Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ray Milland Heads Up Horror In ...

The Thing With Two Heads

Blaxploitation meets Grind House in this bizarre ‘B’ movie exploitation flick. Ray Milland stars as Maxwell Kirshner, an eminent surgeon working in the field of body part transplantation. He has found a way to attach a second living head to an ape, whilst the original one still functions, only then to remove that and leave the newly grafted head in its place. Successful in the operation he seeks to do the same with a human subject, that subject being … himself !.

Kirshner has been working flat out on his pioneering transplant technique due to having incurable cancer, and his efforts are self motivated, as he wants to live on with another body harbouring his head. When he divulges to his long time professional colleague, personal physician and friend, that he only has a few weeks to live they have to act immediately to acquire a suitable host.

The theme of the movie is not just one of fantastical science fiction but also that of race, and the colour of a mans skin. Maxwell Kirshner isn’t just a brilliant surgeon, he is also a blatant racist !. When a black doctor, Fred Williams, played by the instantly recognisable Don Marshall (TV’s Land Of The Giants), a welcome regular of popular television shows during the Sixties and Seventies, joins Kirshner’s staff it is made clear that his contract was compiled without the usual cross referencing, and Dr. Williams ‘kind’ is not welcomed !. Dr. Williams properly stands up to Kirshner, holding him to his contract and fulfilling his position in order to further his want to improve himself under such a revered physician in the field of transplantation.

A truly wry quirk of fate plays its hand when Kirshner’s time to undertake the transplantation comes around. With his body giving itself up to the cancer his friend and aid has no alternative but to turn to an inmate on death row. Someone prepared to turn their body over to science in order to avoid the death sentence. That someone is Roosevelt Grier (Rosey Grier aka Jack Moss), a man sentenced to death for murder. A crime that he still pleads he is innocent of, and any further time extension affords his friends and family time to prove his position. The ironic twist is of course that Roosevelt Grier is a black man !.

The reactions of both actors upon the realisation, after the operation, that they have been surgically conjoined at the neck, as a two headed being, is priceless !. Great credit must be given to the creators of Ray Milland’s false head and features as the attention to detail, when not reliant upon the real star in close up shots, is exceptional. It truly is a believable prosthetic and is freakily functional. During the operation, when Milland’s fake head is manoeuvred across to be attached to its sedated host body, seeing the eyes open and move is, for a film at this time, perhaps as audience reactive as that of witnessing the classic scuttling head sequence in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

Two heads are better for fun should have been the slogan blurb for the movie, as splicing Ray Milland’s characters head upon the black neck and shoulders of Rosey Grier’s character Jack Moss works with entertainingly unexpected results. Props to both actors for keeping straight faces and dealing with the obvious cultural clash and race issues from a truly bizarre view point.

Jack Moss manages to overcome the effects of his induced drugged state and escapes from the shackles of Dr. Kirshner’s home medical facility. He goes on the run, taking Dr. Fred Williams as hostage, in order to reunite with his girlfriend and to pursue proving his innocence. A task more difficult than ever when you are sporting an extra head !.

Unbelievably the movie never actually plunges to the depths of complete farce, despite how preposterous the premise, retaining a typically seventies grind house stature that keeps things gritty and salacious in a good way. All three main actors draw the best out of their characters to keep a doubtlessly original audience open mouthed and aghast at what they were witnessing.

One of the stand out moments, of this strictly ‘B’ movie, comes just after the midway point when Moss and Kirshner, along with Dr. Williams, jump aboard an off road motorcycle, to be pursued across the off road mud track by the police in their standard cop cars. This quite long scene delivers car carnage akin to The Blues Brothers (1980), which of course actually came after The Thing With Two Heads. Car upon car crash and smash all over the place, left in the wake of their intended pursuit.

The longer that Dr. Kirshner is attached to Jack Moss the stronger his bond with the body becomes, and as Moss concentrates on eluding recapture and clearing his name, Kirshner focus’s his will upon taking control of the host bodies functionality. A battle to take control plays out, and Dr. Williams has to decide which of the two men his ethical loyalties should side with.

A wild oddity for sure, but one that deals with the issues of bigotry, and science playing God, with a transient proprietary that for its time was as bold as its precociousness. Dealing with issues that are not so far removed from the realms of reality of a spoon fed society today !. Seek it out, but be sure to leave your dismissive mind behind, and engage your thinking head to fully appreciate the underlying cautionary poignancy within the films generic veneer.

The Thing With Two Heads Trailer

Movie Details IMDB

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Femme Fatale Blows A Fuse ...

Eve Of Destruction

When U.S. scientists play God, in creating their own synthetic being in female form, which also just so happens to be a global threat deterrent, all hell lets loose when her circuitry gets frazzled. Modelled upon her creator Dr. Eve Simmons (Renée Soutendijk), this robotic chick is just one automated click away from going nuclear. Once her internal twenty four hour clock kicks in, and when the countdown concludes, anything, and anyone, within a ten to twelve block radius gets obliterated !.

Robotic humanoid Eve VIII is being monitored out on a field test in the real world environment. She is in a bank when a robbery takes place, and the instigators of the act start shooting. Eve is shot and the result triggers a defence mechanism within her that sends her off out into the wide world environment. Her purpose is to act upon memories inherited from her blueprint creator Dr. Eve Simmons. It later transpires that Dr. Simmons experienced a traumatic youth that involved an alcoholic father, one who would beat his wife, and Eve’s mother. Tragedy would also befall as Eve’s mother gets killed in a car collision, brought about by being pushed into the oncoming vehicle in a drunken rage by the husband.

The military call upon their top problem solver Colonel Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines) to reel Eve back in. Brought up to speed with the humanoids capabilities, and week points, by Dr. Simmons, Colonel McQuade is not told the complete picture, and is unaware of Eve’s true purpose of being. When the military receive notification of Eve’s destruction mode becoming live they have to tell McQuade the whole truth, and implore him to render Eve defunct within twenty four hours. The robots area of vulnerability lays in her eye sockets. McQuade must use his precision targeting hand weapon to deploy the bullet direct to the eye of Eve in order to close her down, or her destructive device will explode as per her initiated directive.

A race against time unfolds as Colonel McQuade and the military track the Eve VIII model down. Intermittent action plays out as Eve adapts to her new found surroundings and situations, but another trigger, recessed in her human counterparts shared memory, brings out a violent side in her nature. Whenever anyone calls her a bitch to her face it unleashes her wrath, and this bionic babe is one striking lady you do not want to offend !.

Another very nice quality high definition enhanced showing for the MGM HD Channel. It is good to see that MGM is proudly showing off their back catalogue of movies, be they blockbusters or reasonable enough mid range fare. This film as a whole has a well intentioned made for television movie feel to it. Its identity is somewhat clouded also. There is the evident comparison to The Terminator (1984) and Terminator II (1991) films, but Eve Of Destruction seems to try and avoid sending its humanoid creation directly down the robot out of control route, and rather go for a more creative and emotive one. Ironically it is a more obscure Indonesian film called Lady Terminator (1989), which does not hide its rather obvious intent to ‘borrow’ heavily from The Terminator theme, with a rampaging female robot out of control on the city streets, that gives the rather promiscuous appearance and makeup of Eve VIII her look. Red leather jacket and tight fit, knee length skirt, totting a machine gun, is exactly the image torn from Lady Terminator (1989), made just two years earlier.

Neither main stars help raise proceedings, as Gregory Hines is just not believable in the Schwarzenegger, Willis or similar hard action guy role. The film would have been far better suited to someone like Dolph Lundgren. Renée Soutendijk does not convince either, coming across too cold and unapproachable in her role as Dr. Simmons, which curiously enough still does not greatly bear fruit when aptly applied to her robotic counterpart Eve VIII.

The film elevates itself in the action and excitement department enough to conclude things satisfactorily. Eve VIII clicks into the memory mode of Dr. Simmons as a mother, and in so doing goes in search of her young son. The race to stop her in time comes to New York City, and Colonel McQuade gets his chance to come eye to eye with the object of his pursuit in the New York subway. This is where it definitely turns Terminator, and both Sci-Fi and action fans get a pay off pick me up to end upon.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Patrick Wayne Dukes It Out With ...

The People That Time Forgot

Good old fashioned Saturday morning at the movies action adventure fun. Following on from the earlier made The Land That Time Forgot (1975), Colonel Ben McBride (Patrick Wayne) heads up an expedition in search of his friend Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure), a fellow officer lost at sea in an uncharted area during world war I. Several years have gone by, and the war is at an end, but Tyler’s notes have been retrieved from the ocean, and they tell tale of an incredible lost world. One where caveman fights to survive in a prehistoric land, dominated by dinosaurs !.

Lady Charlotte ‘Charly’ Cunningham (Sarah Douglas), is a newspaper writer and photographer, who joins the exploration, and hopeful rescue party, due to her rich uncle financing the enterprise. Norfolk (Thorley Walters) and Hogan (Shane Rimmer) complete the team as resident scientist, and trusted war comrade. Together they journey as far as they are able by ship to the Antartic, and then fly into the anachronistic region where time has virtually stood still for hundreds of thousands of years.
The small parties first encounter with the creatures that Tyler describes in his retrieved journal is a run in, amongst the clouds, with an attacking Pterodactyl !. The creature does enough damage to force the aircraft down, with a hefty bump. Colonel McBride has no choice but to leave Hogan to make repair to the plane, whilst he, Norfolk and Charly head off into the island in search of Tyler.
It’s not long before the outsiders encounter the humongous prehistoric wildlife, and are beset upon by an indigenous tribe who seek to offer them as sacrifice to one of the carnivorous creatures.They are aided by a friendly native girl named Ajor (Dana Gillespie), a buxom beauty clad in a revealing tan leather, figure hugging costume. She speaks the language of the outsiders, and reveals that she was taught their ways by Tyler !. Ajor informs McBride and the others that she fears Tyler is dead, or still captive of the superior tribe that rule the island. When Tyler helped Ajor and her people to cultivate the land, and learn new skills, this more aggressive tribe destroyed everything that they worked for, and killed most of the people.

The dominant tribe are a hideous race, covering their faces with masks, curiously akin in both their tribal attire and characteristics to a clan of Japanese samurai. Resplendent in battle gear, bearing swords and wielding spears, and riding horses. A curious mix of cultures and time periods, oddly placed in a prehistoric environment !?. Their threat to the island populace, and indeed to McBride and his people, is none the less most evident.

It’s all silly family fun that plays out entertainingly enough right through to the volcanic explosive finale. Doug McClure makes his guest star appearance midway through proceedings as the captive Bowen Tyler, and Patrick Wayne gets to play the hero well enough. Both men were popular matinee fantasy film stars during this period. Patrick Wayne played Sinbad in Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (1977), and also starred in the action fantasy Beyond Atlantis (1973). Doug McClure starred in a whole host of fantasy adventure flicks during the seventies such as, The Land That Time Forgot (1975), At The Earth’s Core (1976) and Warlords Of Atlantis (1978), before moving into more mature variations on the theme with the equally enjoyable likes of, Humanoids From The Deep (1980) and The House Where Evil Dwells (1982).
The People That Time Forgot delivers a reasonably expansive exterior location shoot, and does its best to create the illusion of a prehistoric environment with matte effects and old style hand built monsters. Some of the creatures up close show up their artisan engineered shortcomings, and a couple of digitised scenery effects are woeful, but the miniature work is well realised, and over all it is in keeping with the entertainment value of what is effectively a reasonably budgeted ‘B’ movie. More dinosaurs would have been welcomed, but overall its good old fashioned general audience entertainment value for money.

Yet another cleaned up print of a twenty five plus year old movie, given the high definition treatment, and shown on the MGM HD Channel. Enjoyable hi-jinks monster action fare to colourfully dazzle your HD home cinema system as never before.

The People That Time Forgot Trailer

Movie Details IMDB

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Price, Karloff, Rathbone, Lorre, Embody ...

The Comedy Of Terrors

American International Pictures smartly bring together some of the greatest talent in horror cinema ever, for a comical spin on the genre. Director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People 1942 & Night Of The Demon 1957. But two of his masterworks) gets to forge together the classical talents of Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. A positive cornucopia of horror cinemas greats. Bring them together, and invite them to over indulge in their sense of dark humour, and you get the infectious comical horror curio, The Comedy Of Terrors.

Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) is the partner in place of a floundering undertakers. He is married to the business owner, and elder statesman’s daughter, Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson). Boris Karloff is Amos Hinchley, the proprietor, a retired old man reliant on the care of his daughter and the business acumen of Waldo Trumbull. Business is far from thriving, however, and in order to generate income Trumbull, and his introverted underling assistant Felix Gillie (Peter Lorre) turn to less than honest means to make money.

The scurrilous undertaker Trumbull constantly recycles his one and only resplendent coffin, turning the bodies of the deceased out into an open grave once those grieving have left the ceremony. Swiftly covering up the body with soil no one is the wiser when they skulk away with the coffin to use again for the next faux service !.

Felix Gillie is kept under Trumbull’s thumb as he is an escaped convict, hiding away under his new identity under the employ of Trumbull. His abilities at breaking and entering locked premises are put to frequent use by the devious undertaker, as another of his irreverent scams is to break into properties and suffocate the elderly and frail in their sleep. The following day he returns to the scene and offers his services to bury the deceased, taken as naturally slipping away in their sleep during the night.

Things become darker and quirkier as Trumbull has to deal with his landlord John F. Black, a terrific turn by Basil Rathbone. Black seeks immediate payment of one years back rent, imposing threat of legal action to turf Trumbull out of the premises. Trumbull has to act quickly and decides to add Black to his list of night time visitations. The evening turns into a farce as the bumbling presence of Gillie alerts Black to the duos intrusion. The outcome, however, ironically delivers the same desired result for the desperate Trumbull, as Black appears to have a heart attack, brought on by the shock appearance of Gillie in his house.

As vibrant in its comic shenanigans as it is in its colourful hues The Comedy Of Terrors is an entertaining testament to the genius’s of the genre. From a time where a low budget still delivered a high quality production, and secured the very best talent to apply their trade in the cause of satisfaction over self gratification.

The final third of the movie is priceless entertainment from its stars. Boris Karloff as the doddery old undertaker, perked up by the elixir of afforded alcohol, is delirious to behold giving a church soliloquy, constantly forgetting the name of the deceased and adlibbing psalms. Basil Rathbone gives a strong performance as a typically pompous aristocrat, duly calling for a pantomime villain like rapport with the audience. Peter Lorre, certainly past his prime performances from earlier in his career, still draws sympathy toward his character as a down beaten underling, stoic in his role and an important and engaging necessity in bringing out the best in those around him. Vincent Price, of course, revels in the lead with a nonchalance that is artful in delivering a likeable villain to put a smile upon viewers faces, aware that he himself behind his on screen countenance is wryly smiling right back.

For Trumball and Gillie to keep Black in a coffin after pronouncement of death is the comical crux of the matter, as this Shakespearian quoting dandy suffers from the rare condition of catalepsy. When all natural signs of life equate to the person being dead, but in fact they are in a deep state of suspended animation. Just goes to show that you can’t keep a good man down, even when he has the obnoxious pomposity of Basil Rathbone’s character.

A fun caper wonderfully played out, and doubtlessly enjoyed by all the participants both in front of and behind the camera. The Comedy Of Terrors will tickle rather than terrorise, but is no less entertaining and once again looks incredible in High Definition, showing on the MGM HD Channel.

The Comedy Of Terrors Trailer

Movie Details IMDB