Evils of the Night (1985)

Evils of the Night (1985) movie poster

director Mardi Rustam
viewed: 03/10/2018

Evils of the Night, director Mardi Rustam takes 1950s Z-movie concept and makes it in the mid-1980s with washed up (read: no longer prime time) celebrities and porn stars. What could go wrong?

Let me break it down for you: Julie Newmar (Me-oW!) and Tina Louise, both tall and still very attractive in their 50s, are aliens with campy outfits, along with John Carradine (also an alien) who’ve come to Earth to sap blood and try to find a cure for their dying race. John Carradine appears in a Ziggy Stardust outfit I hope they buried him in.

They’ve chosen this rather obscure college town during summer due to bad planning and are abducting the nubile and horny for their experiments. Well, the aliens have subcontracted Aldo Ray and Neville Brand, two greasy mechanics, to do their actual abducting, paying them off in gold coins.

Some of these nubiles include porn stars Amber Lynn and Jerry Butler, who seem not to have shot their scenes alongside any other cast members.

If you think this mixture of low-IQ, throwback science fiction, horror, and copious flesh seems like it wouldn’t jell into something consistent, you’d be correct. The movie seems to annoy folks quite a bit, but I found it amusing.

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther (2018) movie poster

director Ryan Coogler
viewed: 02/25/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

“A kid from Oakland walking around and believing in fairy tales.” This may describe writer/director Ryan Coogler as a kid, though these are the words he gave N’Jadaka to say about his childhood fantasies of Wakanda. But it also may describe many children to come, having been instilled with a fairy tale to which they can relate, Marvel’s superhero Black Panther.

Black Panther is a superhero movie like no other, none especially of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. As much as Disney and Marvel have allowed directors to add their character and tonality to the movies and franchises that they’ve crafted, Coogler has gone leaps beyond that and has made something not just personal but ideological, creating a world within Marvel’s universe of an idealized, though flawed, politicized metaphor and heroic figures very different from the norm of typical cultural and ethnic diversity of their fleet of characters.

No other Marvel enterprise has striven to be anything more than entertainment. Coogler has given the world something much more rare and still developing in its significance. He has deeply imbued Black Panther with a cultural awareness of not just African-American identity but identity within the whole of the African diaspora. Coogler also offers a healthier image of feminist identity in superhero garb than even one single frame of Wonder Woman.

When the film opened in Coogler’s hometown of Oakland, local reporter and native Bay Area son, Peter Hartlaub, was on scene at the Grand Lake Theater to witness not just the latest blockbuster, but a cultural happening, one that Coogler himself parachuted in for at the last minute, surprising movie-goers.

All this is not  to say that Black Panther is wholly successful even as the genre film it is. Some of the plot elements are stronger while some are more shaky. The same could be said for some of the visual design and digital effects. As interesting a conflict as arises out of  N’Jadaka’s resentment toward T’Challa and Wakanda, I didn’t feel that Michael B. Jordan’s character was as well-developed as he could have been.

But Black Panther is going to be so much more than its shortcomings.

And at the end of the day, I’ll take as much Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, and Leticia Wright (my favorite of the film), as Coogler will give us.

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.

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Deep Blue Sea (1999) movie poster

director  Renny Harlin
viewed: 02/04/2018

Deep Blue Sea is the shark flick where the sharks become smarter than the script. They learn to swim backwards for starters and develop a flair for the dramatic with their vengeance.

Deep Blue Sea is also a movie whose silliness is so outsized that somehow it winds up being stupidly fun despite pretensions of action and excitement. It’s hard to say if Renny Harlin and crew embraced the ridiculous or just blindly achieved ridiculousness on their own.

Because, yes, that Samuel L. Jackson speech scene. Because, yes, Stellan Skarsgård on a gurney against improbable physics. Because, yes, the parrot. Because, yes, a lot of practical shark effects. Because, yes, those digital shark effects have aged poorly.

I’m willing to bet for all the shark movies that have come since 1999, that Deep Blue Sea may actually be the most entertaining, stupidly but entertaining, of the lot.

Kin-dza-dza! (1986)

Kin-dza-dza! (1986) movie poster

director  Georgiy Daneliya
viewed: 02/04/2018

I can’t recall how Kin-dza-dza! got on my radar, but I’m glad that it did. I’ve been interested in Russian/Soviet genre film, the kind that hasn’t really been exported as World Cinema.

This Soviet Era science fiction comedy is a strange and interesting picture. Absurdist humor abounds throughout Kin-dza-dza!, clearly satirizing aspects of Soviet life, though also transcendentally, society and humanity in general.

The story takes two strangers, Stanislav Lyubshin, a Russian construction foreman, and Levan Gabriadze, a Georgian student, who get accidentally transported off the Moscow streets to a desert planet of Pluke in the Kin-dza-dza galaxy. Here they find a derelict world where water is scarce (and used as fuel), with complicated social structure endowing some people with heightened status who must be paid tribute, where all words can be said as “koo” or sometimes have different words that mean different things, and in which a box of matches is their most enriching possession. People of Pluke are conniving and silly, and can read the thoughts of the Earthmen.

The film is funny and unusual, and right away I wanted to know more about it. It’s apparently very popular and well-known in Russia (an animated re-make was done by director Georgiy Daneliya only a couple years ago).  John A. Riley at Electric Sheep delves into more of the intricacies of the word play and cultural significance.

It’s definitely a little over-long, but otherwise, I really liked it.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

Invaders from Mars (1986) movie poster

director Tobe Hooper
viewed: 02/03/2018

Invaders from Mars, in which Tobe Hooper directs a 1986 B-movie remake of a 1956 B-movie. I give it a B minus.

Invaders from Mars may not be Hooper’s finest moment, though it captures him in a very conscious homage to Atomic Age science fiction. In fact, it draws some visual elements directly from the 1956 flick by William Cameron Menzies. In fact, the whole film is very in keeping with the original’s perspective, a space loving kid (Hunter Carson, here in 1986.)

Carson stars alongside his mother, Karen Black, who in the film is actually his school’s nurse. But when Carson’s parents (Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman) get taken over by aliens, Black surrogates him in what otherwise seems a vaguely odd and cozy fashion.

Even with Stan Winston and John Dykstra designing critters and Dan O’Bannon helping with the script, it’s hard not to feel somewhat cynical as the film devolves into truly child-like (child-ish?) fantasy towards the end.

Best scene: Louise Fletcher swallowing a bullfrog.


Mars Needs Women (1967)


Mars Needs Women (1967) DVD cover

director  Larry Buchanan
viewed: 02/01/2018

Mars Needs Women is a very 1950’s sci fi concept for a 1967 movie. But if you’re schlockmeister Larry Buchanan, that’s kind of what you do: take 1950’s era concepts and shoot them cheap as hell for television release. Varying degrees of corn ensue.

“The exotic dancer is secured.”

And a top notch Charro-like exotic dancer she is. Beyond some other random ladies, TV’s own Batgirl, Yvonne Craig shows up as an astrophysicist, definitely the cream of the female crop selected by these goofy Martians. One of them even questions if she is a good test case for insemination.

Some movies have a hard time living up to their posters. Mars Needs Women has a hard time living up to its catchy, declarative name.

Still, one more off the old bucket list.

Spaceman (1997)

Spaceman (1997) DVD cover

director Scott Dikkers
viewed: 01/29/2018

I first heard of Spaceman from Ira Brooker in his “Spaceman: The Onion Co-Founder’s Cult Classic That Never Was” on Crooked Marquee. Always hungering for the obscure in cinema, this was an oddity that must be seen.

Spaceman is indeed a strange film. Strange because its strangeness is such a different stripe than most. It’s a comedy about a guy who was abducted by aliens as a child and raised to be a devoted follower and master fighter, who finds himself back on Earth, working in a grocery store.

What’s most odd about it is that it’s low budget doesn’t show in the most obvious ways. It has polish in parts and awkwardness all over. I was struck that it’s the kind of script that probably could have gotten perked up in the hands of a more experienced Hollywood outing, made funnier perhaps. But ultimately Spaceman‘s charms lie in its weird DIY aesthetics, acting, editing, and everything.

Technically, it’s not quite like anything else I can think of.

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Turkey Shoot (1982) movie poster

director Brian Trenchard-Smith
viewed: 01/23/2018

Quintessential Ozploitation from Brian Trenchard-Smith, the most likely auteur of the genre. Turkey Shoot is admittedly derivative of I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang and The Most Dangerous Game, but in a dystopian future and a lot of random nudity and dismemberment.

In other words, quintessential Ozploitation.

Also, Olivia Hussey: so gorgeous.

Gandahar (1988)

Gandahar (1988) movie poster

director  René Laloux
viewed: 01/13/2017

Nowhere as fantastic as Fantastic Planet (1973), René Laloux’s 1988 film Gandahar is still something above and outside the norm of animation, fantasy, or science fiction. The English language version was produced by the Weinsteins and features a rather unusual crew of voice talent including Glenn Close, Jennifer Grey, Penn Jillette, Bridget Fonda, David Johansen,  and Christopher Plummer. Apparently, this version, which was adapted by Isaac Asimov, is not quite up to snuff of the French original.

Laloux adapted the story from Jean-Pierre Andrevon’s novel Les Hommes-machines contre Gandahar, and the style of design was led by French artist Caza. It’s still some pretty far-out stuff.

The animation style, though, is more conventional cel animation, so it’s more through the design aesthetics and muted tone through which the strangeness emanates. Actually, there’s a nice Kraftwerk video set to the imagery that fits groovily together.

The peaceful blue peeps of Gandahar are attacked by robot men. This leads their mostly bare-breasted women leaders to send out Sylvain to find out how to defeat them (all this peace has led them to forget to make weapons anymore). Sylvain discovers the mutated brethren of he Gandaharians and eventually this Metamorphis, giant brain thing also developed by Gandaharian technology that seeks to wipe them all out to achieve immortality.

Oh yeah, and the door of time.

If off-beat, trippy science fiction is a groove you can dig, you’ll enjoy Gandahar. Nowhere as radical or satisfying as Fantastic Planet, but well worth the time.