Sunday, October 1, 2017

DEADLY GAME


For my Sunday evening viewing I decided to check out the new Netflix original movie GERALD'S GAME, an adaptation of the 1992 Stephen King novel. Directed by Mike Flanagan, the film has a deceptively simple premise: a woman and her somewhat older husband (played by Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood respectively) take off for a retreat at their isolated holiday home, where they hope to work on their relationship and spice up their sex life a little. Unfortunately, not long after arriving, the husband handcuffs his wife to the bed, pops a Viagra, and attempts to act out his secret rape fantasy, only to keel over from a heart attack and die. Left alone, tied to the bed and with no phone or handcuff key within reach, and no hope of anyone stopping by for days, the wife’s mind starts to defragment in a wave of hallucinations and haunting flashbacks, while also having to deal with a hungry wild dog who makes periodical visits to chew on the remains of her husband (while the wife has to watch on, knowing she will be next unless she finds a way out of her predicament).
Good performances and a nice atmosphere of claustrophobia and mounting dread, along with a few moments that really made me squirm and cringe, make this a pretty decent adaptation that should please King devotees.



Tuesday, September 26, 2017

THE BUZZ RETURNS - IN 35mm

What an absolute “buzz” getting to see Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) in 35mm again at The Astor last night, especially with a huge and respectful turn-out. The print screened was apparently one of the original prints that did the rounds in Australia thirty years ago, after the ban on the film was finally lifted in this country in 1983. So chances are that it was the same print I saw at the Astor several times in the mid-80s, when it would play regularly on ...a popular double-bill with EVIL DEAD (this was back at a time when, after the screening, you could go to the Astor’s ticket booth and purchase the original daybill posters for that evening’s screening for only $5.00!).

For its age and roadwear, the 35mm print was in surprisingly good shape. It was a little washed-out and scratchy in parts, and the overexposure during the first gas station sequence was present, but it certainly didn’t detract from the experience and in fact it only added to the authentic grindhouse feel of the screening. You can feel the Texas heat and dust and smell the dried blood coming from the old slaughterhouse. I have watched this film dozens of times since 1983, and it still stands as an absolute peak of modern horror cinema for me, the perfect illustration of a waking nightmare and being caught in the middle of complete random madness. The scene where Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) grabs Pam (Teri McMinn) and drags the poor young women through his house to her doom - while she is squealing and flailing about like a terrified animal - still sends shivers up my spine and delivers an almighty punch to my stomach.

Was also nice to see the Astor put up a tribute slide to Hooper before the screening, as well playing as a few trailers for some of Hooper’s other movies (mostly his mid-80s Cannon titles like LIFEFORCE, INVADERS FROM MARS and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2).
Well done to Zak Hepburn and the Astor for putting on a fitting tribute screening to the late filmmaker. And cool to see Cooper and Dougie from TWIN PEAKS guarding the old ticket booth in the downstairs lobby (in the shape of life-sized cardboard standees).




Friday, September 22, 2017

THE SLAYER

J.S. Cardone's THE SLAYER (1982) is one of those curious, almost-but-not-quite cult horror movies from the early-eighties which found a bit of local popularity thanks to its release on the infamous Palace Explosive label, though it didn't attain the same notoriety of some of the other PE titles like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, THE KILLING OF AMERICA and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE. I only ever hired THE SLAYER out once or twice at most at the time, my main familiarity with it being the trailer which appeared on many of the other Palace Explosive releases.

I've never owned a copy of THE SLAYER on VHS, so the recent Arrow Video Blu-ray release of the film has given me a perfect chance to give it another watch. It's a strange film and it has a lot of problems but it also has a few very positive things going for it. It can't decide if it wants to be a straight slasher or a more surreal, Lovecraft-esque horror, but this schizophrenic tone actually helps enhance the dreamy subtexts which the film's narrative explores, as do the desolate and highly atmospheric locales where it takes place (the movie was filmed on Tybee Island in Georgia). Slasher die-hards might find the pace of the film to be a bit lacking, but it does offer up a couple of pretty inventive killings, and lead actress Sarah Kendall has a strange, haunted look to her that makes her character unusual and interesting to watch.

A pretty good Blu-ray release from Arrow, with the 4K scan retaining quite a bit of film grain in many of the darker shots. Extras include a making-of documentary that runs for almost an hour, a visit to the Tybee Island locations today, trailer, audio commentary (with writer/director J.S. Cardone, actress Carol Kottenbrook and production executive Eric Weston) and an illustrated booklet featuring writings on the film by Lee Gambin and Ewan Cant.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

CASTING A SPELL WITH MARNEEN FIELDS




First aired on the NBC network on 20 February 1977, The Spell was a TV movie that was clearly inspired by the rash of supernatural horror films that were popular at the time, most notably Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie. Written by Brian Taggert (Visiting Hours) and directed by Lee Phillips, a television veteran with a number of telemovies under his belt as well as a slew of episodic TV shows like The Partridge Family, Kung Fu, The Rookies, The Waltons, M*A*S*H and many others, The Spell starred Susan Myers as Rita, the overweight and unpopular teenager who uses her psychic powers to get back at her enemies – both real and perceived – such as the high school classmates who mercilessly taunt and tease her. Headlining the cast of The Spell was Lee Grant, who is great in her role as Rita’s mother, while Helen Hunt made one of her early film appearances playing Rita’s sister Kristina.

With The Spell finally making its hi-definition debut thanks to a new Blu-ray release from the folks at Scream Factory, I decided to take the opportunity to sit down and talk about the film with Marneen Fields, who worked on the movie as both an actress and stuntwoman, and as such got to observe the making of the film from two different perspectives. As an actress, Marneen appears in The Spell as one of the clique of good-looking high school girls whom we meet in the opening sequence, teasing poor Rita and imitating her with exaggerated “fat girl” walks. Moving into the school gym, the tormenting of Rita continues, culminating in her using her psychic powers to cause one of the girls to fall to her death while climbing a rope and performing a gymnastic twirl from it. A Class One advanced all-round gymnast, Marneen’s skills were called upon to perform this stunt.

Marneen Fields (on the left) as one of the mean pretty girls in The Spell.

Marneen, I believe The Spell was one of the first films that you worked on. Can you tell us briefly about how you wound up in Hollywood, and how you specifically landed the job on The Spell?

I was initially brought in to audition for The Spell purely to be a stunt performer. During the opening scene of the film, set in the high school gym, the girls mercilessly tease Rita because she is unable to hoist herself up the rope suspended from the ceiling. My job was to perform the backward high fall from the top of the rope while doubling one of the other mean girls who, while at the top of the rope performing some dizzying aerial acrobatic swirls loses her grip and plummets to the hard gym floor in front of her horrified classmates. Rita looks on unemotionally, her supernatural powers obviously having caused the tragedy. I had been asked over the phone, “Can you climb a rope without using your legs and fall backwards from the top of a rope?” "Yes, I can do it." I said. I was hired on the spot, over the phone to perform the dangerous backwards fall from the top of the rope, and given my call time and directions for another audition they wanted me for.

When I stepped inside the gymnasium where the audition was taking place I saw there were two ropes dangling from the ceiling at the far end. I watched as a procession of girls tried and failed to climb the ropes without the aid of their legs. I heard Eddie Foy III, the casting director, call out, "Is there anyone here who can climb the rope without their legs?" Then I heard him say, "Stunt coordinator Paul Stader has sent over a Marneen Fields to do this. Is Marneen Fields in the room?" I could barely hear him being at the end of the long line of girls, and only heard what he said because other  girls turned around and repeated what he said to those of us at the end of the line. I heard my name being called out loud, and I realized Eddie was calling me to come down to the ropes. "Are you Marneen Fields?" "Yes, I am." "Can you climb the rope without your legs?" "Yes, I can." "Show me, climb the rope without your legs." I climbed the rope without my legs and he said, "Good." Eddie then handed me a page of the script with some lines of dialogue on it and told me to learn the following lines and wait off to the side with a group of about twenty-five other girls. He wanted me to read for the role of one of the mean girls that taunts Rita and provokes her to cast the first spell, the backward high fall from the top of the rope.

About an hour went by, then Eddie came and got me and took me into another area to read for him. After I read for him he told me that I was cast in the role of one of mischievous schoolmates. She was one of the leaders of the clique that would continually taunt and make fun of poor Rita. He told me I‘d be climbing the rope without my legs in the scene, and that I'd change wardrobe and also perform the backward high fall from the rope doubling the aerial acrobat as well.

My first job in the film industry and not only was I getting to show off my gymnastic skills and perform an impressive stunt, but I'd also be appearing on-screen in an acting role as well! I was twenty-one at the time and could still easily pass as a teenager, and I'd been minoring in Theater Arts in college at Utah State University so I was I was thrilled I landed the acting role too. Like the other actresses playing my classmates, I was given a form-fitting leotard to slide myself into (while most of the other girls were given brightly colored leotards to wear, mine was two shades of dark brown one being a stripe up the side, which helped me stand out from the pack).

Unfortunately, while my lines of dialogue, one of which was, “Who’d want to take out that tubbo?" can be heard in the film, they were featured with my character off-screen while the camera was on Rita. The audience doesn't get to see my character speak, you only hear my voice, and Rita's reaction to what I'm saying, but I'm on camera the rest of the time in the scene acting and laughing and making mischief. Aside from the gymnasium scene, I also appeared on screen a couple of more times during the movie. During the opening credits, I can be seen crossing the school grounds and doing a funny lumbering walk in mock imitation of Rita being fat, while later in the film I am playing a game of volleyball with the other girls.


It’s interesting that right from the start you were doing both acting and stunt work, which must have been a pretty unique situation to be in. Did you feel that this separated you somewhat from the other stunt performers who were around at the time, most of whom probably had little interest in branching out into acting?

I had aspirations to act before I became a Hollywood stunt woman minoring in Theater Arts at Utah State University. I don’t know how many stunt people also had desires to act, not many of my stunt friends wanted to act as badly as I did. In fact, almost from the moment I started doing stunts, I wanted to stop doing stunts and only focus on my goals to become a famous actress. While training at Paul Stader’s Stunt School, my favorite part of the training was when his wife, Marilyn Stader would pull me aside and coach me in how to sell a high fall by screaming, and tell me secrets like how important it was to study the actresses I’d be doubling to learn how they walk, gesture, and move. By the time I started studying acting with celebrity acting coachesVi ctor French (Highway to Heaven and Little House on the Prairie) and Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), there was no turning back, I only wanted to act.

The Spell also allowed you to get your SAG card thanks to a special clause they have in their eligibility criteria. Can you tell us a little about that?

Looking back, The Spell may not have been one of the biggest or best films that I was lucky enough to work on, but it was certainly one of the most important. It set the template for my future career as an actress, stuntwoman and stunt-actress. It enabled me to display a range of my talents, and it paved the way for me to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). I got into the guild on the Taft Hartley Law which stated that no young woman in the guild at the time of the filming of The Spell could perform the highly dangerous backwards fall from the top of the rope. I’ve retained my SAG membership proudly and kept up with it since 1976. In many ways, it was the luckiest day of my career. I’d have probably ended up with a  career like Meryl Streep’s if every day had been so lucky and fruitful. A career like hers wasn’t meant to be for me, but my being cast in The Spell was still a great start to an amazing and varied career in the industry. I was on my way.

What do you recall about being on set for the first time?

The main thing I recall about being on the set for the first time was how organized everything was. Everyone was brought into a waiting room and given their contracts to sign before anything else began. Then one at a time people were taken to wardrobe to get fitted for the roles they were playing for that day. When it was time for my scenes I was escorted almost single file with the other girls to stand together to hear instructions from the director of what we were supposed to do in each scene. Then were stood on our marks for lighting while waiting for the director’s cues for lighting. I worked on The Spell for a week and each day for each scene I was in was handled in the same organized and efficient way. And believe me, it’s always “Quiet on the Set.” You don’t speak or make any noises at all unless you’re told to.

Marneen Fields stunt doubling for Doney Oatman, about to hit the floor
with a fatal thud in The Spell.
                   
Tell us about the main stunt you performed in the film, falling from the rope in the high school gym. How much rehearsal and preparation went into it? Did you only perform it once for the camera, or was there multiple takes?

When I landed the job on The Spell I had been a student at Paul Stader’s Stunt School for almost exactly six months. I remember this because I told myself I would give my stunt woman career six months, if I hadn’t gotten my SAG card within six months I was going to return to college at Utah State University and continue being a gymnastics coach in life. Within almost six months to the day I landed The Spell, and remained in Hollywood doing stunts and studying acting. At Paul Stader’s Stunt School I was trained in how to do backwards high falls from the rungs of ladders and platforms, but not from a swinging, hanging, dangling, slippery rope. My job was to stunt double the aerial acrobat who was doing twirls from the top of the rope with a harness, then loses her grasp and falls. She did her twirls, in a couple of takes, we brought in a small mattress pad for me to land on my back on. I climbed the rope got into the same position on the rope that she was in without the harness, spun myself around a few time, then fell backwards from the rope letting go with my hands. When falling backwards from any high surface the main thing to remember is to keep your eyes on your feet so your head is in the correct position for the landing. The body follows the head when flipping or falling and if you look back and not down at your feet you can land on your neck and break it. Being a Class One advanced all-around gymnast, I was known for getting my stunts in one take without injury. This job was no exception, the fall was executed perfectly. However, I always like to joke, “Anyone can fall backwards from a swinging, dangling, slippery, hanging rope.

Thanks to some clever editing, you effectively get to watch your own self falling to your doom in this sequence, since you play not only the victim falling from the rope but one of the girls who looks on screaming and horrified as it happens in front of them. I imagine that even in the world of movie magic that is a pretty unique thing.

Yes, that’s true. I can’t imagine it happening very often for any actor. After I perform the stunt falling from the top of the rope, my character can be seen screaming at the grisly scene unfolding in front of her. I did the fall, and then I also played the other role of one of the schoolmates witnessing the aerial acrobat falling from the top of the rope when I was the one who did the fall. The way they accomplished this is after I did my backward fall from the top of the rope, they moved the mattress pad that I had fallen into out of the scene. While they prepared for the next scene I went and changed into the other wardrobe my main character was wearing (the brown leotard), and the hairdresser re-did my real hair to match my character and not that of the aerial acrobats. The girl playing the aerial acrobat was positioned onto the hard wood floor as if she had fallen onto it. Then they brought in all the schoolmates and directed us to scream as if we’d seen her fall, and then we were told to rush over to the her body laying on the floor. Thanks to clever editing and the magic of moviemaking I was able to witness my own demise in an imaginative way.

Did you sit down to watch The Spell when it first aired on television?

At the time The Spell aired I was living in a small studio apartment in Ventura, California with three of my girlfriends, I waitressed part-time at Carrows Restaurant in Ventura, California with one of them, and taught gymnastics full time in Simi Valley, California with the other one. I remember arriving home to watch The Spell, and Connie and Penny had surprised me having my first movie premier with balloons, gifts, friends, cards, and signs. Connie’s mom even put a star on my small bathroom door.

That's a nice memory! For a long time a lot of your film work, such as The Spell and Hellhole (1985) were pretty hard to track down, especially in any kind of decent quality. How do you feel now that they are finally being made available to the world in beautiful hi-definition?

To be honest with you, I can’t help wondering why someone wasn’t more on top of getting these productions seen way before now. Sure, it’s great they’re out now, but forty years in the case of The Spell, and thirty-two years in the case of Hellhole is just bizarre.

For a showcase listing of the 150-plus productions Marneen has appeared in please visit her imdb page at: Marneen Fields IMDB.

Marneen's stunt from The Spell can be seen along with some of her other TV movie work in this terrific showcase reel, which was initially edited together by Marneen for her appearance on a TV movie panel at the 2016 Monster Fest film festival in Melbourne:




(The Spell is out now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Special features on the disc include an interview with screenwriter Brian Taggert and an audio commentary by Amanda Reyes, a noted authority on TV movies and editor of the 2016 Headpress book on the subject Are You in the House Alone: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999).


Saturday, September 9, 2017

THE SURVIVOR BLU-RAY LANDS

After a bit of a delay, the local Blu-ray release of the 1981 Australian shocker THE SURVIVOR (based on the novel by UK horror writer James Herbert) finally hit the shelves a couple of weeks back, and looks like another great, extras-packed treat from the folks at Glass Doll Films. I was thrilled to be asked to write the booklet essay for this release (as I have done for several other releases from Glass Doll) and it turned out great. 28 pages packed with some fantastic rare photos from this Antony I. Ginnane production. Other extras that are exclusive to this local release are some rare behind-the-scenes Super 8 footage shot by stuntman Dean Bennett when he was still a young student lucky enough to be doing some work experience on the set of the film. An Ozploitation essential.









SCARED IT-LESS

*Spoiler Free*

Cleverly hyped and marketed in a fashion that would make the old exploitation pioneers proud (scary clown murals painted around town, red balloons tied to sewer grates, etc.), the first instalment of Andy Muschietti’s new adaptation of Stephen King’s epic tome IT may not work on every level but it still succeeds as not only a very good and well-crafted ride through a cinematic haunted house, but as a surprisingly strong piece of characterization and storytelling.

The first adaptation of IT was produced in 1990 as a two-part TV movie, and while enjoyable the trappings of network television at the time were clearly evident in its production values and rather flat look. But New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers have clearly thrown a lot of money at this new version, and the expense seems justified as the film looks spectacular and feels like the kind of horror cinema we enjoyed back in the 1980s, when this version of IT is set, although there is a definite injection of a more modern, STRANGER THINGS vibe, which you will either love or hate depending on how you felt about that Netflix series. This is well worth seeing on the biggest screen possible, and in a theatre with a good sound system as the film’s aural soundscape definitely enhances its impact.

I was initially unimpressed with the first images released of Bill Skarsgård in character as IT’s iconic face of evil, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but seeing him perform on screen I was completely sold on him within a few seconds of him making his first appearance. Skarsgård is not as showy as Tim Curry’s beloved Pennywise from the 1990 version, nor does he get as much screen time, but whenever he does appear he makes for a truly nightmarish visage, not just frightening but creepy and often doing things with his body and eyes that impressed me as much as they disturbed me. And it was good to see the film explore It’s shapeshifting abilities and alternate visages in a bit more depth.

While the film has some good scares (which will probably be more effective to those unfamiliar with the story), where IT really succeeds is in the terrific casting and the creation of young characters with some depth that we come to really care about, which helps make the tension even more palpable when they are being threatened. I have heard some people compare IT to THE GOONIES (1985), but as someone who doesn’t care one bit for that Richard Donner film I was very happy and much relieved to discover it was much less THE GOONIES and much more STAND BY ME with monsters.

With strong reviews and predictions of big box-office, it seems a certainty that Muschietti will get the green light to proceed with the second half of his adaption of the King novel (which has the young characters reuniting as adults to combat It when the entity reappears 27 years later). I’m looking forward to it already.



Saturday, July 29, 2017

THIS MEANS WAR!

Now that I have finally gotten to see it (thanks to an annoyingly delayed local release date), I can understand why, despite mostly stellar reviews, Matt Reeves' WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES has been met with a more tepid box-office reception in the US than its 2014 predecessor, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. WAR is a much more downbeat film, and though it doesn't really have a whole lot of actual combat, there's plenty of tension and a few truly beautiful and touching moments to be found.

I thought some of the sentiment was a bit over-wrought and, though I found him very endearing and remarkably well-realised, I was worried a couple of times that the "Bad Ape" character was taking the film into a realm of forced humour, something which the first two films in this trilogy had admiringly avoided. But there is still a lot of intelligence and food for thought to be found here, along with spectacle and pure entertainment. A true blockbuster with a heart and a brain.

2017 has been something of a banner year for combining war with fantasy, with KONG: SKULL ISLAND, WONDER WOMAN and now WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, which has more than a few nods to APOCALYPSE NOW (none more prominent than Woody Harrelson's great performance as a crazed, rogue military leader known as "The Colonel").

My initial thoughts are that WAR doesn't quite measure up to DAWN or RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011), but the gap between them all is very small and as a trilogy they have succeeded in doing justice to the original 1968-1973 series of films while creating a unique mythology of their own. Something I honestly thought I would never live to see as I exited the cinema after first watching Tim Burton's 2001 attempt at retooling the concept.




Saturday, July 22, 2017

DUNKIRK

(Non-spoiler post)

Experiencing DUNKIRK on 1570 (15perf 70mm) film from the front row of the Melbourne IMAX cinema was both exhilarating and overwhelming, perhaps a little too much at times...thus mammoth film just swallows you whole.

It's a staggering achievement on so many levels, a great British war film that tells it simple but engrossing story from three separate viewpoints taking place over three different timespans, turning the film into something of a clever cinematic puzzle that is neat to watch come together without distracting you or taking you out of the narrative. It is both epic and intimate, certainly the most genuinely moving and emotional of Christopher Nolan's films to date, and it succeeds in creating characters to care for without us having to know anything about them, other than the dire predicament they are in. The film also manages to emphatically convey the horror, brutality, and wholesale sudden violent death of war without having to go the ultra-visceral graphic route of other modern war classics like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and HACKSAW RIDGE.

The sound design is also incredible, as is Hans Zimmer's score, both of which combine to provide an often nerve-wracking pulse to the film, the bass and the bombs literally rattling your internal organs. It's well-cast with some nice performances, with Tom Hardy being particularly effective as a Spitfire pilot, having to create his character mostly through his eyes and actions, and the odd line of fighter pilot dialogue.

Absolutely worth experiencing in a cinema, preferably in 70mm. Images and sounds from this movie are bound to be bouncing around inside my head for some time.



Sunday, July 16, 2017

REMOTE CONTROL

This afternoon's viewing was Jeff Lieberman's REMOTE CONTROL (1988), another effective and creative oddity from the writer/director of SQUIRM (1976), BLUE SUNSHINE (1978) and JUST BEFORE DAWN (1981). Where the masterful BLUE SUNSHINE had people facing the horrific consequences of indulging in the LSD craze of a decade earlier, REMOTE CONTROL also has its characters paying the price for indulging in a popular cultural movement, in this instance the home video phenomena of the ...1980s. Befitting of the era in which it was made, REMOTE CONTROL tells its story in a very flashy and much more abstract style than BLUE SUNSHINE, full of MTV pop and exaggerated 80s fashion and materialism. And yet, thanks to the use of film within a film, it is also serves as a cool homage to the classic black & white B horror and science-fiction movies of the 1950s.

As he was in the remake of THE BLOB later that same year, Kevin Dillion is pretty solid in his familiar role of a rebel with a bit of past but ultimately a decent and reliable guy (here, he plays a video store clerk who gets embroiled in an alien plot to take over the world by using the VHS release of a low-budget 50s sci-fi film called REMOTE CONTROL to brainwash viewers and program them to kill). It’s also nice to see Jennifer Tilly show up in one of her earlier roles (her exotic looks and character quirks make her a natural for a film like this), and of course for any fan of vintage VHS like myself there’s plenty of fun to be had spotting the various individual titles on the shelves and the promo displays on the counter and walls of the (fictitious) Village Video store where a good deal of the movie takes place (JAKE SPEED and the Jane fond workout tapes seem to have been particularly popular at this time). And cool to see Lieberman giving nods to his previous films, with a poster for SQUIRM hanging on one wall and a clip from BLUE SUNSHINE playing on the video store’s huge TV set. The movie also benefits from a neat and very atmospheric electronica score by Peter (Son of Elmer) Bernstein.

While an old VHS copy might seem like the most appropriate way to watch REMOTE CONTROL (it was released on tape in Australia by Village Roadshow) I would love to see it in a cinema on a double-bill with Ted Nicolaou’s TERRORVISION (1986), another colourful and gaudy genre satire of 80s junk culture and American obsession with home entertainment (and both movies feature a performance from Bert Remsen, providing a nice symbiotic bridge between the two).


Sunday, May 28, 2017

GOING APE AT THE ASTOR

Marneen and I had lots of fun going bananas at the Astor's PLANET OF THE APES marathon las weekend. Despite being a lifelong APES fanatic the only one of the original films which I had seen on the big screen was CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), which I saw at the long gone Astrojet Cinema at Tullamarine Airport when I was a kid. I also saw a 16mm print of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) at primary school, but that was it. So finally getting to see them on a huge... screen was a real treat.

Highlights for me were that first 30 minutes or so of the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968), with all that spectacular and beautifully stark desert footage, and seeing the incredibly dark and sombre, often very hallucinogenic and just downright crazy BENEATH on the big screen was awe-inspiring. Winning an APES graphic novel (i.e. comic book) and a $30 gift voucher thanks to Minotaur was also a nice bonus.

Was also cool to see some fun vintage clips before each movie, including a segment featuring the APES and Jim Nabors on an episode of THE SONNY & CHER SHOW, Paul Williams in full ape make-up signing on THE TONIGHT SHOW, and TV commercials for the classic PLANET OF THE APES action figures by Mego.

Only real disappointment for me was they screened the original theatrical cut of CONQUEST, and not the more violent and bloody version with the bleaker ending which finally became available a few years back. All in all though a fantastic day, and not as bum-numbing as I thought it might be!





THE ROLLING STONES AT ALTAMONT

Having recently both re-watched the classic documentary GIMME SHELTER and read Joel Selvin's engrossing news(ish) book on the subject, it was fascinating to go back and listen to the audio of the full Rolling Stones performance at that tragic free concert at the Altamont Speedway in 1969, certainly one of rock and roll's first big collective tragedies and still a very dark day in its now sixty-plus years history.

This audio was audience recorded and seems to be pieced together from several sources, but the low-fi of the recording certainly adds to the whole menacing ambience, and often puts you right in the middle of all the madness. The bad vibes can clearly be heard in the air before the first guitar chord is even struck, and things are already in full chaotic breakdown by the time of the third song (which, chillingly appropriate, is "Sympathy For the Devil").

It should also be mentioned that, despite the menace and tension all around them, the Stones are absolutely on fire here.



"PLANET EARTH ABOUT TO BE RECYCLED"

More than twenty years after they occurred (in March of 1997) I have been thinking about Heaven's Gate, the San Diego based religious cult whose strange beliefs were the stuff of science fiction pulp and as much inspired by television shows like STAR TREK, TWIN PEAKS and THE X-FILES than anything found in the Bible. It was also the first time a cult became intrinsically linked to the internet (the cult had their own website - which still ...exists - and made their money by designing websites for other companies).

Terrifying to think that 39 people (leader Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers) could be convinced - or programmed to believe - that if they committed suicide at the precise moment, they would be welcomes as passengers aboard a spacecraft which they believed was flying undetected in the fiery tale of the Hale-Bopp comet, which had been discovered in 1995 and in March of 1997 was passing closely above the Earth, convincing Applewhite (who had founded the cult with his wife in 1974) that it was the right time for him and his followers to "shed their containers" in order to hitch a ride on the spaceship before the Earth was "recycled" by aliens.

Amazed there wasn't a TV movie made about this. I have a bootleg VHS of Marshall Applewhite's "initiation lecture", which I obtained from Polyester Video years ago, and a cheap mass-market paperback rushed out by THE NEW YORK POST, but I am sure there is a much more in-depth book out there.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

ALIEN COVENANT

Serving as both a sequel to PROMETHEUS (2012) and a prequel to ALIEN (1979), Ridley Scott’s ALIEN COVENANT walks a tightrope between grand concept and familiar thrills, rejigging a number of big crowd-pleasing moments from not only ALIEN but James Cameron’s 1986 rousing sequel ALIENS while expanding on the theories of evolution and creation put forward in PROMETHEUS. The big problem I have with this is that, to me, a large part of my original fascination with the alien was it was so elemental and mysterious, and much more terrifying as an organic being that just exists. The original ALIEN told me everything I need to know about the xenomorph and it’s terrifying cycle of life…trying to explain every step of its evolution just demystifies it to me.

It seems that when Ridley Scott decided to finally return to the classic space terror saga which he was instrumental in launching back in 1979, he was only interested in doing so if he could expand on the concept to try and touch on many of the bigger questions in life. Which as a much older man who wants to try and create something different is entirely his prerogative. And certainly ALIEN COVENANT is hugely ambitious in many regards, but it is made largely ineffectual by the predictability of the scenes involving the alien itself which, as mentioned, are more like a re-tread of what was done – much better – in the first two movies, leaving very little in the way of surprise or suspense. And a lot of the sexual menace which the alien exhibited in the first movie, and made it so much more terrifying, is now gone (there’s no doubt that a lot of this sexual terror came from the nightmarish designs created by the late Swiss artist H. R. Giger). CGI also does no favour to the alien – in most cases, it moves far too quick to make much out. The man in a suit approach of the original was much more effective and impressive.

Like all of Scott’s movies, there is certainly lots to admire and enjoy about ALIEN COVENANT. Visually the film has some stunning moments (though it doesn’t look as gorgeous as PROMETHEUS) and Michael Fassbender delivers another remarkable performance. And Katherine Waterston is decent in what is clearly the Ripley replacement role. But beyond that, there are not a lot of characters to care about or even differentiate themselves from each other (also one of the big complaints about PROMETHEUS). The first two ALIEN films were populated with great actors who brought their characters to wonderful life – when they died, you really missed them. There’s sadly no Parker, Brett, Kane, Vasquez or Private Hudson here to care about.

ALIEN COVENANT is far from a disaster, and should easily do well enough to ensure the series’ continuity, but it’s not really the direction I like seeing it head in. The original ALIEN was a seminal moviegoing experience for me, and has forever remained amongst my Top 5 all-time favourite films. Sadly it seems that it won’t be Ridley Scott who brings the concept back to that pure, primordial frisson which I experienced back in 1979.



Friday, April 14, 2017

BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN Intro Transcript

A transcript of my introduction to the Bless the Beasts and Children screening last Saturday night has now been posted over on the Cinemaniacs website at the following link for anyone interested in having a read.




WILD BEASTS


Last night’s viewing was the new Severin Blu-ray release of Franco Prosperi’s delirious nature on the rampage Italian horror from 1984, Wild Beasts. Amazingly, I had never seen this film before, despite being a big fan of the nature amok genre and the fact that it had been released locally on VHS in the 1980s.
Prosperi was considered one of the godfathers of the extreme mondo documentary genre (Mondo Cane, Africa Addio), and his roots certainly show at various points throughout Wild Beasts, particularly during its opening sequence. The film (which looks to have been filmed in Frankfurt but is listed only as an “Eastern European City”) has wild animals from the local zoo, including cheetahs, lions, polar bears and elephants, as well as sewer rats and seeing eye dogs, going beserk after drinking water laced with PCP, rampaging through the city streets mauling, munching and trampling on terrified (and stupid) citizens.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy when thinking of what sort of treatment the animals would have likely received on set (the sewer rats in particular do not look to have fared so well), but as a seedy piece of lurid Euro exploitation it entertains from start to finish, with gore galore, a great soundtrack by Daniele Patucchi, and plenty of crazed WTF? moments that will make even the most hardened horror fan’s jaw drop.
And like all Severin releases, Wild Beasts not only looks stunning but has a great selection of special features that make this a must-have for fans of the genre.