The Zatoichi films, a chambara series that features Shintaro Katsu as a blind yakuza swordsman, was very popular in Japan, running throughout the Sixties and totaling 19 films in quick succession, followed less rapidly by a final half-dozen “special” entries. Though the films in the series tend to follow a familiar formula, they are successful because the elements of that formula are a rich mixture of suspense, pathos, action, comedy, and wistful romance. Katsu’s Zatoichi is a blind masseur at the lowest level of Shogunate Japan’s social hierarchy, but he deeply resents the abuse he suffers from his social betters, and his preternaturally keen senses enable him to develop the skills of a sleight-of-hand gambler and, more importantly, a lightning-fast swordsman. A master of iaijutsu, or the slash on the draw, Ichi holds his blade in a reverse grip that is lethally effective when he gets inside the guard of those wielding longer katanas. He also has a lightning wit that enables him to suss out plots and conspiracies from a few overheard clues. Best of all, though he has a temper, Ichi is inherently good-hearted and always comes to the aid of the vulnerable suffering at the hands of their abusers.
I made an enjoyable foray into the November 1982 “’Science Fiction Summer’ Wrap-Up Issue” of Starlog Magazine over the 4th of July weekend, to see how well the reviews of various films have held up. When were the reviewers prescient, and when were they embarrassingly myopic? Did any of them have a sense that they were reviewing films during a year that is now regarded as one of the greatest ever for genre cinema?
1982 is a pretty significant year for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In retrospect it is kind of incredible how many films that are considered iconic played in movie theaters that summer. Just check out this list of films reviewed: Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Kahn. Conan. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.Blade Runner. Tron. Poltergiest. John Carpenter’s The Thing. And while Mad Max 2 debuted down under in 1981, it made its American debut (as The Road Warrior) in 1982.
Admittedly I approached A Quiet Place II with skepticism. I thought the first installment of the film, A Quiet Place released in 2018, was a genius take on the alien invasion story which has been explored dozens, if not hundreds, of times in Hollywood. Without dropping any spoilers, the story follows a family and their struggle to survive a post-apocalyptic alien invasion. We enter the story after nearly a year of horrific death and destruction has already occurred, perpetuated by alien creatures who are sightless, but hone in and destroy anything or anyone making the slightest sound, thanks to their ultrasensitive hearing. The result is a film that was almost totally silent (the script contained a total of 25 lines of dialog for a 3-hour, 36-minute run time), driving the visuals into even sharper focus. And the intense quiet made the jump scares more intense. In short, A Quiet Place worked because it was so unique.
Now, three years later, A Quiet Place IIhit theaters, once again helmed by the husband-and-wife team of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. Both star in the follow up, and Krasinski is back to assume writing and directing duties as well. This alone seemed to point to another entertaining outing, but could the elements that made A Quiet Place a standout take on a horror movie trope work twice?
I am currently in the first draft mire of a fantasy novel, bogged down by self-doubt and synonyms, but bravely wading on regardless. It’s the sort of sweeping epic that could get picked up and made into a second-rate show by a streaming service desperate for content, but my lofty aspirations aren’t the problem right now; rather, it is my need to educate myself as a writer. I generally avoid over-describing characters, but on two occasions I found myself writing about a pair of fighters and focusing less on their motivations and more on the amount of exposed thigh between their boots and Faulds. This had nothing to do with serving the story, and more to do with titillating 14-yr-old me and, after some revision, it got me thinking about the influences that led me here.
Born in the late sixties, my formative years were spent in 1970’s Britain, surrounded by page 3, Benny Hill, Carry On and Leela on Dr. Who. Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman was all the rage, and Caroline Munro was in everything I loved. Women could be warriors but, by thunder, they had to be sexy too.
Though by 1967 the Hammer Films brand was thoroughly associated with Dracula and similar horrors, the studio stubbornly continued to turn out films in other genres, including historical swashbucklers. Our first film, The Viking Queen, definitely has that sensational Hammer touch, but A Challenge for Robin Hood could almost be a Disney film, which shows late-Sixties Hammer productions could still have a considerable tonal range.
Admittedly, our third movie, Alfred the Great, isn’t from Hammer Films, but hey, it’s British and from the same period, and it’s worth a look, so give me a break, okay?
Given my favorite genre, watching anything that results in hysterical laughter is a rarity. It isn’t that I don’t have a sense of humor. You couldn’t work here without one. It’s just that the opportunities to partake in hilarity doesn’t often arise in the horror industry; but when it does, the source is usually something very special.
Such is the case with the FX series What We Do in the Shadows. The two-season series is a look into the daily lives of four vampires who’ve been together for hundreds of years, and their “familiar,” the young Guillermo, whose dearest wish is to be turned into a vampire in payment for his years of faithful service. This show, which is also available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime, is just plain wrong, which is what makes it so darn funny. No subject is off limits, and though some might characterize the humor as of the “potty” variety, personally that is precisely what I need in the all-too-serious times we live in.
At last! Because you demanded it. (I’m pretty sure that happened,) Finally, the subject everyone wants an article about, French Swashbuckler Tales Adapted for British Television! I know, right?
In the Sixties, one of the BBC’s stocks in trade was popular literature adapted into mini-series of six to sixteen half-hour episodes, usually shown on Sunday afternoons. In this context, Alexandre Dumas worked well for them: they’d had such success with The Count of Monte Cristo that they went back to the Dumas well twice more with his musketeers, and then picked up and dubbed a French serial called Le Chevalier Tempête set in the same period. En garde, old boy!
I mean there are literally hundreds of vampire movies, so to come up with a unique way to portray them is really something to be excited about. And I am.
The last time anyone came close to this was when John Ajvide Lindqvist first penned his novel, then the screenplay of Let the Right One In back in 2008. The movie was Swedish with English subtitles, which somehow made it seem bleaker than it otherwise would have been. Though a couple years later an English version was filmed, it wasn’t as dark nor as artful as the original. I won’t spoil it for you here, but if you haven’t seen the story of a child vampire and her human companion, you won’t be sorry.
This week a trailer dropped for a new German-language Netflix movie. Netflix has ten foreign language films scheduled for 2021, which is a huge change from just a few years ago, when most major movie studios wouldn’t have considered releasing a non-English-language feature in the United States.
Lots of stock footage, as usual for this era, but also decent miniature work and excellent alien design. It seems that this alien hanging around the North Pole in a magnetic-powered UFO is a scout looking for worlds to colonize, and the Earth really fits the bill. The submarine pursues him as he preys on shipping. It takes awhile to really get going, so stick with it, but the atomic sub finally gets their alien.
Though a number of name actors appear in this film, the acting is rather wooden. Arthur Franz, a second-string leading man, leads the way in a cast that includes a tired-looking Dick Foran, the old cowboy movie star Bob Steele, and Tom Conway (see below for another Conway appearance) as a Nobel Prize winning oceanographer, though I’m pretty sure they actually don’t give Nobel Prizes for oceanography. The only one who lights up the screen is the beautiful but ill-fated Joi Lansing in a brief appearance. She and the alien are the film’s highlights.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the FX series What We Do in the Shadows is one of my favorite shows ever. Each 30-minute episode has me literally crying laughing, and I’ve watched seasons 1 and 2 on demand multiple times while I wait for the release of season 3 in September. Something about mixing horror and comedy, ala American Werewolf in London or Zombieland just works for me.
A first look at the trailer for Werewolves Within makes me think this will be a film to go see in the theaters. I mean, I used to go see everything in the theaters. But being stuck at home for the last year has made a lot of us antisocial, and I find myself weighing the worthiness factor of a film before deciding where to see it. Such as, “is this film worthy of me putting on real clothes and sitting in the vicinity of other people I’m not related to?” And why do I think Werewolves Within is worthy? First of all, its origin story is kind of cool.