The Void (2016)

The Void (2016) movie poster

directors Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie
viewed: 12/27/2017

The Void is action-packed but maybe a little too ambitious for its own good. It is the kind of throwback horror that tends to excite fans of various stripes. And it does it well for the most part.

It’s John Carpenter meets Cthulhu at an isolated hospital. And seemingly more practical visuals than computer-generated.

But there’s just a little too much going on, plot-wise, even in its lean runtime. Maybe trimming about half the ideas, backstories, characters, sequences could help.

Overall I liked it. It has a lot going for it.

Screamers (1995)

Screamers (1995) movie poster

director Christian Duguay
viewed: 12/16/2017

1995’s Screamers has got a lot going for it, so its failure is kinda disappointing.  Though highly bastardized, the plot emanated from a Philip K. Dick story, the first version of the script by Dan O’Bannon. And you’ve got Peter Weller, still warm from his RoboCop movies. And the story is kind of interesting, with these evolving killing machines.

Screamers is such a 90’s movie, in its strengths and weaknesses, the latter being not just poor execution but a reliance on non-top of the line digital effects in an era when top of the line digital effects already look dated and cheap.

I saw this back in the day, and I think my feelings about it are about the same.

“It’s not an animal, it’s an upgrade.”

The Incubus (1982)

The Incubus (1982) movie poster

director  John Hough
viewed: 09/11/2017

Rapist, murderer, destroyer of uteri, and spewer of insane amounts of red semen, the incubus of The Incubus is a pretty serious masculine sexual demon. It’s some pretty outrageous stuff, even if in cinematic reality it’s more described than seen.

Director John Hough pushes the envelope in this horror thriller starring John Cassavetes. The small community of Galen is home to covens and witchhunters, demons and their prey, a whole history of such stuff (and lots of bizarre artwork on the walls in case you were missing the hints).

It actually made me quite curious about the works of writer Ray Russell, from whose novel of the same name the film was adapted.

This is an interesting one.

Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1995)

Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments (1995) DVD cover

director Erica Benedikty
viewed: 07/22/2017

O, Canada! Your Shot-on-video sci-fi is a wonder!

Erica Benedikty’s DIY Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments is quite remarkable. I truly love that more and more of this no-budget regional homemade cinema is surfacing for our viewing pleasures.

Phobe is certainly derivative of both Predator (1987) and The Terminator (1984), with a little Star Wars thrown in. Its gloriously schlubby cast, clad in sweats and mullets, are such ultimate Canadians (am I stereotyping here?).

Really, Benedikty shows some chops and skills here, having utilized film equipment from the local television station that she worked at. But it’s really the less polished things in the film that make it so much fun, such as the cast, the performances, and the monster design. The only thing I really didn’t care for were the cheap CGI, though apparently Benedikty didn’t want to limit her vision if she didn’t have to, cheap or not.

 

The Brain (1988)

The Brain (1988) movie poster

director  Ed Hunt
viewed: 03/29/2017

The first 15 or so minutes of The Brain are pretty fucking prime. It’s 1980’s sci-fi/horror and culture satire with freak-out surrealism and crazy hallucinations. The comic satire of pop psychology self-help cultism starts out as mordant and hilarious.

Sadly, the movie can’t keep this pace and limps along through occasional blasts of humor, cheap practical creature effects, and a lot of running and chasing. Still, you’ve got this lovely/awful “brain” behind it all, which controls people’s minds and causes hallucinations in those it cannot control, that also manages to eat people and grow. It’s like a long-lost “Madball” toy on steroids.

This comes from Ed Hunt, he of Bloody Birthday (1981) and features David Gale (so well appreciated in Re-Animator (1985). That’s not real pedigree for this Canadian science fiction slash horror silliness, but it doesn’t need one.

Tom Bresnahan plays Jim, perhaps one of the most obnoxious teenage heroes ever to grace the silver screen. I kept rooting for him to get bitch-slapped.

Still, that opening sequence. And WTF with sodium?

Dead Ringers (1988)

Dead Ringers (1988) movie poster

director David Cronenberg
viewed: 01/06/2017

Dead Ringers and its predecessor 1986’s The Fly have struck me on rewatching as two of David Cronenberg’s most emotionally evocative films. That is far from the most common epithet thrown his way, and my weekend watch of Dead Ringers quite surprised me.

Both films deal with a love affair between and man and a woman that is brought to ultimate tragedy by the dissolution of the male lead. The devolution of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly is mostly physical and resultingly psychological. For Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, it’s a deep psychosis released through a drug-induced mental dissolution, complicated by the fractured selfs that Irons plays in the roles of twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle. The tragedy is doubled.

Back when I first saw this, on cable, probably a year after it came out, I remember wondering if this was at all a true story or where the idea had come from. In the pre-internet, knowledge was not a click away. Interestingly it was adapted from a novel titled Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland which was inspired by the strange deaths of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, with a lot of artistic license employed, especially since it seems very little was known about their deaths.

Geneviève Bujold is herself very evocative, a somewhat tortured soul used to personal pleasures and pain. It’s her openness that initially frees Beverly from the constraints of his fraternal prison, but as she turns him on to drugs, he has no strength to fight against the downrush of addiction or the vast ruptures in his psyche.

Though I’d seen it before, I found the final scene amazingly effective and emotionally gutting, as the twins are dead in a grotesque Pietà, with one eviscerated and the other collapsed upon him.

Cronenberg’s films, if anything, are often cold to the touch. Is it strange that these two from the late 1980’s are so strikingly emotional?

Fido (2006)

Fido (2006) movie poster

director Andrew Currie
viewed: 09/03/2016

Fido is a kinder, gentler zombie comedy.  Less gore (though not gore-free), with a softer spot in its heart than one might expect.

Fido does come from 2006, four years before TV’s The Walking Dead would create a zombie ubiquity in our universe.  Fido also, somewhat significantly, comes from Canada, which may account for aspects of its slightly unusual bent.

Opening on a mock 1950’s-style newsreel that tells the origin of the film’s personal zombie apocalypse, we are brought into this suburban fantasy, the nuclear family, in a world that survived the zombie apocalypse and has ways of neutralizing and enslaving zombies.  Director/co-writer Andrew Currie riffs on this Leave It to Beaver era North American town and the culture of it and below it.

Carrie-Anne Moss is a welcome presence as “the Mom” and Billy Connolly plays “Fido”, the zombie that the family has taken in as a status symbol and eventual family pet.

While it doesn’t begin to achieve greatness, it rarely flags from being affable and likable.

Nollywood Babylon (2008)

Nollywood Babylon (2008) movie poster

directors Ben Addelman, Samir Mallal
viewed: 02/08/2016

A lot of people might have heard of Nollywood, and further known that the nickname represents the Nigerian film industry, the world’s third largest (certainly at the time of this film’s production).  But how much else does the average person know about Nollywood or its films?

Nollywood Babylon, a Canadian production, is a reasonable primer on the subject, though it’s worth noting that at least two other documentaries on Nollywood were made around the same time, Welcome to Nollywood (2007) and This Is Nollywood (2007).  I haven’t seen the others so I can’t say which is the most informative.  Directors Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal give a lot of context for Nollywood, its rise, its audience, its producers, its setting in Nigerian history, and it follows the production of a film by the prolific Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen.

In particular, a couple of social critics interviewed extensively in the film (I sadly missed catching their names) offer the most enlightening perspectives on it all (how accurate/inaccurate you’ll have to decide for yourself).

Lagos, the capitol city, is the heart of the industry, in particular the markets where everything is bought and sold.  Because Nollywood pictures aren’t shot on film, nor are they shown in theaters (At the time of this film, it is reported that only 3 cinemas operated in Lagos, all showing only foreign fare.)  The industry of Nollywood came about thanks to home video technologies, filling in gaps left after the colonial era ended and an influx of weapons brought in a more violent and chaotic time.  These changes also eroded any Nigerian film industry that had developed before.  One older director interviewed highly disdains the current product.

The cultural impacts that accompany these times and changes are significant.  More and more people move to the increasingly crowded and run-down city, moving away from cultural traditions of oral storytelling, as well as traditional religions that featured magic and legends.  While video movies fill the void of the paternal narrators to the children, Christianity (especially Evangelical or “Born Again” Christianity) or Islam have superseded traditional practices (or have adopted and warped them into a modern melange.)

Capitalist models have left the country with a tiny fraction of the people controlling almost all of the wealth while the mass is insanely poor.  The social critic notes that the Evangelical churches demand tithes of 10% or more of these poor people’s income, with which they build churches…and produce movies with an Evangelical bent.  The whole society is very Christian and most (if not all) of the films featured here espouse explicitly Christian ideals, challenges, and fears.

On the more positive side, the films are indeed uniquely Nigerian.  Their stories are of their worlds, filmed by people not in elitist social strata, offering opportunity to regular people in casting calls, and consumed by the average citizens.  In this way, there is an almost egalitarian quality to the industry, much more “of the street” than any other film industry I have ever seen.

It’s hard to know how comprehensive Nollywood Babylon is in its depiction of Nollywood.  The two native social critics offer compelling and incisive insights, but how clear and true are their points of view?  They certainly seem eloquent.

It’s particularly hard to know, with a subject of which I have so little foreknowledge.  Taking it at its word and presentation, though, it is a fascinating glimpse into a very different world, a glimpse given historical and social context, potentially real value.

It’s also key to note that this film is nearly a decade old now, so the glimpse is not that contemporary.

Roadkill (1989)

Roadkill (1989) movie poster

director Bruce McDonald
viewed: 01/03/2015

“a rock’n’roll road movie about a girl who learns to drive”

Bruce McDonald’s 1989 feature, Roadkill, is an odd mishmash of things and ideas, strung to the comic story of music label intern Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar) on the trail of a rock band gone astray on tour in Ontario.  She doesn’t know how to drive at the outset, first riding with a pot-smoking cabby, then hooking up with an oddball documentary film crew, and eventually with a wannabe serial killer (Don McKellar), as she strives to get the band Children of Paradise to at least their final gig of the tour in Thunder Bay.

The comedy/road movie, like Ramona’s journey, is kind of all over the place, segueing here, fishtailing there, sometimes funny, sometimes remarkably amateurish, but somehow maintaining a likability perhaps uniquely Canadian.  Perhaps uniquely Ontarian?

I queued this up after watching McDonald’s zombie apocalypse mood piece Pontypool (2008), which surprised and impressed me.  I’d had a bad experience with his film Hard Core Logo (1996) at some time in the past, something I’ll have to reconsider, possibly.  Maybe if I’d seen Roadkill back around that time I might have been more dismissive, too.  I don’t know.  But around now, I kind of liked it.

Pontypool (2008)

Pontypool (2008) movie poster

director Bruce McDonald
viewed: 12/06/2015

Wow.  I don’t know why I’d left Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool in my queue for so long before finally deciding to watch it.

Okay, I take that back.  I guess I do know.  I saw McDonald’s Hard Core Logo (1996) some years back and really hated it.  While his name and films have continued to percolate into my radar, I guess I’ve always held that in the back of my mind.  Additionally, because of Netflix’s design presentation of films both on the web and on their streaming services, all I really was reminded of was its title, its release date, its general subject and its Canadian-ness.

But wow.  I found this to be a really interesting movie.  Stephen McHattie (who is excellent here) plays Grant Mazzy, a snarky talk radio DJ who finds himself banished to Pontypool (Canadian Siberia, if I get the metaphor right without checking a map.)  Right from the get-go, things go sideways for this small operation of him, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), and their technical assistant, Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) when reports start to surface about riots, attacks, and quarantines affecting their county.  Are they being pranked?  Or is something cataclysmic happening?

For one thing, the film is largely limited to the interior of the radio station studio, not unlike the limited locations of a play (apparently McDonald and writer Tony Burgess actually adapted this as a radio play as well.)  It’s an interesting and economical approach to a zombie/mass panic story where most of the action is off-screen, yet true dread and drama builds through the actors’ performances and suggested events.

On top of that (Spoiler Alert, of sorts), the nature of the chaos and outbreak find their root in language, a sort of virus of semiotics, which triggers a breakdown in the victim, ultimately resulting in violence.  The nature of this disease unfolds with mystery and strangeness, enhancing the drama occasionally quite effective.  Some might find this explanation of the events as a let-down.  It’s a somewhat intellectual disorder at heart, quite explicitly meta more than truly a real pathogen.  I quite like this, but I’ve been reading some philosophy texts of late so maybe that’s why it struck me so.

McDonald commands the film well, utilizing sound and image effectively, his cast are all very strong, which is also critical in a film with so few actors.

Frankly, I was really impressed.  Surprised and impressed.  A cool and interesting film.