Drones (2010)

One of the drums I used to beat regularly was “if you have cash, why spend it on some low-budget monster movie?” My theory, such as it was, follows thus – if you’re a producer with $200,000, the chances of you making a great monster movie with that are almost nil – it will look cheap, the actors will be bad, and no-one will like it. So why not give it to some comedians or an improv troupe? There’s a vastly better chance of a weird little comedy being a sleeper box office hit, you might get a big name to pop in for a brief cameo, and at the very least it will be different.


(ASIDE: Okay, I may be completely misunderstanding how movie financing works. But who cares? This is my damn site, I’ll write whatever I like. And I’m bored to death of cheap horror!)


But, we live in a world where there are almost literally endless amounts of zombie / vampire / shark / post-apocalypse movies, and precious few weird little comedy concepts. Which is why it’s so nice to find one like this, a genuinely odd but hilarious and quite sweet little movie, which could have easily been a stage play but uses its cameras in an interesting way, where a core cast of talented comedy actors nail their parts and a microscopic budget is used to its fullest.

OmniLink is a mega-corporation that seems quite nice, that gives us a training video where staff are compared to bees, but bees are super-good and do important work so that’s fine. We never find out what OmniLink does, unless I really wasn’t paying attention, but that’s definitely not important. Working there is Bryan Dilks (Jonathan M Woodward), who seems happy in his monotony; his best friend is Clark (Samm Levine), and there’s a handful of other, similarly happy, office folk – Amy, who he flirts with a little (Angela Bettis), Cooperman, the hippie who’s wood-panelled his cubicle (Dave Gruber Allen), Powerpoint-loving boss Pete (James Urbaniak), and the seemingly happy couple Miryam and Ian (Tangi Miller and Marc Evan Jackson).


Bryan’s world is turned upside down by two things – one, is finally getting up the courage to ask Amy out on a proper date, and two is walking into the office supplies room to witness Clark…I really don’t want to spoil anything, because this is a damned delight and I want you all to watch it. But it is in the trailer, I guess? Anyway, he discovers that his office has an unusually high number of aliens in it, and it turns out that they have designs on our planet. But are also cool with working for OmniLink and being nice and friendly and having relationships and stuff. The filmmakers described it as “The Office meets Close Encounters”, which renders most of my lame description moot?


Using aliens to comment on human activity is old hat, so it’s impressive that this feels so fresh and original – few aliens, admittedly, are that interested in alphabetical vs. chronological when it comes to file storage. It reminds me a little of Ford Prefect (the TV version, never seen the movie) from “The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy”, and his odd but totally believable friendship with Arthur Dent.

Bettis and Woodward work very well together, and the central relationship is completely believable as well as having that sparking high-end comic dialogue that you’d normally get in a classic screwball comedy. This is down to writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, who are best known for being the creators / writers of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour”, the monthly live show / podcast which occasionally uses those classic screwball comedy tropes to great effect. The plot is fun too, there’s a ton of really funny jokes and brilliant comic business, and because they only have one set, really (a floor of an office, with a few cubicles and a conference room) they use it cleverly, making it almost cinematic. Well, okay, but it’s certainly never boring to watch.


The co-directors are two people better known as supporting actors on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – Amber Benson and Adam Busch; Busch dealing with the actors, Benson the technical stuff. They also made a short film a couple of years after this called “Singlewood” but I wish this entire creative team had made a bunch more movies together. Perhaps I’m just annoyed at having seen more than my fair share of comedy from the Apatow / McKay / Feig stable and wishing there were more options out there that received the same level of publicity.


ASIDE: from reading about “Drones” appearing at festivals, I discover that the script was written in 2 weeks, and Acker and Blacker had never written a movie before; Busch and Benson had never directed before either, and worked out an unusual division of labour that worked well. Some of the actors improvised a lot, others stuck rigidly to the script, yet all those things which would normally spell disaster contributed to make this a winner.

Directors and cast

I won’t go on, because you need to go spend money on this movie. Maybe a sudden rush of purchases in mid-2019 will persuade some bean-counter somewhere to give them money to make another movie. It’s charming and funny and deadpan and sweet and even a little romantic and absolutely should be better known than it is. And I’m now determined to find one of those OmniLink mugs featured in the office and make it my very own.


Rating: thumbs up




Shocking Dark (1989) (aka Terminator 2)


This is the fifth unofficial sequel we’ve covered; as well as two truly miserable “Night Of The Living Dead” efforts, we’ve also reviewed “Alien 2: On Earth” and “Savage Vengeance”, which was originally going to be released as “I Spit On Your Grave 2” before Donald Farmer got sued. While this is aka “Terminator 2”, a name it was released under in many countries, it hews a great deal closer to another famous film of the 1980s; more on that later.


Post-apocalyptic Venice is the location for this…well, some tunnels under Venice, I should say. A poison cloud (I think that’s the excuse they gave) has caused people to go crazy and mutate, so the authorities send in Mega-Force to save the day and rescue the notes of a scientist who had his base right under the cloud. This, sadly, isn’t the same Mega-Force as was featured in the 1982 classic of the same name, but this group differentiate themselves by absolutely going crazy for ethnic slurs – memorably, when the hard-ass woman insults the Italian member of the team with “wop” and other such gems, despite them, y’know, being in Italy and all. The Tubular Corporation is your generic evil corporation in this, and they send a rep too.

shocking dark photo

I’m wondering how long I can go without the big reveal. Just a little further. The spectacularly wooden group of actors wander through the tunnels for a bit, only to start getting picked off by a pretty ugly fish-monster-looking thing. “Hold on,” you might say at this point, “isn’t this also known as Terminator 2? Why is the monster a giant walking fish? And why does that webbing they’re storing the humans in look familiar?”


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this could be the most copyright-flouting movie ever. I’ll recap the story (it’s on Youtube, definitely watch it if you don’t want it “spoiling”) and see how quickly you spot it. A group of marines is forced to take a non-soldier along on a mission – a woman with curly auburn hair. They encounter a creature which doesn’t kill them immediately, but takes them away and stores them in a gooey webbing, where they beg to be killed. They rescue a small girl who’s survived in the hostile environment for some time. The soldiers have radar trackers, and at one point they’re detecting signals from monsters who should be in the room with them, they’re so close. The corporation representative tries to trap the female and the kid in a room with the monster, and turns the camera off so no-one knows what he’s doing. While setting off the base’s self-destruct mechanism, the woman gives the girl a wristband that will allow her to be tracked, seconds before she falls down a long slide and out of sight.


Okay, the ending is way, way out of left field, but an absolutely enormous amount of “Shocking Dark” is a very close ripoff of “Aliens”. The paragraph above even misses some stuff out – my notes feature the line “OKAY, WE GET IT, YOU’RE RIPPING OFF ALIENS”, underlined several times as yet more direct lifts were wheeled out onto the screen. There’s a ton of very similar dialogue too, almost word-for-word in some segments, and I’m quite surprised they never got sued.


Because it’s set on Earth, the plot isn’t about trapping an alien, it’s about rescuing an experiment, which is some DNA-like substance which can mutate people or turn them into “androids” or something. Who cares? The scientists are the people who turned into the monsters, I guess. There’s a great scene near the end where a video from Tubular plays, with their CEO laying out their entire evil plan, with a quick “if you’re watching this, please don’t tell anyone” at the end.


Because this is Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso at work, it’s not just a normal movie, though. The “Newt” character (I nearly just wrote “Newt”, which is an indication of how similar they are) is about 15 years old, which is why it stretches credulity when she’s seemingly unable to move to protect herself. After rushing around like mad, they suddenly grind to a halt and just walk round really slowly, despite the base being minutes from detonating. The same two chuffing corridors are used over and over again. The weird thing is, your brain sort of fills in the blanks from the more famous movie, so this was rather entertaining, despite its high amount of lunacy. The only really terrible technical flaw was sound, but we can let them off with that.


It’s the ending which really delights, though. 100% spoilers from this point on, but it’s a Youtube Film Club review, so you have no excuse. It turns out the Burke character is a Terminator! He chases them round a bit, and the weird thing is he never fights any of the monsters, which would have been fun to see. And then…I can’t quite believe I’m writing this…they find a Tubular Corporation time machine and go back to present day Venice. No-one seems all that surprised that this technology exists, which is cool, and in a “we almost predicted the plot of the actual Terminator 2”, they get followed back by the Terminator. Rather than hanging around to give the corporation his technology, thus giving them a head-start on destroying the world, they just throw the time machine remote control at him, sending him back to the future. Those two ladies have a world to save!shockingdark27


The main lady, Dr Sarah Drumbull, is played by a Haven Tyler, for whom this was her only film role. The rest of the cast have sterling resumes full of “bodyguard” and “goon no.2” roles, which is a shame as Mattei’s films usually have at least one or two half-decent actors in. Talking of Mattei, this movie represents the end of his and Fragasso’s working relationship. Noooo! Don’t worry, though, we still have a few films of theirs left to review – I hope you’re watching along too, because this stuff is gold.


Rating: thumbs up

The Phoenix Incident (2015)


“Based on true events”. Have there ever been four weasel-ier weasel words in the history of cinema? If I saw someone walking down the street, spun a tale based purely on their appearance and made it into a movie, I could claim that was “based on true events”. Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s untrue, I suppose.


Because UFOs and their ilk are quite a contentious issue, I’m going to break this review down into two sections. First up will be a review on the movie itself, technical aspects, acting and so on. Second half will be my views on the event, so if you’re only interested in one or the other, you can just skip.


Part 1 – the movie

Found footage! After a preamble involving details of an upcoming war with an unknown group, we’re told that in 1997, a number of people reported seeing very unusual lights in the sky over Phoenix, Arizona. Lots of smart, sober people couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and there remains doubt about it to this day.


This is a movie about four men who went missing on that same night, who’ve never been found, and is made up of three strands. First up is what I think is real news footage from the time, second is (both real and fictional) interviews conducted with people involved in the case, and third is (fictional) footage from a camera strapped to the side of the helmet of one of the four men. A local Manson-esque crazy person was charged with their murders and has been incarcerated ever since; he gets interviewed too.


As far as anyone knows, no-one disappeared that night, at least related to the lights, so it might be said that it’s a strange decision to have so much of your short-ish movie (69 minutes when the credits start to roll) about a real incident devoted to people who weren’t there. Given that we already know they disappear from the off, I’m not sure why we need a scene shot in a diner where they shoot the breeze about their futures, which has absolutely nothing to do with the lights. The classic found footage movies – “Cannibal Holocaust”, “The Blair Witch Project”, “Cloverfield” – were all entirely fictional so it was as much about these characters discovering what was going on as it was about the cannibals, or the witch, or the giant space monster thing. They’re pretty much the only great found footage movies, too – it’s a genre absolutely lousy with the worst and cheapest that modern cinema has to offer (I know people like the “Paranormal Activity” movies, not seen ‘em so can’t comment).


So, as things progress, our four heroes go into the Arizona desert to do a bit of ATV driving, and see military craft flying all over the place. They investigate, find a crashed alien craft, out come a ton of creatures that look a bit like if the alien from “Alien” had laid its egg inside a horse rather than a human, and eventually they’re hunted down as far as the Manson-alike Walt Gayson’s compound, where things do not get better.


There are some substantial logic holes in “The Phoenix Incident”. First up, who’s broadcasting this footage? Whoever made it not only took the tape from Gayson or the military, but also got hold of tons of military footage (there’s tape from inside the army’s helicopter, for one). Given that the interviews with them are all “nope, nothing weird happened”, this isn’t just an idle question. Why didn’t the Government cover up the existence of this movie if they could cover up what amounts to an alien invasion?


The footage is (in the world of the movie) absolute 100% incontrovertible proof of the existence of aliens. It would be the biggest news since the invention of news, but for some reason the people with the tape felt the need to pad this amazing footage out with talking heads of people who saw something once but were hushed up. Who cares what you think? There’s ALIENS CAUGHT ON VIDEO!!! I did like the interview with a cop where the text on screen said “name withheld” even though his face and badge are right there, on camera, in broad daylight.


“The Phoenix Lights” can be accused of muddying the waters. Imagine looking this event up afterwards and realising almost none of what the movie says happened, actually happened – yes, there were lights in the sky over Phoenix which were pretty unusual, but that’s really it. No-one died, no-one took good enough video to be able to say one way or the other what it really was, so it doesn’t help people come to any conclusions about what did happen. You can’t have it both ways.


Writer / director Keith Arem works in the video game industry, directing voice actors, motion-capture and so on, so he’s used his studio to work on this. And it looks like a decent amount of money was spent on it, the special effects are great and the acting (mostly provided by computer game voice actors) is fine too. The interview footage is a bit cheesy, truth be told, but I’ve seen worse. “The Phoenix Incident” is, amazingly, the fourth different movie about the event – following “The Appearance Of A Man”, “Night Skies” and “They Came From Outer Space” (aka “Phoenix Lights”); plus a couple of different full-length documentaries, if that’s your thing.


The worst crime it commits is just being really dull, though. It’s just a fake documentary with fake found footage attached to it, and you don’t really care about anyone in it. The handheld stuff is mostly unwatchable, and at the very least if this was being presented as evidence, they’d have tried to tidy up the camera judder using “stabilisation” software, which is cheap and easy to use (someone’s stabilised all of “Cloverfield” using consumer-grade software and it looks weird / great). So, perhaps go elsewhere for your aliens on Earth faux-documentary chills and thrills.


Rating: thumbs down


Part 2 – The Lights

I’m a believer that we’re not alone. We’re finding planets all the time, and I’m positive we’re going to find evidence of life somewhere in the universe at some point. Saying that, this event is an absolute nothing. The particular light formation has been recreated using military flares and a slow but steady wind moving in the right direction – which doesn’t prove it wasn’t UFOs, I suppose, but certainly makes proving the case for them a lot harder. I don’t doubt it must have been incredibly strange to see them at the time, but the rather hysterical reaction of people at having their firmly held belief called into question is worrying, and is an indication we need to work on improving our education system and teaching critical thinking to people.


I think if we’re going to expect people to believe extraordinary things, then we ought to provide extraordinary evidence, and so far, we’ve failed to do that for anything on (or near) Earth. The standards of believers ought to be higher, and by pinning so much of the pro-UFO side’s hopes to fuzzy footage of weather balloons, or photographs where the taker refuses to hand over the original but insists it’s un-doctored, we do ourselves a disservice. Because if believers make up stuff about Greys, or triangular shaped craft in Phoenix, and when the aliens actually turn up and are nothing at all like that, we’re going to feel pretty stupid. The universe has got some pretty weird things going on in it we could learn about, no sense filling our minds with nonsense like this.



Alien Avengers (1997)


When a movie can be described as “one-joke”, it had better be a funny joke or you’re going to be in for a bad time. You know the sort of thing – what if there were a 40 year old virgin? What if a kid had the superpower of being able to fart a lot? So, as this movie progressed and I expected to get bored, I was pretty pleased that it handled its one joke remarkably well. In this instance, it’s “what if there were super-friendly aliens from a peaceful planet, who came down to earth to brutally murder criminals and lowlife scumbags?”


A rather unusually quiet opening, where Joseph, a young black guy, has to deal with the pull of the local drug kingpin but keep on the straight and narrow, then his mother dies and he inherits her large, run-down old boarding house, is a little more understandable when you see Roger Corman’s name on the credits. Corman is one of my heroes, a titan of low-budget cinema who’s retained a strong social conscience throughout his life, taking on the KKK in 1962’s “The Intruder”, capitalism in 1975’s “Death Race 2000”…okay, and producing the “Sharktopus” series of movies. But he’s one of the greats, and has given a ton of huge names their breaks in the business (Jack Nicholson and Ron Howard, to name but two).

Roger Corman

Roger Corman

The film really kicks off, though, when Charlie and Ronda turn up. Played by “Cheers” legend (and former “House” co-star) George Wendt and TV star Shanna Reed, they’re a colourful bright parody of a 1950s couple and want to rent the top floor of Joseph’s house, despite it still being full of junk, with a leaky roof, etc. They’re clearly hiding something (not-particularly-a-spoiler: they’re aliens) but Joseph lets them stay thanks to their daughter, Daphne (Anastasia Sakelaris) fluttering her eyelashes at him. They renovate the house overnight, serve rather unusual food (a beans sandwich, for one) and the excuse they give for wanting to rent a house in the blackest, most run-down area of LA is to expose Daphne to other cultures.


Of course, the actual reason is Charlie and Ronda want to hunt. Their planet is crime and violence-free, so they take a vacation in the scummiest places possible and hunt other planets’ lowlifes, like parading through a back alley with a large gold watch and hoping someone tries to rob them for it. They treat this ultra-violence as a bit of sport, and it is pretty violent – at one point, they tear off a potential rapist’s leg and beat him to death with it. A lot of the humour comes from this way out-of-place couple in the ghetto, and it’s great.


Joseph and Daphne’s budding relationship, and her parents’ completely non-human response to them having sex, is a really well-done B story; slightly less interesting is the “I suppose we’d better have a normal plot” plot, about a couple of cops who just don’t like Joseph very much. They’re investigating Charlie and Ronda’s killings, and due to their odd values (despite liking Joseph, they’re happy to let him take the fall for them) they leave a gun with his fingerprints at a crime scene…


A problem with movies that sound great described like this – “a couple of aliens straight out of the 50s come to earth to kill criminals” – is that they’re never quite as OTT as you want them to be. There’s always a boring normal subplot, or a valuable lesson to be learned, or something along those lines. This is no different, although it comes pretty close to just ignoring normal movie morality and going all out; it’s still an absolute ton of fun though.


Wendt and Reed are both brilliant, giving it their all, and while Christopher M Brown as Joseph is a bit of a wet blanket (as are the cops, and the rest of the humans), Sakelaris is wonderful as well. Her career went absolutely nowhere after this and its sequel – bit parts and one-off TV appearances, then nothing after 2007. It’s a damn shame, as she’s both crazily beautiful and gifted at comedy.


It’s listed as a TV movie, although I can’t imagine this sort of movie playing on any TV channel in the late 90s (maybe HBO? The writer, Michael McDonald, has acted in tons of TV comedy, although I don’t suppose that information helps). Anyway, we’ve got a sequel to look forward to, with most of the cast and crew returning (Reed is replaced by Julie Brown, which is a shame although I like Brown just fine).


It’s a surprisingly great movie, chock full of fun and gore, and I enthusiastically recommend it, should you be able to track it down.


Rating: thumbs up

Xtro (1982)


I knew very little about “Xtro” before popping it on, so when I discovered it was set in England and made by an English writer/director, I was rather surprised (plus, it’s an early movie from New Line, aka the producers of the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies). There’s something about English horror of the 80s – well, I can only think of “Lifeforce”, “An American Werewolf in London” and “Hellraiser” here, but please bear with this analogy – that seems dingy and miserable in a way American ones just didn’t seem to be able to manage. Plus, I just realise, all those movies have American actors in major roles, as if they knew to sell it over the pond would need an accent US audiences could relate to. But anyway, I’m wandering away from the point here. Xtro!


Sam Phillips (Philip Sayer) is abducted by aliens while staying at a cottage with his son Tony, an event that still traumatises Tony three years later. I mean, this is on the back of the VHS box, so I’m not giving anything vital away here. Sam’s wife Rachel (the strikingly beautiful Bernice Stegers) is now living with American photographer Joe (Danny Brainin), plus French au pair Analise (future Bond girl Maryam D’Abo, in her first role). They really don’t seem wealthy enough to need an au pair, but presumably someone went “this horror movie needs nudity, and Stegers is married to a famous director so we can’t force her into doing it” so whatever.

Xtro -- 1st Form 3

One day, the aliens show up again and drop off one of their crew, in a scene that gets trotted out every now and again by particularly credulous believers in alien visitation before a thousand people shout at them “it’s from Xtro, you idiot”. This odd-looking fellow kills a few people on a dark country lane before…and perhaps I missed a bit here…laying an egg inside some poor unfortunate woman and then disappearing from the movie forever? Anyway, the upshot of all this is, she gives birth to a full-sized adult man, aka Sam from the beginning of the movie. After cleaning all the goo off himself and learning how to talk again, he pops off home to reclaim his family.


Obviously, he’s got ulterior motives, and one of these is sucking some of the lifeforce from his son, which also gives him alien powers. These powers are used to animate a midget clown and an Action Man figure to kill his nasty downstairs neighbour – played by Anna Wing, who shortly after this movie cemented her place in UK pop culture history by getting the part of Lou Beale on “Eastenders”. Oh, and he kills Analise because she’s insufficiently committed to a game of “Hide and Seek” – don’t worry, I couldn’t make any sense of that bit either. There’s one bit where he wakes up in the middle of the night, covered in blood, so a doctor is called, who can find nothing wrong with him. Horrible, right? Well, it’s just ignored the next morning, as if children waking up drenched in mystery blood is a terribly common occurrence.


I’ve possibly made it sound more interesting than it really is. It grinds to a halt when Sam shows up again, becoming a sort of dull kitchen-sink drama for a good twenty minutes or so, and only really kicks off again when Sam and Rachel go back to the cottage to see if they can figure out what went on. I feel worst for Joe, who gets treated as an afterthought in the conclusion of the movie.


One thing “Xtro” got right was the special effects. The alien (as seen above, if I can get a decent screenshot) is extremely effective, and the liberal use of goo and gore is refreshing for a British horror movie too (director Harry Bromley Davenport said he wanted to make it even more disgusting, but New Line stopped him). That it’s mistaken for one of the 72 “video nasties” is completely unsurprising, because it is gross!


Plus, I like how the inspiration for the plot feels English. I’d lay good money on this having something to do with the Rendlesham Forest incident – which happened two years before this movie was made. Complete nonsense, mind, but it’s got that home-grown flavour to it. Of course, it might have just been rush-released to get some of that “ET” money, but we shall never know (by which I mean I can’t be bothered to check).


SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING: Rachel, having seen her boyfriend die, and her husband and son go off to space, was (in the original ending) supposed to go back and find her home full of clones of Sam, but the special effects looked terrible. Then it was supposed to finish with her just sitting down in the field, but Davenport said that was too abrupt. The ending we’ve been left with is Rachel walking back into her house with a Mona-Lisa-esque knowing smile on her face, and picking up one of the eggs that Sam left behind. If it had cut off with her smiling at the eggs, it would have been quite creepy and interesting, but what they did was have one of the eggs pop open and attach itself to her face, killing her, which is stupid.


It’s got one major positive (the special effects) but everything else works against it. The plot is about halfway to being decent, but just throws all that out of the window towards the end; the acting from the women is excellent, but the men – including the kid, who’s just awful – leaves a lot to be desired. It’s fun to see the British have a real crack at an exploitation film, but it could and should have been much better than this. And despite their other horror franchise pumping out the sequels regularly, New Line wouldn’t produce the second “Xtro” for another eight years, with part 3 a further five years after that.


Rating: thumbs down

Alien Private Eye (1987)

Alien Private Eye poster

This film starts off with a puzzler – just who’s holding the gun in that poster? – and keeps getting weirder. You’ll be inclined to mock it at the beginning, but it sort of manages to win you over by the end – a singular vision, for sure (written, directed, produced, edited and cast by “Viktor”) that is technically incompetent but has a good heart.

This film is just the most 80s thing. Firstly, it’s only available on VHS, so you’re taken right back to the days of slightly fuzzy images that occasionally get interrupted by static, thanks to dirt on the tape heads. Secondly, star Lemro (Nikki Fastinelli, in his only film role – he’s described as a woman on IMDB too) dresses in white leather with the biggest shoulders and a jaunty hat – I think an image is in order, because it will do more than my clumsy words could:

Lemro, just strolling down the street looking magnificent, helps out Rene, a woman who’s being assaulted by a gang of thugs. He does what we’d all do – rescues her, takes her to his place, starts dancing in the middle of the lounge, suggests they go out dancing, takes her out to a club, fights off another group of thugs who want to abduct her, then takes her back to his house and has sex with her, all while keeping his hat on.

Halfway through the sex, though, the wonderfully quiet and slow-moving sex, she takes his hat off and discovers that Lemro is an alien! She doesn’t seem to mind at the time, although Lemro falls for Rene and she says later with a straight face “I don’t think I could ever be involved with an alien”. But Lemro doesn’t have too much time to mourn his own broken heart, as he’s a private eye and is whisked up into a case involving a couple of FBI agents from his home planet (which I thought was called Stits, but is actually Styx) and a black circular device which contains the recipe for the most potent designer drug in the galaxy, Soma.

This is a film of baffling choices. The choice of the director to use no lighting at all is perhaps paramount (see below), so unless it’s a bright sunny day the action can look like one small light chasing another small light across blackness. Even when the scene is supposed to be set in a hospital, perhaps the brightest-lit places on earth! The male alien FBI guy does his entire part as a weird Peter Lorre impression…during the gunfights, most of the people seem to be aiming at random, like one guy who sweeps his gun across a room, at one point definitely aiming at his friend who just walked out of shot to get into cover…the choice of Lemro as a name unlikely to raise a puzzled eyebrow…the way the main bad guy has a tiny picture of Hitler on his wall, which he prays to…the sudden appearance of a magic space gun at the end of the film, never even hinted at up to that point…the lack of any real worthwhile differences between humans and aliens…

This is a real scene from the movie. £100000 if you can figure out what's going on

This is a real scene from the movie. £100000 if you can figure out what’s going on

I could go on and on, because this is a film rich with oddity. Kilgore, the main bad guy, is amazing; and it’s his pushing of the super-addictive and super-deadly drug soma on both Lemro and Rene’s brother that provides what is really the main plot of the movie – the actual big ending fight feels completely tacked on, like the director wanted the real ending to be the two of them beating their drug addiction together. So much time is spent on this getting clean, at such a late stage of the movie, that you can’t really draw any other conclusion.

You may think, from this review, that I thought the movie sucked. And you’d be right, but something weird happens during the course of it. It worms its way into your heart and wins you over. Viktor is Vic Rubenfeld, whose sole other credit is as executive producer on a long-running TV show a decade after this. There’s a story I’d like to hear…but as he does so many different jobs in this movie, the singularity of his vision comes shining through, a la Tommy Wiseau all those years later. I really, thoroughly enjoyed this film, every bit of it. It has so much stuff in it – just listing the different genres it dips its toe in should illustrate that. Street vigilante; dancing; aliens on Earth; softcore porn; martial arts; drug “message”; lone gunman against the bad guys. Get ready for a good time, because if you have any love for Z-grade movies in your heart, then you’re going to have a hell of a time with this.

Rating: thumbs up


PS. This is another one for the “misleading tag line” files. The picture up there says “nothing on Earth could compare to the Hell he left behind”, yet, when asked to describe Stits by Rene, makes it sound like a really beautiful place. Lemro is just an inter-galactic playboy!

Bad Channels (1992)


No matter how many Full Moon films I see, it feels like there’ll always be more. After reading about “Demonic Toys” earlier, I realise this film is billed as the connecting tissue between it and “Dollman”, so before I review “Dollman vs. Demonic Toys”, being the completist that I am, I really ought to review this too.

A tiny AM radio polka station in the US discovers that it has a national licence to broadcast, thanks to there being no other stations operating in the 66 band frequency (superstition, apparently), and installs a super-powered transmitter to take advantage of this – as well as hiring Dangerous Dan O’Dare, a shock-jock who’s coming off a 6-month ban by the FCC. There’s a cable news station there to cover it, and we get the rest of the cast sketched in quickly – field reporter Lisa Cummings (played by MTV VJ Martha Quinn, in what must have been stunt casting 20 years ago); the station manager and the tech guy; plus groups of radio-listening fans at the local truck stop and hospital.


Unfortunately, a couple of aliens decide to pop up and…their motivation is never made clear. They take over the radio station but let Dan carry on broadcasting as they transform the tiny building into a goo-covered mess – his calls for help, coming just after the end of his first on-air stunt, are seen as a joke by everyone listening.

There’s a decent sense of humour at work here, one of the common features in Full Moon’s early output. Peanut, the owner of the truck stop, made me laugh, and Dan’s antics are frequently laugh-with, rather than laugh-at-the-awfulness-of, funny. Lisa’s transformation into a one-woman band, as her cameraman is an early victim of the aliens, is a great visual too. They really go all-out, though, when the aliens start using the airwaves to capture and miniaturise women. My wife’s explanation was for repopulating their homeworld, but they really look very different and I’m not sure the parts would match (if you know what I mean).

Anyway, the aliens broadcast special signals to the women they want to capture, briefly turning their lives into a music video (apart from the real-life MTV VJ, who gets nothing, presumably a little joke on their part), while the people around them just see someone start to act crazy and then pop out of existence. The girl from the diner gets some truly hideous cock-rock, the high school band member gets a Nirvana clone (complete with a video so close to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I’m surprised no-one got sued) and the Nurse gets some sort of Primus-alikes. And boy, do they get them – at minute 3 of the last music video, I was unable to shake the idea that this was a little padding from the Full Moon boys, expert cannibalisers of their own work.


Yes, that’s a miniaturised hospital trolley

Dan and his engineer try to save the day, but the aliens smack them around…sometimes. Other times, they’re allowed to just wander around the studio, and they’re also allowed to say whatever they want on the air – including Dan’s increasingly hysterical request for everyone to turn their radios off. This is all a bit odd, to be honest.

Are relationships formed and will the aliens get away with their (presumably diabolical) plan? Was the link to “Dollman” planned beforehand or did someone go “hey, we have miniaturised people in this film, fancy a crossover?” All these questions I will leave to you to discover for yourselves. But, like so much of Full Moon’s output when they were still getting funding from Paramount, this is a decent little film. They can make a little go a long way, and my bad memories of those later Puppet Master films are already as a distant dream.

As an aside, Blue Oyster Cult did the soundtrack for this film, but not any of the songs performed by the bands inside the film (go figure). There’s a brilliant review of their soundtrack from Classic Rock magazine, a beauty of language I couldn’t hope to compare to, as they call it “a grotesque mistake”.

Rating: thumbs up

High Plains Invaders (2009)


Perhaps a sign of how painfully average this film is, is that it took me half an hour to realise I’d already seen this a few years ago. Oh, hold on, I’ve spoiled the review! Keep reading please, everyone! For a film with “High Plains” in the title, it looks rather muddy and not very plains-y. But that’s certainly not the biggest problem anyone will have with this.

James Marsters, forever known as Spike from “Buffy” (I bet his family even call him that), is waiting to be executed in what looks like a cheap Wild West theme park. Luckily, some friendly aliens start eating the people of the town that imprisoned him…sorry, they’re evil of course, probably. Who knows? On top of this, there’s a pitchblende mine outside town, and I was sort of fading in and out of it but the mine and the aliens might be related. If you’re worried about missing the finer points, they introduce the baddies and the means to kill them in the first ten minutes, so the rest of the film is just a pleasant meander to the moment when those two things are brought together.

I think I’ve gotten worse at discussing films which are this average. Let me see what I can do. All the actors are fine, there’s nice light moments in it, there have been worse aliens on screen…for a SyFy Channel film, it’s almost good!

You know what – if it’s on and the remote control isn’t within reach, it’s not that bad a choice for 80 minutes or so. But I think this film may be the end of my love affair with the SyFy Channel. It’s so thoroughly…nothing…there’s just no reason for its existence, other than to sweep up the crumbs from under the table of a bigger film. I just don’t get why these channels, if they know that the name is the main reason people are going to check out your film, don’t at least try and do something original.


Oh, and for those of you keeping count, add this one to the list of “bad SyFy rip offs where I never watched the original” (in this case, Cowboys vs. Aliens, I presume).