Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Sentinel (1977)

In the four years since we actually added anything to this blog, the world has moved on. DVDs have trembled but not fallen in the face in Blu-Ray and downloads, and our homes have suddenly gained access, via Netflix and other streaming services, to all manner of weird and wonderful movies that might never have otherwise crossed our path.

And thus it came to be that, on a quiet autumn night in 2012, I found myself watching Michael Winner's The Sentinel.

I'm not a massive fan of Micahel Winner as a human being. He's said some pretty obnoxious things over the years and I can't say I'd particularly relish the idea of having dinner with him. That said, some of his films have a certain unique quality that I can't quite bring myself to dismiss out of hand. You see, I have a deep love of Winner's frankly crackers remake of The Wicked Lady which is a terrible, terrible movie that manages to be infinitely more entertaining that 99% of good ones. The day I first watched that movie, I found myself going back to watch it again the very next day.

I didn't revisit The Sentinel the next day, but I'm still glad that I checked it out. It follows Christina Raines' commitment-shy model as she moves into a new apartment but finds herself haunted by spirits of the past. There's a blind priest knocking around upstairs and there may well be a reason that she has found herself in this property.

Yup, it's a 'gates of hell' supernatural shocker which often plunges into camp melodrama but surprisingly often gets things right, too. There are a couple of genuine scares mixed into the stew here: a confrontation with a ghastly old figure in a shadowy room is actually the stuff of genuine terrors rather than pointing and laughing, although elsewhere the pudding is so comprehensively over-egged that it would be difficult to line the movie up alongside its more critically revered peers without someone crying foul.

The final act finally tips over into monumental bad taste and flat-out exploitation, (with a cast of extras with physical disabilities being wheeled (not literally) in front of the camera as examples of the damned), but until that point there's some good creepy stuff here. The cast list is fairly remarkable too, with appearances by Chris Sarandon as our lead's would-be husband, a young-looking Jeff Goldblum and even Eli Wallach and Burgess Meredith turning in some interesting work.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch The Wicked Lady remake again. It's a far, far worse film, but it's much, much better.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


..finally found my log-in for this account.

More reviews on the way, methinks..

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Mammoth (2006)

Mammoth is one of those flicks that a dedicated fan of b-movies needs to have watched just to be able to describe the plot at parties. The quality or entertainment value are a total irrelevance; you just know that you have to be able to be able to walk up to people you've never met before and say;

"Have you, by any chance, ever seen that film involving the alien-possessed zombie mammoth that sucks people's souls out through their faces with his trunk? It's got the chick out of Firefly in it"

Mammoth is, of course, a great big cheerful bucket of horseshit. Funded by the Sci-Fi channel, it stars not only the aforementioned Summer Glau but also Tom Skerrit, who has been smacked around the face with the aging stick so many times that he's almost unrecognisable as being the same guy who humped Drew Barrymore in Poison Ivy, let alone being Captain Dallas.

The plot, you say? Why? Of what possible interest could the plot be when you already know this features an alien-possessed zombie mammoth that sucks people's souls out through their faces with his trunk? Short version; alien meteor wakes up mammoth. Long version; actually, the short version pretty much covered it.

The mammoth himself is, of course, CGI. Much as I'd have loved him to be stop motion, or possibly a guy on all fours in a mammoth costume, we're strictly in low-budget zeroes and ones territory with all the inevitable sense of green-screen disconnect that brings with it. There's some weird shit going on with the looping here, too, and I can't help wondering if the last act was a rewrite since we barely get to see a single mouth move in synch with the words it is uttering for the last ten minutes.

Frankly, Summer Glau really should be starring in a better standard of cack than this if she wants to keep her career out of post-signature-role freefall, but that's not to say that the flick isn't reasonably diverting and happily aware of its own ridiculousness. Having said that, a quick glance around on the net seems to reveal an awful lot of amazon/imdb armchair reviewers thoroughly outraged that the flick doesn't take itself seriously.

"For those who like serious sci-fi like me, you will feel cheated" opines one Amazon user. Quite whether the world is ready for a deadly serious zombie soul-sucking mammoth movie will have to remain a mystery.

For now, at least...

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

1408 (Mikael Hafstrom, 2007)

I've seen an awful lot of Stephen King adaptations over the years. Some of them (Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror masterpiece 'The Shining' for example,) are simply brilliant. Others (such as Mick Garris's 1997 TV miniseries 'The Shining') are, well, not. If all these movies were set out in a line, from absolute worst to absolute best, (and believe me, I'm tempted to try this); 1408 would probably come out somewhere just over half-way. You could say it's nowhere near as good as The Shining; on the other hand, it's an awful lot better than... The Shining.

At first glance, the premise seems worryingly familiar. Troubled writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a bit morose and sorry for himself. Probably because, being a writer in a Stephen King story, he's a bit of a stereotype. And because he has a mysteriously troubled family background, about which he will never speak. No, Mr Enslin would rather spend his time telling everyone he meets that he doesn't believe in ghosts. Which seems a slightly self-destructive career move for a man who makes his living writing guides to America's most haunted places However, Enslin's eyes are well and truly opened when he spends a night in a hotel room that is, for want of a better word, a bit evil.

For the first hour or so, this film is actually far better than the premise suggests. In fact, it's bordering on awesome. The performances from Cusack and the (tragically underused) Samuel L. Jackson are solid, while the atmosphere and pacing lead to some scares that are genuinely unsettling. It's rare nowadays to see a Hollywood horror movie that relies on suggestion and the build-up of tension to deliver its scares and sadly, about half-way through, the studio appears to have realised this and bottled out.

The second half of the film, then, falls back on the usual noughties horror staples of loud noises, over-the-top effects and plot twists so incomprehensible they had the audience blinking at each other in disbelief. That's not to say it's dreadful, merely disappointing.

Overall, 1408 is a pretty watchable movie. Great performances by Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, coupled with atmosphere, tension and some genuinely scary moments make for an entertaining watch. With a better-developed plot and a more satisfying conclusion, it could have been as good as, well, The Shining.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Snowbeast (Herb Wallerstein, 1977)

In the immediate wake of Jaws, a whole bunch of mad-animal-on-the-loose movies burped out of the depths of low-budget movieland. No environment was left unplundered, including, in this cheerfully wretched effort, ski resorts.

The plot follows Jaws fairly devotedly... Monster kills holidaymaker at a crucial point of the tourist season. Business forces behind the resort decide to keep it open. Local law enforcement produce a corpse of something much smaller, and give the all clear. A couple of savvy individuals know what’s up, and decide to track the beast themselves.

But never before has the plot of Jaws been told using quite so much footage of amateur-level skiing.

The scene is set by showing cast members skiing, with cheerful music underscoring the action.

The tension is cranked up by showing cast members skiing, with sinister music underscoring the action.

The race to find the beast is brought to life by showing cast members skiing, with fast paced music underscoring the action.

One of the only truly remarkable things about SnowBeast is how, given quite how much time the cast and crew evidently spent skiing during the shoot, they managed to remain so resolutely mediocre at it; moving at slow speeds and falling over at random intervals.

Our main man in this particular epic is Bo Svenson, who puts in an endearingly wooden performance as Gar, a former skiing champion who hasn’t strapped on the planks for a few years due to fear of failure. Needless to say, he overcomes this phobia at around the mid-point of the flick, enabling the camera to linger on yet more skiing. The Snowbeast itself, you ask? Ah, well, apparently it’s a shaky POV camera. Once or twice it’s a furry arm. And in a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots, a guy in a furry jacket. But nearly always it’s a shaky POV camera.

There’s hardly any blood on display in SnowBeast, probably due to a general awareness during production that this sucker was likely to go to TV and not many other places, but it has a sort of sweetness that you can’t help warming to. A man covets another man’s wife; she explains the situation, he nods understandingly and they agree to remain ‘friends forever’. It comes across rather like a horror movie written by a particularly soppy eight-year old girl.

SnowBeast may prove somewhat tricky to track down in the UK, but for those who desperately want to experience it, here’s a tip. Simply watch Ski Sunday, but turn the volume down and play the Jaws soundtrack over the top instead.
You’ll get the general idea.

Bug Buster/Some Things Never Die (Lorenzo Doumani, 1998)

Bug Buster is a Randy Quaid vehicle that Randy Quaid couldn't even be fucked to appear in for more than 10 minutes. Life doesn't get any better than that, does it? No matter how much we get down on our knees and pray, it still never seems to get any better.

Title change between US and UK release? Check. Cameos from genre stalwarts? Check. Rip-offs of scenes from good flicks, but reshot with all their good qualities removed? Oh, check. Big check. Count on it.

Our flick begins with a reconstruction of what the opening scene from 'Jaws' would have looked like if it had been shot by somebody with severe brain damage. The low-budget equivalent of a pretty girl beckons her boyfriend to go skinny-dipping. Then leaves her swimsuit on. They head into the water... He gets attacked by something unseen beneath the surface. Next thing we know, she is getting patched up by a nurse. In a vet's. Presumably because that's the only set that was handy.

Just in case we didn't get this subtle nudge to a classic, Scotty from Star Trek pops up a scene later to ask everyone, 'Haven't you seen Jaws?'. Cheers, Mr Doohan. I don't think I'd have got that without your help. Oh, but just in case, they throw in a reconstruction of the 'caught the wrong beast' scene.

Katherine Heigl, as the bug-phobic leading lady (yes, despite the Jaws homage, this is a big bug movie) is the kind of actress who tends to make previously intelligent, articulate straight males make strange bubbling noises and inappropriate gestures with their hands. Doumani is well away of this, and chooses to repeat one piece of footage of her lying in bed on no less than three occasions. OK, she happens to be covered with crawling bugs at the time, but she still looks foxy. She's also one of those utterly charming leading ladies who falls in love with the leading man just because he happens to be able to walk, talk and metabolise. One grunted half-conversation, and he's the only man for her.

Elsewhere, George Takei tries to provide moral support to fellow ex-Trek stalwart Doohan, by standing in a different set to everybody else and shouting incoherently down the telephone before getting squished.

And then, ten minutes before the whole thing lumbers to a cack-handed climax, Randy Quaid turns up, doing an impression of the John Goodman spider-buster in 'Arachnophobia'. Looking delighted to not have appeared in the movie so far, Quaid brings a slight second-wind to the proceedings by having a fist-fight with a cheap-looking, wonky-eyed puppet.
'Bug Buster' has been clumsily re-titled as 'Some Things Never Die' in the UK, and packaged as a more 'serious' sci-fi/ horror effort than it is. One for four in the morning, then.
On cable.
And drugs.