Thursday, April 17, 2014
Beast of the Yellow Night is a Philippines horror import directed by Eddie Romero and starring John Ashley. In fact Romero and Ashley specifically teamed up in 1971 to make this surprisingly restrained horror flick after the drive-in success of the "Blood Island Trilogy" . But while those three movies were intentionally lurid and violent, this one feels different.
It begins in 1945, at the end of WWII when the murderously evil John Langdon, a U.S. military deserter escapes prison and goes on a spree of violent crime. He is tracked down by the Philippines police and fatally shot. But he doesn't die immediately, and as he wanders the jungle slowly and painfully passing away he encounters a stranger who dispassionately offers him a deal, a deal which will give him an eternal existence on Earth. The bargain is sealed when Langdon consumes the remains of a woman who was killed trying to bringing him assistance. The story then cuts to the present day (more or less) and we find that the Stranger (Could it be...Satan? Of course!) has had Langdon assume the identities of various evil folks over the years, but this latest time he takes on the guise of a seemingly dead industrialist and Langdon assumes his life, with wife and all that entails. Then things begin to get hairy when Langdon seems to want to do good things, such as spare his wife a life of sadness. Satan isn't pleased and turns Langdon into a Demon/Werewolf monster who sets about roaming the night killing folks. He kills then meets a blind old man who seems to offer him insight into his fate and eventually despite the police who are hot on his trail, his wife who stands by him regardless, and the Devil who keeps making things difficult he tries to make something good happen. It's a tough sale for sure.
The surprising thing about this movie, especially since I watched it having just finished the "Blood Island" movies was the somber and restrained way in which the story unfolds. Ashley is soft-spoken, as is the Devil actually. The tone is a relatively serious one with dialogue which seems oddly philosophical and reflective. Some of it seems a bit garbled, but the attempt to bring some intelligence to this defacto werewolf movie is admirable. This movie is plenty bloody and gross, but it's also plenty serious. Surprising.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
After his terrifically successful collaborations with Martin Powell on the Sherlock Holmes canon, artist Seppo Makinen dived in one more time, this time with writer Steven Philip Jones, to offer up a speculation about what if the great detective had been involved in the sinister case of Edward Hyde. This classic tale by Robert Louis Stevenson is the perfect fit for Holmes, especially a Holmes who isn't afraid to trade in the supernatural from time time.
What we have in The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, a 1994 Caliber Comics one-shot tale is the classic story of Jekyll and Hyde, but this time blended into the mix throughout is the deductive skill of Sherlock Holmes as well as his able comrade Dr.Watson. They are brought into the case early when the repulsive Edward Hyde presents a check from the esteemed Henry Jekyll to pay for the care of the young girl he had brutalized on the streets of London. After confirming the check was legit, Holmes takes up the case in earnest and for a time keeps tabs on Hyde hoping to discover the secret of this strange and clearly dangerous lout. Eventually the full horror is revealed, but not until a great deal more tragedy is unleashed. What makes this story so potent is that Holmes is perfectly grafted into the already known story of Jekyll and Hyde but nonetheless adds to the whole.
Makinen's art is not as robust this time as I liked in his previous Holmes outings. What he has gained in skill he to some extent has lost in energy, but then a sure-footed storyteller he was likely merely following the script he was given.
This story collected recently by IDW in a volume titled Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes is worth checking out for fans of Scarlet in Gaslight and other Makinen Holmes efforts, but don't get your hopes up too high.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Kings Watch from Dynamite has been worth the wait. Jeff Parker can write a story I like to read and Marc Laming can draw a comic book page worthy of the name. That might sound like false praise, but in the modern world of comics it ain't. Too many comics I glance at look terrible and read worse. This is good stuff by some pros who know what they are doing with some fabulous characters to do it with.
In many respects this storyline is a reboot of the Defenders of the Earth concept which found some success in the 80's both in cartoon for comic book formats. The idea was perfect, team up some classic King Features heroes and have battle the ultimate intergalactic foe Ming the Merciless. So we got to see The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon, a trio of titans get some penetration into a marketplace which as (at least in America) passed them by all too often.
In the story told by Parker and Laming, the Earth is overcome with nightmares, which seem not limited by geography or sociology. All peoples are suffering them and they suggest a difficult future to come. At the same time Dr.Hans Zarkov and Flash Gordon are trying to get an experimental plane into orbit. There is a connection. Then we learn that Cobra, a villain who once faced Mandrake is seeking a mysterious crystal which combined with one he already possesses will open a doorway to some unknown danger. Already weird creatures are finding their way to Earth. These creatures, at least in Africa are confronted by The Phantom and Lothar. Dale Arden, a science reporter is putting all the pieces together.
The battles develop quickly as Cobra uses his vast resources to threaten Earth's defenders and bring about the invasion of his master Ming the Merciless by combining some mysterious crystals and opening portals which will allow the invasion to happen at multiple points across the planet. The heroes realize they are fighting the same foe and join forces, using their wits and combined resources to stave off the invasion.
But despite their best efforts the invasion is launched and Ming's forces find their way into Earth's largest cities. A counterattack is developed and implemented.
I won't say much so as not to spoil a tremendously entertaining story. Suffice it to say, there are secrets within secrets to be revealed as to the full nature of the enemy and the heroes as well. Not everyone is who we think they are.
There is death, there is sacrifice, and there is real true heroism in the face of a brutal threat to mankind's very existence. The Kings Watch is a fabulous read, and the ground floor it seems to what Dynamite has planned for these wonderful heroes.
Monday, April 14, 2014
We live in such a rich comic-book-inspired movie environment these days that there's no way I'm going to catch every one of these on the big screen. In fact, I've taken to mostly waiting to see them when they eventually hit the small screen. Such it was with Dredd, the lastest adaptation of the justly famous British comic book character. It was a hoot and a half!
Karl Urban (quickly becoming my favorite actor next to Ray Stevenson, and who gives us the perfectly pitched performance as Doctor McCoy in the new Star Trek movies) plays the role of Dredd and he does the thing which the part most requires, he never comes out from under the helmet, not once. I admire that immensely. It shows a commitment to the character that not all actors have (see below). Urban is properly gruff and grim and his Judge Dredd has all the characteristics I expected, raw violence and some slight brutal humor. It's easy for this character to be derailed by a too smarmy performance, and that Urban never does.
Judge Anderson, a rookie psychic judge is the connection for the audience, the new face who confronts the violent world of the mega-blocks and who must kill or die to fulfill her mission of delivering justice to the people. She's a character who sees the contradictions of the Judges and who seems always on the edge of accepting the legitimacy of the law as defined in Mega-City. Olivia Thirlby is darn good in a very demanding role.
Other Judges appear in this story of Dredd and Anderson facing down Ma-Ma a heinous drug baroness who rules "Peach Trees", the mega-block where almost all the action is situated. They are ineffective or corrupt, leaving Dredd and Anderson alone together to deliver "justice".
Unlike its 90's predecessor starring Sly Stallone as the infamous Judge Dredd, the new movie has no obvious comedy relief. There is absurdity galore and even cruel brutal satire in some few moments, but never would you say this movie plays it for laughs. I always thought for all its weaknesses that Stallone looked very good in the helmet and in those moments when he has it on that movie holds together. It's when it comes off and we get a more "humane" Dredd that the story begins to skid out of control (not including Rob Snyder who should've been killed early and often). The decision by the director and Urban to never show Dredd's face, in keeping with the comic, is key to making this new Dredd movie more effective.
Let there be no doubt. This is a seriously and sometimes hideously violent movie. People are killed left, right and center as Dredd and charge try to stay alive. The word that kept coming to mind as I watched this movie was "relentless". The violence is relentless and harsh and graphic. The story is relentless, confined within a single building for almost all of its duration. The villain Ma-Ma is relentless in her attempts to kill Dredd and maintain her willful control of the block. And finally Dredd himself is relentless, always moving forward in one way or another to fulfill his obligations as "the Law".
Sunday, April 13, 2014
It's taken almost as long to get around to seeing The Cabin in the Woods as it did for Joss Whedon and gang to get this clever spin on the classic splatter film into the theaters. And I liked it. I don't usually watch movies of this kind unless there is some fresh element people are buzzing about. That's the case here as the creators have taken the classic horror scenario of teenagers in the deep woods facing sharp pointy death and deconstructed it in such a way as to evoke followers of sci-fi as well as horror.
There be spoilers beyond this point...Beware!
We meet a surprisingly smart and self-aware gang of twenty-something college kids taking a break by driving deep into the woods to spend some quality time toking and fornicating in a remote cabin. They ignore a creepy old gas station attendant and drive on, at last penetrating a strange electronic grid and arrive at their destination. This movie's main trick though is that our teens are under constant surveillance by a high-tech organization stationed under the cabin which has arranged at detailed length to lure these particular five teens to this rendevous with the particular intent to kill them off in a pre-determined order to salve the periodic requirements of ancient gods buried beneath the Earth who will rise if they aren't given the proper sacrifice in the proper time. The technicians who mastermind the orderly but still ultra-violent murder of the kids are striking in their banality when it comes to this regrettable but seemingly necessary procedure. They have hardened themselves over years of repetition to this murderous ritual and they dehumanize their victims in surprisingly demeaning but frightfully familiar ways.
The kids are given a chance to select their method of death (unbeknownst to them) and they choose a family of hillbilly zombies who immediately rise, blades in rotten hand to begin the carnage. Almost immediately the ritual goes haywire, as the technicians use their resources to herd the kids into the proper spots for execution and the kids fight to stay alive. Strangely this time the kids become aware of the behind-the-scenes activity (paranoia caused by smoking too much weed it is suggested) and are able to defend themselves somewhat more effectively. Despite that though, they continue to die in the necessary order until things go seriously off the rails when only two remain. These two end up down below in the technicians hideaway and they raise quite the ruckus. The ending of this movie caught me by surprise, but I'll say no more.
Spoilers have ceased...Analysis begins...Beware!
This is a hip smart movie, totally in keeping with the work Whedon has done in the past with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and suchlike. It has all the strengths of those efforts, smart clever dialogue and a neat meta-knowledge aspect which allows the viewer to feel a part of the creative process. It also has the weaknesses, which include an over reliance on clever dialogue at the cost of true emotional impact and a winking relationship between the creators and the audience which at once invites the audience in but keeps them at an emotional distance. The cathartic effect of these films can be palpable, but that is undercut when the movie is too aware of its own genre details. Satire can be intellectually enlightening, but it hardly ever emotionally compelling.
That said, The Cabin in the Woods is must see for most horror fans, and especially for horror fans like me who like a sci-fi spicing up the witches brew. That kind of mix of supernatural and super-science is exceedingly Lovecraftian at its core and this movie owes quite a bit to Lovecraft after it's all said and done.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
I chanced across a documentary which chronicled the exploitation movies made in the Philippines in the 60's and 70's. Most of that stuff is limited interest to me such as the women in prison pictures and such like. But I was struck by some of the earliest efforts by a director named Eddie Romero, horror movies which at once sounded lurid and fascinating. Specifically mentioned was a trio of movies set on a weird place called "Blood Island".
The first from 1968 is titled Brides of Blood and details how a trio of Americans find themselves on a remote island in the Pacific which some few years before had been contaminated by radiation from atomic bomb testing. Dr.Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor) is a biologist who comes to the island with his exceedingly randy wife Carla (Beverly Hills/Powers) who seems constantly on the lookout for a handsome young man. Also on the trip is Jim Farrel (John Ashley), a Peace Corp volunteer come to help the natives with agricultural concerns. This trio find a village racked with fear which holds lotteries to decide which of its lovely maidens it will offer up to a hideous manlike monster who comes lurching out of the jungle at night and dismembers his victims. Farrel becomes attracted to a lovely islander named Alma who eventually becomes the chosen sacrifice. He fights to save her which puts him in conflict with the village. Meanwhile the trio have met Estaban Powers and his servant Goro who have lived on the island longer than anyone. Carla wants to do Estaban but finds him a difficult conquest since he seems always to be suffering from some headache or other. One odd thing about the island, is that the plant life can move around and it seems not uncommon for tentacles to reach and grab unsuspecting folks, mostly girls it seems.You can probably guess the rest.
The success of that movie convinced its star John Ashley to team up with Romero to make some more of these exploitation movies, specifically designed for America's drive-in crowds. Their next effort from 1969 was titled The Mad Doctor of Blood Island which introduces us to John Ashley as Dr.Bill Foster who arrives on Blood Island to find a different but similar village and a similar threat. Along with Sheila Willard (Angelique Pettyjohn), who has come to the island to find her long lost father, a local drunk, Foster uncovers a weird menace centered around an estate in the middle of the island. One Dr. Lorca and his assistant Razak are using a weird chlorophyll concoction to experiment on people, turning them green and mad. One such victim was the father of the handsome Carlos Lopez who he believes died some years before. But the truth is far stranger and puts all of them in considerable danger. Along for the ride is a fascinating native girl named Marla who is a powerful personality and has an agenda all her own.
The success of the latter movie led to an immediate and direct sequel in 1971 titled in Beast of Blood which picks up the story and gives us a variation on the monster we met in the previous movie. John Ashley returns as Bill Foster, but this time he survives an ocean disaster to return to Blood Island and face the threat of Dr.Lorca who apparently survived the finale of the last movie along with his assistant Razak. This time Foster is joined by reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnell) and the pair quickly find all sorts of danger in this movie which is more of an adventure than a pure horror film, a movie with a distinct James Bond-like feel to the action sequences. They find a hidden lair with lots of mercenaries and a most memorable monster.
These are fascinating movies, leisurely paced in some places and with questionable sound quality, but nonetheless compelling little horror flicks with just enough nudity to make things interesting and sufficient gore for most any reasonable fan of such stuff. One of the best things in these movies is Bruno Punzalan who plays first Goro and later Razak, a fascinating and memorable face ideal for horror pictures. His presence adds a great deal of atmosphere to these smarter-than-you'd-think outings. Romero, much to surprise of most fans I suspect, deals a lot with the personalities and motivation of his characters making you feel more for their fates than is typical in many horror flicks.
The versions I have feature a commentary track on each detailing not only the making of each movie, but putting into context the whole of the movies of this kind from Hemisphere Pictures, the company which produced them.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Cat-Women of the Moonis one of those infamous flicks I've read about for decades, but had never seen. When I found it with its companion Missile to the Moon, I knew I had to have them. More on that other film later. 1953's Cat-Women of the Moon begins right in the middle of the action, with a really suspect crew blasting off to the Moon with what appears to be limited expectation of what they will find and frankly what they will do. The movie was made on a small budget and nowhere does that show up more obviously than in what to my memory is the most makeshift interior of a spacecraft I've ever seen on screen. It's clearly just some office furniture and a few specialty hammocks in front of some exceedingly cheesy looking dials and knobs.
Flying into space inside this sardine can is a crew made up of Sonny Tufts as mission leader Laird Grainger who seems an incredibly naive scientist type, Victor Jory as Kip Reissner, a no-nonsense second-in-command who harbors feelings it seems clear enough for Marie Windsor in her role as Helen Salinger, the crews largely pointless female member and who is tied romantically to the mission leader. Along for the ride are William Phipps as Doug Williams, a youthful innocent radio man and Douglas Fowley as Walt Walters, an avaricious engineer. The plot is mostly revealed within moments of meeting the crew as their key personality traits are uncovered. The only surprise might be Helen who it seems is under the mental control of the Cat-Women, who by the way don't actually appear until half way into the movie.
Thanks to Helen the crew touches down right outside the cavern entrance to the lair of the Cat-Women who have manipulated events to get their claws on the spaceship so they might leave the Moon, their society on the verge of collapse with only a few folks remaining, all of them slinky femme fatales it seems. They are led by Alpha (Carol Brewster) and Beta (Suzanne Alexander) and there's also Lambda (Susan Morrow) who falls in love with Williams.
After much haggling around, and increasingly stupid decisions the crew fall victim to their various emotions and almost to some of the most haggard looking giant spiders it possible to imagine. Only Kip stays vigilant, but eventually even he succumbs and the crew is in desperate straights before the finale which comes abruptly and to my chagrin mostly off stage.
Cat-Women of the Moon is a hapless movie with some fun and funny scenes. The acting is properly hammy and effects create more giggles than suspense. No one in the cast is taking it easy and they earnestly plow ahead through this exceedingly cheesy material to their credit.
Missile to the Moon appeared in 1958 several years after the Cat-Women movie, but is largely identical in the larger scope of its plot, and is considered a remake of the earlier film. Sources suggest that this movie had a smaller budget than the earlier flick, but they sure the bang for their dollar as it looks a little sleeker, especially in the early stages. The spaceship is slightly more convincing for sure and the action on the Moon is more elaborate with some actual outdoor shooting.
The story is similar but also different in some remarkable ways. This time the action begins well before lift-off, in fact it's an attempt by the United States government which prompts a quick launch. The creator of the rocket ship, one Dirk Green it turns out is an agent of the society which once thrived on the Moon, but which some years before had sent a mission to Earth to find a way to stave disaster. He hastily returns, using some juvenile delinquent escaped convicts named Gary and Lon.
Green's partner is a guy named Steve Dayton who along with his girl friend June end up tagging along on the trip accidentally and this merry troop head off into space. Sadly Green soon succumbs to an accident and gives Dayton a medallion and tells him to allow the ship to land itself. They follow those instructions and soon find themselves on the Moon and facing off against some really neat rock monsters. Soon they find a cave and a culture of exclusively women, this time the place looks rather like Fu Manchu's hide out. The dames want pretty much the same thing they did in the last movie, but it takes some few different twists getting there.
Missile to the Moon is a movie that gets a little bit stupider as it goes along, forcing characters to do some really lame things to keep the action moving forward. Richard Travis as Dayton gives a remarkably flat performance, among the weakest in the cast which all seem to have been under orders to keep things relatively calm. Tommy Cook and Gary Clarke are fun as the hoods, but their presence makes little sense if you stop to think about it even for a second.