Sunday, November 21, 2010

They Came From Beyond Space 1967 **

Dir: Freddie Francis Stars: Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Michael Gough

I hate to say it but this is a case where the poster is better than the movie (I plan to discuss how movies compare to their posters when I get around to reviewing Terrornauts). But the movie is okay, as long as you think of it more as an extended English episode of Outer Limits than an actual feature.

Plot has hero Hutton not being affected by alien mind control because he has a steel plate in his head, which leaves him to investigate a phenomenon attacking his scientific colleagues including the woman he loves, portrayed by the very pouty-lipped Jennifer Jayne.

The scenes where mind control takes over are fun, because suddenly there is an explosion of groovy, jazzy music. As Hutton investigates he finds a secure compound the mind-controlled are working at with all sorts of suspicious whatnot taking place. When he starts getting too close to the secret, he gets zapped by some alien type zappers, which apparently cause him to pass out and wake up to see this:

This of course only makes him want to investigate further, leading him into the compound where he uncovers what appear to be frozen bodies. He basically kidnaps his girlfriend, still possessed as she is by aliens, only he has now figured out how to get the bad presence out, and that the way to keep it out is by having people wear pots on their head.

This all leads to a pretty interesting ending, as he stows away on a craft being sent nightly to the moon from the compound, where he discovers the secret of the aliens, as revealed by the Nimoy-esque Michael Gough, who would later play Alfred for four Batman films.

This is the kind of movie that is sort of problematic from the perspective of a b-movie fan. It's actually almost compelling enough to be a real film, and shows some film making skill; but at the same time, the type of thrills one hopes for from a crazy low-grade picture are only there sporadically and in small doses. So it's neither one or the other. But like I said, it would be decent if condensed down to an episode of a sci-fi anthology show. This film doesn't give you a wild ride, it is more something to be hypnotized by on a Sunday afternoon when bombed out on cold remedies and afterwards wonder what the heck it was you just watched. At least enjoy the wallpaper and curtains.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Black Fist 1975 or 1976 **

Director: Timothy Galfas, Richard Kaye

Star: Richard Lawson, Dabney Coleman, Philip Michael Thomas

Indeed, this movie does feature the work of Philip Michael Thomas, who plays a junkie from the ghetto, probably giving him the background needed for when he was later on Miami Vice and had to seem like he was familiar with the drug underworld. You can also look for PMT as a gang member in The Dark, the 1979 movie about an alien monster that shoots a death ray out of its forehead, and which also features the acting talents of Casey Kasem.

Black Fist tells a story similar to many of its genre. A young black man from the mean streets seeks to become somebody, through somewhat shady means if necessary, and in this case his ticket there is in the illegal fighting game. He demonstrates he is good with his fists fighting a large bald man who will recall to the viewer Pat Roach's hulking German in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

All seems to be going along swimmingly, then along comes a cop played by Dabney Coleman, still years away from his lecherous turn in 9 to 5. He of course demands a piece of the action to keep the heat off, and utters the immortal line, "Some of us never pay the piper because some of us are the piper."

So as one might expect, the odds pile up so high there is eventually pressure on our hero to throw a fight which he will not do, leading to all sorts of nastiness, and then him going on a revenge trip. The part where he deals with Coleman's character is a frosty treat. It all comes to a finish with an ambiguous, psychout head-trip final shot.

Movies like this can be a lot of fun and this one is no exception with all the jive talk, terrific funk soundtrack and disco dancing. Also like many of its type, it balances out being visibly low budget, with some scenes that feel very natural, as during one fight in a public washroom, a man wanders into the altercation and become a part of it in a way that almost looks like it just happened during filming.

While these films can seem exploitative, I do think they did a lot for the acceptance and the growing influence of black culture into white parts of North America. One can imagine that suburban kids would see these in drive-ins, and be introduced to a world that would seem a bit fascinating and strange, a tad alluring. At the same time, what the heroes were going through, while being particular to their situation, would also have a universal quality and be fairly identifiable for anyone who feels desperately trapped in their life.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Blood Harvest aka Nightmare 1987 **

Dir: Bill Rebane
Stars: Cari Salochek aka Itonia Salcheck, Dean West, Tiny Tim

There is some b-genius at work here in casting Tiny Tim as an unnerving clown character. For a grainy, synth-accompanied, straight-to-video slasher movie, this is really several cuts above of what one might expect. A young girl named Jill returns home from college to visit her parents only to find that she is a pariah in the town and her parents are missing. Creepy events start taking place as a boy she used to know tries to rekindle a romance with her. Tiny Tim is the brother of this boy, and keeps showing up uninvited around her house and generally freaking her out. People close to her begin to go missing, which means it's time for the beauteous Salocheck to take some showers and parade around the house in her underwear. Strangely, after all that, in the climactic chase scene, as the killer is revealed, she is dressed modestly in jeans and a bulky sweatshirt. It is to the credit of Cari Salocheck, this her only film credit, that she still looks sexy, perhaps even more so, and it's a nice switch from the usual. I've previously discussed my aversion to blatant nudity in lurid films, but in 80's straight-to-vid slashers it's pretty unavoidable and it would almost seem jarring if there was none at all. Although Tiny Tim's off-kilter (if he was ever on-kilter) performance - which makes great use of his trademark combination of weirdness and vulnerability - is deservedly played up in distribution material, with a gratifying payoff, Cari deserves a lot of credit for just looking great and her performance is quite creditable.

This is not usually my taste in movies, in fact early on I thought I might not get too far, but it ended up pulling me in. There is some well-done gore, although the grainy picture probably helps cover flaws, not that I don't enjoy flaws when I see them. For sheer enthusiasm of film-making there is something quite likable about the film.