“Well, it’s no Krull,” correctly read the original tagline to director Fritz Kiersch’s adaptation of John Norman’s maligned fantasy books, Gor. Ok, it didn’t, though if the publicity had been honest, it would have also added: “But it does have a pissed-up Oliver Reed mauling the scenery, that vaguely Middle-Eastern guy who played The Mummy as a college jock with sweater tied around his neck and Jack Palance looking as if he’s lost on his way to a better film”.
So, yes. Somehow this blog has never covered what’s new on Netflix, which is more than a little odd, considering the high quantity of pure bilge and cult cinematic gold lurking beneath the quality dramas, taboo-busting comedies and resurrected cancelled TV favourites the streaming site is better known for. Anyway, Gor’s been added this month and, unsurprisingly, it turns out to be bargain bucket escapism for the average eighties sexist nerd.
Urbano Barberini, whom you’ll recognise from Dario Argento’s Opera, plays our hero, an American professor magically teleported to the distant planet Gor, where he must dress like a skinny Conan and rescue the scantily-clad brothel workers from Oliver Reed’s otherworldly mega-pimp, Sarm. With production values inferior to even, say, The Roller Blade Seven (look it up; I challenge you to make it through the whole film), generally poor performances and uncomfortable tit-tery at every turn, Reed’s presumably unscripted giggling fit halfway into this swords-and-sorcery calamity seems the only logical reaction to this particular career choice.
Produced in 1990, three years after Gor, Michael Winner and Birds Of A Feather writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s otherwise entirely different (though equally dire) alleged comedy Bullseye! is just as 80s-bound. Stars Sir Roger Moore and Sir Michael Caine (their knighthoods surely will be rescinded following this monstrosity’s DVD re-release) play two identical duos – one a pair of corrupt nuclear physicists, the other two small-time con-men using their likenesses to carry out a diamond heist.
Some of you that have seen Winner’s final film Parting Shots (if so, why do this to yourself?) will recognise the words ‘black comedy crime caper’ and choke back a little bit of sick, though if we’re going to get through this, we need to press on, okay? Bullseye! is just weird. Picture running jokes about wife-killing that never, ever raise the glimmer of a smile. Think terrible slapstick fist-fights, equally terrible, though somehow brilliant, theme tune, and a Patsy Kensit cameo that isn’t quite as bad as the John Cleese cameo later on. Add the fact the film’s title comes from Michael Caine’s character being pretty good at darts and you get the gist.
Now, we move on from the monstrously bad to the plain monstrous (sorry; segues are in short supply this month), with the return of the classic Universal Studios monster Gill-Man to DVD in Creature From The Black Lagoon. Endlessly listed alongside the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy and The Wolf Man, like the Hawkeye of his group, our amphibious associate’s actual film appearances lack a certain something, paling in comparison to his peers, even on this, Jack Arnold’s best of the Lagoon trilogy.
This 1954 first appearance features the best version of our scaly, Amazon-dwelling, local-nabbing antagonist (the Poundland equivalents in the sequels are lacking on every front), as he is captured for scientific research, only to realise he kind of fancies the researcher’s female assistant, so makes his move. Needless to say, fish-lips and murderous violence don’t do it for her, so the norms have to set things straight.
I like to think a parallel dimension features the film presented as an oddball romance in the vein of Harold And Maude, though sadly not here as square-jawed Richard Carlson does his thing. Some great and genuinely chilling images aside, Creature From The Black Lagoon sadly more often falls into the laughably camp side of the horror genre.
Some sixtyish years later, we’re treated to infinitely better makeup and a devilishly clever premise from legendary effects guru Stan Winston’s protégé, Tom Woodruff Jr., whose debut directing effort, Fire City: End Of Days – out now on DVD – is a deeply imaginative take on film noir with a fantastic bent.
With Woodruff the veteran, Academy Award-winning special effects bloke from films as varied as Predator, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Jumanji and, erm, the presumably superb Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (the first was genuinely fun, by the way), unsurprisingly, the standout feature in Fire City has to be the stunning creature effects. He paints a vivid world where demons live beside humanity in relative harmony, staying alive by feeding off of people’s misery.
Tobias Jelinek plays our horny (soz) gumshoe, hunting down a serial killer of demonkind, whom, it turns out is just making the humans happy, meaning there isn’t quite enough misery to go around. With a classic femme fatale being a literal devil between the sheets and bad guys clearly auditioning for bit parts in the Hellblazer comics, Fire City is often great genre cinema. The script could do with a little fine-tuning and the acting behind many layers of face-paint often comes across as wooden, though with an original idea and general execution this good, it almost doesn’t matter.
It’s back to the prosthetics briefly now with the welcome return of none-more-cult seventies BBC sci-fi favourite Doomwatch, taking its first ever bow in a DVD box-set including all of the remaining episodes the Beeb decided to not delete the masters of. Following a team of government scientists tasked with averting nuclear, technological, bacteriological and other ogical disasters, this groundbreaking classic ran for three series (1970-1972) and featured real-life scientific developments, imagining their implications.
A distant (though less traumatic) relative of the likes of Barry Hines’ nuclear winter-in-Sheffield childhood-destroyer Threads, this often brilliant combination of actual research, stock footage and flights of fancy (the aforementioned shit prosthetics involve, wonderfully, a chicken with the head of a man) has a relentlessly sombre tone, even in the most ridiculous of situations. This is accentuated by an almost total lack of incidental music, which is sometimes striking (the aftermath of a main character’s departure particularly well-handled), though the show is often also unintentionally hilarious – Simon Oates as womanising Ridge surely must have been a key influence on Darkplace’s Lucien Sanchez.
With great 70s outfits (cast members would egg each other on to out-Austin Powers each other) offsetting the seriousness of a stoic John Paul ideally cast as our emotionally burdened leader of the team, the balance is perfect, between subtly creepy science terror and guffaw-inducing shakey-set silliness. Or, just skip the last few paragraphs and judge whether you want to see this from the following quote: “The rats have killed three people in Brentford.”
Erm… speaking of the early 70s (ahem), we move swiftly from cheapo British TV to similarly cheapo Pam Grier Blaxploitation flick Black Mama White Mama (out this month on Blu-ray), alternately known as Women in Chains, Chained Women and Hot, Hard and Mean, which tells you all you need to know, really. Basically, Pam and Karen (Margaret Markov) get their baps out whilst incarcerated for prostitution and terrorism respectively in a central American prison. It’s in the shower and it’s all soapy. They then escape and are chained together, Midnight-Run-style, in handcuffs whilst on the lam.
Marketed as a kind of soft-porn thriller, it’s a shame that it’s so cack-handedly executed, as there’s a decent story about guerrilla warfare and friendship forged in adversity lurking somewhere beneath the tits and guns here. Grier, dependable as ever, is a watchable lead though Black Mama White Mama is too often too stupid, a charge that couldn’t be levelled at Exorcist writer William Peter Blatty’s batshit yet thoughtful The Ninth Configuration, also out on Blu-ray this month.
Adapted from his own novel, Twinkle Twinkle, Killer Kane, Blatty also directs this 1980 curio following inpatients at a secretive US military psychiatric hospital as they muse on the existence of god whilst indulging in varied pursuits, from putting on a canine version of Julius Caesar through to getting beaten up in local biker bars. Starting out as a sometimes LOL-worthy (“I know my rights – I want to see my urologist”), sometimes wilfully odd farce showing the comic side of mental illness, things soon get heavier as we delve into theological debate between our charismatic leads Stacey Keach and Scott Wilson (Herschel from The Walking Dead).
With some stunning imagery brought to life by Gerry Fisher’s skilful cinematography, we are treated to a Herzogian dream-like version of reality both beautiful and perplexing, much like Blatty’s confusing, uneven film (even with the extensive extras), perhaps the dictionary definition of an heroic failure (although actually, maybe that honour goes to Zardoz).
But anyway – who wants philosophising when you can have classic horror pastiche, Bryan Yuzna’s demented take on H.P Lovecraft’s already demented work and deadpan one-liners from the great Jeffrey Combs? You know the score – Bride Of Re-Animator, the sequel to Yuzna and Stuart Gordon’s horror-gore-comedy classic Re-Animator, gets a Blu-ray re-release this month, and that should please any right-thinking reader.
While not quite as inspired as the first film in the trilogy, there is plenty here in this missing link between Psycho, Bride Of Frankenstein and eighties splatter movies to chew on. Picking up where the first film left off, our two (one mad, one misguided) scientists are now volunteering in the Peruvian civil war as it provides enough dead bodies for them to try their glow-in-the-dark re-animating goo on. Of course, things don’t go too well and we return to America for more of the same hijinks as before.
With Combs on top eye-brow raising form and the scene-stealing special effects ramped up a notch, this ridiculously OTT sequel’s lurid colours and outlandish action is brought gruesomely to life in all its Blu-ray glory. Oh, and we love Krull here, by the way, in case you were worried.
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