster. Funnily enough, his pointless appearance mid-way through the film signals the start of a downturn in the film’s pacing and it never recovers.

The rest of the cast make up the token roles, all with an ethnic slant just so the audience can distinguish who is who. Remember these are mercenaries and killers from across Earth so any racial stereotype you can think of is here: Russian rebel, African mercenary, a member of the Yakuza, Israeli Special Forces, South American drug enforcer, etc. Unfortunately the ethnic distinctions are the only way you’ll be able to tell most of them apart and its lazy writing to rely on our pre-conceived knowledge of such real-life stereotypes.

I thought I’d save discussion of the title creatures until last. We all know what they look like by now and there are a few variations on the late Stan Winston’s classic original design which do him justice. Despite the shambolic AVP escapades, the predators have somehow managed to retain their intimidating presence, appearing once more as the bad ass hunters that they should be. You really wouldn’t want to be caught in a fight with one of them. They’ve got some new tricks in their arsenal but the old favourites like the shoulder cannon are back and given modern day special effects makeovers. In fact most of the special effects look great including the infamous invisibility cloaks. Coupled with the impressive jungle cinematography, Predators gets top marks on the visuals right across the board.

 

At least Predator 2 tried to do something different, albeit with mixed results, whereas Predators just comes off as too underwhelming and content to rehash the original. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Predators but it tries too hard to be the original, instead of crafting out its own niche. So much so that I feel bad for any younger people who had never seen Predator before this. For everyone else, the powerful sense of déjà vu and a longing for the return of Arnie and his mercenaries is too strong.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

ALIEN was the beginning … Hell Has Just Been Relocated!

After contact is lost with the crew of a ship on the planet Morganthus, a military vessel is sent to investigate. But after homing in on the distress beacon, the ship crash lands, stranding the crew on the planet as well. Investigating the remains of the other ship, the crew find themselves being picked off one-by-one by malevolent forces that they do not understand.

 

Galaxy of Terror was the first of producer Roger Corman’s 80s double-dip into the world of Alien knock-offs and whilst the film shares little with Ridley Scott’s classic (in that there isn’t one alien going around killing people), the whole ‘slasher in space’ similarities can’t be ignored especially once the crew arrive on the planet and explore a very similar-looking oval-shaped room with something nasty lurking inside. Think of it as a lower budget version of Event Horizon (long before that was made I might add) but a lot more confusing and you’ll get the general feel for Galaxy of Terror, a film which is as frustrating as it is fun.

Made for the rumoured sum of $700,000, Galaxy of Terror belays its meagre budget and it is a credit to everyone involved for making it look as good as it does. The optical effects for the spaceships and planet look top notch, there are some really good matte designs (in particular the towering alien structure) and the ship set designs, whilst being made with what looks like egg cartons, manage to convey the futuristic setting admirably. Fun trivia: a certain production designer/second unit director named James Cameron received his big break on this film. The rest, as they say, is history. Cameron’s touch of class is unmistakable here, as is that of a number of hungry, talented individuals who have since gone on to lengthy careers in the business thanks to Corman giving them their big breaks.

Unfortunately Galaxy of Terror has one major, major flaw that stops it from cult classic status and that it is there is hardly any story whatsoever. The ship crash lands on this strange planet and as soon as they go out exploring, characters begin to get killed off in bizarre circumstances without any real explanation. It isn’t until really late in the film when one character explains all that you realise the crew are being killed off by their fears. Even the final revelations and obligatory twists and turns make little sense in the grand scheme of things. It’s all very vague and very hokey so you just have to go with the flow. But there is a nice psychological terror undercurrent flowing throughout and even if there are few ‘boo’ scares, there’s still plenty of stuff to get under your skin and freak you out.

Surprisingly, Galaxy of Terror is extremely downbeat. Almost everything that happens is as worst case scenario as possible. There’s not an ounce of hope for anyone to survive this planet and you get the feeling that you’re watching a load of characters get served up a smorgasbord. Suspense is a rare commodity here. Instead the film trades in the currency of gore….and lots of it. From charred bodies screaming in last gasp death throes, to limbs being hacked off to exploding (or should that be crushed) heads, Galaxy of Terror isn’t afraid to do the dirty.

The various creatures that the crew conjure up in their minds are particularly impressive too: a mixture of stop-motion, animatronics, miniatures and puppetry which gives it a nice old school ‘real’ feel. Perhaps the most infamous scene in the film involves one female character being raped by a giant maggot, having earlier confessed her fear of maggots. The scene throws in the token nudity but it’s a bit tasteless to watch! Other scenes including the aforementioned head explosion and charred body are much more terrifying and brutal in their appearance, making a more lasting impression for gore hounds.

There are  few familiar faces amongst the cast, in particular a pre-Freddy Kruger Robert Englund as a rookie navigator. Sid Haig, who would go on to more fame as Captain Spaulding in House of 1,000 Corpses as well as countless other cult films, is on hand as an apparently-mute alien who likes to throw his crystal shard weapons around. Rumour has it Haig was unhappy with the dialogue his character had been given and asked if he could remain silent. Future soft core maestro Zalman King (he of Red Shoes Diaries fame) also stars as a hot-headed soldier.

 

It’s a shame that the story is so weak and non-descript and the dialogue is atrocious because Galaxy of Terror is almost everything a low budget shocker should be. I just can’t fault the film for its production values because a lot of hard work has clearly gone into making it look as good as possible on its low budget. For schlock value it’s up there with the best B-movies. A cult flick though not the classic it should have been.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Forbidden World (1982)

Forbidden World (1983)

A Science Fiction Horror Adventure That’ll Blow You Away!

Intergalactic trouble shooter Mike Colby is given orders to head to a genetic research lab on a distant planet to find out why they sent out a distress signal. When Colby gets there, the science team informs him that their latest experiment has mutated into some form of bizarre life form which has an insatiable appetite for protein. In order to accommodate its needs, it starts infecting any human beings it comes into contact with, turning them into gelatinous piles of protein which it can harvest.

 

Infamous B-Movie producer Roger Corman pulls the purse strings for Forbidden World, his second foray into Alien knock-off territory after the slightly-more-ambitious- -but-less-entertaining Galaxy of Terror. Cheap schlock doesn’t come any more pleasurable than this one as Forbidden World wears its exploitative heart on its sleeve. At a lean seventy seven minutes long, the film sheds any real sense of originality and reverts to type: cheap monster attacks, buckets of blood and lots of naked flesh. In a sentence: the ultimate B-movie formula.

Though Forbidden World is obviously trapped within the confines of its low budget, a terrific job has been done to make sure that every ounce of cash has been used wisely. Instead of blowing loads of cash on space effects like in Galaxy of Terror, the terra firma approach works wonders, as the remote research facility makes for a suitably ominous location. In fact most of Forbidden World is ominous – originally featuring a lot more cornball humour, Corman apparently cut a lot out after a test screening and the results are rather sinister and depressing. This is not a film which trades on hope and happiness but rather death and bleakness.

The script is decent, way smarter than you’d expect for such a derivative title, and whilst the plot doesn’t really throw in too many twists and plays itself relatively predictably, the film never once threatens to bounce into tongue-in-cheek territory (again thanks to Corman’s cuts). On the flip side, it rarely manages to create any real scares and there’s a general lack of tension. But in the hands of low budget auteurs, such meticulous planning is thrown out of the window in favour of the easier-to-manage alternatives.

Let me tell you that Forbidden World thrives on the trashy essentials: gore and naked chicks. Effects guru John Carl Beuchler has worked on many horror films since this one and it’s easy to see why. The very nature of the alien wanting to turn the human scientists into food is guaranteed to make for some icky scenes: the particular highlight is the progressive wasting away of one character who, over the course of the film, is literally reduced to a pile of goo on an operating table. It’s a gross effect, one which even had me squirming around a little, and was reminiscent of the 80s remake of The Blob for its body-melting horror. There are plenty of other moments where the red stuff is squirted and sprayed across the screen with great abandon.

And as for the naked chicks, well the script dishes out a bum deal to the likes of Dawn Dunlap and June Chadwick. The only two females on the research station, it isn’t long before Colby (played as a rather useless character by Jesse Vint) manages to get them both into the sack for the requisite sex scenes. Then just to complete the circle, the females get cosy in an overlong shower sequence (possibly the most gratuitous sequence I’ve ever seen – they’re discussing how to communicate with the alien at the same time as soaping each other up too). It’s nudity for nudity’s sake and whilst you’ll get no complaints for me (as they’re both attractive ladies), its shamelessly cynical.

The alien design is solid enough to warrant it getting more screen time than the laughable monster in say Creature, but it is given a cumbersome, almost immobile body which renders is more or less static at times. It unfortunately sticks to the traditional ‘black skinned alien with long white teeth’ made so famous by H.R. Giger’s creature in Alien and there are plenty of close-ups of the head in action to reinforce this image time and time again. Though I guess with the body being too big to move around, head close-ups are about the best that could be hoped for.

 

Forbidden World isn’t a ‘good’ film by any stretch of the imagination but it is incredibly entertaining for what it is meant to be. The love and affection, and sheer skill to work on such budgets, is evident in everything from the sets to the screenplay and as a result, it turns into one of the best, if not the best, of the Alien knock-offs from the era. Embrace the sleaze and cheese and you’re in for a trashy trip into bargain bin territory. Ones of Corman’s best and arguably his most fun.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Star Crystal (1986)

Star Crystal (1986)

…In Space scientists have discovered a new life form…they are about to wish they hadn’t…

A team of explorers on Mars find a curious rock and take it back on board their shuttle, where the rock  opens up to reveal a crystal and begins to drip goo onto the deck, eventually forming into a small creature. Two months later, the shuttle comes to dock at space station Alpha Seven with the entire crew dead after their air supply was cut off. An investigative team heads on board the shuttle to find out what went wrong and repair it. But whilst on board there is a problem aboard Alpha Seven and it explodes, leaving the shuttle and emergency crew stranded. But that is the least of their problems as the creature is still on board and, now much larger and guided by the crystal, begins to kill them off.

 

OK I’m making the film sound way more fun and sinister than it needs to be with that last sentence. Truth be told, Star Crystal is anything but fun or sinister. One of a various number of straight-to-video Alien rip-offs that were released in the 80s (a time when basically any script got the green light!), Star Crystal sets about feeding the crew of a small ship to a gloopy alien monster in banal fashion. You’ll have been there, got the t-shirt and such like. But you’ll not have had a t-shirt quite like this.

It beggars belief at how amateurish it all comes off. There are low budget films, there are micro budget films and then is this. Star Crystal is easily the most low budget of all of the Alien knock-offs and whilst similar films were able to conceal their limitations as best they could (I’m thinking of the Roger Corman duo of Galaxy of Terror and Forbidden World), there’s no hiding from the lack of cash here. The shuttle is one of the smallest sets known to man – in fact there only seem to be three sparsely-decorated sets in the entire film. The production designer couldn’t even come up with a ship which featured proper walkways or corridors either. Instead, the characters have to crawl around in small shafts to get from one room to another. It’s a perplexing decision which means you’ll see a lot of crawling around as the characters go from room to room…and I mean a lot of crawling. I’m guessing that someone tried to mimic the claustrophobia ventilation shaft scene from Alien but they failed miserably.

The budget is the least of its problems though. Star Crystal has a glaring flaw with the way that its narrative unfolds. We get introduced to the explorers on Mars in the opening few scenes and you assume they will be the main characters and feature in the main story. But they are not long for this world and then we head across to Alpha Seven where more characters with speaking parts are introduced. Granted, a few films feature false starts and then get on with the real characters after the prologue so there’s no difference here. But then these characters are disposed off as well and we’re left with the crew on board the shuttle. So that’s a third set of characters within the first ten minutes. It’s not like the characters matter anyway as the acting is wooden and fails to garner any emotional reaction from the audience.

However, I will say that the creature design actually surprised me. I was expecting some large, black-skinned, multi-toothed acid-spewing monster which is the norm for this sub-genre – in fact the poster looks to feature such an alien. But what you actually get is a conceptually-decent idea which is ultimately let down by the shoddy special effects. This is a creature which is basically a pile of goo (or milk, if the first shots of it leaving the crystal are to go by) and needs organic material so that it slowly begins to construct its form, eventually taking on something we are more familiar with (two eyes and a mouth but still a large mass of gloop). It somehow manages to grow huge tentacles with claws on the end to hook onto its victims and the resultant deaths are bloody, in a nasty low budget way.

It’s at this point that I’d usually end my review as I don’t want to prattle on all night but there is more which warrants critiquing. Star Crystal features a nonsensical twist about three quarters of the way in. It’s insane. If you want to know more, then read on. If not skip the spoilers below and head straight to the final verdict.

 

***SPOILERS***

In one of the most bizarre twists I’ve ever seen, the alien is revealed to be called Gar and after reading through the ship’s computer and discovering the Bible, it becomes a born-again Christian and apologies to the two survivors for killing the rest of the crew! Then Gar asks to work with the humans so that they can both use the ship to get home. Cue loads of overblown soppy child-like music which wouldn’t seem out of place in The Neverending Story as the film shows us a montage of the alien and humans working and living together for the duration of their journey. It’s an utterly incomprehensible turn of events – did the two survivors just completely forget the horrible melting deaths that their friends suffered at this creature’s hands?

 

***END SPOILERS***

 

Star Crystal was dead on arrival anyway but that final third twist is just so insanely out of this world that it would take a complete madman or genius to think of it. I can’t suggest anyone sit through this to see what I’m referring to so you are better off just reading my spoiler section! It would save you a lot of hassle. The worst of the Alien clones by a warp factor.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creature (1985)

Creature (1985)

It’s been sleeping peacefully on a moon of Saturn for 2000 centuries … until now!

Two competing Earth corporations have sent spaceships to explore the moon of Titan. The German vessel arrives there first but contact is lost and the rival American expedition attempts to set down. But they crash on the surface, stranding them on the moon. Here, they discover that the Germans accidentally freed an alien creature which had been kept on the moon as part of another species’ ‘intergalactic pet collection.’ The creature wiped out the German team and now it has made its way on board the downed American ship to continue its carnage.

 

Fresh off trying his own monster movie with a Giger-like creature in 1981′s Scared to Death, director William Malone took to the stars for a second blast at aping Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi horror Alien in Creature, arguably the most blatant of the numerous rip-offs that were produced in the 80s home video boom. Not only is there a tall, dark and deadly alien lurking around a spaceship stalking an expendable crew but this one introduces the shady corporate element too. It all amounts to what is essentially the reason people like me watch these cash-in films: we love the films that they’re ripping off, we know that these knock-offs are going to be rubbish but we need our fix of whatever made us love the originals so much in the first place and watch these in the futile hope that they deliver temporary satisfaction. Creature delivers about as much as you’d expect it to, which is a lot of not very little.

Creature has suffered pretty badly over the years and whilst it’s always been in print in the UK, the quality of the transfers has always been atrocious. Not that a decent transfer would help it in any way but it doesn’t really need a grainy picture to add insult to injury over what is already a poor film. A lot of the scenes are badly lit and whilst the film attempts to convey the sense of darkness on the moon, it doesn’t make for a great watch when you need to squint to see what is going in on some scenes.

Special effects are not Creature’s strongest selling point. Whilst the ship sets look as believable as they are entitled to make them look and the moon’s weather is given the wind machine/strobe lighting stage effects, it’s the quality of the monster that is the film’s biggest flaw. As the poster is at great liberties to put across, the alien looks like, well, THE alien (black-skinned, long-narrow head, lots of sharp teeth, though without the acid blood). It’s something that has bugged me for years as I watch numerous alien-themed films and see the same type of creature designs being wheeled out time and time again, all built around Giger’s legendary and beautiful creation. Why can’t designers come up with something slightly unique?

In the grand traditions of old, the alien is kept off screen for as long as possible, with only brief glimpses of it for the most part until more of it is revealed in the finale where it, unsurprisingly, disappoints. Even here, as it throttles one of the male characters, can you see that it’s just a guy in a suit –not even that either as he’s only wearing gloves in some brief clips, so you can see the very-human wrists and arms of the man behind the mask. It kind of ruins an already trashy image of the alien but looking back I shouldn’t have built my hopes up for something scary or threatening. In other scenes it’s just a poorly animated puppet. Stare at the poster for a few seconds and you’ll see more of it than in the entire film. As a consequence of not showing the alien, the finale is such a let-down given that there had been a few moments of enjoyable cheese in the build-up.

Thankfully the gore quota is decent and there are enough people hanging around Titan to provide a good body count. Heads are exploded, faces chewed off, bodies are seen decomposing – it’s never going to compensate for the lack of characters, plot or any form of budget but it’s enough to momentarily lighten the load for the veteran horror fan.

Notoriously hard-to-work-with German actor Klaus Kinksi gets top billing on the film poster and he’s probably the best thing in Creature, albeit with a role that needed a lot more screen time. Kinski brings his trademark eccentricity and eeriness to the role of the survivor of the German expedition, literally chewing up his scenes in rabid fashion as he spends most of his screen time eating his lunch! Talk about an easy day’s work. Kinksi provides a much-needed injection of paranoia and intensity to the story in his short time on screen, adding a sinister third element into the hostile situation. Wendy Schaal does her best Ripley impression as the tough female who survives until the end, though she is infinitely better looking than Sigourney Weaver (Schaal was a regular face in 80s comedy with appearances in The ‘Burbs and Innerspace).

 

Creature is a cheesy riff on the classic ‘alien kills people in a confined ship in outer space’ formula which has been pulverised so much in the years since Alien. Thankfully, 80s efforts like this make up for their throwaway approach to the material and cost-cutting budgets by tossing in a load of gratuitous nudity and gore to keep things ticking over. Creature is not great but, as a derivative mild diversion, you could do a lot worse.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆