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May 6, 2021

Don't Panic (1988) Movie Review


I did not specifically seek out another bonkers kind of film. And while last week’s review centered on a movie that did crazy VERY well, this week’s choice is…uh…just read on to see what I’m talking about.

Don’t Panic is the story of Michael. He and his mom had to move from the US to Mexico City for his dad’s work. Sure, things are pretty different there but he’s doing well in school, has a crush in the works, and has a nice circle of friends. Mom’s struggling a little. Since dad is away all the time for work, the bottle seems to be her only comfort.

For Michael’s 17th birthday, his friends surprise him with a Ouija board and wouldn’t it be so much fun to play with it? Spoiler Alert: the answer is NO. Despite some promise to never play with one again, he folds to peer pressure. His best bud, Tony, summons Virgil. He tells everyone it’s just a ghost but Michael knows better – it’s the Devil!

Naturally, nothing happens while they’re playing with the board. But as soon as everyone leaves, without closing the supernatural door they just opened (do you want demons? BECAUSE THAT’S HOW YOU GET DEMONS), weird shit starts to happen.

The next day, Michael is late for school and in Mexico City, you can’t attend classes if you’re tardy. Too bad, so sad. Turns out, his crush, Alexandra, was also late so they spend a wonderful 1980’s montage day of feeding the ducks, going on a paddle boat, getting balloons, going to an amusement park, and everything two young people in love like to do.

Of course, Michael needs to consult with his best bro, Tony, to figure out how to tell Alex how much he likes her. Tony says the only thing he can do is give her the Magic Rose  As long as love exists between the two of them, the bloom will never wither. Daawww, that’s actually some sweet advice coming from such a fucktard.

Just as things seems to be going swell, Michael starts having nightmares. But they aren’t just simple nightmares. They’re visions, and they eventually transfer to the waking world. He’s seeing his friends being murdered, stabbed to death with some kind of ceremonial dagger. And to top it off, he sees his best gal getting a little too chummy with the school douchebag, John. But she assures him that John is just a smart ass, that’s why he acts that way. She loves only Michael.

Hooray for love!

I'm looking for the plot. Has anyone seen it?

Anyhoo…back to the movie. Not only is Michael having visions about his friends, some kind of weird face keeps pushing out of the static on the TV to say Michael can prevent the tragedies. Despite all his efforts, though, Michael can’t seem to stop any of the murders. It doesn’t help that his mom won’t listen to anything he says and is convinced he’s nuts, and gets the local psychiatrist to pump him full of drugs.

(SPOILERS AHOY) Michael finally finds out that the face in the TV is Tony! Virgil has possessed his body and is killing everyone. All Michael has to do is find that damned dagger and kill Virgil. With a little help from Douchebag John and Alexandra, and the one person in Mexico City that believes Michael is not crazy (a cop, of all people), Virgil is finally defeated and Tony is set free. Unfortunately, Michael dies from the strain of battle. Apparently being suspended in the air by telekinesis takes all the stuffing out of a healthy 17-year-old.

BUT FEAR NOT! At his graveside funeral, Alexandra throws a now wilted rose onto Michael’s casket and it instantly becomes full and beautiful again. She smiles to the heavens, knowing Michael still loves her even in death.

Wait, what?


I realized as I was trying to type up the summary, I could have kept describing the tons of minutia in the film because honestly, about eighty of the ninety minutes feels useless. “Kids summon a demon and it possesses one of their bodies to go on a killing spree.” That’s it. That’s the story. But all this other crap (the first love, Daddy’s constant absence, the visions, Michael’s dinosaur pajamas) does this film absolutely NO favors.

I’m not sure why Shudder described the writer/director, Rubén Galindo Jr., as the King of Mexican Gore because he’s got maybe 3-4 horror movies to his name. Granted, I haven’t seen those films so maybe they’re swimming in human offal. But there wasn’t that much gore going on here. Yeah, lots of blood and some stringy slime-spit from Tony at the end. However, a Herschell Gordon Lewis film this is not.

The acting is gods awful. It’s either completely over the top or non-existent. It doesn’t help that the ADR or overdubbing is terrible. But thankfully Michael narrates the opening of the film because who wants to actually show his backstory when he can just tell us, amirite? Throw in a lot of overly dramatic and cheesy music, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

Moooom, why do people treat me like a baby!?

While we do get some development of Michael, his mom, and the family dynamic, most of the characters are just there to die. I suppose Tony is given more than a shallow puddle’s worth of depth with the whole rose romantic advice, and I do feel bad for him once he’s possessed. But we never get more backstory on the whole ‘never play with a Ouija’ again which really could have made Tony’s character more interesting.

There were character actions that had me scratching my head. When Michael was having waking visions, he couldn’t actually see his surroundings – just the visions. So I’m not sure why he was running full-tilt boogie, and weaving side to side, down sets of stairs or through hospital corridors. He tripped and stumbled more than the slut victim from a Friday the 13th movie. But he could leap through a window, that could only be accessed if he stood on a couch next to it, with laser precision. When Michael gets another vision at Alex’s house, he pulls out the gun John gave him earlier (don’t worry about it) and starts blasting, shooting up everything in the room EVEN THOUGH HE CAN’T SEE. And why do people keep getting in John’s car through the windows instead of opening the doors? Does they think they’re in Hazard County, for cripes sake?

I just…

And while there are a lot more things I disliked about this movie, I can recognize some awesome, too. The special effects are all practical, which is my favorite. The blood looks great; the wounds have little noticeable latex edging; when John gets the dagger from under the chin to the roof of his mouth, you get to see the blade inside his mouth. Very cool effect. The makeup for Tony as he slowly ages and rots (didn’t realize possession did that, but okay) was fantastic. By the end, it doesn’t even look like makeup anymore but a part of the actor.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. There so much going on here that’s ridiculous, or idiotic, or just lacking direction. For an eighties completist, sure. Check it out if you have the time, especially if you need a good laugh. Otherwise, I’d say leave it in the past and move on with your life.

1 hatchet (out of 5)

 


 


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May 2, 2021

A Binge too Far #16: Reel Inheritance


Iggy Pop munching in The Dead Don't Die (2019)



Men In Black: International (2019)

 

Men In Black: International

Directed by Gary Gray, and executive produced by Steven Spielberg (and a bunch of other people that you may or may not know, depending on your affiliation with current Hollywood fare), this sequel to the Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones-led Men in Black sensation was directed by music video F. Gary Gray.

 

It is about Agent M (Tessa Thomson) who joins the Men in Black, despite being, well, a woman, and a lot of politically correct humor is played upon this occurrence. However, the real meat of the plot is her romance with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth), and their joint crusade on defeating his psychotic ex-girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson, gorgeous beyond belief) who also happens to be the film’s main villain that is also now in possession of the world’s most dangerous weapon.

 

Plenty of alien monsters are on display, so the film is a kind of a rollercoaster ride for readers of this magazine, but for piece that cost a whopping $110 million to make, it is unfortunate that some of the CGI look like they could have been achieved by the SyFy channel on the cheap. Liam Neeson also shows up.

 

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Dead Don't Die (2019) poster

 

Set in the small town of Centerville, U.S.A., this is about Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray, no introduction needed) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver, no introduction needed), and their day to day routine which involves heavy crime-solving escapades such as dealing with the town’s crazy Hermit Bob (Tom Waits, again, no introduction necessary). That is until the dead rise from their tombs (led by Iggy Pop, who’d not expect to play a zombie in his 70s, I am sure). Local eccentric mortuary woman Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton, a gorgeous creature) will come to the rescue bearing a sword and beheading as many zombies as possible and doing it in style as well.

 

After the success writer/director Jim Jarmusch had with his art-house vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive (2013, UK/Germany/Greece/France), it was inevitable that he would try his hand at similarly paced zombie epic. However, whereas his vampire opus was elegant (pretty much like vampires are supposed to be), the zombie opus under review never elevates itself above the schlock horror comedy standards. Sure, the layback tone and the director’s trademark awkward dialogues, and even the exquisite humor are all here and very welcomingly so, but other than that the end result falls short of expectations. Maybe the best things about it are its soundtrack (a great selection of tracks, really) and its cast (which is even ballyhooed in the tagline – see above) which aside from the aforementioned performers also includes Steve Buscemi and Danny Glover amongst others. The zombies too die in quite an unexpected way, as instead of blood, we get dust when they are beheaded.

 

The project was announced in February 2018 by none other than Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray, and the rest of the cast became known shortly afterwards. Principal photography commenced on July 2018 just outside New York. The film premiered at Cannes International Film Festival 2019, I guess on the strength of the director’s resume, rather than the nature of its genre. A wide theatrical release followed (a first for a Jarmusch movie) and the film went on to gross $13.9 million.


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April 29, 2021

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981) Movie Review


Well, I thought it might be time to review something other than horror comedy. That genre is a lot of fun, but after a while you need a little variety, you know? So I searched my streaming cues for something that’s not very funny. And boy howdy, did I pick a doozy.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a sweet, wholesome story about family, love, and killing anyone who gets in the way. After a tragic accident killed his parents, Billy’s Aunt Cheryl raises him. Now, fourteen years later, Billy is set to graduate high school. His basketball skills could earn him a scholarship to attend the University of Denver, the same school his girlfriend, Julie, will be attending. Life is great for Billy, but Aunt Cheryl ain’t having any of it.

Cheryl has become a bit obsessed with her nephew and will do anything to prevent him from leaving. It starts off small – accusing the TV repairman of attempted rape. Technically, she ripped her clothes off and threw herself at him and when he refused, she stabbed him to death. Billy witnessed what he thought was an attempted rape and defends his Aunt vehemently.

Funny thing, though, the repairman was the gay lover of Billy’s basketball coach so…why would he want to rape Cheryl? Unfortunately, Lieutenant Carlson homes in on this homosexual angle and is convinced Billy is gay, was involved in a relationship with his coach and the TV guy, and it all went sideways during a lovers’ quarrel. Cheryl is just covering up for her nephew.

When this plan to traumatize Billy into staying doesn’t work, Cheryl takes more drastic measures. She drugs Billy right before the big game to fuck up his scholarship chances; she bashes his girlfriend in the head with a meat tenderizer; she kills the nosy neighbor AND a cop. By now, Cheryl has gone bye-bye and all her past transgressions and secrets come to light. After a final epic boss battle, Billy kills his obsessed and mentally deranged Aunt with a fire poker.

And even after all of this, after Julie (she survived, by the way) tells what happened, Lieutenant Carlson still thinks Billy killed them all BECAUSE GAY. He actually tries to kill the unarmed kid as his sits on the floor, covered in blood, in a shocked stupor.

Don’t worry. Billy lives, is found not guilty of murder, and goes off to college with his best gal. All is right with the world!

 

What do you mean, he's too old for my breast milk?

Wow, there’s a lot to unpack in this movie.

For a film from 1981, it holds up well. It looks well made, the acting is far superior than might be expected from a genre film forty years old, and the story contains a lot of elements that were rooted in taboo and prejudice (homosexuality and homophobia; mental illness; incest). Yes, lots of horror films approach these kinds of subjects all the time, but for all the movies I’ve watched, I don’t remember a film that shone a light on these topics quite the same, or with the same vigor. And despite the predictability of the twists and surprises throughout, they didn’t diminish the story in any way.

While everyone in the film did a great job, you will understand right away why Aunt Cheryl is the star (played by Susan Tyrrell). Within the first thirty seconds of her appearance, she is unsettling and creepy and up to no good. Throughout the film, the inappropriate obsession with her nephew – the way she looks at him, touches him, is jealous of his other relationships – is revealed in each scene. It doesn’t develop; it’s full-blown off the rails from minute one. We’re just allowed glimpses of what’s already there. It was a great way to build tension between characters, drive the story forward, and almost gives us relief when Cheryl’s façade finally cracks and falls off, so she can be her true batshit crazy self.

The only character that kept pulling me out of the story was Lieutenant Carlson. I know there are genuine, unstable homophobic people in the real world, and in a way, Carlson is just as obsessed with Billy as Cheryl is – just for different reasons. But he was written with so much hyperbole as to be satiric. I swear, the man said the word ‘fag’ about twenty-seven times in just one scene. Maybe that was on purpose; maybe it was an accident. All I know is I kept being reminded I was watching a movie every time Carlson was on screen, and that diminished the experience.


'Sup, girl?

The practical effects, though some looked rather fake, still worked here. A preserved head, desiccated corpse, and fake blood appeared authentic. I have to assume, during a Cheryl and Julie fight scene, that the rock Cheryl uses is, in reality, Styrofoam. But dayum, I seriously thought Susan Tyrrell bashed Julia Duffy in the head with a real rock!

I feel the pacing of the film dragged around the one-hour mark. This movie could have cut out about 15-20 minutes and still made a strong impact on the viewer. There’s a lot of time spent showing Billy practicing basketball or hanging out at school, getting into fights with his nemesis (HOLY SHIT, IS THAT BILL PAXTON??), etc. Even some of the scenes with Cheryl’s nosy neighbor/friend could have been trimmed a bit.

Overall, I think this is a highly enjoyable film, despite its few faults. Susan Tyrrell is worth the price of admission alone. The body count, pickled head, and telephone pole through a driver’s head, are just extra gravy for this mashed potato pile of bonkers.

4 hatchets (out of 5)


 



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April 22, 2021

Llamageddon (2015) Movie Review

Wow, here I am for the second week in a row, posting a movie review. Who even am I anymore?

This week I bring you Llamageddon, the 2015 indie film about an evil alien llama that crash lands on Earth and then proceeds to…well, be an evil alien llama.

Nope. Not kidding.

Our alien llama crashes and immediately kills the maternal grandparents of Mel and Floyd. After the funeral, mom makes the kids watch the house or maybe they’re supposed to get it ready to sell. Who the fuck knows? Don’t know why mom isn’t handling it, since they were her parents, but whatever.

Mel immediately calls everyone she knows for a house party. Floyd, in typical dweeb fashion, freaks out but eventually warms up to the idea, especially after he starts drinking. One by one, partygoers head outside because reasons, where they make easy pickings for the evil llama.

Eventually, the party kids figure out what’s what and either head for the hills or fight back, both options not working out all that well for anyone. One kid, Trent, even gets squirted with green llama spit and transforms INTO a llama that births ten fuzzy evil alien llama eggs.

Just…hang in there. We’re almost done.

At just the right time, the kids’ dad finally pulls himself out from between the legs of his current bimbo to save Mel and Floyd by grinding up the evil llama in the combine.

Did I mention the grandparents worked their own farm, and were surrounded by other famers and livestock owners, so they didn’t find a random llama on the loose all that disturbing, which basically left them with their defenses down against an evil alien llama attack? No? Well, now I did.

You’re welcome.

 

You guys watching Animal Kingdom?

Um….I, uh….I got nothin.

Okay, that’s not true. There is a LOT, a lot, A LOT that is just awful here. Obviously, as an indie film, the money is not exactly an infinity pool to be accessed at will. This leads to those involved in the production to multitask – writer/director; art/editing; production/actor. It usually leads to a lesser film, only because the work for each job is already heavy. When you double or triple the load, things fall through the cracks.

Here, we find the overdubbing in shambles, the cinematography questionable, the acting awkward, and the writing weak. CGI, costuming, sets (which I’m guessing consisted of the home and farmland of family members), music, sound effects, and audio are unpleasant at best.

The story itself is rather amusing. Takes the invading evil alien trope on a little spin. I can appreciate that. But when the characters are useless, with no depth and not even slightly interesting, we don’t give a shit about what happens in your movie, bro, quirky angle or no.

The other issue I had was with the jokes. Yes, this is a horror comedy. It’s a killer alien llama. What the hell else could it be? But throwing in every fucking 13-year-old’s idea of humor gets tiresome, even by the ten-minute mark. We all know I’m secretly twelve (#itsnotasecret) and enjoy fart jokes and naked time as much as the next guy. But when every joke, every wink, every single word out of a character’s mouth plays to a junior high tween going through puberty, it just tells me the writer is either emotionally stunted or his balls haven’t dropped yet.

Stacy, don't freak out. But I think Louis is trying to untie your bikini top.

HOWEVER…

While all that does suck, I can’t fault 100% of the film. The opening animation, and the bit thrown in the middle to save on f/x for part of Trent’s transformation and…impregnation…was top notch. I loved the style and that it looked drawn by an actual human, not some dusty Data General clunker from the 1980s.

The character of Dan is the best human aspect of the film. He’s very chill, does not come off as uncomfortable (Danny Ambassa has no other acting experience listed on IMDB so he’s a natural), and his character is wearing a different shirt every time he changes location. And what I mean is he’s wearing a red tee when he’s sitting on the couch; he goes to the kitchen to get a beer and he’s wearing a black tee; he returns to the living room and he’s got on an orange tank top. At the end he was in a Star Trek uniform. My guess is it was a nod to the issue of continuity in films. They just took it ten steps into full-on hyperbole and it never lost its charm.

But the best part has to be Louis the Llama, in his first and only starring role. I don’t know who in this production had the hookup with the Llama Association of America (if that is your real name) but Louis was brilliant. Pretty much just did what most llamas do – stand around and look at stuff. But using f/x to make his eyes glow red and shoot lasers literally had me LOL’ing. I loved the prop legs used for kicking people’s hearts out and knocking radios into hot tubs full of teenagers or beating the shit out of someone. Almost worth the price of admission (which was free as this is streaming on Amazon Prime).

All that said, though, I can’t recommend this movie. Even though it has some fun elements, it’s poorly made and a rather large waste of time. To quote the final title after the credits, “No llamas were hurt during the production of this film. Just the dignities of all involved.”

I, too, feel like a lesser person for having watched this.


1 hatchet (out of 5)




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April 15, 2021

Attack of the Killer Donuts (2017) Movie Review

Excuse me, ma’am, are you authorized to be here?

Sorry for the absence, folks. Seems like the pandemic allowed me to morph into my final form, which is a literal couch potato. My motivation for writing has been at Level Negative Zilch. Now, a little past a year of quarantine and isolation and safe distancing (plus a few personal matters that have beaten me down recently), I’m feeling motivated to get up off my ass...to sit on my ass and watch a movie. To actually review, not just zone out into a cross-eyed lump who shovels cheesy poofs and chocolate martinis into her pie hole.

Yes, the sass is still here. It’s just needs a little dusting and polishing.

Today I bring you the indie horror-comedy, “Attack of the Killer Donuts”. In answer to my friend’s burning inquiry – ‘that exists??’ – yes, dear reader, such a thing exists. And it doesn’t suck as much as you might think.

Johnny and his childhood friend, Michelle, work at Dandy Donuts. While it is a shithole establishment, with a shit boss and shit pay, at least Johnny has a smoking-hot girlfriend, Veronica. Much to gal-pal Michelle’s chagrin.

At home with Johnny and his mom, Uncle Luther toils away in the basement, working on Reanimator experiments. It’s not working out very well at the moment, but he’s sure to create the world’s greatest formula for reanimation soon.

One day, while at work, Johnny’s Uncle barges in to demand the use of Johnny’s laptop. While the owner, Cliff, tries to throw the disheveled mad scientist out the door, a vial of green goo flies out of Luther’s pocket and straight into the deep frier. Can you guess what might happen next?

 That’s right. The current reanimation formula turns every fried pastry thereafter into a killing machine! The donuts wreak havoc (among the four customers who actually got donuts during the film) and it’s up to Johnny, Michelle, and their friend, Howard, to destroy the little monsters before it’s too late.

Worst fleshlight design ever.


Umm….

Okay, yes. This is a low budget, independent film. So as you might expect, it’s not filled with great performances, brilliant CGI, high production value…

Actually, scratch that. This movie was much better than I could have anticipated. Yes, some of the acting is a bit lackluster, but that was the exception, not the rule. Johnny and Michelle created very relatable characters; Cliff, though cliché, played a boss that I’d bet the majority of us have had to deal with at some point in our lives; but my favorite character/actress was Mrs. Scolari, played by Alison England. One of those middle-aged, kinda frumpy, single women who dance around in sexy lingerie and fondle baked goods on their ‘cheat day’ since they’d been working so hard to be healthier the rest of the week.

And we can’t forget the two cops, one played by C. Thomas Howell, who keeps shouting ‘free donuts’ before heading into the shop. He plays this character so over the top, overreacting to every situation, and saying ‘perp’ about the criminal in the squad car, about 1800 times. And I couldn’t stop laughing. He OWNED this role and made it his bitch.

How do those free donuts taste now, officer?

Now, obviously, there are characters created just to be fodder. Johnny’s whore girlfriend and her boy-toy; the three douche bros who sexually harass Michelle; even the dirty hippie organic donut shop competitor serves only to give the monstrous donuts something to munch on. But that’s okay. Not everyone can be the main cog in the machine. Some simply are the oil to keep it operational.

The story itself never gets lost in a jumble of special f/x or overbearing motivations. It does drag a bit, perhaps trying to build tension that really isn’t necessary. This is horror-comedy, people. Not a political thriller. The slapstick/physical comedy mixed in adds to the overall silliness and humor of the story, and never felt out of place or forced.

I did have two literal laugh out loud moments. When Michelle falls from a second story window, while the cops watch, she says, “Don’t worry. The ground broke my fall.” And at the end, when Johnny and Michelle are trapped in a storeroom, Johnny says, “I’m going to be a therapist’s dream if I ever get out of here alive.”

While the CGI used for the reanimated donuts and blood splatter is a bit cheesy, I’ve definitely seen much worse. To be honest, some CGI used in the last Star Trek film (ST Beyond, 2016) was obvious crap in a few spots but that’s kind of a cash cow so I’m sure the film makes are losing a lot of sleep over it.

 


Anyway, the CGI is okay but I was completely tickled by the cartoon squeaks and growls coming out of donuts (think Eight Legged Freaks). And whomever was taking prop donuts and throwing them from off-screen to make it look like the donuts were rolling and jumping on their own deserves an Oscar. Hilarious! That, and the few instances of practical effects, were damned convincing.

Overall the look, sound, editing, camera work were stellar. Honestly, I was surprised at how well the film looked and sounded. That’s rare in the indie film world, as my eyes and ears will attest. My guess would be it’s because there was little cross-over in departments. The director wasn’t the editor; the actors weren’t working on sound or cameras; the writers didn’t create the f/x. And from the bottom of my heart, Attack of the Killer Donuts cast and crew, I THANK YOU!

The only real issue I had with the film was the age of the main cast. I don’t know if Johnny, Michelle, and Howard were supposed to be in high school or college, but either way, they all looked too old for either. And maybe that’s because the actress playing Johnny’s mom did not look old enough to have a kid in high school, let alone college.

But really, aside from the questionable age differences among the cast, Attack of the Killer Donuts was a fun, enjoyable ride, with plenty of good humor, fun characters, and decent story telling. Everyone involved in this should be incredibly proud.

 

3.5 hatchets (out of 5)

 

 



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April 1, 2021

Static Age #15: Ultraseven (1967 – 1968) [Complete Series 03]





Ultraseven (1967 - 1968) BD box art

This Static Age’s spotlight goes to Ultraseven (1967 – 1968), ‘A powerful fighter defends earth from invasion’ as per the front cover tagline of Mill Creek Entertainment’s excellent Region A Blu-ray box-set [Complete Series 03], which contains of all 49 episodes in their original Japanese (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) with optional English subtitles and a stunning 1080p High-Definition 1.33:1 transfer. The set also comes with a gorgeous booklet that is featuring the ‘The Birth of Ultraseven’ article, an excellent introductory piece to the series, and several guides (hero, episode, kaiju, character, and key technology).

 

Unfortunately many of the show’s special effects won’t resonate too well with younger audiences that are more familiar with modern and excessive CGI that are generally more expensive and a mainstay of current mainstream cinema, but I come from a very different generation when things were much more simple (and quite possibly innocent too) and when Toho was telling us that this Japanese guy in a suit is an alien from outer space, we had no reason to doubt it.

 

Another peculiarity that might bother modern audiences is the technology and powers of Ultraseven that usually becomes available with no explanation and out of nowhere. Kids today will be confused, but for my generation the beeping sounds of random computer screens was all the futuristic technology we ever wanted, and it looked believable enough.

 

The special effects I most enjoyed were the toy-like miniatures, that somehow took me back to my childhood. I grew up in the 1980s and back then when we were kids, instead of wasting our times with soulless video games, we would play with all sorts of actual toys and create scenarios; they were damn good times!

 

Watching the series though it becomes apparent that Tsuburaya Productions Co. Ltd. upon request by the Tokyo Broadcasting System went for a more serious approach (compared to some comedic episodes of the previous two seasons), with intelligent scenarios that would appeal to adult viewers – and guess what, they were right to do so as the show became a megahit.

 

The debut episode ‘The Invisible Challenger’ deals with a series of sudden disappearances of unrelated citizens of Tokyo which call for the formation of the Ultra Guard team, which in turn has Dan Moroboshi (Koji Moritsugu) becoming Ultraseven, the mighty alien superhero. The almost ecological ‘The Green Terror’ has mysterious alien rocks landing in Tokyo and going as far as transforming a man into a the otherworldly plant monster Waiell. In ‘Secret of the Lake’ an alien object crashes on a mountain, releasing a black and white monster with claw-like eyes that make rounds as they slightly reach out of its head; it now has to face Ultraseven, as well as another seemingly good-hearted monster, the suit of which wouldn’t be accepted in the Carnival of Rio. In ‘Max, Respond!’, a mysterious woman is stealing the Ultra Eye spectacles, and what’s more the Godola insect-like monsters have a plan to conquer our planet. In the Rod Sterling-styled ‘Vanished Time’, time stops for a moment and brings Alien Vira to the spotlight, a monster that is interested in destroying the Ultra Guard. A mysterious shadow appears in ‘Dark Zone’ that turns out to be a familiar alien. ‘Space Prisoner 303’ is about a very evil and murderous alien with claws. In ‘The Marked Town’ some people of the city of Kitagawa start acting weird and occurrences of violence become commonplace (some of these scenes – such as the bitch-slapping one – are quite uncomfortable due to their harsh realism); what’s more Ultraseven cannot interfere, until it is revealed that Metron has polluted – the already cancerous? – cigarettes! ‘Operation Android Zero’ is about a mysterious woman and an older man that conspire with the aid of lethal toys. ‘The Suspicious Neighbor’ is a very David Lynch-like episode that takes us to the Fourth Dimension. ‘Fly to Devil Mountain’ is a Western-styled episode (complete with horse riding) about a mechanic golden dragon monster. ‘The Man who Came from V3’ is about the dangers of fuel-stealing! ‘The Ultra Guard Goes West: Part 1’ and ‘The Ultra Guard Goes West: Part 2’ are about a series of mysterious murders of foreign tourists and the eventual attack of the evil robot King Joe. ‘The Eye that Shines in the Darkness’ has a bullied kid finding a stone that helps him get through his troubles, but it also unleashes a monster. The spectacular ‘Underground Go! Go! Go!’ is about Miracle Man, a guy who survived a series of accidents. In ‘Escape Dimension X’ the Ultra Guard members are transferred to another dimension that resembles a jungle with several parasitic alien insects. ‘Project Blue’ deals with the threat of Alien Bado. In ‘Destroy Earthquake Epicenter X’, earthquakes generate one of the most impressive monsters of the series.Pursue the Undersea Base is a spectacular episode featuring the evil battleship robot Ironrocks that wreaks havoc by the docks. In the spectacular and quite eerie The Human Farm’, UFOs abduct women and implant them with parasites. In ‘Search for Tomorrow’ the Shadow aliens invade, and in the end they also unleash their monster Gublla that manages to fight even when its head gets decapitated by Ultraseven. ‘Return to the North!’ is a boring episode that takes the action to the arctic, but of course conciliation for the viewer comes in the form of a monster.Showdown at 140 Degrees Below Zero’ is also set in snow but is much more exciting. Somehow the titular Super Weapon R1’ manages to give birth to a super exciting bird-like monster that Ultraseven has to take down. ‘Operation Cyborg’ is a very psychedelic episode, although still monster-centric, as less care is given to the more casual human doings on screen. In ‘The 700 Kilometer Run’, Dan and his team from the Ultra Guard face a series of bombings, in a literally exploding episode that is unlike no other, and also widely satisfying. In ‘The Earthling All Alone’, an alien spy masquerading as an evil scientist, is also a monster that Ultraseven will have to face. ‘Glory for Whom?’ is a peculiar episode about a traitor within the forces of Ultra Guard, and unique and original as it is, it becomes one of the best episodes of the series. In ‘The Flower Where the Devil Dwells’ Ultraseven has to downside himself in order to get inside an ill woman, via her nose, and find Dallie, a spider-like monster. The Ultra Eye does not work in ‘The Strolling Planet’, so Ultraseven must get creative! ‘The Invading Dead’ are just what they sound like, alien zombies that even manage to shrink Ultraseven! Standing still and in trance, the habitants of The Vanishing City’ have to face the temporarily evil side of Ultraseven. ‘Terror on the Moon’ is about the results of a mysterious explosion.

 

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…

 

The Alienist - Season 2 promotional picture
The 2nd (and final) season of The Alienist (2018 – 2020) is titled Angel of Darkness, and finds the protagonist group of the previous season namely the alienist Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl), the illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) who has now left the police for a career as a private detective, returning in order to tackle a new series of murders, this time more gruesome than the last as the killer is targeting infants! More feminist than the previous entry and definitely more eerie, this 8-episode outing is a winner as the series went out with a bang.

 

Twin Peaks (2017) promotional logo
The sole season of Twin Peaks (2017), is mostly referred as the 3rd season because it is essentially a continuation of the same-titled series from the early 1990s (spotlighted in this column’s previous installment). This outing consists of 18 episodes (the first is of feature-length) and is about another murder that plagues the rural town of that is inhabited by the weirdest characters of Twin Peaks (most of the cast returns, including Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Kimmy Robertson, David Duchovny in drag, and series creator David Lynch; newcomers include Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and the legendary Robert Forster). Offering the sort of misogynist imagery in which a young girl in her underwear is punched in the face by a fully-dressed older man before she gets murdered, this makes for a very uncomfortable viewing. The question is “Is it future, or is it past?” and the answer is “Fire walk with me”, but Lynch is trying so desperately to be weird, that it is unauthentic and therefore borders on the ridiculous. Having said that, at least it seems that everybody in the production department seems to have put a lot of care into this, maybe more than its creator. During the end credits of most episodes a different modern band is featured and they offer some of the best music you’re ever likely to hear on television, so this works as a redeemer.

 


Appropriately taking its title from the pulp predecessors, the 1st season of Penny Dreadful (2014 – 2016) is set in Victorian London and teams up explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), gun expert Ethan Chandler (the show’s American casting touch Josh Hartnett), Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and medium Vanessa Ives (the gorgeous-beyond-belief but also very peculiar Eva Green), in order to fight against a series of supernatural occurrences and their dark pasts. Many other interesting characters from the era also show up, such as Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney) and professor Van Helsing (David Warner), and creator John Logan’s show sounds like it could easily turn up into a mess, but it is an extraordinary work of horror and fantasy, very well-calculated and thrilling throughout. The all-star cast also includes Billie Piper.

 

Doctor Who - Season 8, featuring Peter Capaldi
The 8th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is introducing the classy Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, while the gorgeous Jenna Coleman returns as his sidekick Clara. In the feature-length ‘Deep Breath’ the duo has to deal with a dinosaur and a group of bad robots. ‘Into the Dalek’ finds the Doctor and Clara within an actual Dalek! ‘Robot of Sherwood’, the Doctor and Clara team up with Robin Hood (Tom Riley) in order to fight against an alien conspiracy. In the very creepy ‘Listen’, Doctor and Clara come face to face with ghosts from the future and the past that take them as far as the end of the universe. ‘Time Heist’ is featuring the arch-villain the Architect who plans to rob the universe’s most secure bank. ‘The Caretaker’ is introducing the outright creepy Skovox Blitzer. ‘Kill the Moon’ is a fascinating episode which brings Clara to the titular dilemma, posed when she realizes that that planet is in fact a giant egg, nesting ugly spiders. The title of ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is self-explanatory. In ‘Flatline’ the Tardis gets smaller, the Doctor is trapped inside, and Clara has to temporarily take his place against a graffiti killer! In ‘In the Forest of the Night’ civilization has a growing tree problem. In ‘Dark Water’ and its second part entitled ‘Death in Heaven’, Clara’s boyfriend (Samuel Anderson) dies, and she, along with the Doctor, try to bring him back from the Nethersphere, but in doing so they also release hordes of Cybermen.

 

And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

 

The Bizarro Encyclopedia of Film Volume 1 (2019, Fungasm Press) by John Skipp and Heather Drain is featuring 26 lengthy articles on a wide range of cult films (the authors’ definition of the term is really broad). Both renowned writers offer knowledge and passion, resulting in a product that is both informative and entertaining. I finished the 400+ pages tome in one 10-hour go because I could simply not put the thing down. It comes highly recommended and I look forward to further volumes.

 

We live in wonderful times, since the invaluable The Rialto Report’s Ashley West and April Hall just co-wrote and published smut legend John Amero’s autobiography entitled American Exxxtasy: My 30-Year Search for a Happy Ending (2020, FAB Press). Expectedly, Amero’s story is awe-inducing, from his early work with the Findlays to producing one of the first hardcore features, and from gay pornography to primetime television. It comes highly recommended and I hope West and Hall assist even more people from the golden age of New York’s 42nd Street to tell their stories.

 

Elena Gorfinkel’s dissertation-turned-book lewd looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 1960s (2017, University of Minnesota Press) is one of those wonderful academic books that although they always remain deep and analytical they also manage to somewhat be enjoyable as well; it is also a valuable addition to the understudied academic angle of the pre-hardcore exploitation nudies.

 

Speaking of these two last porno-centric books, I would also like to add that I just finished my binge through the entire catalog of episodes of the wonderful Porno Cultures podcast (which you can find on Spotify), a very informative (and often entertaining as well) academic show about all sorts of pornographic material, with a bold focus on queer writings and projections.


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February 28, 2021

A Binge too Far #15: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me duo (1992 – 2014)

Chilling frame from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)



Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
Twin Peaks: Fire.. (1992)
(1992)

 

Following the same-titled series (1990 – 1991) from creator David Lynch (reviewed in last month’s Static Age) this is less of a spin-off and more of a continuation, and in particular it tries to shed some light in Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) murder, as well as that of Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley). However, although everybody was expecting answers, not only didn’t get too many, but several more questions were raised as well.

 

Twin Peaks returned with its weird characters that now delve deep into paranoia, but whereas the – now classic – series relied on true crime sensibilities, this film goes for a full-horror aesthetics. It still plays like an extended episode (and it rarely outstays its welcome, even at 134 minutes long), but one that is more gruesome (several scenes of gore are offered) and daring (look for some nudity on display). Once again the cast is great (other than the regular players – among them Ray Wise, David Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan, et al – you also get people like David Bowie and Kiefer Sutherland) and you know that only director Lynch could get away with bizarre settings such as the red curtain sequences.

 

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (2014)
Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (2014)

 

This feature-length presentation is a narratively-styled compilation of deleted and extended scenes from the 1992 film reviewed above and as such it would be safe to assume that its aim was to enlighten the missing pieces of the story, but it falls flat on its face. Needless and awful it serves no purpose other than boasting David Lynch’s ego and megalomania; in order to enjoy this you’ll have to be a big fan of his or a desperate masochist. The end result makes it even more apparent that the new actors (those that didn’t return from the original series) don’t fit in the concept and its only redeeming value is that you get more David Bowie for your buck.


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February 1, 2021

Static Age #14: Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991)



This Static Age’s spotlight goes to Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991), the series created by Mark Frost and David Lynch that lasted two seasons. The first season consists of 8 episodes and the second of 22, and they concern the mysterious murder of a teenage girl in Small-town, U.S.A. and the attempts of the local police to solve the case amidst a backdrop that is so weird that makes everything more complicated. There are enough moments of cinematic brilliance here, as well as a tone of wonderful dread, to justify the many people that are obsessed with this show. Also starring David Duchovny (in drag), Don Davis, Billy Zane, the great Russ Tamblyn, and David Lynch himself.

 

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…

The Boys - Season 2 poster art

 

The 2nd season of The Boys (2019 – present), created by Eric Kripke, is offering more action and gross comedy for the fans (or even haters) of superheroes. The series continue from where they had left us, with Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) missing and his team now essentially a bunch of fugitives, and with the other camp regaining power despite having lost a member of its team. The end result is edgy and the kind of television in which you see heads exploding and hands amputated; once upon a time we had to rely to the films of Lucio Fulci and David Cronenberg for such imagery but now it is part of the prime time mainstream. Thematically the series are a satire of not just the republicans and the Trump administration, but also so much more in general and hypocrisy in particular. Actually, this is so meta that the ‘terrorists’ are (kind of) the good guys and the ‘superheroes’ are (absolutely) the bad guys. Highly recommended intelligent fun (not for the whole family though).


 

The 1st season of American Crime Story (2016 – present) is about the famous case of the double homicide attributed to O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.), and it is a perfect 10-episode journey to this fascinating true crime story. Featuring excellent and show-stealing performances from John Travolta as Robert Shapiro and David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, these series are a modern masterpiece. Absolutely the best courtroom drama since a certain Al Pacino classic.

 

The Alienist - Season 1 promotional art
Set in 19th century New York, the 1st season of The Alienist (2018 – 2020) is about a series of gruesome murders of underage transvestite prostitute boys, and the grouping of alienist (or what one would call a criminal psychologist today) Dr. Laszio Kreizier (Daniel Bruhl) and crime scene illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), who will try to crack the bizarre case. Also starring Dakota Fanning in the mandatory feminist role and Michael Ironside, the series combines top-notch set and costume design with all-out horrors, and as such it is a winner. It is amazing to think that only three or four decades ago you could get to see such dark subject matter tackled only in edge exploitation films that were difficult to find whereas now it is readily available for streaming on Netflix.

 

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - Season 4

I am very glad that the 4th season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – 2020) is also the last because by this stage the series have lost its steam. The titular witch (the always gorgeous Kiernan Shipka) will once again have to face Lovecraft’s Eldrich and teenage angst on her journey towards empowerment and self-awareness before the tired Netflix show concludes. The soundtrack is great and it includes Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’, Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing with Myself’, Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Sweet Child ‘O Mine’, and a little bit of ‘Down with the Sickness’ by the Disturbed; most of them may be covers from the on-screen band the Fright Club, they are still awesome.

 

Doctor Who - Season 7 art
The 7th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is offering further adventures of the titular alien (returning Matt Smith) and his friendly couple Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). In ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, the titular trashcan-like foes return and kidnap the heroic trio, while we are also introduced to the absolutely gorgeous Oswin (Jenna Coleman). ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ is featuring – well! – dinosaurs on a spaceship, as well as robots. ‘A Town Called Mercy’ is an homage to Westworld (1973). ‘The Power of Three’ is about mysterious black cubes that invade earth and become part of humanity’s everyday life. ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ is another creepy episode featuring its titular entities. ‘The Snowmen’ is the episode in which Clara’s part (Jenna Coleman) becomes more prominent and a perfect sidekick for the good Doctor. ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ takes us to the titular planet where a weird religious ceremony is about to unfold, which is the case here on Earth as well, I would like to add. ‘Cold War’ is set during the – you guessed it! – Cold War, and finds the Doctor and Clara on a Russian submarine where a Martian warrior monster is also abroad. In ‘Hide’, Clara and the Doctor meet a very similar couple to them, albeit one that is searching ghosts, this time in a haunted mansion. ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ has Clara lost inside the iconic spaceship, where she is confused by the Doctor’s past. ‘The Crimson Horror’ employs visuals that look like 16mm film (and could well not be for all I know and the illusion be the work of post-production) in order to take us back in time, but the coverage shots don’t not match the era, a very common mistake among modern filmmakers. ‘The Name of the Doctor’ includes the answers to the mystery behind Clara’s own nature.

 

Also, please allow me to speak a word or two about some recent mainstream films…

 

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) is set in – you guessed it – the 1980s and focused on Donald Trump-like businessman and con artist Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) who takes the powers of an ancient wishing stone. By granting wishes left, right, and center, not to mention his own greedy capitalist ones for professional success, he of course creates chaos and misery. The titular superhero (played again by the talentless Gal Gadot) steps in to save the day, but the super-villain now has an ally in the form of The Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), another predictable outcast that turned her anger into evilness (you can tell what will happen next from miles away, every page of the script is so by-the-numbers and uninspired). If you’re looking for unethical neoliberal propaganda that is preaching that the world is a beautiful place and you should not wish for change because you may lose what you already have, then this movie should be perfectly spoon-fed to you; but if you have even a little bit of humanity left in you, you should absolutely denounce this corrupt piece of shit. Either way, at two and a half hours this excrement is desperately boring. As a choice, 1984 should not surprise you, as this is a case study on how to perform Orwell in real life (conservatives know that 1984 is supposed to be fiction, right?).

 

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

Train to Busan Presents...
(2020) is the sequel to the 2016 ‘zombies on a train’ epic, and is about a bunch of people that have nothing to lose and accept an offer from some seedy gangsters to go on a mission in the zombie-infected city of Peninsula, grab a few million dollars and come back rich. As difficult as the original plan was, everything goes to hell and the situation becomes much worse. Written by Sang-ho Yeon (who also directed) and Ryu Yong-jae, this may not be this year’s most original horror, it is however a very well-calculated work that keeps you excited throughout its 2-hour running time, and as such it should not be missed.

 

And finally, this past couple of months my bookshelf had a preference towards fiction (a rare occurrence, as I’m mostly into film books or true crime, etc.) and I tackled the following…

 

Stephen King’s The Bachman Books (2012, Hodder), a 978 pages tome that collects The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), and The Running Man (1982), three books that the horror legend penned under his Richard Bachman pseudonym, bored me to tears and failed to captivate me.

 

Stephen King’s 1325 pages epic The Stand (1978, 2011, Hodder) is about an epidemic and therefore the most appropriate thriller I could read during the current Covid-19 worldwide crisis. Believed by most of his fans to be King’s best novel, it comes complete with references to American International programmers and Charles Band quickies.

 

Stephen King’s ‘chilling classic’ The Dead Zone (1979, 2011, Hodder) is about a man’s charisma and curse that enables him to see people’s past and future upon touching them. At 595 pages long it is considerably shorter from the author’s previous opus, albeit still of epic proportions. However, I think the movie was better.

 

‘The first collection of short stories by Stephen King’, Night Shift (1976, 1977, 1978, 2019, Κλειδάριθμος) is by far the author’s most engaging book as the short story format fits his terrors like a globe. An eerie compilation of 20 masterworks, this book reignited my interest for the author.

 

In the non-fiction front, I had the pleasure of reading Jimmy McDonough’s massive and stunning The Ghastly One: The 42nd Street Netherworld of Director Andy Milligan (2019, FAB Press), which took me on a breathtaking journey of 1960s and 1970s underground that included everything, from drugs to group sex and from suicides to prostitution, all in the beautiful backdrop of filthy theater and cinema. When it comes to New York, I say Andy Warhol my ass – Andy Milligan was the real deal; a true misanthrope and a great artist. This edition came with a bonus book called Andy Milligan’s Scripts, which I am sure you guessed what it contains.


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