Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Review: Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988)

By Caroline Rennox

“In the latter days of the 20th century, there arose a difference of opinion… “

 The trailer for Hell Comes to Frogtown goes out of its way to remind you that this is a bad movie. Do you like classy, artful movies about life’s deep philosophical conundrums? Turn around pal, this movie ain’t for you. It touts the crazy plot and cheesy acting as the worst you’ll ever see in a way that sounds an awful lot like someone trying really hard to convince you they don’t care what you think because they’re totally doing all of this ironically. Or maybe they just knew that the promise of an hour and a half of pure trash would be an irresistible lure to a certain kind of movie-lover. Well, consider me lured.

 The movie takes place in a future ravaged by a nuclear war, where the surviving wildlife has been mutated into walking, talking parodies of humanity. (Just the amphibians though- nothing weird.) The titular Sam Hell is a drifter and serial impregnator, tracked down by the matriarchal Medtech- seemingly the governing body of this post-apocalyptic future- who want to us his rare super-fertility for the good of mankind. First though, they trap his valuable equipment in a chastity belt rigged to explode if he tries to escape and send him on a mission to prove himself- head into Frogtown and rescue five fertile women kidnapped by the evil Commander Toty.

 The plot is, of course, just an excuse for a series of weird and bizarrely hilarious events to torment Roddy Piper’s beefcake hero with. He gets electro-shocked in the groin more times than is reasonable from people who consider his junk to be valuable treasure. He has to fend off the attentions of their amorous amphibian spy who is aiding them in the rescue and later, having being caught by Toty’s second-in-command Bull, he is saved at the last minute from a chainsaw based castration when the terrifying device runs out of fuel. It’s like a ‘Carry-On’ movie but with a lot more violence. And frogs.

 Not all of the comedy set-pieces centre on Sam. Sandahl Bergman does a great job in her role as the straight-laced Nurse Spangle- dedicated to debasing herself for the cause, whether by her ridiculous regulation-compliant fake-seduction of Sam or by posing as his scantily-clad captive in a ploy to get into Frogtown. She’s all long limbs and elbows, adding a self-conscious awkwardness to everything she does, including a hilarious scene where Spangle has to come up with a sexy dance to help Commander Toty’s ‘three snakes’ get in the mood. It’s a performance that lifts her character from more than just eye candy and she’s a big part of what made this movie work for me.

 That the film looks pretty great is another definite point in its favour. You can definitely tell the budget wasn’t astronomical, with only really a small number of locations and smoke-drenched sets used, but the creature effects are actually quite impressive, with inside-frog Arabella as a grotesque stand out. There’s a variety to the mutant effects that gives the other Frogtown inhabitants a sense of individuality that makes the world seem a little more realised.

 The movie takes a great delight in parodying the kind of adolescent fantasies that these kind of movies often present- where a tough loner travels the wasteland, fighting the bad guys and winning the sexy gratitude of damsels in distress. Sam is, of course, neutralised by the all-female organisation that captures him but they’re all pretty desperate to jump his bones. Gruff soldier Centinella, who comes along on the rescue mission, jumps into bed with Sam on their first night making camp and Nurse Spangle’s recommendation for treating a traumatised escapee bride is for Sam to give his best shot at impregnating the poor woman. And it works! Her thousand yard stare is cured after a session with Sam’s superjunk and she’s suddenly well enough to skip back to Med-tech headquarters.

 The film has a kind of weird attitude to women and sex that’s hard to pin down. Yes, Toty is kidnapping ladies to satisfy his ‘three snakes’ but he’s enough of a gentlefrog to get them in the mood with a ritual involving lots of candles and silky scarves. The final badguy (spoilers!) turns out to be the cop from the start, now known as Count Sodom, who is angry at Sam for knocking up his little girl but even more furious at the this new world order where women call the shots in regards to procreation. Even Sam himself turns out to be something of a classic romantic hero, hiding his tragic past behind rippling pecs and some truly cheesy one-liners. Squint and you can see him on the cover of a very weird Mills & Boon.
 Donald G Jackson went on to make a whole string of movies set in the same Frogtown universe, although with none of the original cast and not much of whatever magic it is that makes Hell Comes to Frogtown work. Maybe this isn’t a great movie but hitting that cinematic sweet-spot where bad becomes trashy genius isn’t as easy as you might think. Sometimes that leftfield inspiration that drives a man to make a whole string of movies where a guy fights frogs in a post-apocalyptic desert, crystallizes into a cult masterpiece- a slimy green addition to the trash canon. Welcome to Frogtown.

Hell Comes To Frogtown Is Available Now On Blu Ray.

Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988) Trailer

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

By Mark Wilkinson
The Saw Is Family.

 Set thirteen years after the first film’s eponymous slaughter in the Texas farmhouse. The Sawyer family have escaped their crimes. Still roaming freely, continuing to kill across the state. On their tail however, is former Texas Ranger “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) who is investigating the disappearance of his niece and nephew, Sally and Franklin (characters from the first movie). He crosses paths with Texas DJ "Stretch" Brock (Caroline Williams), who is broadcasting one night when two obnoxious college students call in and appear to be murdered on air by someone wielding a chainsaw. The buzz---as it would seem--is back!

 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre--the very definition of horror. A spellbinding nightmare. After such an iconic masterpiece, it would seem obvious that no one - not even Hooper - could repeat the same trick with the same ingredients and create something as horrifying for the sequel. Tobe understood that. Why even make just a copy of its predecessor? Instead of only atmospheric terror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 emphasizes the black comedy side of the original with the buzz of chainsaws and icky gore. The bits of dark humor certainly were there in the first film, but many minds barely registered any of that, as they were too busy digesting the intense brutality on screen.

 With the ridiculous level of gore and the cartoonishly comedic tone, it’s easy to understand why many people rejected The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 at the time of its release (many still do). It is unlike any other horror sequel. Sure, many horror sequels have departed from their predecessors, however there is possibly no bigger shift between two horror movies in the same franchise than between Texas chainsaw 1 and 2. Hooper's original is a sweaty, claustrophobic masterpiece that’s terrifying, specifically because of its documentary-like immediacy. It doesn't feel so much like a movie as it does, some horrible thing that someone accidentally caught on camera, a quality that gives it a sense of danger. The sequel, on the other hand, also directed by Hooper and written by L.M. Kit Carson (screenwriter of Paris, Texas), goes off in a very different direction. It's much more black comedy than horror.

 As a product of the ’80s, the movie really cranks up the gore. the tone of the movie makes the violence much more uncomfortable because it's taking place within the context of a scene that's simultaneously comic and horrifying, garishly photographed and shrill. This film is a deranged and twisted return to Texas, full of uncomfortable emotions. Simultaneously disgusting and brutally hilarious, you can’t help but fall in love with the unique weirdness of this mad "devil's playground" that switches all the time from laughter to deeply disturbing feelings in a heartbeat. This is the magic of Texas Chainsaw 2: it never lets you settle into a groove, never lets you get comfortable, yet makes us laugh at things that are truly horrifying, disturbing and nightmarish.

 There aren’t many actors that could deliver the campy lunacy and urge to catch the crazy cannibals as Dennis Hopper does in his role as the former Texas Marshall "Lefty", who tries to solve the case with the authority of a bad-ass action star. Dennis Hopper used to claim this was the worst movie he ever made. This is a bummer for a lot of reasons, not the least of which because it suggests he forgot ever starring in Super Mario Bros. Mainly though, it’s because he's terrific in the movie. Completely dialed into its lunatic frequency and creating a "hero" that's every bit as weird and maniacal as the villains and causing just as much evil as good.

 Caroline Williams “Stretch” is the movie's real MVP though, as she is firstly, grounded and strong -- the kind of woman who puts herself on the line to play the tapes of the Sawyers' latest murder on the air -- but by the end has completely given in to terror. Stretch is just as strong as any final girl -- she's a fighter and a survivor -- but her reaction to everything that happens is understandably, abject terror. However, she never loses the presence of the strong-willed woman we get to see in the beginning and before the end. We see her utilize and flip the misogyny of females that was represented in horror at the time (the camera will frequently search for "suggestive" angles, when our attention turns to her). She escapes death by mastering her sexuality, remaining courageous, even when in complete danger and treated as an object of Leatherface’s Freudian projections. She judges the sexually disordered Leatherface, neutralizing him with her expectations of orgasmic pleasure. Crushing the sexually frustrated male that tries to reclaim his masculinity with over-compensating power tools.

 Many people claim that this movie tries to ruin one of the all-time scariest movie characters Leatherface, by turning him into a horny teenager with discipline problems. Sure, Bill Johnson's performance under the mask is sillier and spazzier than Gunnar Hansen's, but so is the movie in which he's appearing in. It's different, sure, but I personally enjoy the way he’s represented in this movie. Again, it’s just down to personal preference, here he’s portrayed almost like an unpredictable, over sized teenager, throwing tantrums in the shape of chainsaws. He's the youngest brother who is clumsy, truculent and who, in his way, just happens to discover his first teen-crush. Given more of a "gentle giant" feel, even if such a thing is possible when that involves him putting a skin mask on his love interest's face to protect her.

 I truly wish there were more sequels like this, ones that are willing to take huge risks instead of trying to remake the original, this is an ambitious cult classic that dares to bend the rules rather than cater to the whims of expectations. Just like the original, this film is absolutely gleeful in its repulsiveness, even if it's a lot less terrifying in this context. It is a special dish that excites, entertains, disturbs and amuses, sometimes all of those at the same time. Hooper tackles them in a wonderful manner without completely abandoning the original Chainsaw's petrifying magic. It’s an exceptional campy action horror comedy. Instead of giving the fans what they wanted to see, Hooper made the film he wanted to make. By purposefully subverting expectations, Hooper ended up capturing the spirit of the 80s in exactly the way the first film did for the 70s. He Turned down the gritty, grimy realism, and cranked up the camp to 11. Made the Sawyer family into businessmen, who literally chew people up and spit them out to achieve their ends. Dropped the scream queen who survives purely by luck of the draw, and opted for a final girl who fights back, both with chainsaws and sexuality.

 Horror sequels don't get any trashier or greater than this.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Is Available Now On Blu Ray

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) Trailer

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review: A Boy And His Dog (1975)

What You Are in the Wasteland

 The fantastical allure of the post apocalyptic world is the same as that of the orphaned hero found in so many children’s stories. The world of the wasteland is free of the burdens and responsibilities of everyday life- no jobs, no bills, no rules but those you make. It’s a fantasy where the harsh glare of atomic fallout starkly divides into light and shadow, and where survivors are either hard-fought heroes or despicable villains. A Boy and his Dog is not that fantasy.

 The film lays it’s cards on the table pretty quickly. We are introduced to our Boy, Vic, and his telepathic Dog, Blood, as Vic eager to pick up the leftover scraps from the gang rape of some poor wasteland survivor. Waiting until the raiders have left, lest they become that night’s dinner, Blood admonishes Vic for risking their lives for a cut of the action. Alas, the victim is already dead and Vic laments what a shame it is that they cut her up - she could’ve been used a couple more times! “Ah, war is hell” comes the grim punchline from Blood. Cue the twangy upbeat country music.

 In this grim and morbidly comic movie, Vic and Blood’s strange relationship is, unsurprisingly, the main focus. Blood’s human-sensing telepathy has left him unable to forage and hunt for his own food and Vic is on an unending quest to find a woman and get laid. Driven by these twin urges, the pair are led eventually to Quilla, a woman from the subterranean world of the ‘Down Under’ who blows Vic’s mind with her lust for consensual sex and talk of this strange thing called ‘love’. Naturally, she’s a honeytrap.

 Leaving an injured Blood up top, Vic follows her to the bizarre world of the vault-dwellers. A nightmarish parody of 1960’s Americana replete with star spangled flags, marching bands and homecoming queens. The people of the Down Under use garish makeup to hide their sickly faces and a veneer of polite, traditional respectability to hide a brutally enforced regime where you can be executed for ‘lack of respect, wrong attitude and failure to obey authority’. Their stunted recreation of conservative America turns out to be a little stale in other ways too- they lured Vic down not to civilize him, but to use his (presumably irradiated) sperm to repopulate their dwindling society. Quilla, too, turns out to be more than she seems- less the helpless, naive victim and more of an icy, scheming bitch, who hastily drags Vic into an escape plan when her bloody coup also fails to bear any fruit.

 The film takes its time to show us other micro-societies that have formed in the wake of the apocalypse. In the tiny capitalist world of the bartertown- boasting both brothel and movie theatre- we see its patrons give up hard-scavenged food to watch crude black and white movies that show a glamorised version of the sex and violence that dominate their lives. An encounter with a wasteland ‘king’, drawn through the desert on a chariot replete with minstrel, harem and slaves is a further mocking indictment of humanity’s bluntly unimaginative predilection for repeating its mistakes.

 Visually the movie is full of all the imagery that is now visual shorthand for ‘post-nuclear apocalypse’: dusty buildings and clothing both cobbled together out of the scraps of the wasteland; the demented, pressure-cooker world of the vaults and the dusty, sun-bleached over-world that has you blinking phantom grit out of your eyes. The film is an acknowledged influence on such iconic series as George Miller’s Mad Max movies, and the Fallout videogames and though A Boy and His Dog is a little smaller in scope than either of those, it’s influence has been far-reaching.

 The film is based on a short story by legendarily cantankerous genre writer Harlan Ellison, who partially wrote the script until he suffered an attack of writer’s block. Notoriously, he hated the last line of the film but there are other significant deviations within it which alter the one of the story being told.

 Ellison’s Quilla is the naive pawn of the Down Under’s tyrannical society that movie-Quilla pretends to be. She’s a prisoner, waiting to be married off to some waiting suitor, who escapes with Vic because their brief liaison has inspired her to rattle the bars of her cage. Both she and Vic take their morality from the broken societies that raised them- his an unsophisticated world of animalistic brutality and hers a hypocritical facade of respectability and repression.

 Movie-Quilla, on the other hand, is a classic preppy bitch, manipulating the helpless boys around her with only the thought of replacing the Down Under’s ruling party with her own. Vic’s fate in the movie version of the Down Under is both horrifying and hilarious- no stud-duty for him, instead he’s strapped to a milking machine with each deposit carefully labelled and gifted to the line of young brides queuing up to ‘marry’ him. Movie-Quilla only rescues Vic from this torture so she can use his brutal nature to help her rise to the top of the pile but her plan is de-railed and the two make a hasty escape back to the wasteland above.

 It’s from here that the movie reaches its famously bleak conclusion. Vic is reunited with a starving, wounded Blood. Quilla whines on in the background like a spoiled brat about how ‘if he loved her’ Vic should abandon the mangy cur, whilst Vic himself makes apologetic pleas for forgiveness to his dying friend. The movie fades to black and we open on a new morning, with Vic and a much perkier Blood heading off into the sunset. Chipper after his hearty meal, Blood muses on the choices of the departed third wheel- "Well, I'd say she certainly had marvelous judgement, Albert, if not particularly good taste.

 Ellison rejected the ending of the film, describing the last line as ‘moronic, hateful and chauvinist’ and he wasn’t alone in his condemnation. Feminist and fellow new-wave science fiction writer Joanna Russ wrote that she could not support the move because she would not be ‘complicit in her own murder’ and lamented the loss of the subtle ambiguity present in the original short story. There’s definitely an irony in the way the movie happily plays with jokes about rape, murder and cannibalism but balks at using any of the profanity of the original- Hollywood respectability would fit right in with the Down Under’s society.

 Ellisons’ work often features unlikeable, downright nasty characters but for all his distrust of the idea that humanity’s default setting is good and wholesome, he does have faith in the ability of individuals to make the right choices on their own. Ellison’s Vic comes back changed by his journey into the underworld. Reflecting on his choice at the end Vic is reminded that Quilla said he didn’t understand love but, sure he did, ‘a boy loves his dog’.

 For all it’s adolescent humour and for all it lacks the subtlety of the original story, A Boy and His Dog is a trashy (and trash-filled) classic that leaves you with plenty to think over. We need stories without easy answers, that aren’t just hero fantasies where we can forget that the brutality of the wasteland is the same driving force as in the society that created it. Vic doesn’t come away from his adventure an unadulterated hero but he is changed enough to recognise his own capacity for love and his ability to sacrifice for it. Maybe that’s enough to hold out hope for humanity a little longer. Character, after all, is what you are in the wasteland.

A Boy And His Dog (1975) Trailer

Monday, August 27, 2018

Review: Miracle Mile (1989)

By Mark Wilkinson

Listen, i'm just a guy that picked up the phone.

 Miracle Mile Follows the tale of Harry Washello. A hopeless romantic who meets the woman of his dreams Julie and they fall completely in love within the few hours they spend together, strolling through the LA landscape in a hazy daze of 80’s summery love. They arrange to meet up again at midnight outside Julie’s work when her shift finishes. Harry however, manages to oversleep from his nap due to a power cut in his hotel, he finally wakes up after 3am and frantically dashes to the cafe hoping he hasn’t ruined his chances with his perfect woman. As you might expect, disheartened Julie has long gone when he arrives. He tries calling her in the phone booth outside, but to no avail. Moments later the phone starts to ring and Harry instinctively goes back and takes the call. It’s not Julie on the other end though, but a shaken young soldier named Chip who’s allegedly calling from a missile silo in North Dakota. Chip has misdialled and believes he’s talking to his father, frantically imparting some devastating news, nuclear missiles are on their way in approximately 70 minutes. There’s a sound of gunfire on the line and then Chip is silenced. Shocked and unsure if the caller was genuine or a sick prank caller. What ensues is a Kafkaesque journey through the barren early morning streets of Los Angeles, where anything and everything goes, as Harry sets out to find Julie and escape L.A. whilst also trying to make sense of all the escalating madness, all in the span of some of the most bizarre, heart-stopping hour-and-twenty-minutes ever put to film.

 And what a delightful anxiety-riddled batch of madness it is, all brought to life through Steve Jarnatt’s excellent direction, Theo van de Sande’s eye-catching cinematography and the implementation of a constricted time window. Miracle mile has some of the most confident and consistent styles I've seen put to film. It's a fever dream of music, tension and bright and popping colours that efficiently and flawlessly create a world of ever-present menace, paranoia and anxiety; constantly yet subtlety cranking up the absurdity as the possibility of the worlds-end draws near. De Jarnatt completely understands how to use every frame of his film and how to extract everything from LA and the strip of Miracle Mile, aiding it to carve out the movies distinct personality. Tangerine Dream's completely mesmerising and sparkling score pulsates almost constantly, replicating our heartbeats whilst also venturing into some powerful synthesized soundscapes that help accentuate just how wonderfully strange this night is.

 One of the strongest parts of the movie is the colourful and lively characters that are on display throughout. The aforementioned couple of harry and Julie are adorably endearing, yet it's the amazing cast of eccentrics (played by almost every amazing character-actor from the 80’s) that they encounter amidst the chaos of the films runtime that really bring forward the movies frantic and fun spirit. Although the movie never rests in order to spend time on character development or narrative development, they are still there in abundance - this is a film that is purposeful and surgical in every single frame it uses. It's committed to a confrontation with fate, and when heroics become increasingly silly and unsustainable, we see the characters, especially Harry, contend with the monumentality of the inevitable. It is a story about romance in the face of the apocalypse, a tale about missed chances and the significance of one's individual happiness in the face of mankind's greatest catastrophe. Rich in emotional resonance Neck-deep in the feel of hopeless, late-night scrambling’s and boiling over with tension.

 Although its tone and general mood veer towards the area of nihilism, there’s an ever-running sense of optimism and hope lying underneath the hysteria. Present solely in the characters of Harry and Julie, full of heart and infatuation for one another, who serve as the perfect counterweight to the madness presented on screen. They embody that one magical feeling that makes humans so unique and the one thing to remember mankind by--Love. Love may just be the decisive factor for humanity, an aspect which has the ability to change people altogether, especially considering a scenario like the inevitable doom of the human race, a time of survival and thinking solely for oneself. Love is still possible, it happens during the best of times, yet also the worst of times, including humanity’s final hour.

 Miracle Mile is, in its purest form, a devastating film, one that brings to the forefront of its audience the insanity the universe can thrust upon us at any given moment, but it’s also one which tells its viewers that, whatever outcome fate may bring us to, there’s nothing to fear so long as we are surrounded by the people we love, as well as the drive to live our lives to the fullest extent. It’s a tragedy, but it’s one where humanity will be remembered not for its selfishness in the midst of madness and chaos but instead their innate ability to live, love, and care for one another. It's beautiful, fun, sweet and also emotionally devastating. Furthermore, it is without a doubt, unforgettable.

Miracle Mile Is Available Now On Blu Ray

Miracle Mile (1989) Trailer

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Attack Of The 50ft Icons

Attack Of The 50ft Icons

By Caroline Rennox

 The success of the sci-fi B-movies of the 50’s and 60’s often went hand in hand with how well they could sell whatever new gimmick or special effect had got them greenlit in the first place. Churned out at a rapid pace to sate audiences hungry for novelty, they haven’t always aged well but for every iguana with a fin glued on the back, there are some films and some monsters which will remain iconic. Modern audiences are harder and harder to impress with computer generated special effects that seem to have removed the limits of what we can show on the big screen, but there is one thing that seems to endure- the spectacle of scale. From our earliest stories of giants and titans to modern B-movies like new Stath-stravaganza The Meg, humanity has relentless appetite for the uncommonly big.

 There’s plenty of examples of movies where the extremes of scale are the main attraction. Films like The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) all show us the wonder and terror of the everyday world when it’s distorted in size. These are movies about finding the fantastic in the mundane, where normal rules are suspended and quick-thinking and bravery are all that stands between you and death by giant ant. For movies about the macro side of the scale, we tend to see less focus on the world but on individuals made monstrous by their size. They’re more often about giant animals or genuine monsters, like King Kong or the numerous behemoths that populate kaiju movies. When it’s our fellow man that’s the star attraction there’s more room to play around with our various tropes regarding giants. Is our giant a terrifying, unstoppable brute or a clumsy, ungainly simpleton? Moreover, it gives a chance to provide the giant with a little more depth and allow the audience to step into their enormous shoes.

 One of the first and biggest successes of the genre was 1957’s The Amazing Colossal Man. Directed by Bert Gordon, who became known as ‘Mister BIG’ for his association with these macro-monster movies, the film’s effects were an achieved using rear projection, where scenes are filmed with the actors standing in front of a screen in which previously filmed footage is playing. It’s a technique that can have variable success- the ghost-like appearance of the titular Colossal Man is a common problem.

 The movie milks its giant gimmick for all the freakshow fascination that it possibly can- marvel as the giant drinks from a barrel as if a dainty mug! Recoil as he tears apart the icons of the Las Vegas skyline! Beneath all the spectacle, however, is a rather slow and sombre tragedy with a great deal of pity for its man made monster. The story centres around Lt. Glenn Manning who is exposed to radiation during testing of a plutonium bomb (he would’ve been absolutely fine if he’d just stayed in that shallow trench with the other soldiers!). The radiation causes his growth via some biological technobabble and Manning is increasingly tormented by new freakish body. There are signs though that his torment isn’t only caused by his new monstrousness, he’s shown dreaming vivid flashbacks to the war- watching friends die and killing the enemy in blind terror. Manning’s horror at being thought a freak of nature is linked directly to his trauma and fear of what the war has made him. It’s that same fear that led him to leap out of the trench into certain death if it mean being able to save the pilot who’d blundered into range of their atomic test.

 Despite his devoted fiancĂ© Carol sticking by and supporting him throughout, Manning begins to lose his mind and goes on the rampage through Nevada. He’s completely disconnected from the tiny world around him, confused and angered by the people fleeing from his path. Finally, unable to tell friend from foe and beyond saving, Manning is cornered by the military and plunges to a certain death in the Boulder Dam.

 Of course, that certain death wasn’t enough to stop the inevitable sequel that the movie’s success demanded, and a disfigured Manning appeared again in War of the Colossal Beast where he finally met his end via high voltage power line- a death that would become a staple of the subsequent giant monster movies. Gordon went on further to shoehorn his trademark into the the 60’s teen movie cult classic Village of the Giants where a group of partying teenagers grow big and trash a town after ingesting a mysterious goo.

 Perhaps more well remembered than the Colossal Man is the 1958 movie that cashed in on his success- Attack of the 50ft Woman. Featuring the added novelty of a female protagonist, the 50ft Woman is a genuinely iconic character. In fact, my childhood love of these movies was re-ignited after I saw our local Fopp selling a t-shirt with the fantastic poster for the movie- the one where the bikini clad giant straddles a highway picking up cars in an exciting scene that in no way happens in the film.

 It was an odd film to go back and re-watch. Female power fantasies of the big and burly type aren’t often seen in cinema and I’m sure my childhood self was mainly enamored with the idea of being a massive lady who could smash things. In truth, we only see the our leading lady in her full 50ft fury in the last few minutes of the film and it feels a poor revenge for what she goes through in the preceding hour.

 Our heroine is no tragic war hero this time- Nancy Archer is a wealthy heiress with a history of mental illness and alcoholism. Manning’s faithful and true fiance is replaced by a philandering husband, whose cheating is done in plain sight of everyone in town and who starts plotting his wife’s murder as soon as he might be able to get away with it. Nancy seems to be seen as a laughingstock by the whole town, who are more than happy to write off the alien encounter that seals her fate as a booze fuelled delusion. Even the 50ft Nancy gets patronised by her doctors, sedated and tied to the bed by men who believe that “When woman reach the age of maturity, Mother Nature sometimes overworks the frustration to the point of irrationalism”.

 Nancy Archer spends Attack of the 50ft Woman patronised, cheated on and humiliated. Her enormous growth turns her into the public freakshow that Manning was terrified of becoming and her final revenge lasts mere seconds before she’s sent into electrified oblivion.

 I suppose you could say that Nancy’s true revenge has been in her staying power as a monster movie icon- she’s shown up in all but name in many forms since her 1958 debut, from cartoons to music videos. The giant woman can be an icon for female power and wrath but more often than not she’s also a source of titillation. Notorious schlock icon Roger Corman even got on the act producing 1995’s Attack of the 60ft Centrefold - which is exactly as classy as it sounds - and 2012’s Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader - which features a much Youtube’d scene in which the expanding breasts of our heroine pop out of her shirt.

 A possible antidote to all of this comes in the form of Christopher Guest’s 1993 HBO remake of the original Attack of the 50ft Woman. The film is a lot funnier than the original and has a lot more compassion for its leading lady, played this time by Daryl Hannah. Hannah’s performance deftly retains the movie’s tongue-in-cheek tone whilst anchoring it with her transformation from sweet, downtrodden victim to a woman whose new-found size leads her to rediscovering her confidence and finally becoming the woman she always was inside. Even Harry’s mistress, Cristi Conaway’s Honey Parker, gets a little more depth than her 1958 version- yes, she’s still a jealous would-be murderer but at least this time she’s motivated by a lust for the power denied to her by the men in this one-horse town, and not a desire for shiny trinkets.

 The 1993 version of Harry, however, manages to be even more awful than original, not least because of a truly sleazy performance from Daniel Baldwin. This Harry is actively trying to harm Nancy, not just thoughtlessly hurting her with his adultery and indifference to her suffering. In a thematically relevant twist, it turns out he is competing with her own father to keep her mentally off balance and under the thumb. When the newly enormous Nancy suggests that her new situation might lead revitalise their relationship he mocks her relentlessly until the stress caused by her anger causes her weak heart to give out. Thinking she’s dead, the scumbag gleefully runs off to start his new life with Nancy.

 It’s in the last act of the movie that this version finally manages to give this 50ft woman the triumph she deserves. We get some great shots of Nancy stomping through town and fighting off military attack choppers but this Nancy isn’t out for revenge. Her newly discovered realisation that it’s the men in her life who need to change has given her compassion for the unenlightened. She even lets Honey go, urging her to reform- “Don't be stupid your whole damn life. You're better than they are, you're smarter than they are, and you know more than you think.”

 Eventually, succumbing to the overwhelming firepower sent against her, Nancy collapses into the town’s surrounding power lines as per the giant movie monster tradition. But this time she escapes death, beamed into space by the same aliens who started her on this new path, with Harry firmly grasped in her hand.

 The final scenes wryly drive home the movie’s feminist themes. Harry is now trapped on the spaceship in a small room with three other kidnapped men. At the mercy of their enormous female captors, these men are trapped in an endless group therapy session until they can work through the toxic ideas at the heart of their version of manhood. Hilariously, for these men, traditional masculinity is a literal prison. As Nancy tells him “It’s a whole new universe Harry, and it’s up to you to catch up with us”.

 Monster movies have long entertained and frightened audiences but they’ve also allowed us to explore some of the fears that lurk at the heart of our society, throwing up a funhouse mirror reflection of what we are and what we might become. They can be revenge fantasies and symbols of power for the powerless. They can offer up a plea of understanding for the unknown. The giants of the movies I’ve talked about here are terrifying to the people confronted by them but also driven by their own terror. The tragic ends of these monsters suggest only one solution when you find your compassion waning in the face of fear - think big.

The Amazing Colossal Man Is Available Now On DVD 

*It may or may not also be available to view for free on youtube*

Attack Of The 50ft Woman Is Available To Rent Or Buy Now From Amazon Digital

The Amazing Colossal Man Trailer (1957)

Attack Of The 50ft Woman Trailer (1958)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: Branded To Kill (1963)

Branded to Kill (1963)

By Caroline Rennox
“Drink and women can be the death of a killer”

 Siejun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill comes with a lot of baggage - it is, after all, the film that got Suzuki fired for turning in something ‘incomprehensible’ and, worse, unprofitable to studio NIkkatsu’s director Kyusaki Hori. A long term and highly prolific director of studio Nikkatsu’s relentless b-movie production line, Suzuki had honed his talent for combining visually arresting, inventive filmmaking with the thrill of pure entertainment, but Branded’s willful disregard for the conventions of straightforward action cinema were too much of a gamble for a studio trying to weather massive changes in the industry.
 For an ‘incomprehensible’ film, Branded to Kill really has, at its core, a pretty straightforward plot - No.3 ranked contract killer Hanada falls in love with a strange woman, fails to complete an assigned kill, is betrayed by his wife and then relentlessly pursued by the mysterious No.1 killer. The plot, however, is almost of no consequence in a film which is so committed to providing its audience with such a strange, dreamlike experience. Suzuki’s film deliberately disrupts its own plot with unexplained jumps in time and location, which leave the viewer feeling as dislocated as Hanada himself. There are hints throughout that our No.3 killer isn’t quite the pro that his ranking would seem to suggest - as he continually drinks from his ever-present hip-flask and bottles of booze appear from nowhere, the film gains the feeling of a blearily recalled night of drunkenness. As we are dislocated in time and space by the film, Hanada struggles with making sense of his own reality.
 Despite lacking the distinctive use of colour seen in many of Suzuki’s other films, Branded had plenty to savour visually. We frequently view characters through pouring rain or otherwise obscured, sometimes gradually coming into focus from hazy shots that introduce an uncertainty in what we are really seeing. In one striking sequence, Hanada flees from his morbid lover Misako, his distress at being unable to kill her is amplified by a screen that is invaded by patterns of the same dead birds and butterflies that fill her apartment.

 If this all sounds a bit arty and po-faced, then it’s worth mentioning that the film is also wildly entertaining and blackly comic. According to leading man Joe Shishida, Suzuki’s artful direction extended to basing some wildly improbable looking sex scenes on artwork by Degas and jokingly gives his super serious hitman an erotic addiction to sniffing boiled rice. Hanada’s execution of his three diamond-smuggling targets are also rather cheerfully bizarre - from a hot air balloon getaway, to one target being shot through a sink drain from several floors below. These convoluted executions almost seem to be mocking the very idea of the highly skilled super-assassin, especially in a world in which hitmen appear to compete for a place in an arbitrary top ten ranking system.
 The final sequence of the film sees Hanada betrayed by his adulterous wife, certain that his lover is dead and pursued by the mysterious No.1 killer in an extended sequence of sweaty, drunken paranoia. No.1’s methods are appropriately bizarre as he eventually shows up at Hanada’s flat, insisting that they now must sleep, eat and piss together, with guns kept tantalisingly close on the table. After disappearing once again, challenging Hanada to meet him face on at an empty gymnasium, No.1 taunts him remotely with a gloating message about his imminent victory - ‘you’re tired, your nervous, you feel your destiny closing in on you… ‘. Perhaps this is the destiny of all killers, to die afraid and alone, surrounded by other predators?
 It’s impossible to cover everything that makes Branded to Kill such a unique and wonderful cinematic experience in one review and the film itself is one that yields new treasures on repeated viewing. It’s a film best enjoyed by giving in to the fever dream atmosphere and enjoying Suzuki’s endless attempts to entertain and delight his audience. With Arrow Video having created a beautifully packaged remaster of the film, there’s no reason not to seek out this true cinematic treasure.

Branded To Kill Is Available Now On Arrow Video Blu-Ray

Branded To Kill (1963) Trailer

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Review: Frankenhooker (1990)

By Mark Wilkinson

This movie has all the right parts in all the right places.

 Since his breakout midnight movie basket case, there were not many voices more distinctive in '80s horror than Frank Henenlotter. His movies feel like no others of the period, they are consistently gross, funny and completely outrageous. Henenlotter's body of work may not be well-made in the classical sense, but you have to admit, they're pretty damn original.

 When his fiancĂ©e dies in a freak lawnmower accident that reduces her to a tossed human salad, medical student and wannabe mad scientist Jeff Franken hatches an appropriately bizarre scheme to bring her back to life. He saves her head and salvages parts from various ladies of the night to construct a new body. As you would expect, things go horribly wrong during the resurrection process. Instead of restoring the girl he once knew, the experiment transforms our hero's dismembered lover into an unholy amalgamation of all the hookers he used for parts, with an angry muscle bulging Filipino pimp now on the look-out for his missing hookers.

 As you’d expect from the movie title and ridiculous plot description, the acting in this movie is every bit as overblown and campy as you could imagine. It's manic, it's inflated and at times, just down right awful. (I'm looking at you Zorro). Nevertheless, it works for the story being told.
James Lorinz delivers an interesting performance as the protagonist Jeffrey Franken. Although he does manage to provide some amusing monologues and deliver some of the best deadpan jokes of the movie, he seems like he’s ad-libbing almost every scene he’s in and never fails to ham it up whenever the opportunity arises. The best way to describe his performance would be to Imagine Herbert West (Re-Animator) being portrayed by Darren-oh-my-god-Ewing (Troll 2). Patty Mullen manages to bring forward a somewhat remarkable and charming quality to her character Shelley. However, it’s her exaggerated portrayal of the titular character that exhibits the fun and energetic temperament of the movie. It's when this character is finally awakened and we watch her awkwardly walk around the grimy back streets of New York, subways and seedy motels, decked out in her mammoth platform shoes that the movie begins to operate at full steam until the end credits.

 Cinematographer Robert Baldwin along with Henenlotter do an excellent job in creating an equally demented world for these characters to live in. They manage to showcase a consistently creative visual in an extraordinarily dark and appealing way. From the charming production design that emblazons its budget in every set piece throughout the movie, to the way they manage to capture the seedy backdrops of the big apple, they manage to transport you into this deranged world that feels like it has been caked in filth.

 One of my favourite things is when a gloriously trashy work of art hides its more serious themes behind a trashy veneer. There’s a deft criticism on the ways in which men commodify female beauty, stripping it down into component pieces to be fetishized and objectified. Jeffrey refashions the love of his life, reclaiming her from death’s cold embrace. However, that’s not enough, since he’s going to all this trouble he might as well make some aesthetic improvements and create his perfect woman whilst he’s at it. It's with this underlying tongue in cheek type of dark humour that the movie really unveils  itself and reveals that underneath its exploitative and seedy facade, the movie is in fact, egalitarian in spirit.

 A humorous retelling of the classic Frankenstein story, only with hookers, pimps, and a grimy setting, this movie is absurdly entertaining. While sleazy and full of nudity, Henenlotter manages to keep the film's tone light and fun. Frankenhooker finds the director pushing the envelope further with a brighter, wilder sense of visual design and storytelling. This is a living cartoon, a trash opera. It’s a shambling creature in itself...the head of John Waters stitched onto the torso of Stuart Gordon, fused with cut-up pieces of early Peter Jackson. The film manages to generate a kind of compassion that very few films pertaining to the subject matter of running over a woman with lawnmowers and blowing up prostitutes with super crack in order to stitch all their remains together and bring back your lover ever have.   

 Frankenhooker is in no way a masterpiece, it is a down and dirty flick, it is also however, an absolutely delightful and fun one.

 In the words of Bill Murray "If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER".

Frankenhooker Is Available Now On Arrow Video Blu-Ray

Frankenhooker (1990) Trailer

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Jackson Three - Braindead (1992)

Braindead (1992)
By Caroline Rennox

‘I know what to do, I've read the comics! Total... bodily... dismemberment!’
 Braindead will never make it into any list of the greatest films ever made but it’s been a favourite of mine since I first saw it, taped it off the telly and re-watched over and over. Notorious as one of the bloodiest films ever made the film is equal parts hilarious and shockingly gruesome and I will recommend it relentlessly to anyone within earshot.
 Set in 1950’s Wellington, the film follows spineless downtrodden Lionel Cosgrove. Smothered by his despotic, overbearing mother Vera and surreptitiously trying to pursue a relationship with local shopgirl Paquita. His mother, disapproving of Lionel spending time with any woman that isn’t her, follows the two on a date to Wellington zoo where she’s bitten by the evil Sumatran rat monkey and succumbs in a few hours to it’s deadly bite. With his mother now undead and dangerously contagious, Lionel tries simultaneously to protect Paquita and hide his gory secret from the world. Unfortunately for him, in this film dark secrets contaminate everything they touch and the truth will force its way to the surface in the bloodiest way imaginable.
 Braindead takes great delight in playing around with the standard tropes of the zombie outbreak movie and mines great comedy from giving its main undead cast their own ridiculous subplots. Vera’s first victim is local Nurse McTavish, who spends the rest of the movie with her head held on by a thread at the neck, and gives birth to the horrific baby Selwyn after bumping rotten uglies with zombified Father McGruder. McGruder has one of the funniest scenes in the movie in which he uses his kung-fu skills to take out some local thugs and spends most of the undead existence trying to create more undead spawn with Nurse McTavish . Rock’n’roll hoodlum Void is turned after making the mistake of pissing on Vera’s grave and his hatred of milquetoast Lionel is so great that his individual body parts - guts included - try their best to hunt down our hero at the movie’s end.
 The gloriously over the top last half hour features a house party organised by Lionel’s pervy Uncle Les, in which every partygoer eventually succumbs to the zombie plague after Lionel mistakenly pumps his mother and her victims full of animal stimulant. The whole sequence is an incredibly bloody exercise in coming up with the most inventive ways to despatch the panicking horde. Flesh is stripped from still kicking leg bones, full ribcages are torn from living bodies and baby Selwyn bursts entirely through one screaming woman’s head.
 The horde is finally destroyed in a scene featuring the Kiwi contribution to iconic horror weapons - the lawnmower. Fully tooled up Lionel tears through the crowd in one of the bloodiest horror scenes ever filmed. By the end the floor is a puddle of blood, Lionel is dripping head to toe and surrounded by a mound of quivering body parts. It’s a fantastic scene and one of the finest pieces of zombie destruction ever filmed.
 Baptised in gore and bolstered by the discovery of what really happened to his long dead father, Lionel finally faces down his now monstrously deformed mother. In a hilariously literal depiction of smotherly love, Vera traps Lionel inside her grotesquely inflated womb before he bursts out, reborn as a man free of his mother and her secrets and ready to ride off into the sunset with his equally blood-soaked beloved.
 The film is a step up from the previous two in every way, featuring an immensely quotable script, a cast that’s seemingly game for anything and some spectacularly gory effects courtesy of future Weta Workshop co-founder Richard Taylor. Blessed this time with a proper budget, the film even finished ahead of schedule and Jackson used the spare time and money to film a ridiculous slapstick scene where baby Selwyn takes a trip to the park. If nothing else, that scene is an indication of the great fun and creativity driving the film.
 The last of Jackson’s horror comedies before he made Heavenly Creatures, Forgotten Silver and The Frighteners, before he stepped off into blockbuster success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Braindead is a fitting farewell to his splatter cycle. If nothing else, it’s the film that gives me hope that Jackson can recover from his Hollywood burnout and we’ll once again see the creativity and invention that make his early films such a joy to watch.

Braindead Is Available On Dvd, Blu-Ray And Digital Now

Buy DVD Now From Amazon

Braindead (1992) Trailer

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Jackson Three - Meet The Feebles (1989)

Meet the Feebles (1989)
By Caroline Rennox

                                                     ‘Not your average, ordinary people.’

 Re-watching Meet the Feebles was a bit of strange experience. I’m sure I had fond memories of watching it first time round but watching it again, there was very little to enjoy.
The film features the same hallmarks of the other early Jackson movies in that goes full out to provoke laughter and disgust in equal measure from its audience. There’s a rabbit with an STD, a literal muckraking journalist bluebottle and a knife-throwing frog suffering from flashbacks to ‘Nam, but these basic ideas never seem to be fleshed out into actual jokes. Like many Muppets parodies - see ‘The Fuzz’ - the film seems to rely on a dark and distasteful version of Hensons’ sweet-natured dreamers as being inherently funny.
 Like Bad Taste, the general plot of the film is pretty straightforward - The Feebles’ cast are trying to put on a show to save the company but everything keeps going wrong. The main storyline follows Heidi the hippo - once the star of the show but now an overweight, has-been with a dated routine. Bullied and laughed at behind her back, Heidi eventually snaps and murders the whole cast with a machine gun in the film’s bloody finale.
Maybe it’s the fact that the movie is so visually un-appealing which sucks a bit of the joy out of it for me. Much of the film is dark and distinctly under-lit. Movies which rely so heavily on puppetry and practical effects are notoriously difficult, and it may that some of the dim and hazy look to the film is just covering the seams.

 There are a few bright spots to be had - Sebastian the fox’s showstopping musical number about the joys of sodomy did earn a bit of a giggle from me but then it does feature huge phallic columns spurting glitter all over the stage. The entire thing is ridiculously over the top and it helps that he’s one of the few characters who aren’t completely irredeemable.
Overall the film is clearly the weakest of the three. The script was re-written rather hastily at the last minute and the cumbersome effects led to the whole thing going over budget and over schedule - a familiar story for anyone who saw the similarly disappointing Hobbit trilogy. technically ambitious but ultimately not fulfilling.
 The film does have a bit of a cult following and whether or not it’s funny is obviously highly subjective. Jackson has described the film as a savage satire but for me any satirical point is lost amidst the need to shock more than anything else. While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, I would say it’s worth watching even purely out of curiosity. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover that aardvark on bovine nasal porn is the hilarious kink you never knew you had.

Meet The Feebles (1989) Trailer