Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

supes4I never intended to ever watch this movie. I bought the Superman Anthology boxset on Blu-ray years ago but of all those eight discs, this one was surely the coaster. Although I’m a huge fan of both Superman: The Movie (if not the best superhero movie ever made, its definitely the most important) and Superman II, watching the third film on a VHS rental many years ago rather bummed me off ever watching the fourth film which was, apparently, even worse than that third effort. But it’s Superman. Its Christopher Reeve.

How bad can it get?

Now, well, there’s the loaded question. Goodness knows I’ve directed some ire at Justice League and BvS etc but goodness me, it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Because Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is bloody terrible. Really, it’s a horribly broken movie that was likely (or at least I hope)  made with the best of intentions but was handicapped by a hokey script, woefully insufficient budget and terminally uninspired direction. Its shocking that it was even deemed worthy of release, frankly,  and I think cinemagoers should have had the right to claim their money back. This isn’t a movie. Its a pale imposter. Its a few sequences that put together don’t make any sense masquerading as a movie with utterly charmless visual effects that decidedly lack the prefix ‘special’. I’ve not seen anything quite like it before even in Tobe Hooper’s worst movie.

Which is such a terrible shame, when you consider where it all started. In fact, you’d think someone would write a book about it- ”Superman: The Movie to Superman IV – a Cinematic Tragedy.’ How does something like this happen with such a well-loved franchise so hugely popular worldwide with such talent behind it? Where does it go wrong (there’s a clue in the story about Richard Donner and him being dropped from Superman II)?

Superman: The Movie was a huge expensive event movie with a brilliant cast including big stars like Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman- I can remember when it came out in 1978; back when titling something ‘THE MOVIE’ actually meant something. This wasn’t a tv show or a silly comic, this was a serious big movie. And it was brilliant and charming and amazing and thrilling. It had some of the biggest, most brilliant visual effects and the film really lived up to the tagline ‘you’ll believe a man can fly’. It was myth-making on the silver screen. With this, Star Wars, CE3K, Raiders… we had it so good back then.

But here they were a decade later and it’s all gone to hell in a four-colour handbag. Its painful and sad to see Chris Reeve reduced to this, and Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman and all the other stars from that first film slumming in this nightmare production. Sadly, Marvel Studios and even Zack Snyder are lifetimes away, it seems.

The story. Er… is there a story? I don’t think there is. Its just full of ill-judged scenes badly realised. Supes reveals (again) his secret identity to Lois and takes her for a romantic flight (again) although the travelogue scenery suggests he’s whisked her around the nation fast enough to burn her knickers nevermind upset her hairdo, before returning home and causing her to forget his identity with a kiss (again). Later he rescues Lacy (Mariel Hemingway wearing shoulder pads that look like weapons) whilst she’s in space somehow breathing and not freezing/boiling to death.

But there is Christopher Reeve and his simply magnificent Clark Kent. No matter how bad the movie, Clark still shines through and demonstrates the one thing that perhaps no other Superman movie will ever equal- that heartwarming, innocent comedy genius that was Chris Reeves’ Clark Kent, and the gentle chemistry between himself and Margot Kidder. Later films may have had better visual effects (and even actual plots and budgets) but they will never have Reeve and Kidder. So maybe Superman IV is not quite the utter disaster it might have been- oh, ok, of course it is. But it does have Reeve and Kidder. Oh, but they deserved so much better.

So did we, damn it.

The Mummy (2017)

mum2Oh dear. There is certainly something supernatural lurking within this movie, but that’s mostly Tom Cruise’s uncanny refusal to show much sign of ever aging. He could easily pass of as -and likely does in this movie too, though it’s never stated- as a guy in his mid/late ‘thirties, rather than someone who is actually 55. On the one hand, it’s a hugely impressive feat that he can carry off such physical roles with apparent grace. On the other, its a little disconcerting that his love interest in this film, English actress Annabelle Wallis, who is 33, could conceivably be young enough to be his daughter. Well, I guess that sort of thing is nothing new in Hollywood movies, but I do wonder how odd it might have looked had his love-interest been played by an actress of the same age as Cruise.

Related to this, here again I was partly distracted by a familiar face, knowing that I’d seen Annabelle Wallis (who is very good here, by the way, in a fairly underwritten role that she is clearly too good for), somewhere before. It was only after watching this film in its entirety though  that I finally discovered that she had been in that operatic brutalizer of historical fact, the tv series The Tudors, in which she damn near stole the show as Jane Seymour. But that ‘where have I seen her before’ mystery was rather distracting.

In all honesty though, it’s easy to get distracted by anything when watching something as fairly dire as this woefully ill judged addition to the list of Mummy films. You have a genuine superstar (whose star, admittedly, may be on the wane) in Tom Cruise in the lead, a great star-in-the-making with Annabelle Wallis, a fairly solid supporting cast that includes Russell Crowe doing his best Nick Fury, with a budget of $125 million to keep the blockbuster spectacle top-notch. You then saddle it with a reprehensible turkey of a script that makes Tobe Hooper’s Life Force look like a genuine classic.

Who writes this stuff? There is this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt which, if used to kill ‘Chosen One’ Tom Cruise, will bring about the End Of The World by ushering in Egyptian God of Evil Set into the world. Russell Crowe wants to avert this calamity by, er, killing Tom Cruise with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. Tom Cruise ultimately averts this crisis by, er, killing himself with this magical dagger with a red stone in its hilt. And then, er, smashing that red stone so no-one can do this again.  Somehow, instead of dying and his body being immortaly possessed by the Evil God Set, Tom then becomes, well, Tom with the ability to resurrect the dead whilst setting off on a quest to cure himself of said immortality (that’s another movie, and one we aren’t ever going to see, I suspect).

Maybe i missed something. To be honest, Tom was pretty much immortal from the time his military plane was crashed into the English countryside by Egyptian Princess/Mummy in residence Ahmanet. Instead of his body being smashed to pieces and burnt to a crisp he instead wakes up in the morgue perfectly fine without a scratch. Having therefore demonstrated that he has gone all Captain Scarlett he is simply allowed to walk out of the morgue without any consternation from doctors or staff and goes to the nearest pub for a drink.

At this point in the proceedings I realised I was indeed in Life Force territory, not only regards the nonsensical plot but in how Ahmanet sucks the life-force out of her victims and recruits them as zombie stooges. And also in how Ahmanet has gotten ‘into’ Tom’s head in a similar fashion to how the space vampire got into our hero Tom Carlsen’s (hey, another ‘Tom’) head in Life Force with all sorts of head-spinning logic twists ensuing. Infact, the LIfe Force nods just keep on coming, they even manage to put London under threat again. They throw in some American Werewolf In London too, with Tom’s best mate coming back as a ghost to chat with him a few times. Its a real mess of a movie, a spiritual successor to Life Force indeed.

Biggest mystery is what in the world Tom Cruise is doing in this movie. He’s a canny film producer and surely can sniff out turkeys such as this at the script stage. Perhaps he was simply more interested in launching another film franchise rather than, ahem, a decent film. But this is such a bad choice for him, its weird. Its so bad, why wasn’t that obvious from the script? How do films like this get made?

The hell with this rubbish. I’ve already devoted too much time to it writing this post. This film is such a major misfire it actually makes the DC films look good. Its really that bad- I suppose the one good thing is that’s that for the Dark Universe series then, whilst we’ll be inflicted by DC movies for a few years yet.

 

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.

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?

Glorious Lifeforce

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.