Thursday, January 31, 2013

REVIEW: The Earth Dies Screaming

The Earth Dies Screaming
Director: Terence Fisher
Year 1964

The Earth Dies Screaming is a low-key, yet highly effective, science fiction film which centers around an alien invasion brought on by menacing robots and reanimated dead corpses. Shot in a classy black in white style and presented in the most earnest of ways, this engaging gem strips its scenery of life as it tells a morbidly twisted tale of Earth's demise by the hands of a mysterious foe. Focusing on its central cast to pull the viewer in, this outstanding effort has a quality to it that you don't find much anymore in this particular genre. With its beautiful photography, unsettling nature, and commendable effects, The Earth Dies Screaming is a respectable feature in which takes its otherworldly aspects and brings them to haunting life.

The film begins when the majority of the Earth's population simultaneously collapse from an unseen force. Rendering all that succumb to the strange phenomenon, a quick and effortless death, the remaining surviving population is forced to gather their wits and confront the problem at hand. A rag-tag group of survivors, led by space pilot Jeff Nolan, hold up in a small village as they try to wrap their heads around all that has been going on. Surrounded by death and without any answers, the group soon comes into contact with strange robotic beings who with one touch, can evaporate a person from existence. Not only that, but the recently dead are now walking the earth, serving as servants of some mysterious master alien race who want nothing more than to bring about the extinction of mankind.

Willard Parker plays the hero of the film, Jeff Nolan, who gathers together the remaining survivors to revolt against their alien attackers. Parker is an outstanding presence in the movie, always taking charge when the time comes for it and basically keeping the group from harms way whenever he can. With The Earth Dies Screaming being basically his only foray into the world of science fiction, I'd say he did a bang up job, and the fact that he takes on the role with a serious and no nonsense disposition makes the believability of his character that much more potent. Taking the central female role of the film is Virginia Field as she plays the character of Peggy. Always in peril and classically attractive, Field works wonders as the innocent and vulnerable woman of the ensemble. Though she is not as strong and capable as her more modern female cinema counterparts, she still manages to hold her own in this male dominated world, and now alien dominated one. The vulnerability of her character is endearing and the moments in which we find her character surrounded by the undead and robot hordes, we come to find a great attachment to her and her role in the film.

As for the rest of the cast, they each fill their respective roles and portray them equally with class, but the one main standout of the bunch is Dennis Price as the loathsome Quinn Taggart. The character is a slim ball, taking every opportunity in trying to sneak Peggy away from the rest of the group, with or without her consent. He even goes so far as to capture her at gunpoint and steal her away. Now that's a pure shithead right there! As much as you love to hate the character of Quinn Taggart, you can't deny the authenticity of Price's delivery. He portrays the man as an opportunistic scumbag, and damn does he do it well. All in all, the entire breadth of the cast is top notch and they essentially give the film a quality that is truly worth visiting again and again.

What is most impressive about The Earth Dies Screaming, is that the film is smothered in a thick ominous tone that never truly lets up. Astonishingly the filmmakers were able to maintain a tremendously effective atmosphere for the entire runtime of the film, which only serves to get more oppressive as the movie moves along. From the very early beginnings of the film, when we are presented with a string of silent depictions of the lifeless, corpse-filled villages streets, to the claustrophobic middle moments when the walking dead and imposing robots begin to terrorize the surviving group, the film makes it perfectly clear that this is a world where danger lurks around every corner. I appreciated that heightened sense of peril and it was perfectly balanced against the film's beautifully captured black and white photography.

The effects of this film are also noteworthy, not in the awe-inspiring sense, but in the practical and simplified one. This is not an over the top blockbuster, where special effects are lambasted across the screen every two or three seconds. This is a subdued and intimate story of survival, which focuses on the interactions of the characters and the altercations that they have with the handful of opposing beings that come up against them. With that in mind, the overall effects are impressive and wholly effective. From the truly mechanical look of the robots, to the dead-like eyes of the walking corpses, this film makes a definitive impression on its audience. Visually, the effects are extraordinary and help with enhancing the already astounding imagery that this production has to offer. If I could summarize this science fiction gem into one word, that word would be beautiful.

The Earth Dies Screaming is a picturesque depiction of what would happen if the world suddenly became a barren and lifeless wasteland in the blink of an eye. Its quiet approach to this concept is exceptionally rendered onto the silver screen, capturing all of those somber moments in an overpowering atmosphere that just blankets this film in a foggy haze of dire circumstance. You truly feel the loneliness of the moment and the seclusion that these characters are going through, and when the antagonists of the picture finally do show up, you feel as if lost in a dream. That's a powerful thing to recreate, but the filmmakers do it with sparing flair, opting to emphasize its overall atmosphere with haunting moments of stillness.

Highlighting this delicate approach is a cast of characters that just seem to inhabit this world through and through. Lost in the same nightmarish dreamscape, the group struggles with the trials and tribulations of this brave new world. As actors in such a unique genre effort, the entire cast does an exceptional job, but it is the standouts of Willard Parker, Virginia Field, and Dennis Price, that truly captivate the focus of this film. Juxtaposed off of them is an outstandingly simple collection of practical effects that only serve to enhance the already otherworldly aspect of the production. Needless to say, I'm a sucker for old black and white science fiction tales, and this one is among one of the finest. Filmed in earnest fashion and constructed with a love for the genre, you really can't ask for more from a film than that. The Earth Dies Screaming is a simple yet effective sci-fi effort with a heavy dose of atmosphere. This flick is.....

Get up you lazy good for nothings!

Something's wrong... Something's amiss!

Alien apocalypse staring contest..... GO!

You know you can't park here buddy.

Damn you and your zombie cleavage!

Creepy robots... are watching you. They see your every move.

You'll never get my groceries! NEVER!

Tell us another story Grandpa Parker.

I see you over there you little sneak.

Taxi! Wait up! Damn! What's a robot got to do to get a ride around this place?

Let me ask again.... Would you like to have sex with me?

Get off the road you stupid robot!

What are you weirdos looking at?

Virginia Field is the next contestant on the Price is Right!

Look what they did to my little robot boy.

Gee Mr. Wizard.... what does that do?

Take this you alien scum!

Shit! Nazi Robots! Damn you Hitler! Damn you to HELL!

REVIEW: The Mark of Kriminal

The Mark of Kriminal
Director: Fernando Cerchio & Nando Cicero
Year 1968

The Mark of Kriminal is the second and last entry in the Kriminal caper series, featuring a mysterious masked thief named Kriminal who is as cunning as he is debonair. Based on a comic strip of the same name, the film takes place almost directly after the events in the first film, which concluded with the capture of Kriminal, yet it introduces us to the fact that you just can't keep a good criminal down as the master thief is back to his old tricks again. Shot in the same fun and vibrant style as the original, this enjoyable sequel globe-trots from London, to Spain, and to Lebanon, while maintaining enough twists and turns in the narrative to make it a worthy successor to Umberto Lenzi's 1966 effort.

The film follows the exploits of Kriminal as he comes into possession of a Buddha figurine that houses a portion of a treasure map. The quarry of this map just so happens to be a hidden collection of famous paintings made by Goya and Rembrandt, and Kriminal aims to retrieve them by any means necessary. Trouble is that there are two more missing pieces to the map, which are also hidden away inside two other Buddha statues and its up to Kriminal to hunt down the remaining few before anyone else learns of his schemes. Hot on his trail is Inspector Milton, who has not given up his fevered pursuit in bringing Kriminal to justice, while a new foe enters the picture in the form of the vivacious Mara Gitan, a fellow treasure hunter and opportunistic femme fatale who matches Kriminal's moves at every turn. Who will recover the priceless works of art is anyone’s guess, but it's sure to be an entertaining and fun-filled ride.

Glenn Saxson reprises his role as the titular master thief and it seems as if he is rather comfortable with the character in this entry. Though I thoroughly enjoyed his portrayal in the first film, I feel that he brings a bit more personality this time around, allowing for his wit and ingenuity to take center stage. There's no doubt about it, Kriminal is one sly son of a bitch, and Saxson milks this for all its worth. The enormously suave personality of his character is larger than life, showcasing enough charm and charisma that you'd think you stumbled onto a long lost Eurospy gem. One things for certain, Glenn Saxson owns the role of Kriminal for all its worth and after his tremendous efforts in both the original 1966 production and The Mark of Kriminal, he's solidified his position as the ultimate cinematic iteration of the character.

Accompanying Saxson on this wild caper is Helga Line, as she takes on the role of Mara Gitan the sexy seductress who shapes up to be Kriminal's equal. Helga is no stranger to the world of Kriminal, for she played a double role in the 1966 entry as both Inge and Trude, twin sisters who cross paths with Kriminal. In this film her character takes a drastic turn from those other iterations, as she plays more of a thorn in the side of the title character. As dangerous and conniving as she is beautiful, Helga's Mara Gitan character is a sly and illusive one, willing to do all and anything in order to obtain her end goal. The interactions between herself and Saxson are astoundingly fun and it's enthralling to watch the pair lie and cheat their way to the riches, as they vie for position against each other. As always, Helga is a vision to behold and the film gives her ample opportunity in showing off her fashion sense with her various outfits and sometimes lack there of. I've always been a fan of her work ever since I first caught her in The Loreley's Grasp, and in this production she absolutely shines.

As with the first Kriminal film, the movie is filled to the brim with wacky antics and interesting capers. Many of these whimsical moments are provided by the character of Inspector Milton, played by Andrea Bosic. Bosic reprises his role from the original film, bringing that same energized and persistent approach that made his character so enjoyable the first time around. In The Mark of Kriminal, his main antics are centered around the fact that he is engaged to wed and his personal vendetta against Kriminal keeps getting in the way of his wedding day. With a number of memorable moments involving a fiery bride berating him for keeping up this foolhardy quest in bringing Kriminal to justice, Bosic establishes that central thematic arc that was prevalent in the original film while branching out as the movie moves along into rather unexpected territories. His performance in this film is a real treat and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Of course Andrea Bosic isn't the only reason this film is so madcap. The most enjoyable aspects of this production can be attributed to Glenn Saxson's performance and the wild adventures that he gets himself into. From scaring old women to death and then collecting their insurance money, to electrocuting his former lover right before she is about to poison him, to framing a handsome single young man as Kriminal, to basically being an all around cocky sure-headed scoundrel, this film is a roller coaster in depicting the wild nature of Kriminal's world and more-so his questionable persona. You really have to give it up to the filmmakers for injecting this entry with the same wicked wit and charm that the original had, while still being able to maintain the fun-filled nature that Kriminal encompasses. The Mark of Kriminal has definitely got the goods and then some, so don't let it pass you by.

The Mark of Kriminal is an Italian caper which takes all of the aspects that made the original film so enjoyable, and adds to the formula in some rather stupendous ways. By bringing back Glenn Saxson for the title role and also snagging another opportunity to place Mara Gitan in the world of Kriminal, the filmmakers cemented their success with exquisite precision. Saxson knocks the character out of the park, while Helga spices up the proceedings with her undeniable allure and sexy swagger, making for a cinematic pairing that is absolute bliss. Andrea Bosic is also another returning asset to the production that really adds a great deal of energy to the film.

As for the overall story of The Mark of Kriminal, the treasure hunt mystery is one that will keep you guessing as the story gradually unfolds. In between this globe trotting journey, we are given countless opportunities to see Kriminal in action both in the living flesh and behind the iconic mask. Not only that, but Kriminal has a wild collection of ridiculously fashioned disguises that have to be seen to be believed. What really takes the cake in this production is the utterly, out of left field, ending that literally side-swipes you and pulls the rug out from under you. It's wild and abrupt, but it succinctly puts an end to the proceedings in the most unusual of ways and I'm willing to bet it will get a chuckle out of most who view it. If you're looking for a good time and you thoroughly enjoyed the original Kriminal film, then give this one a go. The Mark of Kriminal is an.....

That's right Kriminal! Get you some!

Kriminal says.... "Cry me a river". What a bastard!

Lady, your hat is almost as stupid as my fake mustache.

I'm giving you a casual middle-finger. Kriminal you bastard!

Sweet Sassafras!!!!

Careful with that Buddha statue you stupid shit!

Ever have sex with a masked weirdo?

What are you looking at four-eyes?

Please don't look at me when I sip my tea.

So is that weird little man with the fez still watching us?

Holy Mary mother of GOD! It's Helga!

Get your feet off of the table you savage!

I think we took a wrong turn. This place is a shithole.

Now that's one hot bookworm.

Talk about the Iron Chic!

Watch the road asshole!

Nobody leaves Helga Line handcuffed to a jeep.... NOBODY!

Let me tell you something buddy.... I'm the MAN!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

REVIEW: Prince of Darkness

Prince of Darkness
Director: John Carpenter
Year 1987

Prince of Darkness is a highly atmospheric horror film directed by the master of genre flicks, John Carpenter. Following the cult success of his prior directorial effort, Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter delves back into his horror roots to unearth a frightening spectacle that is as thought-provoking as it is moody and surreal. Knee deep in foreboding doom and filled to the brim with an all-star cast of character actors, this late 80's entry really packs a punch. Consumed in apocalyptic tones and oozing that trademark Carpenter style, Prince of Darkness is a sorely under-appreciated horror film that delivers an engaging storyline, which should please anyone out there that likes their horrors crafted with genuine feel and unabashed heart.

The film begins with a local priest stumbling onto an unusual vile of green liquid in the basement of an abandoned Los Angeles church. Sensing an evil presence within the vile and fearing the worst, the priest enlists the help of Professor Howard Birack and his team of colleagues and graduate students to investigate the archaic relic. Once there the team begins to experience all sorts of unexplainable phenomenon which only seems to strengthen the longer they stay on the grounds of the monastery. With a malevolent presence consuming the lives of each of the researchers and an ancient evil beginning to breach itself into the world of the living, could this spell the end of the world for mankind or is this just a new beginning?

When it comes to an all-star cast, Prince of Darkness definitely takes the cake. The legendary Donald Pleasence embodies the role of the central priest character and he simply nails it in the doom and gloom department. His prophetic descriptions of an ancient evil or Anti-God is chilling and his presence in this film is essential in relaying to the audience that the events that are taking place in this movie are not to be taken lightly. The same can be said for Victor Wong, who plays the role of Prof. Howard Birack. He is equally fervent in his delivery and when the two share screen time together the film literally hits an authentic pitch that solidifies the severity of the situation at hand. It's amazing to see two of John Carpenter's most memorable characters like Pleasence, who played Dr. Loomis in Halloween, and Victor Wong, who played Egg Shen in Big Trouble in Little China, and to see them together in the same film is just pure cinematic bliss. If there was ever a foundation for this movie to stand on, it would be the performances made by these two absolutely engaging actors.

As for the rest of the cast, Carpenter spared no expense in keeping the quality consistent across the board. Among the long list of actors in this film, the real standouts are Lisa Blount as Catherine Danforth, Jameson Parker as Brian Marsh, Dennis Dun as Walter, Peter Jason as Dr. Paul Leahy, and Jessie Lawrence Ferguson as Calder. Everyone does a tremendous individual job with putting life into the picture, but it is the collaborative effort of the combined cast that really interjects a sense of purpose and authenticity to the production. From Blount's vulnerable and innocent young Catherine, to Parker's headstrong and capable Brian, to Dun's quirky and quick-tongued Walter, the cast is a cohesive force to be reckoned with. The best way to describe their function would be to compare them to the cast of The Night of the Living Dead. In that film, the cast consisted of stand-out performances and characters across the board which gelled so well together to form one single-minded surviving unit, that you felt apart of the struggle. In Prince of Darkness, you get that same feeling of being a part of the team and fending off the evil as it begins to take down each member one by one, and that is a tremendous asset for a film to have.

Another one of the long list of assets that Prince of Darkness has going for it is John Carpenter's impeccable ability to gradually build the tension as the movie moves along. These are especially prevalent during the many disposition moments of the film, where we begin to figure out what is going on inside this church by gathering the bits and pieces of knowledge that each character uncovers as they delve into the mystery of the liquid filled glass vile. Carpenter also uses a genuinely masterful visual mechanism in the form of visions of the future, which slowly begin to appear in small fragments, gradually revealing more and more of the mystery as the film nears its apocalyptic conclusion. The tension in these moments are quite effective, giving a tantalizing taste of what's to come, while simultaneously making us question the very nature of the film.

Of course with this being a horror movie, and a John Carpenter one to boot, you know there are going to be some wildly demented imagery in the mix and some insanely enjoyable situations to revel in. One of the most interesting aspects of this production is that it is a strange brew of religion and science fiction, with a zombie twist. Like a page straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Exorcist, the main villains of this movie are ordinary people, yet changed and deformed by the effects of this evil entity that is narrowing the gap between its world and ours. Initially the derelicts and vagrants residing around the church are first affected by the malevolent presence, then it soon spreads to the research team as the vile of liquid makes contact and then infects the rest of the crew. The overall theme of the film is, at its core, good versus evil, and through the presence of Donald Pleasence's priest character, you have an overwhelming notion that this is a spiritual war with God and Satan at the forefront. In a sense this is the essential premise of the movie, but Carpenter switches the formula up a bit and adds a futurist element into the mix in the form of a visual warning from the future. Add onto that the tried and true premise of a zombie survival horror flick and you've got yourself one hell of an original story while at the same time making for one devilishly good time at the movies.

Prince of Darkness is a wonderful Carpenter vehicle and the collaborative effort between the cast of characters and their essential roles in the film are perfectly executed and tremendously balanced. Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong simply knock their performances out of the park, while Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker and Dennis Dun leaving a lasting impression that really amplifies the enjoyability factor of this horror gem. Even Alice Cooper turns out an unforgettable performance as a homeless murderer.

In true Carpenter fashion, the atmosphere of the production is palpable, bringing about a heightened sense of believability to this otherworldly haunting opus that grabs you the minute the film begins to roll. With its motley assortment of genre staples, sci-fi elements, possession antics, heaven and hell parallels, and downright zombie-filled goodness, Prince of Darkness is an underrated Carpenter effort that truly deserves a wider and more appreciative audience. It's right on par with the rest of his horror-tinged classics and it's probably one of his most foreboding films to date, so check it out! This flick is.....

How romantic.

Alice Cooper.... you dirtbag!

What is this? The Breakfast Club sequel?


Computers before internet porn was invented. So sad.

Don't drink that shit!

Something kinky's going down now.

It's time for Daddy Pleasence's story time. Yippie!

Put down the spit-wad! Nobody has to get hurt!

Don't cry... you don't look that bad.

This guy has got a splitting headache.

Looks like someone is ready for baseball tryouts.

Don't go into the light!

Get some rest. You need your beauty sleep.

Way to get ahead douchebag.

Well someone is all smiles.

Pleasence is the..... Decapitator!

Come on over Tim Curry.