Nightbeast (1982)

Nightbeast (1982) VHS cover

director  Don Dohler
viewed: 02/19/2018

I enjoyed The Alien Factor so much, I jumped right in and watched Don Dohler’s Nightbeast!

Between The Alien Factor and 1982, Dohler sharpened his skills across the board. Nightbeast starts out with some nice visual effects of a spaceship coming from another planet and crashing on Earth. In Maryland. In the same cast of characters from The Alien Factor played by the same exact people.

Well, Don Leifert, the most interesting guy in The Alien Factor is this time a motorcycle thug named Drago. The sheriff (Tom Griffith with a supreme perm), the mayor, the doctor and the coroner are all the same folks. With a couple new young ladies thrown in.

Nightbeast, though, is full-on gore stuff, unlike the earlier film. And though there is only one beast in this film, he gets up to a lot of laserblasting and disembowelment and other good stuff. And also there is superfluous nudity (the new young ladies and Tom Griffith’s butt).

More than all the spice, the film has a much more action-packed pace. Dohler, as I mentioned, seemed to have learned a lot in the interim. Well, not enough to direct a super-awkward sex scene.

It’s kind of funny that the best actor, Leifert, gets a sort of not so interesting role, and that the dullest of the cast, Griffith, is essentially the star and hero.

Who am I kidding? The Nightbeast is the real star and all of the great practical effects and designs that Dohler pulled off.

The Alien Factor (1978)

The Alien Factor (1978) VHS cover

director  Don Dohler
viewed: 02/19/2018

Oh, man, the monsters! Awesome DIY monster aliens. Not just one but four!

Don Dohler’s first cinematic effort, The Alien Factor is totally elevated by his inventive creatures and effects.

An alien craft crashes in rural Maryland and sets loose three killer beasts. The sheriff and county coroner are in over their heads while the mayor tries to keep it all on the down-low so his big amusement park plan doesn’t get derailed.

Lucky for everyone, grouchy know-it-all, Ben Zachary (Don Leifert) shows up and not only can he somehow communicate with a dying alien, he’s got the tech and know-how to take down the critters.

The creatures are the total highlights, in particular the stilt monster and total points for a nicely crafted stop-motion beast, though oddly translucent.

Honestly, if I had seen this as a kid I would have loved it. Don Dohler clearly had a love for horror and science fiction and The Alien Factor transcends his otherwise local friend cast and first time DIY low-budget film creation.

Loved it and the great little twist at the end.

Body Snatchers (1993)

Body Snatchers (1993) movie poster

director Abel Ferrara
viewed: 05/08/2016

Abel Ferrara’s 1993 Body Snatchers, the third cinematic version of Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi novel, is a tight and effective film, if not quite achieving the greatness of either Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) or Philip Kaufman’s 1978 re-make.

Ferrara trims the title down and moves the invasion to a military base in the South and frames the story through the eyes of a young woman, Marti (Gabrielle Anwar).  Body Snatchers is effectively shot and produced, with particularly nice cinematography.  The best scene is when Anwar is in the bathtub and tendrils creep down from the ceiling, entering her nose and mouth, attempting to infiltrate and consume her.

This was one of only a couple of films Ferrara would make with a major studio, one apparently that the studio (Warner Bros.) buried upon release.  Notably, Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon have story and screenwriting credits here too.

For all its earnestness, and even though it’s actually pretty good, it’s also not overly memorable.

The poster image is pretty cool though.

The Trollenberg Terror (1958)

The Trollenberg Terror (1958) movie poster

director Quentin Lawrence
viewed: 01/16/2016

I love me some 1950’s sci-fi.  And with weird alien monsters?  I’m in like Flynn.

Though I’ve no idea how The Trollenberg Terror (a.k.a. The Crawling Eye) eluded me all my life, I’m glad that we’ve finally met.

Produced in the UK apparently from a television show of the same name and concept, it’s a rather bizarre bit of fantasy science, with a highly-perched observatory in the Swiss Alps (oddly with one sealable window) where by random chance a radioactive cloud takes up shop on a nearby peak.  A confluence of characters including an English reporter, a team of psychic performers, and a “UN troubleshooter” show up to see just what’s decapitating hikers of late.

Of course!  It’s giant tentacled eye monsters from outer space who can only live at higher elevations (they had been spotted before South America).  These eye monsters look not a whole lot like their American poster representations and are ultimately upended by the plucky earthlings and molotov cocktails.

So, it’s not by any means the best 1950’s science fiction, but it’s quite entertaining, and surprisingly well-produced.  I tracked down the version I found online and so the print quality/stream quality was a bit deficient.  I’ve been experimenting with alternative online content sources.  Not sure yet how this goes.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) movie poster

director Gene Fowler Jr.
viewed: 01/08/2016

I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a fascinating B-picture.  It comes from director Gene Fowler Jr, fresh off his work on I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) (I love those first person declarative titles), and stars the very cute Gloria Talbott as the declarative bride and brooding young star Tom Tyron as the monster in human form.

While its closest obvious parallels are straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I Married a Monster from Outer Space shifts the alien invasion of human replicants decidedly to the domestic front.  In Invasion, people are being replaced by unemotional drone-like pod people, a broader cultural critique, whichever way you interpret it.  In I Married, the invasion is primarily in the home and bedroom, though where it broadens out is in a small town’s entire male world.

The aliens of the film turn out to come from a dying world, one in which all females have already perished.  Their plan for Earth is to take over human male bodies and impregnate women, perpetuating their species.

Tryon plays Bill Farrell, the first man captured, the night before his wedding to Marge (Talbott).  From their wedding night onward, Marge knows something is awry.  They aren’t succeeding in making a baby.  And when Bill acts strangely, she follows him and discovers his secret.  Only, a lot of key male roles in the town have been also replaced, the chief of police and a number of officers as well.

The film is replete with text and subtext critiquing marriage as an institution, from the men at the bar avoiding their wives to the Farrell’s broken home life.  Marge finds herself in a horror film, not a 1950’s family sit-com where the nuclear family resolves all.  It’s quite subversive in calling out the institutions that the Fifties are so well-known for touting.

Further than that, Bill’s world is also a hell.  Tryon and Talbott bring great pathos to their roles.  Bill doesn’t know how to love: He’s an alien whose species has never felt such a thing.  But he comes to learn of it, through his time with Marge, if only to an extent.  So, he’s quite sympathetic in the context of the film, if the other aliens are more ruthless.

There is a queer subtext as well.  You could read Bill as gay literally or metaphorically.  Tryon was a closeted gay actor at the time he played the role.  The internal alienation that both husband and wife suffer through in the film is something that I think could make for ripe analysis, perhaps in a variety of interpretations.

It’s not nearly the spectacular film that Don Siegel’s Invasion is, but it’s a very interesting and provocative flick.  How much of this subtext was intentional critique, subversive messaging, who knows?  It’s easily readable that way today.

It also features some cheap but effectively gruesome FX, when the monsters are finally killed, dissolving into a mess of putrescence.  It’s also almost shockingly gory for the time.

A really, really interesting flick.  Also available on YouTube from the Paramount Vault.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) movie poster

director Philip Kaufman
viewed: 09/27/2015

It’s tempting to think that every generation gets its own Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Though it’s really this version of the film that even brought that into being, the first re-make of the original adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers”.  The 1956 film by Don Siegel, echoed explicitly here in Philip Kaufman’s re-make, loaded with Red Scare paranoia of one kind or another was certainly a thing of the 1950’s.  But what is the working metaphor here, in the late 1970’s?

Whatever the subtext, Kaufman’s film is a terrific horror tale, developing the scares and paranoias through a subtly building freak-out where the regular people are getting replaced with vegetable doppelgangers, lacking emotion, but able to accusingly point and howl menacingly as all get out.

The film stars Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, features a cruel pop-psychiatrist Leonard Nimoy, a young Jeff Goldblum and an always evocative Veronica Cartwright.  And, perhaps notable as well, a damp and gray late 1970’s San Francisco, whose muted exteriors are not the stuff of postcards but of mundane nightmares.  Vividly captured as well.

Kevin McCarthy, star of the 1956 film and Don Siegel, director of that classic, both appear in brief cameos, McCarthy’s as an almost continuum of where the older film left him in 1956 suddenly still freaking out on cars threatening the doom of “They’re coming!  They’re coming!” like that was all he’d been doing for 22 years.  Siegel interestingly has joined the dark side as a cabbie with ulterior motives.

So it’s not Communism, nor is it the fear of the Red-baiting Commie haters. It’s a gelatinous space seed blown on solar winds, not seemingly tied to one ideology or another.

The effects are more gruesome, in full color, though not necessarily the key to making this film compelling.  The most striking image of the film (perhaps besides the howling, pointing people) is the human-faced dog, a thing of nightmares.  This freaky image seems to have been handled in the most simplistic of ways.  It seems a mask of a human face on an actual dog, and the kicker, the creepiest moment, when the dog’s tongue runs out of the mouth and licks its face, it was probably just a dog…licking the mask.  Still, so effectively edited in, it’s a standout shocker to this day.

Kaufman’s Invasion is rich and eerie work.  Subtext or no.

Creature (1985)

Creature (1985) movie poster

director William Malone
viewed: 09/25/2015

Of all the Alien (1979) knock-offs in all the solar systems of the world…

Actually, after completing re-watching the Alien series a few years back, I got kind of interested in the Alien knock-offs.  I did get around to watching both Galaxy of Terror (1981) and Forbidden World (1982), both Roger Corman productions with various strengths and weaknesses.  Ultimately, I kind of petered out on the subject before getting to them all.

Creature, though, is most certainly an Alien rip-off, rather unabashedly, though also rather abysmally.  What Alien had going in originality, style, design, and production value, Creature has…well, none of those things.

In a race for mining rights on the moon Titan, a German team and a US team land in a race to land first dibs.  What they land first dibs on is death at the hand of an ancient monster, stuck in some hibernation sleep for hundreds of millennia.   On top of a very poor man’s version of the Alien monster, it also has a parasitic brain thing that allows it to reanimate corpses and use human trickery to lure unknowing spacefolk to various forms of death.

This is a D-list film with a C-list cast.  The biggest star is an old and avidly screen-chewing Klaus Kinski as an (unsurprisingly) evil German spaceman.  It also features Lyman Ward (the dad from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) anyone?) as well as Diane Salinger (Simone from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)), the latter as the big tough space army broad.

As amazingly cheap as this film is, it’s not entirely unappealing.  With a knowing nod to The Thing from Another World (1951), it also in other ways echoes of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965) an admitted influence on the 1979 Alien.

My experience with the Alien knock-offs has yet to have me recommend the venture, nor to complete it myself.

The Day of the Triffids (1962)

Day of the Triffids (1962) movie poster

director Steve Sekely
viewed: 10/24/2014

I’ve read about the movie The Day of the Triffids probably since I’ve been reading.  I’ve read some references to the film as being one of “the great British horror films” and conversely, I’ve read that it was camp silliness.  Either way, it was just one of those movies that I’ve always wanted to see but the fates had yet to allow the planets to align just so that such a thing could happen.

Along comes Fandor.  And oddly enough, probably out of some personal kismet, this was one of the tipping point films for me to sign up for Fandor.  From what I’d read, this would seem like a good movie for kids’ night Halloween horror fest and so…that’s what we (I) chose.

It begins with a voice-over, telling us that the story is a flashback of sorts, about these strange plants, these “triffids” (like orchids, I suppose) that came to Earth on meteors and who manage to get “activated” by a later meteor shower, one of the most significant meteor showers ever, which people all over the planet watch.

The meteor shower’s wake is two-fold.  The triffids pull themselves up by their roots, and these weird giant plants start going around, zapping people with poison and then consuming them.  The other side effect of the shower is that anyone who watched it is suddenly blind.  So the only people who can see are the random people who failed to take interest in mother nature’s light show, the sick, imprisoned, infirm.  Of course, if you’re blind, it makes it that much harder to escape a triffid.

Certainly, the idea of killer plants from outer space has some inherent camp value.  That said, the film-makers get some solid menace from these crawling, looming, faceless terrors.  Whether trapped in a lighthouse, an isolated farm, or wherever you may be, the triffids’ll get ya.  It’s pretty sprightly good fun.

Felix zonked out on us really early (as he is often wont to do), but Clara and I both really enjoyed the movie.  I guess, from what I’ve read, that the film deviated from the novel from which it was taken, causing a typical rift with fans of the original material (later versions of the film were made for television).  I don’t know.  I haven’t read it.  But I liked the movie.  I even liked (vaguely knew this was coming) how the downfall of the triffids is salt water.  They melt pretty cool too.

This film adds to my growing appreciation for 1960’s British science fiction/horror.  The 1950’s were the heyday of American sci-fi, but the British films of the 1960’s offer slightly more intelligent narratives, but hanging from some similar motifs. It’s cool stuff so far.  Kudos to ye olde triffids.

Lifeforce (1985)

Lifeforce (1985) movie poster

Tobe Hooper
viewed: 05/12/2014

I for one welcome of sexy naked space vampire overlords.

I wish I could tell you how many The Cannon Group/Golan-Globus production movies I saw back in the day.  It’s funny because “back in the day,” I was between 11-17 in the years that the Israeli cousin team of  Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus produced B-movies up the yin-yang, so I don’t know what I knew about movies that I didn’t learn from Sneak Previews with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, but I knew when I saw that logo and saw those names, the film would be of a particular ilk and quality

Back in 1985, though,  who knew that Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires would wind up a long-time personal favorite?

The movie poster, I’ve always thought, was pretty cool.  The open eyeball juxtaposed above the planet Earth.  I liked that.  But really, I don’t doubt, it came in large part from the glorious nakedness of French actress and space vampire Mathilda May.  She’s ravishing, just this side of perfect of Nastassja Kinski.  And she wears not a shred of clothing through most of the movie.  (I was 16. Gimmie a break.)

The film though offers a lot more than Miss May.  It’s co-written by Alien (1979) scribe Dan O’Bannon and really is a sort of a post-Alien sci-fi horror film, even with echoes of Planet of the Vampires (1965).

It starts with an Earth spaceship encountering a giant hidden ship within Haley’s Comet (timely! at the time).  Inside this H.R. Giger (R.I.P.)-knock-off alien ship, are three encased nude people (the important one being the girl, of course).  When these beings end up on Earth, they unleash a lifeforce-sucking vampirism that sets all of London in a doomed apocalyptic tizzy.

There are some excellent zombie creature/corpse effects.  Really, really cool stuff, I assume the work of notable John Dykstra.

I’m not as a-swoon over it as I was as a teen but I still think it’s great stuff.

It also features a pre-Picardian Patrick Stewart and some other notable turns by Aubrey Morris and Peter Firth.  And as for Tobe Hooper, he may never have re-achieved his visceral horror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) but he did make some good movies.

TerrorVision (1986)

TerrorVision (1986) movie poster

director Ted Nioclao
viewed: 111/26/2013

A horror film about satellite television.  Well, a horror-comedy, at least.

This was one that sat on just about every local video shop shelf through the latter half of the 1980’s.  The poster/cover image is appealing and intriguing.  But overall, it wasn’t until re-delving into it just now that it all came back to me that yes indeed I did see this film before.  A friend of mine, another 1980’s horror aficionado, told me he held a soft spot in his heart for this one.

I can see that.  I can also see that the production values on most of this film would have put it in the nearly made-for-television qualities in a certain part.  But it has some entertaining monster effects and heavy doses of the sillies.

See, in far out outer space, a garbage dump through electronic projection shoots an insatiable, gruesome, absorbing thing through to the satellite dish of a kooky family in the US of A.  Mom and Dad are swingers (Mary Woronov plays the Mom).  Sis is a Cyndi Lauper-like punk teen with a dopey, goofy punk boyfriend, and granddad has little Sherman watching old horror movies and stockpiling weapons in their “safe room”.  There is also an amusing horror show hostess, Medusa, as it all goes down.

I watched this “on demand” from one of the channels and sadly it wasn’t letterboxed, but you know, it was probably pan-and-scan when I’d seen it before on VHS.

It’s made me think a couple of things.  One, that I maybe should develop a category for “Tres 80’s” or something because this one comes from the heart of the decade.  And secondly, before Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Oklahoma City bombing, characters that stockpiled weapons were comic foils, harmless kooks, with obsessions that were all laughed off.  But like Michael Gross and Reba McEntire in Tremors (1990), old granddad here in TerrorVision is a throwback anomaly of popular culture.