Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Review: Six really very strange horror/sci-fi movies you probably have never heard of before, much less seen.

Updated per comment....

One of the reasons I started this blog was to do some movie reviews for off-the-wall films that might not get a lot of attention from mainstream reviewers. I am quite the film buff, in my own way. I specialize in science fiction and horror; the more unusual, the stranger, the more obtuse, the better, in my mind. Eventually, I got away from doing movie reviews, as I became very focused in on politics and the current insanity of our society, which I am not enjoying at all at this point in my life. But I thought I would go back and try some reviews, just to do something different and get my mind off of the very disturbing crap that is going on in this country on a daily basis.

So, with that explanation, here are my picks for some really quite strange films.

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell: This is from Japan, but is definitely not your prototypical Japanese monster film, with guys in goofy rubber suits knocking down small, fake looking buildings. This one is rather disturbing and very hard to describe, since it only has a passing nod to anything that might resemble a plausible plot.

A commercial airliner full of passengers experiences very odd goings-on, such as bloody birds throwing themselves against the plane’s windows and some unusual visual phenomena in the sky. After being hijacked by the bad guy, the plane crashes as it is trying to return to the airport. Lots of very strange things occur. It turns out that the Earth has been invaded by aliens, intent upon exterminating the human population. One of the aliens, I believe, referred to as a Gokemidoro (space vampire, I suppose?) takes over the bad guy's body and then prowls around the wreckage of the airplane and picking off the crash survivors, one by one. You can tell who is the Gokemidoro by the fact that the person has a very strange wound on his or her forehead (caused by the alien blob like creature entering through the forehead to take control of the person) that has more than a passing likeness to a vagina. This effect sounds pretty ridiculous when reading about it, but when you see it, it is very odd and disturbing. Not terribly frightening, of course, just odd and disturbing.

The film definitely strikes an unusual, surreal mood. In many ways, it’s not a lot different than a lot of modern “horror” films where the “bad thing” picks off the characters one at a time. You stop really being involved with the characters, as you know many of them are going to end up toast in the end. The only suspense about it all is trying to guess who is going to be left alive. This one, however, definitely has a very unnerving quality to it. And, in the end, everyone dies because the aliens win. One of the final scenes where the survivors escape from the crash site and make their way to civilization, only to come across a toll road full of thousands of stalled cars full of dead people, is a bit shocking.

Recommendation: Eh, it’s a coin flip. If you can find it and enjoy Japanese films (which tend to be a lot less linear than American films and don’t really waste a lot of time filling in the back story for the audience), you might try this some Friday night. You might decide that you wasted about an hour and a half of your life that you won’t ever get back. But then again, where are you ever going to see a space vampire with a vagina in his forehead?

Bubba Ho-Tep: This is a pretty recent film that stars Bruce Campbell (“Army of Darkness”) and Ossie Davis (a very accomplished actor who, unfortunately, just passed away). Now, it has what I thought a great setup just because it is so weird. (I tend to like weird, if you haven’t figured that out by now.) But it never really follows through on what could have been a promising premise. It just ended up as sort of a turgid mess of a film with a bunch of scenes that you know were meant to be funny in a strange, black kind of way but really weren’t.

Campbell plays either Elvis Presley or an Elvis impersonator living in a retirement home in rural Texas, and he demands that everyone treat him as Elvis. He is friends with Davis, who believes himself to be Jack Kennedy. This takes a bit of rationalization on his part, of course, given that a) Kennedy is dead, and b) he is black. Odd things happen in the nursing home, such as people dying suddenly. Since this is a nursing home for the very old and infirm, no one really asks any questions. But it turns out that an ancient soul-sucking mummy from Egypt is really the cause, wandering the halls at night, looking for victims. The mummy effect is actually rather creepy, but is somewhat diminished by the fact that the mummy wears a nancy-looking cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Elvis and Jack Kennedy figure all this out and team up to destroy the mummy, using Molotov cocktails and Kennedy’s motorized wheelchair.

Recommendation: Don’t waste your time. I just thought I would review it because it has such a weird premise.

Incubus: This one was considered to be a “lost film” for a while, which is unusual given it is a relatively recent film. It stars William Shatner, just before he moved into his signature “Captain Kirk” role in Star Trek. It was produced and directed by Leslie Stevens, of Outer Limits fame. In fact, many of the Outer Limits crew were involved in this film. What is really unusual about it, however, that every bit of dialog is done in Esperanto. This is probably the only movie ever filmed using Esperanto.

Shatner plays a man living out on a secluded Greek (I think) island with his sister in a shack. As so often happens in Greece, malevolent spirits are prowling about, looking for humans to screw around with. Kia is a succubus who tires of seducing the local men, as they are such easy pickings. She needs a new challenge, so she sets her sights on a truly “good” man, which, of course, is Kirk, er, Shatner. (Yeah, as if Kirk, er, Shatner ever resisted a female within 30 feet.) He sort of avoids her immediate sexually-baited trap, but still falls in love with her, and she with him, which is rather unfortunate for a succubus. Kia’s sister gets pretty upset about all of this, as this isn’t really supposed to happen to succubii, and eventually calls up the titular incubus to wreak vengeance upon Kirk’s, er, Shatner’s sister.

It’s all very slow moving but somewhat interesting, just because it is so weird to watch Shatner actually speak his lines in Esperanto. The two lady demons are not terribly seductive and don’t seem to have the hang of sending men’s souls to eternal damnation down.

Spider Baby: This film stars Lon Chaney Jr. as a chauffeur for a really strange family with a terrible medical affliction who live out in a secluded tumbled down mansion that bears no small resemblance to Anthony Perkin’s mother’s house. As a person in the family begins to grow older, they begin to revert to a child-like state and develop an unfortunate tendency toward cannibalism. Some distant relatives (Carol Ohmart, who starred in “The House on Haunted Hill”, plays the rapacious cousin) show up with a little weasel of a lawyer, intent upon raiding the family’s wealth. The family consists of two very cute but really creepy teenage girls, their older brother (played by Sid Haig, who went on to later fame in such gorefest classics as “House of 1000 Corpses”), and various elder family members who are kept locked away in the basement.

It’s all played very tongue-in-cheek, of course. Lon Chaney actually sort of “sings” the introduction song, “The Maddest Story Ever Told.” Sid Haug chases Carol Ohmart, in her rather risqué nightgown, around for a while. One of the girls ties up the other cousin, one of the only two sane people in the entire film, and threatens to cut him up into little pieces. The lawyer gets his due when he gets eaten by the family in the basement. Lon Chaney finally realizes he can’t hide the family anymore, so he steals some dynamite from the local road building crew and blows up the house, with him and the family in it. The sane cousin and the lawyer’s assistant escape and get married. The film ends by focusing on the couple’s happy home and their young daughter, who is seen out in the garden capturing and eating spiders…. The End.

This one is quite a bizarre one, although the 60’s did put out quite a lot of obscure, bizarre films. Not everyone was intent on making that “blockbuster” film which would pull down tens of millions on the opening weekend. I would highly recommend this one, if you can find it and you have the inclination toward black humor and weird people.

Shanks: I had never even heard of this one until recently. It stars the great (depending, I suppose, on how you regard mimes) Marcel Marceau. He plays, what else, the town fool, who is mute, also not much of a surprise. He has a bit of a crush on a pretty young girl who doesn’t regard him as a fool. He lives at home with a shrewish sister and her husband who treat him rather poorly. This is all pretty standard stuff, so far. The fool, at the insistence of his sister, gets a job with the local mad scientist (also played by Marceau). Said scientist is working on experiments with little radio controlled servo things that he can put into objects, including dead animals, that he can eventually get to stand up and walk around.

Well, the mad scientist sort of dies one day. The town fool is despondent for a while, but decides to try the doctor’s experiment on the doctor himself. He successfully “reanimates” the doctor and gets him to walk around the lab. The sight gags are pretty wonderful, in my estimation. Many things ensue which I won’t go into, but it turns out that the fool’s shrewish sister and drunk husband also get themselves killed. The fool, quite naturally, reanimates them as well. The funniest scenes in the entire movie are when the fool take both of them into town to go shopping. The visual humor is really good, especially since the two radio controlled puppets that look so silly were introduced to the audience as pretty nasty, unsympathetic characters. The fool eventually throws his young lady friend a banquet using the two as servants.

It is unfortunate that the film’s writer and director (William Castle, in his last film) decided to take this film in a very dark direction. I was with them up to this point, thoroughly enjoying the black humor. A motorcycle gang invades the banquet. The young girl ends up being raped and killed by the gang members, which causes the fool to use the doctor’s diabolical inventions to take his revenge. In the end, he triumphs over the evil motorcyclists and reanimates his young flame so he can live happily ever after, I suppose.

I really hated this ending. Don’t do that to me. Don’t make me care about a character, especially a pretty young girl, and then kill her off in a very violent and sadistic manner. You lost me at that point. (That is one very big reason I absolutely hated “Alien 3.” After making the audience really become emotionally invested in Newt in “Aliens”, the character becomes a burden to the script in the third film, so they just kill her off in a crash landing so they can get the movie going. I fumed through that entire movie and never did enjoy a single minute of it because I was so mad.)

Anyway, back to Shanks. The first three quarters of the film was thoroughly enjoyable. Sort of E.T.A. Hoffmann meets the Brothers Grimm meets “Death Becomes Her” meets Shields and Yarnell (if anyone remembers them, from the old Sonny and Cher show, I believe). Quite an unusual movie and pretty amusing, again using lots of dark humor. I would just recommend you turn it off after the banquet scene. I rather had a sour taste in my mouth after seeing the ending with its broad hint at necrophilia. Ick.

Six String Samurai: I reviewed this one much earlier at this blog. I thought I would include that one in my list of very strange horror/sci-fi films. Just click the link, I am not going to bother rewriting it. It is a pretty great film if you like weird. Some great lines, too. “You ever try a pink golf ball, Wally? Why, the wind shear alone on a pink golf ball can take the head off a 90-pound midget at over 300 yards.”

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