Monday, 12 October 2009

Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters

Following on from the huge success of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” it was only a matter of time before Quirk classics unleashed their second reimagining of an established classic, here once again returning to the world of Austin with “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” something which came as a surprise to many, that they hadn’t stuck strictly to the horror genre, meaning that there is none of the suspected Vampires appearences here, which was a great relief especially to people like myself, who are sick to death of the recent Vampire obsession that being lead by Stephanie Meyers “Twilight” saga as well as Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” novels, which in turn have lead to a whole heap of imitators, as various publishers attempt to cash in on this boom in the Paranormal romance market, while since the release of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” a huge number of imitators turning up, often just taking a popular story and giving it a horror twist such as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim” and “The Undead World of Oz: L. Frank Baum's Beloved Tale Complete with Zombies and Monsters” to the really unnecessary crossovers like “The War of the Worlds: H.G. Wells's Classic Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies”. Considering this you have to respect Quirk Classics and their decision, to instead take their newly created genre in a new direction.
It seems since the release of the first book in the series, though that Quirk have been listening to their critics, especially since the first book had an overwhelming feeling of a joke being stretched to thin, which could have been largely down to the 50 / 50 blend of original and new material, which did on several occasions stand out, rather than blend together, while the other problem for many readers being the somewhat un needed inclusion of the daughters being trained in Martial arts, as well as numerous references to training in the orient, which proved to only take the reader out of the story than helping to immerse themselves. Still these problems have now thankfully been corrected with the blend now being a much healthier 30 / 70 blend of original and new material, which works a lot more effectively especially as Ben H.Winters, who has taken over from Seth Grahame-Smith on this latest adaptation gives us a completely new spin on the classic story, which could almost at times be seen as it’s own novel, rather than a quirk adaptation with his introduction of a Adventure / B Movie style plot points, with the noticeable addition of a trip to the underwater city “Sub-marine Station Beta” which replaces their trip to London, while still providing everything that the Capitol city offers and at the same time, providing a reason to still include attacks from various sea monsters.
Story wise nothing has really been changed outside of adjustments to characters and locations, to help them fit more snugly into this world that Winters has created, with Devonshire becoming “The Pestilent Isle”, while several characters also receive a make over, with the most notable being Col. Brandon who having been cursed by a sea witch, has been forced to live as a man mutant, with a squid like face were as Sir John is now an elusive explorer, complete with a long white beard and necklace of ears, who previously had kidnapped Mrs Middleton who here, is a former tribal princess, whose village was slaughtered by Sir John and his men and now spends her time planning her escape back home, while lacing soup with Monkey Urine and cheating the local aristocrats out of their money, while playing extensively complex games of her own creation, providing several amusing moments throughout, but these changes all blend together well and never slow down the story, or have the feeling that they have been simply cut and pasted into the original story.

As with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” Winters is more than happy to include several gruesome attack scenes, while also having the advantage of having a whole ocean worth of beasties to include, often using their appearances to heighten moments of high emotion, such as choosing to include an attack by the Devonshire Fang Beast, when Elinor learns of Edward Ferrars’ past or a gore soaked attack by giant lobsters, at the same moment of Marianne’s discovering that she has been betrayed by Willoughby.

“Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” is a big step up for Quirk classics, as they have now firmly with this latest entry established themselves as the trend setters in the genre and I personally hope that future additions to the series will be in a similar vain to this novel, though perhaps moving away from the works of Austin and perhaps turning their attention to another classic author, though as the publishers have been tight lipped on were the series will be heading next, but I’m certainly, like no doubt many readers of this latest edition to the series, I’m eagerly awaiting to find out.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Fatal Justice

Title: Fatal Justice
Director: Gerald Cain
Released: 1994
Staring: Joe Estevez, Suzanne Ager, Richard Folmer, David Lee
Rating: 1 / 5
Plot: Mars (Estevez) is the CIA’s top assassin, however the CIA have decided that is time for him to retire and send his hit woman daughter Diana (Ager) the assignment, who is unaware that he is her father, while meanwhile a power within the agency pits Ted Harmon (Folmer) against section boss George Marshall (Lee)

Review: I should start by thanking (if that’s the right word) Patch over at the now sadly defunct “Welcome to the Drive In”, who originally mailed this disc over to me, which I only now have got around to seeing and no doubt will not be a huge hurry to watch again, which is kind of a shame especially when you look at the hugely exaggerated cover art, none of which unsurprisingly enough appears in this film, which I’ll admit is usually something I look for when, trying to find some obscure bad film to write about here, but what is even more worrying when one of the pictures on the back of the DVD case isn’t a film still, but rather a promotional shot, of a blonde Suzanne Ager scantly clad and holding a rifle….well it works for me, but does set off yet another major warning signal about the kind of movie, your about to sit through.
Produced by Fred Olen Ray, who some of you might already recognise as the director of such classics as “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” (1988) and “Bikini Girls From the Lost Planet” (2006) and judging from the introduction he gives to the film at the start of the disc, he seems like a pretty fun guy, who like Lloyd Kaufman seems to know that his films are awful, while at the same time proud to be part of the B-movie underground, which also makes it all the harder to sit here, knowing that I now going to have to write about how much I really didn’t like this film.

Right from the start you know, that this isn’t exactly going to be a high budget kind of production and it provides a suitable test for the viewer, as if you can sit through the first five minutes of this film, then the chances are that you will probably be able to make it through the rest of the film, which is certainly best watched soley for humorous value, as attempting to watch it for any other purpose, might be enough to bum out even the viewer with the lowest of standards, especially seeing how this film has all the production value of a low budget porn film, which funnily enough is what I thought I’d stumbled across when less then fifteen minutes into this film, we get a soft core sex scene, which is nice of Cain, as don’t you just hate it when those inconsiderate directors of equally bad movies hide these kinds of scenes, somewhere past the halfway mark, so for anyone hoping to see some nudity you’ll be happy to know that you get it pretty early on. (Wow I feel strangely sleazy having wrote that)
Ager's performance isn’t overly bad, especially when you consider some of the ropey acting on show here, with the prime offender being Folmer who is feels the need to exaggerate his evilness at any given opportunity, so he might as well be wearing a sandwich board with the word “I’m the Bad guy!” scrawled across it as he almost telegraphs every evil action and intention, yet no one bothers to do anything until he has had ample time to pull off his paper thin scheme. Still the same kind of criticism could be directed at Ager’s character Diana, which supposedly her code name, which isn’t bad but certainly out of place, when every other agent in the film has a code name based on a Greek god. Is it really that hard to come up with something similar for her, or maybe Cain had doubts about his audience being able to remember any of the female gods. Ager is however convincing enough as a hit woman, handling herself well in the few action scenes and only occasionally letting her performance slip into B-movie cheese.
Now if you saw the name Joe Estevez and thought that it sounded familiar, you’d be right seeing how he’s the brother of the more talented Martin Sheen and who like Emilio Estevez prefers to use the family name. As I said already he really is the less talented brother, though there are a few moments in which you can almost imagine that your watching his brother instead, especially during his training drills with a group of aspiring assassins, who rather than looking like Marines, look instead like a bunch of random guys dragged off the street in order to act in this movie and are almost as laughable as the fact that, they are sleeping in tents made from garbage bags, which really goes once more to show how low budget this film really is.
Despite the budget restraints, Cain still manages to pull out a few bangs for his buck, though I had the sneaking suspicion that some of these effects were stock footage carried over from other productions, only furthered while watching the previews for the other exciting titles being released under the same label as this film, but in a way it kind of added to the charm, that this film develops, once you release that its not to be considered high art in the slightest, though by this point your either just watching to know how it ends or just plain given up, depending on how much of a stomach you have, for films of this dire quality, especially seeing how this is now the lowest rated film review on the blog and rivalled only by the equally dire “Wrecking Crew” (1999) but in all honestly I’d rather sit through this film, than endure that again, which is really the kind of decision, that’s like asking someone if they want to be kicked in the crotch or punched in the face.

“Fatal Justice” is crammed with Cheesy acting and even worse dialogue and is only really best used as a time filler, when you’ve truly run out of things to watch, but if anything I’ve mentioned throughout this review sounds like your thing, then your no doubt be happy as a pig in shit, but despite this I still have a feeling that this won’t be the last time that I pay a visit to the cinematic garbage pile of Fred Olen Ray.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

It's Alive

Title: It’s Alive
Director: Larry Cohen
Released: 1974
Staring: John P Ryan, Sharon Farrell, James Dixon, William Wellman Jr., Daniel Holzman1

Rating: 3 / 5

Plot: When the Davis’s baby is born, it turns out that it is far from an innocent bundle of joy, especially as this baby has quite a taste for human flesh.

Review: For regular readers of the blog, you will know already that I am expecting my first child next year, which has proven to be quite a surreal experience knowing that you’re going to be someone’s dad, all the more so during a recent scan, which also made me want to dig out this first film in the cult trilogy, all the more so with the recent remake, being treated to a severe critical mauling, like so many of the unnecessary remakes which have appeared in recent years, especially when you consider that it’s so much easier, to cash in on a franchise than starting a new one.
Originally deemed a flop upon its release, the film would only later find its audience on VHS, thanks largely to a clever marketing campaign, which like the film itself teased at the monstrous appearance of the baby, which is actually a smart move by Cohen, who it seems may have also had doubts about his monstrous baby, especially seeing how the baby is only shown in brief glimpses with the majority of shots throughout the film consisting of either it’s deformed claw like hand, or its fanged mouth, with Rick Baker being responsible for these effects and seeing how he only had a small budget, the effects are the majority of the time quite effective, even if they pale when compared to his later work.
The idea of a killer baby is typical of Cohen’s work, especially seeing how he prefers to take an everyday situation / object and putting a horror slant on it, often drawing inspiration from the most random of places, even proving that even Yogurt can be scary with “The Stuff” (1985). With this film Cohen looked at the world around him and the effects that it could have on an unborn child, with the frequent uses of pesticides and chemicals as well as the effects of birth control medication and surprisingly, it’s this world that Cohen chooses to focus on throughout the film, rather than making the baby the main focus, which is kind of what I expected, were as it soon becomes more of a study of the strains of parental responsibility, with Cohen especially focusing on it’s effects on Frank Davis (Ryan) who at the start of the film is excited about the birth of the baby, only for these emotions to quickly to be replaced with feelings of disgust for the new born child, showing little if any emotion for the child and more than happy to encourage the police to kill the child, while meanwhile the doctors and drug companies are also just as eager to destroy the child, to prevent any possible backlash. All of this adds up to an interesting look at humanity as a whole and how self preservation, often plays an important role. Something especially examined with the actions of the child, who from the outset might be killing at any given opportunity and it basically does however Cohen still finds a motive for it’s action, especially as it gets closer to home, determined it seems to still be part of it’s family, even if that family is not overly keen to be reunited with it.
Surprisingly for a film which is at it’s heart a low budget horror, Cohen doesn’t feel the urge to rush any action, especially when it comes to the attack scenes, which are sporadic to say the least, with the body count falling short of anything resembling double features with the majority of these death occurring during the birth scene, which also proves to be the downfall of the film, as the remaineder of the film fails to compete with this memorable opening, which might be a tad disappointing to some viewers, especially those looking for a killer baby rampage, as it certainly is not here with Cohen more interested in examining the strains of the Davis family, as things grow increasingly more tense between them, with mother Lenore turning to the bottle as her coping mechanism, were as Frank struggles to hold his family together, with an almost permanent expression of grim determination on his face and this it has to be said slows the film down considerably and past the point in which the more casual viewers will be able to endure, who will no doubt have tuned out before the film reaches it’s climatic chase through the LA storm drains before ending on a cliff-hanger, which informs us that the nightmare might be far from over.

“It’s Alive” like so many of the 70’s horror classics is heavy on social commentary, including Abortion, Pharmaceutical side effects, as well as the deterioration of the family unit, all of which give plenty of material for the script to work with and it is one of the stronger aspects of the film and certainly something that is clearly missing from more recent horror films, which are often more concerned with easy scares and providing the audience with eye candy than actual issues and while Cohen might be as highly regarded as other directors from the same era such as Carpenter or Romero, but here is proves still to be a noteworthy director in the genre, even if it is largely a film comprised of more misfire than those of memorable horror.
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