Tag Fantasy

Masters of the Universe (1987)

Masters of the Universe (1987)

A battle fought in the stars, now… comes to Earth.

On the war-torn planet of Eternia, Castle Greyskull is coming under threat from the evil Skeletor who wants to rule the planet. A group of freedom fighters, led by the heroic He-Man, are accidentally transported to Earth by a mysterious key which holds the power to make Skeletor practically invincible. Once on Earth, He-Man and his friends team up with two teenagers as they attempt to find the key and return home. However, Skeletor and his henchmen are soon hot on their trail.


Part of me loves this film for being He-Man’s only big screen outing to date (and that’s 2018 to be precise). Part of me hates what they did for transporting him all the way to Earth and robbing him of everything that made him unique in the cartoon. Part of me wants to laugh at how badly they’ve ripped off Star Wars. Part of me remembers this fondly for being the first film I can ever recall going to see at the Canon cinema in Stockton. I’m so confused with this film. I love to hate it and hate to love it.

Masters of the Universe is a fairly ambitious attempt to bring the toy line to life – forget comparing this to the cartoon as it’s virtually impossible to do. Fans of the franchise would be aware of the number of rather impossible challenges that, for 1987 at least, would be present if the toys were fully adhered to. The likes of Battlecat for a start! To create something that would have resembled He-Man’s faithful fighting mount would have been far too expensive and complicated for a film in 1987. So, what we get is a reasonable stab at reinventing He-Man with a more modest budget and outlook, though everything that made the character has been stripped away, turning him into little more than a big bloke with a sword. But why, oh why did they have to set most of the film on Earth? I want to see He-Man and his gang battling Skeletor on Eternia, not some high school in America. Made by Cannon Films with a fairly substantial $22 million budget, Masters of the Universe should not have been this underplayed and watered down. The whole mythology of Eternia is given way to contemporary Earth – not good for the story but convenient for the budget. You have a load of intergalactic heroes and villains duking it out in record shops and school gymnasiums – hardly riveting stuff that an exotic foreign planet would have lent to such sequences. Even filming in a desert or some mountainous areas would have been better as they could have passed it off as Eternia!

As I’ve already alluded to, the Star Wars ‘influences’ are too obvious. Comparisons can be made between the likes of: the imposing villains in Skeletor and the Emperor and the way in which they act, dress, use lightning-like powers and their similar demise; the black Eternian soldiers and stormtroopers; the Imperial March-esque signature music theme for Skeletor; the duel between He-Man and Skeletor and the lightsabre battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker; the bounty hunter-like nature of Skeletor’s mercenary group compared to Boba Fett and the other creatures from The Empire Strikes Back. How would this film ever function if the makers had never seen George Lucas’ film series? Actually, going back to the music, I’m being a bit harsh. Bill Conti’s soundtrack, whilst derivative of both Superman and Star Wars, is decent enough and adds some nice motifs to the different characters. It’s pity that what happens on-screen isn’t nearly as exciting as the music.

Dolph Lundgren was a decent casting choice for He-Man. Whilst he’s not the greatest actor (a total understatement given his monosyllabic performance here), he certainly looks the part and I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone else who would have suited the role back in 1987. This was his first leading part, having impressed the world in his supporting role as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He gives it his all and looks to be enjoying himself without overstepping into camp territory. Surprisingly for a main character, he’s not given an awful lot to do and he falls into the backdrop too often, allowing his more vocal companions to further the plot along. He’s there to kick ass when needed and that’s about it.

Opposite him is Frank Langella as Skeletor. The cartoon depicted Skeletor as a rather effeminate villain, cackling and screaming and generally being a massive buffoon, whose plans never came to fruition. Credit to Langella for turning a silly villain into a dark, terrifying bad guy who really gives off that ultimate sense of evil vibe. Langella is quite frankly, superb, as Skeletor and gives a spirited performance which the film really doesn’t deserve. Maybe Langella was a massive fan of the cartoon or toys and wanted to do the character justice for his kids or something? There must be a reason why he put in so much effort to the role.

Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager) and Courtney Cox are pretty awful as the two teenage leads. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to centre a film featuring a hulking, semi-naked, blonde Arian male fighting a talking skeleton who shoots electricity out of his hands on a couple of human teenagers with relationship issues needs to sort themselves out. Fans of the toys will also be disappointed to note that few of Skeletor’s henchmen make an appearance – Evil Lynn is here (the wonderful Meg Foster) and there is a character called The Beast Man, but they’re too forgettable to really make much impact on the story. The action sequences involving He-Man and Skeletor’s minions simply fall into the generic laser fights trap that any Star Wars film would feature. Squint your eyes close enough and you’ll be forgiven for thinking Han Solo was firing at stormtroopers.


Masters of the Universe was an expensive flop, which ultimately led to the end of Cannon Films, and rightly so. It’s such a flawed, badly-amalgamated mix-up of Conan and Star Wars with little real resemblance to the toys or cartoon that it’s a wonder it ever got the green light. Still, nostalgia works wonders for this film and I can’t help but love it. It is entertaining and pretty fun and light-hearted for the most with a few decent moments. It’s definitely a case of ‘what if?’ and with the right budget and right people taking control of certain areas, it could have been a defining 80s fantasy film. Could have been…





Pegasus Vs Chimera (2012)

Pegasus Vs Chimera (2012)

Two legendary creatures. A battle for the ages.

Evil King Orthos is desperate to unite all seven realms into one nation to claim himself the emperor, killing those who oppose him. Belleros, who saw his father killed by Orthos’ men when he was a child, joins forces with Princess Philony to stand up to the tyrant. Frustrated by his men’s efforts to track them down, Orthos allows his warlock to conjure up the Chimera, a deadly monster, to find and eliminate the remaining survivors who resist his rule. Determined to find a way to combat the Chimera, Belleros and Philony seek out a witch who summons Pegasus, the winged horse, to aid them in defeating Orthos.


Quite possibly the cheapest-looking film that Sy Fy have ever filmed, Pegasus Vs Chimera is woefully inept in just about every department. I mean just take a look at that directionless plot! You’ve all heard of Pegasus before, the famous winged horse that was brought to life in Greek mythology and peddled in the big screen Clash of the Titans films. Less so, you may have heard of the Chimera, another monster from Greek mythology and definitely less-friendly and more prone to killing people than its equine counterpart.

The most hilarious thing about Pegasus Vs Chimera is seeing just how seriously everyone takes it. It looks like a live-action LARPing session, where the local doctor, a guy who works at McDonalds, the toned gym bunny, bitter retired teacher and a few boozed-up skinheads don rags and mini-skirts, pick up plastic swords, run off into the woods for the weekend and pretend that they’re in a Lord of the Rings flick. The dialogue is a right doozy, with some true corkers which indicate that the writers clearly have seen their fair share of films in which a wronged son/daughter seeks to get revenge on the big bad that killed their parents. It’s painful to hear the lines being delivered but comical to see just how stoic everyone is whilst doing it.

What Pegasus Vs Chimera virtually boils down to is a bunch of people in fancy dress running around the woods for an hour and a half. The story is loose, the pacing is woeful and the sequence of events is predictable and dull. Heroes encounter some soldiers. They fight. Heroes run off. They encounter someone else. There’s talking. The bad guys turn up. They fight. They run off. They do more talking and planning. The bad guys turn up again. And so on. Seeing people running around the woods isn’t exactly my idea of an exciting time but Pegasus Vs Chimera gives us plenty of that. At least the Canadian location shoot makes a nice change of scenery from the usual Eastern European locations that Sy Fy tend to stick to. Having said that, one tree looks like another no matter where you decide to film.

There are a whole load of familiar faces on show here including Rae Dawn Chong who starred opposite Arnie in 80s classic action flick Commando – time has not been so kind to her! Nazneen Contractor appeared in a number of 24 episodes alongside fellow 24 alumni Carlo Rota, who makes one of the least menacing villains ever put to one of these films. James Kidnie tries to outdo him as his scheming second-in-command but only succeeds in winning the Ben Kingsley lookalike award. It seems to be a requirement that in order to be one of the bad guys in Pegasus Vs Chimera, you need to be bald. All of the soldiers have sleek chrome domes. Actually, I don’t recall ever seeing more than about ten people on screen at any one time which kind of kills off the idea that they are fighting over seven kingdoms. Any sort of illusion that this is really a titanic struggle between armies is dead on arrival but again it’s hilarious to see how serious everyone is about it.

Pegasus is the least threatening ‘monster’ that I’ve ever seen in a Sy Fy flick. The mythical horse is one of the good guys from history and seeing the beautiful white horse they used for the real action shots hardly makes it appear like something that could best an army or even more threatening bloodthirsty monster in the form of the Chimera. Famously known for being able to fly, this version of Pegasus spends more time squarely rooted on the ground to avoid the costly CGI effects needed to glide through the air. Chimera fares little better, looking like any other generic Sy Fy CGI monster. The fights between the two are hardly riveting but as I’ve said, how is a horse with no sharp teeth, claws or other killing ability supposed to duke it out with something like the Chimera? It’s a mismatch but then it still sells the film with the ‘exciting’ title.


Pegasus Vs Chimera might actually be the worst Sy Fy film I’ve ever seen. Some of the horror films have been truly appalling but this one takes the prize hands down. A fantasy story like this needs a budget bigger than the tiny amount of coins you’d find in a five year old’s piggy bank! Putting the story into a contemporary setting would have avoided the embarrassment of seeing this tiny group of actors parade around in fancy dress in the woods and make fools of themselves.





Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2014)

Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2014)

Discover the legend

Sinbad is in love with the sultan’s daughter, Firoozeh, despite her father’s disapproval of their relationship. When an evil sorcerer known as the White Thief captures Firoozeh and holds her hostage in a black desert, Sinbad is informed that must save her within forty days and forty nights. So he and his crew set out to rescue Firoozeh and prove to the sultan that he is worthy enough of his daughter.


How long I had been waiting for this throwback to the classic Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of old! Having seen teaser trailers with glimpses of the stop-motion creatures in what seems like years ago, the anticipation built up and built up. I know I wasn’t the only one. For a generation of film lovers like myself grew up on the likes of Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad long before CGI monster movies were all the rage. In an era where the heart and soul of movie monsters has been lost to an endless supply of vacant CGI creations, a lot of older film fans still hark back to the good old days. How I longed for Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage to be a blast from the past, a shot across the bow to the big, soulless blockbusters and perhaps, just maybe, a sign that film makers would revisit some of the older techniques in conjunction with the computer effects they so lavishly splash around nowadays. The sense of nostalgia and magical feeling that the trailer gave me was second to none.

After the long wait, it pains me to see just how disappointing Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage turns out to be. In fact it’s not only disappointing, it’s abysmal. It is allegedly eighty-nine minutes (though actually runs at sixty-nine minutes for some reason!) of incoherent narrative, terrible acting, special effects which should have been passionately developed a lot closer and a general sense of ‘well this was a complete waste of time.’ Shahin Sean Solimon, also known as, the writer, director and star of Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage clearly appeared to have a lot of love and affection for the old Sinbad films, hence why he almost single-handedly got this thing made. But having finished this, it begs the question of whether Solimon had actually seen any of the old school fantasy films. There are few clues to be had here because the film is such a mess.

For a start, although the older films were never the strongest on plot, there was at least a sense of direction and cohesion in the narrative with Sinbad (or any hero from Harryhausen’s fantasy films) chasing after a McGuffin of some kind and encountering monsters and magic along the way. Here, the story is all over the place and there were so many times when I literally had no idea what was going on or who was who. There are flashbacks galore, sometimes within other flashbacks, plot threads picked up and dropped moments later and editing which baffles the brain. What should have been a nice, simple plot turns into something overly complicated and needlessly so. The only consistent narrative is provided by the voice of Patrick Stewart, who narrates from the point of view as Sinbad as an old man. Quite how Sinbad’s voice manages to turn from squeaky Persian to broad Yorkshire when he enters his last years is beyond me. Stewart was plastered all over the promotion for this but you’ll not see his face at all.

Sinbad, as a character, has never been one for real depth but we could always root for him. He’s a dashing hero, goes off on perilous quests, saves princesses, slays monsters and battles evil magicians. He is rather one-dimensional at the best of times but even here, the character is literally rooted to the spot with a script which does him no favours. The supporting characters fair even worse, with no development for his crew of expendable sailors, an evil magician who is evil purely because he has a moustache and deep-set eyes and princess who spends most of the film in a sleep-induced state. Just who are we supposed to get behind as a character?

Despite the number of people working on the animation here, 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is still light years ahead of this one and only one guy worked on that! Stop-motion effects quality seem to have regressed over the years and the creatures in here look to have been made long before the 1950s. The special effects are what they are and those who think they look awful aren’t the ones that this film was aimed at though. There are a number of different creatures on display, all of which hark back to one or more of Harryhausen’s classic creations of the past. There is a cyclops, a giant Roc, a statue, skeletons, ghouls and a giant crab but they lack any real sense of grandeur or importance.

Worse yet, all of these stop-motion sequences take place in front of terribly-rendered green screens and are subjected to a filter of fog and haze to obscure the view of the creatures. This absolutely kills the stop-motion dead in its tracks – where was the classic matte work that Harryhausen used so effectively to blend live action with stop motion? It would have enhanced the special effects one hundred times over. Alas, the use of the green screen backgrounds gives everything a cheap, cartoony feel. There is no energy or excitement to the action set pieces as a result. The monsters move sluggishly, they hardly interact with the characters and they don’t last for very long when they occur. You never once feel that Sinbad is in any real danger.

One last point to make and it is an important one when looking back at what made the earlier Harryhausen films so universally and eternally popular: the music. Backed by scores from the likes of Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rózsa, the films owed a lot of their popularity to some of the fantastic musical accompaniment to the action on screen. Herrmann’s scores for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts are two of the best fantasy soundtracks of all time, and my two favourite soundtracks to boot. They enhanced what you were watching on the screen, giving characters or monsters signature tunes to give them more importance and gravity to the story. The music in Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage is badly mismatched with the scenes they play in. The soundtrack isn’t bad but at no point did it enhance what was happening or create any more excitement.


Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage ends up more like an expensive fan-made homage to the Harryhausen Sinbad films of old. Whilst I commend the passion of those involved and recognise that this was a real labour of love, a little trip back to film school is needed to assemble the pieces into something coherent and exciting. You can’t just throw everything together in the hope that it sticks – you need real talent and sadly with Mr Harryhausen no longer with us, that fantasy magic of old seems to have died with him. If this was designed as a homage to Harryhausen’s films of old then all I can compare it to is like giving the plumber a turd-covered plunger and saying thanks for clearing out my toilet. Truly an awful experience from start to finish.





Mysterious Island (1961)

Mysterious Island (1961)

A world beyond imagination! Adventure beyond belief!

During the siege of Richmond in American Civil War, a group of Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison by overpowering the guard and flying off in a hot air balloon. In a terrible storm, they are carried miles off course and are eventually washed up on a remote Pacific island. Settling down to a life on the island, they are soon joined by two shipwrecked English women. Having to contend with the giant monsters that live on the island is one thing but the group soon realise that they share the island with the infamous Captain Nemo who is still plotting to rid humanity of war.


Mysterious Island was French writer Jules Verne’s follow-up to his acclaimed Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, one of the most famous science fiction stories of all time and one which has been turned into a number of films over the years, most famously with Disney’s 1954 live action version with Kirk Douglas and James Mason. Mysterious Island has also received a number of film adaptations though none have been truly revered like Disney’s version of Verne’s famous story. This 1961 version is arguably the most famous of the story, though it’s loosely based upon the book.

Mysterious Island actually works better when looked at as another Ray Harryhausen special effects showcase rather than a faithful adaptation of a book. That’s basically the draw here as Verne’s story is cherry picked for certain ideas and other elements are expanded to provide more of a spectacle. At least that was the theory. Mysterious Island is a decent timewaster but never fully manages to engage with its audience. It’s rather routine and episodic – a problem arises for the main characters, they have to solve it, they do and they move on to the next problem. There’s no real sense of overall story present, only that these characters have to escape off the island, and the various obstacles that they face are never anything more than mild diversions between achieving that goal. Captain Nemo doesn’t even turn up until the final third and seems to be more of an afterthought rather than a main focus.

What Mysterious Island lacks in true excitement and narrative, it makes up for in the special effects department. You can’t argue that some effort has gone in to making this film look good and Ray Harryhausen’s creatures look great, if lacking the real sense of awe and wonder that his more famous works have shown. The giant crab looks the most realistic and that’s because it was the real shell of a crab that he used for the armature. The battle with the survivors is enthralling and the animation and interaction between men and monster is superb. Sadly none of the other monsters ever come close to matching this. The dino-bird fight isn’t as good as it could have been as the monster looks a little daft, the underwater squid scene is something we have seen before and the giant bee, whilst looking good in its animated form, doesn’t do an awful lot.

Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack is excellent, providing a perfect accompaniment to the action, fantasy and mystery on the screen. This was Herrmann’s third collaboration with Ray Harryhausen and it shows how confident he was in bringing these fantasy worlds to life. Herrmann clearly borrowed some cues from this film and expanded upon them for his soundtrack to Jason and the Argonauts a couple of years later. The similarities are evident and whilst there’s no truly standout track here (unlike his classic Scherzo Macabre theme during the skeleton fight), the score certainly adds a lot to the action sequences and gives some of the fantasy and mystery elements a little more suspense.

As for the human cast, they always come second best in Harryhausen’s effects-driven films. The main characters are decent enough in their roles, if somewhat forgettable. Only Beth Rogan provides any sort of memorable impact but that’s only for her appearance in a man-made bikini that she dons when she washes up on the island. It was pretty risqué back in 1961! Late veteran actor Herbert Lom takes over the Captain Nemo role and, whilst he’s no James Mason, Lom does what he can with the role. His take is very much different: Nemo is older, less hostile to humans and more reasonable to deal with. It’s a shame that his elegant persona doesn’t arrive until late in the film, though he’s rather irrelevant to the overall story as it stands.


Mysterious Island provides solid fun without reinventing the genre. Due to the disjointed narrative, the film needs a regular injection of monsters to keep audience interest from going and it does that to various levels of success. Whilst the quality of the effects isn’t in doubt, it’s the manner in which they’re wheeled out that is the problem and the uneven flow of the film stops this from achieving a greater cult status.





Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Dynarama Means Supreme Adventure!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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





Red Sonja (1985)

Red Sonja (1985)

Heroes of their time. For all time.

Sonja leads a peaceful life with her family until Queen Gedren and her army arrive in their village, slaughtering Sonja’s family and subjecting her to an arduous rape. Sonja is given extraordinary powers in a vision and joins a male-dominated fighting academy to hone her sword fighting skills, becoming the top pupil in the process. During this time, Queen Gedren’s ambition grows and she steals a powerful talisman. Sonja’s only surviving sister is one of the priestesses guarding the talisman and barely manages to escape the slaughter, seeking out Sonja and warning her of the enormous power of the talisman. Sonja swears revenge and sets off to find and kill Gedren, picking up some unlikely companions along the way.


I’m not a massive fan of the short-lived sword-and-sorcery genre from the 80s, spurred on by the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s superior Conan the Barbarian. By the mid 80s this flash-in-the-pan fad had almost all but faded away and left with it a legacy of such dire Conan wannabes as The Warrior and the Sorceress, Deathstalker and Barbarian Queen. Even the official sequel, Conan the Destroyer, was a far cry from the original. With their bizarre array of creatures and desert sets, the films often turned out more like deleted scenes from the Tattooine portions of Return of the Jedi.

When Dino De Laurentiis was unable to get a second sequel to Conan the Barbarian off the ground, he simply nabbed Schwarzenegger, changed the name of the character he was going to portray and film his own sword-and-sorcery flick based around Red Sonja, a character also penned by Robert E. Howard and who shared the same universe as Conan. The result is a film which, though Schwarzenegger himself described as the “worst film he ever starred in,” is definitely a film not without some merit and charm. I guess Schwarzenegger has purposely blocked out the memories of Jingle All the Way and Batman & Robin when he made his claim (though I’m unsure of the date it was attributed to him anyway).

It’s interesting to note that I’ve still yet to really discuss the title character, played by Brigitte Nielsen. Even though the film is about her character, the promotional work was all about Schwarzenegger and he gets top billing. Talk about trying to capture the Conan market. Casting wise, she certainly looks the part of a huge Amazonian-like warrior but she can’t act to save her life and her lines and delivery come off extremely wooden and monotone. Unfortunately the whole notion of her being a strong feminine symbol of power (and the film contains plenty of feminist thinking) is watered down by the fact she can’t do anything worthwhile without the help of a man: the Conan-in-all-but-name character of Kalidor. She is hardly able to best anyone in a sword fight and needs constant rescue. Its little coincidence that despite his relatively little screen time, Schwarzenegger dominates the film and completely overshadows his co-star.

Red Sonja hardly opens promisingly with a feeble flashback tale of what happened to Sonja which skirts over too much story within a matter of minutes. It’s not like they needed to shorten the running time or anything but we’re brought up to speed on what is going on rather too conveniently for my liking. From there it literally turns into a sporadic sequence of events where Sonja goes from place-to-place and bumps into a few people, usually the same characters it has to be said. To say that the film is rather short in length, not a great deal happens. There’s a lot of talking both of behalf of Sonja and her party and of Queen Gedren who spends most of the film sat on her throne moaning to her minions.

As Queen Gedren, Sandahl Bergman is atrocious and no doubt only cast to continue the links to the Conan franchise. It’s an embarrassing performance which is matched by that of the annoying comic relief duo of Ernie Reyes Jr (the little brat prince whose kingdom has just been destroyed) and his fat servant Falkon played by Paul L Smith. At least it throws up the film’s most hilarious scene in which the little prince is tied up and pulled between two horses. It’s wrong on so many levels. Only Ronald Lacey, one of the Nazis who famously got melted in Raiders of the Lost Ark, shows any self-awareness of just what he’s starring in with his throwaway role as Gedren’s right-hand man. But even he is too buried underneath a ridiculous over-sized hat to come off as anything more than slimy comic foil.

As you can probably tell by now, Red Sonja’s problems come from the gross mis-casting and the poor script which doesn’t really know what it is doing. But as far as the look of the film goes, Red Sonja is as impressive as any sword-and-sorcery film. The production design is top notch and really livens up the proceedings with an impressive array of temples, palaces and underground chambers. There are also some awesome matte shots, particularly of the skeletal bridge, although one would expect a fantasy film to convey such marvel and otherworldly trappings! The mechanical monster scene looks a little dated now and I’m guessing no one thought that making it a water-based beast was an ill-thought, rusty idea. But at least it keeps the mythical vibe flowing well. And for all of its problems, the film is rarely dull. Despite the plodding and meandering structure, the film is rarely too far away from some sword fighting or decent set piece.


Red Sonja is big budget trash, corny and hokey at times, appallingly acted out and focuses way too much on Schwarzenegger’s supporting character but at least it’s entertaining and there is hardly a dull moment. It’s got a timeless 80s vibe to it and is hard not to like for what it really is: escapist entertainment.





People That Time Forgot, The (1977)

The People That Time Forgot (1977)

FIRST ‘The Land That Time Forgot’. THEN ‘At The Earth’s Core’. NOW a fantastic incredible world of savage mystery…

After finding an SOS message in a bottle, Major Ben McBride organises a mission to the Antarctic to search for his friend, Bowen Tyler, who has been missing in the area for two years. But in order to find him, the search party must brave Caprona, the hostile prehistoric land populated by dinosaurs and cavemen.


Amicus seemed to hit a winning, if somewhat shallow, formula in the late 70s with a string of loose adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs books starting with The Land That Time Forgot in 1975 and following on with At the Earth’s Core in 1976. Starring Doug McClure and featuring a load of plastic dinosaur on miniature sets, the films were modest hits and to a young, impressionable child like me, they were the best thing since sweets. The imagination and scope of the films extended far, far beyond their meagre budgets and so what you ended up with are films with wear their hearts on their sleeve and try their hardest but at inevitably let down by the stodgy special effects.

Following on from The Land That Time Forgot, this sequel does a reasonable job of continuing the story of Bowen Tyler and how he survived in Caprona. It’s good to see Doug McClure back in the role to add continuity to the series. McClure starred in all four of these Amicus fantasy films and takes the films by the scruff of the neck. Nothing phases him and he emits cool whilst kicking caveman ass. McClure’s characters always had an uncanny knack of instantly understanding and communicating with primitive cavemen before falling in love with scantily-clad cave girls. McClure doesn’t turn up until half-way into proceedings, such is the nature of the rescue mission plot, but when he does, he immediately bosses the film.

There’s a solid cast of familiar actors in supporting roles too. Thorley Walters does another of his ‘bumbling brainy person’ roles he used to do all of the time for Hammer, Shane Rimmer is there as the token American whilst Patrick Wayne must have been hoping that his attempts to become a dashing hero would have more success with Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger because he makes for a bland lead. Also of note must be Dana Gillespie’s cleavage as the cave girl Ajor. If all cavewomen were as hot as she is (and Raquel Welch was in One Million Years BC) then it must have been a grand time to be a man alive on the planet. The characters are decent enough, if somewhat one-dimensional, and they all do the necessary jobs of either explaining the plot or provide the physical attributes to keep the plot flowing.

But for all of the talking that the characters do, it’s the dinosaurs which are the real attraction here and the special effects look just as cheap as they ever did. Combinations of stop motion, model work and men-in-suits are tried with various degrees of success. But no attempt has been made to make the dinosaurs even resemble actual dinosaurs. The clay, plastic, cardboard and pipe cleaner monsters aren’t scary in the slightest. The pterodactyl at the start clearly has no movement apart from an opening and closing jaw and in a later scene there is a hippo-like monster which explodes and is clearly just an immobile prop. There are lots of miniature sets too for these model monsters to stomp around on and there’s a few toy planes and ships flying and sailing around for good measure. This is 1977, the year of Star Wars, for goodness sake, not 1933! For all of the scope and imagination that the film tries to convey (and the cinematography for this ‘lost world’ is nothing short of amazing), it’s let down by the shoddy special effects.


The People That Time Forgot is a decent sequel and good cheesy fun with plenty of plot holes, special effects disasters and ridiculous dialogue. For the kids (or the adults who saw this as a kid), this one is pretty harmless and entertaining. It’s got a perfectly timeless quality to it which creates a mild sense of awe and wonder that many a modern blockbuster lacks.





Lost Continent, The (1968)

The Lost Continent (1968)

A living hell that time forgot!

A creaky tramp steamer carrying an assortment of shady passengers and a cargo hold full of illegal explosives heads straight into a dangerous storm. The crew mutinies and abandons ship when they find out what the cargo is and sea conditions begin to get treacherous. The storm eventually strands the ship and its remaining crew and passengers near a mysterious island, surrounded by weird-looking seaweed and populated by descendants of Spanish Conquistadores.


No review would be enough to really describe just how bonkers this film is. It’s just such a weird juxtaposition of films, genres and ideas that it really sinks itself by trying to accomplish too much. For a studio so associated with the horror genre, Hammer’s 1960s forays into fantasy worlds were curious but never good enough or endearing enough to catch on with the public in main like their earlier horror outings. But that’s not to say there weren’t some hidden gems in there. One Million Years B.C. is better known for Raquel Welch’s awesome two-piece fur bikini but featured some cracking stop motion effects from Ray Harryhausen. She was a bit of a tepid adventure but at least gave Peter Cushing something to do other than stake vampires and create monsters. And here we have The Lost Continent, a very obscure film which is very ambitious in its intentions but ultimately falls short because of numerous problems.

The scope of Hammer’s intention with this film must be applauded. It’s arguably their most ambitious work ever and they clearly put a lot of effort into making it look big budget. You’ve got the eerie island which is surrounded by deadly seaweed, drenched in fog and harbours plenty of shipwrecks from various periods in time – it’s a superb set which really conveys the idea of this being a ‘lost continent’ and not just some random island. Even some of the costume design ideas are so bizarre that it’s hard not to give their designer credit. The mushroom-like inflatable shoes that the Spanish conquistadores use to traverse the seaweed are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The first time you see them in the distance, it looks like some weird monster heading the way of the passengers.

Not only is the seaweed hungry and there are scores of religious fanatics who want to sacrifice the passengers but the island is also populated by a variety of bizarre and even more deadly monsters. The special effects are terrible and the monster models are ridiculous but the best thing is that the cast treat everything seriously. So as utterly pathetic as the crab and the octopus look, the cast battle bravely against them and make them look like a deadly threat. It helps that the creature designs are a bit different with their colourisation too, once again giving the viewer the illusion that this really is a lost world.

The film is entertaining when it finally gets going and they reach the island (and all of the above stuff happens) but it seems to take an eternity to get there. Too much time is spent (badly) developing characters we don’t care about because we know most of them won’t get out off the island alive. The characters all have shady pasts too so it’s hard to really find anyone to root for. A lot less of the backstabbing and bitching aboard the ship and more explanations about what the hell was going on would have been fine. By the time they reach the island, they don’t seem to be trapped for long before they manage to sort everything out into a neat little package and then escape as if nothing happened. The finale is all rushed and you won’t be able to catch your breath before the film is over. It’s as if there’s a lot of random stuff happening and a really flimsy story is patched together to try and work it all out. Did the film really need the long sub-plot about the crew’s mutiny early on in the film? The crew leave the ship as they find out there’s explosives on board. Shortly afterwards the passengers then decide to abandon ship to save themselves. Then a bit later on the passengers come across the ship again and go back on board. Wouldn’t it have been easier for them to have stayed on board? It would have saved some crucial running time for more island action.

The cast isn’t particularly well known but do their jobs well as the group of shady passengers. Eric Porter is brash, arrogant and highly unscrupulous as the captain. There’s eye candy on display in the forms of Suzanna Leigh (who plays a slutty daughter) and Dana Gillespie (who plays one of the enslaved islanders and sports arguably the most gravity-defying pair you’ll ever see). Hammer veteran Michael Ripper is on hand again for another small cameo. There are a few other faces that you may recognise if you’re into your older British films and it helps that there’s no really big names in here like Cushing or Lee. It gives the rest of the cast a chance to shine and they all do a decent enough job. But this really is a film based around its weird and wacky ideas and characters are secondary throughout.


The Lost Continent does have its fair share of problems but the ambition and scope of the film are way beyond what one would expect from Hammer. It’s bizarre, it’s obscure and it’s frustratingly brilliant – there’s almost too many ideas floating around here to make it work but somehow it does. It’s strangely compelling viewing and definitely a hidden Hammer gem that’s infinitely better than a lot of their more famous work.





Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans (2010)

Titans will clash.

Perseus is born a god but raised by man. So when his adopted human father is killed by Hades, the god of the underworld, as punishment for mankind’s rebellion against the gods, Perseus swears revenge. The people of Argos ask him to lead a mission to stop the Kraken before Hades uses it to destroy their city as punishment for their defiance towards the gods. Hades has secret plans of his own to use the Kraken to weaken Zeus and dethrone him as the ruler of Mount Olympus.


The original Clash of the Titans is one of my childhood favourites so yet again it pains me to see Hollywood pillage the past for its present money-making needs. However unlike a lot of the originals that have spawned remakes and sequels, the original Clash of the Titans is certainly a flawed film and one that could have been improved upon dramatically. The special effects and the mythical creatures are fondly remembered by many people but it was Ray Harryhausen’s last film and certainly not his best work overall. The era of Star Wars had ushered in a new era of effects and Harryhausen’s craft was to be rendered obsolete. It’s a film which is looked back on more fondly than it probably deserves but enchanted and inspired a generation of people who grew up on those types of films – the last of its era holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Remaking something like that is usually a no-win scenario because comparisons to the original will always be brought to the fore. If it’s a better remake, people will say that the original has better nostalgia purposes. If it’s a worse sequel, people will say “I told you so.” S I’m going to try and forget about the original whilst writing this review, as hard as it may be.

But maybe I’m making this review too “personal.” When one of my favourite films from childhood receives a big budget remake, I expect it to stand head-and-shoulders above everything else simply for the fact that I want it to. But when a film is so rooted in the mainstream rot that the last couple of years of blockbusters have produced, it’s hard to feel anything but aggrieved and that’s the major problem with Clash of the Titans. Modern mainstream cinema is dead – it’s just a mass of overblown action films that roll off the conveyor belt, each one more dumbed down and insulting to the intelligence than the last one. The studios believe that the awe and wonder of millions of dollars of special effects can keep us from scrutinising the story and characters and it gets worse as the years go on.

To say the film is based on a legendary Greek myth, there’s so little story to be told here it’s unbelievable. The film spends little time explaining the underlying story and it barely gets past the whole “we need to go from A to B” approach, adding little depth to the story or the characters in the process. Everything seems so rushed, so straightforward and so easy for Perseus that he hardly breaks sweat! There’s no sense that he’s going to fail his quest and the lack of peril really makes things chug along a little more underwhelming than they should. It’s also chocked to the brim with the clichés you expect from any summer blockbuster – CGI overindulgence and overkill at a grand scale; the unnecessary and overlong aerial panoramic shots of various landscapes; token slow-motion moments during action scenes; the smallest amount of time possible between set pieces; characters drained of as much characterisation as possible………the list goes on.

It’s a film that clearly looks towards its toy lines and potential for a sequel. Other clichés come in the form of the ‘Braveheart’ speech that Perseus gives to his men (see Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Troy, King Arthur, et al), the fact that most of his men are given a handful of lines between them (can you say expendable?) and the seemingly forced love interest between Perseus and Io.

From a technical standpoint, the film is superior in every way but that’s to be expected with a budget of $125 million. The special effects look crisp but if you like your cinema and have seen any big budget blockbuster from the past couple of years, you’ll know what to expect. Modern CGI effects are so overblown now that they just fail to impress me anymore. It doesn’t matter how many temples, mountains, deserts, stars, moons and clouds or how detailed everything is, I yearn for the day when everything was just simplified (I blame Lucas and the ridiculous amount of background detail he crammed into Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace). Nowadays, there’s so much going on in the background in a lot of scenes that it just overloads your senses to the point where you lose focus on the main detail.

The major set pieces from the original are still here: the scorpion attack, encountering Pegasus, the venture into Medusa’s lair and the finale with the Kraken. The scorpion attack is arguably the highlight of the film and definitely an improvement over the original. Although clearly sculpted on the Scorponok attack from Transformers, the fight does at least do it’s best to conjure up the spirit of the original. The Medusa sequence looks flashier here with a complex multi-level lair adding to the proceedings. But there’s no sense of atmosphere or dread here and it all looks rather straightforward for Perseus in the end. Medusa looks like a computer game sprite and is a totally wasted opportunity to scare the hell of young kids! The same scene from the original is ten times scarier, has ten times more atmosphere and it may not look as flash, but its way more effective. Pegasus also looks good and has been changed into a black horse although its use in the story seems to have been cut short.

Finally, we come to the end set piece with the Kraken. It’s ramped up in size about a thousand times and despite its massive tentacles crashing everywhere in the city, it doesn’t come off as awe-inspiring as it should. Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t do much to warrant getting worked up over it or maybe it’s because we know Perseus will arrive in the knick of time to save the day.

Such a great cast is wasted on films like this as there are too many people around and too little for them all to do. In the leads, Sam Worthington still does little to convince me that he can handle the acting chops of a big budget film as his Australian accent breaks through at almost every opportunity. He’s as flat and bland as he was in Terminator: Salvation. He may have the physical presence to be an action hero but the guy can’t handle dialogue and that’s perhaps why his character has one of the lowest amounts of dialogue I can recall from a lead role in many years. In fact it’s the gods who steal the show in the acting department and you’d wish they’d have been given more to do.

Liam Neeson gets little more to do than walk around in a blinged-up silver suit and stroke his beard. Ralph Fiennes seems like he walked straight off the set from the recent Harry Potter flick with his Voldermort character being channelled into Hades as some pantomime-like villain. Gemma Arterton adds little as the love interest and fellow demi-god Io, other than a set of superb legs and thighs and being forced to look stunning for eternity. In mythology, I believe she is some great, great, great grandmother to Perseus so the fact that they cop off at the end makes me squirm around in my seat a little bit. There are so many other names in this that get little or nothing to do that it’s just a criminal waste of talent. The likes of Mads Mikkelsen and Jason Flemyng get decent supporting characters to get into but not much to do in the film with them. Only Liam Cunningham, as one of Perseus’ crew, adds anything like a proper character to proceedings with his sarcastic old soldier adding a few funny lines before his eventual doom.


I can’t say that Clash of the Titans is a total failure because it’s not. It had me entertained throughout but in the end it just fails to capture the imagination in any way, shape or form. It’s ‘just another blockbuster’ with no emotional connection to the audience, save for the anger at the ridiculous amount of money some people would have paid to see it in 3-D. Clash of the Titans had potential to inspire a new generation like the original did but all we get is wasted opportunities and another ho-hum modern blockbuster.





At the Earth’s Core (1976)

At the Earth's Core (1976)

They’re in it DEEP now!

A Victorian scientist and his rich American engineer and financial backer test out a new machine called the Iron Mole which can drill into the Earth’s crust. They hope to find untapped resources beneath the Earth’s surface but what they find instead is a cavernous world of gigantic monsters, primitive human slaves and winged monsters that rule over this kingdom.


At the Earth’s Core never really convinces anyone of its good intentions to bring life to the Edgar Rice Burroughs story. Instead we get bombarded with horrible giant plastic monsters, men in rubber suits and cheap explosions on miniature sets. The second Burroughs adaptation brought to life by Amicus Studios, it’s clear that the budget was even lower for this than it was for The Land That Time Forgot. But who really cares? This is perfect Saturday afternoon entertainment for kids (and adults who watched it as kids!) as its fun, stupid, has not-so-scary monsters, the plot isn’t overly complicated and there’s lot of silly action. It’s a fine nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up on this type of film.

The plot is based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs story but that’s probably about as close to the source material as you’re going to get here. The opening scenes in which the Iron Mole is constructed and then heads into the Earth do define the Victorian fantasy pulp era to a tee but then as soon as they get out of the machine and into this acid-tripped world, the film goes off into uber-cheese mode. They then spend the rest of the film going from one scrape to another, getting captured, escaping, being captured again, being attacked by ridiculous-looking monsters and then maybe getting captured again. It’s all in good fun though and it’s harmless and juvenile fun. I don’t know how much actors would have cost to hire in those days but I bet the budget was blown on the trio of Peter Cushing, Doug McClure and Caroline Munro . They are all decent genre actors and were definitely above the material presented to them here.

Peter Cushing is on top form as usual and his presence alone lifts this film from its gloom. His performance is slightly twisted from his usual cool, calm and reasonable man of science. He’s more eccentric this time as if he were playing Dr Who again and the performance does get a bit irritating at times in a ‘granddad who won’t shut up’ kind of way. His fish-out-of-water scientist character is a little goofy but it’s good to see him play against type for a change.

Doug McClure is his usual gung-ho self in this type of film where he just fights and beats up anything that stands in his way. He makes a decent action hero though – he’s a believable ‘everyman’ like Bruce Willis was in Die Hard – someone caught up in the wrong situation. McClure usually has an annoying habit of understanding the native people in these films almost instantly, despite the fact they speak different languages. But here the natives speak well-preserved English and communication is not really much of a problem. It’s clear to see where these two characters will fit into the film – McClure will be the one busting skulls and going from sticky situation to sticky situation whilst buying time for Cushing to figure it all out scientifically. Caroline Munro is the princess, bearing some amazing oil-soaked cleavage but little else (although when you look as good as this, I don’t see the reason to have any other purpose in a film).

It’s a pity that the budget didn’t stretch far enough to do the job of creating this fantasy world. The sets look pretty cheap and you can tell they’re on a soundstage with some poor matte work. In addition to the blatantly obvious rear projection, the film feels claustrophobic as Kevin Connor clearly didn’t want to open up his shots simply because it was a small stage!  The colours are slightly hallucinogenic at times – but it does give you the impression that this is a completely different world and the red/purple sky eerily reminds you that they are in the centre of the Earth as there is no sun. Maybe someone was smoking a little too much weed when they designed the colour scheme.

The dinosaurs do look extremely pathetic too – it’s as if the Japanese had leftover kaiju suits from the Godzilla and Gamera series and Amicus found them in a bin somewhere. The rhino monsters are arguably the worst giant monsters I’ve ever seen on film and their fight scene is ridiculous. But it’s all in good fun though and the film doesn’t really try to do anything too demanding with its budget constraints. These special effects sequences are not made with much in the way of skill or creativity but at least they’re not dull as the creatures get well fed or do some fighting of some kind.


There’s no denying that At the Earth’s Core is a bad film in every sense but its fun and innocent and manages to charm and keep you entertained for more than it should. A camp, guilty pleasure in every definition.