Stabbing Tedium

fanatic2017.56: Fanatic (1965)

This one’s a pretty strange Hammer movie. It lacks the usual ‘look’ and cast of a Hammer film, with more the feel of a (bad) Hitchcock thriller. But there’s plenty in it that deserves a watch- a young Stefanie Powers is really pretty great in a very under written part, as a heroine who does very little heroic and there’s Tallulah Bankhead chewing up scenery like she’s in full-blown demolition mode. It’s really very odd and I doubt it’s ever really in line for a rewatch (it’s the worst of the four films featured in Indicator’s first Hammer box), but you never know, sometimes these crazy curio pictures pull you back more often than you’d expect.

Even at 97 mins though it really outstays its welcome, with a very flimsy plot. Our ill-fated heroine, Patricia Carroll (Powers) feels she has to visit the mother of her recently-deceased boyfriend to pay her respects, little knowing that the mother, Mrs Trefoile (Bankhead) is a religious zealot and nuttier than the fruitiest fruit cake. The old lady imprisons Patricia in her isolated house and suffers her to listen to her bible readings, intent on cleansing the young girl’s soul before killing her (and therefore reuniting Patricia with her son). That might make the film seem more interesting than it really is.

What helps the film, like in so many bad movies such as Lifeforce, is the retrospective oddity of its casting. The supporting cast includes the late great Peter Vaughan (I’m thinking of Brazil but most will be thinking of Game of Thrones) and Yootha Joyce, famous here for 1970s sitcoms (and apparently subject to unwelcome attentions from the bisexual Bankhead during filming). Couple this with a bizarre turn by an impossibly young Donald Sutherland, and it’s quite a strange item.

Unfortunately by the time it stutters to its ending it really becomes rather tedious. They don’t make ’em like they used to, and sometimes maybe that’s just as well.

RIP Tobe Hooper

lifeforce1I read the news of Tobe Hooper’s passing today with much sadness- another Horror great gone. In some other alternate universe, Tobe Hooper’s film Lifeforce is revered as the finest bad horror movie ever made. Any film that features a security guard trying to tempt a naked space vampire with a biscuit has got to be one of the greatest, oddest films of all time, and Lifeforce is full of such mad genius. I know most horror fans will refer to Hooper as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Poltergeist but for me, he’ll always be the Master of Space Vampire movies- in the grandest tradition of Ed Wood, Lifeforce is his undoubted masterpiece.

The Paperboy (2012)

paperb12016.64: The Paperboy (Film Four, HD)

I haven’t the foggiest. It suckered me in with the cast and by the time I realised what I was watching I decided to just grit my teeth and see it out to the bitter end. One of the most bizarre films I have seen in many a moon, this seedy tale of southern guilt/ pleasures/ secrets is told by Macy Gray (!) in flashbacks to 1969. Trailer trash Nicole Kidman (!) has fallen in love with prison pen pal John Cusack (!) and enlists the help of idealistic journalist Matthew McConaughey (!) to find evidence to ensure the wronged convicts release from his trumped-up murder charge before he fries on the electric chair.  The journalists younger brother Zac Efron (!) insists on wearing very little other than tight undies and becomes infatuated with Kidman. McConaughey isn’t bothered by Kidman’s sultry charms as he’s more interested in black men, a particular guilty secret that leads to no good as even as late as 1969 the swinging sixties haven’t really arrived in the Deep South. Oh, did I mention that McConaughey’s sidekick is David Oyelowo? Or that there’s a beach scene in which Kidman pisses over Efron to save his life?

Really, this is one of those brilliantly bad film disasters that has you wondering if it will be quickly forgotten or maybe turn into a cult classic in twenty years. I remember I used to think LifeForce was terrible- well it is a bad film but it’s turned into one of my favourite guilty pleasures, so maybe The Paperboy will work similar magic on audiences over the years.But not me, I’m sure.

It’s a bewildering, crazy film. A drinking game in which you take a shot whenever Efron slips down to just his indies would have you unconscious midway through the film. Not being judgemental, but I bet this film has a huge gay following. I guess I should think it’s novel and refreshing to see a film that is more interested in a guys body rather than that of its female star, but it’s really quite surreal.

Indeed it’s weird how the film turns from an investigative mystery, into a coming of age story, then a social commentary on racism in the South, then a film about sexual guilt, then finally a full-on horror slasher flick in its finale. Its clearly a sign of a film that doesn’t know what it is. All I know is it is truly, truly bad, but strangely worth watching if only for the bizarre experience of watching something just so thoroughly odd with such an A-list cast slumming in it. Utterly mad.


Invaders From Mars (1986)

invaders1This film and I have a history. I saw it at the cinema back in 1986 and I hated it. Absolutely hated it. One of the most excruciating cinematic experiences of my life. Horrible movie. So horrible I have never seen it since, not any of it. I really hate seeing bad films at the cinema- hasn’t happened to me too often thank goodness. Its one thing to be watching a bad movie on home video, you can switch it off, hit that ‘eject’ button, but at the cinema? You’re stuck there for the ride. Even if the projectionist should really know better and put the patrons out of their misery by faking a power cut or something. So me and Invaders From Mars. We met in 1986 and never again since. Until last night.

I should have known better.

I’m something of a sucker for cheap blu-ray releases of older films. In this day and age of streaming and PPV catalogue releases on disc are becoming rather scarce. The main studios don’t seem to bother, instead licensing titles out to distributors like Arrow here in the UK. Its no doubt a niche market. Well, its tempting to just try encourage more releases by supporting those we do get. You have to buy every Hammer film released on Blu-ray (even the poorer ones) if you want to get your favourite Hammer films released someday. But that doesn’t really explain why I bought this one. We grow older and our faculties wane, bitter memories ease a little, and the passing of time, all near-thirty years of it, blurs memories until you begin to wonder, was it really all that bad? Maybe it was a bad day, maybe I wasn’t being fair, I was a teenager, maybe I wasn’t ready for it, maybe…

invaders2Invaders From Mars is still a horrible movie. Maybe even worse than I remembered. Its certainly nowhere near the fun that Tobe Hooper’s earlier Lifeforce is. Lifeforce is a bad movie, its a positive stinker of a film, but its nonetheless so bad its… well its one of those bad films that…  its actually quite fun. I love Lifeforce. Its got risible dialogue and a nonsensical plot but its a great laugh when you’re in the mood for it. Any film that portrays the End of the World as a Jean Michel Jarre concert attended by zombies can’t be all bad, and its got a cast to die for uttering those atrocious lines- Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, Aubrey Morris… it’s geek gold. And I haven’t mentioned Mathilda May’s charms either. But Invaders From Mars? No, its just bad, really bad. Its casting is just part of it, but… yeah, about that cast…

Louise Fletcher. I’ll never forget my horror at seeing the wonderful Louise Fletcher who I had previously seen in Brainstorm, in which she was so monumentally brilliant, slumming in this film as the teacher from hell that eats a frog for no discernible reason. She hams it up in this film with its rubber martian monsters like she’s in a cheap muppet movie, privy to some joke none of us are in on (maybe its her paycheck that she finds so amusing). James Karen, so wonderful in the horror comedy Return of the Living Dead, incredibly miscast here as some army general, smoking cigars like his life depended on the smoke hiding his face/shame from the camera. Karen Black as the oddly hysterical school nurse is just so wrong, wrong, wrong in so many ways, its like she’s walked onset from some other movie. But really the true horror is the kid.

invaders3Hunter Carson is the nominal star of the film, the child ‘hero’ David Gardner whose parents are under the martian influence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bad child performance in a movie- the only thing that gives this a run for its money is Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace. Really its terrible, as if they got some kid off the streets and shoved him in the movie. Its really quite bizarre, he even manages to ‘move’ all wrong- even when he runs across the playground it looks like he’s acting. I can only imagine what the producers thought after seeing the dailies roll in. They must have known they were in trouble. I always wondered how the hell he got through any audition and then I discovered he was the child of Karen Black so maybe it was some kind of package deal that horribly misfired.

Or maybe its all Tobe Hooper’s fault. Maybe it’s just how Hooper was directing Carson. The thing is, the central conceit of the original Invaders From Mars was its dreamlike quality, it was the stuff of a child nightmare. Camera angles were always low, the art direction exaggerated perspective with its strange sets, the colours all exaggerated… I actually think in some odd way Hooper was doing something along those lines with how the actors in his remake were delivering their lines and acting, not like real people/characters, but somehow like a childs picture of adult behavior, like adults in a child’s dream. Unfortunately it doesn’t work in the slightest, the adults just look stupidly overacting, and the kid, well, he’s just incredibly irritating. I don’t know what Hooper was thinking. Lifeforce has this strange, almost camp quality of a huge blockbuster Hammer film that never was, but Invaders From Mars… its just badly shot, badly acted, badly directed. A complete mess.

Its a really ill judged film. Of course, when he was making Lifeforce, Hooper thought he was making a horror movie. When it was screened he was reportedly upset that audiences were laughing at it. So maybe following that experience he approached Invaders From Mars in some odd way at playing for the laughs (in which case he misfired again) or was suffering from a complete lack of confidence. I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t help the case for him having had any hand in directing Poltergeist, because none of the suburban scenes in Invaders look anything like as sophisticated as those of Poltergeist, and none of the stunts or horror gags have any of the finesse of Poltergeist. Its clearly the work of another director, far as I can tell. If Hooper did indeed direct Poltergeist, then I have to wonder, what the hell happened to him in the next few years. Did he get abducted by Martians? Did he shoot this film with a plaster on the back of his neck?

A Crystal Skull & A Third Black

Last night I found myself watching a film on network television for the first time over this Christmas… right at the end of the festive season. Which is sort of sounding the death-knell of the old tradition of picking out festive treats to watch in the Radio Times. Its all redundant now; films-wise at least, films are Blu-rays or streaming these days. Why put up with adverts on commercial channels or suffer the vagaries of time-slots and scheduling? Oh well, there’s another childhood tradition dead in the water.

So I ended up watching last nights broadcast of Indiana Jones & Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the much-maligned and currently final entry in the Indiana Jones series. I can well understand the hate for this film, but I’ve actually always had a soft spot for this movie, if only because I’ll always get a kick out of watching Harrison Ford doing what he does best, in one of his iconic roles, with a rousing John Williams score- the kind of film soundtrack we don’t get to hear much of in films these days. Of course in many ways its a fairly shambolic film but I enjoy it nonetheless. I enjoy its 1950s cold war and Ancient Aliens storyline. I don’t enjoy the over-use of CGI (it just goes to show even Spielberg isn’t immune) which is ageing this film worse than the earlier Indiana Jones films.

mib3Immediately after Crystal Skull I had the misfortune to watch Men In Black 3. Here’s another film franchise well past its sell-by date given one sequel too many. I was never a fan of the MIB series, somehow I was always immune to their charm but this third entry was just an appalling cash-grab. Usually I can watch any film more than once, but having seen this, well, one time is certainly enough and I have no wish to suffer any of this film again.  It occurs to me though that the film must have its fans (and I’m told it was fairly well received) which puts me at odds with public opinion yet again- indeed, immediately after me professing my fondness for Crystal Skull, a film universally disliked if you consider the internet a reliable indication of public opinion. What the hell, I guess it just comes down to personal taste and my fondness of its nods to earlier, better films. I never liked any MIB film, so its references to MIB 1 & 2 might amuse fans but leave me nonplussed.

How to judge a movie after all? I guess even the worst movies have their fans (and some of us like some movies precisely because they are bad, i.e. my own love for Lifeforce). I suspect that the best way to judge a movie might be over time. My own ongoing series of Fifty Great Films has made me consider this when thinking of and rewatching fifty films I consider ‘great’. But then again, a film might not age well through no fault of its own, which isn’t to suggest it was bad back when it was made, its just that people/society/film technology has moved on and left it behind. I’m a big fan of the Hammer Horror films, chiefly because of their effect on me when I saw them as  kid, but I appreciate that people watching them for the first time now might think them old-fashioned, even quaint or redundant.

Glorious Lifeforce


RETROVIEW: LIFEFORCE (5 STARS): In an astonishingly realised future London, SAS agent Caine hunts aliens brought to Earth from an alien spaceship found near Halleys Comet. But these aliens are Vampires feasting on the souls of humanity, led by a beautiful vampire queen whose magnificent bosom haunts the erotic nightmares of Carlson, the astronaut that her bought her evil to Earth. But is Carlson human, or a space vampire himself?

This film is perhaps the most under-rated sci-fi movie of all time. It is a masterpiece of dark brooding psycho terror, and a classic work of prediction. Forget 2001, this is how the future will REALLY look. The fx are so terrifyingly realistic that you will feel like you are seeing documentary footage of the end of the world, and Tobe Hooper’s gripping direction keeps you on the edge of your seat with panic. Mathilda May’s awesome space vampire whose naked bosom spells death for humanity has never been equalled. Frank Finlay’s depiction of a homosexual scientific genius on the brink of insanity deserved an Oscar, while Peter Firth’s subtle portrayal of the cool, sophisticated SAS Vampire Hunter steals the show, surely marking him as a future James Bond. We can only watch in numb terror as we realise that the future of the world is a Jean Michel Jarre concert populated by zombie joggers gone mad.

Who can tell if this awful fate awaits mankind in the future? Will this epic vision come true? Only one thing is certain- that when Hallleys Comet returns next century, the public will be s***ting bricks. 

Hmm, sorry about that. That was a piece I wrote for a fanzine many years ago, a tongue-in-cheek review of the R1 MGM DVD. Thought I might post it here in celebration of Arrow Films superlative Blu-ray release of Lifeforce here in the UK.

Watching this new Arrow Blu-ray of Lifeforce, I thoroughly enjoyed it, more than I have in ages. Maybe I was in just the right frame of mind. Its such a mad, overblown movie (Its also a hideously bad movie but…)  well you know how it is, sometimes some movies are so bad they are actually good? Or maybe I’ve seen so many bad, boring films in the years since that even Lifeforce seems good by comparison. I remember watching it at the old ABC cinema in town on its original release. Although Mathilda May obviously left an impression, the most lingering feeling was that something was very wrong with the movie. The premise was silly to the point of absurd (a UK-based Space program, a space shuttle -bizarrely bigger on the inside than it seemed from the outside- travelling out to Halleys Comet to find an alien ship shaped like a umbrella), the  script was shockingly rife with awful dialogue provoking more titters than shudders, and actors hammy performances more fit for the ‘sixties Batman tv-series than a big-scale serious horror movie. I mean, it was a horror movie, right? Or was it a tongue-in-cheek comedy poking fun at the horror genre? Was the whole thing really a genuinely serious attempt at a blockbuster sci-fi horror movie? Or was it a madly over-budgeted Carry On movie? Back then I wasn’t sure, and to this day I’m not sure Tobe Hooper really knew what he was doing. Its mad, its bad, but goodness me its also glorious. Spielberg got away with something just as daft with his 1941, so I say give Tobe Hooper a break- he made a great movie.

Great fun, and this Blu-ray is one of the releases of the year.

The Films We Love- (yes, even Lifeforce…)

Its funny the films we love. Ignoring those ‘classics’ that are widely considered great films (you know the usual suspects, Citizen Kane, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Apartment, 2001 etc) there are those that we just fall in love with anyway, just because, well, we like them, whatever critics and anyone else says. Some are rather good films deserving our fondness, while others are guilty pleasures that we enjoy perhaps for reasons outside the films themselves- reasons like nostalgic memories of the times we saw them, the way we were. Some films we carry torches for from our teenage years all the way through adulthood and old age. I guess I’d count many of the late ‘seventies/early ‘eighties films that I love in that category. Blade Runner is my favourite movie partly for the experience of watching at just that time when it was new and breathtaking, and for that period when it was like the ultimate cult film that no-one had seen or heard of other than for hardcore sci-fi nuts like me. Its clearly not the greatest film ever made- indeed it was horribly flawed, damn near broken on its first theatrical version. But even though the versions have changed on its many re-releases, and I have seen it countless times -surely more than a hundred- in the 30 years since that first time back in September 1982, I still love that film as much as I ever did. Revisiting it is like revisiting an old friend.

But its like that sometimes even with those old films we didn’t like back when we first saw them. Perhaps we were too young to appreciate some films and we find that re-watching them when older and wiser we ‘get’ them and enjoy them. Maybe some films are just as bad as they were back in the day but in hindsight don’t seem quite so awful as the current crop of films for some reason or other. I’ve found I quite enjoy some older, pre-cgi films precisely because they are pre-cgi… as if the matte lines and dodgy effects and actors unfortunate hairdos give the films a charm and affinity it lacked originally. Is that more the charm of the old days, memories of the times, than anything in the film itself? Certainly a lot of older films lack the artificial sleekness of current films, as I find that there is a ‘perfection’ in how actors look these days, and how modern films are obviously co-designed by marketing departments and aimed with chilling sophistication at particular demographics. Older films seem more innocent shots-in-the-dark in that respect.


I must admit to a certain thrill at the news that Arrow is releasing a special two-disc edition of Lifeforce later this year (ain’t that steelbook a peach?). I saw Lifeforce at the cinema back on its original release. I think I was in college then. Saw it in town in the old picture-palace that was the ABC cinema- back in that huge, red-plastered, cavern-like Screen One that seemed like a theatre of lost silverscreen dreams, the dog-eared worn seats shadows of earlier, more prosperous times, back when The Sound of Music  and Zulu ruled the box-office.  Well, even inspite of Mathilda May’s obvious charms, Lifeforce was a complete stinker. As a horror film it was shockingly silly.  At the time I dismissed the film but as the years have passed and I’ve watched it several times, I actually have grown to like the film. Its a lousy horror film but it is so bad its actually rather funny, and I find I can giggle at the bad dialogue and cheesy performances and inept direction. So bad its good? And of course its all pre-cgi make-up and optical effects, the over-the-top music score is over-ripe Hammer… its a great bad movie.  To think after all these years someone is working on a two-disc special edition of the film with commentaries, docs etc.. well it restores my faith in humanity when a film as bad and broken as this one gets that kind of love and care. I’m just surprised some people still maintain its a horror film- if they marketed it as a deliberate comedy I think it would get a wider audience and recognition. No accounting for taste, eh?

But anyway, I’d hardly cite Lifeforce as a great film, but I love it all the same. Legend is one of Ridley Scott’s more lamentable misfires, but I have found that my affection for it has increased over the years. Partly because I remember seeing it back in its cinema release when it seemed to slip by unnoticed by most people, partly because its real-world sets/make-up/miniatures give it a ‘look’ utterly alien to the cgi wonders of The Lord of the Rings films and the recent The Hobbit.

Maybe part of it is how modern films are so obviously colour-graded in post, whereas the ‘look’ of older films is from the actual on-set lighting, lenses, filmstock…  maybe thats why when I rewatch these older films I feel something in them. Conan The Barbarian (the 1982 version) was a film I didn’t even particularly enjoy back when I first saw it, but nowadays I thinks its up there with Spartacus– its a bold, gritty, real-world movie that, in spite of its dodgy acting, mixed effects work etc, feels like exactly the kind of film they can’t make anymore (and the recent remake proved it). Bear in mind its also got a fantastic soundtrack score, which is something that a lot of older films have but current films usually lack. Indeed most of the older films I love have great music scores, while most current films ditch melodies in preference for ‘mood’ and ambience, or sound like Hans Zimmer/Media Ventures muzak.

So anyway, if it takes your fancy, please leave a comment regards the films you love that you just know aren’t great, or indeed perhaps even any good. I figure that every film out there has at least someone who loves it. I’m just curious how bad some of them are!