Sunday, 29 November 2015

IT!...Came From the 50s #5: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 giant monster film. Directed by Eugene Lourie (Gorgo) the film stars Paul Hubschmid, Cecil Kellaway (Harvey) and Lee van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). The film features the pioneering work of special effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, Clash of the Titans) in his first credited project.

Starting off in the Arctic circle, we are let in on a top secret project called "Operation Experiment" (rubbish secret name) in which Dr Nesbitt (Hubschmid) and his colleagues are studying the effects of atomic weaponry. As is often the case, the foolish experiments end up awaking a giant prehistoric lizard who decimates the science team and begins to work his way down the east coast of North America. After successfully convincing his superior commander (Van Cleef) and the world's leading paleontologist (Kellaway) of his discovery, a team is soon put together to stop the beast from destroying New York. However, aside from being gigantic and, let's face it, a double hard bastard, the lizard is also carrying lethal radioactive blood. This leads to a climax set on Coney island which not only requires the use of a roller coaster, but also a radioactive isotope to be shot into the throat of the creature and save humanity.

If this plot sounds familiar, it's because it's near identical to the very first Godzilla film which was released a little over a year after this film. In fact, The Beast not only helped to directly inspire Gojira (1954) but also the giant/atomic monster movies of the 50s and beyond, making it a very important film indeed. However, where Gojira would go on to spawn an iconic franchise consisting of no less than 27 sequels, The Beast came and went with little fanfare and it perplexes me why a sequel was never produced.

The plot is solid and the pacing is classical in it's "less is more" approach, favouring a strong mystery vibe rather than a "dinosaur smashing buildings up" approach. But when the smashing starts, it is a glorious sight...even to 2015 eyes! The combination of Harryhausen's inimitable stop motion work with front projection and an awful lots of extras running for their lives is surprisingly convincing and a lot of fun to watch. The clever twist of the creature's blood being radioactive, therefore necessitating a slightly smarter approach, is genius and I wished they'd perhaps spent a bit more time on this.

The Beast From 20,000 fathoms might be the more overlooked giant monster film when it comes to classics like Gojira and Them! (also 1954) and the "Rhedosaurus" may seem like the more bland creation to modern eyes but this is a truly iconic film with substance to back it up. Recommended viewing for any Godzilla/Kaiju fans, or indeed any fans of the legendary Ray Harryhausen, The Beast is representative of both of those things and I was certainly left wanting more.

***** 5 Stars

Have you seen the movie? What's your favourite giant monster movie?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015): Review

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a 2015 supernatural horror prequel. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, (Saw, Insidious) the film stars Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney (Stoker) and Lin Shaye (Insidious, Dead End). Although Whannell has written many of James Wan's films, this is his directorial debut.

 Occurring before the events of the first film, Chapter 3 follows the entire new family of Quinn (Scott), her father (Mulroney) and younger brother. Grieving after the death of her mother Quinn reaches out to Elise (Shaye), currently a retired psychic, to help her contact the spirit of her dead mother who she has been seeing. However, it soon becomes clear that the spirit haunting Quinn is not her mother and Elise must enlist the services of Specs (Whannell) and Tucker and journey into the further to exercise Quinn's demons as well as a few of her own.

What do you do when you run out of ideas for a horror sequel?...You make a prequel of course! This has happened with so many other horror franchises so it's only fitting that it would happen to Insidious, a series which borrows so heavily from other movies. The fact that I didn't even realise this was a prequel until the penultimate scene just goes to show what a dull and unimaginative film this is and, much like the Paranormal Activity series, is driven forward by it's profitability rather than it's narrative.

In all fairness to Whannell, he does a good job of stepping into Wan's shoes and is able to continue the distinctive visual style of the series. There's also some good writing hidden amongst the nonsense, particularly the sub plot involving Quinn's difficulty in coming to terms with her mother's death. "The further" is still an interesting concept to explore visually and the "oxygen mask demon" is a worthy successor to the iconic antagonists of the first film but it's very clear that Whanell got all his exposition into the first film and there's no plot left to weave.

Not nearly as ludicrous as Chapter 2 but twice as dull, the Insidious franchise has most certainly run out of steam. Whanell is better than this and Patrick Wilson has already been transplanted over to the Conjuring franchise, which has a sequel on the way and seems like the more logical option for a franchise. A few scares, some cool visuals but a wholly unnecessary prequel (as many are) that won't leave much of an impression.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of Insidious? Do you think this was an unnecessary installment?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Movie B Bad #6: Vibrations (1996)

I saw the film at a Bristol Bad Film Club screening. Check them out at their website and on Facebook.

Vibrations is a 1996 musical teen drama. Written and directed by Michael Paseornek, the film stars James Marshall (Twin Peaks) and Christina Applegate (Married with Children, Anchorman). Although this would be Paseorneks only foray into directing, he would go on to become a successful producer responsible for horror films like American Psycho (2000) and The Devil's Rejects (2005).

The film follows T.J (Marshall), a talented young musician on the road to stardom. Unfortunately, his hands (and dreams) become crushed after a run in with some local thugs and a drill-equipped JCB, leaving him to wander the city as a rubber handed drunken hobo. Luckily for TJ he wanders into a local rave and meets Annamika (Applegate), who takes pity on him and helps him to clean up his act. Recognising a musical talent within TJ, Annamika and her friends (including a welding landlady) manage to craft him a new cybernetic pair of hands which help to propel him to superstardom as "techno" DJ Cyberstorm!

First off, this is the most 80s 90s film I've ever seen. From most of the fashion on display to the "cutting edge" electronic music being played, I was really very shocked to learn this film was made in 1996. The dialogue is similarly hilarious and out of touch, particularly when the characters are trying to describe the music and the cosmic grooves etc. More often than not the music sounds like it's one of the preset demos on a Yamaha keyboard and it couldn't be farther from the type of dance music we were all enjoying in 1996 (okay maybe not enjoying).

In all fairness to Marshall he does seem to be doing his best with what he's been given and I suppose you could call some of the early homeless scenes "gritty". Some of the funniest moments of the film come from the physical comedy involving TJs rubber hands. This includes stopping a knife attack with his palm and using his hand to stop a kitchen fire, surely the makers of the film could not have expected this to be taken seriously? There's also a lot of fun to be had when the gang get going on their "rave concert tour" and watching TJ "perform" as Cyberstorm is something I can only liken to C-3PO having some sort of fit.

Vibrations had the right idea, no doubt trying to capitalise on the cyberpunk sub-culture made popular by "Hackers" the previous year, but ends up a film quite obviously written by a middle aged man who has no idea how teenagers would have talked in 1996 or what kind of music they would listen to. However, the film is unintentionally hilarious when enjoyed as the unlikely story of a handless wino who becomes a gyrating, robotic superstar.

**** 4 Stars

Have you seen Vibrations? What did you think?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Visit (2015): Review (spoiler free)

The Visit is a 2015 found footage horror film. Directed by M Night Shyamalan (The sixth Sense, The Village) and starring newcomers Olivia Dejonge and Ed Oxenbould. This is Shyamalan's first straight horror film since 2004's The Village.

The found footage in question is a documentary being made by Becca (Dejonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Oxenbould) and is based around them meeting their Grandparents for the first time. This belated meeting is due to their mother having fallen out with her parents many years previous and also becomes the topic of the documentary. However, Nana and Pop Pop soon prove to be quite the eccentric geriatrics and, what begins as your run of the mill incontinence and forgetfulness, soon develops into much more disturbing behaviour.

The Visit has been described as a return to form for Shyamalan and this is true on many levels. Firstly, the film represents a thoroughly back to basics approach, not just for the director but for horror in general, and is a found footage film crafted from the tried and tested Paranormal Activity (2007) formula. There is also a very well judged balance between playful comedic banter from the siblings and genuinely unsettling performances from the Grandparents and the incorporation of "Sundowning" (a genuine form of dementia) was as fascinating as it was gripping.

Secondly, the film marks a welcome return to Shyamalan's real talent of weaving a strong emotional core into his horror and, like The Sixth Sense (1998) before it, The Visit is really a film about childhood growing pains and absent parents. Indeed, I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat during the scenes where the children let down their guard and show exactly what kind of effect their father walking out has had on them. The way this is mirrored by their mother's own issues with her parents was really touching and represents the kind of sincerity that a lot of people wouldn't associate with Shyamalan these days.

I don't feel it's a spoiler to mention that, of course, the movie has a twist in it's final act and, let's be honest, you'd be a lot more surprised if an M Night Shyamalan film didn't have a twist. What might surprise you though, is the restraint that he seems to have applied this time around and, although it's still a great twist that I didn't see coming, it's not a feature that the entire movie hinges on. The Visit is one of the finest horror films of the year with more heart than anyone would've expected and has to rank near the very top of Shyamalan's entire output...maybe don't watch it with your Grandparents though.

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of The Visit? How do you rank it amongst Shyamalan's other films?