Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Monster Of The Week 150: Piper


Monster Of The Week 150 is Piper, the rumours of the cat strangling were greatly exaggerated, loves to play on the moors, full of hot air.

Monster Of The Week is supported by my Patreon, go there for more hot air and playing on the moors.

Monday, December 05, 2022

December Film Catch Up 1

Some films I watched earlier this year but due to my idiosyncratic method of reviewing haven't got to yet.


1. Black Site

In the Jordanian desert is an interrogation facility called The Citadel, run by the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance (the five eyes are the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), also there’s an Israeli representative because (film does not feel the need to explain why, also no Jordanians). Abby Trent, CIA analyst, having lost her husband and daughter to a hospital bombing in Istanbul, volunteers to go there, despite the fact that “not everything is done by the book,” (they torture prisoners) and she’s a by-the-book person. The least by-the-book guy is Miller, a former marine, now a civilian contractor, played as an American by Australian actor Jai Courtney, he could have been an Australian, there’s an Australian intelligence officer (also appearing in this cat-and-mouse you’re-trapped-in-here-with-me movie, hope he makes it to the end), why?

After ten months in The Citadel and three days before her tour ends, a team brings in Hatchet, a legendary terrorist (mercenary? He certainly skips from working for one country or organisation to another) who Abby thinks was involved in the Istanbul hospital bombing. In fact she thinks it wasn’t a bomb, but a drone strike, none of which seems to fit with Hatchet’s MO; he’s a knife guy.

They cut the cameras and let the team who brought him in interrogate Hatchet first, against Abby’s wishes. Obviously this is a trap, Hatchet kills them, escapes, has the Citadel locked down and cuts outside communications and starts hunting people through the tunnels.

There’s twists, turns, betrayals, and a deadline, as the Citadel will be destroyed by drone if out of communication for too long. The film declines to take a position on whether torture is effective or just revenge, or on revenge itself, or on obsession. It does suggest that secrets and betrayal and cleaning up problems violently will go to some dark places, and anyone involved becomes complicit, so there’s that.

Watch This: A quick, efficient, claustrophobic thriller
Don’t Watch This: It’s too dark to enjoy and too shallow to engage with the issues it brings up


2. Bullet To Beijing

Michael Caine is back as iconic 60s spy Harry Palmer in this 1995 film. While watching a demonstration outside the North Korean embassy things turn violent and a Russian scientist is killed. Shortly after Palmer is made redundant due to defence cuts (end of the Cold War).

He’s recruited mysteriously at the Savoy hotel (a bit of hotel business in this, lots of footmen in formal outfits, moderately nice rooms) with $5000 and a plane ticket and goes to St Petersburg where some Chechens immediately try to kill him. There’s a car chase that becomes a boat chase. Eventually he meets his mysterious patron, Alex, who intends to make Russia great again. For now though he’s trying to stop a biological weapon called Alorex being sold to North Korea. He hires Harry to do so.

Harry tracks down all his old contacts, discovers that things have got a bit complicated since the Cold War ended. Eventually he’s given the information that Alorex is being smuggled out on the midnight train – the so-called Bullet To Beijing. He gets on board for some spy-train shenanigans.

Things get complicated, everyone is working for someone else, or has an unexpected relationship, or is lying, or playing both sides. A lot of old spies, having been put out to pasture, have found new work. Harry navigates this with charm, the odd bit of violence, some hidden cleverness and also luck.

Watch This: A spy thriller that marries modern action with old school convolutions and cynicism
Don’t Watch This: The action and plots are awkwardly grafted onto Michael Caine’s veteran, working class intellectual spy


3. Night Of The Living Dead

George Romero’s classic 1968 zombie film. A brother and sister have driven two hundred miles to put a wreath on their father’s grave. As they return to the car they are attacked by a limping, rough-looking man. The brother is killed and the sister runs away, taking shelter in an isolated farmhouse.

Other people join her there as the night draws in and they are surrounded by shambling attackers. The radio and later television explain what’s going on; the dead are coming back to life and eating people. The survivors are divided in what they want to do. The lead male actor is black, which no one directly comments on but does add some tension between him and another character who insists on retreating to the cellar with his daughter, rather than boarding up the windows and doors, which would leave them a chance to escape.

The tension, strangeness and action all ramp up impressively. Many times re-made, referenced, sequeled and parodied, going back to the source* is rewarding for fans of the genre.

Watch This: A tense, seminal horror movie
Don’t Watch This: A bunch of idiots get trapped in in a house by the most boring monsters imaginable

* Especially this, a nice clean print, better than the previous time I saw it.


4. Happy Birthday To Me

At Crawford Academy there is an elite clique of students known as the “Top 10” who mostly go to the Silent Woman tavern and act like arseholes, also make stupid bets and dares. One of these is jumping a rising bridge in their cars (and motorbike) which freaks out Ginny. It turns out she was in an accident on the bridge and had experimental brain surgery.

Meanwhile another of the girls is attacked and killed. Everyone notices she’s gone missing but no one is very excited, as break-ins, fake deaths, buried skulls etc. all turn out to be pranks. The middle section of the film is all about these as dead-ends and false leads abound while the Top 10 act like complete fools. Meanwhile Ginny starts to recover memories.

This was a “video nasty” back in the day, banned in the UK. It’s a fair slasher film, a bit too in love with twists and fake outs. There are a couple of fairly unpleasant kills and some rather confused hints at sexual abuse which I guess is what did for it. Sadly I’m not sure we missed out on much (though to be fair I would have been a tiny child when it came out so I would have missed it anyway).

Watch This: It’s a creepy slasher film about arrogant students
Don’t Watch This: It’s just a creepy slasher film about arrogant students


5. Out Of The Dark

Suite Dreams is a phone fantasy line (everyone who doesn’t work there calls it a phone sex line) staffed by aspiring actresses in Los Angeles. One of the women who works there is murdered and one of the callers, who goes by the name Bobo, is suspected. The killer wears a clown mask.

So it’s an erotic thriller slasher film. There’s a young cool photographer and an old drunk photographer and a creepy accountant who are suspects, and a pair of jaded detectives. And a bunch of good looking girls with sexy voices,  and some twists and turns. There are a couple of good bits, how the women all want to make it big in acting, and they’re all auditioning for commercials. There’s several nude scenes but there’s more talking about sex, cleverly making the film actually sexier by describing rather than showing, and undercutting it as the moment the women get off the line they’ve got other things to worry about (being stalked and killed).

It's generally exactly what it sounds like, but several scenes do lift it above a bog-standard thriller. For example there’s another serial killer, who’s murdering sex workers, and there’s a bit of competition for resources between the detectives and the one who has that case, and an argument over one of the murders over whose case it’s related to. Someone has done a bit more than needed and it shows.

Watch This: For a superior erotic thriller
Don’t Watch This: In the end it’s a mixture of cheap sleaze and cheaper tension


6. Invasion Of The Bee Girls

The town of Peckham, California has two main industries, a canning plant and a laboratory that does government-sponsored research. When a bacteriologist dies the State Department sends a agent to make sure it’s a natural death. However on arrival it seems he’s been shagged* to death and he’s not the only one. The agent gains a sidekick, the laboratory’s librarian, a hot actress made up plainly with her hair severely tied back and slightly unflattering spectacles.

The scientists apparently do a bit of wife swapping and other promiscuous sex games, because they’re all horny and in the middle of nowhere (though not that much, later one of them is going to drive down to LA to give a lecture later the same morning). Calling a meeting, the laboratory’s sex researcher suggests that the town abstain from sexual intercourse, which the union rep loudly dismisses. Obviously he’s later killed by shagging, as is the sex researcher.

In a twist, while the agent is searching the sex researcher’s home, he discovers a secret sex room (dim lights, furry furniture, aquariums etc. Who will be feeding the fish now he’s dead?) There he meets his lover and discovers that the sex researcher was gay. “Could he make it with a woman?” he asks. The lover says no. Always the last to know, am I right?

The agent calls the secretary of state late at night from a phone box, to ask for the town to be quarantined**. Because he’s trying to keep it secret he sends the librarian back to the car, where three guys try to rape her in revenge for the men being shagged to death, a plan that fortunately is foiled.

Eventually we get to see the bee-girling process; a woman is stripped naked by other women wearing lab coats (and nothing else), slathered in white goo, stuck in a bee chamber and covered in bees, then cleaned off and dosed with radiation. They get black eyes, compound vision and the occasional desire to mate until their male partner dies of a heart attack. The film is approximately as silly as it sounds.

Watch This: A silly bee-themed science fiction horror film
Don’t Watch This: It tries to get serious, and also sexy and is frankly stupid

* The film uses the term “balled” when speaking colloquially.

** This has another of the film’s uses of (I think) Telex machines, which unfortunately are almost unreadable due to the poor quality of the film print.


7. Dalekmania

A 1995 documentary about the two big-screen Amicus produced Dr Who films, Dr Who And The Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD. There are both new interviews and archive ones, some talk of how popular both the films and Dr Who were, and the iconic status of the Dalek. Inessential but interesting look at the short-lived film series.

Watch This: For some fun background of the Dr Who films of the 60s
Don’t Watch This: The only thing worse than Dr Who is people talking about Dr Who


8. Uncharted

Nathan Drake is a bartender and thief who gets caught up in a world-spanning plot to find Magellan’s gold. They don’t really engage in the places they visit (New York, Barcelona, The Philippines) they’re backdrops, often showing the contrast between modernity and the five hundred year old artefacts and structures they are searching for.

Everyone is betraying everyone else, which they mostly take in their stride, enjoying it when someone’s outwitted. One exception is when the villain for most of the film is murdered by his hired mercenary, and everything gets a bit more dangerous; from likely being arrested as the penalty for failure with traps and tricks being the lethal threats, it become a lot more shooty.

Is there a point to this slick adventure, an adaption of a video game that apes Lara Croft, in turn inspired by Indiana Jones and so back to the serials and the pulps? I liked it when it was a heist, and I liked it when they were going through tunnels under Barcelona, especially when their route led them to a bar built into a five-hundred-year-old vault. That no one has dug down into their cellar for the other bits for that long is a bit of a stretch, or to put it another way, who’s been maintaining all those mechanisms?

But this is to complain about a genre trope older than I am*. My actual complaint is that our heroes are equally reprehensible as our villains, not just in their actions – murder, theft, betrayal, armed robbery, destruction of antiquities etc. – but also in their motives, which are money, sprinkled a little with family connections (to the money) and a love of adventure. It’s a bright, fun, amusing adventure about people destroying priceless cultural artefacts to get gold to sell!

Some of the set pieces look like they might make good video game levels. 

Watch This: There’s some good stunts and a couple of clever twists
Don’t Watch This: The film is full of charts, in fact opens on a globe on the back of Atlas** for Atlas Entertainment


* Still, look for the paper Economics of the Trap-making Cultures of the Borneo Highlands, the upper Amazon and Ethiopia to make sense of it.

** Look, the sphere Atlas carries on his back is a celestial globe, a star chart, to represent the heavens he is holding up. If you have the earth on his back then he’s holding up the heavens with his feet, which is weird and non-canonical.


9. The Mutations

Professor Nolter (Donald Pleasance) is a biochemist at Imperial College. In one of his lectures he suggests that in 10 years time a dinosaur could be recreated from genetic material* thanks to “the mystery of nucleic acids”. Working with him is Lynch (Tom Baker) half of Lynch and Burns who run a freak show of people with genetic abnormalities currently in Battersea Park.

Nolter intends to try to create photosynthetic humans, thinking that without the need for food it will end war. Despite speaking approvingly of Lysenko he’s made some progress, though the plant that eats rabbits is actually the opposite of what he’s trying to do.

Nolter’s lectures are fairly basic, presumably as we in the audience are not expected to be familiar with carnivorous plants or genetics, though his students seem fairly advanced and mature. They include Tony, who has a car and thinks Nolter is nuts (“cloning, not clowning,” Nolter says when Tony mocks his work, perhaps the best joke of the film), Brian, an American Fulbright scholar, Heidi, Lauren and Bridget. For some reason Nolter has Lynch kidnap his students to use as subjects for his experiments, which seems a bit reckless, and then when it goes wrong displays them at his freakshow, which seems even more so.

The film revels in weirdness, distastefully putting the real people with disabilities next to the prosthetic-covered Tom Baker and the weird plant/animal hybrids. It also like a bit of nudity, though only for the female characters for some reason. At one point Lynch visits a sex worker whose sign reads “young model gives dancing lessons to strict tempo” which I found funny for personal reasons. Also as an alumnus of Imperial College**, there was some fun seeing them in Beit Quad and Prince Consort Road, as well as other familiar looking bits of West London.

Watch This: Some grotesquery lifted by a couple of good performances
Don’t Watch This: Melding humans and plants goes wrong exactly as you might expect

* Presumably contemporary in 1974, this prediction was a little out, as Jurassic Park did not come out until 1993.

** IC seem to have covered up Nolter’s escapades as I heard not even a whisper of a rumour when I was there.


10. The Tingler

Vincent Price is a doctor researching the effects of fear. It seems there is a parasite in everybody that compresses the spine when they are afraid, but the tension can be released by screaming. He calls it “the tingler”.

When a deaf mute woman is scared to death he manages to capture a tingler, it’s a lobster sized bug. But the woman’s husband has murdered her and scared her to death.

Thanks to the other plot (Price is married to a rich heiress who is cheating on him, but as she controls the money there’s nothing he can do; her younger sister is dating Price’s assistant but the heiress disapproves) the tingler escapes and gets into the move theatre the man and late deaf wife own. There’s a little fourth wall breaking that doesn’t work sixty years later watching it on a TV screen rather than in a cinema specially equipped with “tingler” devices under some of the seats.

Watch This: For a curiosity of a horror film combining two different unhappy marriages with a bizarre monster in a surprisingly satisfying manner
Don’t Watch This: Unless you’re in the cinema and have a tingler under your seat