Seizure (1974)

June 13, 2010 Leave a comment


            Spoiler Alert: it was all a dream.  Yes friends, nothing says ‘f you’ to the audience more than a good ol’ recant of everything they’ve just seen.  By framing “Seizure” as a mere dream, the filmmaker (in this case, Oliver Stone) is apologizing for everything that has just happened by saying that there is no way this could have been real.  But, by doing that, isn’t the impact entirely erased?  Isn’t the pressure of this strange movie completely relieved?  By saying that an entire horror film has just occurred inside a man’s head, Stone is saying that everything is okay after all, the mark of a poor horror film.  The ending to “Seizure” is a crying shame, because the movie as a whole wasn’t that bad. 

            Writer Edmund Blackstone wakes up in a cold sweat, and tells his wife he had that dream again (red flags should be going up already).  She tells him not to worry because the guests will be arriving any minute.  Edmund’s friends promptly trickle in for a weekend getaway at Edmund’s lake side home.  His friends are over-the-top, Stone-esque characters who talk fast and mean.  Right from the start, they seem destined for the slaughter.  And slaughtered they are when Spider (Hervé “Nick Nack” Villenchaize), Jackal the Giant (Henry Baker), and the sexy and sultry, Queen of Evil (Martine Beswick) show up.  The group of friends is pitted against each other by the three demons in a kind of ‘Kirk versus Spock’ competition designed to test their strength and loyalty to each other.  One by one, the peripheral characters kill each other until only Edmund and his son are left.  The Queen of Evil gives Edmund a choice; give up your son and have me forever, or sacrifice yourself to save your boy.  Being that he is a complete coward, Edmund gives up his son.  Little does Edmund realize that his son has escaped from his hiding place and run for safety.  The Queen assumes Edmund is lying about his commitment to her, and she sends Spider out to kill him.  The movie ends with a double fake when Edmund awakens from his dream to find everything seemingly back to normal.  The ‘thank god’ moment is short lived when Edmund realizes that the Queen of Evil, not his wife, is sleeping next to him.  He instantly drops dead of a heart attack just as his wife goes to tell him that the guests will be arriving any minute.  Oh, burn.

            “Seizure” is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination.  The film was obviously shot on an ultra low budget, but it is clear from the start that there is somebody in the driver’s seat.  “Seizure” can best be described as a young director’s attempt to find his wings.  Oliver Stone has always been iffy in my book.  He is a textbook case of somebody who doesn’t understand subtlety, which isn’t always a bad thing, except when it is.  No other writer could have delivered Al Pacino’s “Scarface”, or painted Jim Morrison’s self-induced destruction in “The Doors” the way Stone did.  But when over-the-top isn’t called for, Stone flails about helplessly.  Though it won Best Picture, “Platoon” manages to attach every bad Vietnam scenario onto one platoon of men, from the Meli Massacre, to overindulgence in drugs.  In the same vein, “Any Given Sunday” is a classic case of a director who doesn’t know how to edit, either himself, or his movie.  The point is that the seeds of many a Stone archetype can be found in “Seizure,” for good or ill.  And while “Seizure” probably won’t win any awards, it certainly is a fun schlock flick.  But it was all a dream in the end and that tends to be an unforgivable sin, even when a young director does it.                    

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Atom Age Vampire (1963)

June 2, 2010 Leave a comment

            So, where are the vampires?  I was promised vampires in the title, but all I got was a really ugly guy that kills people at night, and the only reason the titular baddie is even good at killing people is because his victims are so stupid.  Ladies; if you are called into a dark alley at night by a deranged, male voice, it’s probably best to turn and run.  If the women in “Atom Age Vampire” had any sense, this movie would have been a whole lot less interesting, which is sad because even with the deaths, I felt like I was watching paint dry. 

            “Atom Age Vampire” kicks off when major-league-hottie, Jeanette, gets dumped by her sailor boyfriend, Pierre, at a night club.  Jeanette is then run off the road while driving her car, which promptly bursts into flames as it listlessly rolls down an embankment.  Jeanette survives the crash, but not without massive scaring on her face.  She is told by every doctor she sees that the scar is permanent, until she meets Dr. Levin.  The good doctor tells Jeanette that he has perfected a technique using (surprise, surprise) radiation that can remove the scar completely.  Though Jeanette believes that she is beyond hope, she agrees to the procedure.  True to his word, Dr. Levin is able to restore the poor girl’s beauty.  Her elation is short lived however, when the scar tissue begins to come back.  I’m not exactly sure how scar tissue can grow back but, okay.  Levin tells her that more treatments are necessary for the effects to remain permanent, but until then, she must stay at his mansion.  This might not seem like such a bad prospect, until it is revealed that Levin transforms into a hideous monster at night.  Jeanette’s ex and the police begin to suspect that she is alive and that Levin is keeping her captive.  The police and Pierre raid the mansion just in time to save Jeanette from being filleted by Levin’s monstrous alter ego.  Thankfully for the stupid women wondering the streets of this particular town, Levin is killed, never to stalk again.

            As far as I am concerned, every Italian film stereotype is confirmed by “Atom Age Vampire.”  First, the dubbing is some of the worst I’ve ever seen.  The American distributers obviously threw out the entire audio track because things like doors closing and people clapping aren’t accompanied by sound.  But underneath all of that, the acting is wonderfully over-the-top.  I’ve seen more subtle performances on SpongeBob.  “Atom Age Vampire” also seems to have a hard time figuring out how to sequence events throughout the story, and here’s a perfect example.  As the noose tightens around Levin, he is tracked by the police to a movie theater.  Once Levin realizes he was followed, he leaves and attacks a woman in her home, seemingly for shits and giggles.  While Levin tries to strangle the life out of the woman, her dog bites Levin on the ankle, and he runs back home, yet somehow, police find blood from that wound on the floor of the movie theater.  I thought I was nuts, so I went back and watched the scene again, and sure enough, “Atom Age Vampire” had grandfathered in evidence for the police! 

            The really crappy thing for “Atom Age Vampire” is even the existence of the ‘vampire’ is superfluous.  As far as I can figure, the movie’s overall plot wouldn’t have changed one bit if the vampire stuff was just left out.  The whole business felt tacked on and stupid.  According to Wikipedia, (which I trust just enough, as far as “Atom Age Vampire” is concerned) the original Italian version was longer than the American dub and included segments that might make the vampire stuff more logical.  Being that I am not without feeling, I am willing to give the Italian version the benefit of the doubt, but this is based on pure ignorance of its overall content.  But, it seems that there are no known Italian versions of “Atom Age Vampire” in existence, making the American version all we have to go on.  Besides, who’d want to be an Italian vampire anyway; there’s too much garlic in the food. 

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Orgy of the Dead (1965)

April 11, 2010 Leave a comment


   It looks like the hippies had gotten to Ed Wood by 1965 in a big way.  The classic horror movie that Wood always aspired to write had simply transmogrified into a toothless nudie flick.  Gone were the days of the desire for class and decency in Wood’s films.  The only thing left in his arsenal was a string of topless dancers in a cemetery.  “Orgy of the Dead” makes “Plan 9 from Outer Space” look positively bone chilling by comparison, though “Orgy” can be credited for not attempting anything outside of its scope of talent.

            A writer seeking macabre inspiration for a new piece runs his car off the highway and into a cemetery.  When he and his girlfriend come to, they find themselves witness to a bizarre midnight ritual involving topless women dancing badly.  The festivities are overseen by The Emperor of the Night, played by Ed Wood regular, Criswell, and Black Ghoul, who looks not unlike Vampira.  The two stranded love birds look on while exclaiming occasionally how terrified they are, though the actors are so bland, they never emote any kind of fear.  I also find it hard to believe that a heterosexual male is terrified by what amounts to a free peep show.  Eventually, the two are discovered by the wolf man and the mummy (don’t ask) and are tied up to be sacrificed.  Luckily, just before Black Ghoul can cut the couple to ribbons, the sun comes up and all of the monsters vaporize.  It is unclear when the movie ends whether or not the whole thing was just a dream, but it would be a cop out if it was. 

            “Orgy of the Dead” has one thing going for it; topless dancers.  Though not a single one will ever win a dance competition, they are all easy on the eye.  In this regard, it is very difficult to pick on this movie.  Never mind that the action is occasionally broken by Criswell exclaiming that what he sees pleases him, at least this movie isn’t trying to be something more than a strip show in a grave yard.  But ironically, “Orgy” fails because it is just plain boring.  Yes, the girls are good looking, and yes, the production is cheesy, but those things can’t cover up the sluggish pace.  Every dancing girl does the same moves over and over again for at least five minutes, and this became maddeningly tedious as the movie went along.  “Orgy of the Dead” may have been the longest 82 minutes of my life, which is sad considering that it had every chance to be watchable, at the very least.  If somebody sets their sights low enough, that person can never be disappointed, and “Orgy of the Dead” is a classic example of this.     

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Gamera the Invincible (1966)

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

            The atomic bomb changed monster movies for more than two decades after it was detonated.  There was no shortage of American atomic freaks in the movies at this time; however, this cinematic phenomenon was not strictly American.  Japan had its own atomic monsters.  Unlike America, which saw atomic war as an inevitable occurrence manifesting in paranoia, Japan had already felt atomic fire first hand.  Japanese monsters were more like atomic weapons themselves than their smaller, American counterparts.   These movies used huge monsters as a thinly veiled allegory for wide spread atomic destruction.  The undisputed king of giant Japanese monsters (kaiju) in the mid-1960s was Toho’s Godzilla.  Godzilla had already appeared in five movies by 1965, and he showed no signs of slowing down.  In a shameless attempt to cash in on the kaiju craze, Toho rival, Daiei Studios, released “Daikaijû Gamera” in 1965.  It was rereleased in America in 1966 as “Gamera the Invincible.”  One thing needs to be made clear before I continue; no kaiju movie is ‘good’ in the traditional sense.  These movies are as good as any movie starring a guy in a dinosaur costume can be.  ‘Good’ in the kaiju genre is a very relative term.  This must be kept in mind.

            Oh, those dirty Soviets.  It seems like everything was there fault during the Cold War, even if it was a total accident.  Everything, including the liberation of a giant atomic turtle named Gamera from an Arctic glacier, can now be blamed on the Reds.  Predictable, this tremendous turtle heads straight for Japan, as if Japan has some kind of great happy-hour-drink-special for giant atomic monsters.  Through some kind of investigation that may have been too difficult to film, it is discovered by Japanese scientists that Gamera is not carbon based, like we are, but metal based.  For some reason that defies all basic logic, this means that he needs to literally eat fire to survive.  Moving with the care and thoughtfulness of a squirrel, the Japanese military tries and fails several times to kill the rampaging Gamera using conventional weapons.  After several ludicrous attempts to stop Gamera fail miserably, the United Nations finally passes a resolution to halt the offending monster.  This initiative, with the laughably bad title, ‘Plan Z,’ involves trapping Gamera in a titanic metal dome and blasting him into space.  So they do, and the movie ends.                    

            The U.S. distributers of Gamera, like the U.S. distributers of Godzilla, felt that the movie wouldn’t be able to stand as it was released in Japan.  In an effort to make the movie more ‘America friendly,’ extra scenes involving American actors were added.  The acting in these scenes is some of the worst ever recorded.  It’s almost like the actors had a running bet to see who could over-act the most; it’s really something to experience.  Bad acting aside, “Gamera the Invincible” is rendered virtually unwatchable by its main character, an obnoxious boy named Aoyagi.  Aoyagi is a big fan of turtles and he feels bad that Gamera gets picked on by grownups throughout the movie.  This boy, who for some reason is able to barge in on government meetings and military command posts, spends the entire movie trying to convince the foolish adults that they should stop shooting at Gamera.  At this point in cinematic history, kaiju movies were becoming more child friendly as more and more kids became fans of the genre.  This shift in the kaiju mentality from ‘mindless marauder,’ to ‘friendly protector’ is what killed the movement.  By seeing Gamera though a child’s eyes, the audience is expected to forget the fact that thousands of people are dying during Gamera’s rampages.  It’s very difficult to side with a Japanese boy in short shorts who’s trying to interfere with the military’s plans to save its citizens from a huge turtle.  Sorry, kid.  Nobody cares that you like turtles, because we like to keep civilians alive even more.  By the end of the movie, I wanted to throw Aoyagi off a bridge to silence his piercing cry.  Gamera may have been the film’s titular monster, but, for my money, he can’t compete with Aoyagi, the film’s real monster.                       

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Planet of the Dinosaurs (1978)

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

“Planet of the Dinosaurs” can best be described as a watered down lecture on human motivation with kick ass dinosaur special effects.  Pay no attention to the cool Frank Frazetta-esque movie poster, because the movie the poster sells is not even close to being good.  The dialogue comes out like a philosophy syllabus that poses questions like, ‘why do we follow the people we follow,’ or ‘should personal safety come before come before environmental dominance?’  Somebody who has never seen the movie before may say, ‘these are good questions,’ and ‘these questions should make for an interesting movie.’  This is true; these questions should make for an interesting movie, but they don’t.  Half of “Planet of the Dinosaurs” is made up of montages of people walking through the Vasquez Rocks, and the other half is comprised of the most wooden acting ever caught on film.  By the end, I was hoping the stop motion dinosaurs would just eat everybody.

A group of space explorers are able to jettison from their mother ship just before a hot reactor explodes.  Judging from the uniforms and hair styles of the crew, it seems like they all signed up at the Haight-Ashbury Space Exploration recruiting office.  Anyway, the life pod crashes on an alien world that looks absolutely nothing like the Santa Clarita Valley. Within the first ten minutes, the film makers decided that it would be a good idea to kill off the hot, busty blonde who stripped half naked to retrieve a radio transmitter from a lake.  True, she was killed by a cool aquatic dinosaur, but, more importantly, the blonde was killed.  In my humble opinion, it was all downhill from there.  The next forty minutes of the film consist of a seemingly never ending walking montage as the characters search for higher ground, and ultimately, rescue.  Once the characters reach the perceived safety of a high plateau, (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World, anybody) they set up a flimsy base camp and are systematically picked off by a huge Tyrannosaurs Rex.  The only thing better than watching hippies try figure out how to kill dinosaurs, is watching hippies getting eaten by dinosaurs.  The group finally gets their shit together, and kills the T-Rex by impaling it on a big, poisonous stake.  With the angry carnivore gone, the hippies tame the landscape and make revealing clothing out of animal pelts.  The general consensus of the group seems to be that rescue is not important anymore.

I loved this movie as a kid.  The reason for this is that when I was a kid, I only cared about dinosaurs.  The movie could have been a Jane Austin costume piece, but as long as it had dinosaurs, I would have loved it.  That philosophy doesn’t work so well for me anymore.  It is true that the stop motion dinosaurs in this movie are pretty cool, but that can’t save it.  Every scene without dinosaurs is laborious and didactic as it lays out the characters and their conflict.  The awful soundtrack could be likened to a rejected Kraftwerk B-side, and it perfectly embodies the movie’s shoe string budget.  This sad combination of elements lands “Planet of the Dinosaurs” in that post-Star Wars era of film, where directors either spun gold, like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or shat filth, like “Flash Gordon.”  After watching “Planet of the Dinosaurs” for the first time in fifteen years, I began to wonder how many other classics from my youth were simply pure junk.  It think it’s time to find out.

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The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment


    There is nothing worse than a bad movie that tries to be good.  The best-of-the-worst roll in their own badness like a pig in slop and, ultimately, those movies prove to be the most entertaining.  Then there’s “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues;” a bad film that just doesn’t know its role.  The problem here is that the movie never got started.  It set out to be a monster movie, but then cringed, and changed its mind.  

            The movie begins with a nameless extra on a fishing boat being killed by an ocean creature that looks like Gorgo covered in sea weed.  This scene dissolves into the title card written in an appropriately cheesy font.  ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘I will really be able to enjoy this crap-fest.’  But, it seems that my initial instinct about this movie was totally wrong.  The movie that followed was a long, boring, anemic, pallid, talky excuse for a radioactive monster movie.  The monster is only seen at sporadic intervals from the beginning on, and even those sightings are few and far between.  Without a cool creature in this feature, I was left only with the smug actors and some dreary, underdeveloped story about spies. 

            Of all the movies I have reviewed so far, “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues” is the lamest.  It has no intrinsic, intangible energy that makes it click as camp, it just sucks.  I didn’t laugh out loud as I watched it, I just found myself becoming bitter and numb.  “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues” isn’t a good bad movie, it is just a bad movie; a film that is ashamed of itself for being a monster movie because it feels that it could be so much more.  This thought is false, because it never once committed to entertaining.  I was seriously tempted to take a screwdriver and cut deep radial groves into the DVD to save anybody from having to suffer that same fate that I suffered.  The horror, the horror.                 

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

            Of all of the terrible directors that have ever come and gone, Edward D. Wood Jr. is the grand-daddy of them all.  I am by no means an Ed Wood aficionado.  I have seen “Bride of the Monster,” “Glen or Glenda,” and “The Sinister Urge,” but I am not a historian of his personal life.  The bulk of my knowledge about Ed Wood comes from his Wikipedia article, and the fantastic Tim Burton biopic starring Johnny Depp, simply titled “Ed Wood.”  In that movie, Ed is a romantic, hopelessly longing for Gothic horror in the Atomic age.  He idolizes Orson Wells, and tries to advance the genre of horror, as Wells advanced the art of the dramatic picture.  The difference between Wells and Wood is that Wood seems to be totally incapable of discriminating between quality and crap.  To Wood, everything, no matter how bad or idiosyncratic, is the greatest thing he has ever done.  This absence of a discerning eye is exemplified perfectly in “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” a movie so inept and lacking in coherence, that it is considered by many to be the worst movie ever made.

            Hollywood is thrown into a panic when citizens begin spotting flying saucers supported by fishing line in the night sky.  It seems that the pilots of these flying saucers have discovered that human scientists are about to invent a weapon that could accidentally destroy the entire universe.  In order to stop the foolish humans, the aliens raise an army of the dead, comprised of former television movie hostess, Vampira, and Ed Wood’s girlfriend’s chiropractor.  It seems that the human race is ill equipped to deal with the alien menace, because humanity’s hope comes in the form of bumbling police detectives who like to use their revolvers to scratch themselves and point at stuff.  The foolish gumshoes say things like, “one thing’s for sure; Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.”  With deductive reasoning like that on our side, the aliens better get out of Dodge while they still can.  But, of course, the ornery extraterrestrials stick around, and the audience is given a glimpse inside the mother ship.  The aliens dress like extras from a Robin Hood movie and live in an environment laden with 50’s office furniture, Tesla Coils, and ham radio equipment, proof of their intellectual superiority.  The aliens operate on the constant assumption that the human race is so stupid, that it can’t possibly understand the advanced weapons that it is developing.  Huh?  Through radio messages, the aliens remind us of our inferiority without ever using a single contraction.  This command of the English language is dwarfed only by the poor execution of the movie itself.

            It is beyond my understanding why Ed Wood decided to shoot the majority of the grave yard scenes on a sound stage.  The cemetery set takes the movie down many notches.  It is comprised of a large black back drop, a fabric flooring covered in straw, and head stones constructed from flimsy Styrofoam.  A constant haze of bee keeper smoke masks the black back drop, but the haze can’t cover up the head stones that are constantly jostled and knocked over by the actors.  Not only is the set unconvincing, but it is too small.  Wood tried to film chase sequences on this set, and ended up having to repeat shots to make the scenes long enough.  This creates the illusion that the actors are running past the same head stones over and over again (which they are).  Also, as bad guys go, the reanimated dead in Plan 9 are totally preposterous.  Their power lies in their ability to select victims who simply don’t run away.  The poor souls just stand there screaming as the monsters slowly walk up to them, and strike them dead with a firm whack on the shoulder.  Brutal.

            I think that ultimately, the story of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is a tragic one.  Ed Wood shot a short reel of footage with long time friend, and recovering drug addict, Bela Lugosi, of Dracula fame.  This footage was to be part of a vampire film that Wood was developing.  The project was scraped however, after Lugosi passed in 1956.  Before Plan 9 was finished, Wood stubbornly included the footage in his movie, even though the footage was silent and made no sense within the context of the film.  Wood’s girlfriend’s chiropractor served as Lugosi’s stand-in throughout the remainder of the film with the bottom of his face covered by a cape.  I am sure Wood had no intention of dishonoring the memory of his dear, late friend, but the inappropriate inclusion of this mismatched footage exemplifies the carelessness of Wood’s films.  Instead of simply casting an actor that would be there throughout the shooting of the picture, Wood decided to jeopardize the film’s continuity by casting a second actor just so he could include the Lugosi shots.  Wood himself continued to direct schlock for the rest of his career, never attaining the success of his hero, Orson Wells.  Still, Wood occupies his own place in the film canon as ‘One of the Greatest,’ even if the second part of that title reads, ‘Bad Directors of All Time.’       

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