Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Alien: "You are my lucky star"

 Purchased at a local thrift store in June 2012

     With the release of the biggest sci-fi movie of the summer thus far (sorry MIB 3), Prometheus, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and watch the film that put director Ridley Scott on the map.

       Personally, Ridley Scott has done two great things for me. Those being developing my love for Harrison Ford (who starred in his 1982 film Blade Runner) and securing science fiction films a place in my heart for life. As a director though, his resume spans from Thelma and Louise and Gladiator to G.I. Jane and Black Hawk Down. Clearly, the man is capable of great things but none of them include a shaved head Demi Moore. Before such fumbles though, there was the 1979 film Alien. The movie begins with the tugboat of a spacecraft named Nostromo returning back to Earth but their trip home gets interrupted when they receive an alarming signal from a neighboring planet. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) leads his crew into a detour to the planet to investigate. 

       The movie is not only labeled under the genre of sci-fi but horror as well and this is the turning point in the story where that become apparent. After the ships computer translates the message as a caution and not an S.O.S., it's all down a black hole from there. With the story taking place on the set designed by surrealist artist, H.R. Giger (which won him the 1980 Academy Award for "Best Visual Effects"), the heroine of the movie, Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver in her breakout role) surprises everyone as she progressively increases her level of badass with her gutsy moves as the film goes on. 

     Bringing a good blend of both sci-fi and horror as described, this movie is enjoyable for anyone who enjoys either. Though a little cliched with how the story is carried out, a slow, tame start that quickly turns into a space showdown, it contains enough visual elements to keep you interested. Flamethrowers? Check. Cute cat name "Jonesy"? Got it. An alien bursting out of a humans chest? But of course!

Left on the Red Line around 8:30 p.m. on 6/12/12

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Toxic Avenger - The Mop Slinging Superhero

Purchased at a local thrift store in May 2012

When I originally found this, I was thrilled BUT when I opened the case inside was a copy of "RUDY". My heart was hurting and I left empty handed. I returned days later though and perused through the wall of VHS and low and behold, it had been unveiled! This classic cult movie crass yet ridiculous covered in a thick layer of 80’s sleaze.

Labeled under the "horror" genre though it is really anything but, "The Toxic Avenger" tells the story of a nerd, Melvin, the mop boy at the health club of Tromaville, who after being tormented by his peers, has an accident that lands him into a vat of nuclear waste. This event then transforms Melvin into an over-sized pile of mutated muscle who uses his newly obtained strength to fight the bad and save the innocent. Though the story line of this movie has been used time and time again, how it s carried out is truly yet oddly unique. There is child head crushing, dog shooting and blind girl raping scenes, that all sound pretty terrifying and awful. Truth be told though, they will have you laughing with how unrealistic they look and how the actors carry them out. The budget is estimated at under half a million, so if you’re looking for high quality special effects, you won’t find it here. Even Melvin/The Toxic Avenger, has little dialogue but again, this isn’t supposed to be an award winning drama. One of the taglines for the film is “Not all monsters are scary to people. Not if it's one fighting crime in the Garden State.”, so you’re not expected to take it too seriously. If you’re looking a top notch, low budget, bad yet good movie, than with this you have struck gold wrapped in grime.

Left at South Station at 4:30 p.m. on 5/25/2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Prince of Darkness: Liquid Anti-Christ

Purchased at a thrift store in May 2012

While running around on my day off, I decided to pick up a new yet old VHS to watch, ponder and review. There were slim pickings between multiple copies of "Days of Thunder" and "Father of the Bride" but with my cassette scanning skills, I saw the name John Carpenter among the shelves. Carpenter best known for "Halloween", "Big Trouble in Little China" and one of my personal favorites, "Escape from New York", follows through in his own way with this 1987 flick.

The story starts off with a priest who passes away before he can explain to a cardinal what his role was within a local church, which involves a key, diary, "an ancient canister containing an evil looking liquid" and a book written in a collection of languages. Donald Pleasence (who was in Carpenter's "Halloween" and "Escape from New York") plays a the priest who hires a physics professor portrayed by Victor Wong (who also worked with Carpenter in "Big Trouble in Little China") and a team of various "experts" to decode the mystery. The story continues with the group finding out that the liquid is basically the devil in goo form with a life of its own! After the substance gains control of the minds and bodies of the various characters from the movie, they morph into a zombie-like state in which they work under the satanic Jell-O, which ultimately wants to infect the world with evil.

Though I am typically for any horror movie, that incorporates religious aspects in an intelligent and tastefully visual sense, it falls a little flat. The elements are there but Carpenter fails to connect them to the script and certain aspects of the story. I must commend John Carpenter though, because after some research, I discovered that not only was he the director but he also wrote it and worked on the soundtrack with a budget estimated at about $3 million. Though I could see what he was trying to accomplish with the concept of science versus faith, I feel like it would have been better under the direction of someone else or at least with more of a budget. It is pretty 80's -tastic though, with some interesting images and corny one-liners, very watchable for anyone who appreciates the genre and his work.

Left at Park Street Station in Boston around 6 p.m. on 5/19/12

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The China Lake Murders: Made for TV on VHS

The China Lake Murders

Purchased from a local thrift store in
 April of 2012

The price for VHS cassettes where I usually shop is three for $1.00, but here’s the catch; if you only buy one or two they are .50 cents each!  It must have been a day of slim pickins’ when I picked up “The China Lake Murders” .  In my own defense, in a review on the back of the case, some guy named Richard Zoglin is quoted as saying “Unsettling in the best tradition of film noir”.  I love film noir and am clearly a sucker.  Tom Skerritt stars as a small town sheriff, and hey he was pretty awesome in “Alien” right?  Film noir + Tom Skerritt = $0.33 in my brainulator.

            More research on the title led me to find that this was in fact a made for TV movie.  Further research revealed that this was based on the short “China Lake” (which is apparently pretty good) directed by Robert Harmon, a film which catapulted him into directing “The Hitcher”.  It’s a bit curious how a short film that was essentially made as a resume piece was made into a TV movie, but it was.
           I fault the film for its lack of suspense, and general ability to interest.  “China Lake Murders” isn’t  bad, in fact it’s pretty ok, but that’s just it.  It achieves a level of mediocrity that one would expect from say… a made for TV movie… oh wait.  This flick makes no attempt to hide what’s going on, something which one would typically expect from a suspense film.   The acting is actually pretty darn good for what it is; Michael Parks is great as a sociopathic cop who likes to kill people while on vacation. Tom Skerrit is very much the same authoritarian character he plays in everything that he's in, and he's gotten pretty decent at it.  The whole thing is very watchable, but other than Tom Skerritt’s mustache nothing jumps out as incredible. 

Keep on mustachin' in the free world -Wiley

Drop off time and location: Boston MA May 9 Orange Line outbound to Oak Grove.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Captain Power: Video is Enjoyable With or Without the Toy

Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future: The Intruder
Fond at a local thrift store in April 2012

My girlfriend works at a thrift store, which is great for a junk collector like myself.  She spotted this VHS for me,  and many, many things jumped out at me while holding the cover.  At the top of the cassette it says “POWER ON! To The Interactive Video Revolution!” … wowiw zowie.  Then there is an awesome space-airbrush art illustration that would lead one to believe that this was an animated film, however at the bottom it clearly states “A Live-Action Videocassette” which lit up my eyes like rockets on the back of a super star destroyer.  The back of the cassette had even more in store, with a drawing of someone pointing a space ship firing lasers at a television with a disclaimer reading “Light rays are for illustration only”  it went on to elaborate  “ACCESSORIES INTERACT WITH CAPTAIN POWER ON VIDEO!  Fire at targets – they actually fire back” and more “Video is enjoyable, either with or without the toy”.  Holy crap what had I found!?
       The first thing that I did when I got home was to stick this puppy in my VCR, I wanted  the video revolution to start!  I began to watch it, and immediately knew I had struck gold, and called over my brother.  I was struck by how high the production values where and said to my brother “this must have cost like a million dollars an episode” .  The episode was complete with well done matte paintings for backgrounds, some fairly advanced CGI for 1988, a few b list actors, and very nice model work.  During various parts of the episode the baddies chests flash with seizure inducing brightness, which I found out after some research,  is how the toy/video interaction works.  Also discovered in my research, was that the budget for each episode was roughly 1 million dollars, yipes!  This is on par with the budget of an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation.  Check out this ridiculous TV spot as for more details.
    Allot of the visuals are ripped off shamelessly from Star Wars, even Captain Power’s adversary Lord Dread is a cross between Darth Vader and the Borg (although you could say Star Trek TNG ripped them off).  The closing credit sequence of a trench run is so similar to Star Wars, that I’m surprised George Lucas didn’t sue these guys like he did with Battlestar Gallactica.

Looks like this cassette came from Jay’s Video in Brooklyn, enjoy.  -Wiley

Drop off time and location: April 16 apx. 8Pm Brookline J.P. Licks

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Don't Panic!

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (BBC Miniseries)

Found at local thrift store in March 2012

The best thing about this VHS cassette is that it’s the entire BBC series of THGTTGG on one 194 minute cassette.  In order for that to be possible, the VHS must be recorded in SLP (Super Long Play) mode which is fairly low quality. This cassette version  puts all 6 episodes together in a movie like way, taking out the opening and ending credits between episodes.  This is both good and bad; the music for the credits is awesome and the animation is pretty cool too, but the linear presentation does make for easier view-ability.    
                There are so many things about this series that I like that I don’t know where to start.  The production values of the show are low, and it’s super cheesy, but that doesn’t detract from story and in some ways it actually ads to it.  The narration for the Hitchhikers Guide excerpts is spot on, as are the animations.  An interesting factoid about the animations is that while they are made to look like computer animation, they are in fact hand drawn.  Back in ’81 computer animation was super expensive, John Carpenter had another “innovative” approach for saving money on computer animation.   In Escape From New York, the “computer” wireframe sequences of NYC were actually made by slapping tons of green tape over a model of NYC.   The look of the faux computer animation is really cool and very 1980’s stylized. 
           I’ve viewed the series on DVD before, and once I even found a double cassette version, but I liked this presentation so much that I watched it all the way through, and then did it again 2 days later.  People always say that the book is better than the movie,  and in this case some say that the radio show is better than the book, but this mini-series adaptation captures the feel of the book very well.  You will laugh at the delivery of Slarty Barfast, you will cry over the quality of Zaphod’s second head, and in the end you will wish there was more.  This one is so good that I almost want to keep it, hope it goes to a good home. 
So long and thanks for all the fish –Wiley

Drop Off Time and  Location: April 16 apx. 8pm Brookline J.P. Licks

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Enemy Mine: If Lifetime did Sci-Fi

Purchased recently at the 1010 Harrison Ave. Goodwill just outside of Dudley Square

        Being a life long fan of all good bad movies and sci-fi when I stumbled across this 1985 film I felt like it was my duty to dish out the 99 cents plus tax. Besides the genre and tagline, “Sworn enemies, they had to become friends to survive!”and the fact that Wolfgang Petersen directed it (Das Boot, The Neverending Story) gave me hope that it would live up to my expectations.
        From the opening scene, you can tell that the quality is pretty low budget, even for a cheesy 80’s film. Models were used for the space crafts instead of CGI, which I liked, but for the setting of planet Fyrine IV itself, it looks like the failed attempts of Star Trek that ended up in the dumpster. As the film progresses this setting perfectly reflects the acting, story and relationship that develop between Earth pilot "Davidge” (Dennis Quaid) and genderless lizard alien “Drac Jeriba Shigan” (Louis Gossett Jr.). After the rivals both crash to the same planet and communicate in nothing but one line zingers, they put their differences aside to survive the sporadic meteor showers. Jeriba, or as Davide refers to him “Jerry”, teaches his new friend about the god, “Shismar“. Whereas Quaids character grows a ridiculous beard, makes a shelter out of space vagina turtle shells and claims to praise Mickey Mouse.
        As far as the acting goes, I can’t do anything but shake my head. With Gossett Jr. as the alien, I expected him to be kind of ridiculous and choppy in the delivery of his newly (and quickly) learned broken English. Dennis Quaid though, goes from angry to crazy to pansy faster than a teenage girl. I feel like he is trying too hard to be an action star and endlessly fails to nail any emotion correctly. The only thing he successfully delivers in the movie is Jerry's baby (Yes, it happens), after his alien friend tells him, “You must open me.” As you can imagine from then on, the bad just gets worse.

       Left on the UMass Boston shuttle bus around 5 p.m.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Opera: Opera Argento Style

VHS Title: terror at the opera, actual title: Opera

Purchased  from Loony Tunes Records in Boston MA in March 2012

   The Italian horror film genre may have began as part of the Italian exploitation mess, but a few directors like Lucio Fulci (The Beyond aka Seven Doors of Death), and Dario Argento made it so much more.  Argento's signature film Suspiria (1977) is a visual feast with vivid colors, stylized sets, and innovative camera work.  Although not his best, Opera is a Dario Argento film through and through.
    The plot of the film revolves around the production of an operatic version of Macbeth being produced in Rome, directed by a "famous"  American horror director.   In a (not so) highly original development, the star of the opera walks out/is injured before opening night and is replaced by her understudy, who is a huge success.   Although the film starts out with a series of well done long shots, I became concerned when after ten minutes into the film nobody had been thrown through a plate glass window (a staple shot of Argento's)!  I was left underwhelmed by the films first death sequence, but kept watching and was very much overwhelmed by the films second.
    Opera really starts to heat up on the second death scene, so much so that I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch the rest of the movie.  From here on in when the killer kills, he ties up our new diva, tapes needles under her eyes and brutally, graphically, murders someone.  I've seen allot of shock horror/exploitation films and felt that some of Opera's death scenes where difficult to watch.  Perhaps this is why the film originally held an U.S. NC-17 rating.  The tape I have is unrated, and runs at 107 min. and I believe is not a cut version. Frustratingly the film is in full screen which takes a bit away.
   From a film making standpoint, this is an odd film.  Opera has high production values, is beautifully shot and some of the score is done by Brian Eno!  The film at certain points is very suspenseful, notably the apartment sequence which I found very enjoyable.  I feel that the issue with this film is that Argento is trying to make a "good" horror film, so at times tries do develop the plot and weave in intricate shots, then other times blasts metal music while someone is being stabbed to death.  If the viewer is not already an Argento  fan, most of this will probably seem like a confusing bewildering mess. Like any auteur, Argento has a very unique style that one can feel while watching one of his films, but in this case that style will go unappreciated to a viewer which has never seen one of his films.  Shock horror fans will be turned off by the films pacing, and attempts to develop a plot, which in an amusing way no cohesive plot is ever formed.  "Film" buffs will be turned off by extraordinarily graphic violence ie: a bracelet being pulled out of a freshly sliced open throat, and general ridiculousness.
   This film, and others, show that Argento had unique style and the directorial talent of other contemporay oddball European filmmakers like Ken Russell and Peter Greenaway (albeit both of them are British).  If Argento had ever branched out of the horror genre he might have garnered a reputation of being an "auteur" or "art-house" filmmaker, but rather his reputation was solidified as master of Italian Horror, which isn't half bad. Opera is considered to be his last "great" film, before things really went bad.
     That's enough film critisizm for one day, "Go Free Young Lizard"

Left in Boston on the Red Line outbound to Alwife at apx. 10pm on 3.24.12  -Wiley

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

THE INVADERS : Wheezing Men Running From Aliens

THE INVADERS: Wall of Crystal, episode 7

Purchased at Looney Tunes in Boston, November 2010

I picked this gem up for .99cents thinking that any show about invading Aliens from 1967 is worth watching, I was right. Tonight's episode guest stars Ed Asner as an evil Alien hell bent on keeping our hero quiet, and Burgess Meredith as the lovably frank television celebrity reporter/personality. Our story revolves around architect David Vincent who after witnessing a flying saucer late one night, quit his career and now desperately tries to expose and undermine the secret invasion!
In this suspense filled show the Aliens, who can vaporize anything they damn well please, resort to petty thuggery by kidnapping David's brother Bob and Blackmailing David just to keep him from blabbing to the press. 
Fun bits include toxic evaporating crystals, wheezing men running around, Lazers and a showdown at the abandoned winery by the dried up creek. True to scifi of this era in American television, this thrilling series is set to overly dramatic orchestral music Ba Bum Dun Bum Dun Dun Dun DUN DUN!
Bottom line is if you like syndicated scifi like the early X-files or are into films like Pod People, you are sure to find this show about Boogey Men From Outerspace a hoot!

Death Count 8

Left on a park bench on the commonwealth mall 10:50 am 3-22-12

-Pete M

Friday, March 16, 2012

After the Fall of New York: Michael Sopkiw is the next Clint Eastwood

After the Fall of New York

Purchased off of Ebay around the year 2000

This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest VHS that was in my collection.  I purchased it off of Ebay when I was in either middle school or early high school during a phase which I obsessed  over movies like Escape from New York, and Mad Max.  As the title suggests,  After the Fall of New York (1983) is a blatant ripoff of the most poplar  post-apocalyptic films of the time.
     One of my favorite things about this VHS is that on the box (wich seems to no longer be in my possession) was a really silly review which reads "Michael Sopkiw is the best action hero since Clint Eastwood" ahahahahahahaha, golden.  Allot of these Italian productions have really great cover and promotional artwork, often having nothing to do with the action in the film.
  The film itself revolves around the search and rescue/capture of earths last fertile woman.  It's a little unclear how without much of a central government, or anybody else running the show, how the last fertile woman can be pinpointed.  However, if you are trying to analyze this movies plot points, you're watching the wrong movie.  This flick is pure silliness through and through, and isn't really trying to be much more.
  One of my favorite parts of After the Fall of New York, is the introduction to the main character where he is involved in a demolition derby a la' Death Race 2000 style.  Another favorite detail of mine are the costumes, truly over the top and ridiculous.
   If you like Italian Explotation, also check out Escape From The Bronx (bet you can't guess what movie it rips off!).

Left in Boston on the 39 Bus Inbound on  3/14/12 around 4:30 PM        -Wiley