ORBzine - Movie Reviews February 2000


Haunting, The

The Haunting This black&white 1963 classic was remade in 1999 with Liam Neeson ( Star Wars: Phantom Menace ) and Lili Taylor. The original starred Claire Bloom and Russ Tamlyn ( Twin Peaks ), and in this reviewer's opinion, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Why remake a perfectly good film?

Four investigators spend a weekend at a haunted house. There are no SPFX, not even men in white sheets - but the ghosts are there. They are not seen, only heard, which sets the spine tingling far more than fancy CGI gimmicks ever could.

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Masque of the Red Death

Masque of the Red Death This is one of the Roger Corman productions of Edgar Allan Poe 's works, with Vincent Price (who else?) as the wicked Prince Prospero. The land is wracked with a plague known as the Red Death, while Prospero and his courtiers are safe inside his castle.

The original story is padded out with another Poe story, featuring a midget and a little dancing girl. Further padding includes the addition of a plot concerning the local peasants; a damsel, her father and her boyfriend. They are taken to Prospero's castle as prisoners, and kept for his amusement.

Is Prospero truly evil? His actions do not seem to indicate so. He does nothing to those who do not offend him. He punishes only those who have insulted him (even the courtier who strikes the little dancing girl), and only burns the village once it is contaminated with the plague. Likewise, those who break quarantine are dealt a swift and painless mercy killing.

In order to make Prospero seem evil, Corman makes it clear that he worships Satan. However, even within the film this is not in itself evil. When the damsel asks Prospero if his master Satan demands torture as worship, the Prince tells her that 100 years previously his ancestor had been a monk in the Inquisition and had tortured over 600 innocents to death in the name of Jesus.

The film owes as much to Corman as it does to Poe. There is a dream sequence (typical!), and the climax is Corman's Dance of Death (similar to a sequence used in a previous work) rather than Poe's clock struck midnight idea.

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The Beast Must Die!

The Beast Must Die! Calvin Lockhart ( Fire Walk With Me ) plays an African-American millionaire who invites a group of suspected werewolves to his mansion estate in the wilds of Scotland. His aim? He is a big-game hunter, and he wants to hunt a werewolf! The beast is actually a big black dog - well, what kind of SPFX did you expect from a 1974 British Hammer-style (Amicus?) horror flick?

The suspects include Peter Cushing ( Frankenstein ) and Charles Grey ( Diamonds Are Forever ).

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Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder Vietnam Veteran-cum-postal worker (subtle!) Jake (played by Tim Robbins - Shawshank Redemption ) is slowly going insane - he has strange visions and flashbacks, and his paranoia is slowly increasing.

Directed by Adrian Lynne (better known for the likes of Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal), this film has two plots for the price of one. Neither is original, better suited to a TV show, and a better-suited director would not have hurt.

The first plot concerns Jake's flashbacks to Vietnam, when he was bayonetted by an unknown assailant during a 1968 battle. The other survivors of his unit have similar obsessions with that battle, and they suspect they were used as test subjects by the Army. Perhaps the mysterious agents keeping Jake under surveillance know something about it ...

The second plot resembles the far superior Angel Heart , with Jake's sighting of strange (supernatural?) events and his obsession with his son (Macauley Culkin) who died in a RTA. The question asked is - did Jake die in 1968? Did he imagine the 1970s and 1980s? Was it all a dream?

This reviewer does not know. But what I do know is, this film is rather disappointing.

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Master of the World

Master of the World This was filmed from a Richard Matheson screenplay, based on 2 Jules Verne novels - Master of the World and Robur, the Conquerer. The story seems to have influenced left-wing British SF author Michael Moorcock , especially his Oswald Bastable Trilogy.

It starts with documentary footage of early attempts at powered flight, to remind us of how recent and surprising the Wright Brothers' success actually was. After the credits we are taken to the Great Eyrie in Pennsylvania. After some shockingly bad SPFX the townspeople hear Vincent Price quoting bible scripture. Goverment Agent Charles Bronson commandeers a hot air balloon from an arms manufacturer, who brings his daughter (the token babe) along for the trip. Why not? There will be no danger! They fly over the unclimbable mountain to see if it is volcanically active, but are shot down by SAMs and taken prisoner by Price, an aerial Captain Nemo!

Price's airship is scientifically impossible - which means it was probably carried over intact from Verne's original work. It is electric-powered and travels at 150 mph. 150ft long, 20 ft wide, weighing several tonnes but built entirely of cellulose (cardboard) to keep weight to a minimum! There are safety rails and wire-mesh fencing around the walkways, and a bomb bay (they have an armoury filled with gunpowder, to make their own bombs). The film's steampunk feel is enhanced by the use of terms like voice magnifier (loudhailer) and heightometer (altimeter).

Price sinks a US warship, then crosses the Atlantic. They have to refill their water tanks in Ireland, and the prisoners plot an escape. In a stupid remark (no doubt inserted for the benefit of Irish-Americans) the arms dealer states I'm not keen on going to Ireland. Several years ago, against my better judgement, I sold arms to the British. Of course, in 1868 ALL of Ireland was an equal partner in the Union of the United Kingdom, just as New York State is a partner in the Union of the United States. The difference between the UK and the USA? The UK allowed the rebels to secede and form their own Irish Confederacy of 26 counties, yet protected the ethnic minorities in the six counties of Ulster.

Price bombs London with leaflets - scuttle all Royal Navy ships, demobilize forces, destroy your arms and ammunition. The airship then flies over Africa, where we see two armies (one Negro, one Arab) battle it out. The footage is very good indeed - most probably stolen from another movie. Price bombs both sides indescriminately!

The film compares the morality of the arms manufacturer (who boasts that he sells weapons to any government who can pay him) with that of Price and his crew (self-styled citizens of the world). Price is a pacifist who seeks to end war by destroying all military structures and equipment. In other words he is a hypocrite and an undemocratic fascist. On the other hand, when the arms dealer sees war for himself (this is set two years after the end of the US Civil War!) he is sickened.

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Scanners This is vintage David Cronenberg , back in the days before he made populist Hollywood garbage like eXisTenZ . This was filmed in Canada on a relatively low budget, with no stars to speak of (just talent!) and it makes this reviewer wonder why the British film industry has never done anything similar. Also of note is the fact that Cronenberg sold the rights to make sequels, and a couple of straight-to-video pieces were soon churned out. Yes, Cronenberg has sold out to Hollywood in a big way, and this is a true gem.

The hero is a scanner, a telepath. He is recruited by Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner ) who sends him out to find Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside, later to star in Starship Troopers, Total Recall and V ), an insane scanner who wants to monopolise control of the telepaths.

The telepathic violence is convincing, even though the SPFX are limited to two scenes. The first is at the start, when Revok makes another scanner's head explode, and the second is in the final duel with the hero. Other than that, the victim just makes a funny face and the scanner music starts. This low-budget approach is remarkably convincing, in no little part due to the expertise of the director. Hey, once you see the exploding head scene you will certainly believe the other scanning scenes!

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This is the SF remake of Alfred Hitchcock 's WW2 propaganda film Lifeboat from the early 1940s. Hitch's cameo in that film was when a poster with his face on floated past the boat. Here, director Ron Silver ( Timecop ) also features as a blind man, one of the handful of survivors from an interplanetary passenger liner that explodes. Also of note, this film was produced by Robert Halmi Jnr, Exec Producer of Farscape.

The eight survivors work out that the liner was sabotaged, and the person responsible must be one of them. But as Mr Silver points out, everyone aboard the lifepod had a motive. Instead of Nazis the villains are EarthCorp, a Corporation currently exploiting the colonists on Venus. An EarthCorp director (Robert Loggia - ) is aboard, as is a rebel-cum-student (a delectable Nikki de Boer lookalike) and an escaped convict who claims to be a political prisoner (Adam Storke, who went on to do Prey ). The token african-americans are the pilot (CCH Pounder) and Boomer from Battlestar Galactica (1978) , who are both crippled in the accident ...

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In the Mouth of Madness

This is John Carpenter 's last film prior to John Carpenter's Vampires - not only did he direct, he also wrote the thumping rock tune the film starts with. Now, it has been said the only reason this film was green-lighted by the studio was because the screenwriter (Michael De Luca) was appointed Head of Production. However, do not let this fool you; it is quite watchable, to say the least.

The excellent Sam Neill ( Jurassic Park, Bicentennial Man, Merlin ) is dragged kicking and screaming into a lunatic asylum, where the shrink (John Glover - now Satan in Brimstone ) plays The Carpenters music to calm his patients when they get unruly.

David Warner ( TMNT 2, Babylon 5 ) arrives - apparently a Government investigator, worried that THEY are taking over. The shit has hit the fan, it appears. Neill sits down with Warner, and tells the movie in flashback.

Neill is an insurance investigator, hired by publisher Charton Heston ( Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, Omega Man ) to find Sutter Kane (Jurgen Prochnow - Wing Commander ) - evidently a reference to Stephen King ! However, in the film it is stated that Kane outsells King; he is a billion-dollar franchise, his publisher has sold the film and translation rights to his new book (In the Mouth of Madness), but Kane has disappeared and the completed manuscript has not yet been delivered.

Kane's subject-matter is HP Lovecraft -style Cthulu mythos. His writing has had a certain negative effect on his less stable readers; his agent read the first two chapters of the new book and then went crazy with an axe in downtown Manhattan. Neill was nearly killed in the rampage, and is haunted by strange nightmares when he reads Kane's books. The TV news tells of riots outside bookstores because of the absense of preview copies of the new Kane book; they should have gone to www.ORB-Store.Com - THE Online Retail Books, Movies & Music Store!

Neill gets in a car and drives off to find Hobb's End, Kane's fictional town in the centre of New England (a reference to Quatermass and the Pit?). In the car Julie Carmen , token babe and Kane's Editor, mentions that if reality decided that Kane's fiction was reality, then Neill would find himself in a padded cell. Not-so-subtle foreshadowing, possibly an attempt to explain a mediumly-complex storyline to people with low attention spans.

After some mysterious encounters on the road the duo arrive at Hobb's End, and find it exactly as described in the books. But are the books based on the town? Or is the town based on the books? Is it a breach in the fabric of reality, caused by Cthulu creatures that want to take over our universe?

Neill believes it is all a publicity stunt by the publishers - even the gore is just SPFX, he thinks. But in a stylish cameo, the director tells him Reality is not what it used to be! And when Ms Carmen wears her head backwards and does the spider-walk (both references to The Exorcist ) he realises things are pretty much what they seem.

Eventually Neill confronts Prochnow, who gives him what may be an opinion on censorship; The more people who believe my work, the more people who confuse fiction with reality, the closer THEY come to returning.

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Dawn of the Dead

George A. Romero 's second film in the Living Dead trilogy, this starts in the Big City where the National Guard and the SWAT team are called to a mainly African-American appartment block. After fighting the occupants they are attacked by the zombies - someone thought to stack the corpses in the basement!

Two of the SWAT team - one blonde, one black - decide to desert and make a run for it. They team up with a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend (who they later find out is pregnant!) and fly off, bound for Canada.

Outside the cities, the police and army have regrouped and deputised every gun-toting redneck they can find. This is the reality of being invaded; when the enemy is in a position to attack everyone, then everyone must defend themselves or die. Zombies (or Hitler's Nazi Legions) would take over modern England in a matter of days; the USA, with its widespread gun access, would be able to form competent and well-armed Militias. Look at the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and USSR states as an example.

The black guy is attacked by a couple of zombie kids, and we are shown what happens when the top of a zombie's head gets too close to rotating helicopter blades.

They land on the roof of a remote shopping mall, which is where the rest of the story takes place. The film is often taken as an allegory for American consumerism; the zombies wander the deserted Mall, performing actions half-remembered from when they were alive. In that vein, the woman complains You're hypnotised by this place, all of you. It's so bright and neatly wrapped, you don't see that it's just another prison too! To which her boyfriend replies, Everything we need is right here.

Director Romero pops up in a cameo as a one-eyed TV announcer who describes the zombies as pure motorised instinct that must be destroyed on sight.

The four survivors plan to sit things out in the Mall. They hotwire HGVs and park them in front of the Mall's front doors in order to limit access. Blondie gets complacent, and the zombies get closer than they should have. In a particularly disgusting scene he is smeared in blood and brains. Once the Mall is secure, they empty the local gun store, wipe out every single zombie in the building, then stack the rotting corpses in the basement.

They settle down in the Mall, and enjoy all the luxuries they find there. But beneath the surface there is a tension. The black cop plays tennis on the roof, and one of the tennis balls rolls over the side of the building. As we follow it below we are shown the car park still full of zombies, eager to get inside the Mall and feast on warm human flesh.

Later a group of bikers arrive - one of them slightly resembles Quentin Tarantino , who used it as an opportunity to pad out his resume with a false appearance! Their leader is played by SPFX expert Tom Savini, who played a similar character in Tarantino's From Dusk Til Dawn.

The bikers are not after food; they go for valuables first, then weapons. They mug zombies for their jewelery, spray them with soda syphons and push custard pies in their faces. However, soon the zombies move into the Mall in strength, and the bikers face a shootout with the survivors. Then the lights go out.

Needless to say, the bikers do not fare as well as they had hoped.

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Haunted Palace

This is one of the Roger Corman productions of Edgar Allan Poe 's works, with Vincent Price (who else?) as the main character. It is also based on a short story by Poe's imitator HP Lovecraft , which shows in the setting - the village of Arkham, New England, and the Cthulu mythos (including the Necronomicon)!

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Lawnmower Man

Lawnmower Man Pierce Brosnan ( The World is Not Enough ) is a scientist working on Virtual Reality. He uses it to increase the IQ of retarded gardener Jeff Fahey (so promising in Psycho III , so crap in everything since). However, there are unexpected side effects; Fahey develops telepathy and psychosis, and goes on an SPFX rampage.

This film has no real link to the original short story by Stephen King beyond the title. Poor bastard.

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Escape from New York

Written and Directed by John Carpenter (John Carpenter's Vampires ), the film starts with a voiceover by Jamie Lee Curtis . Set in 1997 (a bad mistake - to date a near-future film), Manhatten Island has been made into a prison. Crime rates have quadruppled, and it is the only place big enough to contain over 10 million perps. And they all get life without parole.

Police Chief Lee Van Cleef gets convict (and ex-Green Beret) Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell - though Tommy Lee Jones was originally cast) to go in and rescue the President (Donald Pleasance - Halloween ). Yes, somehow a commie terrorist managed to hijack Air Force One and crash it into the middle of the prison!

Russell hisses his way through it in a 2-hour Clint Eastwood impersonation. He is helped by Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter's then-wife). However, the Prez has been captured by Isaac Hayes (Chef in South Park), self-proclaimed Duke of New York, and Plissken has a 22-hour deadline to meet. Oddly enough, it happens to be 22 hours of continuous and permanent darkness - it would have been better to do a real-time show like High Noon or Nick of Time ...

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