Endgame (1983)

Endgame (1983) movie poster

director Joe D’Amato
viewed: 08/31/2018

Parts Road Warrior part The 10th Victim and maybe original Judge Dredd  or X-men comics, Endgame mashes up and masticates post-apocalyptic ideas and spews them readily all over the place.

A punk gloom looms over post-WWIII wherever we are, ruthlessly guarded by Security Services (SS) gas-masked militia, killing the mutated and the impoverished and shilling “health” supplements.

For my money, Endgame is much more imaginative and eclectic than other Italian Mad Max knock-offs. Still,  it’s 3 star movie with higher ideas and aspirations pumped through the pulpy action, deadly karate chops and all.

Though it’s a different subgenre indeed, Endgame might be a good double feature with Fulci’s Conquest.

Last Woman on Earth (1960)

Last Woman on Earth (1960) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 03/28/2016

Anyone ever tell you, “I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last woman on earth!”?  Or for that matter “The Last Man on Earth” (1964)?

Such a hypothetical was good for consideration in the Cold War era nuclear apocalypse dreams of science fiction writers.  And here we have Roger Corman going for it, with Robert Towne not only writing his first screenplay, but starring as one of the last 2 men on earth (the other being Antony Carbone), left to fight it out over the last lady (Betsy Jones-Moreland).

Shot in color in Puerto Rico back-to-back with Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) and Battle of Blood Island (1960), this falls into Corman’s more earnest film efforts, making something less exploitative and meant to be a bit more thought-provoking and intellectual.  Not so say that Corman didn’t occasionally find that sweet spot of intelligent and high-minded, but here it’s a bit more of a wash, less to offer in real interest, but not utterly uninteresting either.

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987) movie poster

director Donald G. Jackson, R. J. Kizer
viewed: 09/29/2014

It’s probably safe to say that any movie starring pro-wrestling star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is a cult film.  But it’s also safe (and perhaps surprising) to realize that he made two genuinely significant cult films.

Most people know of They Live (1988), the John Carpenter horror/sci-fi satire that features Piper in a prolonged wrestling-style street fight and trippy Ray-Bans that allow one to see the creepy real skeleton faces of the invading alien force.  But how many people know of Hell Comes to Frogtown?

Believe me, I’m pretty well read up on movies, and cult films are a genre (or a spectrum of genres) of which I like to think I’m pretty well-versed.  But it wasn’t all that long ago that I read the title Hell Comes to Frogtown and thought “What?!!”

Post-nuclear apocalypse films were a definite thing up through the 1980’s and a lot of pretty great cult movies of the period feature some post-apocalyptic science fiction scenario.  But the premise of Hell Comes to Frogtown is one of the more random ideas that ever served the genre.  After the nuclear war has decimated humankind, leaving most people infertile, the only other emergent race on the planet are these evolved frog people.  They have grotesque frog faces, but otherwise humanoid bodies.  And maybe three penises.

Piper plays Sam Hell, who at the beginning of the film is being held for sexual assault.  The first big plot twist is that when they find that the sexual assault resulted in the pregnancy of the girl, he is exonerated and consigned by the military for his prodigious potency to be used to impregnate all fertile women (humanity’s last best chance for survival.)  He’s given an electrified chastity belt codpiece to gird his now “government property” loins and led off into the field to find some babes.

Only the babes have been kidnapped by some of the frogs and so Piper and team have to infiltrate Frogtown (Hell has to Go to Frogtown) to try to get those nubile gals back.

So, there is this quite distasteful theme running through the film about sex and assault and ownership of ones sexuality.  It’s hard not to gape at that stuff.  The film’s overall tone is action/comedy/boobs, and Piper really plays along quite well throughout.

I don’t know what else to tell you about it.  I’ve been meaning to revisit They Live for some time, having seen it in the theater back in the day and not realizing how much of the comedy was intentional…I don’t know.  I know it bears re-watching.  Clearly, it would be a prime double feature here with Frogtown.  Which, by the way, spawned a sequel in 1993 that none of the original cast, albeit a very cheap cast to begin with, returned for.  That is a curious thing in itself.

Okay, one post-script here: The film was director by Donald G. Jackson, who is credited as “the Ed Wood of the video era,” known for his “Zen Filmmaking” style which includes shooting without a script.  I say this because it bears more investigation.

Hardware (1990)

Hardware (1990) movie poster

director Richard Stanley
viewed: 08/17/2014

I’m not sure how I missed out on Hardware, a 1990 post-apocalyptic science fiction film.  I’m also not entirely sure how I recently stumbled on it, though I think it was in some list on imdb.com in comparison to something else I had seen recently of interest.  It’s an oddity, but quite a good and interesting oddity.

It comes from British writer/director Richard Stanley, who only wrote and directed two feature films, this one and Dust Devil (1992) a couple years later.  He has continued as a writer, director of shorts, and producer, but it seems his outing as a potential auteur of feature films was short-lived.  Which, based on Hardware alone, seem like a bit of a shame.

The story takes place in some degraded future, probably post-nuclear war.  And a transient desert tramp uncovers the remains of a robot, which he sells for scrap.  One of the guys he sells it to takes the head of the robot home to his girlfriend who makes art out of scrap and leaves the rest to the usual purveyor of scrap technology.  Only when the scrap shop owner starts investigating, he realizes that this robot is a high-grade military killing machine that can rebuild itself with any given pieces of technology available and that he just triggered it to come to life.

The machine starts rebuilding itself in the girlfriend’s apartment, cobbled together all types of dangerous items, and tries to go on a killing spree.  Even in post-apocalyptic Earth, the government is still out to tame the populace through sterilization and death by super-robot.

Comparisons to The Terminator (1984) are fair but miss the point.  Outside of its glowing red eyes and “death to humans” attitude, the robot is actually a different concept.  It’s also a very different budget.  The film also brought to mind Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and its sequel Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992).

If you want to add to its cult status recommendation, it features both Iggy Pop and Lemmy Kilmister in cameos.  Tack on some music from Iggy, Motörhead, Public Image Limited, and Ministry, and you’ve got a slice of 1990 that you really wonder how you missed out on the darn thing.  It’s got a lot going for it.  And it gets my vote.

Akira (1988)

Akira (1988) movie poster

director Katsuhiro Otomo
viewed: 03/08/2014

1988 was a landmark year in Japanese animation.  Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, Isao Takahata’s Graveyard of the Fireflies, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira all came out in that single year. Each film dramatically different from the others, showing what great breadth and possibility the animated feature film contains.  Each film tremendously significant in its own way.

It had been ages since I had watched Akira, probably before the turn of the century (still odd to use that phrase).  We actually watched it in one of my film studies classes.  I think I may have done a paper on it.  But this time, I was watching it with the kids.  Or at least that was the intention.  Felix had been keen to see it but he actually was exhausted and slept through it.  It was a little complex for Clara.

What struck me this time through the film was how radical it was.  It really might well be one of the best science fiction films of the 1980’s.  The animation is terrific and the designs are still powerful and iconic.  The film sets a bar that it is questionable that anime ever achieved again.

Set in “Neo Tokyo” in a post WWIII world, Akira is a story about government testing on children to awaken inherent powers at a deep biological level, powers of telepathy, telekinesis, and more.  There are three greenish, withered children who have some of these powers, but when a member of a teen biker gang gets experimented upon, all hell breaks loose.  The angry young man taps powers more than any one person can manage, a problem that happened before, we come to find, in another boy named “Akira”.

It’s clearly metaphorical of atomic testing and the resultant power surge is very much like that of the cloud of nuclear explosion.  Like Gojira (1954) and a lot of post-war Japanese science fiction, the nuclear ghost is a tangible presence and reality, quite different in ways from any other country.  It’s an uncontrollable force beyond human control and yet coming from within the human form.

Frankly, I was even more impressed with the film than I expected to be.  I think it has aged very well.  For all that has come since, I really don’t think much has come to touch it.

Five (1951)

Five (1951) movie poster

director Arch Oboler
viewed: 09/17/2013

A few weeks back (maybe more like months in reality) I noticed a film called The Twonky (1953) at the local Roxie Theater.  While I couldn’t make it to that, I did look it up to see if it was available on Netflix’s ever expanding dearth of content, only to find one other film by writer/director Arch Oboler available, his 1951 post-apocalyptic film, Five.

I really don’t think that I’d heard of Oboler before.  Not entirely sure, but pretty sure.  He started out in radio and apparently some of his best work was in that medium.  But he moved to film and television, and I must say, despite some comparisons to Orson Welles, he’s a fairly obscure kind of guy.  Though he was also an inspiration for The Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling.

Anyhow, it sounded interesting.

Five is also noted for being potentially the first feature film made about post-nuclear apocalypse.  Which actually does interest me.  Growing up in the latter part of the Cold War era, apocalypse was generally associated with nuclear war, and even seemed to imbue post-apocalyptic films not explicitly about nuclear war’s aftermath.

What’s most interesting about Five, I think, is how it feels like an independent film, not part of the Hollywood machinery.  From the low-key natural landscapes to the character actor primaries largely unrecognizable today, it has a vibe, narrative and visual style unlike anything part of the more standard Hollywood or science fiction realm.

The film depicts a group of five survivors, surviving to varying degrees, and their real, practical approach to carrying on with human life.  The film was shot in and around Oboler’s own Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, and lead William Phipps is getting to work trying to grow food to eat.  He meets a straggling, pregnant woman (the only woman of the five), and eventually the others as well and takes them in.  Casting an African-American, Charles Lampkin, as one of the survivors, Oboler addresses racism inherent to his film’s villain, but was probably quite a statement in 1951 as well.

In truth, the film’s unusual tone and style set it apart more than the narrative itself.  The drama is simple human drama with racism, greed, and sexuality as primary motives of villainy.  It’s quite low-key, interesting but never spectacular or sadly even fascinating.

Still, quite an interesting find.  Interesting in a number of various ways.

Wizards (1977)

Wizards (1977) movie poster

director Ralph Bakshi
viewed: 12/01/2012

I don’t have anything as intense as a love-hate relationship with the work of Ralph Bakshi, but I do have an odd ambivalence about his work.

Without a doubt, Bakshi’s work broke ground for feature animation with its adult content, its iconoclastic and idiosyncratic subject matter, and forging style much differentiated from the mainstream.  To be honest, I’ve not seen either Heavy Traffic (1973) nor Coonskin (1975), which I understand to be his best, most personal, most radical films (definitely a short-coming on my part).  However, I am not unfamiliar with him.  The only of his films that I have watched in the last decade was his The Lord of the Rings (1978).  But thanks to early 1980’s cable television,I saw American Pop (1981), Fire and Ice (1983) and this film, Wizards, his first foray into fantasy film.

The film opens with this very convoluted backstory about two wizards, one good, one evil, born twins to a post-apocalyptic then regenerated world of elves and mutants and all kinds of stuff.  Actually, it’s probably a bit of narrative overkill, but how many films have elves with machine guns?  The long and the short of it is that the good one, called Avatar, is a strange little guy with a beard, big feet and a big nose and a sort of old New York attitude.  He represents magic.  His brother, Blackwolf, is straight out of central casting for Rasputin, with red eyes, and a fixation on technology and Nazism.  Then there are sexy fairies, robot assassins, and strange two-legged camels.  It’s an odd, eclectic world.

For me, the most interesting thing about the film was its commentary on war and technology and propaganda.  Blackwolf manages to raise armies from history, inspiring them with stock footage of Adolf Hitler and Nazi troops marching.  When projected, this footage has more power than guns or magic, warps and drives the minions.  While the commentary is interesting, it’s not entirely clear-cut.

The robot assassin known as Necron 99 gets captured and turned to good, nicknamed Peace.  The magical wizard Avatar pulls out a revolver to ultimately down his enemy.  Epic battle sequences are basically rotoscoped scenes from films as diverse as Alexander Nevsky (1938), Zulu (1964), and Battle of the Bulge (1965).  This weird effect works within a narrative about resurrected wars and armies of the past revived for the future.

From what I’ve read, the film was made as on the cheap as could be done at the time.  That is one reason for all the rotoscoped battle scenes.  The animation is what is known as “limited animation”, meaning the number of frames per second are lesser, characters stop in poses, to hold time and keep the drawing to a minimum, and the effect is one of cheapness.  On television, it can be almost invisible when used well.  But in a feature film, cheapness comes more obvious than not.

So the ultimate result is a very strange mishmash of a story, voicing a very cynical anti-war, anti-technology motif, with a mad mixture of characters and voice acting style.  It’s weird.

I watched it with the kids, who definitely found it weird.  I don’t know if they found it as interesting as I did.  I really need to finally see Heavy Traffic and Coonskin.

The Book of Eli

(2010) directors Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
viewed: 07/18/10

The latest from the filmmaking duo known as the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society (1993), Dead Presidents (1995), From Hell (2001))  is a post-Apocalyptic sci-fi flick starring Denzel Washington.  It’s an interesting flavor of this subgenre of science fiction, what with an African-American lead (oddly enough unusual) and sporting a rather pronounced Christian theme.  But even with those angles and slants on the genre, it’s not a whole lot that you haven’t seen before.  And yet it’s also not a dire effort either.

You see, in this post-apocalypse, not only are food, water, fuel, weapons, and sex all the most highly-sought commodities, but apparently, so is the Bible.  And while the idea that religion is a potential commodity of necessity, power, and survival is interesting in this genre, the pure absurdity that after only 30 years of post-destruction living that only one Bible still exists and that only a couple of people old enough to remember “from before” have any idea what it might signify, is just a little beyond implausible.

I guess that the Hughes brothers wanted to give this some flavor of the immediate future, not some hundreds or thousands of years beyond our now for relevance’s sake, and also so there would be some who would remember “from before” all the calamity happened.  It’s just insane to think that the most published book in the world has been reduced to one, or further that the whole of the world has forgotten this incredibly significant set of morals, stories, and meanings altogether…in 30 years.  So we’ve got a major plausibility issue here.

It’s not the only one, though.  The film turns at the end on an amusing twist, but this twist signifies a deeper, more over-arching twist that feels remarkably unbelievable as well.  I’m warning you.  I’m about to reveal it here, simply because it’s something I want to discuss.  So read no more if you fear the spoiler.

The twist at the end is that the one existing Bible is written in Braille.   Which is funny enough, a potential of irony simply in the situation that it could be a lost language of its own, unreadable by the villain who has sought it out.  But beyond that twist, is the further one, that Washington’s character, Eli, the ascetic who has toted this volume for 30 years to find a place where it will be protected and utilized, and who has kicked a lot of bad guy ass throughout the duration of the movie in hand-to-hand combat but also shooting guys with arrows and bullets, … is essentially a blind man.  Um, okay.

This would be one of those twists that would make you go back throughout the film to look for how he handles interactions to hide his blindness, how he manages with heightened senses to whack everybody, sense everything, navigate the world as its most ass-kicking survivalist.  But I couldn’t be asked to go back, even in my mind, over the scenes to see how that level of cleverness was executed.

It underscores the film’s shortcomings, however. It’s a sort of by-the-numbers wasteland, with a somewhat suggested cause of the doom (war).  But what could be the film’s best aspect, the power of the written word, literacy, knowledge even beyond faith (considering that faith doesn’t really exist except for Eli), is just a sleight-of-hand trick, a twist of cleverness, but one that basically forsakes the glaring illogic of the premise that religion and bibles were so rapidly eradicated post-whatever kind of war left the world in ruins.  So, what could have made for an interesting spin on the genre, makes for the film’s greatest weaknesses, and leaves us with a middling affair, mostly unremarkable.  Which is a shame because the Hughes brothers can or at least have done much better in the past.

On the Beach

On the Beach (1959) movie poster

(1959) dir. Stanely Kramer
viewed: 01/02/09

I don’t know that a film about the end of the world is really the way to start off the new year, but I have a strange sensibility.  Having had a particular interest in the Cold War doomsday film, a friend recommended a favorite memory of her childhood, the 1959 superstar film adapted from the notable book by Nevil Shute, On the Beach.  While I was familiar with the novel while never having read it, I wasn’t as familiar with the film, which is odd since it stars the likes of Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire.  Star power indeed.

But oddly, that is perhaps the film’s weakness.  It’s a big-budget affair, full of not necessarily “pomp” but certainly circumstance.  It’s played out like the big dramas of its day, like an Elia Kazan or Sidney Lumet film, something about “people” but about important issues, humanity against the real challenges of ethics and morality.  The stuff of Oscars.

The truth is that the world of science fiction or horror, the end of the world, seems to be in better hands of the pulp artists.  For instance, in Panic in Year Zero! (1962) and The Last Man on Earth (1964) you have the end of the world in more chaotic terms, with actual death and actual violence.  People are dying!  People are losing their shit!  The world’s gone mad!  The drama is in survival.

The world of On the Beach, it’s a truly “British” world, one of honor, order, and no one is going to be caught having a “fit”.  Heck, even when you see the city streets of a devastated San Francisco or Melbourne, there are no bodies!  Everybody is content to die inside.  “Heck, if we all have to die, we might as well keep the city clean!”  The drama is unfolding after a series of nuclear attacks has devastated the entire world except for Australia, but Australia is doomed to a coming nuclear fallout, people will all die.  It’s just a matter of time.  And they all take it without making a scene.

Folks line up to take pre-set doses of suicide sleeping pills.  People enjoy themselves, fall in love, live, drink port, and basically keep their upper lips stiff to the very end.  It’s dignity embodied.  It’s an odd fantasy.  Civilization does not have to come to and end just because the human race is about to.  Even if we’re feeding babies overdoses of barbituates too so they don’t starve to death while their parents drop like flies.  And nobody gets tumors or lesions or anything that makes them look unwell.  It just wouldn’t do.

Really, if anything, this film is a snapshot of an odd anachronistic dream of the death and the end of the world.  And the film leaves a rather pointed note at the end, punctuated with important music that “There is still time!”, in case you missed the message.  The whole thing is like that.  And it’s not horrible, a little dull perhaps, but with a good cast and a bizarre message about the end of the world.  The Twilight Zone, which starts out as a contemporary to this film, gets the drama and the weirdness in much less pompous ways.  One wonders what Rod Serling thought of this film.  It’s an odd one, certainly.  But not bad.  Just weird.

A Boy and His Dog

A Boy and His Dog (1975) movie poster

(1975) dir. L.Q. Jones
viewed: 08/03/08

Sometimes, the apocalypse isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’ve had for a long while a fascination with the post-apocalyptic science fiction films regarding nuclear war that symbolized a mentality of the Cold War.  Maybe this is due to my growing up in this era and having fed off of a lot of the images and notions associated with the results of WWIII.  By the 1980’s, there were several notable films in this genre, the best being ones that are low-budget and pretty much just out-and-out Cult films.

Well, A Boy and His Dog, which I had seen back in the day on cable, is surprisingly early for this vision.  Adapted from a Harlan Ellison novella, it’s not just post-WWIII, it’s post WWIV.  And most notably, it’s a young Don Johnson playing a free-wheeling young man with two things on his mind: sex and survival.  And in that order.  Lucky for him he has a psychic relationship with a dog, who helps him hunt down women.  It’s funny what’s left after nuclear devastation, huh?

The characters banter, but they are more unlikeable that I think they are meant to be.  The dog, who is erudite and intelligent in contrast to Johnson’s hormonal boy, is a little too snotty.  And Johnson just lacks charm.

The other quite strange scenario besides the semi-The Road Warrior (1981)-like above ground world, is this bizarre underground world in which a total cartoon of Americana is kept alive with creepy pancake-made-up faces, and a group of elders who need fresh genetics to keep them healthy.  It’s social criticism, but so weird that it’s hard to know exactly what to make of it.

The best part of the film is the end when the female love interest of Johnson’s (who is not really a love interest, but a sex object and opportunist) tells Johnson to leave the starving dog and live with her because she loves him.  The boy must choose between his woman and his poor, hungry psychic dog.  And he chooses to kill the girl and feed her to the dog.  Not exactly the most humanist ending, nor the most lacking in misogyny, but it adds a subversiveness that gives the film more character.

It’s kind of a little ahead of its time.  But it’s also pretty lame, I’d have to say.