yendi: (Jason)
Just what the world needed: The Omen 666. It's apparently a remake of the original Omen (still a classic, even if it set Harlan Ellison off on a series of his most ludicrous rants ever in the LA Weekly), although presumably without Gregory Peck or Lee Remick (although wouldn't that be cool? I mean, even dead, they're both better than most of the folks who walk their way through today's lame horror flicks).

I can only hope this lives up to the high standards set by Children of the Corn 666.
yendi: (Jason)
(Warning: This post contains spoilers for three movies you'll likely never see anyway)

A post by [ profile] robyn_ma reminded me of the amazingly bad (and ideal for MST3K fans) series of sci-fi horror films, XTRO.

As bad as the films are to begin with, they get worse when you lump them together.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the series is that the connection between the three films isn't the theme, the type of monster, or the main characters (all the "normal" things that tie a film series together). Instead, the connection is that all three were written and directed by Harry Bromley Davenport.

For those not familiar with Davenport, he's best known for, well, the Xtro movies. The only other movies he's done that you might have encountered are Mockingbird Don't Sing (a fictionalized account of Genie, the famous feral girl found in the '70s) and The Adventures of Young Brave, considered by many to be the worst children's movie ever.

But Xtro is where this guy really shines. He managed, over the course of thirteen years (the films were released in 1983, 1990, and 1995, respectively), to put together three completely different horror/sci-fi films, each of which manages to suck in completely different ways, and each of which rips of completely different films.

Xtro, the classic original, hit in 1983, on a budget of three Pounds (did I mention that it was produced in the UK?). Fully two-thirds of that budget was spent convincing future Bond girl Maryam d'Abo to do full frontal nudity, a budget decision that was absolutely worthwhile. The remaining budget was spent on f/x. Don't count on much "acting" here.

That said, this is far and away the best film in the "series." The concept? Sam Phillips is abducted by aliens as his son watches. No one believes the kid, and the mother hooks up with a decadent American. Sometime later, an alien beast is dropped off on earth, and after killing a passerby or two, finds a lonely lady, and rapes her, impregnating her with, well, itself.

Right after the woman wakes up and discovers that she's pregnant, the beast bursts out of her stomach, as alien creatures are wont to do. Unlike the cute little Aliens, however, this time the creature emerges as a cute little Sam Phillips, the guy who was kidnapped.

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

Then, the movie gets weird. "Sam" claims amnesia, although everyone else assumes he was off having a fling (why else would someone vanish for three years?). Sam has weird powers, and he somehow imparts them to his son, Tony Phillips (not the former Oakland Athletic/Detroit Tiger, although that would also have made for an interesting film). I can only assume that he manages this because DNA tinkering works retroactively, and Sam thus mutated when his dad did. That makes more sense than anything else in the movie.

Sam also eats the eggs of Tony's pet snake, because that's what long-lost fathers do when they return home (surely you all remember the snake-egg eating scene in Tommy?) The victims include all the usual suspects, but Maryam doesn't get turned into an alien breeding unit until after her French au pair character and her horny boyfriend do the nasty in one of the more revealing sex scenes in any horror flick. Tony and Sam do things like turn his toys into monsters (one gets stabby, another, a tank, can shoot missiles, etc), raise random black panthers out of nowhere, and all sorts of other fun stuff. By the end, everyone but Tony, Sam, and Mommy are dead, and Sam and Tony head into space while Mommy returns home to find one of at least two different endings that I've seen, both of which are utterly predictable (don't know which will be on the new DVD release).

That first film might have been bad, but at least it tried some interesting stuff (swiping from slasher flicks, alien movies, and other genres).

Xtro II: The Second Encounter, was just The Suck. The plot involves scientists who get lost while traveling to another dimension. Only one is recovered successfully, and she has an alien (who looks nothing like Sam Phillips) pop out of her. Because that's what they do. The alien then kills everyone in the station, but we only get glimpses of the monster, because they had to save on f/x*. Eventually, the monster is shot, dropped down an elevator shaft, and bludgeoned to death with the purloined scripts of Alien and Aliens.

The only things remarkable about this movie are the fact that the character who is ripped off (poorly) from Bill Paxton's Hudson in Aliens is played by future X-Files villain Nicholas Lea, and that the lead is played by Jan Michael Vincent. For those not really that familiar with JMV, his career basically consists of two things: Airwolf, and a big steaming pile of crap**. That said, he took enough drugs during this period that I don't think he remembers doing this movie.

Somehow, there was demand, five years later, for another movie with the same title. So Davenport, being a professional, sucked it in and gave us Xtro 3: Watch the Skies. We've moved away from Alien rip-offs, instead copying being inspired by X-Files and Predator. This time, our big names in the cast are Robert Culp and Andrew Divoff (think of this movie as "Kelly Robinson and the Wishmaster vs The Predator," if you want), although we also get a star turn by none other than Jim "Hey, my brother's won a bunch of Oscars!" Hanks.

In Watch The Skies, a group of soldiers are sent to an island, supposedly to clear it of land-mines from WWII. But they soon discover a government conspiracy (*gasp*), and an alien who has been frozen in concrete, but has now escaped. This alien can turn invisible, just like the Predators, but unlike the Predators, he's 2'3" tall, sort of an extra-dimensional alien Chucky. Without the winning personality. The monster (I never know whether to say "the Xtro," since I still, three films later, have no fucking clue what an "Xtro" is supposed to be) also traps people with a sticky secretion (insert whatever joke you prefer here -- it'll be better than any line in the movie), and dissects folks with his Alien Scalpel of Doom. Oh, the alien's motive? According to a random film reel from the '50s, the Government cut up its mate! Those bastards! After hours of the usual shenanigans, we get the post-conspiracy denouement, in which every cliche is put on full display.

How bad is this last one? Go watch the trailer (yes, it'll work on Macs with Windows Media Player installed, in spite of the warnings). In most movies, if your alien looks that bad, you don't show the fucking thing in the preview!

I can only wait in anticipation for the next Xtro movie. What wonderful concept will Davenport come up with? An unrealistic alien who pops out of a haunted videotape? An unrealistic extra-dimensional being who carries a chainsaw and canibalized teenagers? A horrific monster from beyond who gets trapped on an island and befriends a volleyball? With the mind of Davenport behind it, the possibilities are endless.

*The need to edit around a small f/x budget is the only thing this has in common with Jaws.

**Yes, I know he was in Bufalo '66. But that's only because Vincent Gallo clearly wanted someone more fucked in the head than himself around.
yendi: (Jason)
Iron Man


And linked from that page was this one:

Miike and Tsukamoto books. Oh yes, they will be mine.
yendi: (Jason)
That is, cheap and in bulk quantities.

Three of the lamest in the genre have been released in a cheap-ass box set. At under $7 a film, it's almost worth it to get the Zombie Pack: Vols 3-5.

In theory, these are a part of the same series as Zombi 2 (which is a sequel to nothing at all, just an excuse for Fulci to capitalize on Romero's Dawn of the Dead success, and which was released in the US as just plain old Zombie, just to keep us on our toes). In practice, only Zombi 3 qualifies, as it was directed by Fulci. It's not a bad film (even bad Fulci is better than, say, "good" Michael Bay), but it's not exactly full of that whacky concept known as "plot," and don't even mention "continuity." That said, if you want random zombie attacks in a hotel, along with terrorists, bad dubbing, and a zombie DJ, this is the movie for you. It's actually a lot of fun to watch, as long as you don't compare it to Romero's movies, or even better Italian horror flicks. It also clearly inspired at least a few things that Peter Jackson used in Dead Alive (chopping off hands, zombie babies, etc).

Zombie 4: After Death (now with bonus letter "e") has nothing to do with Fulci or the previous movies at all. In fact, it's actually a little bit of a throwback to pre-Romero zombie flicks, with vaguely voodoo-esque zombies being the motivating force. By "vaguely," I mean, of course, "nothing at all like voodoo, but there's a ritual performed by native black people on a remote island that, for lack of a better word, we'll call Haiti (although it's in the Pacific here)," and isn't that the same thing? Anyway, after a prologue in which the natives read from the Book of the Dead (Psuedo-Haitian Voodoo Edition) and summon demon zombies to kill all the Europeans but a little girl who survives and escapes because the creatures took their cue from Aliens, and can't kill a little girl to save their (un)life, we flash forward twenty years, to the now-adult girl and her mercenary friends and mall-trash girlfriends coming to the island to accidentally re-awaken the zombies. Seriously, that, as far as I can tell, was the goal. They soon start to get slaughtered by zombies who talk, shoot guns, and otherwise act human, other than wearing bad makeup. There's a decent amount of gore, at least.

And then we get the creme de la creme, Zombie 5: The Killing Birds, starring The Man from U.N.C.L.E. himself, Robert Vaughn. Or, as I like to call it, Ornithologists Gone Wild. The "plot," if you'll pardon the term, involves a Vietnam vet who comes home one day to find his wife cheating on him, murders her, her lover, and his in-laws, and gets his eyes pecked out by his wife's vengeful pet hawks. Even blind, he apparently manages to not spend life in jail for committing four murders, and puts his infant son up for adoption (or maybe just leaves him on a random doorstep). Flash forward, and the son has grown up to be an ornithologist named Steve, and he and a bunch of his bird-loving buddies head into the middle of nowhere in search of The Obscure Woodpecker, where they meet the now-blind Vaughn, who, amazingly enough, is also an ornithologist. He gives them directions to the nearest zombie-infested swamp (hey -- ornithology's a dangerous hobby!), where they end up in the house from the opening sequence and get killed off one-by-one (by zombies, ghosts, and, I think, random special effects brought on by the roll of a die), until, at the last possible minute, Vaughn reappears to explain that he's responsible for the curse, and he's Luke's Steve's father! He sacrifices himself, and the long existential nightmare is over.

I can't recommend these films enough. Bad acting by jaded Italian genre actors, bad dubbing by god-knows-who, multiple directors on at least two of the movies, random gore, gratuitous sex, and plots that could only have been conceived while the screenwriter was smoking a big-ass bowl of crack. Thanks to the recent Zombie Resurgence on the big screen, every crappy undead vehicle is getting a DVD release. For this price, the movies are almost fun enough to be worth it.
yendi: (Jason)
My brain's basically telling me go get some coffee, or else it'll shut down on me. Stupid brain. Stupid exhaustion.

Speaking of brains, for those who aren't familiar with the series, the Romero zombies aren't really brain eaters. Sure, they'll eat them if they have to, just like I might eat a McDonald's burger if there's no other choice, but these guys are all about the intestines, liver, stomach, and other juicy bits.

The whole zombies/brains thing really got its start in Return of the Living Dead 1 and 2 (#3 was all about Mindy Clarke and her piercing fetish, and was pretty much brain-free). Dan O'Bannon wrote and directed the first one, and it's a blast. The zombies there are actually already as advanced as the zombies we get in the later Romero flicks, but the movie is much more of a comedy.

Actually, I'm not sure the "brains" concept has ever not been played for laughs. Aside from the RotLD movies, you've got the one Tick episode, as well as the zombies in various comic strips (almost always played out with the zombies ignoring Stupid Butt of Jokes because he doesn't have brains), and the unique zombies in Diablo 2.

But the Romero Zombies? Aside from being slow, steady, and strong? Definitely organ meat creatures.
yendi: (Jason)
Just got back from a screening of Land of the Dead.

Damn, that was fun.

Best movie in which a bunch of homicidal creatures led by a screaming guy named Big Daddy attack civilized people ever*.

You know the basic story: Marshall, Will, and Holly, routine expedition, waterfall, dinosaurs, Sleestacks, etc.

Erm. Well, Land of the Dead. Not Lost.

Overall (and keeping this spoiler-free, at least for anything beyond the first five minutes), it was damned good, and damned short. This clocked in at barely over an hour and a half. Compare that to seventeen hours for Day of the Dead, and you'll see that Romero's tightened up his pacing a little bit. Action-packed, but with traditional Romero zombies, who rely on stealth and persistence, not being able to run a 100-meter dash. And, of course, they're starting to get a little smarter, making them all the more scary. Less character development than in the last two, both a good and a bad thing. Part of the point of the world (explicitly addressed by Simon Baker's character) is that your life before the world went to hell doesn't matter anymore. Overall, no real script complaints, and considering how utterly un-fucking-readable Romero's last zombie project (the waste of paper known as Toe Tags), it's nice to see that he still has some interesting ideas.

Other notes:

Romero hasn't dropped the use of zombies as a class metaphor, this time extending the concepts only touched on in Day to their logical extremes. Some good stuff.

The casting hurt the movie a little bit. Not because anyone was bad - Leguizamo and Hopper, in particular, were a blast -- but given a group of people going on an expedition into zombie territory, it's hard to imagine that the top-billed folks are going to bite it first. This is particularly annoying with Asia Argento, who is first introduced in a scene in which she's supposed to be in mortal danger, but will clearly live because she's Asia Argento, the top-billed female. This is the first film in the series to use "name" actors, which is why it was a surprise.

The big revelation in this cast was Robert Joy, whose mentally-addled Charlie gets most of the best lines (the other ones going to Hopper's Kaufman and Pedro Miguel Arce's Pillsbury).

This was as funny as it was horrific. But it was a horror movie first. The comedy was gallows humor at its most extreme.

And yes, even with the R rating, lots of gore. I do, however, fully expect to see an unrated version on DVD with all the extra stuff that had to be cut.

Romero loses points for having a rat scare. That was beneath him.

And yes, Tom Savini's cameo is all but impossible to miss.

Overall, definitely worth seeing. I've got nothing against the hyperfast zombies of recent years, but it's nice to see the evolution of Romero's classic creatures.

*Granted, that's because Ghosts of Mars blew, and the zombie scenes in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were cut by the studio, but the movie was still good.


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