Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction-Horror’

Night of the Comet - Gary Pullin

I was the wise old age of 8 in 1984, the same age as my youngest son now. Looking back at the list of movies that came out that year brings a huge grin to my face. When Todd reached out to me to contribute to his 1984-a-thon, my mind went through all the movies that I could pick. There are a lot of movies that I’ve introduced my kids to, including Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid and Gremlins. Being a fan of the often maligned horror genre, there are also a couple of classics that I could have picked in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Children of the Corn, but I knew pretty quickly that I had to pick Night of the Comet.

My love of Night of the Comet started early, albeit not in 1984. My parents were pretty strict with the movies I got to watch at my tender age (although I did see Gremlins pretty early on). I don’t recall when I first laid eyes upon Night of the Comet, but it was likely in Junior High, when my parents (or more accurately, my friend’s Parents) were less mindful about what we were watching.

Although both of the leads are easy on the eyes, it was the images of some of the zombies that really stuck with me, especially the motorcycle cops and the kid. It took many years for Night of the Comet to get a release on DVD, but as soon as it did, I was one of the first in line to pick it up. When I revisited the movie, I essentially fell in love with the movie all over again, which seems to be the exception these days.

Night of the Comet has some fantastic imagery in it, from the pretty nasty looking creatures to the empty cityscapes. It really is a showcase for what horror fans love about the 80s; great practical FX and latex masks. There aren’t really any great kills or gory scenes, but the atmosphere is there.

As with so many horror movies, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s not just the monsters that are evil, but also humankind themselves. The introduction of the scientists, and Geoffrey Lewis in particular, keep the story from getting stale and give us more than random monsters to root against.

To say the acting is over the top is an understatement, but it helps make Night of the Comet a snapshot of the early 80s. Big hair and valley girl accents rule the day, but it really gives the movie its charm. The scene in the mall seems to be an homage to Romero’s Dawn, but also fits right in with the vibe of the movie.

While 1984 was a banner year for films, there are a lot of hidden gems to be found as well, and in my opinion Night of the Comet is one of those movies. Grab some popcorn, your favorite beverage and enjoy!

Read my original review of Night of the Comet here!

The Stuff

Directed By: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarty, Garrett Morris, Andrea Marcovicci, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom, Danny Aielo

Subgenre: Supernatural

Synopsis: The newest junk food craze is more than it seems.  It’s highly addictive and also has the unfortunate side effect of eating you while you are eating it.

Thoughts: Larry Cohen has made some crazy movies.  I haven’t seen all of his movies, but The Stuff has to be close to the top of the list as one of the craziest.  I’m not sure how you come up with killer ice cream that bubbles up from the ground, but Cohen does just that.  The movie is reminiscent of The Blob with the way The Stuff moves, which is probably part of the reason that I love it.  The Blob has long been a favorite of mine.

The cast is pretty packed with notable actors.  Michael Moriarty, a frequent collaborator with Larry Cohen, is probably most recognized from his run on Law and Order.  I’m pretty sure that show is on every hour of the day on some channel.  Character actor Garrett Morris plays a small, but memorable part as well.  It’s interesting to note that Larry Cohen actually wanted to cast a young Arsenio Hall in that role, but was trumped by the studio as they wanted a more recognizable face.  Other notable names include Paul Sorvino and Danny Aielo.  Sorvino plays a crazy leader of a militia and is the very definition of over-the-top in his role.  Mira Sorvino, Paul’s daughter, makes a cameo appearance as well, just because she came to the set one day to visit her father.

Larry Cohen’s career has been filled with very original movies.  You surely cannot accuse him of copying current trends to make movies.  His movies are also usually filled with social commentary, whether it is pointing a finger at the church in God Told Me Too, societal acceptance in the It Lives trilogy or consumerism in The Stuff.  It is apparent that Cohen has a lot to say and uses his movies to say it.  Cohen has focused on writing screenplays the last couple of years, although he did get back behind the camera to direct a Masters of Horror episode in 2006.

The Stuff may not top any lists of best 80s horror, but I think it works on a couple levels.  At its core, it is a fun sci-fi/horror movie with tongue in cheek humor, but is also a deeper movie, damning both American consumerism as well as our abhorrent eating habits when it comes to junk food.  Cohen delivers his commentary just like I like it.  It’s not too heavy handed and doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the movie, much like Romero’s early work.  I suggest checking it out if you can.  It’s not readily available on DVD or Blu-Ray right now, but you can find it on a couple of different streaming services.

Lifeforce

 

Directed By: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Mathilda May, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard

Subgenre: Science Fiction, Vampires

Synopsis: A space exploration discovers a hidden space ship in Halley’s Comet that contains three humanoid life forms that turn out to be much more than they seem.

Thoughts: I’ve long been a fan of scary science fiction stories.  It’s a love affair that started with Alien and continued on with movies like Event Horizon and Pitch Black.  Interestingly enough, I had not seen Lifeforce prior to Scream Factory releasing it.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, especially with the names Tobe Hooper and Dan O’Bannon ties to it.  Maybe it was fate that I waited to see the spectacular work that Scream Factory put into the release.

The storyline in Lifeforce is really more SciFi than horror and the scary parts are few and far between.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good movie, because it is, but the only real correlation to horror is that the aliens are vampires, or at least a variant of vampires.

Steve Railsback, probably best known for playing Charles Manson in Helter Skelter delivers the goods here as astronaut Tom Carlsen, the lone survivor of the ship that discovered the alien vampires.  Railsback mentions in one of the extras that he feared typecasting after Helter Skelter, but loved the script so much that he decided to do LIfeforce.  Personally, I would have liked to see him do more movies.  He’s got a pretty lengthy resume, but not many major roles.

The other role that I have to mention is that of Mathilda May, a virtual unknown that got her role primarily because she was willing to shed her clothes for large portions of the movie.  There is a fantastic interview where she talks about it at length, as well as one where Tobe Hooper recalls how all the prospective actresses banded together to boycott the nudity.  May did an excellent job, both in portraying the alien vampire and being naked!

Tobe Hooper’s career really peeked early, with the majority of his first films being considered classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eaten Alive and The Funhouse.  Lifeforce certainly belongs in that group.  It’s rather peculiar that his later movies never regained the success of his earlier movies. 

I recommend checking out LIfeforce.  It’s definitely more SciFi than horror, but appeals to both crowds.  I also highly suggest Scream Factory’s recent release.  It has some great extras and features an outstanding transfer.

Frankensteins Army

Directed By: Richard Raaphorst

Starring: Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym, Alexander Mercury, Luke Newberry, Hon Ping Tang, Andrei Zayats, Mark Stevenson

Subgenre: Science Fiction, Gothic, Supernatural

Synopsis: Near the end of World War II, Russian Soldiers locate a secret Nazi lab where the descendent of Dr. Frankenstein has been creating a secret army.

Thoughts: This was a movie I picked up based solely on a few comments by a friend and the title.  I really knew nothing other than what I imagined based on the title.  I was really hoping to see an army of mad scientist made monsters going to battle.  I’m happy to report that is exactly what this movie has.

The biggest complaint I’ve heard about this movie is that it is of the found footage variety.  I admit that it is an overused medium, but I think it really works here. The “taper” is a soldier that is chronicling the last days of World War II while secretly leading his group to find the descendent of Dr. Frankenstein.  This helps to explain the videotaping as well as why the taping continues once the carnage begins.

Often times with the found footage technique, character development suffers.  You just don’t get the insight into character motivations and true feelings like you do with traditional filmmaking.  While you see a lot of that here with the soldiers, I thought that the development of Viktor the Mad Scientist was fantastic.  He completely stole the scenes he was in and was a remarkable madman.

Of course, the real stars of this show are the monsters.  It’s as if Gwar invaded a Power Rangers episode.  Each of the creations look as if they were constructed out of spare parts in a lab, which is a huge success for the filmmakers.  It would have been easy to over stylize the monsters into something sleeker, but I loved the haphazard look.

Frankenstein’s Army is Richard Raaphorst’s feature debut, but he is no stranger to the genre.  He’s worked in various roles over the years on films such as Dagon and Beyond Re-Animator.  Much like acting, it is difficult to evaluate a Director’s skills with found footage films.  You don’t get much sense for his eye, but I can say that he kept the story moving and there wasn’t a lot of down time.  At the very least, I think that Frankenstein’s Army will garner enough attention that Raaphorst will get more opportunities in the genre.

This movie has been one of my favorite surprises of 2013. I wasn’t expecting a lot and ended up loving the movie.  I highly recommend checking it out.  It’s a fun movie that features some great creature design.

TerrorVision

Directed By: Ted Nicolaou

Starring: Chad Allen, Diane Franklin, Mary Woronov, Gerrit Graham, Bert Ramsen, Jon Gries, Randi Brooks, Alejandro Rey, Jennifer Richards

Subgenre: Horror – Comedy, Science Fiction

Synopsis: A family’s new satellite dish receives more than they bargained for when a voracious alien beams in and starts to eat everyone in sight.

Thoughts: Before going on to form Full Moon, Charles Band was behind more horror movies than you can imagine.  Some are icons of the genre and some just need to be seen to be believed.  TerrorVision is one of those movies.  It’s not a good movie, far from it actually, but there is something about it that just pulls you in and won’t let you go. It could very well be that the theme song is laced with subliminal messages, because once you hear this theme song, it will never get out of your head.  It’s like Halloween III, except worse!

The acting, if you want to call it that, is all over the top.  It was designed to be that way.  The swinging parents, crazy grandfather and totally 80s sister are all caricatures of real people.  The closest we come to a genre staple in the movie is Gerrit Graham, the swinging father, who appeared in a handful of other horror offerings (Demon Seed, Child’s Play 2, The Wasp Woman), but that’s not much of a surprise as this really isn’t a horror movie.  It’s much more a comedy with some science fiction thrown in for good measure.

Director Ted Nicolaou has directed quite a few of Band’s movies, but TerrorVision was one of his earliest.  He didn’t do a bad job with the obviously limited budget, and that earned him the right to direct such classics as Subspecies and Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys.  If you are a fan of Full Moon Pictures, it’s a safe bet you’ve seen a couple of his movies.

TerrorVision is one of the many excellent Scream Factory releases to come out recently.  It is part of a double feature with The Video Dead, and even though the two don’t have much in common, it made for a pretty interesting double feature.  TerrorVision isn’t for everyone, but it is one crazy movie.  If you’re fond of Full Moon’s crazier movies, check this one out, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the theme song.

Mimic

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Alexander Goodwin, Giancarlo Giannini, Josh Brolin, Charles S Dutton, F. Murray Abraham, Norman Reedus

Subgenre: Science Fiction-Horror

Synopsis: Genetically engineered insects designed to kill disease spreading cockroaches continue to evolve and mutate rapidly.

Thoughts: Bugs make my skin crawl, so when I watch a movie like Mimic, I pretty much start the movie creeped out. In addition to the insect focal point, Mimic is filled to the brim with creepy atmosphere, tense scenes and that damn clicking noise that the Judas Breed makes.  I don’t know what it is about that particular noise, but it makes the hair on my arms stand up.  It is very reminiscent of the sound from Ju-On (which is another very freaky movie) and is used to great effect in Mimic.

Guillermo del Toro was still a pretty unknown commodity when he set about making this film, so it is surprising that he pulled a rather impressive cast for Mimic. Mira Sorvino and Josh Brolin both played major parts of the story and did excellent jobs.  Mimic also features a couple of heavyweights in supporting roles in Charles S Dutton and F Murray Abraham and a pre-Boondock Saints Norman Reedus.  Mimic is worth watching for the cast alone.

From the very early stages of his career, del Toro showed a knack for fantastic storytelling and a very impressive eye with the camera. His work has always skirted the borders of horror and fantasy, but I think Mimic is much more in the horror sci-fi realm.  It’s a great example of his early work and just part of what I consider an outstanding resume. We haven’t been treated to a Guillermo del Toro movie since 2008’s Hellboy sequel, but that is set to change with this summer’s mega release Pacific Rim, which I am TOTALLY psyched for.

So, with Mimic, you have a great cast, an outstanding early example of a star director’s work, and a solid story line in a creepy setting, what’s not to like?  For me, not much.  I love this movie and am not sure why it doesn’t get more love.  I do think that the Director’s Cut is a far superior film to the theatrical release, so maybe that initial run was reason for its poor reputation (or lack of a reputation really). If you haven’t had a chance to check out the DC yet, the Blu Ray can be found rather cheap, usually less than $10. I highly suggest revisiting the movie if it’s been awhile, just keep a can of Raid handy.

Class of 1999

Directed By: Mark Lester

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Stacy Keach, Pam Grier, John Ryan, Patrick Kilpatrick, Bradley Gregg, Traci Lind, Darren Burrows, Joshua John Miller

Subgenre: Post-Apocalyptic, Sci Fi Horror

Synopsis: In a future where gang violence rules the streets, authorities struggle to regain control.  Kennedy High School has decided to take drastic measures to take back their school.

Thoughts: Robots posing as humans in a post-apocalyptic environment is not a new concept in Hollywood. Some renditions have been amazing, some not so much.  Class of 1999 falls somewhere in between those marks.  The scenes and landscape reminded me a lot of Robocop, especially with the designer drugs to be found everywhere.

One of the reasons that Class of 1999 does stand out is its cool cast.  Malcolm McDowell, Pam Grier, John Ryan and Patrick Kilpatrick are all outstanding in their roles.  Grier, Ryan and Kilpatrick are the infiltrating robots, so they don’t convey much emotion, but they come off as very badass in their roles.  Stacy Keach plays the person responsible for the robots and sports a rather unique hairstyle that has to be seen to be believed.  In a lot of ways, Keach was the most disturbing part of the movie, especially the way he eats a banana.

I knew going in that this was a follow-up to Class of 1984, both which were directed Mark Lester.  When I checked out the other movies that Lester directed, I was surprised at how many titles I had heard of.  He directed Firestarter, Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo to name a few.  There were some pretty good action scenes in Class of 1999, something that Lester has shown he knows how to direct.  A few of the effects shots were a little iffy, especially when Pam Grier started showing some battle damage, but I thought of that as the charm of the movie.

Class of 1999 is a fun movie that really personifies its time.  It never takes itself too seriously and features a good story with an interesting cast.  It’s worth a watch, especially if you can find the 8 movie pack that features it.  The only question I haven’t been able to answer about the Class of 1999 is why are the kids still going to school in a future so plagued by drugs and gang violence that the police refuse to patrol the city?