Last Update 12/23/09


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

The first in this series of adaptations was better than I expected, but then again, my expectations had been pretty low.  Sequels generally dip in quality, so I approached this one with even less confidence. The premise, summarized for us is even sillier this time.  The good autobots are allied with the humans against the evil decepticons.  Okay.  But why and how has this large scale battle been kept from the public, particularly since major destruction has taken place in various cities? And how can giant robots transform into small objects? There is frequently too much going on at once and the story moves so quickly that it's sometimes hard to follow just what is happening. The dialogue is cliche heavy and the rift with the Presidential representative is ludicrous. Half the characters are cartoons anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter. The plot doesn't really matter but the bad bots are after an artifact whose location they learn in an incomprehensible sequence. Some of the special effects are good, but this is - as expected - not nearly as good as the first, which wasn't all that great either.  Even young kids are likely to see the plot holes in this one.  12/23/09

Trick 'r Treat (2007)

This one is a collection of interrelated stories on a Halloween theme, and since it had cast members I recognized, I was somewhat more optimistic than I usually am when watching a horror film I've never heard of. It opens with a technically well done but rather pointless short piece about a woman killed by something we never see or understand while taking down Halloween decorations. Creepshow style credits follow. The first story is a not badly done version of a cliche, poisoned candy and efforts to dispose of the body.  The surprise ending makes no sense.  The sequence about kids invoking the spirits of the dead is very atmospheric, but the basic premise is nonsensical. Among other things, why would there be a working elevator at an abandoned quarry? The kids provide some of the best acting. Anna Paquin's blind date turns out to be a kind of vampire, but this sequence is more boring than anything else until the mildly surprising ending. Finally there's the man who hates Halloween who gets taught a lesson, yet another cliche.  With a stronger script, this might have been quite good rather than just watchable. 12/22/09

GI Joe: Rise of Cobra (2009)

I had low expectations for this one, based on a glimpse of a trailer.  It's based on the toy and comic book, obviously. The opening sequence is predictably enough full of explosions and fighting as the bad guys attempt to steal nanotech weapons from an army transport unit, although they are saved by a secretive military organization armed with equally powerful armor and superweapons. The sets and action are comic book style, but that's understandable, even appropriate.  Anyway, the two surviving members of the original team are taken to the secret base which is collectively "GI Joe". The dialogue is rife with cliches, as is the plot, which also casts its female characters in slinky costumes and makes one of them into a brainy parody of an actual person. The villainous magnate was obvious even before he revealed his perfidy and there are so many questions about the nanotechnology and other "scientific" content to even bother to mention in detail. The actor playing the henchman Storm Shadow is dreadful, but even the good actors - and there are several - can't do much to elevate this mediocre and sometimes positively silly script. Some of the battle scenes are impressive; the special effects vary from good to bad. Among the plot holes: one guard witnesses the bad guys breaking into the base and doesn't raise the alarm. Once inside, the bad guys know exactly where to go to find the warheads and how to access the vault they're in, even though they didn't even know about the base until a few hours earlier. Not dreadful but not very good.12/21/09

Night Gallery 2 (1972) 2845 

Season 2 mixed regular episodes with short bits that cheapened the show more often than not, skits rather than stories, some of them atrocious like “Satisfaction Guaranteed” by Jack Laird, who is responsible for most of the junk stories.  The first episode features a version of Margaret St. Clair’s short story, “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes” who foresees a supernova and “The Hand of Borgus Weems” from the George Langelaan short story about a man who insists one of his hands has a mind of its own.  “A Death in the Family”, from the Miriam Allen Deford story, is about the meeting between an escaped convict and a mortician who likes to keep the dead around for company. “Class of 99” is a Serling story starring Vincent Price and involves a very odd and repulsive final exam for robots created with all of humanity’s prejudices. Aunt Ada is a witch who wants a new body.  The performances are a bit over the top but otherwise it’s a good episode.  

“Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay” is from the A.E. van Vogt story.  A witch tries to claim a new body.  “The Flip Side of Satan” is a very bad story about a cursed disc jockey.  “A Fear of Spiders” is somewhat better, from the Elizabeth Walter story, but not very plausible.  An obnoxious man is tormented by an apparently supernatural spider as big as a dog.  Joan Aiken wrote “Marmalade Wine,” a surreal piece done almost as a stage play. “Phantom Farmhouse”, from a Seabury Quinn story about werewolves living in a house that appears and disappears. Good story marred by terrible dialogue.  And someone slipped up – one of the werewolves is clearly wearing a collar. Next was Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” in which a boy retreats into a world visible only to him.  This didn’t translate to the screen very well.

Leslie Nielsen is a brash mercenary who accepts a bet to spend a night in a haunted house in “Question of Fear”, and is subjected to a rapid succession of poor special effects. There’s a rationalized, but unconvincing ending. Manly Wade Wellman’s classic “The Devil Is Not Mocked” pits a Nazi officer against a vampire, an okay but not great adaptation. “Midnight Never Ends” is a Serling original about a group of people who find themselves re-enacting the same scene over and over again. “Brenda” is from another Margaret St Clair story. A disturbed young girl traps a swamp thing type monster in a quarry.  One of the better episodes. So is “The Diary,” a Serling story about a diary that predicts the future. 

“Big Surprise” is a Richard Matheson story but not a great one. “House – with Ghost” is a haunted house story, obviously, by August Derleth. Okay, but minor.  “Dr. Stringfellow’s Rejuvenator” is another Serling piece in which a medicine man discovers he can bring the dead back to life. “The Dark Boy” is by August Derleth, in which a frontier schoolmarm encounters a ghost.  A bit slow but effective. “Pickman’s Model” is freely but well adapted from the Lovecraft story about a painter who has ghouls as models.  They did an even better job with Lovecraft’s “Cool Air,” which is also a better story.  Basil Copper’s “Camera Obscura” is a rather didactic tale of a usurer condemned to a diminutive hell.

Serling wrote “The Messiah of Mott Street” about a dying man’s battle with death, a bit overwrought for my taste. “The Painted Mirror” comes from a Donald Wandrei story in which a mirror is the door to another world. Cute, but awkwardly done.  “Logoda’s Heads” by August Derleth is one of my favorite of his short stories. “Different People” is another Serling story, this one about the export of disfigured children to a distant planet.  Below standard story with an implausible premise and lousy makeup.  “Tell David” is an unimpressive time slip story and “The Funeral” is a Richard Matheson bit about a vampire who stages a funeral for himself. “The Tune in Dan’s Café” is a pretty good ghost story that lacks a real payoff at the end. 

The next several episodes are generally better, involving a fishing boat captain who catches a mermaid, a woman planning the murder of her husband, a con man who experiences a negative miracle, and a jilted lover who makes presents of murderous jewelry. “The Ghost of Sorworth Place” is a clever ghost story from the short by Russell Kirk. Serling’s “The Waiting Room” is a nice but predictable story of gunslingers in Hell. “Last Rites for a Dead Druid” is an excellent episode, involving a malevolent statue of a pre-druidic sorcerer in the modern world. "Deliveries in the Rear" is an effective though predictable story about grave robbing, but the next few are minor and sometimes stretched out to the point of boredom. "The Sins of the Fathers" is absolutely awful, badly written, badly paced, badly performed. "You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore" is a story about robots developing emotions, spoiled by implausible details, like actual tears, and more over acting, and the ending doesn't make sense.  "The Caterpillar" is a potentially creepy story that goes on and on and on. Finally we have "Little Girl Lost," based on an E.C. Tubb story about a scientist who believes his dead daughter is still with him. A few good episodes, a few dreadful ones, and a great deal of mediocrity. 12/20/09

The Midnight Meat Train (2009)  

A photographer becomes obsessed with a serial killer who specializes in late night subway commuters in this adaptation of a Clive Barker story.  The killer butchers his victims – and for some reason there is not as major uproar despite the blood drenched subways cars that presumably show up in the mornings. Apparently at least one of the engineers is involved with the killer, but that doesn’t seem an adequate explanation and, sure enough, it’s an even bigger conspiracy. Our hero realizes that he photographed one of the victims – although she’s only listed as missing – and reports it to the police in a rather unconvincing interview.  Then he spots the killer – without knowing who he is – and finding him an interesting subject he clandestinely follows.  There’s some good camera work but there are too many inconsistencies and unexplained puzzles. The unappealing protagonist – who has mental problems of his own – stumbles onto a conspiracy that has lasted for generations and is connected to a slaughterhouse.  He decides to drop his investigation but it’s too late.  The uneven progression of the story after the first half hour didn’t help, but it’s not bad over all, though decidedly not a classic.  But since when can you photograph and sell pictures of people without their permission? 12/13/09

The Devil’s Tomb (2008)  

A scientist disappears during an earthquake at a clandestine archaeological dig in the Mideast and Cuba Gooding and a contingent of mercenaries and investigators descends into an underground cavern to find out what happened to him. The mandatory tough guy talk during the briefing was rather annoying despite the relatively good cast. Upon arriving, they find a dying priest with odd lesions on his body, suggesting that there was some religious component to the expedition. This gets confirmed when they encounter another man who quotes scripture and has knowledge he couldn’t possibly possess through normal means. Turns out there’s a handful of fallen angels entombed there, capable of surviving multiple bullet wounds, to weave illusions and confuse the intruders, and so forth.  The premise for the operation is exceedingly shaky and once we know what’s going on it becomes less interesting, although the acting is tolerable and there are some small surprises. Ultimately my common complaints about horror films apply here.  The rules seem fluid and there is actually no way that any of the characters should have survived given the powers of the nephilim. Not a complete waste of time but annoyingly derivative and illogical.  Gooding, the commander of the group, is spectacularly bad at keeping track of his people and the team members are particularly slow on the uptake figuring out what’s going on. 12/12/09

Dead Wood  (2009)   

Another horror movie with an unknown cast, reminiscent of Blair Witch without the klutzy camera stuff.  Some young people go on a camping trip and encounter a mysterious woman looking for her boyfriend.  The major flaw is the lack of character development.  I never became invested in any of the characters so their endangerment didn’t generate much suspense. Even the Friday the 13th movies made an effort to differentiate the characters and give them some depth.  This is particularly puzzling because it takes so long for anything to happen.  Nor does the understated soundtrack help build any tension. The collision with the deer in the early going isn’t very convincing.  It would have left more than a small bloodstain on the windshield. I do applaud the avoidance of gory deaths.  In fact, the various victims just sort of disappear, keeping us guessing until very close to the ultimately disappointing ending.  On the other hand, the inability of one character to explain what happens when her companion disappears while with her is cheating and just annoying.  A few scenes work well, but most never quite come to life.  It’s also one of those where we don’t understand the rules and there really isn’t any chance that the characters can escape except by accident.  Amusing coincident department: I was reading an article decrying the portrayal of sharks in Peter Benchley’s Jaws just as one of the characters pulls a paperback out of her knapsack, and it’s Jaws. 12/11/09

Eden Log (2007)  

Another direct to video SF film, although this one at least tries to step outside the usual clichés. The protagonist wakes up naked in a bizarre underground labyrinth. Unfortunately, it takes too long to give us enough of a story thread to hold our interest.  There is much wandering about, and holographic heads providing what might be vague clues about what’s going on, but everything is very poorly lit, there is no dialogue early on, and it’s not clear at all what’s going on or where or why we should be interested.  Eventually he meets a dying man with a cryptic message about telling the world the truth and ascending to find freedom, but there’s also growling in the background suggesting he is being stalked. It appears to be meant as a quasi-imitation of the Resident Evil series, with an illegal and immortal corporation experimenting on humans, resulting in mutations and wholesale slaughter. There are also armed guards who are acting suspiciously and whom our hero carefully avoids. Not awful but nothing to brag about and occasionally opaque to the point of incomprehension. 12/10/09

Never Cry Werewolf (2007)  

A teenage girl is the only one who knows that the new neighbor is a werewolf, so she tries to enlist the aid of a television personality to stop him.  Fright Night was about a teenage boy who knows that the new neighbor is a vampire, so he tries to enlist the aid of a television personality to stop him.  So we know where the idea came from.  They even both have telescopes in their bedrooms. The bad guy shows up in a bank of fog, murders the former resident, and initiates a friendship with his neighbors. She discovers the truth about him in the same way – he brings his female victims home and attacks them at lighted windows while she’s watching.  This is more than just a ripoff, it’s an open theft. The traditional werewolf lore that she reads isn’t traditional werewolf lore either.  The eyeball in the stew shot had me shaking my head in amazement at the derivativeness of the whole thing. The acting actually isn’t bad for a Sci-Fi Channel movie, and the original story was great so even this pale imitation isn’t dreadful, but why watch this when you can watch Roddy McDowall in the original, which is far superior, and not stolen? 12/9/09

Swamp Devil (2007) 

This one starts off pretty badly.  A woman is killed in the swamp by a creature, but the locals suspect Bruce Dern – for reasons we aren’t told. The local sheriff only has one deputy so he takes the dead girl’s father along as the third member of his search team, who is retained even after he has an obvious psychotic episode and almost kills an innocent person.  This is wrong on so many levels that I was tempted to stop right there.  The search party also separates far enough that they can’t hear each other even when shooting, but the next day the deputy can not only hear gunshots fired by the sheriff, who has traveled several miles away in his car but can identify the weapon being fired.  Oh, and it’s not a swamp they’re in, despite the title.  The accused man’s daughter is lured back to town to help her estranged dad. The monster is a mildly interesting CGI critter consisting of interwoven vines and roots, not an entirely bad concept. There’s also a mysterious young man who clearly is not what or who he claims to be and clearly has some relationship to the monster. The over acting by the first victim’s father, and the continued stupidity of the sheriff and his female deputy are appalling. When one of the searchers disappears – killed by the monster – no one reacts even when he’s missing the next day!  Finally we discover that the monster and the mystery man are one and the same – a shapechanger – and from that point on the story gets even worse. Even though he has superhuman powers, they fail him whenever it is necessary for the heroes to escape.  The explanation of his origin makes no sense, he’s impervious to bullets except when there’s no other way for the characters to avoid death, and the means through which they realize its limits was laughable. Two different vehicles fail to start for no reason at critical moments, and one explodes after running into a shallow ditch with virtually no damage! Obviously, quality control  and editing are not significant factors at the Sci-Fi Channel.  Really really bad. 12/8/09

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1990)  

Although this is a comedy – mostly – it’s also one of my favorite vampire movies.  David Carradine is Dracula, but he has reformed and leads a colony of his kind in the contemporary American southwest, where they have developed an artificially produced blood substitute.  There is, of course, a faction which prefers the old ways and the arrival of a family of normal humans whose are supposed to help further the project – although they don’t know what’s actually going on – helps precipitate a fight between the two factions.  They have six shooters filled with wooden bullets which leads to a climactic battle between revolvers and crossbows.  The acting is good, the plot is clever, and some of the jokes are right on.  This one’s a lot of fun from beginning to end, and the first ten minutes and final half hour are great. John Ireland in one of his better roles, plus Bruce Campbell, Morgan Brittany and several entertaining character actors. 12/7/09

Transmorphers (2007)  

Obviously this is a cheap ripoff of the Transformers movies so I approached it with very low expectations.  It lived down to my expectations and beyond. Earth is invaded by shapechanging, poorly done CGI alien robots who wipe out most of humanity and transform the Earth into a dark world before the opening credits are even finished.  A host of really bad actors argue about whether or not it is time for humanity to revolt against the robots and expel them.  Some of the most awkward, self conscious, leaden acting I’ve seen in a while.  The science isn’t even worth talking about.  There’s also some of the worst camera work – chaotic jumps and twitches, bad colors, lousy framing, and shaky focus.  The interaction among the characters and the miserable excuse for a plot are absurd and don’t even make sense within their own context.  At times the soundtrack is out of alignment with the picture.  Absolute trash. 12/6/09

Blood Sisters (1987) 

A group of sorority pledges have to spend the night in a haunted brothel, which has been rigged to scare them.  But a real killer shows up.  Where have I heard this one before?  Even done competently, this was a tired old cliché even in 1987 and this version is not done competently in any area.  Bad photography, bad script, bad acting, bad plot, bad soundtrack.  You name it; they screwed it up.  The dialogue and delivery are pitiful.  There’s periodic nudity and a few ghosts as well.  I didn’t lose interest because I never really had any.  The characters are dull or annoying (and too old for the parts they’re playing) and the killings weren’t even remotely interesting.  One of the most forgettable slasher films I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched a good number of clunkers. 12/5/09

The Thaw (2009)  

I was put off really early on this one.  It opens with a bunch of short, deliberately amateurish sequences reminiscent of Cloverdale, which is not a plus for me.  The clips include references to global warming and some kind of plagues and include a shot of a woman with a parasite under the flesh of her forehead.  Fortunately this is just meant to be foreshadowing for the movie itself. Val Kilmer is a researcher whose team discovers the body of a mammoth in the Arctic.  Unfortunately, the carcass contains parasites unknown to modern science. For some reason, they don’t contact the authorities or tell their relief crew not to come up without taking precautions. This is ultimately explained, but the explanation is even worse than the omission. When they do arrive, they find an abandoned site and creepy music.  En route, we are subjected to some inane arguments about global warming, pro and con, sort of.  The original staff – those still alive – are out in the field. And when the two parties contact each other by radio, no one bothers to explain the situation.  The idiocy level exceeded my tolerance at this point and I couldn’t take anything that followed seriously.  Do all screen writers assume that their audiences – to say nothing of their characters – are terminally stupid?   Good acting and other production values can’t make up for a story line that no one will believe.  More gross out than suspense in any case. 12/4/09

Flying G-Men (1939) 

A cliffhanger serial based on paranoia about spies and saboteurs in the years leading up to World War II.  The title refers to four government agents assigned to track down the mastermind behind the attacks. As usual, secret plans for new weapons system are kept in private homes, and there’s only one copy.  The “defensive” weapon in this case is a remote control bomber.  Bombers are offensive weapons, not defensive. The spies are low tech too; they find out about this plan by listening at windows rather than using more sophisticated means.  This one also includes the young kid as well as the pretty woman to be menaced. Anyway, one of the four becomes the mysterious Black Falcon, a costumed superhero who operates outside the rules and is therefore more effective. Like that would happen. The actors barely attempt to act and many of the lines sound as though they were being read from cue cards.  The bad guys have a flotilla of airplanes on a secret island base, but the heroes find out about it – we never are told how.  This one is really for kids, and only those who don’t really prefer a sensible story line.  One of the least interesting, and least convincing, of the cliffhangers. 12/3/09

Black Swarm (2007)  

As you might have guessed already, this is a horror movie about insects – specifically wasps.  There’s a slightly different twist to this one.  Some of the victims of the wasp attacks are physically penetrated and become a kind of zombie, somehow managing to retain some of the information they once possessed.  I’m not sure I believe that a zombified man could still drive a truck.  In fact, I’m sure I don’t believe it.  Nor do I believe that a coroner and an entomologist could perform an autopsy on a dead man and not discover that he was full of wasps, or that an autopsied corpse could then strangle a good sized living man to death.  So as you might guess, my ability to suspend my sense of disbelief was strained very early.  And that was even before the van had its windshield broken when it hit a single wasp!  Continuity problems abound.  The dead body is moved between the time of the murder and the time the police arrive.  The police woman knows about some of the deaths before it was possible for her to have learned of them because the bodies hadn’t been discovered yet.  The acting is better than it usually is in these things, though still not remarkable and occasionally very clunky. Ditto for the writing. Robert Englund is the scientist who created the superwasps and is now trying to destroy them and there’s a reasonably cute little girl to be menaced as appropriate.  And no one notices even when there’s a small crowd of zombies lurching around in the middle of the downtown?  And the scientist leaves his secret laboratory unlocked in the middle of a residential neighborhood?  And how can a scientist examine venom and determine that it came from a cloned insect? And when the blind woman and kid get alarmed – for no reason incidentally – why don’t they telephone for help instead or running out into the fields and away from town?  And how do the two of them get separated when they’re all alone in a cornfield in the middle of day and there’s nothing chasing them?  And why does the police woman draw her weapon before entering the house where her daughter had been left with a babysitter, given that nothing menacing had happened yet that she could have been aware of?   And why does she then enter a stranger’s house, hold him at gunpoint, and demand that he tell her where her daughter was? And if the wasps can animate corpses, why can they be shot to death?  And why did I continue to watch this once it was obvious that the screenwriter didn’t have a clue?  Obviously low budget as well.  They could only afford a dozen vehicles for the traffic jam. The evil government agent is also ludicrously overdone and her undoing at the climax is comical.  12/2/09

Yeti (2008)   

A plane full of mostly young people crashes in Tibet.  The survivors struggle against the elements, but they are also being preyed upon by an abominable snowman, a monster done sometimes with CGI, sometimes with an actual man in a suit. The snowman is a predator and he starts picking off the cast members very early in the proceedings while a small search party sets out to find and rescue anyone who is left alive. Predictably the characters begin quarreling among themselves.  The dialogue even includes a few good lines. On the other hand, there are no Tibetans involved in the rescue mission even though it takes place in Tibet.  And the rescuers – all two of them – don’t have a radio either. The “marmoset” which they kill and eat is actually a rabbit, and there are no marmosets in Tibet in any case.  Eventually they consider eating their own dead, unaware that the rescuers are getting close, although I don’t see how their arrival would help very much.  I had to laugh when the guy with two broken legs and a severed arm, and no food or tourniquet, walks for five days and nights to return to the camp.  I can’t imagine what the writer was thinking of.  And the scene in which he’s shot by mistake is ludicrous. And why would the rescue party camp WITHIN SIGHT of the survivors and not join them?  A reasonably tolerable thriller goes rapidly to pieces during the final half hour.  Finally we discover the yeti can jump like Spiderman when it carries off one of the women, for purposes unclear, and it is also immune to gunfire.  Pfui!  Lots of continuity problems as well including bloodstains that come and go.  Could have been okay but choked in the stretch. 12/1/09

Razortooth (2006)   

The opening credits for this one made me hopeful it was more than just a routine CGI monster movie.  The soundtrack is good and some of the photography – swamp and forest – was gorgeous.  I was kind of hoping for another Lake Placid, one of my favorites, but would have been happy with even a moderately well done variation. A group of policemen searching for escaped convicts are attacked and killed by a very large, ferocious eel. It wasn’t clear to me why it would attack but not eat its prey, but I suppose that’s a minor point. Unfortunately, the next sequence about the animal control officer hero is so silly that it undermines the tension previously established. There is the usual cast of characters – a contingent of college students on a research project in the Everglades, a party of youngsters on a camping trip, the harried small town sheriff, the overly macho bully, the ignorant and gross hick, etc.  The individual events in the plot actually unfold nicely but the tone is inconsistent and often contradicts what we’re supposed to be feeling. The size of the creature also varies considerably from scene to scene. Some of the scenery is gorgeous and the photography in general is nicely done throughout, although the CGI is not very good – at one point it slips into the water without making even a ripple. The “scientific” discussions among the college students and their professor are profoundly ignorant.  And why would a grad student studying eels not know that they travel on land?  The authorities suspect the escaped convicts but the animal control guy knows it’s an oversized eel.  The search party doesn’t use radios or cellphones and the sheriff never thinks to call for help.  Although it’s better than average in most respects, the story deteriorates quite a bit toward the end and it ends up being just mediocre. 11/30/09

The Grudge 3 (2009) 

Third in the Grudge franchise, based on the Japanese originals, at least to some extent. The young boy who survived the previous entry in the series doesn’t last long in this one, and the psychiatrist who was treating him decides to investigate his claims that a curse consumed his entire family. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense and the supernatural elements are inconsistent.  One victim disappears in a bathtub. Another is beaten to death by a supernatural force.  A Japanese woman hears of the deaths, recognizes the curse, and comes to New York to try to bring it to an end.  The attacks appear to be completely random and while some of the effects are neat and even creepy, the disjointed plot means there is virtually no suspense.  And the weird, distorted figure that was done quite effectively in the earlier films is jerky and almost comical this time around. One of the characters sees the chalk white weird boy on the staircase and doesn’t find it remarkable enough to tell anyone until asked.  There is also no way for any of the victims to actually escape, except when the curse arbitrarily chooses to spare them. Sometimes it acts directly, sometimes it subverts others. There’s nothing the characters do to earn its enmity and nothing they can do to avert their fate. Bad writing, bad concept, bad movie.  Shawnee Smith puts in a good performance in a wasted effort. 11/29/09

Trapped Ashes (2006)  

I had never heard of this collection of short films before so had no idea what to expect.  There’s a frame story – a bunch of people caught in a horror movie set who have to tell scary stories in order to get out.  Little known cast except for a couple of cameos. In the first, a wonder gets a breast implant made from cadaver flesh, and her breasts turn into miniature vampires.  A little too over the top to be actually scary and the acting is less than scintillating. Second is a pointless piece about a tourist in Japan who has sex with a dead man in her dreams, sort of.  Boring, and the story line makes ridiculous jumps and some of it is, literally, a cartoon. Episode 3 is slightly more interesting, but so slow paced that it almost put me to sleep. The discussion of chess is nonsensical.  It’s a vampire story with no point and no ending. The fourth involves infidelity among a family of wine makers and, like the previous one, the pacing is so slow that it was hard to pay attention.  A pregnant woman cannot treat a parasite because it would cause her to miscarry and eventually gives birth to both.  None of the stories actually have stories, and couple that with lackadaisical or inept production and you have a waste of time for all concerned. 11/28/09

Rise of the Gargoyles (2009)  

I didn’t expect much from this one except corny CGI monsters, but since I collect gargoyles it felt only right to pick up a copy. Someone failed to do their homework since the professor in an early sequence indicates that gargoyles were the symbols of dark forces thought to be responsible for war and other ills.  Actually, gargoyles were meant to ward off evil and were benevolent figures, but the jackass writing the script couldn’t be bothered to actually look it up. Our hero and a female friend go exploring, by themselves, in the basement of an old cathedral where they encounter a living gargoyle that flies away. No explanation for why it hadn’t previously gone walkie or why it then follows the twosome, dropping a dead body on their car and then beheading the woman.  Then there’s the crazy priest, portrayed by a starving actor who had to make do with the scenery in lieu of food.  More deaths follow and the police suspect our hero even though he obviously has an alibi for at least several of them.  No one in this movie is very bright obviously. When a damaged tape of the gargoyle is recovered, the expert concludes that it can’t be fake because the tape was damaged.  What nonsense!  I see comments frequently that say roughly, it’s only a movie.  Don’t pick it to pieces just because it doesn’t make sense.  That’s a lame excuse for sloppy, bad writing.  And the CGI in this one is pretty atrocious as well.  The gargoyle – which we don’t see until late in the movie – doesn’t even move naturally. Another complete waste of time. I think the direct to video movie market is the film equivalent of a vanity press.  Underlining the poor production values – the word “worst” on the front cover of the box is spelled “wrst” and the plot summary on the back is incorrect. 11/27/09

G-Men vs the Black Dragon (1943)   

Another cliffhanger serial for my collection.  Since this was war time, the villain is a Japanese spy directing sabotage and espionage in the United States.  The spy master is played by an Italian who acts as though there were strings attached to his arms and legs.  There's the usual array of threatening situations - tied to a plank in a sawmill, trapped in a crashing airplane, facing unnecessarily elaborate mechanical death traps, cars going over cliffs and exploding - in fact there are lots of explosions in general, dangling out the window of skyscrapers during the fistfights - during which no one ever loses his hat.  The American hero is aided by a Chinese secret service man and a female British agent, and no one else, despite the large number of plots he is called upon to foil.  There's exploding paint used on American warships, a submarine detector, a new kind of spy camera, and much more.  And as usual, whenever there's a secret document, there is only one copy, and whenever either side has the drop on the other, some inattention results in a fist fight instead of an arrest or execution.  A pretty typical serial.  11/26/09

Girls Nite Out (1982)  

Another cheapo slasher film with all of the usual clichés.  It’s very slow to get started – most of the first half is devoted to college hi-jinx, some clumsy attempts at humor, and the slightest hint of sex. There’s no nudity in the movie and, despite the R rating, this could almost appear uncut on television with a few of the sexual references deleted.  A demented killer – aren’t they all? – escapes from an insane asylum – don’t they all? -steals the mascot suit for the college team and begins killing people during an elaborate scavenger hunt.  Hal Holbrook and Rutanya Alda have cameos but otherwise this is the usual cast of relative unknowns. One of the victims also fell prey to Jason in another horror film.  A lot of the shots are so dark that it’s hard to tell what’s going on and the sound quality is so bad I occasionally missed lines.  The acting is competent, most of the time, but never inspired, and some of the dialogue is insipid.  On a few occasions, it becomes positively stupid. More boring than frightening.  A couple of potentially suspenseful scenes are undermined by the low production values and the surprise ending is neither logical nor surprising. 11/25/09

Mutant Chronicles (2008)         

There are some well known names in the cast of this one, so I thought it might be worth a try. Seven hundred years from now corporations have superseded nations and are engaged in a battle for world domination. At some point – the chronology is unclear but apparently 10,000 years ago – an alien machine landed on Earth and began causing mutations, but was buried by a human army.  The war involves trenches and looks very much like World War I.  There’s not much logic in the set up.  They have space travel but fight with WWI weapons and can’t defeat mutants equipped with claws but no other weapons.  And how did the mutants survive underground without food for centuries?  Anyway, Ron Perlman recruits a small group to infiltrate the buried chamber and destroy the machine. The washed out colors might be atmospheric but they didn’t do anything for me.  The special effects are pretty good otherwise, but the title is also nonsense because they’re cyborgs, not mutants. Visually impressive at times and never slow paced, but for me it misfires more often than it connects. 11/24/09

Drag Me to Hell (2009)  

Sam Raimi, who brought us the Evil Dead trilogy, is back with this new over the top horror thriller.  A young woman working in a bank annoys a gypsy and gets cursed. If she can’t lift the curse within three days, she’ll be taken quite literally to Hell.  I object to the premise of this and similar films to be honest.  If a character does something that puts them at such risk of Hell, it should be because of something the character does that demonstrates a flaw in their character.  An external force or person should not be able to unilaterally raise the possibility, because that flies in the face of what the rationale for Hell is supposed to be in the first place.  But that minor carping aside, we have here a situation similar to that in Grudge or Final Destination or many others, the race against time to avert one’s fate.  Our protagonist and her boyfriend, the Apple guy from the television commercials, have differing attitudes.  She believes something is wrong right from the outset while he is skeptical throughout. There’s so much dreck in horror films lately that even a moderately polished turd looks like a gem sometimes, but this one is genuinely entertaining, well done, and creepy. Warning – it’s also rather gross at times. 11/23/09

One Dark Night (1983)  

Meg Tilly’s first starring role, a sometimes creepy and not entirely conventional teenage horror film.  For one thing, there’s neither gore nor nudity and this gained a PG rating.  Not the most original plot.  A murderous psychic dies and is interred in a mausoleum.  Tilly, trying to join the popular girls’ group, agrees to spend a night there by herself.  The other girls secretly plan to come back after dark and scare her, but the psychic’s powers begin to revive corpses.  Most of the first half of the movie is rather slow and the quality of the acting varies considerably from one character to the next. Things don’t really get going until the final half hour. I also question the motive of Tilly’s character since she clearly doesn’t like the three girls she’s supposedly trying to impress. Very atmospheric despite the obvious low budget and lack of original ideas and minimal special effects.  This is often referred to as a zombie movie, but they’re not zombies at all.  The dead psychic is moving the bodies like puppets, not animating them, which is why they don’t have to move realistically. 11/22/09

The Land That Time Forgot (2009)  

The Edgar Rice Burroughs novel this is based upon was filmed a while back with Doug McClure, cheaply, though it had some minor charm.  The number of major goofs in this one is really high.  A man falls off a cliff but we can clearly see the blood on him before he hits anything.  The island, supposedly uninhabited, has well maintained roads!  There are numerous continuity problems – like the island changing its position in relation to the boat during the approach. Nor is there any animal life on the island to support the appetites of several T-Rex predators.  And when they finally leave the island in the submarine, why do they travel submerged rather than on the surface?  The acting occasionally ascends to the merely mediocre.  The CGI effects never get that high.  Despite days in the wilderness, the actress is still perfectly made up at the end.  Bad dialogue, bad pacing, and a pointless plot.  It turns out they’re in the Bermuda Triangle, and so is a grounded German U-Boat, which hearkens back to the original book.  A good story might have made up for some of the shortcomings, but frankly most of it is just boring and there is no sense of timing at all. 11/21/09

Land of the Lost (2009)  

The kiddies television show becomes a full length film, but taken even less seriously.  Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) is a nut believing in time travel rather than a vacationer. He runs into another fruitcake who says she has crystals that radiate tachyon energy.  Okay, so the science is a joke and the movie is meant to be one as well.  The two of them and another unlikely character – no kids – find themselves back in time, or sidewise in time, or something, in a land where dinosaurs are alive. It’s obviously not on Earth.  They do encounter an apeman, but in a desert rather than a jungle, although the costuming was actually better in the original.  This is the kind of humor that works in a sketch, but very rarely at feature length. They completely lost me when the T. Rex understood what Marshall was saying about him, and it got even sillier after that.  Many of the jokes are just not funny. A few good jokes and occasional good special effects, but mostly just a waste of time.  11/20/09

Outer Limits Season 1 (1995) 

This was the short lived revival to the original show of the same name.  The opening episode, a two parter, is an adaptation of “The Sandkings” by George R.R. Martin, one of my favorite of his stories.  A scientist frustrated when an experiment involving insect life from Mars sneaks some of them out to for a private project at home.  The insects turn out to be intelligent and begin to worship him as a god. He in turn becomes so obsessed that he neglects his family and loses his objectivity.  He also allows them through his carelessness to escape into the environment, and he is personally infected with alien micro-organisms. A very good adaptation of an excellent story. “Valerie 23” is a well done but very predictable story about a man with a female companion robot which becomes dangerously jealous of his new female acquaintance. The performances and some good writing lift this above the stale plot, although the climax relies on an incredibly lax security procedure at the robotics firm. 

“Blood Brothers” is a rehash of the problem of what to do if you make a discovery that will extend human life on a mass scale.  Release it and face an unsupportable population explosion?  A little too simplistic for my tastes. “Second Soul” is a terrible first contact story.  Aliens from a dying planet want to reanimate human corpses.  Their official contact is with the Secretary of State in an television studio, which is completely absurd. They’re hiding a secret.  What a surprise!  Turns out to be a benevolent one.  The protagonist’s argument about the supposed immortality of the aliens is also erroneous, since he knows they are long lived but hardly immortal.  The idea that the government would let the aliens move around unobserved afterward is absurd. Surprising since it’s written by Alan Brennert, who should know better.  

An elderly millionaire undergoes an unusual heart transplant in “White Light Fever” but Death personified objects. Kudos for the effort to make the old reprobate sympathetic. The plot is a foreshadowing of the Final Destination movies. The premise is even sillier in this one; if an artificial heart creates a rupture in the continuum of existence, then what about pacemakers?  And the ending is absolutely absurd.  “The Choice” gets off on the wrong foot because no public school would expel a student with no evidence that she was responsible for a variety of violent incidents – she has psychokinetic powers. Nor would newspapers publish her picture while covering the controversy. There’s a secret organization smuggling the mutants to safety and a secret government organization that wants to experiment on them.  Bland. “Virtual Future” has an absurd premise – that boosting the power in a virtual reality suit could provide visions of the future. It’s also amazing how untechnical, untrained people can operate sophisticated experimental equipment perfectly at the drop of a hat.  And they can also type machine code directly into a computer to change security systems!  Also, since the system accesses the future through the future memories of the operator, how can Josh Brolin see things that occur after his death? A good cast wasted in this nonsense, and the ending is stupid even given its context.

“Living Hell” was written by Melinda Snodgrass, who also should know better.  Hospitals do not install experimental implants in unidentified gunshot victims without their knowledge or the permission of next of kin.  Once past that goof, we have a man who can “see” visions of murders.  The killer is aware of him as well, which makes even less sense. Another waste of a good cast.  “Corner of the Eye” is abysmally bad.  A priest is somehow able to see through the disguise of three mysterious aliens who plan to steal the Earth’s atmosphere.  Rather than kill him, they give him the power to heal and revive the dead, which makes no sense, but since nothing else in the story does, that’s not surprising. David Schow, whose fiction I enjoy very much, must have been sleeptyping when he wrote this one.  Although we are told the priest can see the aliens when he’s stressed, he can’t see the doctor alien even when he was just told that he has weeks to live.  That’s pretty damned stressful.  He also accepts that the aliens are benevolent, conveniently forgetting that the first time he saw one of them, he was beating homeless people with a nightstick. His healing power also makes external bloodstains disappear!  And when the priest calls an international news conference, the entire press corps plus cameramen consists of five people!   

“Under the Bed” is about a monster under a bed who kidnaps a boy in front of his younger sister. It’s not badly done but it ignores proper police procedure shamelessly and one of the key plot elements involves hypnotizing the girl.  During that session, she also reproduces sounds made in the room during the attack, which is impossible. “Dark Matters” has a spaceship trapped in an anomaly and it’s pretty good at first, but makes progressively less sense as it nears its conclusion. There’s an object so dense that not even souls can escape its gravity field.  “The Conversion” is even worse, almost unwatchable. A disgruntled employee shoots several people, is shot himself, but is not visibly affected by a serious gunshot wound. A mysterious, omniscient alien teaches him about human kindness and talks the audience to death in the process.  Oh, and this alien also makes external bloodstains disappear when he heals people. Didactic nonsense.

“Quality of Mercy” is a variation of F.M. Busby’s Cage a Man, without the sense.  A human is captured by aliens and confined with a woman who is being transformed into one of their captors.  Another unwatchable one filled with endless silly lectures about love triumphing over hate, etc. The ending is laughable. “Caught in the Act” has Alyssa Milano possessed by an alien force that makes her sexually insatiable and deadly to her lovers. She also absorbs their complete bodies into her own with no change in her own size or mass.  More nonsense. The police inquiry is also silly and refers to evidence of a violent murder – but there was no evidence.  He just dissolved. Not even a struggle.  Astronauts on Mars unwisely disturb a mysterious pod in “The Voyage Home” and a malevolent creature hitches a ride on their spaceship.  How did it get aboard? Bad science abounds, of course.  The meteorite doesn’t pierce the hull, but there is major damage inside.  When the ship stops rotating, the temperature jumps several degrees in the first minute. Two crew members are transformed into Martians in defiance of the law of conservation of mass and energy – it also manages to shape change his clothing. This would have been a lot better if the pacing hadn’t been so slow that there’s little suspense.  And opening both sides of an airlock simultaneously would not cause a ship to explode. 

“The New Breed” involves an unauthorized experiment to use nanomachines in a human body.  Wouldn’t have been a bad idea except that the terminally ill guy, with no knowledge of the process, breaks into a laboratory and figures out how to inject himself. It cures his cancer, but then it tries to improve on the original.  Not awful, but not very good. A deaf woman with an experimental implant picks up an alien broadcast in “The Message”.  This was actually one of the better episodes, although the encounter with the psychologist struck me as pretty bogus and a hospital would not release private medical information about one of its employees. “I, Robot” is based on the Eando Binder story, and is another of the better episodes.  A robot is accused of killing its creator and has to prove its innocence, and its humanity, in court.  Bummer ending but well done. 

“If These Walls Could Talk” is a rationalized haunted house story. A professional debunker investigates a house where violent deaths have occurred. Not bad although the animosity of the police doesn’t make any sense in context. A senator discovers he is an alien in "Birthright", part of a conspiracy to wipe out humanity, in a fairly good episode.  The season ended with "The Voice of Reason."  This one's a sequel to "The Sandkings", not written by George R.R. Martin, and also a sequel to "The Voyage Home" and "If These Walls Could Talk" and "The New Breed" and "Corner of the Eye" and "Birthright" and "Caught in the Act." It's dreadful, and much of it is clips from the earlier shows.  A man tries to alert a government committee to an alien threat and all concerned act like idiots. There are a few good episodes sprinkled through the season, but there are too many real clunkers.  11/19/09

Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (1963)  

This is a dubbed German film, supposedly taking place in England, involving a wealthy man who has rented Blackmoor Castle, where he is accosted by a masked man who – correctly – accuses him of murder and the theft of diamonds.  The killer claims various victims connected to the house in an effort to force the thief to turn over the stolen property, which he is disposing of piecemeal to a shady local thug.  The soundtrack is extremely weird throughout, and the plot doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, although possibly this – and the bad dialogue – are at least in part a translation problem.  We are clearly meant to believe that the eccentric nobleman is the killer, which means naturally that he isn’t and in fact I guessed the real villain, and his motivation, very early on.  A couple of atmospheric scenes, but you won’t be missing much if you give this one a pass. 11/18/09

Sea Beast (2008)

Another CGI monster movie.  This was started badly with a CGI fishing boat on a CGI ocean.  Something steals one of its crewmembers.  Before long we have CGI creatures coming ashore, shooting anaesthetic venom, and devouring their victims.  And there are lots of monsters.  The creatures are actually reasonably original and the CGI work isn't bad.  The acting is above average for this sort of thing and I actually enjoyed the story quite a bit despite the plot holes.  And boy, are there ever plot holes.  The creatures from the deep sea run on four legs, breathe surface air with no difficulty, are camouflaged to blend in with surface color patterns, and are very agile arboreals, pouncing from trees and jumping from branch to branch.  At one point we are told they look very much like angler fish -- but they don't look the slightest bit like anglerfish.  Or any other kind of fish.  They also fail to use their venom when attacking characters who are supposed to live, and the surviving heroes are able to kill them with hunting knives, fishing spears, and other crude weapons, but a posse of men armed with high powered rifles is slaughtered without killing any of the critters.  Mindless fun, but fun nonetheless.  11/17/09

In the Spider's Web (2007)

It felt like a bad movie night and it was.  A group of vacationers are trekking through a jungle in India when they fall prey to a town which worships spiders, and since every spider on Earth can be found living there, they're in the right place.  They lure travelers to their spider cave where they are webbed, then taken by thev villagers to be sacrificed to the spiders.  Lance Henriksen is a nutty doctor who is in cahoots with the cultists but also has some secret connection to a criminal organization.  The good guys - who are not in the least bit sympathetic - run around in the jungle in halter tops, their guides don't know anything about the geography, customs, or language, and no one good or bad seems to have much of any brains.  The spiders (and even butterflies) are CGI, and not very good CGI.  The webbing doesn't look like webbing either.  And there's  a mysterious character who walks around with a sack over his head all the time.  Obviously I don't recommend this one. 11/13/09

Torchwood: Children of Earth (2008)

The third season of Torchwood was a truncated, one plot five hour mini-series.  My two favorite regulars got killed off at the end of season 2, so I wasn’t actively looking forward to it despite some favorable reviews. One day, without warning, all of the children in the world freeze in place, to the obvious consternation of the adults. They resume a few seconds later but obviously we know this is just the start of things. There are also bodies disappearing from a local hospital morgue.  The second time the children stop, they all insist that “we are coming” and worldwide panic results. Meanwhile, an adult mental patient acts similarly, and clandestine government officials try to cover up something called the “456” apparently a reference to alien visitors sometime in the past. The first installment is pretty intense.  Jack, the immortal Torchwood leader, is killed repeatedly by government agents working to wipe out the entire team, then allowed to return to life after some mysterious process is completed – my guess was that a bomb was inserted into his body to be exploded inside Torchwood headquarters – and I was right.  Looks like they’ll need a new headquarters. 

With one of the team in pieces – although we know he’ll get it together eventually – and the other two on the run from the government, it appears that the government’s plan to build some unknown device per orders of the 456 will proceed without interference. There’s a really good sequence in which Jack is rescued by his two teammates after being encased in a block of concrete.  The politicking about who talks to the aliens once they’ve arrived, alas, doesn’t ring true even remotely, but it’s probably unavoidable to keep the plot on track.  The tension ramps up as the 456 demand ten percent of the planet’s children, and we also discover that Jack turned a dozen children over to them forty years earlier, in order to avoid a worldwide plague.  The depiction of the crassness and class prejudice of the government officers is particularly effective, realistic, and depressing.  There’s what appears to be a rousing rebuttal to the aliens in Episode 4, but a sudden reversal sets things up for the very disturbing events in the final installment.  I’m trying not to spoil things, but the ending suggests that there will be no Torchwood Season 4.  Much darker and also much more impressive than the first two seasons.  I did have a couple of problems with the plot.  First of all, the conspiracy is just too big to have been kept secret. Second, Jack is convinced that he can deal with the aliens better than the government, but when he finally gets the chance, he really has no plan at all, and he gives up for no discernible reason when the aliens call his bluff.  A bit of a tearjerker as well. 11/1/09

Batman The Brave and the Bold: Mayhem of the Music Meister soundtrack, Newline Records, 2009

This is the soundtrack from the animated television show which I have never seen, but which apparently has Neil Patrick Harris as Batman's voice.  Most of the album is vocal and performed much as a motion picture musical might be.  There are several different composers involved, as well as various performers.  The band "I'm the Music Meister" suggests they did a variation of the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  "Drives Us Bats" is just too silly.  "If Only" is much better, probably the best track on the album.  "Death Trap" is the least interesting cut, actively awful as a matter of fact.  Fortunately it's also very short. "The World Is Mine" is okay without being memorable. I should mention that the performances are quite good, but the material is generally not worthy of their efforts.  This is a rather short album as well.  10/30/09

One Day at a Time Season 1 (1975)  

Bonnie Franklin is a recently divorced and recently moved mother of two, Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips in this often quite funny sitcom that frequently incorporates serious issues.  Pat Harrington Jr. is the lazy, sarcastic, and endearing building supervisor, Snyder. The live studio audience occasionally makes the timing a bit odd.  The pilot is quite good, introducing all the characters in depth but also managing a genuine story as well, all within less than a half hour.  The second episode is less convincing – Bonnie Franklin meets a guy in a restaurant who kisses her in front of her daughters, with her approval, even though they’ve never met him before. The performances seem much more awkward as well, at times quite artificial, although Pat Harrington and David Masur shine in an otherwise wasted episode. The first season is very uneven.  Some of the situations are over the top silly, like the $4000 phone bill.  Some have good ideas but are not well written.  A few of them managed to get most things right but I don’t think the show hit its stride until later in its life.  The episode in which David wants to pay for the daughter’s private school tuition is one of the best, as is the one in which Schneider’s feelings get hurt, justifiably.  One particularly good exchange. Franklein and Harrington have both watched Bride of Frankenstein.  She says she was so lonely she “cried at the wedding.”  He one ups her.  “I was jealous.” 10/29/09

The Bob Newhart Show Season 4 (1975) 

The formula for this show was getting a little tired by season 4 and the writers fumbled a few efforts to find a new direction.  Carol gets married, but we barely see her husband in the ensuing episodes, so the potential for a new character was wasted.  High points include the wedding episode, the death of one of the recurring group therapy session members, and particularly the drunken Thanksgiving party.   The low points include a really stupid episode about a television interview with Bob, the visit of Howard's brother, Jerry's second engagement to the airhead Courtney, and Emily’s promotion to vice-principal, both dull and badly written.  Overall the program seemed to move from genuinely funny situations to mostly very silly ones, and the humor doesn’t work as well if we can’t relate it to real life events.  They also appear to have pretty much dropped Howard’s relationship with Bob’s sister, which only comes up once during the season. One really good episode does not make a successful season.  10/21/09

Bone Eater (2007)

A construction crew digs up something that looks strange and they begin hearing odd sounds.  Obviously they don't watch enough horror movies because they don't know that it's not a good idea to continue disturbing an old burial ground. A CGI skeleton reassembles itself and breathes a cloud of smoke that dissolves flesh and clothing, but nothing else apparently.  One of the construction workers just happens to have a rifle - why? - but that doesn't do any good, nor does a stick of dynamite.  And that's all just before the opening credits. A bunch of actors on the down sides of their careers have roles in this including Bruce Boxleiter, Walter Koenig, and Gil Gerard.  With Buck Rogers, Ensign Chekhov, and John Sheridan arrayed against it, the monster hasn't got a chance. There's also the singleminded developer who wants to conceal the discovery of relics because they might interfere with his construction project, the wise old medicine man, and the bitter young militant who wants revenge on the white man.  Where have I heard all of this before? One plus - the sound track is very nice.

Boxleitner is the divorced sheriff hosting his mildly estranged late teenaged daughter. We meet a crew of student archaeologists - the first actually interesting characters - and they're all dead within a couple of minutes. The scene when the creature conjures up a skeletal horse for a cross country race is funny rather than suspenseful, but this was so formulaic that there wasn't much of that to start with.  The science is hokey and the special effects even more so.  At one point, there's an earth tremor so powerful that people are tossed about, but the plants don't move and items on a table in the background don't even tremble.  Later, a woman relates the details of a recent attack that had no survivors, so how could she possibly know what happened?  There weren't even any bodies.  Internal logic isn't very evident either.  At one point a truck is thrown off a remote rural road - no other traffic - but later we're told it caused a five hour traffic backup.  The budget incidentally is so low that the wrecked truck is also CGI. At another point, Boxleitner examines the tracks of a victim and can tell she was running hard.  But she wasn't running, as we know because we saw the scene earlier. Some of the acting is pretty wooden, but given the material they had to work with, the actors probably weren't trying very hard. The combination of silliness and stupidity and mind numbingly familiar gimmicks is fatal. The write didn't even understand how eclipses work and the ending is utter nonsense.  I particularly like the fact that some of the victims scream AFTER they've been turned to dust. Not awful, just not very good.  10/16/09

Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)

I'm a Jason Statham fan but I never expected to see this sequel, since the first ended with him dying.  Death is so relative.  After falling impossibly far, he survives after all, but someone has removed his heart for a transplant and left him with an inferior artificial substitute.  There's no effort to make this one realistic; there isn't even any blood despite the long fall.  He has to find his original heart and have it replaced or he'll die within hours, and he can only recharge the substitute so many times.  He recovers as they plot the next organ removal, subdues the operating staff, and makes his escape. Much over the top violence ensues, punctuated by sometimes funny scenes in which he uses car batteries or static electricity to recharge.  There's also a lot of gratuitous nudity. There are some cute bits, as when the police taser him and that gives him a burst of energy. Too silly to be much of an action movie but it has its moments.  Unfortunately, the gross out scenes overwhelm them. 10/15/09

How to Murder Your Wife (1965)

Jack Lemmon is in great form in this romantic comedy.  Terry Thomas is also excellent as his butler/valet, and Eddie Mayehoff is superb as the bumbling lawyer.  Lemmon writes and draws a cartoon strip and is a confirmed bachelor, much to the delight of Thomas.  Lemmon lends realism to his stories by acting out all of the thrilling events in advance while Thomas takes pictures in order to be sure that he has things correct, a conceit not readily apparent to us. While drunk, he marries a non-English speaking Italian bombshell - Virna Lisi - and cannot find a way to end the marriage. He starts a new comic strip about a henpecked husband, then begins plotting the murder of his wife.  It's obvious that this is a preamble to a change in the strip rather than the murder of his wife, but his acquaintances think otherwise and when the wife walks out and disappears, he is arrested for her murder.  Not always plausible, of course, but a great deal of fun and with some very outstanding performances. There are a couple of disturbing notes, including exaggerated gender stereotypes and Lemmon's use of drugs on his wife to make sure his plan works. 10/14/09

Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)

So I was looking for something really lightweight to watch and this popped up from the pile.  Based on, sort of, the novelty song of my youth, but with modern animation to replace that which graced the television adaptation. It's a mix of animation and live action about the famous singing chipmunks, of course. When their tree is cut down, they end up with an unsuccessful songwriter. Predictably they get stage fright at first when he tries to show them off, then they inadvertently sabotage his budding romance, all while making a mess of his apartment.  They also cost him his job.  The jokes are predictable, a little too cute at times - rather sloppily sentimental in fact, and obviously there is no attempt to make any of this even remotely realistic. And, of course, there's the malevolent music producer who wants to lure the trio away from their friend with promises of wealth and fame.  Not offensive, but surprisingly dull. 10/13/09

The Scar (1948)

This little film has also appeared as Hollow Triumph and The Man Who Murdered Himself. A recently released convict decides to take advantage of his physical similarity to a prominent psychiatrist after running afoul of a powerful criminal figure. In order to make the plot work, he has to duplicate the original man's scar.  Unfortunately, a photograph he uses was inadvertently reversed so the scar is on the wrong cheek. He doesn't discover this until he has already murdered the man. An interesting movie although rather slow moving at times, and I would have thought anyone as smart as the protagonist is supposed to be would have been a little more careful.  Nor is there much chance of success since he has been romancing the psychiatrist's secretary and that would make the impersonation even more difficult to carry off successfullt.

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1929) 

Earl Derr Biggers’ non-Charlie Chan mystery novel becomes half mystery, half comedy, in this, one of several versions of the novel to reach the screen. I read the novel many years ago and remember being very impressed. A writer retreats to a remote snowbound inn for some peace and quiet and gets anything but.  In this version he takes a bet to write a complete book there within 24 hours, not a very likely outcome.  He is told that he has the only key, but the title should tell you that’s not the truth.  First an armed man shows up with a load of money, then three young women, each of whom also has a key.  One of the women claims that the money is part of a fraudulent scheme. Then things start to get really confusing. The movie consists primarily of conversations with almost no physical action, but that doesn’t mean it’s dull.  I’ve seen a smoother version, but the power of the basic story makes even a mediocre production worth while. 10/11/09

Johnny Dangerously (1984) 

I originally watched this spoof of 1930s gangster films because I liked Michael Keaton and it has others of my favorites including Peter Boyle, Danny DeVito, and Griffin Dunne, and even Joe Piscopo does a good job as Keaton’s arch enemy.  Richard Dimitri is also memorable for his broken English riddled with misused words.  Out of necessity, Keaton joins Peter Boyle’s gang, concealing this from his mother and brother, although everyone else knows. He makes passes at the new, sexy singer at his nightclub and is still the enemy of Dimitri’s mob.  All of this sounds deadly serious, but it’s delivered with a series of absurd and silly jokes and situations.  The plot gets going when Piscopo, a childhood enemy of Keaton’s, joins the same gang. Piscopo gets most of the better lines; it’s always more fun being the bad guy. Keaton’s kid brother becomes district attorney so Keaton decides to reform, but Piscopo doesn’t like going straight.  Not a classic, but there are some good lines and performances and there are worse ways to spend an hour or two. 10/10/09 

The Secret Code (1942) 

This is another World War II propaganda serial, with the Black Commando foiling the efforts of Nazi spies and saboteurs to subvert America.  The Germans have a secret base beneath an employment agency.  The structure is episodic, of course, with the Nazis using super scientific devices to attack various installations and to steal the secret of synthetic rubber.  The title refers to a Rube Goldberg decoding device which the Germans use to communicate and which no one has been able to decipher. Dan Barton pretends disloyalty so that he can be recruited into the spy ring. Each chapter is followed by a lecture on public awareness from a man who at least claims to be an American intelligence officer.  Dull, repetitive, and full of propaganda, this one is a failure on many fronts. 10/9/09

The Adventures of Smiling Jack (1943)

This is a cliffhanger serial in which the hero of the title helps battle the Japanese to prevent them from seizing a secret route to India.  The only cast members of interest are  Sydney Toler, aka Charlie Chan, playing a General, and Keye Luke and Turhan Bey in supporting roles.  Jack tries to help but is hindered by the presence of Japanese agents among the Chinese, and a mysterious secret agent and his Black Samurai. Smiling Jack is not the brightest light in the city.  At one point he and his co-pilot are talking about the fact that they’ve been smelling smoke for some time, but just now are getting around to investigating.  So much for that plane.   Other sequences are even sillier.  A Japanese soldier empties an entire machine gun into the hero from very close range and he drops, then rises to shoot the soldier with nary a scratch. Not that Jack is very smart, falling for even the most obvious Japanese ploys.  But then again, the foreign spies aren’t all that bright either.  The plots are so badly done that I lost interest halfway through and barely made it to the end.  One of the worst written cliffhangers I’ve ever watched. 10/7/09

Secret Service in Darkest Africa (1943) 

This cliffhanger serial, which has also appeared as Manhunt in the African Jungles, has villainous Nazis trying to undermine a plot to enlist the Arabs as allies of Germany. A secret agent from the US and his friends try to foil the plot, but they are hindered because they don’t realize that the leader of the Arab delegation has been replaced by a Nazi.  The special effects in this one are surprisingly good, including the usual enigmatic electronic equipment and a quite realistic steamboat explosion. On the other hand, this is neither the “African Jungle” nor “Darkest Africa”.  The story takes place in and around Casablanca and the desert.  Very episodic, with the Nazis coming up with a variety of superweapons including electrocuting torpedoes and beam weapons.  A tolerable if badly misnamed production. 10/6/09

The Vanishing Legion (1931)  

Although I collect cliffhanger serials, I have stayed away from the westerns other than the Zorro serials.  This one is a straddle set in the west with lots of western elements, but it’s also a more contemporary thriller, so I decided to pick it up.  Harry Carey stars in this 12 part series in which he is trying to finish an oil rig while thugs on horses try to disrupt things. The leader of the gang is the Voice, whom we never see but the voice of the Voice was Boris Karloff before he was famous. Some of the early wild horse footage is quite good but otherwise the first installment is rather dull. There’s also a good sequence with a caravan of trucks sabotaged so their brakes fail on a steep decline. Edwina Booth appears as a mysterious woman, an actress who became so ill while filming Trader Horn that she was forced into retirement after only a handful of appearances. Some of the performances are overly melodramatic, particularly the young boy, a legacy of silent films. Rex, the Wonder Horse, is probably the best actor. Lots of captures and escapes but the story soon lapses into a series of very low key adventures. 10/5/09

Green Lantern soundtrack, composed by Robert J. Kral, La-La Land Records, 2009

This is the soundtrack to a new animated movie about the DC comics superhero. The title theme is, as you might expect, a rousing piece similar to that used for most other superhero movies.  I quite liked the second cut, rather blandly titled "The Ring Chooses Hal."  Not having seen the movie, I have no idea what any of these titles mean. I also kind of liked the atonal "Labella's Club" and "Bugs in the Baggage."  The last wins as most amusing title.  Some of the cuts are pretty random, of course, and probably are more effective only when coupled with the screen action that matches them. Some are also varied with very nice bits mixed with less interesting ones. The orchestration is lush and professionally done throughout.  The accompanying material indicates the composer was trying for a sci-fi sound, whatever that is.  A bit above average for soundtracks as far as re-listening qualities.  10/4/09

Night Train to Terror (1985)

The Thirsty Dead (1974) 

Two cheapie horror flicks. The first looked more promising, a three story collection similar to Creepshow and others.  The promise evaporated pretty quickly with a horribly awkward rock and roll number aboard a train directly following the credits. Elsewhere on the train, God and Satan discuss the fate of various characters whose stories make up the three segments.  All three of these are edited down versions of full length movies (!) that you will never have heard of, and deservedly show. The acting and writing are bad, as you might expect, but they’re also difficult to follow because of the awkward editing.  In the opening one, a man and his bride have an auto accident, she’s killed, and he wakes up – uninjured – restrained in a bizarre insane asylum. It appears that he is hypnotized into murdering woman for some reason, although absolutely nothing makes any sense.  Maybe if the missing pieces were replaced I could figure this one out, but I doubt there’s any real sense there to decipher.  The unreleased movie was to be called Scream Your Head Off.  Plenty of gratuitous nudity, if you’re into that sort of thing.  The gore is so unrealistic it’s funny at times. 

The second part is based on Death Wish Club, also apparently unreleased. It’s just as bad in every category and makes no more sense. There’s a narrator to fill in some of the gaps, but he usually fails. A college student falls in love with a girl after seeing her in a porn film and sets out to find her. Somehow they get together, sort of; it’s not clear what their relationship is except she takes her clothing off a lot. They get lured to the Death Club, which uses booby traps to kill its guests. There’s a really silly looking giant poison insect and a deadly computer.  The screenwriter also did not know the rules of Russian Roulette either. Includes one of the hokiest fight scenes of all time.  The end of this one is completely left out, leaving an unresolved cliffhanger.  Part 3 is cut from Cataclysm, which has appeared under numerous other titles. It’s another incomprehensible piece about, apparently, ageless Nazis and prescient dreams.  Utterly dreadful. 

The Thirsty Dead deals with four young women who are abducted into the jungles of the Phillipines to become food sources for a tribe of vampires.  One of them resembles some sort of goddess so they decide to convert her instead of drinking her.  Not only is this dull, poorly acted, poorly written, and poorly filmed, but there really isn’t much of anything going on until quite late in the movie.  Not as bad as Night Train, but then again, I don’t expect to see anything that awful again for a long time.  There is not a single good moment in either of these two bottom of the barrel movies. 10/4/09

Terror in the Tropics (2005)  

This quasi-homage to the cheapo horror and mystery flicks of the 1930s intercuts classic footage of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, and Jerry Lewis with new scenes filmed in black and white and processed to look old. The acting in the new parts is wooden and some of the jokes pretty strained – the photographer for the newspaper is named Parker and he has a girlfriend named Mary Jane who keeps getting kidnapped. The reporter’s name, predictably, is Kent. The dialogue is pretty bad as well.  A will is going to be read in a creepy old house on Fog Island and two other reporters are sent to cover the event. There’s also a missing map to the real Skull Island – King Kong was a documentary. Everyone gets aboard a ship, including Lucy Westenra and Count Diego Vega – get the joke? Not funny even if it had anything to do with the actual story, which it doesn’t. The old footage is much better, but it’s pretty scarce even in though the whole movie is less than an hour long.  The sum total is just boredom and sometimes the “acting” is painful to watch. At one point an actor actually forgets his line and the scene wasn’t reshot. The interweaving isn’t even done well.  At one point the marooned crew is down to two survivors, but the next bit of footage shows three of them launching a boat.  A waste of time. And you cannot divide an inheritance “between” five people!!!  There’s a sequel to this called Terror in the Pharoah’s Tomb, which I will not be looking for. 10/3/09

A Walking Nightmare (1942)

The Ghost Walks (1934) 

The first title in this double feature of spooky but humorous Old Dark House mysteries was directed by William Beaudine, famous for refusing to reshoot scenes even if they’ve gone badly. A wealthy man disappears, then reappears in a deep trance.  A private detective is hired but he finds the house occupied by friends and relatives each of whom may have a motive for wanting the afflicted man out of the way. The detective himself is rather nutty, essentially a Private Ear rather than Eye. Although it’s kind of silly at times, it’s also surprisingly entertaining, with snatches of above average dialogue, particularly between the detective and the young woman who is trying to bait him – successfully. The specialist called in gives an amusing diagnosis: “The cells of the cortex of the brain are paralyzed.”  One of the characters asks the detective to meet him in the garden for some important information, so it came as no surprise when he’s found murdered there before he can say what he knows.  The comatose man is standing over the body and becomes chief suspect despite his condition.Considering the bad reputation of Monogram Studios and Beaudine in particular, I expected little from this, but it’s actually a fairly snappy, entertaining mystery.   

The second title is less interesting.  A playwright and company are accidentally (?) forced to spend a stormy night at a house full of people.  Their hosts are planning to rehearse a murder play in the house, but things get nerve wracking when someone is really killed. Some not very funny jokes.  The clock is a “union clock” because “it strikes any old time.”  The silliness overwhelms any element of suspense there might have been and the story is glacially slow to develop. The body eventually disappears and the playwright is still convinced this is all just an act.  In the words of one of the characters: “This isn’t a horror play.  It’s a bedroom farce.”  Forgettable. 10/2/09

One Frightened Night (1935) 

Another Old Dark House mystery, this one from a story by veteran mystery writer Stuart Palmer. The opening credits are somewhat innovative for the time – some of them written on windowshades.  The soundtrack is the same one I’ve heard in many of these old mysteries and serials.  I hope the composer got royalties.  A rich man invites various guests to his storm pelted mansion, promising to give them each a million dollars at midnight.  Then two different women arrive unexpectedly, both of whom claim to be his long lost granddaughter, and he reneges in her favor, whichever is authentic.  Then one of the women is found murdered and since everybody concerned has a motive, the mystery is thick and many layered. Although the dead woman has the better credentials, it seemed to me pretty obvious that she was the fake.  The only people with an alibi for her murder are the old man himself and the other claimant. With blowguns, masked figures, banging shutters, a feisty stage magician, and other goodies.  Made on a low budget and with no big name actors, this is nevertheless one of the best of its type, and it holds up well today. 10/1/09

The Phantom (1931) 

This is not the movie based on the comic strip of the same name but an old style blend of suspense and humor from the 1930s. The Phantom is a condemned killer who escapes from prison by jumping onto a moving train from above, then catching a rope ladder dangling from an airplane.  The killer wants revenge on the district attorney responsible for his conviction. We switch to the old dark house format after that.  There are various mysterious comings and goings, then a switch to a bizarre insane asylum and the unmasking of the killer.  Some of the funny bits are intentional, some are not.  The hysterical maid is priceless, probably the best part of the movie.  Not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but an interesting failure. 10/1/09