Playbirds (1978)

Playbirds (1978)

Film: Mary Millington is best known for being the UK’s best know striptease artist, and, along with Fiona Richmond, was labelled ‘the two hottest sex stars of the seventies. Millington started her career as a glamour model and eventually graduated to sex films and reels. In her life she was contacted pursued by the police, which eventually resulted in her committing suicide at age 33.

(The is a review of Respectable: The Mary Millington Story elsewhere on this very site)

This film, Playbirds, tell of a serial killer who is targeting girls from the men’s magazine Playbirds. The police, Holbourne (Glynn Edwards from Get Carter) and Morgan (Gavin Campbell from On The Buses) investigate the murders, interviewing the magazines owner, Dougan (Alan Lake from Blake’s Seven) before deciding they need a ‘man’ on the inside… you know, putting a female officer in danger by posing as a stripper/ glamour model… standard police procedure.

Speaking of ‘standard police procedure’, the way they decided which WPC should be used in the undercover work is to get a bunch of them to volunteer to strip and show their bodies, the ‘winner’ being an officer named Lucy (Millington), new so she goes undercover to infiltrate the business and try to find the killer… but will she a victim herself?

It’s such a weird film as it really does appear to attempt to be telling some kind of giallo-ish thriller! It’s written by George Evans, who worked on Carry On films and several 70s tv series like Bless This House and the Dick Emery Show, and Willy Roe, also the director, who wrote mainly soft core porn films, including Millington’s Come Play With Me. The combination of TV comedy writer and a porno writer don’t make for a gripping story.

It being 70s soft core though, I expect the story isn’t was the viewer was supposed to be ‘gripping’ – nudge nudge wink wink.

The weird thing about this film is the attempts to be a ‘legitimate’ film, with actors like the aforementioned Edwards, Campbell and Lake, also joined by such well known actors as Dudley Sutton, Alex Mango and Windsor Davies!

It’s little more than a quaint and kitschy curio, but it’s an interesting look at the attempts to legitimise soft core porn as ‘proper’ entertainment. I warn you though, it’s not in the slightest but PC, so it’s not for the easily offended… but I guess the easily offended wouldn’t be watching this sort of thing anyway!

Score: **

Extras: Honestly, I was surprised by how many extra they are on this disc:

Mary Millington’s Striptease Extravaganza is a 45 minute featurette from 1981 celebrating Millington’s life via a striptease competition. It reminds me of Varietease and other strip reels. It’s a quaint, and occasionally awkward when you think these women would all be grans now, look at stripping.

Response (1974) is an 8mm ‘short’ of the type that were sold in sex shops in the 70s. Soundless (because it’s a reel) soft-porn shenanigans.

Still gallery featuring the artwork and media marketing for the film.

Lastly, 4 trailers for other ‘adult’ films: Cool It Carol, Intimate Games, Spaced Out and Secrets of Sex.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I don’t think I would watch it again, except to show someone else.

Death of Me (2020)

Death of Me (2020)

Film: I’d like to say I’m a fan of Darren Lynn Bousman, but I just can’t. For me, his output has been massively hit or miss for me. I loved his additions to the Saw saga, and the Mother’s Day remake (was it REALLY a remake? I’m not sure), but films like St. Agatha completely missed the mark.

There’s no doubt he has a great visual eye and he gets good performances from his actors, but I think occasionally the stories are duds, and that reflects on him.

This film, Death of Me sits smack bang in the middle of the two extremes.

Death of Me tells the story of Christine (Maggie Q) and her husband, travel writer Neil (Luke Hemsworth… how many Hemsworths are there?!? There seems to be more than the Baldwins and Daddos combined) are staying at a small AirBnB on a remote island in Thailand when something strange happens.

The film opens with our couple waking up in their room which has been destroyed. There is mud everywhere and they are both filthy. They do some investigation and find a two hour video on the memory card, which shows them both doing shots in a small bar, before finding themselves outside the AirBnB, where Neil rapes Christine, strangles her, and then remorsefully buries her right there and then.

If he killed her though, how is she still alive? Christine seems to be getting strangely sicker too, with her vomiting up grass and dirt initially, followed by a small snake, and the local doctor, suggested to them by the owner of the AirBnB, Samantha (Alex Esso, from Starry Eyes and Doctor Sleep), tells her that there is nothing wrong.

They continue their investigations until Neil suddenly goes missing after Christine seemingly witnessed him committing suicide on a nearby dock, and then it starts to get REALLY weird… but how is it all tied into the weird necklace, and the threat of an incoming typhoon?

Easily the two best things about this film are the location, which was filmed in Thailand and looks so lush and fresh that it’s almost unbearable, and the casting of Maggie Q, an actor I have adored since I saw her in Naked Weapon and followed her career through various Die Hards and Mission Impossibles.

Another point on the location: Bousman does a fantastic job at mixed the wide open spaces and beautiful landscapes, with some really claustrophobic interiors that make for an occasional effectively creepy scene.

Now the problems: the story is somewhat bland. It’s clearly influenced by films like The Wicker Man (even to the point one of the characters even references it) with its ‘strangers in a strange land/ odd locals’ theme but it just doesn’t resonate, and the Carrie styled ending is a little bit daft too. Hemsworth probably wasn’t the greatest companion for Q either; she is far to strong an actor and he is somewhat pedestrian.

It’s a shame. This film could have possibly been great, but it just flapped around, not really doing anything extraordinary.

Score: *1/2

Extras: Nothing. Sorry.

Score: 0

WISIA: No.

Catwoman (2004)

Catwoman (2004)

Film: I have been a comic fan for well over 35 years, and I have to admit that whenever I hear that one of my favourite characters is coming out in a cinematic form, I admit to be fairly excited by the prospect… OK, more than a little excited: maybe, just maybe, on occasion a little bit of wee does leak out.

More often than not that excitement turns to trepidation as I hear of choices made in the casting department, but after being proven wrong with my doubts about Michael Keaton being able to perform a decent Batman, I concede that some ludicrous decisions can actually work. The argument against that, of course, is Daredevil, two Hulk films, Superman Returns and this film, Catwoman.

Catwoman is a character I have loved since I first read of her in a Batman comic, and as her character evolved over the years from a cat-burgling she-foil for the Dark Knight into a love-interest female Robin Hood of Gotham City I always had hopes of seeing her on the big screen, outside of a Bat-film and on her own, so imagine my excitement when this film was originally announced in 1995 to be written by Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters, as a vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer after her portrayal of the character in Batman Returns as a psychologically damaged ex-shrinking violet turned super-villain/ spirit of vengeance.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens in Hollywood, films are put on back-burners and cast and crew are replaced, and scripts are re-written, in this case apparently 14 times (which is a GIANT red flag against quality!). For a film that could have had a real pro-woman stance, the story descended into a story where the main character wanted pretty things, and became involved in a fight against an evil cosmetics company.

This version of Catwoman tells the tale of advertising artist Patience Phillips (Halle Berry), a downtrodden wallflower who works for cosmetic magnate George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his wife Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone). After being told her work is not good enough by George, Phillips redoes some artwork in record time and delivers it to him at one of his factories, only to discover their new product Beau-line has disastrous side-effects. Hedare orders his flunkies to kill Phillips and she is flushed out of a sewer pipe, and drowns, only to be brought back to life by the CPR administered by a bunch of cats, led by a cat previously rescued by her, and some magical cat hoodoo.

She returns from deaths as a flesh eating cat zombie… no, sorry, she returns from death with all the powers of the cat: can always land on her feet, can see in the dark, can wield a bullwhip (hang on, cats can’t do that!!) and is so flexible she can lick herself in places normally only others can reach.

Caution: that last idea tragically did not make it into the film.

What she does do though is dress is the sluttiest leather clothes she can find and both foils crimes and commits them at the same time, and eventually is told by a mysterious cat lady, Ophelia (Francis Conroy) that she is the latest in a long line of vengeful spirits that give women super powers (an idea stolen directly from the Crow, along with some of the dialogue). Eventually Catwoman decides to use her powers to defeat the Hedares and stop their evil plans to copy the Joker’s threat from 1989’s Batman film.

This FILM HAS Absolutely NO saving graces. Bad acting, atrocious CGI, over-glossy production design, and a story SO clichéd and… well, crap that I feel that the cavalcade of writers may not have been responsible for it at all, and instead it was actually written by some kind of super-computer programmed to write the worst film ever! I imagine getting caught by your Mum polishing your dolphin to Playstation 1 graphics of Lara Croft would be LESS embarrassing that being caught watching this pile of steaming cat turd.

Now I guess I should clarify some of the comments made in the previous paragraph.

Academy Award winner Berry truly embarrassed herself, and a good percentage of womankind by appearing in this: the quality of her acting in this is nothing short of dull. I am sure that forever more, comics fans who have seen this film will no longer fantasize about her multi-million dollar mams, instead, the dream of slapping her face has replaced it. Singling her out though is unfair though: Bratt was as flaccid as ever, Stone coated her villainy with an air of boredom and the supercool Wilson was as interesting as a high school science teacher. The only actor in this who truly acted to her abilities was Alex Borstein, who other than her portrayal of Lois Griffin in Family Guy is an affront to both words in the term ‘acting profession’.

The CGI was a huge problem here as well. It is a shame that someone like me, who is a proponent of this cinematic artform, can have the barely good enough to be a console game cut-scene images in this film as an argument against his enjoyment high standards of effects. I certainly hope the team responsible didn’t high five each other upon presentation to the director, as to approve this he must have had no standards, or no budget. The surprising thing about either of those options is that Pitof is normally a Special effects supervisor and has works on such films as Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children.

The production design deserves a huge smack in the face as well. Straight up, the worst costume EVER for the character of Catwoman, and considering in the comics at one point she wore a scaly green outfit, that is saying something. Sure it showed off Berry’s great body, but it also showed what a slut looks like at the end of a big night of B and D. The cityscape was lackluster as well, after the amazing designs used in Tim Burton’s Batman films of Gotham City, designed by Anton Furst these were just uninteresting, standard city skylines.

This film received 7 nominations for Razzies, which are the anti Academy Award, and won 4 on them, which, to her credit, Berry went to receive… it seems to me, upon reflection, she was aware of the travesty in which she had taken part.

There is NO doubt that the image is a good one, and is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, but don’t’ don’t imagine anyone will ever test their AV equipment by throwing on a Catwoman DVD! Again, this disc has a really great presentation here in Dolby Digital 5.1 but you will never use it as a standard by which to set other discs.

If I were to give this movie a score at all it would be just for the quality of the disc, but the film is SO terrible, I can’t bring myself to even give it a single star.

Score: 0

Extras: The Many Face of Catwoman is an excellent, if brief, look at all the actresses who have played the character, hosted, as it should be, by Ertha Kitt, and with comments from various comic creators, writers and co-stars (the immortal Adam West) about the history of the feline felon. I have to say my favourite inadvertently funny part of this piece is Halle Berry’s whip trailer talking about her impressive ‘horizontal crack’. OooooKay….

Behind the Scenes Documentary is a traditional BTS piece that briefly discusses the making of the film, with a lot of clips from the film. AT best, it is perfunctory.

The deleted scenes were thankfully, deleted, as it shortened a film that already suffers with far too much padding. I would like to especially point out what absolute GASH the alternate ending is, as well.

There is also a theatrical trailer, and some DVD-rom stuff which involves the installation of something called Interactual Player 2.0 which I am not prepared to litter my laptop’s memory with, so I did not review.

Score: ***

WISIA: Why would one choose to abuse themselves in this way more than once?

An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

Film: Basically, Doctor Who is a third parent of mine. I don’t mean my mum was once an intern in the 60s at the BBC, but instead, he took care of me by being my after school babysitter and also taught me a general sense of right and wrong when I watched him on the ABC as a kid.

My first experience with Doctor Who though wasn’t the TV series but instead the books, when my mum bought me a copy of the novelisation of Death to the Daleks in the 70s and I was immediately hooked. When I then found out it was a TV series on ABC I became immediately enamoured with it. Since then it has always been a part of my life, and I have a sad and tragic collection that includes DVDs, comics, magazines, books, toys, t shirts… Basically everything.

Having read so much about it though I do have a pretty good foundation in knowing when and where the show came from, but imagine my excitement when I discovered that a TV drama was being made of the genesis of my favourite TV show, written by a writer whose work I admire, being League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss, directed by award winning director Terry McDonough (Wire in the Blood) and starring several actors I like, including Brian Cox (Manhunter), David Bradley (the Harry Potter films)and Jessica Raine (The Woman in Black).

An Adventure in Space and Time is based in the early 60s and tells of then Head of Drama Sydney Newman (Cox) coming up with an idea for a TV show for children called ‘Doctor Who’. He approaches his former production assistant Verity Lanbert (Raine) to be head producer and make the show along with director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan), but can a Jewish girl and an Indian man create a show when it appears they may have been set up for failure by the old guard of the BBC?

You better believe it!

They employ well known actor Bill Hartnell (Bradley) to play the Doctor and we follow the next three years of production, obviously told in a quite abbreviated matter and look at the key elements of the series’ life in those early days if television, and how Doctor Who went from being something that the BBC didn’t have faith in, to a million viewer show.

With the current huge fan base for Doctor Who, this really was the best way to create a historical document about the origin of the show. Sure, there could have been factual documentary made, but essentially, a lot of the people involved have passed and for the rest it would have been little more than a talking head doco that may not have held too many people’s interest except for die hard fans, like your truly.

Having a drama though, written by post millennium who writer Gatiss, and starring a Harry Potter series favourite was definitely to best way to go to get the younger fans involved. The script is fun and the actors are charismatic enough to make what could be a stodgy story about the old Beeb irreverent and entertaining. I must admit to having somewhat of a crush on Jessica Raine now as well.

The story moves along at a cracking pace and a lot is fit into the time, but it never feels rushed. The departures of Hussein and Lambert seem to happen quite suddenly,  though their absence, along with some of the initial costars does lead to Hartnell’s departure as well.

The story is quite well written as well in the sense that it is a show about a TV series, and yet starts as a story about Lambert yet ends as a tale about Hartnell, without taking a breath. The tale ends with a round up of what each character went on to do with their careers.

A special mention must go to the soundtrack by Edmund Butt (Ed Butt… Brilliant: he should have been a WWE wrestler). It is a wonderful combination of cinematic whimsy with a few winks to Doctor Who, and really suits the production magnificently.

Eagle eyed fans should also keep a look out as there may be an old cast member or two turning up here and there.

I really only have two real criticisms of this production. The first has to do with opportunistic, schmaltzy fan service. In a scene where Hartnell ponders his and the show’s future, we are presented with a phantom of the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith. The populous piece of claptrap exists to make sure the current fans get a look at their Doctor, but to this old fan, it seems to be a disservice to all the other people who have played the part of the Doctor. Am I being over sensitive? Possibly, but it essentially served no other purpose.

The second criticism involves a catastrophic bit of miscasting. Reece Shearsmith is put forward to play a young Patrick Troughton, Hartnell’s replacement of the role of the Doctor. He simply looks terrible in his extraordinarily bad wig, and I feel like he only exists in the role as a favour to Gatiss, the pair of them being ex League of Gentlemen cast mates. Don’t get me wrong, I like Shearsmith, and the role is only brief, but it is like fingernails down a blackboard as he plays it like a pantomime caricature which doesn’t sit well within the well executed acting by the rest of the cast.

The An Adventure is Space and Time DVD looks and sounds great, presented in 16:9 with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack.

All in all though, and even taking those criticisms into account, this is a thoroughly enjoyable drama about an important part of my life, that is, my adoration a silly science fiction children’s television program, and also is an interesting look at TV production in the 60s, told in an amusing and affectionate manner.

Score: ****

Extras: A great deal of extras for the Who fan here as well:

William Hartnell: the Original looks at William Hartnell’s career with interviews of former cast and crew mates, others Doctors, family members and directors.  It is an affectionate look at his life, and includes some wonderful footage of him in an interview from the 60s.

The Making of an Adventure is a good old fashioned making of, though it is hosted by actor Carole Ann Ford, who played Susan, the original Doctor’s granddaughter. It is a combination of a documentary about the original series, and a making of this production.

Reconstructions is a series of recreations of scenes from the original series. They are really clever and include all the faults, dialogue mistakes and miscues of the originals, and also act as deleted scenes (though there are a few of those as well). They include Scenes from An Unearthly Child, Regenerations, Farewell to Susan and Festive Greeting.

The Title Sequences compares the actual original title sequence from Who with the replica titles from this production.

There are also two deleted scenes: the The Radiophonic Workshop and Verity ‘s Leaving Party.

A special mention must also go to the menus and the accompanying leaflet. The artwork on the cover is a recreation of the first Doctor Who Annual. The leaflet itself contains photos from the production, a drawing if William Hartnell as the Doctor and a few Daleks, and an introduction from writer Mark Gatiss.

Score: ****

WISIA: As a dedicated Who nut I found this extraordinary, though a non Who fan may not be as impressed, I doubt though they could not enjoy the production in itself, as it is well written and a lot of fun. Having said that, it may not have the water to regularly rewatch!

Video Nasties: Draconian Days aka Video Nasties The Definitive Guide: Part 2 (2014)

Film: I wonder if Jake West realised that his first documentary about banned films, called Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Video Tape, was going to be such an amazing piece of work. I have to say that there is probably only two documentary films series that I really could watch as much as I watch regular cinema, they are these two films, and a Gary Hustwit series of three films called Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanised (a loose series starting with regular things we see every day, but looked at from a design point of view (if you haven’t seen them, give them a watch!))

The first film in this series, reviewed elsewhere on this very site, dealt with the banned films of the so-called ‘video nasty’ era in the UK, whereas this film deals with the fallout; the censorship and movie classification under the direction of the Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), James Ferman.

It’s an interesting look at the pointlessness of having both censorship and classification, as they don’t work together: why have an age related classification of (18) if you are then going to cut it?

It makes no sense.

The reasoning behind it damaging people psychologically wasn’t proven then, and nor is it proven now… and if these films are so bad, why do the censors get to watch them? What makes THEM above us… and why is age a level for censorship? I know immature 50 year olds (I am one) and I’ve observed 20 years old far more mature than me… and hang on, what is maturity anyways?

It also steeps into the specifics of ridiculousness of some decisions. For example, nunchucks and ninja stars were seen as problematic weapons for films, so those films were rejected or edited. This led to cuts made to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

Yep.

It would seem that Ferman’s rule seemed to become an excuse for him to exert his lost career as a director and re-cut others films. One of his criticisms claims he made ‘censorship by stealth’.

This film features interviews with everyone involved, from ex-BBFC employees, government officials, film-makers, film journalists and so many others that it presents a quite an even discussion about censorship, especially considering some of the interviewees have such varied opinions about what is ‘good’ censorship, and when does it become borderline fascism? There is also a lot of supplementary material from the time that shows how moral panic can lead to dangerous societal results.

This documentary seems to be far more relevant now with the rise of the so-called ‘cancel culture’. Is it right to delete art because it doesn’t stand up to current standards? If we delete prejudice and violence will it change our state of thought or are those things printed on some of our DNA strands?

I’m just a guy who likes movies so don’t look at me for the answers!

All in all it’s a fascinating look at archaic laws, how some politicians who believe themselves to be better educated than you DECIDE what is good for you, and just how quickly power can corrupt anyone.

The image and sound on this disc aren’t great, but it’s just talking heads so the need for hi-def, 1080hp with super duper surround sound probably isn’t needed.

Score: ****

Video: **

Audio: **

Extras: Oh did you want extras? Well, buckle up, sunshine!

Disc 1 has a series of slideshows: the first is a selection of fanzines who traded in illegal video tapes, then we have DPP72 and DPP82 which show the covers of films banned/ almost banned.

This disc also has trailers for The Playgirls and the Vampire, Grindhouse Trailer Classics 2, Night of the Bloody Apes, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Dead of Night, Cannibal Girls, Teaserama, Varitease, Ghost Story, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Fausto 5.0, Gwendoline, Between Your Legs, Cruel Passion, Escort Girls, Some Like It Sexy, Fantasm, Fantasm Comes Again, The Good Little Girls, Justine’s Hit Nights, Scandalous Photos, Dressage and Education Anglaise. (Though both Fantasm and Fantasm Comes Again attach to the same trailer, which is a bummer)

There is also a couple of Easter eggs that feature images of programs and passes from various film festivals, and a short film “It’s Just A Movie’.

Disc 2 and 3 have, in total, about 10 hours of trailers (which for length-of-review reasons I won’t list them all) of the Section 3 video nasties, with introductions.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s fascinating and a great supplement to the first documentary, but meanders a little. That hasn’t stopped me from giving it several watches.

Planet of the Vampires aka Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)

Planet of the Vampires aka Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)

20 years ago this came out!!

Film: There is no doubt that director Mario Bava is truly the Godfather of Italian cinema. Able to dance between genres like a ballet dancer at breakdance school, he did everything from horror to westerns, from historical to sci-fi proving himself to be a master of cinema.

American International Pictures hit a few home runs with the Bava films Black Sunday and Black Sabbath (as well as some other non-Bava Italian films) and were looking to invest more heavily in the production of films so they could have the rights in the USA. Planet of the Vampires was one such collaboration and is based on the short story, One Night of 21 Hours by Renata Pestriniero, originally published in Interstellar Science Fiction Magazine. The screenplay was adapted by Bava, along with Ib Melchior, Alberto Bevilacqua, Castillo Consulich, Antonio Román, Rafael J. Salvia and Louis M. Hayward.

Angry astronauts attack!

So, do many hands make light work, or did too many cooks spoil the broth?

Planet of the Vampires sees the deep space vessels Argos and Galliot answer a distress call on the planet Aura. As the ships descend into the atmosphere, a high gravity pressure forces the crews into unconsciousness, only finding themselves acting temporarily violently upon awakening.

When the ships land, the only person unaffected by the temporarily is the captain of the Argos, Captain Markary, who, after his crew come to their senses, organise a team to search the strange alien landscape for the Galliot.

The finest in astronautical fashion and equipment!

When they find the Galliot, they discover the entire crew has killed each other and so all are buried, only to come back to life and attack the surviving crew. What is causing the crew to return to life though, and what happened to the gigantic alien race whose crashed spaceship seems to have suffered the same fate…?

Essentially, this is more or less a stock standard sci-fi film of the 50s but with a little bit of blood and gore… I mean, a LITTLE bit… but it’s notoriety comes from the influence it had on films like Alien and Prometheus, and if I may throw a little suggestion in their as well, Event Horizon and Lifeforce, but not to the same extent.

Bava’ s use of studios for the planet’s exteriors make for a bizarre looking alien world that does use his amazing skill of depth of field using lights and forced perspective, and should be included in any film schools education repertoire.

The costuming is a highlight though because it’s out of this world (wink wink)!! The best way to describe the main suits of the astronauts would be… um… ok, imagine if Hugo Boss has designed the SS uniform based on Kiss-Ass’s superhero suit/ wetsuit, but with 70s shirt collars flipped up like a polo on a frat boy. Yep. Nailed it.

Ultimately it’s 50s sci-fi made in the 60s. It’s quaint and it’s fine but I wish I’d watched Alien again instead! Or Lifeforce.

Or Event Horizon.

Hell, even Prometheus!

Score: **1/2

Planet of the Vampires Menu Screen.

Format: I had a weird revelation whilst watching this DVD in that it’s 20 years old.

Yep. This release from MGM’s Midnite Movies brand is 20 years old at the time of this review, and for a DVD that old, it’s 1.85:1 image and mono audio wasn’t too bad. It’s not brilliant, but it was watchable and the audio was clear.

Score: ***

Extras: A trailer, and that’s it.

Score: *

WISIA: Like I said, I wish I’d watched Alien again.

SHOCK! HORROR!

Assimilate (2019)

Film: I loves me a good body snatcher film. Seriously, from The Thing and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (and their remakes) to Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, I’ve always loved a weird alien-replacement conspiracy story. Thankfully, Hollywood does too, so you’ll get a new one once a decade or so… even if in several of those occasions they have been remakes, yes, a weird alternate simplicity of an original!

Wow, I’ve only just realised that a remake is the pod person version of an original film.

Anyway, this decade’s version is this film Assimilate, written, directed and produced (and starring) John Murlowski, who previously directed Amityville: A New Generation and Contagion… no, not that one, the other one from about ten years prior.

Assimilate tell of two friends, Zach (Joel Courtney from Super 8) and Randy (Callum Worthy from American Vandal), who have decided to start a YouTube Web channel all about how boring their small American town is. During the course of the filming we meet various family members and odd locals (no weirder than normal oddness, that is) and of course, Zach’s high school crush, Kayla (Andi Matichak from 2018’s Halloween).

Also, they film a few pieces of weirdness, including a woman who is bitten by ‘something’. They chase the ‘thing’, only to see it picked up by the creepy local priest. They return to see her the following day but when they return to see if she is ok, she is, and with no evidence of ever being bitten, but there seems to be something off about her.

Quickly, the three realise that the townsfolk are being replaced by something, but will they be able to escape the town without being replaced themselves? Will the succumb to the aliens horrible scheme for world domination?

Honestly, I was surprised by how much I liked this film. At first I thought it was going to be derivative of the earlier mentioned films, but it was surprisingly entertaining with a decent amount of jump scares and actual thrills. I was also concerned it was going to be a Blair Witch/ Paranormal Activity found footage thing too, and even though it dips it’s toe in that pool, it doesn’t go full tilt into it, and the idea of the uploads has a payoff that is worthwhile.

The cast are great. Again, I thought the two male leads were going to be chuckleheads but they developed differently to what I first thought they would, and Andi Matichak, who appears to be the token final girl role at first, develops completely in a different direction. As a side note it was also nice to see Cam Gigandet again, I really liked him in Never Back Down (even though his character was a right knob) and The Unborn, so his appearance as the disbelieving Deputy in this was great.

The fault with this film is the special effects, which simply put, are terrible. I’ve seen a lot of cruddy effects in my time though, and even some of my favourite films suffer this fate, so it would be unfair to simple this film out on that notion.

Seriously though, they are well crappy.

All in all, this is a cracking film which entertained and surprised from start to finish… especially the finish.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian region 4 DVD, which is presented in a thoroughly decent 1.85:1 image with a matching Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The problem with the image being so clear is that it does reveal the effects to be a little bit… well, crappy. The image also varies somewhat due to the fact the mains characters are using their own webcams occasionally.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was pretty good, but the surprise has gone so it won’t be as eye-opening.

The Lost Empire (1984)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Lost Empire (1984)

Film: As a teen, I was constantly borrowing the B movies from my local video shop, and of those movies, I had a special place in my heart for Chopping Mall, and because of that, I saw the name Jim Wynorski  as a sign of ‘quality’, and still today, if I see his name pop up I am willing to cast my eyes over whatever the product is.

Sometimes, I am rewarded with B movie goodness, and sometimes, my brain is poisoned, but nostalgia is a cruel mistress and I am willing to forgive this man whenever the film is less than good.

This film, The Lost Empire, is the first film that Wynorski wrote and directed, and co-produced with Russ Meyer girl Raven De La Croix, and is truly a film firmly dropped in the eighties. The fashions, the special effects, the acting and the sets are perfect examples of that.

Our movie starts with evil, shuriken-yoyo wielding ninjas attempting to steal a mystical ruby eye from a pig idol, that is on display in a jewellers. Several police arrive and foil the robbery, but not without there being several injuries and a few fatalities.

We are told in a text scrawl that this jewel is one of the two Eyes of Avatar and have the super science from the ancient Lemurians secreted inside them. They were separated many years ago and if the two eyes are ever brought together the weirder will gain the power of superior ancient science.

Next we are introduced to busty, big-haired, gun-happy sexpot police officer Angela Wolfe (Melanie Vincz), imagine Dirty Harry with a squarer jaw and bigger tits and her FBI boyfriend Rick (Paul Coufos) who are told, after a post hostage bust sex-session, that her brother Rob (Bill Thornbury)was shot in the jeweller robbery but survived and so she visits him in the hospital. Through his delusion bought on by pain, he hands her one of the shuriken from the robbery.

Rick sees the shuriken and tells Wolfe that it belongs to Lee Chuck, a man who sold his soul to the devil and needs to send him a soul a day to live forever. They investigate the robbery and the Eye of Avatar finds its way into Wolfe’s purse, unbeknownst to her.

Rick and Wolfe meet with Inspector Charles Chan, yep… Charlie Chan… who tells them that a religious nut named Dr Sin Do (Angus Scrimm) is linked to Lee Chuck and has an island, Golgatha, where he can practise his religion in peace.

Wolfe’s brother goes to the big precinct in the sky, and very soon, Wolfe wants revenge so she presses Rick for more information. He tells her that Sin Do has competitions where women fight for his entertainment. Soon she finds herself teamed up with Native American White Star (Raven De La Croix) who spouts generic Indian-isms (Kemo Sabe is slung around like pies at a footy game) and ex-con Heather McClure (Angela Aames) and the three enter the Sin Do tournament to find out what’s going on. Rick accidentally ends up with Wolfe’s handbag and realises that he has the Eye of Avatar and makes his way to the island as well…

Is Golgatha just a religious retreat, or a hideout for gang of terrorists run by a man who has lived for two hundred years after a promise to Satan himself…

Well, what do you think?

This film is most definitely a template for future Wynorski films, and honestly, for the market, there is nothing wrong with that. Essentially most if his films are adult male fantasy cartoons made real, with beautiful big-boobed babes, and testosterone fuelled dunderheads fighting against whatever evil may have reared its ugly head, with a peppering of toplessness, violence and terrible, almost Dad, jokes. It’s what B cinema is all about, and I’d watch one of these over a big cinema release any day!

This film also has a cameo by The Thing from Another World’s Kenneth Tobey.

I grew up loving Jim Wynorski films like Chopping Mall and it sure is nice to see his first attempt at ‘big’ budget filmmaking. I had a lot of nostalgic fun watching this film, and it has reinvigorated my love for Wynorski. I must track more of his films down. If you like the Corman films of the 80s, you’ll get a kick out if this too. Shame on my copy, the two interesting extras didn’t work.

Score: ****

Format: Immediately I have to criticise the the actual physical DVD itself. The cover is a horribly painted pic that disrespects the female leads of the film as it is horribly distorted and really, not very good. The menus of the disc itself needs also to received some criticism as it is difficult ascertain when a menu item is selected.

The disc image is presented in, quite an odd aspect ratio, of about 2.20:1 and the image is ok, but does have several scratches and other artefacts on it. The soundtrack in presented in stereo and is satisfactory, well until Raven De La Croix throws one of her terrible jokes out.

Score: *

Extras: There are three extras on this disc:

Director’s Commentary by Jim Wynorski… Well that’s what the menu option said, but what I received was… Nothing! I tried selecting it several times and not once did I receive the commentary. Disappointed.

The Stills gallery, which I shall point out is an extra on any disc I hate, is a 90 second slide show of stills from the film. Not behind the scenes photos or different shots, it is just freeze frames from the film. If I want to look a static images, I’ll read a comic, not put on a DVD.

The last extra is the Soundtrack which I was pretty excited for as I like the 80s synth track… Except of the ten tracks available to listen, it repeated 30 seconds of the first track over and over. Maybe I just received a faulty disc, but definitely not happy.

Score: *

WISIA: It’s an irresistible, quaint throwback, so I’ll definitely watch it again.

Humongous (1982)

One from the rewatch pile…

Humongous (1982)

Film: Everyone, even non-horror fans, remembers the ‘superstars’ of 80s horror. The Jasons, the Freddys, the Michaels but not often does someone pay any creed to the ‘second stringers’, the ‘reserve grade’, the ‘wannabees’, the ‘try hards’: the ‘almost rans’ whose films didn’t become franchises, and in actual fact at times were lucky to get release at all!! They were like the guys and girls in high school who wanted to be cool, but their Best and Less leather jacket wasn’t anywhere near as cool, or bona fide, as the one you got from the Salvos that had a spew stain on it and stunk of ganja, and like those people, the B-list of horror drift into the backs of people minds, except for the occasional exception, like The Burning, but that is just because it is shit-hot.

This film was one of those that didn’t quite make it, even though it played the formula as close to the rulebook as it could. As a matter of fact, Humongous steals quite liberally from Anthropophagus The Grim Reaper as the core idea of the film is almost exact, and not so liberally from the Friday series, with the malformed son and occasionally a scene feels like it was lifted from one of the Friday films, but I guess if you wish to steal from other films, they are a good place to start!!

This release of Humongous is under the sub-title of Katarina’s Nightmare Theatre. The Katarina in question is Katarina Leigh Waters, a multi-franchise wrestler, including the WWE, who has in her sights, aspirations to be a second rate Elvira, which in turn makes her a third rate Vampira. The slick for this DVD claims to be ‘uncut’ and I have no reason to discount this claim.

Now I apologise for the way this reads, but the film IS as generic as what this sounds. Five teens, the jock, the nerdy little sister, the dickhead, the slut and the girl who obviously survives and an older man, the guys who ‘warns them of what may happen’ take refuge on a mysterious island when their boat is run into rocks and sinks. The island used to house a strange old lady who didn’t associate with the local community and kept wholly to herself. Why did she do this? Well in the 1940s, she was raped at a party and the rapist killed by her beloved dogs, but his seed laid purchase and she gave birth to a deformed freak, who, when she died, became like a giant, wild cannibal roaming the island looking for his next meal, and tasty teens sound delicious…

Ever since I got my first DVD player in 1998, I have longed for this film, and this may be my biggest problem with it. I had such high expectations as when I saw it originally on VHS in the 80s I was somewhat of a horror neophyte, and wasn’t even of AWARE of half of the stuff I have seen since, so my teen brain kept telling my adult brain how good it is.

It isn’t.

It is competent and well filmed, but hardly gory and unfortunately the script feels like someone sat down and created a ‘franchise’ rather than a complete film. It really does feel like a ‘best of’ of other horror films of the time. Thankfully one thing this release of the film offers is the rarely seen in America, extended rape sequence, which is shot from the woman’s perspective, which makes it quite harrowing.

Basically, 80s horror fans have a ‘must have’ for their collection, but only for completion purposes, other horror fans may look upon it as an OK distraction offering NOTHING new to the table.

It tries to be good, but it just doesn’t try hard enough. Why watch something TRYING to be Anthropophagus or Friday the 13th when you could actually watch them instead. If you really feel the need to watch a second string 80s horror film, watch The Burning instead… or Madman… or anything. Joy Boushel has nice knockers though, so an extra point for that.

Score: **

Format: This film is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen and is a slightly below average image due to it pixelating quite frequently and the abundance of artefacts. That’s not to say it isn’t watchable, but it could be better. The soundtrack is in mono and it is what you’d imagine it would be.

Score: **

Extras: The film can be watched in two different ways. One is just with the film just directly starting and the other is with an introduction by wrestler Katarina Leigh Waters, who is provided with a pun filled script that is about as funny as constipation. Even Elvira would have rolled her eyes at some of these apparent jokes. I am not sure what wrestling has to do with horror films, but she delivers her lines with a professionalism that would make Triple H proud.

The extras on this disc are not too bad.

Audio Commentary with director Paul Lynch, Writer William Gray and Horror Historian Nathanial Thompson – moderated by Katarina Leigh Waters is a decent look at the making of the film and the Canadian ‘horror industry’ in general.

R-rated beginning scene is the ‘nice’ version of the rape scene, which contains no thrusting of the rapist, just violence and an implied rape. The quality is really quite bad though, very foggy.

Original Trailer is obviously the original trailer for Humungous. It’s a speccy, artefacty affair, but a nice inclusion.

Katarina’s Trailers are a series of random trailers though I am not sure if they are future releases on her ‘label’. They include Final Exam, Nothing but the Night, The Devil Within Her, The House on Sorority Row, The Incubus and The Pyx.

Score: ****

WISIA: I have to admit that even though I’m not the biggest fan of this flick, I do find myself rewatching regularly. I think just because it’s an easy watch.

The Hills Run Red (2009)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Hills Run Red (2009)

Film: One of the joys of being a VHS/ DVD/ Lazerdisc/ BD/ Betamax collector is the hunt. Thinking you know everything about a certain type of film, but then discovering, either through research or, thanks to the internet, a group interest that there is more to buy, more to collect. The most satisfying moment is when you get your hands on that rarity: though the joy is generally shortlived as you quickly discover yet another missing treasure. 

If this sounds familiar, The Hills Run Red is the film for you.

Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is a film fanatic who is obsessed with a missing film called The Hills Run Red, a horror film about a killer nicknamed Babyface (Danko Iordanov), which was directed by notorious reclusive filmmaker Concannon (William Sadler). He has plans of making a documentary about it, along with girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) and best pal Lalo (Alex Wyndham) but all he needs is a lead in.

This lead comes when his research brings him to Concannon’s daughter Alexa (Sophie Monk), a heroin addicted stripper who he helps get cleaned up. After Alexa dries out, she takes the three to the backwoods town where the film was made, but what they find is a lot worse than anything they could have possible imagined.

What they find is that Babyface is a real creature and not a fictional character at all, and maybe film and reality aren’t so different from each other.

This film is directed by Dave Parker, who was also responsible for The Dead Hate the Living and written by David J. Schow, a fairly well known name in horror as he wrote 2 Critters films (specifically 3 and 4), Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and probably most famously, The Crow.

This has some interesting Scream type elements that appropriately get turned on their head. One of the characters whilst venturing into the woods talks about horror film conventions, and shows his mobile phone is working, he has back-up flares in case the torches don’t work and a gun in case they get into trouble. Brilliantly, these modern back-up plans backfire and are used against them.

This is a thematic constant in the film as well; just when the bitter old horror fan inside you goes ‘I know what will happen next’, it doesn’t. There are some great extra creepy moments in this film that are all based around this idea of being atypical.

The film is only quite short, and the I believe that even so, this films bangs along at quite an appropriate pace. At no time was I bored, except maybe during the five minute long closing credits and the film had my attention at all times, especially during any scene of Babyface- driven carnage or of Sophie Monk supplying anything contained within her knocker locker.

I honestly think this is the best 80s styled slasher that wasn’t made in the 80s, and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Score: *****

Format: Whilst the film is only a fairly recent one and maintains a fairly good level of detail, I did find on occasion that the picture was a little soft. Also a few CGI effects weren’t blended into the color scheme of the film and stuck out like dogs balls in mouse ball soup. The Hills Run Red was presented in  2.40:1 widescreen.The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The use of the subwoofer in jumpscares is so great that I must admit I almost blasted excrement from the depths of my bowels on at least two occasions. A grand time was had by all… well except for the lounge I was sitting on.

Easily my favourite slasher film in years. Perfect sized doses (all lethal) of beatings, brutalizations, babes and breasts all make for a great film, but don’t think this film is light on story either. I love it.

Score: ***

Extras: Only two extras on this:

Commentary by Director Dave Parker, Writer David J. Schow and Producer Robert Meyer Burnett  is a quite animated commentary from the three. It covers a hell of a lot of stuff about of the film, and one gets a greater appreciation of the film when one hears how deliberately they avoided referencing other films directly, even though the film is about film fans falling afoul of filmmakers.

It’s Not Real Until you Shoot It: The Making of the Hills Run Red is a great look at the filming of The Hills Run Red. It has a selection of interviews with almost all the cast and crew and is both funny and informative.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh goodness, yes.