Movie of the Week Madness: Trilogy of Terror

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 | Posted by Thomas Parker

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Wednesday, March 5, 1975 dawned cool and cloudy in Los Angeles, as Sergeant Friday used to say. Among the usual topics of conversation that morning during snack break at my high school, one question predominated: Did you see that show last night?! The show in question was the previous evening’s ABC Movie of the Week: Trilogy of Terror. Yeah, that one. The one with the “Zuni fetish doll” that comes to life and wreaks havoc with Karen Black’s apartment, to say nothing of her epidermis.

The ABC Movie of the Week ran for six seasons, from 1969 to 1975, and was one of the first series comprised entirely of movies made specifically for television. Running once (in some seasons, twice) a week, and featuring the usual tv movie aggregation of performers, all fitting into the categories of has-been, never-was, and hoping-to-be (many of whom were shackled to the oars of some other ABC series, naturally), the Movie of the Week presented stories from all genres. Comedy, romance, romantic comedy, western, crime, social issue (unemployment, drug use, the problems of the young and of the aged, and alcoholism were… well, popular is the word, I guess, and 1972’s That Certain Summer is a genuine landmark, being the first American film of any sort to deal with homosexuality in a non-biased manner), disease-of-the-week (remember Brian’s Song?), and what used to be called the war between the sexes all made regular appearances.

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The Animated Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Mostly Does Its Job

Saturday, January 27th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

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Go-ji-ra — a strange word with mythic resonance when it rolls off the tongue of native Japanese speakers. But it’s a tough sell as the English title of a 1950s monster movie. For the sake of global audiences, the Foreign Sales Department of Toho Studios gave their 1954 movie and its monster a Romanized name: Godzilla. It makes sense as a transliteration: the katakana character shi (シ) in Gojira (ゴジラ) can be Romanized as -dzi-, and the “R” sound in -ra (ラ) slides into an “L.” By happy accident — or sly intention — Toho baptized their behemoth with the word God at its front, hinting at a creature greater than life, dominant in a way no mere monster could be.

The highest compliment I can give to the new animated film, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (currently streaming on Netflix), is that it explores and explodes the “God” in Godzilla. Other movies in the series have emphasized the monster’s inscrutability and deity-like unstoppability. The first mention of Godzilla in the 1954 original comes from an old fisherman who speaks of a legendary beast that has kept his island in fear for centuries. Planet of the Monsters pushes this god(zilla)hood into the spotlight. Godzilla has literally conquered Earth, driving the scraps of humanity into exile in space, then transforming and ruling the planet’s ecosystem unchallenged for twenty thousand years. This is Godzilla Earth, where the monster is both creator and destroyer.

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Warlords of Atlantis: The Edgar Rice Burroughs Adaptation That Isn’t

Saturday, January 20th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

warlords-of-atlantis-poster

In December, my patience with North American video distributors at last ran out. If they refused to deliver Region A Blu-rays, and in some cases even DVDs, of movies from my beloved Hammer Film Productions, I needed to take drastic steps. Yes, I asked Santa Claus for a region-free Blu-ray player. Santa delivered as promised and I immediately ordered a Blu-ray of The Plague of the Zombies from Amazon.uk.

Next on the list … Warlords of Atlantis. It’s not a Hammer Film, but going region-free brings benefits like at last owning a copy of the fourth Edgar Rice Burroughs film from the team of director Kevin Connor and producer John Dark. It isn’t actually an Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation, but in intent and most of the execution it might as well be.

Explain? Glad to. Connor and Dark made three low-budget movies in Britain based on ERB’s most popular science-fiction stories: The Land That Time Forgot (1975), At the Earth’s Core (1976), and The People That Time Forgot (1977). This Burroughs trio struck gold at the box-office, especially with adventure- and monster-loving kids. Connor and Dark planned a movie based on A Princess of Mars, this time working with EMI Films in co-production with Columbia.

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Oz Goes Thrift Shopping: “This is [bleeping] Awesome!”

Thursday, January 18th, 2018 | Posted by Nick Ozment

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On Wednesday, January 17, 2018, after I clocked out from work, I decided to do a 5 for 5: Hit all five of Med City’s thrift stores (at least that I know of) — 2 Goodwills, 2 Salvation Armys, and a Savers. I also dropped in at Nerdin’ Out, a store that specializes in collectible comic books and action figures.

It was a challenge, as I had just sprained my ankle that morning, and the walks down the aisles started to feel longer and longer as the day wore on. By the time the sun was setting, I had adopted the limping, shambling gait of the recently undead. But the increasingly incredible finds that I kept stumbling upon at one store after the other released enough adrenalin to keep me going — all the way until I got home, pulled off my snow boot, and found my ankle swollen to double its size.

Here (sharing only the finds that would be of particular interest to readers of this site) is my haul. Not all pickin’ days are this fruitful, I assure you. If they always turned out like today, hell, this is all I’d ever do.

From schlocky VHS horror flicks and classic sci-fi paperbacks to giant rubber snakes and other rare collectibles, today’s pick turned up treasures from across the entire spectrum of what I hunt for.

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Goth Chick News: Alien Roller Coast Goals (or What I Will Be Doing the First Time Chicago Is Snowed In)

Thursday, January 11th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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Contrary to what you may have heard from my fellow Black Gate staffers, I really was pretty good last year. I give Santa a lot of credit for ignoring the fake news which came out of our Chicago office about me hanging little bat skulls on the company tree and spray-painting all the candy canes black. Instead he decided to grant my two biggest wishes: for an HTC Vive virtual reality headset and the latest release of Planet Coaster to go with it.

Anyone who knows me knows I am absolutely mad for roller coasters and the game Planet Coaster by Frontier is, in my opinion, the quintessential environment for building the most extreme coasters and then watching with sadistic glee while your guests line up to ride it and promptly get sick afterwards. However, with the addition of the Vive VR, you can now personally line up to ride it and then get sick afterwards.

In other words, it rocks utterly.

Having spent more hours than I can to count immersed in Planet Coaster since its first release in 2016, I consider myself pretty adept at creating fanciful yet heart stopping coasters in the virtual world. But today, I must bow to the guru, the sensei, the ultimate Jedi Master of Planet Coaster, super-fan Hin Nya.

Nya has utilized Planet Coaster to create Aliens: The Ride, a 15-minute experience that takes you on a virtual trip through the scariest theme park attraction (n)ever made.

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The Last Jedi: The Creature of the Lagoon Trashes the Toxic Tropes (Porg is a Verb)

Thursday, January 11th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

256 last Jedi Poster

“Don’t try to porg me!”

(Spoilers after the cut. But seriously, if that matters to you, look at the date! You should have seen the movie by now.)

I liked The Last Jedi.

We liked The Last Jedi: my wife, my 14yr old son, my 10 yr old daughter, and me, I liked it.

It wasn’t prose Military Science Fiction, so we didn’t hold it to the standards of a Tanya Huff or Jack Campbell novel. Nor was it Mundane SF, so those bombs didn’t bother us. Rather, we sat down and enjoyed it the way we also enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.

Last Jedi Bleep This

“BLEEP this! BLEEP this also! And this in particular. BLEEP this guy…!”

It was less EC Tubb than the last instalment, and more (according to my son) like an RPG campaign that kept changing GMs and (so I reckoned) flipflopping between Traveller and FATE.  My daughter loved seeing girls having adventures (though, being 10, she rather takes this for granted), liked the light saber fights, and also the porgs. (“Porg” is now a verb in our house, as in, “Don’t try to porg me into giving you more chocolate ice cream.”)

I’ll admit I also enjoyed the very thing that seems to have upset so many knee-jerk critics: it went through the tropes the way the Creature of the Lagoon goes through scenery and people in that hilarious NSFW mashup on YouTube:

BLEEP this! BLEEP this also! And this in particular. BLEEP this guy…!

Mysterious But Significant Parentage went up in a puff of wasted fan theories. As did Dark Lord, Wise Mentor, Heroic Sacrifice Saves the Day, Ancient Wisdom, Epic Redemption.  (“BLEEP this guy, BLEEP those books, BLEEP in particular this tree…“)

The movie even trashed some of the things fans mock about Star Wars. The Jedi really aren’t the good guys. Darth Emo really is a boy in a stupid mask.

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Peplum Populist: The Last Days of Pompeii (1959)

Saturday, January 6th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

last-days-of-pompeii-1959-posterIn August of the first year of the reign of Emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, the volcano Vesuvius erupted in the south of Italy and destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Thousands of lives were lost. Out of the fire, ashes, and pyroclastic flows, an Italian film subgenre was born.

The 1959 film The Last Days of Pompeii (Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei) is the most famous of the many journeys Italian cinema has taken into the story of Vesuvius’s first-century eruption. Ostensibly based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s bestselling 1834 novel, the movie is a sword-and-sandal (peplum) riff that departs freely from its source so it can work as a vehicle for new megastar Steve “Hercules” Reeves. Reeves was at the height of his stardom and the peplum genre was also approaching the summit of its commercial success. There were loopier and cheesier days ahead for sword-and-sandal movies — I would argue more fun days — but for class and cash, The Last Days of Pompeii is a pinnacle. It lumbers sometimes under the weight of trying to appear like a serious prestige picture, but the lust for action entertainment carries it along. If you want to watch a dead serious epic from the same year, you have Ben-Hur. If you want to watch masses of polystyrene walls and pillars rain down on the cast and a hero slay lions and crocodiles, stay here.

Mario Bonnard is credited with directing The Last Days of Pompeii, but he fell sick on the first day of production. The man who took over the job was the assistant director, Sergio Leone. Yes, that Sergio Leone. Leone already had extensive experience working on Hollywood epics shot in Rome, including Quo Vadis. He proved he could helm a big feature with The Last Days of Pompeii, and soon after landed his first credited director job on another peplum, the fun romp The Colossus of Rhodes (1961). Two years later, Leone jump-started the genre that would surpass sword-and-sandal movies as the Next Big Thing in Italy with his Western, A Fistful of Dollars.

Although the eruption of Vesuvius is the reason the film was made, its story works as an ancient Roman drama even without the volcano. This isn’t a modern disaster film where the volcano is a constant subject of speculation with the actual on-screen disaster consuming the entire last third. Vesuvius appears in a few matte paintings and receives almost no mention again until the last ten minutes, when it interrupts the finale in the amphitheater to become the big curtain-closer. Forget the former plot, everybody run away!

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Goth Chick News: The Rampaging Continues…

Thursday, January 4th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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From the amount of feedback I received, I found out last week that I’m far from alone in my fearful appreciation of gigantic monstrosities as horror movie fodder. From sharks to grizzly bears (the 70’s even gifted us with The Giant Spider Invasion in 1975) we all seem to agree that if there’s going to be a freak of nature involved, why not go ahead and supersize it?

In fact, one of my favorite “too big to be allowed” monsters was glimpsed far too briefly in the movie Cloverfield (2008), and it is about this that I have news.

(Spoiler alert)

If you recall, Cloverfield ended with an impossibly huge something, laying waste to New York city and then having a nuke dropped on it effectively wiping out Manhattan. Eight years later, via the pseudo-sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), we found out that the nuke didn’t solve the problem and the earth was essentially overrun – or at least the part of it we saw in the film.

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Fantasia 2017: Some Thoughts, Looking Back

Sunday, December 31st, 2017 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Fantasia 2017With another year’s worth of Fantasia reviews now finished, I thought I’d take the time once again to look back at what I saw and write a general overview of the films as a whole. Doing so this year, though, leads to thoughts about film on a slightly larger scale than just Fantasia alone.

I saw a bit more than fifty movies this year at Fantasia. That includes films from a range of genres, but I want to write here about the fantasy and science-fiction movies I saw. And more than that, I want to write about what I’m seeing in the cinema of the fantastic in general.

What I want to observe, mainly, is this: it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that we’re in a golden age of fantasy and science-fiction cinema. Obviously there are any number of summer blockbuster films coming out of Hollywood. But there are also epics from China, and lavish manga adaptations from Japan. And more than that, from around the world there are intelligent, gripping and more-or-less independent genre films being made. There’s a flood of work out there to watch. What surprises me, given all this, is how little I hear about it.

Distribution and marketing still play a significant role in determining what films make it to theatres, and, perhaps more important these days, what films get written about online. It’s easy to hear about a Marvel movie, or even about a major Netflix original movie. But there’s a lot out there beyond those things. You can’t help but notice, for example, that Netflix doesn’t carry the Japanese adaptation of Death Note; use that service and you’re stuck with the whitewashed adaptation for American audiences.

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Fantasia 2017, Supplemental: Satires and Wars (Japanese Girls Never Die, Broken Sword Hero, and God of War)

Sunday, December 31st, 2017 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Japanese Girls Never DieAfter the Fantasia festival had officially concluded I still had three movies to watch. During the festival I’d requested links to view screening copies of three films I couldn’t see in theatres due to schedule conflicts, but it wasn’t until Fantasia ended that I had time to sit down and watch them. These movies were a Japanese comedy-drama called Japanese Girls Never Die (also released under the English title Haruko Azumi Is Missing, in romanised Japanese Azumi Haruko wa yukue fumei); a Thai historical martial-arts movie called Broken Sword Hero (also Legend of the Broken Sword Hero, from the romanised original Thong Dee Fun Khao); and a Chinese blockbuster historical war movie called God of War (Dang kou feng yun, now on Netflix). They made for an interesting mix.

Japanese Girls Never Die was directed by Daigo Matsui (whose earlier film Wonderful World End I quite liked), from a script by Misaki Setoyama based on the 2013 novel by Mariko Yamauchi. I can find out nothing about the novel, but the film is wondrously, deliriously complex, bristling with different timelines, subplots, and minor characters who send the film spinning off in different directions. It’s quick, challenging, and engaging.

There is Haruko Azumi (Yu Aoi, of the Rurouni Kenshin movies), an office worker in her 20s who has an unrequited love for her neighbour. There are two young grafitti artists (Shono Hayama and Taiga), at a later point in time, who find a poster of the missing Haruko and make street art from it. There is a gang of teen girls who terrorise the same streets, so that men are advised not to walk those streets at night. There is an older woman at the office where Haruko works, mocked by the men there for not having children and not being young and not being their fantasy image of a woman. There is a girl who is involved with one of the graffiti artists, who in turn are using her more than she realises. There is a clerk at a convenience store. There is a park called Dreamland. There are characters who may or may not attain their dreams. There is an unexpected beginning.

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