Et al. December16

The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1920)

In the Argentine, the uncultured but wealthy Spanish landowner, Julio Madariaga (Pomeroy Cannon), shares his estate with his two daughters and their husbands, the Frenchman Marcelo Desnoyers (Josef Swickard) and the German Karl von Hartrott (Alan Hale). Madariaga dislikes the latter, but von Hartrott confidently expects to inherit his father-in-law’s fortune anyway, as he has three sons while the Desnoyers are childless. Everything changes when Luisa Desnoyers (Bridgetta Clark) gives birth to a boy. Julio (Rudolph Valentino) grows up as his grandfather’s pet, and is encouraged to follow his hard-drinking, womanising ways. Madariaga has always promised to leave everything to Julio, but when he dies it is discovered that he never changed his will. The property is divided between the sisters; the von Hartrotts immediately sell their share and return to “the Fatherland”. After a time, Desnoyers agrees to take his family to France—the country he fled under threat of arrest during the Franco-Prussian War. There, he develops a strange passion for display, buying a chateau and obsessively filling it with furniture and objets d’art. Julio, meanwhile, becomes a notorious figure in the cafés of Paris, where he introduces the tango. He also begins an affair with the unhappily married Marguerite Laurier (Alice Terry). The two fall genuinely in love, but are betrayed to Desnoyers and M. Laurier (John St. Polis). Scandal threatens—but it is 1914, and this and all other trivialities are soon swept away by the horrors of war… Based upon the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and directed by Rex Ingram, The Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse was the pet project of June Mathis, who adapted it for the screen; it became the top-grossing film of 1921, and its success made Mathis a powerful figure in Hollywood. In addition to the hiring of director Ingram, Mathis insisted upon the casting of the all-but-unknown Rudolph Valentino: the film made him an overnight superstar. Even at this distance, Valentino’s charisma is patent; what comes as something of a surprise is that he could act, as well: a detail that tends to get lost in the legend. The film is bigger than its unexpected star, however. This was the first major anti-war film of the post-WWI era, and graphically depicts the horrors of conquest and destruction. (The American censors, however, were more concerned about the affair of Julio and Marguerite!) It is also famous for its fantasy sequences showing the Four Horsemen of Revelations sweeping across Europe: a horrifying vision conjured up by the story’s mysterious Christ-figure, known only as The Man Upstairs (Nigel de Brulier). As an Argentine subject, Julio is exempt from enlistment, but grows ever more dissatisfied as he watches the rest of Paris march off to war. A crisis is reached when he discovers that not only has Marguerite trained as a nurse, she intends returning to her husband, who has been blinded in action. Unable to live with himself, Julio enlists in the French army. Meanwhile, the Desnoyers chateau is taken over by invading German troops, and becomes the scene of murder, debauchery and rape, before the tide is turned by “the Miracle of the Marne”. His time in the army is the making of the once-selfish Julio, who is everywhere praised for his courage and generosity; but disaster awaits—as well as one final meeting of the Desnoyers and von Hartrott families…

(Fun fact—if it’s not out of place to have a fun fact in a serious film like this: Julio literally has a monkey-butler…)

Hell Divers (1931)

Chief Petty Officer “Windy” Riker (Wallace Beery) has long been the best aerial gunner in Fighting Squadron One, a dive-bomber air force unit; but he finds his position challenged by the arrival of Steve Nelson (Clark Gable), who outdoes him in the field and has had the benefit of the newest education and training. Riker is notorious for his off-duty mishaps, but he has the support of the unit’s C. O., Lt-Cmdr Jack Griffin (John Miljan), who values his skill and his way with the men, and often intervenes on his behalf. The rivalry between Riker and Nelson becomes personal as well as professional when a practical joke perpetrated by the former threatens to ruin Nelson’s relationship with his fiancée, Ann (Dorothy Jordan). When his plane is involved in a mid-air collision during a night-dive exercise, Griffin survives but loses an arm, and must retire from the service. His place is taken by “Duke” Johnson (Conrad Nagel), who is far less tolerant of Riker’s vagaries. When Riker brawls his way into trouble on shore, Johnson demotes him and appoints Nelson in his place. This is a hard blow for Riker, but he takes it on the chin—and when the plane carrying Nelson crashes during a bombing exercise in heavy fog, Riker risks everything to go to the rescue… Hell Divers is based upon a story by Frank Wead, and is in fact a loose remake of 1926’s What Price Glory? The film offers an interesting good-guy role for Gable, who at this stage of his career was mostly playing gangsters and other heavies (and was still sans moustache); but Wallace Beery overdoes it as the impulsive, two-fisted Riker: he tries to present Riker as, in effect, an overgrown kid, well-meaning but undisciplined, but only succeeds in making him seem slightly retarded. But the plot is really irrelevant. The strength of Hell Divers is its snapshot view of the air force circa 1930, and its reams of contemporary footage of the era’s plane’s and warships. The navy co-operated with the film’s production, allowing access to USS Saratoga; and there are long (and scary!) scenes of the period’s fragile aircraft making dangerously abrupt landings on the carrier’s deck. (At one point the image is partially obscured to conceal the Saratoga‘s arresting gear, the design of which was classified.) This specially-shot footage is supplemented by stock footage and by aerial photography, the latter of which would show up in numerous other films over the succeeding years; while the aerial disasters which punctuate the narrative are executed via obvious but adequate model-work. Consequently, this film is recommended chiefly to naval and aviation enthusiasts. On the cast side, Majorie Rambeau gives a nice performance as Riker’s long-suffering girlfriend; while Robert Young has a tiny speaking part as a pilot.

Susan Lenox (Her Fall And Rise) (1931)

Born illegitimate, and raised by an abusive uncle determined she won’t turn out like her mother, Helga Ohlin (Greta Garbo) bears her grim life until she is faced with an arranged marriage to a brutish stranger. When he attacks her, Helga flees into the stormy night, eventually trying to find shelter at the lake-house of architect Rodney Spencer (Clark Gable), where she is discovered—and where she stays… After a blissful few weeks, Rodney must travel to the city for business; but he promises Helga that when he returns, they will be married. Rodney has barely left, however, than Karl Ohlin (Jean Hersholt) and Jeb Mondstrum (Alan Hale) arrive. Helga’s desperate flight ends with her catching a train that is carrying a circus. Taken in by “Madame Panorama” (Cecil Cunningham), the tattooed lady, Helga secures a job as a dancer and changes her name to Susan Lenox. But Ohlin now has the sheriff on her trail. Circus owner Burlingham (John Miljan) hides Susan from the law in his private car—then makes it clear to her what he expects in return… Some weeks later, Rodney catches up with Susan; but their brief, heartfelt reunion is shattered when Burlingham makes it cruelly clear to Rodney that there has been something between himself and Susan. Rodney turns on Susan, spurning her in his fury, disgust and hurt—while she, growing angry in turn, swears to live down to his every expectation; only from now on, she will be the victimiser, not the victim… Susan Lenox was an important film in different ways for both Garbo and Gable, but it doesn’t really work: not surprisingly when we consider its brief running-time, choppy editing, and that almost two dozen writers worked on the screenplay! Meanwhile, the sexual politics are beyond infuriating, with the self-righteous Rodney never giving Helga / Susan any opportunity to explain herself—when her only free agency was, basically, deciding which man got to rape her. Susan’s blind devotion to Rodney and her pursuit of him over the latter stages of the film are also exasperating—it being Gable notwithstanding, is there anyone who doesn’t want Susan to go off with the understanding Mike Kelly (Hale Hamilton)?—although Susan’s observation that she and Rodney are both so “twisted” that they need each other to make one complete person has some psychological validity. Over the early stages of Susan Lenox, Garbo struggles with playing “an ordinary girl”: she is more at home as, first, a circus performer, then as an elegant, high-price call-girl, and finally as an exotic dancer in a sleazy dive: in all three of these guises, she gets to wear some eye-popping pre-Code outfits. Being cast opposite Garbo was a big break for Gable, and marked his promotion to leading roles, but his character is intolerable in his self-pity and judgement.

It Started With Eve (1941)

Millionaire businessman Jonathan Reynolds (Charles Laughton) lies dying, as newspapers prepare his obituary and his son, Jon (Robert Cummings), rushes to his bedside from Mexico. When his father begs to see Gloria Pennington (Gloria Tallichet), who he has just become engaged to, Jon hurries to her hotel, but she is out. In desperation, Jon recruits the services of impecunious hat-check girl Anne Terry (Deanna Durbin), offering her fifty dollars if she will pose as Gloria just once. On the verge of giving up on her dream of a musical career and quitting New York for Ohio, Anne needs the money badly and agrees to the impersonation. Reynolds’ warm and approving welcome makes Anne feel deeply guilty, although Jon assures her that she has done a kindness in setting his father’s mind at rest. Everyone then withdraws to wait and grieve…but when the morning comes, Jonathan Reynolds has found a new lease on life, and immediately demands to see “Gloria” again… It Started With Eve was the last in the series of films that Deanna Durbin made with producer Joe Pasternak and director Henry Koster—films that pulled Universal back from the brink of disaster, after the Laemmles lost control of the studio—and it is one of the best. One of its strengths is that while Anne may show the best of herself to Jonathan Reynolds, she’s no angel. Initially willing to do whatever she can to help Jon ease her out and introduce the real Gloria to his father, once she learns that various important figures in the world of music, including Leopold Stokowski*, are frequent visitors to the Reynolds house, Anne makes up her mind that she isn’t going anywhere… People who don’t care for musicals shouldn’t shy away from It Started With Eve: Deanna does have a couple of musical numbers, but they’re not the focus of the film, which is instead the connection that, much to Jon’s exasperation, develops between Anne and his father. Charles Laughton is hilarious here, and he and Deanna are perfectly charming together—their interplay finally setting up the famous set-piece where Anne and Reynolds burn up the dance floor of a New York nightclub with an energetic rumba. Unfortunately, however, the film feels compelled to manufacture a romance between Anne and Jon, when there is no reason whatsoever why she should fall for such a selfish, superficial prat. My dream ending to this film has Anne and Reynolds hooking up, so that Jon is disinherited (preferably after he marries the dreadful Gloria). That, or Reynolds appoints himself Anne’s sugar-daddy, so that she may have the musical career she has always longed for, and which she certainly isn’t going to get as Mrs Jonathan Reynolds Jr…

(*And all the Bugs Bunny fans cry in unison: “LEOPOLD!”)

Brighton Rock (1947)

In between-the-wars Brighton, young gang leader ‘Pinkie’ Brown (Richard Attenborough) sets his murderous sights upon newspaper personality Kolly Kibber (Alan Wheatley), aka Fred Hale, who once made the mistake of crossing Pinkie. Hale is unable to avoid the fate he sees closing in on him, but the efforts of Pinkie and his gang to alibi themselves for his death cause further complications. Brassy stage performer Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley), who was with Hale before his death, sees that the details do not add up; while Rose (Carol Marsh), a young waitress, knows that it wasn’t Hale who later left a newspaper card in her cafe. Recognising the danger posed by Rose and her “good memory for faces”, Pinkie sets out to court her—and finally marries her to make sure she can’t give evidence against him. But even as he considers himself safe, Pinkie finds himself under threat from two different directions: the larger, stronger more dangerous gang operated by rival boss, Colleano (Charles Goldner), which is moving into Brighton, and the dogged efforts of Ida, now determined not only to prove Pinkie guilty of murder, but to protect Rose no matter what… Adapted by Graham Greene and Terence Rattigan from Greene’s novel and directed by John Boulting, Brighton Rock is widely considered “the” British noir, a judgement with which it is hard to argue. Filmed in black and white and set in the unfamiliar Brighton of between the wars—no cheerful resort then, but a grim and seedy town full of desperate, lonely and vulnerable people—this is a powerful and disturbing drama anchored by an astonishing performance from Richard Attenborough. Though he is slight in stature and young in years (and Attenborough wasn’t much older), we have no trouble at all believing in Pinkie’s power over his much-older associates, who have every reason to fear him. The film never so much as hints at the latent homosexuality and consequent self-loathing which are suggested in the novel, with Pinkie presented instead as a riot of psychological disturbance—one of Greene’s tormented “sort of” Catholics (he believes in hell; heaven, maybe not), whose emotional capacity has stalled between the bookends of hatred and anger, and whose self-image is built wholly upon violence and intimidation. That said, in this world of straight-razors Pinkie’s carrying of a gun marks him as a “lesser” man; while his gang is progressively revealed as a sad and struggling outfit: a reality underscored by the embarrassing contrast between the grubby boarding-house that the gang calls home and the hotel suite occupied by the newly arrived “businessman”, Colleano. The quiet, coiled-spring Pinkie is curiously contrasted with the brash, uncultured but big-hearted Ida Arnold, who undergoes an unexpected journey throughout the narrative which turns her from the film’s crude comic relief into its moral centre (a position certainly not held by the disinterested police). Pinkie’s revenge-murder of Fred Hale, which occupies the film’s virtuoso opening sequence and culminates in the Brighton Pier ghost-train, sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually bring about the young gangster’s downfall, but not before a lot of other people get hurt. Ironically, it is not any of his shocking acts of violence that finally cause Pinkie’s undoing, but the marriage to Rose which is supposed to ensure his security. It is not her evidence that threatens him, but the effect that her helpless naivete has on everyone else—not just Ida, who tries unavailingly to make her see the truth, but Pinkie’s otherwise cold and callous right-hand man, Dallow (William Hartnell), who discovers to his own surprise that there is a line he won’t cross… The final scene of Brighton Rock remains a point of contention: personally I find its implications far more disturbing than the rip-off-the-bandaid ending to the original novel—although not, I must say, as disturbing as the discovery that there are people out there who consider it “romantic”…

The Blue Lamp (1950)

This Ealing drama marked a watershed in British film: for the first time in The Blue Lamp, the censors permitted the onscreen killing of a police officer in the line of duty. (Not coincidentally, this film also contains the first use of the word “bastard”.) Those who consider early British crime fiction and films too “polite” need to keep in mind that there was intense pressure against too much realism in this area of story-telling; but in the post-war era, the world was changing, and drama was finally allowed to keep up. And in fact, The Blue Lamp is a remarkable slice-of-life foreshadowing the “kitchen sink dramas” of the 1960s, employing a cinéma vérité approach and being shot on location chiefly in the north of London—working that area’s geography and sociology into every aspect of its story. In passing we note the empty spaces and still-ruined buildings that evidence the bombing of London, and the lack of things we might take for granted, such as cars and televisions; and conversely, the importance of music halls and cinemas as a means of escape. The story itself is familiar enough – George Dixon (Jack Warner), an experienced police officer (contemplating retirement, sigh) takes the young constable Andy Mitchell (Jimmy Hanley) under his professional and personal wing – but what is done with it is rather remarkable, in capturing the policing methods of the time while making clear the need for new methods, both because certain behaviours were no longer acceptable and in the face of the rising post-war crime rates: acknowledging in the process the role played in this phenomenon by homes broken both literally and psychologically by the war. It is suggested that it isn’t the professional criminals that the police have to worry about so much as the hot-headed, emotionally immature newcomers, who resort to violence for its own sake; and there are shades of M about the film’s dog-track climax (filmed at White City), wherein the bookies and their various criminal associates help the police to trap the cop-killer. Meanwhile, the film tacitly considers the pros and cons of community policing: the intimate knowledge of their areas held by beat-cops is vital, but what if the community doesn’t want to know?—in one unnerving scene, Mitchell comes across a group of children playing with a discarded gun, and learns that in some districts, even the smallest children know not to talk to a copper. Jack Warner (who perversely found himself trapped playing PC Dixon in the series Dixon Of Dock Green as a result of this film), Jimmy Hanley and Gladys Henson as Mrs Dixon are all effective, but Peggy Evans is annoyingly over-the-top as a teenage runaway who finds a bit more excitement than she bargained for in her new life as a gun-moll. Robert Flemyng and Bernard Lee appear in supporting roles, while the show is stolen by Dirk Bogarde in his breakthrough role as Tom Riley, a thoroughly nasty little spiv.

Pool Of London (1951)

More early 50s taboo-breaking from Ealing! Ostensibly the main plot of this film concerns Dan MacDonald (Bonar Colleano), a young merchant seaman who supplements his income by smuggling low-level contraband into Austerity Britain. Dan gets in over his head, however, when he accepts the job of carrying a package from England to the Netherlands—discovering too late that it contains the proceeds from a diamond robbery, during which a watchman was killed… While the film’s heist sequence, and Dan’s subsequent flight from the law, are well-executed and suspenseful, this is unlikely to be where viewer attention is focused—and probably wasn’t in 1951, either. Pool Of London is not only the first British film to cast a black actor in a starring role, the subplot involving Johnny Lambert (Earl Cameron) has him getting involved with a pretty young cashier, Pat (Susan Shaw)—who just happens to be white. While nothing beyond friendship happens between the two—and to be fair, there’s hardly time: Johnny only has a 48-hour pass—to the film’s credit, there is the feeling that had circumstances been different, it might have done. We note, too, that it is Pat who pushes their relationship, Johnny who holds back because “these things still matter”. The final moment between them, when Johnny has an unexpected last chance to be with Pat again, but backs away without being seen by her when he finds her with her other friends, is heart-breaking. On the other hand, there is a gratifying lack of reaction to the two young people going about London together; while the film’s only overt racists are shown up as nasty bits of work—in particular, Dan’s vicious, gold-digging some-time girlfriend, Maisie (Moira Lister). At the same time, though, even the film’s “nice” people—even Dan, his best friend—tend to refer to Johnny as “that coloured boy”. Ah, well. Baby steps, I guess. Pool Of London‘s two plots collide when Dan has a brush with Customs, and so asks Johnny to carry his package on board for him. Too late, he learns that the police have not only rounded up the criminal gang, but know of his own role in the plan to carry the diamonds out of the country. Dan’s desperate flight from the law then becomes an equally desperate race to find and head off Johnny, before he is caught with the proceeds of the deadly robbery… Like the previous year’s The Blue Lamp, Pool Of London is notable for its location shooting (the film’s title refers to that stretch of the Thames running from London Bridge to Limehouse, where ships were docked for Customs inspection), including some striking scenes of London on a Sunday afternoon: car-free and near-empty. The film was directed by Basil Dearden from an original screenplay by Jack Whittingham and John Eldridge, and features Leslie Phillips, James Robertson Justice and Max Adrian in supporting roles.

Trent’s Last Case (1952)

When international financier Sigsbee Manderson is found shot dead in the grounds of his English estate, crime writer Phillip Trent (Michael Wilding) is sent to the scene. While all other reporters are turned away, Trent has a foot in the door due to his long friendship with Burton Cupples (Miles Malleson), who is Mrs Manderson’s uncle; Cupples admits frankly to his own strong dislike of Manderson, and that his niece’s marriage was unhappy. At the inquest, both Margaret Manderson (Margaret Lockwood) and Manderson’s private secretary, John Marlowe (John McCallum), emphasise the dead man’s recent depression and moodiness, and the verdict is suicide while of unsound mind. Trent, however, is convinced that Manderson was murdered, and persuades his newspaper to allow him to continue his investigation: a step he regrets when he finds himself falling in love with Mrs Manderson, even as he comes to believe that something between her and Marlowe was the motive for the crime… E. C. Bentley’s mystery, Trent’s Last Case, often makes lists of the all-time best, although its virtues lie less in the mystery itself than in the fact that this novel represents the first literary deconstruction of its genre. That this novel was published in 1913 indicates how early, and how powerfully, detective stories took off in England—and how soon, at least according to Bentley, they began to fall into cliché traps. The novel was first filmed in 1929, then again in 1952: a version which, while necessarily updating the settings, sticks reasonably close to the original story. Its main alteration is some pruning of the supporting cast and subplots in order to show us what the novel only describes, the behaviour of international financier Sigsbee Manderson in the hours leading up to his death: an understandable choice, given that Manderson is played by Orson Welles. Curiously, however, this version rather downplays Trent’s moral crisis, when he finds himself on the verge of covering up a murder because of his feelings for Mrs Manderson, who he believes to be an accessory to her husband’s murder, whether before or after the fact. Nevertheless, Trent does solve the case to his own satisfaction, reinterpreting the events of the night of Manderson’s death to throw a whole new light upon them, and breaking down John Marlowe’s apparently rock-solid alibi. Confronted by Trent’s deductions, Marlowe finally gives his own version of events—which turns everything on its head yet again, and indicates that Manderson’s death was suicide after all. And there is one more twist in the tail…

(For what’s it’s worth, when reading the novel I figured out the truth long before our brilliant detective—who never does figure it all out, which of course was Bentley’s point…)

Revenge (1971)

Also known as Inn Of The Frightened PeopleAfter Jenny DiedTerror From Under The House and Behind The Cellar Door. After the prime suspect in the rape and murder of two young girls is released for lack of evidence, bereaved father Jim Radford (James Booth), his adult son, Lee (Tom Marshall), and Harry (Ray Barrett), the father of the other victim, concoct a plan to abduct Seely (Kenneth Griffth), the suspect, and force a confession out of him. They carry this out, although in a panicked, sloppy way that allows a witness to catch a glimpse of the abduction, and Seely is imprisoned in the cellar under the pub owned by the Radfords. However, no sooner is Seely in their power than the three men and Jim’s wife, Carol (Joan Collins), turn on him in their rage and viciously assault him, before Jim takes him by the throat… The four conspirators must then find a way of disposing of the body and covering up their crime, while making everything seem normal to teenage Jill Radford (Zuleika Robson), young bar-maid, Rose (Sinéad Cusack), and the pub’s regular customers. But when they descend to the cellar late that night to collect the body, the four discover that Seely isn’t dead… The plethora of alternative titles suggests that the distributors of Revenge had a tough time selling it, which is not surprising: this is a thoroughly unpleasant film, yet one not without some cogent things to say about the speciousness of vigilante justice, the terrifying swiftness with which such “justice” can spiral out of control, and the vast difference between doing something on impulse and doing it in cold blood. Though Seely is clearly a person of dubious tastes, to say the least, the film refrains for most of its running-time from tipping its hand as to his guilt or innocence, rightly recognising that this is beside the point. As the drama unfolds, it becomes clear that the Radfords were a family at flashpoint even before the tragedy of Jenny Radford’s brutal death, with constant tension between Carol and her step-daughter, Jill, who blames her for the departure of the first Mrs Radford, and an entirely different kind of tension between Carol and her adult step-son, Lee. Ironically, it is Jim, the habitual peacemaker, who plunges the family into disaster; although the catalyst is certainly Harry, who puts me in mind of Fred MacMurray’s character from The Caine Mutiny, always full of bright ideas about what other people should do; and who, having goaded Jim into action, distances himself from the consequences of that action as fast as he possibly can. As the conspirators try to decide if and how to dispose of Seely, the police begin following up on the witness statement regarding the abduction, in which a general description was given of the car used: a car just like the one owned by Jim Radford…

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)

Police Chief Abel Marsh (James Garner) returns from holiday to the small coastal town of Eden Landing to discover that local artist Jenny Campbell has been mauled to death by her doberman—and that his first job is to oversee the dog’s euthanasia. Marsh doesn’t like dogs, but when he calls at the veterinary clinic of Warren Watkins (Hal Holbrook), he is disconcerted to discover that the “killer” doberman is a placid, friendly, well-trained animal. Marsh asks for a second opinion from the local coroner, who discovers that the victim was not mauled to death, but drowned, and not in sea water but fresh water to which salt had been added; and that she was pregnant. The coroner also concludes that her other injuries were due to her dog trying to pull her out of the surf, where her body was discovered. Despite its exoneration, people are wary of the doberman – “Murphy”, according to attractive veterinary nurse, Kate Bingham (Katharine Ross), in whom Marsh finds himself more than a little interested – and Marsh ends up adopting it. Jenny Campbell’s circumstances suggest a motive for the crime, and Marsh’s first stop is her estranged husband, Lee Campbell (Peter Lawford), who opens up a new direction of inquiry by insisting that Jenny left him not for another man, but for a woman… Produced during the dying days of MGM, They Only Kill Their Masters is a lethargic and rather uncomfortable crime drama, in which James Garner almost manages to make himself unlikeable; it is thanks to our past good-will rather than his character’s actions if he doesn’t succeed. The film’s saving grace (at least to me) is its redemptive attitude towards the doberman, a much-maligned breed, but even here the filmmakers can’t resist including a scene where Murphy apparently becomes savage. (And by the way, Miss Expert, no, the dog did not “turn”: it was doing what stupid humans taught it to do.) Overall, however, this film is dominated by an ugly, snickering attitude towards sex and sexuality, wherein anything other than the most rigidly unimaginative heterosexuality is a “perversion”, and a woman will forgive a man for beating her up out of wounded ego, but not for suggesting that she ever practised anything but the most rigidly unimaginative heterosexuality. Sex pervades every aspect of the story – there’s even a pug-dog with prostate trouble; no, really – and inevitably Jenny Campbell’s sexual past becomes the crux of the matter. However, Marsh’s attempts to discover who she was involved with at the time of her death – man and/or woman – are repeatedly hampered by the efforts of someone, presumably the killer, to destroy any possible evidence—until all Marsh has to go on are a photograph of a man and a woman, naked, and taken from the back, and the odd detail of a dog’s name… They Only Kill Their Masters was the last film ever shot on the legendary MGM back-lot, and it is because of this that its ridiculously good cast includes, in addition to those already mentioned, June Allyson, Edmond O’Brien, Arthur O’Connell, Tom Ewell, Ann Rutherford and Harry Guardino. Christopher Connelly has a supporting role as a young police officer; and Royce D. Applegate (billed as ‘Roy’) has a bit part.

Evilspeak (1981)

Knowing that this made the “Video Nasties” list, I was surprised when it turned up on ordinary cable; much less so when its garbled introductory voiceover indicated (when correctly interpreted) that it had been cut from an R-rating down to an MA: a process which offered an interesting glimpse into the mental workings of our censors, since they removed all the decapitations and most of the heart-ripping, but left in the head-turning, the activities of the man- (and woman-) eating pigs and all of the casual male nudity. Go figure. We could justly ask, however, whether a print of Evilspeak with all the decapitations removed is worth watching. The answer would be ‘yes’, but with a caveat, in that this film’s dull stretches seem even duller with so much of the climactic pay-off missing. The editing also tends to leave behind the suggestion that bullying is less offensive than a bully getting his comeuppance. Clint Howard gives the defining performance of his career as Stanley Coopersmith (aka ‘Cooperdick’), a charity case taken in at a military school where he is bullied and tormented by everyone on campus, and I mean everyone: the school’s meathead jocks, its C.O., the teachers, the janitor, even the C.O.’s secretary; even the school chaplain. The only exceptions are the school’s one black student, and the cook, who takes pity on him sufficiently to give him a puppy: a move which we just know is going to end in tears… (The filmmakers went out of their way to find the most adorable, fragile and vulnerable-looking puppy in the world, too—no wonder the BBFC went ballistic!) While cleaning out the chapel’s basement, one of his endless punishments accrued for, basically, being himself, Coopersmith discovers some secret rooms that have been walled up for centuries, which contain evidence of satanic rituals. Coopersmith finds a journal written in Latin, which he translates using the school’s computers; when he is constantly interrupted, Coopersmith moves a computer down into the secret room, where he can work in peace. He discovers that the journal belonged to the exiled Don Esteban, the leader of a satanic cult, and contains instructions for summoning the devil. As Coopersmith contemplates using the book’s instructions to revenge himself on his enemies, Don Esteban begins to communicate through the computer… I have to say that I was astonished to learn that Evilspeak has a thoroughly American pedigree: to me, everything about it seems to scream “Euro-horror”, from its lethargic pace, to its off-kilter, non-sequitur-ridden dialogue, to its hilarious interpretation of how “military school” works, to the choice of soccer as the school’s leading sport, to the inexplicable intrusion of the Hogs From Hell—and above all, to the fact that Don Esteban’s Secret Ritual Rooms, hidden for centuries, are “discovered” via the removal of one loose brick. Heigh-ho. The “revenge of the nerds” vibe is thoroughly American, though, and this film has frequently been interpreted as a male riff on Carrie. There’s no question that Evilspeak takes far too long over its set-up, with unnecessarily repetitious scenes of Coopersmith’s life being made ever more miserable (begging the question of whether the film-makers may have thought the audience would enjoy seeing Clint Howard bullied?); but the worm-turning scenes, when they come, make it all worthwhile (or would, I imagine, in an uncut print, sigh). My only quibble is that during this flurry of decapitations and gut-eating, Coopersmith seems “out of it”: hardly a satisfactory revenge, if so. Meanwhile, if decapitations, head-turnings, heart-rippings, pigs eating people alive and gratuitous shower scenes (male and female) aren’t your thing, you can at least enjoy the sight of Ultimate Evil communicating with the modern world via cutting-edge computer technology, circa 1981. This is Clint Howard’s film all the way, but he is supported by Richard Moll, R. G. Armstrong, Lenny Montana, Don Stark, Charles Tyner and Claude Earl Jones.

Houseboat Horror (1989)

A band, a video crew and assorted hangers-on take themselves via houseboat to a remote country location, in order to film a music video, not knowing that they have intruded upon the site of an earlier tragedy: the deaths of four people and the injuring of a child during the production of a film, the consequence of the producers’ negligence… “The film that couldn’t win an Academy Award!” trumpets the anti-advertising on this Australian slasher flick, but don’t kid yourselves: this thing couldn’t win a Razzie. Since the characters are almost without exception a bunch of drunken, loud-mouthed idiots, the real challenge here is possessing your soul in patience until the killing starts. The gore effects, when they kick in, are crude but not ineffective. Most of this film consists of unabashed riffing on the Friday The 13th movies, while the killer plays like a cross between Jason of Part 2 and Cropsy of The Burning. The only original touches here are the setting (Houseboat Horror was filmed on location around Lake Eildon in Victoria), and the fact that, while the there’s plenty sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock and roll on display—not to mention beer consumption—it isn’t his victims’ transgressions that set off the killer, merely the fact of them being “film people”. Also on the positive side, we have what looks like an unexpected wink at Blood And Black Lace, although I may be giving the film too much credit; I must also mention that the cat that turns up for no reason escapes unharmed—yay! Alan Dale is top-billed as director Grant Evans, John-Michael Howson (!?) appears briefly as a red herring (and carries a copy of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History Of The Horror Movie—word, J-Dog!); Gavin Wood’s inexplicable character gets shot with a spear-gun while trying to put on a condom; and co-director Ollie Martin cameos as a paramedic despite being fired during the shoot in the face of a threatened rebellion by the cast and crew. Meanwhile, his prominence on the advertising art notwithstanding, I can’t imagine that Brian Mannix regards his contribution to this film’s score as the artistic high-point of his career, exactly. The end credits of Houseboat Horror are probably its most entertaining aspect, and not just because they mean it’s over: I was amused both by the catering notice (beverages: Carlton & United Breweries; celebration beverages: Veuve Clicquot), and by the listing for the film’s casting director: Deborra-Lee Furness—a “credit” I notice isn’t on her IMDb page…

Maximum Velocity (2003)

Before The Asylum, there was UFO… Well. This may or may not be a halfway decent low-budget disaster movie, I really couldn’t tell you: the soundtrack, including the score and the wind / rain / thunder / lightning noises and Trek-esque console explosions that make up most of this film’s “special effects”, is so loud, it renders about 85% of the dialogue indecipherable—and the rest of the time, everyone mumbles. Sigh. I came away convinced that Dale Midkiff’s character was called “Taylor” rather than “Timothy”, and that Wendy Carter was “Ellie” rather than “Natalie” (I guess she got a roll of thunder over each first syllable), and with a raging headache from time and again being lured into turning the volume up to try and figure out what someone, anyone, was saying, only to get blasted by the ambient din, but without the slightest idea how the film’s central doo-hickey, which manifests as streaks of purplish cartoon-y electricity, was supposed to work. What I think is going on here is that a civilian project intended to disperse potentially damaging storms is – surprise! – taken over and corrupted by EEE-vil military types into a weapon capable of creating storms. But anyway, for some reason the first test of the project goes disastrously wrong, the resulting casualties including one of the civilian contractors, Karen Briggs (Jennifer Jostyn), wife of the project’s co-designer, Timothy Briggs (Dale Midkiff). General Amberson (Michael Ironside) buries “Stormfury” under the Official Secrets Act, blaming everything on the pilot, Andy (Gregor Törzs), and forcing Briggs to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Their lives effectively ruined, the two men end up working as a TV weatherman and teaching community college, respectively. Four years later, however, when a comet passing dangerously close to the earth triggers a super-storm of unprecedented destructive power, the only option is to use “Stormfury” as it was originally intended, with Briggs and Andy pressganged back into service and scientist Natalie Jamas (Wendy Carter) replacing Karen—and facing even greater danger when the plane from which “Stormfury” was deployed is in danger of running out of fuel before it can land, and the severance of the “pod” containing her the easiest way of reducing drag…

Landslide (2005)

Also known as Buried Alive. NYFD search-and-rescue expert Matt Decker (Vincent Spano) visits his estranged wife, Emma (Alexandra Paul), and teenage son, Steven (Luke Eberl), who are living in a rural area in one of the units of the housing development designed by Emma’s father, businessman Donald Richardson (Robert Pine). A series of demolition explosions sets off a landslide which buries the Phase One units, trapping their occupants underground—including Richardson and his personal assistant, Ginger (Amy Van Nostrand), Matt and Steven Decker, and Maria (Kathryne Dora Brown), the pregnant wife of the project’s foreman, Danny Santiago (Jaime Gomez). Though the workers rush to begin the rescue effort, the project’s manager, Stewart Hancock (Jay Pickett), stops them, arguing that the town at the foot of the mountain must be their priority, and that to save it, they must trigger a second, planned landslide—even though this will doom those already trapped… Is it too perverse to be disappointed that a film isn’t bad? Be that as it may, the truth is I was surprised to find myself rather enjoying Landslide in an unironic way, to the point where I’m inclined categorise this low-budget disaster movie as quite a good little film, albeit with the emphasis on “quite” and “little”. There’s nothing remotely original here—we’ve got the estranged couple reunited by a crisis, the unrepentant villain and his less-hardened sidekick, the pregnant woman who goes into labour at just the wrong moment—but the formula is tweaked in a way that indicates that screenwriter Peter Beckwith understands the genre. For example, Richardson’s angry assertion that Matt uses his job as an excuse to avoid family responsibilities looks like simple dislike of his son-in-law but is never contradicted in-film, even as we see how Matt’s inability to communicate with his own son is counterbalanced by his brilliance at communicating with complete strangers during a crisis. The screenplay also gives us an added complication in the form of an unearthed nest of diamondback rattlesnakes—yes!!—and odd touches such as Harold the Erudite Looter (Keith Oney). There’s even a moment when a display unit with its furniture nailed to the floor gets tipped over in the landslide, leaving its occupants dangling from the ceiling, that has to be a reference to The Poseidon Adventure; while this film’s villain makes Richard Chamberlain in The Towering Inferno look like an angel—or at least, he never tried to blow up the building to hide the fact that he was responsible for the fire, whereas Stewart Hancock does try to set off a second, bigger landslide to cover up the fact that he was responsible for the first landslide. Below ground, Matt leads the survivors as they try to find a way out before the carbon monoxide levels reach toxic levels; while above ground, Danny Santiago ignores orders to mount a drilling operation at a possible escape point, as Emma and the project’s geologist, Jack Zane (Scott Alan Smith), race against time to stop Hancock detonating explosives and triggering the second landslide…

White Noise (2005)

The happy life of architect Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) is shattered when his wife, best-selling author Anna Rivers (Chandra West), disappears under mysterious circumstances. As he tries to hold his life together, Jonathan has a disturbing encounter with Raymond Price (Ian McNeice), who tells him that Anna is dead, but has been trying to communicate with him. Shortly afterwards, Anna’s body is found… Overwhelmed by grief, Jonathan finally approaches Price, who explains to him the concept of EVP – electronic voice phenomenon – whereby untuned electronic equipment acts as a transmitter for the voices and even images of people who are dead. Price plays back to Jonathan a voice recording that he believes is Anna… Gradually, Jonathan becomes obsessed with trying to contact Anna, setting up an elaborate array of recording devices and computers and devoting all his time to analysing sound and video recordings–until he, too, is sure that Anna is speaking to him. But it is not only Anna who is trying to communicate; and soon Jonathan finds himself the target of a deadly supernatural force… White Noise is a reasonably effective thriller, with an interesting premise (whatever you actually think about EVP) and plenty of unnervingly distorted sounds and images. It is also cleverly designed, with an almost-black-and-white use of (or lack of) colour and lots of reflecting surfaces to echo the “white noise” images that Jonathan collects. However, overall this is yet another horror film that doesn’t seem to be quite sure of what it’s trying to say. Is this supposed to be a romance of sorts, with communication between lovers from beyond the grave, or a cautionary tale about obsession? Honestly—it’s hard to say, as it is whether we are intended to be in sympathy with Jonathan and his quest or see it as him playing with fire. As for exactly what Anna is trying to communicate— That too is confused, in that her apparent determination to send Jonathan out on mercy missions repeatedly gets in the way of what the film’s climax suggests she was actually trying to achieve. The revelations that comprise that climax are the film’s weakest aspect, with an unwelcome intrusion into the plot of an over-familiar real-life evil, and an incident which suggests – again, I think unintentionally – that evil is much more powerful than good. There are any number of plot-holes in this film—for instance, why was Raymond Price immune from attack for twenty-three years from the three spooky dead guys? – why, for that matter, are there only three of them? – and why can bad dead people corporealise, but good dead people can’t? Furthermore, the ending is uncomfortable in about six different ways. Michael Keaton tries hard here, and does a good job conveying Jonathan’s shifting mind-sets (he also deserves points for allowing himself to be so unflatteringly photographed), but the film itself lets him down. White Noise is also guilty of a personal bug-bear of mine: everyone mumbles; although there’s a cynical part of me that suspects it’s intentional, a way of getting you to crank up the volume before the film springs on you a REALLY!! LOUD!! NOISE!! (Oh, yes, there are plenty of them…) When all is said and done, however, there’s something both hilarious and endearing about a film from 2005 that is so entirely dependent upon VCR technology—although (as someone rightly commented at the IMDb), anyone who thinks you can get a pause-image that clear from a VCR has obviously never used one…

White Noise: The Light (2007)

I must state at the outset that I was shattered – shattered – by the absence from this film of the VCR…but this is not the only difference between White Noise: The Light and its predecessor, from which this in-name-only sequel distances itself as soon as it politely can. The main point of connection between the two is the opening, in which we are presented with a family so disgustingly happy, and with a life so perfect, you just know Fate is about to step in and mess things up—this time in the form of an inexplicable double-murder-suicide committed by Henry Caine (Craig Fairbrass), a complete stranger. In the wake of the deaths of his wife, Rebecca (Kendall Cross), and young son, Danny (Joshua J. Ballard), Abe Dale (Nathan Fillion) struggles with his overwhelming grief before attempting suicide. Found and rushed to hospital by his friend and business partner, Marty Bloom (Adrian Holmes), Abe hovers between life and death, seemingly passing down a tunnel into blinding light, where his family waits for him…only to be ripped back to reality when the emergency team successfully resuscitates him. As he recovers under the care of nurse Sherry Clarke (Katee Sackhoff), Abe finds himself an object of interest to Dr Karras (William MacDonald), who is researching near-death experiences and electronic voice phenomenon. Abe asks Karras why he is seeing blinding auras around some people – including Karras himself – and is reassured that it is just a side-effect of his experience; but when Karras dies suddenly of a heart attack, Abe wonders… Abe is soon certain that the aura he is seeing marks those about to die, and that he has the power to save them. His rescuing of several such people, including Sherry Clarke when she is violently attacked in the hospital parking lot, begins to give new meaning to Abe’s life—until he realises to his horror that his interventions are having devastating consequences… Though it falls pretty squarely under the heading of “unnecessary sequel”, White Noise: The Light is a better film than the original, with a much clearer idea about what it’s trying to say and where it’s going; even aside from the pop-cultural cachet offered by the co-casting of Nathan Fillion and Katee Sackhoff. The EVP which dominated the first film is no more than an amusing detail here (I would very much like access to Dr Karras’s funding bodies, which continue to pay for his research not despite, but because of, a lack of evidence); and while we do get an early flurry of the same sorts of creepy, distorted sounds and images that punctuated White Noise, this soon shifts to visitations of a more traditional sort, with quite a number of dead people expressing their dissatisfaction with our hero Abe. Under the surface spookiness, there’s quite a serious emotional component here, as Abe begins to believe that as a survivor he has been given a “mission” to save others, only to discover that he is indirectly responsible for some appalling tragedies—and as a consequence must make a devastating choice. The main weakness of White Noise: The Light is that despite its literally satanic overtones, the screenplay is never clear about why these things are happening; why Abe only seems to become involved with those destined to meet a violent death. (My thought was that Satan had some sort of “dominion” over this kind of death, but that doesn’t accord with Karras’s heart attack.) I was also – shame on me – disappointed in the ending: not just the unnecessary little kicker, but that the film fails to keep the promise inherent in an hilariously complicated chain-reaction set-up involving a broken-down petrol tanker, a crowded bus and a speeding ambulance. Still—this is an engaging chiller in spite of the overly sentimental (and cop-out-y) conclusion, and one that offers various little gifts to the film-buff along the way, with clips from Bride Of Frankenstein, Vertigo and A Change Of Habit (!!), an overt (and properly earned) reference to The Sixth Sense, and a covert one to Don’t Look Now.

Kaw (2007)

Sheriff Wayne (Sean Patrick Flannery) prepares for his last day at work before moving to the city for the benefit of his wife’s career, even though this means selling his family home and leaving the small town where he grew up. His last day is one to remember, however, with an elderly farmer killed, apparently, in a bizarre accident. Wayne is called away from the site by a complaint about Clyde (Stephen McHattie), the town’s recovering alcoholic, who is accused by a neighbour of firing off his shotgun; Wayne issues a warning, barely listening to Clyde’s explanation that he was forced to defend himself from attacking birds. Meanwhile, Cynthia (Kristen Booth) calls at a farm operated by the local Mennonite community to leave a parting gift for Gretchen (Megan Park), a young girl she has befriended, but is all but driven away by Jacob (Vladimir Bondarenko), the community’s leader. Feeling that something is wrong, Kristen does not leave immediately, but tries to look around the farm—only to fall into a covered well: she cries out in fear and repulsion as she finds herself lying on a pile of dead cows. Terrified of the consequences should Jacob find her, Kristen keeps quiet when he draws near—and so overhears a conversation between Jacob and Oskar (John Ralston), Gretchen’s father, who speak of the dead cows, the savage birds, and God’s punishment… Anyone making a killer bird film these days is on a hiding to nothing from the outset, of course, and it is to the credit of the makers of Kaw that they embraced their destiny by casting Rod Taylor as the town doctor. Otherwise, however, this film is pushing it uphill all the way, with flocks of (mostly) CGI ravens laying siege to the (mostly) unlikeable residents of a small country town. Some of the attack scenes are quite well done, particularly the “stoning” of the school bus; but the lack of any variation in the attacks finally becomes rather tiresome. Ultimately, Kaw is unpleasant rather than fun, with the birds tearing literal strips off their human victims and, conversely, an unending parade before the cameras of dead and dying animals, feathered and otherwise. The film gets an extra half-star for coming up with a clever explanation for the behaviour of the ravens—one which also allows the plot to be resolved—but loses it again because of, sigh, the stupid kicker ending. (If you must, at least substitute a different animal!)

Night Skies (2007)

Five friends travelling the back roads of Arizona in an RV almost hit a stalled truck when their driver, Matt (George Stults), is distracted by strange lights in the sky, which appear to be from objects flying in formation. In the resulting crash, Joe (Joe Sikora), is severely injured. Despite the hostility of Matt, the driver of the truck, Richard (Jason Connery), does his best to treat Joe’s injuries. He continues to lose blood, however, until it becomes clear that he will die without proper medical care. Matt and Richard put their differences aside and set out to look for help, hoping that by following some electrical lines, they will find someone with a working telephone. But as the two men hurry through the isolated countryside, it becomes very evident that they are not alone. Suddenly, Matt disappears—and Richard finds himself shooting at a tall, grey figure which emerges from the shadows… This supposedly true story is based (supposedly) on the “recovered memories” of the one survivor of an alien abduction that took place during the “Phoenix Lights” of 13th March, 1997: one of the most widely reported instances of potential UFO activity in history. There are all sorts of problems with this film, not least the fact that if we’re being presented with the perspective of the Richard character, none of this film’s opening twenty minutes should be there, since Richard couldn’t know any of that! And in fact, Night Skies would have been a better film if it had just started with the accidental encounter of Richard with Matt, Lilly (A. J. Cook), Joe, June (Gwendoline Yeo) and Molly (Ashley Peldon), instead of making us sit through, groan, character stuff. That said, it was nice to see an Asian face amongst the usual knee-jerk Caucausian line-up, also a young married couple who actually love each other. The focus, however, is upon the dysfunctional Matt and Lilly (she’s secretly pregnant, he’s not-so-secretly an asshole); when, that is, it isn’t upon Ashley Pelden’s cleavage, of which we see considerably more than we do of the “visitors”. Night Skies‘ aliens are the traditional skinny grey guys with big eyes, but their intentions are as hostile as their behaviour is confusing: if they can “zap” some people up into their spaceship, why are they chasing others through the woods and/or laying elaborate traps? The spaceship itself is the most interesting thing in the film, all disgusting, oozy organic material; and as for what the aliens do—well, let’s just say that being probed is the least of your worries. It does occur to me, however, that, given Richard survived his ordeal, his actions while on the ship are rather…questionable. The conclusion of Night Skies contains the briefest of cameo appearances from Michael Dorn as the cop who finds the not-quite-dead Richard; it’s hard to feel this is anything but a carrot to keep us watching. Meanwhile, I’m sure I can’t be the only one for whom the single most interesting thing in this film is the logistics of Joe’s bloody accident—weeks later, and I’m still trying to figure out how, in the middle of accident where his inertia should have propelled hm forward, he managed to impale himself on a knife lying behind him…

The Love Of Her Life (2008)

Also known as A Woman’s Rage. After breaking up with his obsessive and controlling girlfriend, Allison (Cynthia Preston), Brian Hagen looks forward to a happy future with his new love, Kathryn (Brandy Ledford). Unable to accept that their relationship is over, Allison continues to pursue Brian, but when he finally, angrily spurns her, her love turns to violent, vengeful rage… This Fatal Attraction-esque psycho-drama is simply terrible, although at least it serves to refute the assertion that Lifetime movies are always about saintly, long-suffering women and crazy-violent men. The one mildly interesting thing about this film is Allison’s literal inability to understand that Brian simply left her: a psychological block that causes her to focus her rage upon Kathryn, in the belief that she seduced Brian away from her. However, Allison’s revenge becomes ever more ludicrous, as her punishment of Kathryn takes the form of her murdering Brian—not, mind you, to take Brian away from her, but to give herself an opportunity to intrude herself upon Kathryn, so that she can punish her properly by murdering her teenage son, Scott (Alex House). The wonderfully warped logic of this may almost be enough to distract the viewer from what must be the world’s most incompetent police force, and most indifferent friends. In the first place, Allison kills Brian by hitting his bike with her car, yet is death is treated like an accident; in the second, Allison’s infiltration of Kathryn’s life requires her to murder Brian’s sister, Jordan (Claire Brousseau), and take her place, with the real Jordan’s disappearance going completely unnoticed. Wangling an invitation to stay in Kathryn’s house after Brian’s funeral, Allison sets about driving a wedge between Scott and his mother—not so that she can seduce him, as various plot synopses of this film imply, but so that she can lure him up to “the cabin” that we hear about incessantly and burn it to the ground, with him in it. Of course mother instinct wins out, and Kathryn arrives just in the nick of time, setting up what may be the most pathetically disappointing “showdown” of this entire sub-genre. But at least we find out that all of Allison’s issues stem from her father walking out on his family when she was just a little girl. (So I guess it was all a man’s fault after all…)

Instruments Of Evil (2016)

The horror-comedy and the horror-anthology are two of the harder sub-genres to execute successfully, but this low-low-budget Canadian production does a good job managing both at once. In framing story #1, in order to prevent four demon-possessed musical instruments created by Loki from uniting and bringing about the end of the world, Odin sends the immortal Dark Viking (writer-director-producer Huw Evans) to track them down and destroy them. In framing story #2, boxes of evidence are consolidated at the police station manned by Sgt Henry Savage (Rich Belhumeur), each one containing a musical instrument involved in a strange story… In Hip Hop Zombies, the recording of a rap song accidentally catches a voodoo chant for raising the dead. The zombie apocalypse is temporarily averted when no-one in the mid-80s is interested in white rapper DJ Daddy Long Leg, but ten years later his songs have the terrible power of kitsch… In Gratuitous Violins, a young couple whose car breaks down in the wilds of Saskatchewan are abducted by a masked psychopath, who chains them up in his basement prior to subjecting them to his homemade torture devices; but the question soon arises, who has really fallen foul of whom? In Heavy Metal Devil, the members of a struggling metal band, sick of being relegated to support-act status (and having their band’s name misspelled) decide to make a pact with the devil. All that is required to seal the deal is a blood sacrifice… The uniting of the “instruments of evil” at the police station threatens the end of the world; and despite the efforts of the Dark Viking and Sgt Savage, it’s lucky for humanity that, earlier in the evening, another of the local cops picked up friendly neighbourhood hooker and SF nerd Nadine (Anna Mazurik)… The shortcomings of Instruments Of Evil are exactly those you’d expect: the acting is a bit rough, and some of the jokes take too long to build; but overall this is a fun production that manages to transcend (or make a virtue of) the limitations of its budget. Most of the jokes work; the screenplay, without overdoing it, is studded with B-movie references (and, I gather, other references that the film-makers’ fellow Saskatoonians will spot); and the unwise wish of one of the members of The Lame Flame Demons – “I want my face plastered all over town” – prompts an admirably executed gore effect. Best of all, though, the music is really good throughout—as it needs to be, given the film’s premise. The twin rap songs of Hip Hop Zombies, “Rise Up” and “Daddy Likes Booty”, are ridiculously catchy; I even liked French-Canadian hip-hop icon Doubla Véy’s #1 hit, “Talk Into My Dictaphone”…and everyone hates that…

(Instruments Of Evil is available through Eyecatcher Video)

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16 Responses to Et al. December16

  1. Dawn says:

    Was Maximum Velocity the one where the poor weatherman was told to wear that stupid “German” hat by his manager, to try for an international feel? I think the scariest scene was when he’s going through his jocular weather reporting, looks at the screen, and realizes what he’s seeing.
    I thought the concept of a storm that would last for a hundred years, because part of it would always be over water, was intriguing. I never knew who the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ were in the movie, though.


    • lyzmadness says:

      Yes, that’s the one! You seem to have deciphered the film better than I was able to. Yeah, I got the impression there were some interesting ideas in it but I didn’t get any of them complete.


      • Dawn says:

        As far as I can remember, the good guys developed the storm controller, the bad guys (military) took it over and threw the good guys out. Then the major storm came up, and the good guys saved the day, and the bad guys got rid of the pod, trying to kill the good guys. The good guys landed in some frozen wasteland (Greenland? Siberia? don’t think the movie ever made it clear) and found a building in the middle of nowhere. They went in and asked the two people, “DO…YOU…HAVE…A…PHONE?” (standard way of speaking English to non-English speakers). The two people looked at each other, then asked them, “Do you have a credit card?”
        Does Michael Ironside EVER play a good guy? He plays the evil mastermind so well.


      • therevdd says:

        Starship Troopers and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. That’s all I can come up with re: Michael Ironside as a good guy.


  2. therevdd says:

    I’m still getting used to you reviewing such modern movies…anyway, I’ve actually seen a couple of your “Et al” offerings this time around.

    I remember very little about Kaw other than its nasty edge, but then again I saw it when it premiered on the Channel Formerly Known as Sci-Fi lo those many years ago. It did spark a brief running joke around here, where anyone spotting a crow would utter the word “KAW!!” in a sinister voice.

    Evilspeak is rather rough going for the first hour or so. Especially because, indeed, who wants to watch Clint Howard get tormented for so long? I had to remind myself a couple of times that A. It was a rare Clint vehicle, B. It was still better than Ice Cream Man, and C. there were people-munching porkers a-comin’. Happily, once he lets loose it becomes much more fun. I got to experience it in all its bloody glory, as well. I don’t recall a decapitation; if I’m guessing correctly, what you didn’t see is rather more impressive than a simple removal of a head…


    • lyzmadness says:

      Ah! I think I got the idea that it was decapitations I was missing from one of my Video Nasty books, but it seems I have been misinformed?

      Yes, I’m still plugging away through my catch-up of 2007, so there should be another handful of shockingly recent* films in the next update.

      (*”Recent” = “within the last ten years”.)


      • therevdd says:

        Well, after going back and rewatching the good part, it looks like your book is partly right; there is one decapitation in it, which I had forgotten. While it has a pretty good severed head, the actual act itself is a bit hokey, with pieces of “flesh” flying and squirts of “blood” that reminds me of those emanating from the bitten throat in Zombi II. It’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen, but it pales in comparison to the other cranial trauma I obliquely referred to in my previous post.

        It’s surprising they’d leave the shower attack untouched; the last shot has a hog yanking on what looks like actual offal. The heart ripping is dwelt upon, so I’m not surprised it went, even it looks more like a hunk of liver than a heart, albeit the actual item once again.


  3. RogerBW says:

    Ooh, definitely going to have to go and find Hell Divers. I’m a sucker for that kind of period detail.

    I’ll see your Michael Ironside as a good guy and raise you Michael Ironside as an assassin.disguised as an Orthodox Jew… (The Omega Code.)


  4. countottoblack says:

    Suggestions for movies that might or might not be fully reviewable, but would certainly merit an “Et al.” mention, and would perhaps give you a break from watching everything with “Amityville” in the title even though you don’t want to because… well, I’m sure there’s a very good reason why you have to. Anyway, I assure you that none of these have sequels (or are likely to get any), so if you hate ’em, there aren’t another 15 of the buggers to wade through while loathing every wasted minute.

    “The Great McGonagall” – The most bizarre biopic of a real person that attempts to be kinda sorta historically accurate ever made. And that includes “Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter”. Spike Milligan is William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet. Peter Sellers is Queen Victoria. Semi-improvised lunacy in totally unrealistic indoor sets that never pretend to be anything else, with random gratuitous nudity to bump the certificate up in case bewildered children watch it by mistake, and a musical number involving multiple Hitlers.

    “The Bed Sitting Room” – More from Spike Milligan, who co-wrote and starred in the very successful stage version, but is barely in the movie because movies never really suited him. Practically all the British comedy stars of the seventies endure post-nuclear-holocaust conditions in the first and probably last movie to portray radiation poisoning as funny. Several characters mutate into animals, furniture, and buildings, because that’s how nuclear fallout works – right?

    “The Cool and the Crazy” – The best ever “marijuana is worse for you than being Hitler” film ever made, and infinitely funnier than “Reefer Madness”, partly because the scriptwriters obviously had their tongues firmly in their cheeks, and quite possibly a joint firmly in their mouths. In addition to which I’m convinced it’s a stealth spoof of “Rebel Without a Cause” – there are so many parallels it’s one hell of a coincidence if it isn’t! And just watch the way they repeatedly use establishing shots to make it seem like a happy accident when a cop randomly happens to be in the same shot as the word “PIG” in very large letters…

    “If…” OK, I lied, this film has two sequels. But the complete and utter insanity of the trilogy is well worth a look, don’t you think? The first one (which is a masterpiece, unlike the other two) was so low-budget that Lindsay Anderson couldn’t afford to finish it in color – how B-movie is that? I went to a school not unlike that. The staff were allowed to physically chastise us with objects up to and including cricket bats, and some of them liked it more than others. And we had a school armored car. Seriously.


    • lyzmadness says:

      None of these have sequels…so if you hate ’em, there aren’t another 15 of the buggers to wade through while loathing every wasted minute.

      Sold! 😀

      All noted, thanks, though I don’t think I have immediate access to any of them.


  5. countottoblack says:

    PS – I forgot to mention that although “If…” isn’t in any way about mad scientists, the less well-known sequel, “O Lucky Man!”, does feature various scientific sub-plots, including mad scientists running a hospital as a cover for their frightful experiments, which is the entire plot of the somewhat obscure third film, “Britannia Hospital”. Which also features Mark Hamill smoking weed. Naughty Skywalker!


  6. countottoblack says:

    Hey Lyz, you owe it to yourself to see “If…”, a movie that begins as a non-weird portrayal of a real-life situation which happens to be very weird indeed, and escalates into absolute bizarreness. It’s also by far the best of the trilogy. It’s not usually counted as a B-movie because that implies a certain lack of quality, but any film which had to be partially shot in black and white because they’d run out of money is automatically in B territory, surely? Also, any film which employs the guerilla method of movie-making has to be somewhat B-ish, and this one was shot under false pretenses at the director’s old school as an act of revenge. By the way, it’s a near-as-dammit remake of a borderline Surreal French film called “Zero de Conduit”, only with a much higher body count. So it’s kind of a trilogy with four parts if you’re going sideways. Oops, there’s more of it than I thought! Sorry…

    I mentioned “The Cool and the Crazy” because “Reefer Madness” has been done to death ever since the idiot Medved brothers invented the sport of watching crap movies ironically, but apart from that demented pianist who looks like Harpo Marx’s even more evil twin, it’s neither all that much fun nor particularly memorable. TC&TC deserves to be more widely known because it’s so much more enjoyable. If you can obtain a copy (not difficult in the UK, so I don’t see why it should be unobtainable in Australia), you might find it useful to watch it back to back with “Rebel Without a Cause”, in the same way that you might do that with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Excalibur” (which, if you haven’t, you should, because “Excalibur” suddenly becomes a whole lot funnier). As a scientist, you will doubtless enjoy comparing the actual effects of smoking marijuana with those portrayed in the film, which include suicidal stupidity, foul body odor, and being sexually attracted to road signs.

    PS – I’m not sure if this strictly counts, but are you aware of the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s surprisingly good version of “The Call of Cthulhu”, which exactly recreates the style of a twenties silent movie? It’s a homage rather than a spoof, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I think you might like to.


  7. Dawn says:

    I recommend Bride of the Gorilla, with Lon Chaney Jr (spoiler alert, he does NOT play the gorilla, but his Spanish accent isn’t that great). Our local channels now have 4 programs on the weekends showing old horror/sci-fi movies – Svengoolie, Off-Beat Cinema, Halloween Harvey’s Festival of Fear, and Horror House. I usually mute the ‘funny’ bits by the show’s hosts, but some of the movies have been terrific. Destination Moon was on last weekend.


    • lyzmadness says:

      Bride Of The Gorilla tends to disappoint people by *not* being the silly bit of fun they’re expecting.

      Thanks for all the thoughts guys, but seriously—I’ve still got about five boxes of old tapes that I’m working through for Et Al., along with my 2007 catch-ups, so I really don’t need more recommendations at this point! 😀


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