17 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
A breed of cockroaches is spreading a disease which is killing the children of Manhattan. Entomologist Susan Tyler and partner Peter Mann create a genetic variant known as the Judas Breed to kill off the disease carriers; however, instead of having a limited lifespan as expected, they mutate over time into something quite different and infinitely more dangerous. Now they are the size of people, fly, and can mimic the look of a human - potentially their greatest predator and certainly their greatest prey. Genetic engineering has changed evolutionary dominance. Whilst Susan is taken by one of the creatures, Peter descends into the bowels of the city, with only a city cop as guide, in an attempt to put things right. But they aren’t the only ones to have put themselves in danger...
Although I received this disc considerably late from the marketing company - via the all powerful editor, my review has admittedly been a long time coming. I wanted to give this Blu-ray Special Edition disc the time and effort it deserves. I am a committed follower of the work of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. Ever since John Carpenter went into semi-retirement, del Toro has been the new kid on the block, as far as I’m concerned, and probably the best inventive talent behind the camera. Although the great Carpenter does have a tendency to raise his head every so often to show who’s boss (not that he’d ever say it). Similarly, I just hope that del Toro doesn’t listen to people like me and think that anything he turns out will turn to gold. It hasn’t happened yet; we’ve had a number of Spanish language films (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and the fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth), and those made for the Hollywood market (Blade II, Hellboy, and Hellboy 2).
Mimic, released in 1997, was del Toro’s first film for an English-speaking American audience. Fan forums have often quoted the man as disliking the film because of certain cuts enforced on him by the film company. His take on the subject on the Extras is that he could have walked away from the project, but felt the cuts were not too detrimental to the overall structure of the film. Having said that, he is much more enthusiastic about this Director’s Cut. It’s amazing how re-arranging a few scenes and cutting (or extending) in different places can strengthen a movie, and that’s exactly what’s happened here. I would say the opening scenes are stylishly eerie, while the middle section just manages to avoid cliche. The main scenes once the players are underground are extremely well-handled, building both character and suspense, and the creatures are strengthened by the fact they are always half in darkness. By no means is this the best of del Toro’s output, but it’s a highly entertaining viewing experience in its own right.
What makes this Blu-ray extra special is the abundance of extra features. There is a Video Prologue with Guillermo Del Toro; a director’s Audio Commentary; Reclaiming Mimic Featurette; The Creatures of Mimic Featurette; a Shooting Mimic Featurette; Deleted Scenes; Storyboard Animatics; a Gag Reel, and Trailer.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2011)
Captain Nolan is an Irishman living in Canada. He has inherited his father’s old fishing boat, and is attempting to catch various marine life in a bid to pay off the mortgage on the boat, so that he can return home. Whilst striving to catch a Great White shark, the shark is attacked and killed by a killer whale. Nolan immediately has the notion that an Orca will net him a lot more money. However, he misses the male, instead spearing a female. It is winched on board, badly injured, only for Nolan to discover it is pregnant. The baby is lost, enraging the male so that it attacks the vessel. Nolan orders the female cut loose, but it is fatally hurt. The male sees Nolan on board, and the captain is told by an expert that killer whales are highly vengeful creatures, as they are intelligent and very family-oriented. He learns this first-hand when the whale follows his boat back, and terrorises the fishing port – destroying other boats, and even causing fires. The townsfolk know the only way the attacks will cease is if Nolan leaves. And the bitterly sorry Nolan realises the only way he will get any peace is to put to sea and face the beast in its own territory...
To all intents and purposes this is Moby Dick for the 1970s. Not a lot has changed in the telling of this story except, perhaps, less allusions to religion and much more to morality. To be really pedantic here, a killer whale isn’t a whale. It’s basically a dolphin, by which I mean it belongs to the same family group. However, it is the perfect choice for the purposes of this story, because it is the ocean’s biggest killer, thinking nothing of attacking a shark – even a Great White. It is also highly intelligent, and carries certain human traits such as vengeance, and is scheming or calculating in its methods. It has been known to drive prospective prey hundreds of miles away from their comfort zones, and so it’s not too much of a stretch to accept the male in this film luring our more contemporary Captain Ahab into the ice fields for the final confrontation. I did wonder, however, how it managed to blow-up virtually the whole town just by breaking a water pipe in the harbour. The attack might have achieved very little at all, but instead has a domino effect which explodes a refinery.
Producer Dino De Laurentis was known for his prolific output of films, rather than their quality, which tended to range between the perfectly sound and the cringe-worthy low budget affair. Perhaps this explains why Orca: The Killer Whale seems like an amalgamation of the two. Without the stellar cast of the time, I rather think this movie would have unfairly been dismissed as below consideration. Shakespearean actor Richard Harris plays Captain Nolan with a briefly selfish but then repenting air. He spends the majority of the film regretting his actions, and it seems pretty early on that he has decided to meet the beast and die.
Charlotte Rampling is an unusual actress to watch. She’s like the female version of Roger Moore; whether she’s supposed to be sad, angry, determined or upset, she wears the same expression. Bo Derek, sporting a plaster-cast leg, and then no leg at all (!), works well as the required eye candy. And music from established spaghetti western maestro Ennio Morricone lifts this film into the major release bracket.
Nevertheless, it’s one of those films which, even from the start, you watch thinking it’s sort of okay, but nothing special.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2014)
A brother and sister work with their father on the river but, as a consequence of unreliability, the brother is demoted to driving a trolley bus full of tourists through the city. However, after only just starting his first run, he comes across a huge pit in the road. It seems that an earthquake has released an until now undiscovered species of spider. They are large (some of them gigantic), they can jump high, run on water, and even breathe fire. Furthermore, they are predators. The spiders are over-running the city, but a small group of survivors has found the queen. Kill this spider and you kill them all. But that’s easier said than done, as it appears impervious to gunfire or explosions...
I don’t recall having seen a spider horror film since the release of Eight-Legged Freaks. Arachnoquake is to all intents and purposes a modern day B-movie. I have to say the spiders don’t look entirely real. It probably wasn’t a very good idea to make them pink. Then there’s the cartoonish CGI aspect, which also extends to any scenes with flame or fire. If a spider is light enough to spread its centre of gravity, it could stand or float on water. Some of these spiders are almost the size of a boat, and yet they can run on water and chase a boat! I think the writer here has mixed arachnids up with ants or bees, because in this movie we have a queen who supposedly controls all the other spiders - they can’t survive without her. Which is a convenient plot device to rid the city of the monsters.
The cast do their best to attempt to convince us the spiders are really there. When you’re watching huge, pink, water-skiing, fire-breathing arachnids, you’re obliged to suspend your disbelief quite a bit. You might recognise Edward Furlong from Terminator 2, and Ethan Phillips from Star Trek: Voyager.
It might sound like I’ve completely pulled this film to pieces, but the truth is it works fine if you treat it in the spirit it is intended. No, it’s not thought-provoking, or intricately plot woven, or strong on characterisation. Or even particularly scary. This is a fun popcorn movie, pure and simple. So, sit down, turn off your I.Q. and enjoy.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2012)
Alex is a professional pest exterminator who, through a client’s carelessness, gets bitten by a poisonous spider. Whilst being treated at hospital, he becomes embroiled in a sudden panic of staff. A cadaver in the morgue has split open and a huge predatory spider has emerged. The Black Ops – National Security team arrives, led by a sour-faced Major (Ray Wise), and seals-off the hospital. Alex convinces one of them to have a hospital security guard show him to the morgue to study the arachnid, but they have to track it, via the blood and devastation, to the furnace room. Here they discover the creature is quadrupling in size every few hours. It turns out this was a military experiment to cross microscopic DNA discovered in Martian rocks with Earth insect DNA (I know, spiders aren’t insects, but someone should have informed the writer of this). When the by now gigantic spider gets out into the city of Los Angeles, there is a very real danger of not only potentially many deaths, but the spider laying its eggs. When it climbs a skyscraper and begins to lay its eggs on the top floor, the Major calls an air strike. But there is a female military officer that Alex has taken a shine to, and she is cocooned in the building as ready food for the hatching spiders. He and the security guard have twenty-five minutes to rescue her and exit the building again. Can his professional knowledge help him win the day...?
The film starts just before the final scene. Everything is in slow motion. Alex comes round after being knocked unconscious and walks determinedly towards the skyscraper, whilst all around people are fleeing the other way in terror, masonry falling constantly from the huge spider’s movements. This effect has been done in movies before and can be quite tedious. However, there’s something quite compelling about the sequence. Before we know it, we have jumped back twelve hours to when Alex is making a house call on a dotty old lady. Big Ass Spider! has the structure of a B-movie, but a good one. The monster, the military, the hero, the victims and the damsel in distress are all in place; the difference is this film is both made and acted with conviction and warmth. Real heart comes through in the viewing.
There is great humour present but, unlike many movies, it doesn’t feel forced. It’s not a comedy, but the humour is allowed to evolve through the situations. The pairing of Alex (Greg Grunberg) and Jose (Lombardo Boyar) is excellent. Hospital security guard Jose attaches himself to the exterminator, scared but not wanting to miss out on the action. He calls himself the Mexican Robin to Alex’s Batman. The character of Alex is friendly to everyone but also very determined in his work. Jose cleverly deadpans reactionary comments, and the two seem like they’ve been together forever, to the extent that you’d like to see their characters progress in other stories. One of the best partnership pairings in a film since the first Tremors.
Of course, this isn’t going to win any major awards, but I think most people will enjoy Big Ass Spider! significantly more than the Hollywood nonsense that was the Hollywood Godzilla film of a few years back. It’s probably the best of the spider movies to arrive so far (Arachnophobia, Eight-Legged Freaks, Spiders, Tarantula, etc.) Characterisation and plot should come first in any story, and this one has it just right. A feel good popcorn movie.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2013)
As the result of a twisted boyhood prank, Henry has an irrational fear of sheep; not very practical when you live on a sheep farm in New Zealand. Years later, he returns to the land he jointly owns with the intention of selling his half to his brother Angus. However, he soon discovers that Angus has been up to some more than questionable experimentation involving genetically altered sheep. When a couple of environmental activists break into the lab and escape with a lamb, it bites one of them and pretty soon not only is the victim undergoing some seriously weird bodily changes, but the majority of the sheep turn into viscous zombies. Of course, this is Henry's worst nightmare and, with the help of the other activist, he is obliged to stop the outbreak spreading from the farm and wrestle control of the farm from his scheming brother. But Angus, having undergone a change into a weresheep, is proving to be a formidable opponent...
This is the type of film that you enjoy rather more in retrospect than you do at the time. That's not to say that it's unworthy of consideration - far from it. It's simply that the set pieces and one-liners will stick in your head and perhaps become a valid talking point, so consequentially the popularity or otherwise of Black Sheep is likely to spread through word of mouth. For example, mint sauce acts like holy water on vampires and burns, a victim throws his bitten-off leg at an attacking sheep, sheepskin car seat covers are utilised as a disguise (with a ram trying to mount the person), and there's a novel solution to events near the conclusion.
This very much has the feeling of a little film with a big heart. The acting is mediocre at best, with nobody particularly proficient in their role (if somebody has a lifelong fear of sheep they would be a gibbering wreck at the prospect of woolly zombies). The strength of Black Sheep lies in the comic situations. The special effects are well-handled (particularly the human-to-sheep-and-back-again transformation) so that helps, but clever close-up and sometimes frantic camera work helps to cover certain shortcomings. It would have been amusing if the writer had included in his script the repercussions of zombie lamb meat getting in to the food chain.
None of this really matters though, as the film serves its purpose and works well. I've never forgotten a flock of sheep chasing me across a field when I was little so, although I was in no way traumatised by the experience (twitch), the idea of normally docile sheep 'turning' like the proverbial worm doesn't seem like a huge leap of fiction. But zombies... well, that's another matter. There are some laugh-out-loud moments (or at least those that inspire a sheepish grin) that will make you remember this film, even if you have no inclination to watch it again.
Extras include a Director's Commentary (Jonathan King is also the writer, which often makes for a more enthusiastic dialogue), a Making of Documentary, Deleted Scenes and a frankly unfunny and therefore superfluous Blooper Reel.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2008)
Jason Crockett is an old man who invites his whole family to his island estate to celebrate both his birthday and 4th July. A nature photographer and journalist is also present, as the family's speedboat has caused damage and left him stranded. However, Crockett is disrespectful of nature, spawning nature's revenge which turns every local creature of land, air or water against the family. It is left to the only innocent party to attempt an escape. But when nature conspires together is there any hope of rescue?
I’ve never had the opportunity to see this film from 1972 before, so judging by the DVD cover I was fully expecting huge man-eating frogs to appear at some stage. It seemed logical considering the opening scenes of pollutants being dumped into the waters in and around the island, and also the early montage of camera snaps of human rubbish. Instead the inference is that the resultant process has made frogs not only slightly larger and much more widespread than is normal, but also somehow self-aware. This cognizance takes the form of, presumably, telepathic abilities, as they not only organise themselves in numbers but possibly other animals and insects that world, in most cases, stay well clear of mankind. Other than that, the only explanation is that nature itself has rallied its troops.
It’s nice that each representation of the animal kingdom we see is real. We view whichever creature is relevant, moving purposefully forward and massing, but the attacks are more inferred than seen. We do experience a character wrestling with a crocodile, and the approach of what resembles a huge false turtle, and every now and then a frog is thrown into frame if the others are looking a little laid back.
The acting is fine and thankfully payed straight. There is a little more money spent on this one than most retro monster movies. In fact, the premise is a little like Long Weekend, only nowhere near as tedious. Ray Milland is the star here, and he’s just as grumpy as he is in many of his other roles. He’s the head of the family (and presumably the island); his purpose primarily to boss everyone else around. What we wait for on these occasions is for the villain to get his comeuppance and, like the captain of a sinking ship, he is determined to hold-out until the end. It’s no surprise that he doesn’t last very long once the survivors make themselves scarce.
This genre of film is known as a eco-horror. The 88 Films new HD transfer is very nice and sharp. A fitting tribute to an unusual celluloid contribution. Extras include Today the Pond, Tomorrow the World: An Interview with David Gilliam; Stills Gallery, Original Trailer, and Reversible Cover.
(Original review Ty Power 2021)
A Great White shark attacks a fishing boat, when it is repeatedly shot at. It kills two of the three individuals on board, before slowly moving off to a nearby cave to die. Soon afterward, a group of teenagers witness a horrific attack in the sea close to the shore of a small community called Harmony. A girl is torn apart by what appears to be a glowing, translucent shark. Nobody believes them, least of all the mayor, who just wants to play down any troubles with the forthcoming 4th July celebrations. One person who does believe them is the old drunken hermit who lives in the lighthouse. He knows the power of the cave, and has his own reasons for keeping people away...
There is a very obvious attempt here to emulate an amalgamation of Jaws and the remake of Piranha. Of course, you’ll notice immediately this has a lot lower budget, particularly in terms of special effects. Producing a wavering blue glow in the basic shape of a Great White shark, and telling everyone it is a ghost, is a more than convenient way of covering up the shortfalls of the movie, and specifically a rubbish monster threat. The fact that the shark becomes a vengeful spirit within the first minutes of the film – with little or no explanation, apart from dying in a plastic-looking cave with symbols on the walls – paves the way for a series of ridiculous situations for the creature to make its appearances and coat the respective locations in blood and body parts. It not only materialises in its natural habitat of the sea, but anywhere else there is water present: through a fire hydrant, garden sprinklers, a swimming pool, a sink trap, and even an office water dispenser. I had to laugh when kids began water-sliding along a mat and through the inflatable head of a shark. It was a foregone conclusion what would happen next!
The plot (and I use the word advisedly) is extremely hackneyed, and the characters very much stereotyped. Nobody believes the teenagers’ story. The sheriff is controlled by the mayor, who is only concerned about the upcoming elections (ring any bells?). The key character is a sensible girl, balanced by a younger wayward sister. There is a budding boyfriend, and a son of the mayor. Then – wait for it – there is the old crazy man, who warns the authorities in vain, and conveniently knows how to see off the monster. As you would expect, there are lots of bikini-clad eighteen year-olds; in fact, the little sea shanty town seems to be full of them. It’s rather strange, there’re no fat and ugly fifty year-old women in existence. Perhaps the major has fed them all to the shark. Now, there’s a plot!
So, move along, please. There’s nothing (new) to see here...
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2013)
Cooper Flynn is an immature joker who shirks his professional responsibilities. He is in the process of being dismissed by his unimpressed boss when everything changes. The next thing he knows he is waking up wrapped tightly in a cobweb-like substance. All of his office colleagues are similarly cocooned. An astonished Cooper is attacked by a giant black bug, and soon discovers that everyone in the streets has been stored for future food. After waking a few individuals, including Sara, his former employer’s attractive daughter, Cooper ventures outside with the group. The plan is to track down their loved ones and find a safe haven, but the huge and violent bugs are everywhere, and when a crowd of angry flying beetle-like bugs swoops down and grabs Sara, Cooper determines to recover her safely - his normally non-existent courage and chivalry coming to the fore. But to tackle the queen bug he requires the help of his ex-military father. The father he hates. The father who is slowly turning into a human-bug hybrid...
Although the frequency with which Cooper makes silly and inappropriate remarks does reach a point where it begins to grate, Infestation as a whole is immense fun. The idea of the carefree protagonist wanting only to run away and find a safe place to hide up until his potential girlfriend is taken, rings naturally true to character. At which point his testosterone rises to the surface and the reluctant hero leads a rag-tag group towards the main nest for a confrontation with the queen.
Writer/director Kyle Rankin sensibly goes for the humorous element, with the monster horror, whilst initially looking somewhat over-the-top, being played down in favour of comic situations. In short, it’s not frightening, but you do find yourself laughing frequently at the absurdity of it all. The special effects are much better than you might expect (particularly the inter-species hybrids and flying bugs) without seeming to be in your face, and you even get a sense of the gravity of a wide-spread disaster, even though only a few streets and surrounding areas are actually seen.
Essentially, the name of the game here is fun, and that works admirably. After all, in the real world if somebody is pestered by a wasp or has a spider drop down on their head, our first thought is to laugh at their reaction. The format is very much in the vein of a 1950s B-movie such as Them, or a more contemporary variation like Eight-Legged Freaks and Slither. A very enjoyable popcorn movie. The only disappointment is a severe lack of extras, with only a Making of… documentary present.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2009)
Brian and his friend Lukos travel to the New Mexico desert for a party at which they will get to meet their B-Movie action hero. Brian’s dream girl is there, but he doesn’t believe he has a chance. When he despondently wanders off, Lukos finds him and the two friends happen across a cave which leads into an abandoned research facility for military application. They are shocked, to say the least, to be attacked by a giant ant, and are embarrassingly saved by the girl Lisa. This ant, it turns out, is just one of many. They need ethanol in order to breed, and the nearby party has it in abundance: alcohol. Ants can lay hundreds of eggs at a time. Our heroes know they can’t allow them to hatch and spread further afield. Three people against a colony of giant ants is not exactly a fair fight. But Brian isn’t known as the brainy geek for nothing, and he has a crazy plan that might just work...
It seems that an asteroid hit this region during the 1950s. Alien DNA was discovered and mixed with that of ants and spiders. Why this would make them giant-sized is anyone’s guess – although it is in keeping with the myriad giant creature flicks from that time of uncertainty.
This is effectively a modern-made 1950s Monster B-Movie. In fact, the story is based on the premise of a 1980s video game, but to all intents and purposes it’s a homage to those classic and so-bad-they’re-good black and white low budget science fiction movies of the atomic age. Our reluctant heroes learn that the research centre’s experiments were called Project: Them! There’s no more tribute they could have paid than to give a big nod to the excellent giant ants movie of the 1950s. In that long gone era these genre films were played straight, which makes the mistakes in many of them so funny. I love those films, but how does a contemporary version compare? Films such as this one and Big Ass Spider, for example, purposefully inject humour from the start, so they are not taken seriously and ridiculed. So it’s like a tribute to those films such as Them! and it’s ilk, but at the same time it’s saying "we know you might think this film is rubbish, so we’re getting in first and sending it up before you do."
What makes this work is the fact the humour comes entirely through the dialogue, and in particular the main character’s reactions to events and each other. This is very difficult to get right without coming across as being really silly. The humour for me is spot on, natural, and seems spontaneous. Lukos’ first terrified reaction to seeing a giant ant is, "This is straight up Jurassic Park shit!" Another good example is when the two friends are looking for weapons. One comes up with a spatula, the other a frying pan – inducing the exchange: "What are you going to do with that? Swat it to death?!" "What are you going to do with that? Cook it breakfast?!" As the first of the ants reaches the party, prior to the massacre, a clearly inebriated guy greets it with, "Squirrel dudes, I come in peace!"
The action hero film clip that Brian is watching at the beginning is purposefully made to look particularly cheap and wooden and that, of course, makes it amusing. The B-Movie hero they are supposed to meet at the party, turns up at the end trying to look cool. I’m sure you can guess his reaction as soon as he sees an ant. Are they basing this character on Bruce Campbell, and in particular My Name Is Bruce?
Curiously, It Came From the Desert was filmed in Spain and Finland. Director Marko Makilaakso has achieved something a little special here. It’s a load of old nonsense, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable load of old nonsense. The only thing that lets down this release is the lack of substantial extra features. There is only a Special FX Comparison. However, you still need this fun film in your collection.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2018)
Bart, a high-flying businessman, is offered a lucrative contract to work on. He has everything a family man could wish for: a beautiful wife, a young son, and a personally designed modern apartment in a Brownstone building. Things start to go awry when the dishwasher floods the kitchen. The maintenance man informs Bart that a pipe has been chewed through, probably by a rat. The businessman sets traps, but he soon realises that it's not going to be that straightforward. The rat is intelligent, watching and scheming from concealment. The struggle soon turns into a battle of wits with no guaranteed outcome...
When viewing the beginning of this film it's easy to immediately label it tired and predictable. The assumption is you're going to have to endure the celluloid version of a Guy N. Smith-type conveyor belt mediocrity. This is not the case at all; you just have to realise what sort of film you're watching. Having read James Herbert's The Rats and its successors at a young age, I'll have to admit to expecting something similar. However, this obviously low-budget production portrays a one-on-one struggle of ingenuity. Initial sighs or derision at the silliness of the plot soon turns to smiles and even chuckles as the element of fun sucks you in.
Peter Weller (of Robocop fame) turns in a strangely introverted performance. As all attempts to trap or poison the rodent bring resourceful retaliation, the Bart character becomes physically and mentally exhausted, resulting in unhinged delusions. At a couple of points its difficult to know what is real and what is simply a figment of his fevered imagination. In fact, the more unbalanced he becomes, the more enjoyable the watching experience is. For example, on one occasion Bart arrives back from work and greets the hiding rat with a "Hi darling, I'm home." This is quite a feat because for the greater part of the movie Weller is acting alone.
You won't scream, you won't jump (Well, maybe when the rat surges from the toilet), and your blood won't freeze in your veins. This is much more of a tongue-in-cheek thriller than the horror it alludes to. Okay, so it's not Shakespeare, but it is cheap and cheerful fun. Watch out for the end sequence when Bart devises a cruel weapon and effectively becomes the ex-Terminator.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
Two teen hikers break in to a disused military research facility in the hills near Lost River Lake, and are attacked when they discover a pool and decide to swim. Maggie McKeown is a private detective charged with the task of finding the missing couple. After bullying a local drunkard, the pair trace them to the research base. During a struggle with a caretaker who confronts them, a panel switch is activated, inadvertently releasing an experimental strain of mutant piranha fish into the river - creatures which have adapted to cold water conditions, and are just as bloodthirsty. Now everyone along the lake and river is a potential victim: summer camp kids, locals who live and fish on the river and, perhaps worst of all, an entire community in celebration...
This film unashamedly exploits the success of Jaws - even down to one of the characters seen playing a Jaws arcade game. The plot, such as it is, follows very similar lines, with lots of people enjoying themselves and the mayor refusing to heed any warnings until a bloodbath ensues. Roger Corman was a well-known B-movie filmmaker. He produced some gems and (let’s be honest) some turkeys too. Piranha was a low budget race against time. There were many single takes, and plenty of quick-cut editing tricks, both to keep up the pace of events and to prevent the viewing audience from looking too closely at the cheap effects.
The job of directing the film went to the then untested Joe Dante who, with the restraints of time and money still managed to garner a more than healthy income from the finished product. When the film was released in 1978 it made a minor splash in the industry. Unfortunately, today’s viewing public will no doubt find the proceedings pretty slow and mundane. Furthermore, it has its silly moments, such as how easily killer fish get released into the river (a fight over a switch), and the government official who falls (or, rather, throws) himself to the attacking Piranha. The remake of recent years is undoubtedly a more refined, sexy and gruesome film, but I’m an avid supporter of the underdog and just love the stories of people who cut their teeth against the odds, showing early signs of the greatness to come - such as the then seventeen year old make-up and effects wizard Rob Bottin.
Extras include an Audio Commentary by Joe Dante and Jon Davison, and old cine-footage filmed at the time, showing the Piranha on sticks and everyone having a great time except Joe Dante who was under great pressure. There is a Making of... which interviews many of the cast and crew, a series of Outtakes, a Stills Gallery, and Radio and TV Spots (i.e. trailers). A good example of the story behind the film being better than the film itself.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2012)
Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) is a small-time crook who gets mixed-up with two unsavoury characters. They threaten him into taking part in an armed robbery. Whilst the others are caught Jimmy escapes with the cash, only to lose it under a truck after an accident. Guessing that the gang will give his name to the police, he flees and finally takes refuge in the uppermost roof pinnacle of the Chrysler Building (like you do). Here he finds a dead body, but instead of screaming and getting the hell out (as his cowardly portrayal would surely do) he climbs the ladder into the cone itself. Inside, he discovers a nest with what looks like a large egg. Meanwhile, Detective Shepard (David Carradine) is investigating a series of mutilated bodies. When too many witnesses to ignore report having seen a giant bird, Jimmy soon realises he has bargaining power with the police. His long-suffering girlfriend and Shepard try to persuade him to do the right thing, but Jimmy has to learn the hard way that not everything is about him...
Q The Winged Serpent is a monster movie from the '80s which is still fondly remembered by some people. It comes from writer, producer and director Larry Cohen, who was also responsible (yes, that is the right word) for the It's Alive Trilogy. Just like those films this seems to be based in some strange unreality. Yes, it's about a giant man-eating bird that might be an Aztec god, but any supernatural subject should be set in a solid natural environment to work properly, and sadly this falls short in that respect.
I suppose the makers should be commended for attempting a giant bird on the big screen, but when seen in full the creation just made me cringe and pretend I hadn't noticed. Much more effective were the aerial shots, the shadows on passing skyscrapers and the super-fast glimpses as the bird attacked. Clash of the Titans, released around this time, was much more successful with its fantasy creations. Possibly it was due to the increased number of Ray Harryhausen stop-motion and special effects dropped into a Greece of myths and legends.
Typecasting is alive and well, too. Even now, I can't watch David Carradine without thinking of his Grasshopper character from the excellent seventies series Kung Fu. The Kill Bill films has made that situation worse rather than better, because in them he uses a multitude of martial arts!
The extras on the DVD at first glance seem better than they are. A commentary is only joined by two trailers, biographies & film notes, a gallery and Q Memorabilia via DVD ROM content.
In short, Q The Winged Serpent isn't quite good enough that I would recommend you get out of bed to buy it, and it isn't quite bad enough that you can enjoy it as a B-Movie. It floats somewhere in between. A sort of flying turkey.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2005)
On the small island of White Sands the head of a dune biker is found. Evidence points strongly to a shark attack, but it is too far up the beach. A shark expert is called in, and the sheriff wants to close the beach. However, the deputy sheriff’s ex-boyfriend turns up with a proposal to put White Sands back on the map. He wants to hold a huge beach party, inviting teens country wide. In reality, he wants to make money to pay the mobsters on his trail, but the mayor sanctions his plans, and it helps when the mayor is your own father. Even when he witnesses a sand shark consume his financial aid, he fails to warn anyone, seeing only dollar signs behind his eyes. Pretty soon the party is underway, and the vibrations caused by the loud music attract a hoard of sand sharks who have now tasted blood. No one takes any notice of the grizzled old timer, but he may be their only salvation...
Sand Sharks wobbles unsteadily on top of the fence between horror B-movie and farce. The promotional blurb says it has its tongue firmly in cheek, although sometimes it tries too hard to be straight Jaws-type mainstream horror. This is where it trips up and becomes extremely cliched. I think the director should have planned an all-out spoof from the beginning, because the action has a lot going for it in that respect.
Stereotypical characters like the old codger who says he can help, but who everyone ignores reminds me of many past examples of film village loons who step out suddenly and say, “Don go thar! Strange things be ‘appening.” The funniest moment - and even now I’m not certain if it was intended to be humorous - involved the first shark attack on the partygoers. There are no more than fifty-odd teens on the beach, but when a shark emerges from the sand they spend an age screaming and running in different directions in what looks like a blatant attempt to make it seem as if there are considerably more people involved.
The composite rendering of the sharks is somewhat cartoony, but thankfully no shot is dwelled upon long enough for you to sit there and note its more intricate faults.
Much as I’ve pointed out the shortcomings of Sand Sharks, it is a fun viewing experience in the manner that you might enjoy a 1950s B-movie, warts and all.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2012)
A fire is raging through a section of Bear Valley National Park, but the mayor and the new sheriff are reluctant to close the park because, providing the wind doesn’t drastically change direction, the tourists will be safe. Besides, many of the holidaymakers are leaving of their own accord and demanding their money back. However, the blaze is driving the wildlife out of its natural habitat, making it easy for illicit poachers. A dominating man brings his wife to the area hoping to make money by shooting something; he has no idea that he will soon become the prey. A young scientist has paid a local hunter to accompany him in tracking down and studying the legend that is Bigfoot, after years of attempting to prove its existence. When some bodies are discovered, the indication is a bear attack. The only one who knows for a fact what they are facing is the hunter, because he has seen it before...
The opening scene contains some of the worst acting I have ever seen. In the foreground of the shot the fire chief is exclaiming, “Oh!” and “Ah!”, bending over and mopping his brow unconvincingly with a soot-stained handkerchief. In the background, a line of fire fighters are using axes to dig a trench. They appear choreographed, all moving in unison like a dance, and hitting the same point at their feet with little force or effort. This doesn’t bode well for the film but, thankfully, it does improve. The characters are somewhat stereotypical: we have the town newcomer, who is the sheriff; there is the rugged, no-nonsense hunter; the naive but determined young scientist; and the weak female who learns to fend for herself.
I must say that all sightings of the beast are mere glimpses, with only one full-on face shot which I’m pleased to say doesn’t disappoint. The director even has enough sense not to linger on its features. I particularly enjoyed the chase sequence where you see the creature running sporadically on two legs and four. The interaction between the players is predictable but nevertheless engaging, although it’s inevitable in this film, as many other creature features, that practically the entire cast is cannon fodder, so to speak. The attacks are well-handled for the most part, edited in cutaways so that your mind fills in the gaps as per your requirements.
I couldn’t help feeling I was watching Jurassic Park, without the children and with the dinosaurs replaced by a Bigfoot. So, aside from the points I’ve mentioned, and the annoying periodic warning message scrolling across the screen on my review copy, Savage proves an enjoyable 87 minutes of nonsense.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2011)
A scientist working on plant growth deep in swamp land, makes a startling discovery. A power-mad businessman gatecrashes the celebrations, steals the formula and kills everyone involved in the project. The scientist is dumped in the swamp, but explosive reactions with the newly discovered chemical causes a metamorphosis into a creature, part plant, part human...
Although I'm certain the cast realised Swamp Thing was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, this is not so evident as it is in the sequel. The impression is given that the attempt here was to emulate a 1950s B-movie for a more modern age. The story is adapted from an old D.C. Comics series, but more closely follows the style of the horror E.C. Comics.
Just in case the viewing audience doesn't get it, the humour is occasionally exaggerated. The scientist creature stands in the swamp and gives it plenty of "Grruarghh!!" to no one in particular. There's dialogue like, "Some of the men think it's one of them abdominal snowmens." When the unscrupulous businessman tests the formula on one of his henchmen, the individual transmogrifies into a rabid version of the Doormouse from Alice in Wonderland. But he soon gets his comeuppance when he tries the potion himself and turns into a fanged furry biped. Very dangerous he is too; anyone who sees him would surely die laughing.
Adrienne Barbeau, who was great as the sultry-voiced lighthouse D.J. in John Carpenter's The Fog, Plays Cable, sent to the swamp laboratory to observe progress - although it's never quite explained in what capacity. When the others are killed, she escapes, only to be recaptured, escape, captured, escape and captured. As an encore she escapes again. Did I mention she gets captured? Well, you get the picture. The purpose of all this nonsense is so that our vegetarian hero can rear-up and throw a few men around. She spends the final scenes running around in her underwear, trying not to bubble-over - if you get my drift.
You don't exactly have to be among Mensa's elite to follow the plot; in fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find one. That's fine; the film achieves exactly what it set out to, finding its niche and pushing no boundaries.
Swamp Thing was written and directed by one Wes Craven, who moved on to better things with A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream, to name but two. It's probably telling that there's no interview or commentary from the man himself; he's probably trying to forget it ever happened.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
When a military establishment is attacked by a huge swarm of African killer bees, scientist Crane leads the fight to combat the threat before it reaches Houston. However, that's easier said than done when the bees act with an intelligent hive mind, and thwart each attempt to stop them. Meanwhile the swarm is growing in size...
With more big names than you can shake a script at, you would expect a good film with strong performances. Wouldn't you? The first third is instantly forgettable; the plot crawls along on its hands and knees, pleading for some life to be pumped into it, and the dialogue is stilted as if nobody quite knows what to do with themselves.
Just when you begin to despair, the pace picks up. Richard Widmark stomps up and down trying to look important, and Michael Caine, sounding exactly as he does in every other film, finally gains a purpose. You just long for him to say, "You're only supposed to blow up the bloody bees!"
The slow motion swimming impressions seen when the bees attack the first small town is hilarious. Richard Chamberlain goes one step further with his Saturday Night Fever disco dance when the bees find their way into a nuclear power station. Although comical, it's also sad; Chamberlain is a marvellous actor woefully under-utilised here.
This is the second movie in succession I have reviewed where flame-throwers have come into play. In this one, it is decided by officialdom to set Houston ablaze after it has been evacuated and the bees have arrived. Budgetary restraints means this consists of a dozen men torching a single car and waving the flame-throwers aimlessly in the air. When the bees infiltrate the Houston building in which our heroes lie, the flame-throwers are again brought into action, this time inside, causing pandemonium as people are accidentally set ablaze and, in their panic, bump into others, so spreading the conflagration. I didn't know whether to laugh at this scene or be horrified.
There's a nice little scene between Caine and Fonda about beer and pizza, but most of the film's dialogue is cringe-worthy and inspires laughter for the wrong reasons. "Can we really count on a scientist who prays?" a character enquires of Widmark. "I wouldn't count on one who doesn't," is the reply. Apparently the movie had a dialogue coach; I'll bet it was a 32-seater.
I seem to be giving the impression The Swarm is unworthy of consideration, when that's really not the case. It's just that with director Irwin Allen's pedigree of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, you can't help wondering how much better it might have been.
The piece de resistance comes when the final credits roll. A disclaimer in case the honey bee wants to take the film makers to court for defamation of character: "The African killer bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hardworking American honey bee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation." How about that for political correctness before its time!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003)
In the small rural town of Midwich a dark shadow passes overhead and very soon all the inhabitants – including the animals – lose consciousness. The police and army are obliged to set up a barrier to prevent any outsider succumbing to the same phenomenon. When the people come-to it is discovered that all of the women are pregnant. A representative from the government persuades the frightened budding new mums to keep them. When they are all born on the same night, it becomes obvious that these are not normal children. All are white-haired, have psychic or telekinetic powers and are very advanced in terms of intelligence. When they become dangerous, the whole town is in fear. Only a humble schoolteacher seeks to block them from his mind. But is it enough...?
The arrival of a John Carpenter film is always a cause for celebration in my opinion. Being a big fan, I consider most of his projects to be timeless classics. This one is a little different. It’s a needless remake of the 1960 black and white classic, which is itself based on the John Wyndham novel, The Midwich Cuckoos. I always wonder at the curious need Hollywood has to update perfectly good old films. It only displays a blatant lack of ideas. I can only assume it’s a purely money-making exercise, with the motive being to entertain a new generation of short-sighted people who won’t watch anything unless it’s in colour.
Which brings me neatly to Carpenter’s own reason for making this movie. He’s readily admitted that he only did it for the money; he was approached and offered the dosh, so he took it. That’s why this isn’t a Carpenter project in the normal sense. It’s not written or produced by him, and so wouldn’t be as close to his heart – or ours as fans. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t put his own trademark stamp on the movie. Certain direction techniques are noticeable so that the remake is faithful whilst being brought into the – then – correct decade, with a little more impact for the deaths or injuries. Of course, where Carpenter makes his greatest impact is in the music score, which he handled with Dave Davies. Accompanying the closing credits you’ll hear the full main theme. Great stuff.
The film is quite slow for the first ten minutes or so, with the quaint little town being portrayed as peace and harmony personified. A little too twee, perhaps. Things quickly pick up though; the phenomenon which makes everyone pass out, and the subsequent consequences are well-handled. The appearance of the children’s eyes is enhanced and exaggerated, not only lighting up but even intensifying and turning a different colour. A little heart is written into the plot by having one of the boys act human in certain regards – unlike the others. This leaves the ending open to interpretation and a possible sequel which never happened – at least for this one. There was a sequel to the original, called Children of the Damned.
Kirstie Alley, of Cheers, plays a government scientist who tries to study the situation but quickly gets well out of her depth. Mark Hamill (Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, and animated Batman’s The Joker) is the local priest. However, this film will probably be most remembered as being the last full film for Superman’s Christopher Reeve, before his ultimately fatal horse riding accident.
So, if you haven’t seen the original you’ll probably enjoy this, even if it doesn’t knock your socks off. If, like me, you have seen the original – or, even better, read the book – you’ll almost certainly just think ‘why?’ There is only a trailer on offer here; that’s more than a little disappointing, as John Carpenter’s commentaries are some of the most informative and entertaining (not to mention self-deprecating) I’ve heard. But as I don’t think he sees this as one of his personal pet projects, I suppose it’s not surprising.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2015)
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