A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

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To entertain myself, I started making a note of every time Freddy Krueger, child murdering bastard son of a hundred maniacs, made a bad pun. Out of his total of about 40 lines in the entire movie, 24 of them were “jokes”. Now, I don’t mind a gag or two in my horror movies, unlike some other reviewers, but that is going slightly too far. If you add in the dialogue free segments where Freddy skateboards, and turns into a superhero, then…well, you’ve got this mess.

 

Lisa Wilcox is back as Alice, and it’s high school graduation time. She’s still with Dan from part 4, and he’s about to head off to college to become an American Football star; there’s a bunch of other people around too, who seem to replace the archetypes that Freddy offed previously. Unfortunately, she starts having dreams she can’t control, including the asylum where Amanda Krueger was trapped and raped by the inmates – wow, do I hope even the worst real asylum in history didn’t look that grim.

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I was about to avoid spoilers, but damn! It’s too weak to deserve that treatment. It turns out Lisa is pregnant, and Freddy wants to take over the baby’s soul, or something, so he can continue killing more people. As “nightmares” start happening when the characters are wide awake, they figure out it’s the baby’s dreams that are causing everyone to die – a development that sounds even dumber than it was, when written down. The trick to finishing him off this time is to find the spot where Amanda Krueger committed suicide and…it’s really not clear, but it’s a subplot that takes up an appalling amount of time and is dull as ditchwater.

 

The setpieces, unlike the previous movies, are pretty embarrassing. With the aforementioned skateboarding and superhero stuff, there’s a scene set in an MC Escher painting, which is a bit wackier than I like my child endangerment and murder to be, as a rule. There’s a bit where one of the victims turns into a paper version of himself and gets sliced up. It’s so witless and boring, which is pretty unforgivable in a series like this.

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Then we’ve got those scenes which indicate no-one bothered having a second run at the script. Lisa’s pregnancy is revealed to a room full of her friends and relatives, when I’m pretty sure that’s the sort of thing you’d tell a high school student on her own, for one. There’s the way that despite the town they live in, and its warzone-level teenager mortality rate, no-one believes Lisa, again. In fact, her best friend remains a committed Freddy skeptic until she’s attacked herself at around the 1:00 mark, and every single line out of her mouth is incredibly annoying. If you think your friend would make something like that up, why are you her friend?

 

I think the blame can be apportioned pretty equally throughout, with this one. We’ve got the producers, cutting out the gore to get it a more multiplex-friendly rating but leaving those death scenes as just confusing; we’ve got the writers, none of whom seemed to have much idea of what they were doing; we’ve got a cast full of people who don’t seem to be trying (Wilcox especially looks she’s doing this at gunpoint); and then we’ve got director Stephen Hopkins. He’s gone on to a career as a TV director / producer, but directed a surprising number of big budget genre pictures too, most of which sucked (“Lost In Space”, “Judgement Night”). Perhaps it’s that he was only given 4 weeks to do principal photography on this?

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I’ll just say it was a perfect storm of badness, starting with the idea that Freddy should be both a wisecracking 90s pop culture juggernaut, and a child murdering psychopath; and ending with a few special effects looking for a movie to attach themselves too. Even positive reviews (most of which boil down to “I was young when I first saw this”) can’t seem to figure out what Freddy’s endgame is, and why he never bothered doing it before if he could.

 

And part 6 is going to be even worse!

 

Rating: thumbs down

Demon Queen (1987)

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I don’t think we’ve ever really discussed shot-on-video (SOV) before, dear reader. We’ve certainly covered a few – the wonderful “Things”, “Redneck Zombies”, and “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, among others – but as far as the genre goes, we’ve only hinted. So, as drive-in theatres were slowly dying off, home video and VHS rental places took over, and there was a massive explosion in demand for content to fill those shelves. At the higher budget end of things we get Cannon, who were so prolific they once made 54 movies in a year, but the very lowest end was helped by the decreasing cost of reasonably decent camcorders. One SOV movie even got a proper cinema release (“Boardinghouse”) but most of them were exceptionally bad, only turning a profit because they were so extremely cheap to make, and lured video shop renters in with their lurid covers.

 

Which brings us to “Demon Queen”, the first movie from Donald Farmer, who we recently encountered as director of the so-bad-it’s-good masterpiece “Vampire Cop”. It attempts to answer a question that no-one asked – “what is the most amateurish a movie can look and still be called a movie?” It’s quite extraordinary – 54 minutes long, with 8 of those minutes being credits, and that remaining 46 has plenty of padding in the form of extended driving sequences, too!

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The story sort of centres around Jesse (Dennis Stewart), a sleazy low-level drug dealer. We’re introduced to him as he gets his ass kicked by Izzie, the rather diminutive fellow who’s a step further up the drug chain, and Izzie’s assistant Bone. He owes them money, and his miserable unhappy girlfriend Wendy is snorting all his profits away. We’ve already seen the Demon Queen herself, Lucinda (Mary Fanaro), performing an activity which may have been tearing someone’s heart out, but because of the confusing camerawork, could well have been anything. Anyway, she saves Jesse for absolutely no reason, then asks him if she can stay with him a few days, to which he immediately agrees.

 

Lucinda, it turns out, is in love with Jesse, although one would think she’d have slightly better taste in men than average-looking, not terribly nice drug dealers. Maybe she’s got self-esteem issues? Anyway, she kills a bunch of people, including Wendy, but the course of true love sadly does not run smooth. Oh, and then after a while some of the people Lucinda kill come back as zombies who can turn other people into zombies, but I’m not sure why any of that happens.

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All this in 46 minutes! I know, it’s hard to believe, right? Some of Donald Farmer’s trademarks are there from the beginning, such as his indifference to showing the beginning and end of a scene; and there’s the baffling amount of driving footage too. The end credits are among the strangest you’ll ever see – each character’s name is on screen for upwards of 30 seconds, and to illustrate the character they’ll show several random clips from the movie featuring them. So far so good, you’d think, but some of the scenes have three people in, making it difficult to figure out which actor is being credited; and then there’s one bit, where a good half of one of the credits is a shot of the chap’s heart being pulled out, a shot which doesn’t show the actor’s face at all. It’s so confusing!

 

Not every SOV film is an incompetent mess (although with the vastly lower bar to clear, the likelihood of them sucking is certainly higher) but this is the incompetent mess by which all others should be judged. The quality of the footage ranges from almost tolerable to a blurry, indistinct splodge, with more of the latter than the former, and the music! Best guess, Mr Farmer just noodled around on an old Casio keyboard for a few hours and sliced up that improvising into several chunks, which he inserted at random throughout the movie. The music never once matches, or comes close to matching, the “action” happening on screen.

 

Even when something good happens, Farmer seems unable to take advantage of it. About halfway through, he gets a neck wound effect right, and it looks fantastic…but he’s so proud of it he holds on it for almost ten seconds, with the killer’s hands paused awkwardly just in the shot. To say it ruins the flow of the movie is a joke, but it certainly spoils the moment somewhat. Then, he’s filming a street scene one day and (I guess by accident) captures part of a real anti-pornography rally. A more enterprising director would have used this, written a scene where Lucinda walks past and says “there’s more dangerous things than pornography” or something, but he just awkwardly pauses on it for a few seconds before moving on.

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I haven’t even mentioned the video store subplot…mostly because it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and was presumably inserted as it was the video store Farmer worked at, or the guys there paid to be in the movie, or something. Or how the only bedroom he had access to only had a single bed in it, so whenever Jesse entertains one of the movie’s ladies, it looks like a bit of a squeeze. Or the out-of-sync screams.

 

From tiny acorns, do horrible diseased oaks grow, and Donald Farmer took this (which cost $2,000 and was presumably shot in a few spare afternoons) and turned it into a directing career which is still going today. He’s got “Shark Exorcist” and “Cannibal Cop” ready to come out this year, and those names just scream quality. I think we’ll have to do a series of reviews of Farmer’s decent-looking movies (he also did a few kids films and work for hire, all of which sound boring), so get ready for some terrible reviews. Er, sorry, movies, I hope the reviews are at least okay.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

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I respect Vin Diesel’s nerd bona fides a great deal. He’s got a tattoo of the name of his Dungeons & Dragons character, having been a regular player of the game since childhood. He set up a computer game company to do a decent game based on his “Riddick” character, and made one of the best movie tie-in games ever. And even though he never needs to lift a finger for the rest of his life, now he’s got that producer credit on “The Fast And Furious” movies, he still makes odd high concept genre stuff like this as often as possible.

He’s Kaulder, one of a group of Viking-looking fellows in the early 1200s, who go after the witch who’s terrorised them. He’s smarter than his brethren so takes her down, but as he’s plunging his burning sword into her chest, she grabs him and curses him with eternal life. Boom! Fast forward 800 years, and Kaulder is the “enforcer” of some Church-based organisation, and is on his 37th Dolan, a chap trained to help him, keep him safe, tell him where to go and who to stop, that sort of thing.

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Right now, I can sense the reason why it’s currently doing so poorly at the box office. It feels at times like the sequel to something we’ve not seen, or possibly a prequel to something you have (where you’re expected to know a lot of the linking stuff). Witches still exist, some good some evil, and they’ve got a truce going with the Church. Kaulder will bring in the ones who break the truce, and they’ll all be thrown in Witch Prison (yes, that’s what it’s called).

It looks like someone has got witch power stronger than anything Kaulder’s seen since the original Witch Queen, so he’s thrown into the toughest fight of his life. Dolan 36 is Michael Caine, doing a version of Alfred from the Batman movies where he gets to have a bit of a laugh; he’s killed, and up springs earnest, nerdy Dolan 37, Tobey Maguire, who was rescued by Kaulder as a child when his parents were killed by a witch. There’s Rose Leslie off of “Game Of Thrones” as Chloe, a witch that sort of offers to help our hero, and a cavalcade of colourful magical types. Of course, Diesel gets to kick ass too, and the fight scenes are done well with a minimum of “oh my god I’m being thrown into a wall in slow motion” that seems to have dominated action cinema in recent years.

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There’s a lot of world building going on here. If this makes a dime of profit, Diesel will be pushing for this to become a franchise, so it does occasionally feel like he’s laying track for the second or third movie down the line. But the world of witches is visually interesting, with some great special effects, and fairly original, as much as any film with this sort of plot can be said to be original; and Diesel plays Kaulder as someone who’s come to terms with his life and seems pretty happy with it, unlike your average brooding dark fantasy hero. He’s long since avenged the deaths of his wife and daughter, and it’s a really interesting take on the fantasy hero, someone who enjoys their work and is good at it. At one point, someone threatens him with his worst fear, and he says honestly that he doesn’t fear anything, with being immortal and indestructible and all. It’s a fun idea.

A word about Chloe and female sidekicks in 2015. I am delighted that there was no romance subplot or even much of a hint of one, and it’s a good sign that women can have leading roles in movies where their relationships are based on respect and friendship, not just sex. While I don’t think she’s the best actress in the world, her role as someone without whom Kaulder couldn’t succeed, who helps him because she sees the rightness of what he’s trying to do, feels modern and is a trend I hope to see continue (see also the most recent “Mission Impossible” movie for another excellent example of how to do women in the movies).

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Kudos to Breck Eisner, whose last movie was the similarly decent “The Crazies” in 2010 (no idea why it took him five years to get another directing job, though). I’ve been pretty positive about this movie – Diesel obviously loves the genre and his style works great, there’s none of that shades of grey nonsense, it’s just good fun! – but the other (worse) reviewers have not been kind to it. There’s a bit too much backstory, and too little of the weird world of present day witches – in fact, it all feels a smidge overstuffed, but given most of the movies the ISCFC covers could do with 100% more incident in them, I can live with that.

Don’t expect great fiction – this is a Vin Diesel popcorn movie, after all – and go to have a good time, because you’ll definitely have that. I hope we see more of Kaulder, too.

Rating: thumbs up

The Time Guardian (1987)

 

time-guardianAs everyone was “celebrating” the fact that yesterday was the actual day they went to in “Back To The Future 2”, the ISCFC did it the proper way – by reviewing a trashy old Australian sci-fi / time travel movie with a couple of odd cameos in it.

 

Dear movie people: if you’re going to have a text scroll to start your movie, don’t also have someone read out the text scroll. Do you not trust us? One or the other is fine. But it tells us, both ways, that it’s the year 4039 and humanity has retreated to a series of cities with special force fields protecting them; this is down to a race of baddie cyborgs called the Jen-Diki (who it turns out, shock horror were created by humanity a few decades ago to fight a war for them) deciding the best thing to do would be wipe us all out.

 

So, humanity in the last remaining city figures out time travel, and uses this to escape the Jen-Diki, going back in time to Australia long, long before the white man turned up there, but then the Jen-Diki do too, and…this bit is all slightly confusing. I guess they bounce around time, trying to escape? God knows. Anyway, our hero is Ballard (Australian charisma vacuum Tom Burlinson), one of the handful of soldiers humanity has left, and fighting alongside him is Petra, played by…Carrie Fisher!

Yes, their metal vests have nipples

Yes, their metal vests have nipples

Having such an iconic actress in a movie like this raises all sorts of questions. Her career was going great in the 1980s, so it’s not like she was even in her drug-dependent wilderness years (although it’s very possible she was still using heavily at the time). Although she’s in the movie til almost the end, they clearly only had her for a few days, or she was in no condition to perform, as there’s some really poor cutting round her obvious absence from the set. She gets injured, and despite it being to the shoulder, has to lay down for the next hour of the movie, so we see people look down at her (but not her looking back up), very long distance shots of her next to a campfire, which could be anyone, and lots of shots where she’s the only person in the frame, with the lighting looking suspiciously different to the other people in the same scene.

 

Ballard and Petra are sent back to 1988 to prepare a dirt mound to sit one of the city’s damaged legs on, and after Petra gets shot (about five seconds after going back in time) the lion’s share of the work is done by Ballard and his new friend, modern day geologist Annie (Aussie soap mainstay Nikki Coghill). Small town rural Australia has a lot of similarities with rural USA, but there’s more of a sense of humour of their mockery of authority, so it rattles along with plenty of laughs, as they try and build the mound, the locals wonder what’s going on, the Jen-Diki try and track them down, and the city slowly flies back through time – in other “we could only afford him for a day” news, the ruler of the city is Dean Stockwell, just after “Blue Velvet” and just before “Quantum Leap”.

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It’s definitely not one of the worst films we’ve covered here, and there’s quite a lot to like about it. It’s nicely paced, the plotlines tie together in the end, the cyborg special effects are fun, and it’s interesting to see a movie set in Australia going for a bigger sci-fi theme.

 

I’d suggest the biggest problem “The Time Guardians” has is the tons of dropped plot threads. There’s a whole backstory for the city hinted at, with posters everywhere telling people to conserve water, but it’s just left there (and why do they need to conserve water, if they can travel in time and go anywhere? Just park by a river and take as much as you want!). Ballard is referred to several times as “the Time Guardian”, as if it’s a title bestowed on him, but as far as the movie’s aware he’s just a grunt being sent back on a mission. And the reasoning behind the ending is not so much flimsy as entirely non-existent.

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By all means watch this if you can track it down, but be prepared to scratch your head a few times. Fun by completely inconsequential.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

Full Moon High (1981)

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This film is like if the Zucker brothers’…gardener, and Woody Allen…’s dentist, decided to make a movie together. It’s relentlessly packed with jokes, to the extent that 93 minutes feels like 193 (not entirely in a bad way). And it’s part of what was a surprisingly werewolf-packed early 80s – from “The Howling” to “American Werewolf in London” to “The Company of Wolves” to “Teen Wolf”, among others.

 

The early 80s were a different time, in some ways. Well, in racist and homophobic ways. Beginning with a literal “drop the soap” gag in front of their aggressively camp gym teacher, we meet Tony (Adam Arkin), the star of the football team and all-around good egg. His Dad (Ed McMahon, very well known in the US as chat show legend Johnny Carson’s sidekick for decades) is in the CIA and takes Tony to Romania for some particularly weak reason, and while he’s exploring the countryside (after being booted out of the hotel by Dad, who wants to have sex with a couple of prostitutes) he gets attacked by a wolf. Tony then transforms on the flight home and, apart from one night near the end, appears to turn into a wolf every single night, puzzlingly ignoring the one rule werewolves have – especially given the title!

 

He also becomes immortal, which is again just a reason to have him head off and terrorise America for twenty years (after accidentally causing the death of his father). He doesn’t kill anyone, just bites them (usually in the ass), and for some reason doesn’t turn anyone else into a werewolf while doing so. Anyway, in the “present day”, he comes back to town and re-enrolls in high school, attempting to end the football curse by winning the big game, become mortal again and so on. His friends (well, his one friend, and his girlfriend) have aged, and writer-producer-director Larry Cohen has said this was an attempt to make a wider point about changing social mores in America, and how his old classmates have changed more than him. This is, of course, bollocks. The previously peaceful and clean school, which had very few non-white people in it back in the late 50s, becomes filthy and lawless by the early 80s, and I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence that the school’s population is now mostly black.

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All this is just a poor framework to hang hundreds and hundreds of gags on. From the newspaper with the wonderfully underplayed headline “Werewolf Annoys Community” to the way they show the passage of time, it’s stuffed. There’s an odd bit of fourth-wall breaking in there too, when Alan Arkin (Adam’s dad, playing his psychiatrist in the best performance in the movie) accidentally shoots one of the camera people. Bob Saget, future sitcom superstar and smutty standup comedian, has his first movie role as a news reporter and gets some good lines in too.

 

It’s difficult / pointless to recap this sort of comedy. “Some jokes happened, and then some more jokes”. So let’s return to my first sentence – the Zucker brothers stuff we’ve covered, but what about Woody Allen? Well, Arkin behaves very much like Allen would if he’d ever made a film during his early funny period about becoming a werewolf, and the clash of styles works surprisingly well.

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Woody Allen would certainly have improved on the editing and other technical shortcomings that “Full Moon High” suffers from, though. Someone decided that while most scenes in movies have a beginning, middle and end, this one should only have middles, so characters leap about in time and space, come to very sudden realisations, and so on. It’s so weirdly noticeable that even the members of my regular Monday night bad film club who tend not to be as bothered as I am by technical stuff were complaining about it. Plus, there’s a ton of ADRed dialogue in here, as if someone saw this and thought it needed even more jokes? This is an extremely rare example of a movie that could have less in it and work more. There’s also the sad news of Elizabeth Hartman, who has a very oddly inserted part as a sort of love interest for Tony. This was her last movie, and after battling depression for years, committed suicide a few years later.

 

Add on a complete mess of an ending and you’ve got yourself a movie. Larry Cohen is an interesting fella, having made “It’s Alive!” and its sequels, wrote one of my favourite 80s thrillers “Best Seller”, and had a hand in the creation of “Maniac Cop”. He’s also beloved of Blaxploitation fans, making “Black Caesar” and “Hell Up In Harlem” and giving regular roles to people like Fred Williamson, which indicates the weird racist tone of the modern school scenes were unintentional.

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I think I’m going to have to call this one a failure, but a really interesting one. Be prepared to be checking your watch from the halfway point onwards, make sure you’ve got a decent group of people with you, and there’s still plenty to enjoy.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

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Despite Italy having apparently normal copyright laws, for many years it was the place to go if you wanted to ignore them (if you ever bought a bootleg CD in the 90s, chances are that’s where it’s from). In terms of movies, this means two things to us – first, is the making of “franchises” out of random movies, such as the “La Casa” series, which started off with the first two “Evil Dead” instalments, then had a few Joe D’Amato-produced bits of garbage, before finishing off with La Casa 6 and 7, also known as the second and third “House” movies. No, it doesn’t make any sense to me either.

 

Second, and this is where this movie comes in, in case you were wondering about the title, is “unofficial” (read: right at the far bounds of legality) sequels. I’m guessing someone at Fox didn’t dot every I and cross every T on some legal document, which allowed the enterprising (read: scumbag) Italian producers to make a movie called “Alien 2”. However, if you were expecting it to be similar to “Alien” by having good actors, an interesting plot, and action that moved along (or indeed, having an alien in it), then you’ve got a long 90 minutes ahead of you.

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Where to begin? How about with a first ten minutes that’s absolutely chock-a-block with padding? Director Ciro Ippolito wanted you to see every damn minute of every car journey taken in this movie. Thelma (Belinda Mayne) is a speleologist who’s doing a TV interview at the same time as a group of astronauts are due to arrive back on Earth, and while she’s subjected to such piercing questions as “what makes an attractive girl like you go down caves?” she suddenly stops talking and buries her head in her hands. No, it’s not due to the stifling sexism! It’s because she’s a psychic and can sense something wrong with the space capsule!

 

Thelma and a group of other cave-explorers (who the movie doesn’t bother giving personalities to, so I won’t bother telling you their names) are off to do some science, underground. While they’re driving there, they hear on the radio that despite hearing from the astronauts 40 minutes before landing, the capsule is empty. This is tied to the mysterious blue rocks that have started appearing everywhere – a little kid gets her face eaten off by one when it starts pulsating, as if someone told the director “Can you have something happen at this point? Anything? Please?” While stopping to use the toilet (I told you the speed of this movie was somewhat less than breakneck) one of the team picks up a lump of this blue rock, just lying outside the toilet door, and gives it to Thelma.

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Now, here’s where things go a bit skewed. If you were exceedingly generous, you could say the movie makes sense, up to this point, but everyone in that van is a caving expert, a discipline which you’d expect to contain some geology. Nope! Upon being given the stone, she goes “it’s beautiful” and then just leaves it in her backpack. Who cares?

 

Then the movie arrives in the cave, where it spends almost all the rest of its running time…to say it grinds to a halt now is to imply it ever got going in the first place, but at least you might expect some aliens to show finally. No again! The rock eventually starts pulsating and, I think, does the classic Alien thing of laying an egg inside someone’s face, but it’s honestly difficult to tell. The vast majority of shots of the alien are from its perspective, which saves money I suppose but it pretty intensely boring to actually watch.

 

You might think a group of scientists would do some sort of science, but they bring no instruments of any kind…except, for no reason, a typewriter, which one of the cast uses by candlelight. Huh? Dammit, this movie is too terrible to waste this many words on, but there’s a few more bits stupid enough to deserve mentioning. At one point, they split up (obviously) and a rat does a massive jump to attack one of them, conveniently breaking their walkie-talkie / tracking device thing. Oh, and at every possible opportunity for one of them to fall and injure themselves, they do so, which even in the world of movie spelunkers (has a cave expedition in the movies ever passed off without a hitch, ever?) makes them pretty poor.

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Towards the end, the movie appears to be running in reverse, as rather than get out of the cave and go to the damn police or the army or anywhere actually useful, our two survivors go to the supply store, then to the bowling alley they were in at the beginning, before the one moderately interesting sequence in the movie, the final survivor running through a deserted city. But I doubt most viewers will make it that far, as it’s almost unbearably slow and boring – we never get a single shot of the alien itself, and while empty cities are always a bit spooky, there’s no signs of struggle or blood or anything else that might indicate aliens have taken over the earth.

 

The ISCFC will never run out of terrible movies to review, that’s for sure – despite this being a “sequel” to a beloved classic, I’d never heard of it til this week. How many bad bits of sci fi and horror were made in Italy in the 70s and 80s? I feel like this isn’t even the only sequel to a movie set in outer space, which is set on Earth and doesn’t have any of the original movie’s villains in it. Though it’s available in its entirety on Youtube, and has some decent gore effects here and there, please don’t mistake this hyperbole filled review as a recommendation to watch it on your bad movie night. Just forget it ever existed and move on, we’ll all be happier.

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Rating: thumbs down

 

Infini (2015)

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The recent trend towards indie sci-fi is a welcome one here at the ISCFC – we’ve directed viewers towards “Robot Revolution”, “Europa Report”, “Stranded” and “Last Days On Mars”, among others. Of course, some movies are more indie than others, and “Infini” looks like it’s had a pretty decent amount of money spent on it, thanks to new sci-fi production company Storm Vision Entertainment. Or I’m getting worse at telling when special effects are good or not – either option is possible.

 

Director Shane Abbess spent years on the lower rungs of the Australian movie industry before getting the chance to write and direct, and this is his first movie in both roles (he also produces too, so maybe he won the lottery? Anyway). We’re presented with the world of the 23rd century, where “slipstreaming” has become a thing. This is a way of transporting people and items instantaneously across the known universe, thanks to a metal doohickey implanted on the back of the neck.

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Time dilation is a thing, so when mercenaries are sent to the remotest of all discovered planets, a small mining colony they’ve lost contact with, an hour on Earth is equal to a week there. It’s due to its closeness to black holes or something – I don’t think the science checks out, but it’s a cool idea and ratchets the tension up. Anyway, the first team of mercenaries come back after a few seconds either soaked in blood, dead, or with a weird infection of some sort, and this causes the entire West Coast base to be shut sown with “lethal quarantine”. The only guy who gets out is new recruit Whit Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson, formerly of “Neighbours”), who does an emergency slipstream to Infini. He’s got a pregnant wife back in the slum, which leaves you wondering if this will be a reunite-the-family movie or a send-the-wife-back-a-final-message movie.

 

Two Earth hours later, the East Coast guys send a retrieval squad to Infini (including the other Hemsworth brother, Luke) and that’s when the movie kicks off. It becomes a sort of mashup of “The Thing” and “Solaris”, with a smidgeon of “Alien” in there too. The last miner went mad, for some as-yet-unknown reason, and was about to send a bomb back to Earth, so the mission is to defuse that and find out just what’s going on.

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This is an interesting movie with a lot of strong ideas in it; the acting is pretty good; the special effects and sets all look like they had a lot of money spent on them; and the sort-of-twist is extremely well handled, I think. There’s not even an “evil government agenda” subplot, which is surprising indeed. Now, that’s the good stuff out of the way…It feels to me a little like a cake which was left in the oven five minutes too long – still pretty nice, but tough to get down. And let’s see if I can tell you why without ruining it!

 

One scene relies on a wall blocking radio communication between the marines and a miner. Now, bear in mind this is a society where information can be beamed literally anywhere in the universe instantaneously and a wall messes their plans up? The opening credits discuss how 97% of the world’s population live below the poverty line, but rather than burning the rich peoples’ homes down, they just take on more dangerous jobs in deep space. Boring! Plus, that same info-scroll tells us that slipstreaming carries the risk of “data corruption”, but this potentially interesting idea is, unless I’m really missing something, never used at any point.

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While it wears its “influences” a little too proudly on its sleeve, the ending is excellent and quite clever, and even though I think Abbess is a stronger director than writer (some of the dialogue is terribly clunky, plus a horrible use of a team briefing as exposition) I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in the future.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Dead Heat (1988)

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If I was making a list of movies that would benefit from a remake, “Dead Heat” would be  somewhere near the top. It’s a noble-ish failure, a cross between the buddy cop genre and a remake of “D.O.A.” with a fun extra twist. And it’s got Joe Piscopo in it! If you remember him at all, it’s for being the guy who very sensibly clung onto Eddie Murphy’s coattails during his time on “Saturday Night Live”, because once he struck out on his own, the 90s and onwards were a very lean time for him – now he joins such uncelebrated SNL alumni as Jim Breuer, Victoria Jackson and Chris Kattan as people who seem a bit too “big” to be playing the random comedy club in your town, and still trot out their very old impressions.

 

But enough about failed comedians! We’ve got a movie to cover. Piscopo and Treat Williams are a cop team, in the straight-man / lunatic style of the time. Piscopo goes by the perfectly reasonable name Doug Bigelow, while Williams is…Roger Mortis. It’s like if Dirty Harry’s name was “Colt Fortyfive”, for heavens’ sake! They try and stop a couple of blokes from robbing a jewellery store, but wonder why the two of them get shot hundreds of times and don’t go down. Well, this leads to a science lab, and a gun battle, and Mortis getting killed and then brought back to life thanks to the wonderful machine the lab has.

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To go back to my first sentence, this is a surprisingly good idea for a movie, and would make a fine TV show too. Mortis only has 12 hours to solve who’s really behind all this, and there’s a hint from their coroner friend that there’s a way of extending this time with some treatment or other – in the theoretical show that could spring from this, the replenishment could form the end of every episode, or something like that. The movie has fun with the concept too, having the two cops get involved in all manner of firefights that Mortis doesn’t need to worry about – and there’s a fantastic scene near the end where he and one of the villain’s goons just stand ten feet apart and fire hundreds of bullets into each other. The concept of him being dead and not exactly loving it, but not being all that worried either, is a fun one.

 

But there’s a reason it’s got an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, unfortunately. The plot is just all over the place: for example, they introduce a sort-of love interest only to kill her off with no fanfare a little over halfway in (so I can’t be accused of spoiling this near-30-year old movie, I won’t tell you which of the two main women dies); and the villain…well, it feels like there’s five of them, all with slightly different motivations. It just doesn’t make quite enough sense, and feels like it was heavily edited after testing poorly, or something. Then there’s Joe Piscopo, who disappears for the last half hour of the film too, if you’re still looking for strangely handled bits. After leaving SNL, he evidently started working out, leaving him looking a little like a mulleted Sylvester Stallone – but didn’t bother getting better at delivering jokes or acting or anything like that. Treat Williams is great, the rest of the cast is largely fine, but it’s rough having such a non-presence as Piscopo as one of the two leads of your movie.

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If you like good special effects, and one or two remarkably effectively gross scenes, then “Dead Heat” has them. Unfortunately, if you like any of the other things cinema can offer (fun, good acting, a coherent story) then you’ll have to look elsewhere. Although who am I kidding? What are the chances of you happening upon an old, poorly regarded movie and just deciding to pop it on? If you’re reading this, chances are you already saw it. Crap, eh?

 

Rating: thumbs down

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