Ho, Ho, Ho, my Axe

silentnightSilent Night, Deadly Night, 1984, 79 mins, HD (Amazon Prime)

This Christmas, I have watched just one festive movie (alas, not even Die Hard) and it was Silent Night, Deadly Night, a 1980s slasher flick that  apparently caused quite a stir back in the day. It’s not particularly well made and the acting has the feel of an amateur production- its a fairly nasty piece of work, really, but I suppose that’s the entire point. Its definitely of its time, that era of horror series like Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. There’s lots of nudity and that old horror trope of sex = death, the ‘twist’ of this film is that this film’s axe-wielding maniac is dressed as Santa. Its gory, but so absurd its not really at all scary, instead almost feeling like a parody of those other, more serious/cynical slasher series. This is something only accentuated by this ‘uncut’ version featuring scenes dropping from HD to a grainy second or third-generation SD whenever the goriest bits are put back in; really quite surreal whenever that happens.

The film begins with a lengthy prologue set on Christmas Eve of 1971, in which five-year old Billy is taken by his parents to see his grandpa, who is senile and living in a care home. While Billy’s parents are in another room discussing grandpa’s care situation with a doctor, grandpa suddenly becomes lucid and scares Billy shitless with a tirade about Santa punishing children who have been bad. Then wouldn’t you know it, on the ride back home there is an incident in which Billy sees his parents get pulled up at the roadside and killed by a crook dressed as Santa. That’s Christmas truly ruined for Billy for the rest of his life, which is pretty miserable in general as he’s put in an orphanage governed by a sadistic nun (yeah poor Billy just can’t catch a break) who reinforces the lesson that bad children should be severely punished.

So years later the film picks up with eighteen-year old Billy getting a job in a toy shop, and as Christmas Eve approaches, the store Santa goes sick and Billy is put in the Santa outfit. Yeah, it doesn’t end well for anyone caught being naughty by Santa Billy.

This is exploitation movie with a capital ‘E’ and is really pretty daft from start to finish. It would probably have been largely forgotten (for my part, I’d never heard of it) were it not for the furore it caused on its initial release. Back in 1984 people were just not ready for an axe-wielding Santa chasing women flashing their boobs (who are more common than you’d think, considering its set in chilly December). The bodies pile up, the deaths are fairly imaginative, the gore intensifies, and the soundtrack stays jolly with lots of Seasonal songs. It isn’t as good as its premise possibly sounds though.

Back to Die Hard next year then.

Westworld sticks the landing, while The Peripheral leaves wreckage everywhere

peripheral1Westworld Season 4, 2022, 8 Episodes, 4K UHD

The Peripheral Season 1, 2022, 8 Episodes, Amazon Prime

Well this post’s title says it all so I’ll try keep this short. I’m pleased to say that somehow Season 4 of Westworld manages to reach some kind of satisfactory conclusion. It feels somewhat rushed, but when watching it I put that down to the showrunners having to fashion some finale without the originally intended fifth season- a similar feeling when watching Babylon 5′s rushed fourth season, funnily enough, but it turns out that how Westworld’s season four ends wasn’t intended to be the finale. They still thought we’d get a season five (indeed, I’ve read that HBO have had to pay the leading cast a total of $25 million for the fifth season anyway, as they had a play or pay deal in another example of the madness of Hollywood financial frugality) so the open-ended coda returning to the Western setting of season one isn’t just an affectionate tease.  But it somehow works; how crazy is that? Probably as crazy as knowing that Babylon 5 got its own fifth season (the benefits of being comparatively cheap) and the irony that some like me actually think B5 should have ended with season four aftercall, as B5′s fifth season proved pretty dismal. So hey, lets be a glass half-full kind of chap for a bit – at least Westworld has some kind of satisfactory ending, was great fun while it lasted and intellectually satisfying most of the time, too.

In a curious twist of streaming fate, The Peripheral is from most of the same team that brought us Westworld, but is all the poorer in comparison. It starts very well, with a curious conceit of time travel through the transmission of data via some quantum entanglement, basically transmission of personality via a data stream to a date decades in the future that is posing as a VR game. Its a neat twist, discovering that what we believe early on is a VR game is actually a future reality in some strange utopian  London (hey, an added twist, that utopia is largely a fake and its a dystopia after all, oh the irony/several-too-many-layers of complexity).

I quite enjoyed most of it, but the finale proved just too confusing/confounding. I won’t go into it here, but it seems like they have pulled the rug under us again. Not simply transmitting the personality ‘live’ but actually transferring it after our heroine is (we assume) shot dead in some kind of bargain sacrifice. I don’t know. Its just a few steps north of credibility in my book. I don’t mind shows being obtuse and vague and mysterious, hey, it makes for great television sometimes, but The Peripheral is bordering on being a parody of such shows. Can’t say it really leaves me enthusiastic about waiting a year or two and then struggling through eight more such episodes, especially when I’ve likely forgotten most everything from season one. I admire the ambition, but really, do shows like this really have to be such work?

My next question- Amazon cancelled The Expanse in favour of spending money on dead-end shows like this?  Answers on a postcard please to Streaming Sucks UK.

At the mountain of Noir madness

Jury1 (3)I, the Jury, 1953, Blu-ray

Wow. Bad casting can really kill a movie, especially when its your lead. Such is the case with I, the Jury, a violent noir that was the cinematic debut of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, unfortunately played here by Biff Elliot – well, I write ‘played’ using that term awfully loosely. Watching I, the Jury is like watching a long car crash in slow motion. Right from the start its clear something is horribly wrong. Biff seems to be overplaying everything, his physical performance so cartoonlike its really quite bizarre. At first I thought it might have been a deliberate directorial approach; I’ve never read any of Spillane’s fiction but I do know its over the top, likely too violent and oversexed to make it to films back then without being diluted and perhaps being intuited in other ways visually, like via Biff’s swagger. One only has to reference the later Hammer caper, Kiss Me Deadly, that stared Ralph Meeker in another overcharged performance as everyone’s favourite private-eye sadist, to know the character is slow witted but fast to bursts of violence. But Biff lacks any of Meeker’s charm or charisma. He stomps and swaggers around like some kind of cartoon character, giving this film a sense of actually being a parody, spitting out inane dialogue with such sincerity it feels like the stuff of farce.

If there’s a good film in here, I can’t see it, its so buried under Biff’s mind-boggling performance of almost incandescent badness. It rather unravels around him. Which is such a pity, because a lot of the rest of the cast are actually great. The chasm of ability is obvious every time you see him acting with anybody, especially any scene he’s in with Margaret Sheridan or Peggie Castle, two ladies who are clearly in some other league beyond Biff. Its like watching professional actors working with some joe pulled off the street.

I tried, I really did. I thought, maybe if I can tune into this guys weird wavelength. The whole thing was like the Robert Rodriguez/Fran Miller-directed Sin City movie from several years back- hyper-stylised, over the top cartoon action. I, the Jury just has the same feel. Partly its a similar expressionist noir cinematography (John Alton again), the artificial  ‘look’ of a lot of the on-set filming (greenscreen virtual sets in Sin City, sheer cheapness in I, the Jury) on sets that don’t really convince, partly its the dialogue, the excessive (any excuse for a fist-fight) action that bursts comically from out of nowhere.  It doesn’t help that the plot is buried under all the theatrics, I could hardly follow what was going on or what Hammer was doing or to whom.

Jury1 (2)But the film isn’t a total bust. As I have noted, the ladies are excellent- both Sheridan (of The Thing From Another World) and Castle are beautiful and convincing, Sheridan as Hammer’s secretary/assistant Velda who as usual proves smarter than the dumb shmuck she’s working with and Castle may not at all convince as the scheming psychologist Charlotte, but she sure does melt the screen, especially at the end when she nearly gets the better of Hammer (God, I wish the film had a twist in which she shot him dead and put him out of our misery). Castle is close to the definitive femme fatale, smouldering and deadly. There is also extensive location shooting in the Bradbury Building of DOA/ Blade Runner fame, during which scenes I kept on mentally comparing camera angles to that of Ridley Scott’s film. Did Hammer really have a long fistfight on the very staircase where Rick Deckard sneaked up to Sebastian’s apartment? And yes, above all else, the relentless strangeness of Biff’s performance, the pace of the film, the incomprehensibility of the plot and cast of characters that drift in and out, its quite utterly bizarre noir. The final confrontation between Hammer and Charlotte is verging on hysterics, its like a parody of noir- only Castle’s performance manages to hold it back.

I thought Kiss Me Deadly was odd. Seems it had an even crazier precursor. I suppose as a piece of yellowed-paper, decomposing pulp paperback fiction I, the Jury is almost working on some level of perfection, but I’m reminded that what works in four-colour Marvel and DC comicbooks doesn’t necessarily translate so well to live-action, hence the changes that are made to maintain a suspension of disbelief that results in said films not being entirely ‘authentic’ to the comicbooks. Maybe there’s an argument that I, the Jury is the purest form of pulp noir.

Jacobs feeling more Blu

jacobisblu (3)There’s already a few announcements for 2023 that suggest my wallet should be getting nervous. Amongst these is the news that The Abyss is at last coming to 4K UHD sometime Q1/Q2 (dependant upon just how well the new Avatar film performs in theatres I guess) and Arrow have decided to get back into the noir game with a much-belated second four-film Noir set. Meanwhile Imprint down in Oz has announced a new Blu-ray edition due end of March of Adrian Lyne’s Jacobs Ladder, one of my favourite horror films. The film has been released on Blu-ray before but those discs are considered problematic, so most of us devotees of the film are wondering if this will be a much-needed remaster (early indications are don’t get your hopes up). I suppose what all us crazy dreamers are really hoping for is a 4K UHD edition eventually, before all those disc replicators go belly up, but I’m intending to keep an eye on this Imprint edition just in case. I’ve never bought this film on Blu-ray, only having a R1 DVD from when the film came out on home video, and that Imprint artwork really does look nice – hopefully the disc does too.

It’s a Raw Deal, region-wise.

raw1Raw Deal, 1948, 79 mins, Streaming (Amazon Prime)

In about six months, I guarantee I’ll look back on Raw Deal and get confused between it and Pitfall. I have an unfortunate habit of misremembering noir, the details blurring between films- the connection between Raw Deal and Pitfall being Raymond Burr, who in both films consummately plays utter bastards. I’m of the generation that remembers Burr from his Ironside TV days, a show that was a staple of 1970s network television here in the UK back in the 1970s (it ran for an extraordinary -in these 8 episode, cancelled after two seasons Netflix days- 195 episodes between 1967-1975 in the US) so I am always shocked when Burr is such a despicable villain in something. I remember seeing him several years ago in Rear Window thinking it must have been clever casting by Hitchcock, but it was clearly nothing of the sort; by the time of Rear Window in 1954, Burr was already a frequent bad-guy and it probably didn’t surprise anyone at all.  

But I watch so many noir lately (so many films, period, but so many noir in particular, these past few years), that they can’t help but blur in recollection, months later. Maybe its an age thing. I think that’s why I like to write about them here on my blog, as its a journal of sorts to help me keep things clear in my head regards everything I watch (alas so many slip through the net even then). Writing as such a lover of films, it feels a little disrespectful, misremembering things and getting confused; some of these films are genuinely great and deserve better.

I think Raw Deal qualifies as one of the ‘great’ ones- its story is that of a fairly routine pulp potboiler, I hesitate to refer to it as generic, but other than it having a female character giving the film its moody voiceover, on the whole it doesn’t really shake things up from a standard ‘guy on the run’ noir. Instead what really marks Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal out and elevates it to that higher level is the sublime, peerless cinematography by John Alton, a master of his craft who also filmed the exquisite-looking The Big Combo – I have another film that Alton shot, I, the Jury on Blu-ray waiting to be watched and knowing that Alton shot that too only makes it disc a more enticing prospect than ever (I heard that I. the Jury has some kind of Christmas theme/setting so have been holding on for a bit to watch it in the glow of the Christmas tree lights). 

raw6Raw Deal doesn’t just look arrestingly (almost ‘pause the film!’ kind of) beautiful, its how objects are composed within the frame that impresses, such as when a guilty Pat struggles with her conscience with time running out- her face dominates the frame with a clock behind her, as if slowly torturing her. Some viewers may find that kind of composition too obvious and literal but I think its Pure Cinema and typical of how imaginatively shot the best noir films are.

So as I have noted, narratively Raw Deal hardly a revelation, but it is pretty solid.  Dennis O’Keefe (who I’ve seen also in Chicago Syndicate,  Walk a Crooked Mile and Woman on the Run) plays Joe Sullivan, stuck in prison having taken the rap for Rick (Raymond Burr), who owes him $50,000. Joe is eager to get out and get that money, so he’s not about to serve two to three years on good behaviour to get the parole that his caseworker Ann (Marcia Hunt) urges him to be patient for. Instead Joe has got his girlfriend Pat (Claire Trevor) to liaise with Rick in setting up an escape. What the two lovers don’t know, though, is that Rick is only arranging the escape attempt because he’s confident it will fail and Joe will be shot dead, as Rick has no intention of parting with the $50,000. However, Joe succeeds in his breakout, thanks to the help of Pat and the reluctant assistance of Ann, whose car they have to steal in order to break a police cordon. Getting nervous, Rick sets some of his goons to hunt Joe down, while Joe suddenly finds himself having to choose between the decent, law-abiding Ann who thinks there might be a decent, sensitive heart under Joes tough exterior, or his streetwise and desperate lover Pat who loves him for all his faults and will take him at any cost. Pat can clearly see Joe starting to fall for Ann, so what cost will she be willing to pay to keep the man she loves? 

The performances in Raw Deal are very good- we’re never entirely confident just how good or bad Joe really is, there’s a duality to him which is interesting, especially regards which of the two women he’ll choose in the end, and Burr is utterly cold and hideous as the mobster betraying him (there’s a scene involving Rick callously maiming a drunk woman in a moment of rage that is genuinely shocking).  

raw5I watched the film streaming on Amazon Prime, and while it was clearly not the film at its best, it was at least an opportunity to watch what has, I believe, for many years been a pretty rare and underappreciated b-movie, as often the case another half-forgotten noir film desperate for restoration. I suppose you can guess where I’m going with this- the dreaded region-coding rears its ugly head again. I looked up the film to see if a disc release was available, and yes as is often the case, there is a properly restored HD edition but its a release Stateside that is region-locked. Exactly why a niche film such as this which is unlikely to ever get a release in foreign territories has been region-locked is really beyond me. I mean, what’s the harm? Maybe the counter-argument is that anyone who is enough a film-lover to be after a physical copy of a film like this is more likely to have access to a region-free player. Well, I’m the example that this isn’t always the case but hey-ho, you never know. Either someone over here in the UK or Europe will start releasing some of these obscure noir (which seem to be very good sellers, if Indicator’s box sets are any indication (sic)) or I may have to take a reluctant plunge – I’d rather not have two players nestled under the home television though. Ain’t there too may wires down here already?

Well, be that as it may, I think Raw Deal was yet another really good film and a great example of noir  that is as much a work of art as its is entertainment. I clearly haven’t seen the film at its best but you never know, maybe one day. Certainly worth a punt for anyone who has Amazon Prime already, as it won’t cost you anything. 

Powderpuff punch and a glass jaw… that’s a great combination!

Harderthey1The Harder They Fall, 1956, 109 mins, Blu-ray

This one’s a corker. A genuinely brilliant noir drama, with a fantastic cast, a great script, blistering direction, with some excellent cinematography. Its rather a pity that this films quality has to a large degree been overshadowed by it being best known as Humphrey Bogart’s last film- Bogart was ill during the filming and then diagnosed with oesophageal cancer soon after it was completed, finally succumbing to the illness in 1957. It’s clear in a number of scenes that he is struggling, a tension in his body even though he still manages a twinkle in  his eyes. I’ve never been a big fan of Bogart but on the evidence of this film he’s won me over- anybody with the class to work his craft with health issues such as he was experiencing here has to be admired. The sheer dogged professionalism, and ability to hold his own against a sparkling Rod Steger (who himself was rarely better, absolutely brilliant here) – well, now I know why Bogart is considered such a legend by many. 

Mark Robson’s The Harder They Fall is a boxing drama, akin to other noir like The Set-Up, and its really a pretty incendiary condemnation of the sport, and the corruption behind it (during the time this film was made, anyway) in which racketeers exploited the fighters in the ring who were considered expendable saps and a means to an end (making lots of money).

Primarily it’s the story of a once successful writer, Eddie Willis (Bogart) who lost his job when his newspaper folded and whose career has never recovered. Clearly considered yesterdays man and all washed-up, Willis is plainly on the ropes (sic) and easily seduced by bullish fight promoter, Nick Benko (Steiger) into a lucrative promoting gig which involves a foreign boxer that Benko has signed up. This fighter, Toro Moreno (Mike Lane), is physically a giant but it is clear he is no great boxer- since Toro is unknown from other shores Benko intends claim he is a foreign champion and then fix all of Toro’s fights, slowly setting him up for a lucrative title fight at which Benko will cash in and make a fortune. Benko’s scheme will only work if Toro is cannily promoted and the sports-writing fraternity hoodwinked (hence he needs Willis’ connections in the boxing game). Promised a share of Benko’s huge windfall, Willis cynically conducts the circus around Toro while Benko’s heavies pay off and threaten boxers and their managers to ensure Toro wins every fight. Along the way one boxer gets killed and Toro, utterly innocent and believing he is winning the fights legitimately, is overcome with guilt and wants to quit. He asks Willis, who he trusts, for his help getting out before Benko (and of course Willis) can make their big score. Will Willis stick with the scheme to make his fortune with Benko or will his conscience finally get the better of him? Or will Benko and his heavies allow his sure-bet scheme to make millions get away from him?

Harderthey3This film is  relentlessly paced right from the start, tough and uncompromising and shot in a docu-drama style with gritty location shooting. Curiously it feels very modern, even though inevitably some plot points feel dated (hey, its over sixty years old, lets see if many 2022 films don’t date worse). There is something almost hypnotically appealing about so many of these 1950s noir, especially those filmed on real streets showing a world so tactile and real. It’s not so much a sense of escape, but rather the seductive power of bold black and white worlds casting long shadows with interesting, flawed and conflicted characters trapped by fate or greed. I have noticed with some curiosity how my film-watching over the past few years has become increasingly skewed towards older films rather than more recent ones. Better screenwriting, better drama, better craft in general. The pace of this film, and the sparkling dialogue and character beats, just never lets up, and the boxing fights themselves are brilliantly realised. It is surely one of the best boxing films ever made, and yes, you guessed it, up until a few months ago I’d never even heard of it. Indeed this is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and most likely the best film included in this Columbia Noir set from Indicator.  Great stuff.


Life’s a beach…

Beach1On the Beach, 1959, 134 mins, Blu-ray

This is SUCH a curious film, its really something of an oddity- almost a tone-poem for the end of the world. There’s no explosions, no battles, not even any dead bodies, but World War Three has happened, its the end of the world, and we’re here for the quiet reflective last days of an humanity that knows its all over. 

It’s 1964, and an atomic war has wiped out the cities of the northern hemisphere. A surviving American submarine arrives in Australia, a continent spared the nuclear devastation by its remoteness but nonetheless doomed by the inevitable deadly radiation that will slowly encompass the globe. Life is eerily ordinary, with the public working, playing on the beaches, a communal sense of denial slowly fading away as the global weather systems slowly pushes the radiation southwards and across the oceans, first to Northern Australia and then slowly moving inexorably south. The captain of the submarine, Captain Towers (Gregory Peck) is numbed by what has happened and the surety of the deaths of his wife and children back home in America, but befriends a local woman, Moira (Ava Gardner) something of a free spirit who sees the pain behind Towers’ stoic eyes. Perhaps there is some hope of comfort for them in the last months before the end? 

There are some horribly disturbing topics aired in this film. Anthony Perkins (saddled with an unlikely Australian accent) plays Lt. Cmdr. Peter Holmes, a local liaison with Captain Towers. Holmes has a young wife, Mary (Donna Anderson) and newborn child, slowly coming to terms that his new family has no future, and that he has to work out some dignified ending for them other than the slow agonies of radiation sickness. Indeed, the Australian authorities’ grim solution to what is coming – basically suicide pills distributed to the populace when the time nears – is horribly logical and an eerie analogue to real scenes we saw in vaccination centres during the pandemic.

Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach could have easily been an exploitation film, full of desperate hysterics and horrors, and there’s some of that but on the whole it is utterly calm, slow-paced and quite the most gentle doomsday I’ve possibly seen. Its so curiously lyrical and poetic.

beach4I must confess to some conflicted feelings watching he film. One section of the plot involves the Australians picking up a lone radio transmission from America, possibly indicating survivors, and the submarine is dispatched to investigate. Surfacing off the coast of San Francisco the submariners look upon the dead city and it looks utterly normal, albeit totally devoid of any signs of life. It looks like how the cities of The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007) would be depicted. Now of course I can understand why- the blasted ruins of a nuclear conflagration were clearly beyond the budget of this film, but it results in the curious suggestion that there’s something clean and possibly even acceptably civilised about a nuclear apocalypse. Obviously its totally unintentional but it did leave me feeling actually uncomfortable regards how audiences of 1959 were possibly being misinformed, even though its contrary to the obvious cautionary intentions of the film. We see one of the crew, wearing a radiation suit, entering the outskirts of the city to investigate the source of the signal, but its all devoid of dead bodies, abandoned cars, looted shopfronts or even signs of panic. Its almost as if the American public nonchalantly retired to their homes to quietly face their end so as not to tarnish the streets with their rotting corpses, and I’m sure the Real Estate Agents appreciated the houses and streets being left clean and tidy, if only for the cockroaches. It becomes a disturbing precursor to what occurs later in Australia when humanity exercises its very mundane, logical, civilised solution to what is coming, but at the same time its almost astonishingly subversive. Who knew doomsday could be so… pleasant?  

Great film though. Another addition to that long list of great films of which I had no prior knowledge before stumbling upon a listing on the internet or comment in a film review. Its not perfect, but as a surprisingly offbeat film about the end of the world, its curiously endearing if one can accept that its clearly some idealistic view of the best of us, rather than the worst of us (the latter which occurs, offscreen, prior to the films titles). Mind you, the inevitable ending has a very effective gut punch that belies the poetic languor of most of what occurs before. Doomsday is horrible, however one paints it.

Back to the ‘Seventies?

Watching A Boy and his Dog the other night, and reflecting upon other genre offerings of the time like Soylent Green, The Omega Man, Silent Running etc, got me thinking. With the caveat that its really, really unlikely, since the social/political climate that we are in now is much different (or maybe it isn’t?), but it occurred to me that maybe the 2020s might eventually mark a return to 1970s film-making. Lets face it, the world is in a pretty dark place right now regards war in Europe, rampant inflation, looming/deepening recession, political unrest, job losses, rising debt, climate change etc… we may just be on the cusp of a very dark 2023 indeed, and decade beyond. 

So the Seventies… those were a pretty bad time. As a kid, I wasn’t aware of the full reality of it, but we had the Vietnam war, Watergate, power blackouts, rising unemployment, Glam Rock…. and I guess all of this (well, maybe not the horror of Glam) was reflected in the dark cinema of the time, certainly the best of it. I was just wondering, regards how cinema reflects the times it is made in, and maybe how when the going gets rough maybe people will be ready for a darker, grittier, more realistic cinema reflecting their experiences rather than the fantasies of comicbook writers and artists.

Of course that being said, eventually Star Wars came along and found a public desperate for some light relief, and maybe that’ll prove true in the 2020s too. Maybe we’ll just stay with the light stuff if only to escape reality, but I was thinking maybe the opposite might come true, at least initially?  Even those darker films would be different this time around, because for one thing, genre films have a higher profile than the b-movie fodder they were back in the day, so a cautionary film such as a 2020s variant of Soylent Green would look much bigger. much more convincing. Its not ‘just’ genre films of course, because we might see films studying political subjects, social issues, all that stuff that the multiplex crowd aren’t usually interested in unless its dressed up in CGI and set in a pretty place like Pandora. I don’t know, maybe it’ll never happen, but just a thought. Maybe there’s a new Scorsese on the horizon with something like a Taxi Driver or a new Coppola with a Godfather, or  there will ne a new movement of Neo-Noir with a series of gritty, edgy thrillers reflecting living in this strange new decade darkening before us.

A barking-mad apocalypse

boy1A Boy and his Dog (1975), 91 mins, Amazon Prime

Say what you like regards 1970s genre movies- most of them may not have aged particularly well (Logans Run?) but they are distinctly, and often oh so refreshingly, of their era; case in point, A Boy and his Dog, in which the hero, Vic (a very young Don Johnson) is a horny young sod whose rampant libido gets him and his buddy, Blood, into all sorts of scrapes and trouble (never mind where the next meal is coming from in this desolate post-nuclear wasteland, the most important question for this guy is when’s he going to get laid?). Its rather akin to a ‘Mad Max: the Horny Teen Years‘ turning post-apocalypse horror into a sex-obsessed dark comedy. The sci-fi twist in this decidedly strange tale is that Blood is a dog, with whom Vic has an unexplained telepathic link, and that its Blood who is the brains of the operation, whose wisdom (never mind his gift for language and memory of history) complements his more ordinary canine characteristics. 

Its all utterly bonkers. Based upon a Harlan Ellison story, Vic and Blood scavenge for food and sex in the nuclear-blasted desert landscape of 2024. Blood tries to keep Vic on the straight and narrow, but Vic’s lust for all things feminine finds him chasing after a beautiful young woman, Quilla (Susanne Benton). Vic pursues her underground where he discovers a hidden society of survivors who, to his joy, have decided that Vic should impregnate all their women as the men are all sterile. Vic can’t believe his luck, but its not going to be as fun as he imagines as the scientists have ensured that no actual sex will be involved, just tubes and syringes. Will Vic be able to escape back to the relative safety of the desolate wasteland up on the surface where Blood may still be waiting for him?

Its actually dafter than it sounds. It likely wasn’t intended to be taken seriously even in 1975, when nuclear apocalypse often seemed not just plausible but likely just around the corner (indeed, the nuclear apocalypse of this film happened during World War IV, never mind WWIII, which suggests how pessimistic everyone in the 1970s could be). From the much milder vantage point of a more sanitized, PC-wary modern day, stuff like this seems both wildly inappropriate and refreshingly good fun: its an exploitation flick via Clockwork Orange, or a Twilight Zone written by a very drunk Rod Serling. Its a film in which every actor is outshone by the dog, who is brilliant throughout.

Totally barking-mad.


Nearing the end of Westworld

Westworld Season Four, Episodes 1 -4, 2022, 4K UHD

Part of the appeal for me of Westworld is its obvious Replicant = Host parallels with Blade Runner, and the ‘what-is-reality?’ question that runs throughout so much of author Philip K Dick’s work- in some ways the show has always seemed as much an exploration of Philip K Dick’s oeuvre as it is Michael Crichton 1973 film Westworld. Indeed, as the show moved away from its Wild West-inspired theme park it became a temptation to think its what a Blade Runner 3 might have been had a film followed-up the Replicant rebellion plotline from Blade Runner 2049, or perhaps some precursor to what the Blade Runner 2099 TV series will prove to be. Leaving the theme park setting antagonised and frustrated some fans, who might have preferred something a little more… not routine exactly, but a season set in Futureworld or Medievalworld. Instead the showrunners, for good or ill, had other ideas, grander ambitions, taking it out into the real world beyond and a future apocalypse, a cautionary warning about technology and AI and the dangers they bring for a possibly obsolete humanity that’s part Terminator, part Blade Runner.

Its the end of the world, and its the end of the series.

I’m four episodes in now, at the midway point, so that end is getting near. Probably, its going to be a non-ending.  Maybe the cancellation by HBO changes nothing- if ever this maddeningly brilliant, maddeningly infuriating series was going to be so ordinary and mundane as to give us anything like a definitive ending, but hey, I guess we’ll never know now. So watching this season is a strange experience of watching the clock, desperately hoping the series isn’t going to waste any time on superfluous plot points, knowing there’s only so many episodes left, and hoping that whatever season ending these eight episodes arrive at, it somehow works as an overall ending for the series as a whole. Too much to ask for? Probably. But I am enjoying this last ride .

Because its pretty damn good, still full of lofty ideas but somehow easier to digest. After the muddled third season (I quite enjoyed it for the inevitability of some of its technological ideas, but I know it had its issues) this show is back on track. While its not as nuanced, sophisticated or balls-to-the-wall ambitious as the show’s tremendous first season, there’s possibly an argument to be made that instead its clearer, more defined, maybe a little bit more traditional, mainstream, which seems a deliberate choice by the showrunners. Maybe an admission they took everything a little too far in turning its plot into a narrative Rubiks cube? Oh the irony that just when the show got a little less obtuse and toned down some of its elements that alienated the mainstream crowd, it got cancelled.

While its a pale shadow of its tremendous first season (and to be fair, that was one of the best seasons of television drama ever made, so that was inevitable really), the fourth season of Westworld looks to be absolutely splendid and having reached the midpoint its clearly a definite improvement on the third season. Unfortunately, the series cancellation looms every episode, every plotline, so watching this season is a strange experience of watching the clock and hoping that whatever season ending these eight episodes arrive at somehow works as an overall ending for the series as a whole. Too much to ask for? Probably. But I am enjoying this last ride (hell, its worth it just for every minute of Ed Harris’ Man in Black).

But how maddening will the end of this journey prove to be?