Operation Golden Phoenix (1994)

Jalal Merhi made a good movie!

I’ll give it a second to let that sink in. Yes, the charisma supermassive-black-hole, the man with no appreciable talents in front of or behind the camera, who started making movies because he liked martial arts and wanted to be a star and obviously he was never getting hired by mainstream productions, the man who managed once to be out-acted by Billy Blanks (!) and whose work is stuffed to the brim with sexism so rotten it’ll make your eyes water, made one good movie.

And the weird thing is, it’s by far his least well-known. Only available on VHS (I think), almost never shown on TV, my copy is recorded from obscure British cable channel “Movies 4 Men”. It co-stars ISCFC Hall of Famer Loren Avedon, James “David Lo Pan off of Big Trouble In Little China” Hong, and a delightfully wacky bunch of minor actors; has some great filming locations and a plot that just rips along. I mean, the last few things on this list are what you’d normally expect from any half-decent movie, but they’re far from being a given.

Merhi and Avedon are Mark Assante and Ivan Jones, agents for some government agency or other, and I think they’ve just rescued a bunch of artefacts from somewhere. If there’s anyone who reads this review and goes “I didn’t like it because he couldn’t remember where they rescued the stuff from at the beginning” then I will eat my hat.

Unfortunately, Avedon is bad to the bone, and has thrown in his lot with international bad guy Mr Chang (Hong). There’s a couple of amulets which, when re-united, are a map to a fabulous haul of treasure, and now the baddies have one of them. They blow up the rest of the stuff and blame it on Assante, so he’s on the run with the cops in hot-ish pursuit and the bad guys trying to engineer it so that he goes and steals the second amulet. His old buddy the Professor has a wife who’s cheating on him with Chang, too, so there’s plenty of people milling about Assante who want to do him ill.

That amulet is in Lebanon, so off we go to the actual Beirut to do some filming – presumably helped by Merhi’s Lebanese parentage. And it’s a fantastic spot to film, too, so kudos to them for getting permission. But Assante has to get a fake passport in order to fly, and it made me nostalgic for the olden days as he goes to a guy with papers and tweezers to put the photograph in place and all that. Damn you, terrorism, for spoiling our fun!

The beautiful Princess Tara has the other amulet, and Assante must try and infiltrate her household in order to steal it – but don’t worry, he picks the dumbest way possible (I’ll leave you to figure that out for yourself, should you choose to watch it). More twists and turns! Him going back to the Princess for help and getting a sidekick, the Princess’s ass-kicking sister Angelica! Fight scenes around ancient ruins! The vague idea that Jones is actually sort of a good guy! For about two scenes before the movie forgets and just makes him bad again!

What I enjoyed most about “Operation Golden Phoenix” (other than the fact there’s no golden phoenix in it) is how it never slows down enough to let you think about how daft it all is. He got permission to film in Beirut so knocked up a bit of script that gave him a reason to go there (well, the script was provided by long-time associate J Stephen Maunder, but you get the idea). Avedon probably improvised the “maybe he’s not that bad” stuff, because it makes zero sense in the wider context of things and he’s got form as an actor who likes to go into business for himself. The reveal of how they manage to match up the pendants to find the treasure has attracted some real anger from other reviewers, but…I guess my standards are lower, because it just washed over me. Like, I expect 1993 computers to be able to do wacky stuff like that to move the plot along.

The fight scenes are awful, because Merhi liked filming himself more than just about anything, and he’s in almost all of them. He often just flies through the air, visibly not making contact with anything, and we’re supposed to believe the person flying backwards in the next shot was affected by that “kick”. Avedon’s stuff is fine, but then he’s a professional.

I was very surprised at how much work he gave the women in this – he doesn’t give himself any love scenes, but both main Princesses are very strong characters. Okay, it’s not perfect, but we can’t have everything.

I don’t want to praise it too much. A lot of it is, admittedly, Merhi stood around delivering terrible lines in the worst way possible (he really is among the least able people to have ever called themselves “actor”), and it makes no sense if you think about it for more than a tenth of a second. But it’s rarely boring and has a great villainous turn from Avedon, so I’m happy to call this the best Merhi movie ever, and if you’re desperate to see one example of the man’s work, make it this one.

Rating: thumbs up

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Zombi 7 (1980) (aka Antropophagus)

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We’re almost at the end of our “Zombi” series! And if Andreas Schnaas’ “Anthropopaghous 2000” proves impossible to track down (I’m not going to spend too much on it, obviously), this will be the end! Although the “official” series only consists of 5 instalments, it feels like I’ve watched 50 of the bloody things, even though this is no.14. We’ve reviewed a few classics which hopefully you’ve since enjoyed yourselves (“Zombie Flesh Eaters”, “Virgin Among The Living Dead”) and a few which ought to wiped from existence (“Panic”, “Zombie Flesh Eaters 2”).

 

We’ve also discovered that, if you’re a cheeky enough distributor, not having zombies in your movie is no problem. If you count this one (spoiler!) an amazing 5 of the 14 don’t have a single zombie in them! If you’re being extra-generous, dead people walk and talk in a few, but this, “Absurd” and “Panic” all feature just one villain, who’s definitely alive. This was part of the great zombie makeup shortage of the late 70s, of course.

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“Antropophagus” is not particularly well known as “Zombi 7”; but it’s extremely well known as one of the 72 “video nasties”, and was also one of the 39 to be successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. Unlike its not-really-a-sequel, “Absurd”, there’s absolutely no doubt why this one was banned, and that is our cannibal villain eating a foetus. I figured I ought to mention that at the top of things, in case it was a deal-breaker for you (the prop was, apparently, a skinned rabbit), but it’s a really well-done effect and induced a wince or two from even this jaded reviewer.

 

Let’s talk movie! The cold open features a young couple strolling through the streets of a picture-postcard Greek village before going for a sunbathe. He lies on the beach with huge headphones on (who takes headphones to the beach?) and she goes for a swim, finding something extremely unpleasant in a small drifting boat before getting chopped up by persons unknown, closely followed by the boyfriend. Solid open, as they go, and it’s another in the surprisingly durable “ship drifts into harbour carrying something nasty” sub-genre.

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Basically, the movie is about a group of pretty chill buds going for an island-hopping holiday. They’ve hired a boat, they’ve got some places to go, and as they’re travelling on the cable car down to the bay, the beautiful Julie (Tisa Farrow) asks them if she can get a lift to the island her friends are on. Because she’s hot, and one of the guys fancies her, they say yes. I wonder which island that will be?

 

A quick word about Ms Farrow – she seems to have hopped out of 2016, with everything about her – clothes, personality – seeming to come from a more enlightened age. She takes no nonsense from the guy she’s into, because he’s in a weird situation with another woman; she travels on her own; and she does her own rescuing. Honestly, it’s just refreshing to see a woman remain fully clothed throughout a movie, given what we’ve watched recently. If I can be bothered to mess about in Paint for a few minutes, below you should find a picture of her compared to a picture of Kristen Stewart in this year’s “American Ultra”.

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Okay, it’s the not the closest resemblance, but it’s good to see a woman not be wallpaper. Sadly, the island Julie wants to go has had something bad happen to it, in a style reminiscent of “Dagon” (although the inspiration went the other way, I presume). No-one’s on the streets, and the only person they see runs away, but not before writing “Go Away” in dirt on a window.  Their boat is unmoored and left to drift into the Mediterranean, people start disappearing, until eventually they’re led to the mansion owned by the wealthiest people on the island, who unfortunately all died in a boating accident a few months ago.

 

I’ve skated over a few details, because those long recaps leave me bored long before the end, even if it’s a cool movie. And this is pretty decent, surprisingly! The characters are all believable, the settings are great (kudos to the person who did all their location scouting for them) and the gore is plentiful. Given its status as a video nasty and the way it always used to show up on semi-legal “10 DVDs for a tenner” box sets, I expected a pretty miserable experience, but kudos to everyone involved. The scene in the ossuary (which featured at least some real bones, which the crew accidentally took away with them) is a great and creepy bit of business.

 

What’s more surprising is how this and “Absurd” are from the same writer and director, have similar-ish plots and were filmed a year apart. I think I bought the peril of this group more than the family from the later movie, I liked the actors more and they found better sets. But it’s not perfect, obviously, so it’s time for your favourite feature, “the paragraph where I mock the dumb stuff in the movie!”

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There’s a set of tarot cards used at the beginning. Now, have you ever seen a set of tarot cards in a movie ever, where the Death card doesn’t come up? It’s like the ultimate Chekov’s gun. I thought this was going to be the first, but as if in an acknowledgement of this rule, after “dealing a hand” and chatting about it, the highly strung and jealous Carol flicks through the pack until she finds the Death card, which still gets the big dramatic music sting! Excellent work. Carol locks Julie in a cemetery and leaves her there, with a psychopathic cannibal on the loose…then, ten minutes later, after she escaped, Julie’s way too forgiving. Lastly, the big mansion has a room where the killer has hidden all his bodies, which has a good number in there, all of whom have been there for some time. Two things – he’s a rubbish cannibal, only biting his victims enough to kill them; and those corpses must’ve absolutely STUNK in the height of a Greek summer, yet not a single person makes reference to it, or is particularly grossed out by the presence of dozens of dead bodies.

 

Small potatoes, I suppose. It’s a little on the slow side, and the sort of heavy editing that it had to go through to get British certification must have made it a rather curious film; but it’s here now, uncut since 2015, and is a very solid film. Director Joe D’Amato would make a movie in the same locations, with roughly the same plot, next year, with the only difference being its X-rated nature, called “Porno Holocaust”, which shows how Europeans definitely had a different attitude to matters sexual. By the way, there’s a tribute to D’Amato on the DVD which is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – he’s talking about how the images at the centre of his latest film are from his heart, and his dreams, and talks about it like it’s this big production…when it’s just one of the dozens of porn movies he made in the last few years of his life. Then, there’s a bunch of montages of his smiling face, almost always with a cigarette in his mouth, with the title pages of his movies popping up in the foreground. It’s hilarious, and so stupid that I’d have easily believed it to be a joke if it weren’t on the DVD.

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Rating: thumbs up

End Of The World (2013)

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I had a dream the other day where the Asylum launched a series of films where comedians would insert themselves, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” style, into their back catalogue. Imagine “Transmorphers” with David Cross and Bob Odenkirk tagging along behind the human soldiers! Anyway, this film isn’t quite that, but it’s a great idea and it’s loads of fun.

Greg Grunberg (“Heroes”, “Alias”) is Owen, the owner of a video shop specialising in disaster movies, and his primary employee is Steve (Neil Grayston, “Eureka”). The two of them spend too much time talking movies, planning for various apocalypses, so Owen’s girlfriend Selena (Caroline Cave) is about ready to dump him. That is, of course, until an actual apocalypse swings into view! Balls of electricity or energy caused by something or other in the outer solar system.

From the off, there’s a decent sense of humour running through this. The video shop (already an anachronism in 2013, unless it spent a lot of years sat on the shelf) is primarily stocked with…SyFy Channel original movies! The posters on the wall feature several films we’ve already reviewed for this site (including one of the “Project Shadowchaser” films, which I loved), and they reference several others in dialogue. It’s such a simple idea that I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to come up with it. Brad Dourif, as a scientist / filmmaker of some sort who knows everything about disaster preparedness, is a welcome addition to the cast as well, and has a rather excellent sendoff.

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We do get quite a lot of the typical SyFy Channel things, though, just to let us know where we are. The cast gets split up and spends the majority of the film apart, presumably to save money; a couple of the cast are perfectly qualified to fight the exact problem that’s come up; and people remain skeptical about what’s going on long past the point when it’s sensible to do so.

The other typical thing we get – a nuclear weapon being the answer to the problem – leads into the subject of an impassioned speech at the end. Owen and Steve communicate, like so many geek-culture-obsessed friends, in shorthand based on their favourite films, so the big fiery comeback speech near the end is lifted from three or four different genre films. A nice touch, and a sort of friendship that nearly always gets messed up by movies. Then, when they’ve been captured by the Army (after trying to get their help to launch a nuke to save the world, naturally), they launch into a speech about how watching disaster movies has prepared them for all this, how embracing these films has made them better people and how there’s lots of useful knowledge in these movies. That they undercut this with a joke about how it’s almost always nukes that save the day is a nice touch too.

So, lots of positivity about this film. A strong sense of humour (even if I don’t think it was quite funny enough), and a well-acted, good-looking disaster movie on top of it. It’s not perfect, of course – for a film that feels so packed with incident, there’s a fair chunk of filler towards the end – but it’s a positive way of becoming self-aware, the other route being a straight-faced take on ridiculous monsters, Robo-sharks and so on.

If this pops up on SyFy, I’d definitely recommend it. Not a single trigger for my “lazy sexism in movies” alarm – a strong woman, in charge of her life, good and useful job, kicks ass and remains fully clothed. Admittedly, only one female in the main cast, but we need to take what we can get.

Rating: thumbs up

Nazis At The Centre Of The Earth (2012)

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In an existence littered with no-good “mockbusters”, this movie stands out for its makers, The Asylum. It’s riding the coattails of a fairly odd film that wasn’t really a blockbuster in its own right, “Iron Sky”; and it is one of the very very small number of Asylum films which manages to be more entertaining than its inspiration (please read my review of “Iron Sky”, which it might reasonably be said I didn’t like very much).

Nazis! I hate those guys! Right at the end of WW2, we see Dr. Mengele escaping from some Allied forces, with a package under his arm. He’s a heck of a shot, fortunately…or the Allies are all really bad at it. Anyway, his plane is lost and we’re fired into the present day, where Jake Busey clearly intends to compete with Brooke Hogan of “Sand Sharks” for the title of “least convincing scientist in the movies” (aka the Denise Richards Award). The film takes place at the South Pole, and the apparently hand-picked group of scientists there need to be told the most basic information, over and over again – if you’re going to explain the film in this way, you guys, why not have one of your group be a dumbass?

Anyway, as the title of the film may have indicated, this is about Nazis who discovered an entrance to the Hollow Earth at the South Pole, and rather than using their kickass technology to win the war, decided to head off down there and build a new society for themselves. Here’s where the holes in the plot become rather more apparent and start dragging things down, but rather than dwelling on them, let’s talk about how extremely gory this film is.

The Nazis have figured out a way to become immortal, apparently, but it involves farming humans for their organs, skin, bones, etc. Some of them have maintained their appearance more than others, and in kudos to the makeup guys, quite a lot of them are really badly disfigured. So when our scientists find a way down there, you know there’s going to be some double-crossing, some very graphic face-peeling-off scenes, and really a lot more blood and guts than you’d expect from an Asylum film. They’re also not afraid of dealing with Jews in the same way they always dealt with them, which came as a bit of a surprise.

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The thing that continued to surprise me throughout the film is how far they were prepared to go. This is the first Asylum film I can remember where they really went for that grindhouse feel, where you’d expect them to cut away for something because they couldn’t afford to film it, but they stayed right there. The plot is another area where things go way OTT, just when you think you’ve got a clue where they might be going they take another turn, and then they absolutely nail the ending. You’ll love it!

For an Asylum film, this absolutely ruled. A decent cast, okay special effects, and a gleeful disregard for good taste. Like I said, not perfect (so much exposition!) but a step in the right direction.

Rating: thumbs up

Quantum Apocalypse (2010)

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Nu Image were, at one time, kings of low-budget action / sci fi cinema. In the 90s, they made the “Cyborg Cop” series (well worth checking out) and lots of others – see their work here – and seemed to be happy in the shallow end of the pool until 2008 or so, when they made the last “Rambo” film. Now, they’re the people behind “The Expendables” and “Olympus Has Fallen”, but luckily their fame hasn’t gone to their heads and they’re still able to knock out films like this.

A comet which is due to come fairly close to Mars veers way off course and actually hits the red planet, which causes all sorts of problems, including (perhaps, most importantly), a “gravity funnel” which will wipe out all life on earth. This gives us a group of people trying to solve the problem – all those NASA scientists, along with a couple of kooky theoretical physicists they bring in – and, in the B story, a small-town Mayor and his family, his brother being an autistic savant with a computer full of amazing calculations and an online friend at NASA.

The difference between this lot and Asylum is immediately apparent, in that this has humour in it. One of the physicists is Gigi Edgeley, better known as Chiana, the blue woman from “Farscape”, and not only is she given funny-ish lines, but there’s a running joke where she’s wearing different clothes in every scene she’s in; and the son of the family reminds me of Dan Byrd from “Cougar Town”, cracking wise at all times.

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The brother realises he has to get to the space centre at Houston and save the day, and that race, along with the race at NASA to solve it themselves, is the main narrative driver, plus we’ve got the son and his new girlfriend, the Dad’s new wife and her struggles to fit into the new family, and so on. It’s surprisingly full of stuff, which makes a refreshing change. Plus, they have some fun with the altered gravity on earth, by having someone surprised at how much weight they’ve lost, two people picking up and throwing a car, and so on.

One weirdly clever thing this film does is shoot footage in what looks like a real disaster area, with members of the cast clearly not on green screens while there’s real hurricane and flood damage all around. Not sure if they got lucky, or if there was some destruction near-ish to their studios so they quickly wrote a film to go with it, but it makes the film look a heck of a lot more expensive than it probably was.

Both the President and the Mayor have very attractive, much younger wives, which is either an indicator of directorial fetish or a happy accident. The Mayor’s wife, Lynne, is played by Stephanie Jacobsen, and she’s so distractingly beautiful that I found their relationship a little unbelievable. I just don’t buy that women like her exist anywhere outside Hollywood parties, but this could just be me. Anyway, she’s lovely but has very little to do other than look vaguely grumpy that her husband is off saving the world and none of his kids like her very much.

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The world isn’t going to be destroyed, of course, but the way this film finds of solving the problem is pretty interesting, and elevates what came before it I think. Just, not quite enough. It’s a fairly fast-paced film but when you think about it, there’s a lot of filler – the two sides of the story have zero links until the last few minutes; and the B and C stories would be okay in a TV show but feel a little out of place in a film called “Quantum Apocalypse”.

I reckon you ought to give this a go. It’s a lot of fun, if the plot drags you can stare at the pretty people (all of whom remain respectably dressed throughout, by no means a given in films like this), plus there’s a lot familiar faces if you’re a fan of sci-fi TV. When you see a film with a title and cast like this, you kind of know what you’re going to get, and this has a little of the fun of the mid-90s B-movie sci-fi era about it.

Rating: thumbs up

EDIT: searching for this film on Google may lead you to http://www.quantumapocalypse.net , which is the name of a product for shining leaves. That has to the oddest name for a product I’ve ever heard, and my hat goes off to them.

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Planet Raptor (2007)

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Compared to the first Raptor Island movie, this is “Citizen Kane” crossed with “Wild Strawberries”. I started watching it with a sense of dread, the memory of Lorenzo Lamas sleepwalking his way through the woods still fresh in my mind, but as the film continued my dread quickly lifted and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying it.

It’s 2066, and the USS Santee (named after a famous ship from the US Civil War, fact fans) is taking a team of Marines to a far distant planet to answer a distress call. Along with them is a group of scientists, and the first team we see them…they beam down to the planet! I do like a good beaming down. For reasons completely unknown – although probably to do with some clause in their contracts – two actors return from the first film, playing completely different roles. Those two are Steven Bauer, best known to us these days as Don Eladio in “Breaking Bad”, and Peter Jason, a dependable “that guy” actor, and they’re the two main marines. Musetta Vander, genre queen and one of the stars of “Project Shadowchaser 3”, is a marine too, and the two main scientists are Ted Raimi and Vanessa Angel. Look at all those names! Compared to Raptor Island, when all we had was Lamas looking like he couldn’t be bothered to be there, and Bauer silently fuming in the background, this is a vast improvement.

Their arrival on the planet is in a faux medieval village, which is an interesting visual mashup. I imagine that they had access to several sets for free and decided to use them, and even to adapt segments of the story around them. This has something of the old spirit of Roger Corman, who would occasionally write a film in days if he got access to a certain set, and while it’s not the greatest set in the world, it is certainly better than some woods. They encounter the same fairly awful CGI raptors they did in the first film, with the addition of at least one model for closeups, and then discover a way into the castle, which is attached to the village.

I know little about the military, being a lifelong pacifist, but I can tell when a film does it wrong. One of our previous reviews, “Ozombie”, has ample examples of a military group that deserves to die, but this film is different. The marines move as a group, have tactics, don’t let raptors sneak up on them unawares, don’t spray bullets around like confetti, and while it’s only a little thing, it lifts the film when you know someone who actually gave a damn worked on it.

The film cuts back to the ship orbiting the planet from time to time, so some of the drama in the last two-thirds of the film comes from a storm which engulfs the planet, cutting off communication between the marines and the ship. We’ve also got the raptors who keep everyone busy, a lot of mysterious alien artifacts dotted around the castle, and Ted Raimi taking an unusual interest in the raptor blood. Oh, the film bought a decapitation special effect and get their money’s worth by using it several times, as raptors figure out the quickest way to off their human foes. There’s a surprising amount of gore for a SyFy Channel movie, but they may have made some edits for the TV version.

None of the twists and turns the film takes are terribly original, I suppose, but the fact the film does them well is more surprising than any weird plot device it could throw at us. There are three different stories – marines vs. raptors; scientists vs. marines; and the drama on the orbiting ship, and they’re all tightly done. There’s a bit at the beginning where the marines are setting up, and they all have weapons that soldiers would use today. One of the grunts makes a reference to the relatively ancient nature of their firearms (because building laser-weapons would be outside the film’s budget) and they actually make it part of the plot. I really want to get across to people reading this how surprising watching this film was – if you spend all day watching classics, then “Planet Raptor” would probably appear terrible, but as a sequel to such a spectacularly rotten film, it’s amazing.

The relationships between characters appear real and natural, the backstory informs the character choices rather than just being a way for the film to take up space, and the conclusion is satisfying. And it feels really weird to be saying that about a SyFy movie.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

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Youtube Film Club: Phantasm (1979)

I knew I was going to like this film from even before it started – the version I have includes an introduction from primary bad guy Angus Scrimm, who inadvertently spoiled the big reveal for me, while being quite charming for an old man whose biggest role is playing a…heck, I’m not going to spoil what he is for you. That’ll have to wait til part 2 (or until you watch it on Youtube).

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The story goes, Don Coscarelli, who wrote, directed, produced, filmed and edited this  due to it being almost self-funded, saw how audiences responded to jump-scares in non-horror movies and decided his next film ought to be horror. He’d met Scrimm on a previous set and liked him (while being a little intimidated) so cast him as the villain – thus began a well-regarded horror franchise which I’ve managed to not see a single second of until now.

After some of the least erotic graveyard sex ever captured on film, the woman shapeshifts into the Tall Man and stabs the fella – that a “male” character does this is unremarked on during the film and is left to us to mull over. The funeral is attended by Jody, a musician who’s looking after his 13 year old brother Mike following the mysterious death of their parents; Jody’s friend Reggie, who drives an old-timey ice cream truck and has a wicked skullet, rounds out the cast. Mike has some anxiety over losing his parents and follows Jody everywhere, and while watching the funeral from afar with binoculars, sees the Tall Man (who’s the town undertaker) pick up a very heavy coffin single-handedly and throw it in the back of his hearse.

The Tall Man, at first glance, appears to be very badly overacting, but it’s one of those criticisms of the film I had while making notes that turned out to be proved wrong by later developments, which is a good way of doing things. Although that first scene is still pretty silly.

After what might charitably be described as a fairly meandering first half hour or so, Jody and Reggie are very quickly convinced that there’s something really wrong with the Tall Man and the three of them go after him (even though there’s a bit too much of Jody trying to stop Mike from following them on some dangerous outing). There’s an important scene where Mike goes to a fortune teller and he’s taught about how to control fear – not only important to this film but to those works inspired by it (Nightmare on Elm Street, for one).

If you’re like me and haven’t seen the films, chances are you’ll know about its most iconic image, the flying silver balls. They attach themselves to your head and then drill in, but they don’t show up til 38 minutes and even then, don’t play much of a part in the rest of the film. I’ll lay good money on them showing up more in the sequels, though. They’re part of the Tall Man’s arsenal, along with intermittent telekinesis and the dwarves. To reveal what the dwarves are would spoil the film a little, I think, but I can reveal that it looks like Coscarelli got a job lot of jawa costumes from “Star Wars” for a low price.

Coscarelli would film this on weekends as his cast had regular jobs, and out of this disjointed method of doing things came a film with the feel of a bad dream. He very cleverly turned this to his advantage, I think, with some previous reviewers saying that it took place entirely in Mike’s imagination. I don’t think this is the case (the presence of sequels would appear to back me up, even though I’m sure Coscarelli would be aware of that reading and even encouraging of it with some of the scenes) but there’s a lot of that dream-logic in the film and the Tall Man is a pretty brilliant embodiment of the sort of adult who kids are petrified of. The silver ball is an image straight out of the director’s dreams, apparently, and it’s another bit that shouldn’t really fit in the film, but does.

To prepare for this review, I did a bit of reading round on it, and it seems that the film is really about Mike and the way he deals with the loss of his parents. I’ll buy that, I suppose, but he’s an incredibly annoying lead character to any viewer who’s not roughly of his age. As a grown man, I wish he’d shut up and do as he’s told…that he’s pretty much directly responsible for all the deaths in the film barring the first one is something the film seems unwilling to explore.

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Talking of death, in keeping with the two other great horror film franchise openers of the late 70s (Halloween and Friday the 13th), the body count is surprisingly low – up to the 75 minute mark, the only person we see die is the guy right at the beginning who, if he’d been better at sex with the Scrimm-shapeshifting-woman, may have survived anyway. Although there’s a room near the end of the film which indicates the Tall Man has been very busy indeed…

After taking on this series for the ISCFC as a bit of a lark, I’ve come away from the first film with a great deal of respect for it. Although it’s pretty slow to get going, and the first half is quite disjointed, it’s an interesting concept and has a lot of original and interesting images in it. A horror film set mainly in well-lit rooms (even if there is a graveyard nearby) is interesting in itself, really. It owes a debt to both “Halloween” and Jodorowsky, but has certainly gone on to influence a lot of films itself. There’s also a nice vein of humour running through it, never enough to take you out of the danger that Jody, Mike and Reggie are in but certainly reflecting the nature of real people, who laugh and joke in the face of all sorts.

So, a definite thumbs up from me, and I look forward to the rest of the films in the series. While not the most prolific filmmaker, Coscarelli has made some fun films – as well as directing all four Phantasm films, he also did the first “Beastmaster”, “Bubba-Ho-Tep” and “John Dies At The End”.