Mimic (1997)

directed by guillermo del toro
miramax films

Now that I know this is a Guillermo Del Toro production – I mean, now that I know who that is, as I didn’t when I first saw this film – it seems so obvious. The bugs, the labyrinthine depths, the hokum religiosity, the brooding shadows. And the heaviness. Everything’s so portentous, all the time. But when you’re dealing with hybrid mutant DNA experiments threatening the very existence of man – nay, humankind – I guess that’s allowed. So come on, let’s get metaphysical. Personally, I always enjoy it when movies take advantage of the legendary lost/abandoned/forgotten/secret NYC subway stations. It’s like its own Atlantean fable at this point. But anyway, Mira Sorvino plays an entomologist who something something something the CDC and uh-oh now there’s a Rob Bottin creature creation. And a bit of a wannabe action flick besides.

why did i watch this movie?

As has been a burgeoning mini-theme lately, I saw this in the theater BITD, and had been meaning to recontemplate it ever since I screened that other Del Toro picture.

should you watch this movie?

It’s nothing too memorable, really.
(Hell, I didn’t even remember THAT.)

highlight and low point

Flimflam “science” is always good for a laff, and there’s a moment or two where the shivers might get to you, but overall this is kind of a trudge through the mundane … which is sorta remarkable, given that it concerns bioengineered insects that can convincingly portray people. Ms. Sorvino does not come across as a terribly convincing entomologist, though I will admit, I haven’t met any to whom I can compare her. The very final moments of touching humanity in this film are fraudulently cloying postproduction dubs. This version was the “director’s cut,” which okay, sure.

rating from outer space: C

The Relic (1997)

directed by peter hyams
pacific western, cloud nine entertainment, polygram filmed entertainment, marubeni, toho-towa, tele-münchen, bbc et al.

The sort of well-budgeted Hollywood horror thriller that eventually must become just another iteration of Alien, this vehicle for nobody in particular boasts, above anything else, a bland technical competence as its calling card. You can pick which stock character is your fave, but I vote for “the Mayor” (pun definitely intended) throwing his weight around as if “Chicago” is his personal fiefdom. You will recognize the outline: anthropologist mysteriously doesn’t return from an expedition, but a RELIC (which by the way has almost nothing to do with anything else that happens here) does, and then a creature you barely see for most of the picture slaughters a bunch of people, in the dark. WHAT’S the connection? WILL the day be saved? The End. Wait, let’s at least give ’em credit for not jamming in a subplot featuring a developing love story.

why did i watch this movie?

Long ago, I saw this flick in the theater, much as I did many of its ilk*, and I remembered almost nothing about it. For good reason, as it turns out.

*Species! Species 2! Mimic! The Faculty! It was the ’90s, man!
Creepy monsters were all around us!

should you watch this movie?

See that list of entities responsible for cobbling this feature together? That’s a focus group, and the result was this bland consensus.

highlight and low point

The most interesting thing about this production is how remarkably generic it is. From the opening scenes of the scientist’s “fieldwork” (featuring “natives”) all the way to the – “spoiler alert” – preposterous death throes of the mutant-DNA monster, it just follows the template. Through tunnels, and occasionally through glass.

rating from outer space: D


©1972 E.C. Publications, Inc.

 

Horror High (1973)

directed by larry n. stouffer
jamieson film company

What great fun this cheap little ripoff drive-in picture is! Not even making any bones about deriving its plot from (the Strange Case of) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this no-budget quickie for some reason features several then-NFL stars in cameo roles, mainly as cops. A few skulls are bandied about, along with copious amounts of very fake blood, the makeup FX are even more minimal than in The Prey, and I’m a little abashed that I didn’t recognize Rosie Holotik from Don’t Look in the Basement. Groovy soundtrack song – “Vernon’s Theme,” so earnest and so redolent of its era I laughed out loud – and a whole lotta folks WAY too old to be playing high schoolers round out this gritty drama, devotedly infused with as much pathos as could conceivably be concocted … in a Chemistry lab, say. Put it on your list of overlooked cut-rate gems, it’s worth it.

why did i watch this movie?

I confess, I have no idea. Maybe the fact that I’ve seen 1987’s completely unrelated (and also quite enjoyable!) Return to Horror High played a subconscious role. WHO can say.

Should you watch this movie?

While offering the usual caveat that semipro flicks like this played a major rôle in this blög’s very genesis, I must answer that query in the affirmative.

highlight and low point

A certain economy of scripting is something of a marvelous feat. Why or how can Vernon always be sneaking into the school building at any hour, one wonders … well, see, his mother’s dead and his dad travels for work a lot. The studying vignette with Robin, a bunch of books and a bowl of ice cream, is affecting. The paper cutter demanded more usage, though.

rating from outer space: B+

Biohazard (1985)

written, produced and directed by fred olen ray
viking films international

Oh, hey, look – it’s Aldo Ray again. Taking part in this ridiculous picture for exactly the reasons you’d surmise – he desperately needed some cash – he infuses his lines with all the believability of, say, a parrot. Not that authenticity is an important factor to a movie such as this, which more than anything else calls to mind the SF epics of the Atomic Age, made for as little money as possible, with whatever was lying around. The story revolves around a scientist tapping psychic powers to something something, and now there’s an alien life form. (It’s the director’s child in a costume that isn’t half bad, somehow.) This is the type of flick that features scenes in high desert areas because there’s no need for any sort of permits, the kind where all the various members of the “U.S. Army” sport mismatched “uniforms.” For its concluding statement, this production doesn’t even bother pretending it’s serious at all, leading one to reflect as to whether it ever had been. Pretending, that is.


why did i watch this movie?

My brother sent me a picture of the VHS box.


should you watch this movie?

Allegedly, Fred O. Ray made his first feature on a budget of $298. (And the white mouse will not explode, either.) And he allegedly paid A. Ray a thou for this one.


highlight and low point

I should stress that I’m unsure this movie is deliberately crummy by means of emulating the good ol’ days. I mean, I think the dialogue is as bad as it is without undue pretense, and the acting, too. That it wasn’t aiming any higher is a given, but the nonnegotiable parameters involved
pretty much guaranteed the outcome.

rating from outer space: D+

C.H.U.D. (1984)

directed by douglas cheek
bonime associates, ltd.

Well, it’s obviously a disgraceful admission on my part that I didn’t see this the way it was clearly meant to be seen, on videocassette rented from the mom ‘n’ pop (actually, it was just “pop”) establishment down the street from where I lived as a kid. Or anytime since. Somebody should’ve told me it was this rewarding. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I never saw it, except that as a young person I didn’t actually watch many horror movies at all, and maybe because the title eliminates any suspense? Whatever the case, this is low-budget, low-grade horror at a peak, a Reagan-era relic of nuclear panic. Shot under the streets of NYC and laden with intransigent officials, it’s the gritty story of one plucky little guy’s quest to find out why everyone’s disappearing and a truly terrible battle plan hatched far too late to eradicate a horde of deadly mutants. And more! (It’s actually several guys.) Just today I had to defend my pronouncement that this flick is “good.” People, man.

why did i watch this movie?

I owed it to myself.

should you watch this movie?

Act now – don’t hesitate!

highlight and low point

Though this picture is ostensibly about hideous freaks coming outta the sewers, having been spawned there due to government negligence, what makes it enjoyable are the various interactions the normal people have. The scene where The Reverend initially spots the C.H.U.D. participating in what appears to be some sort of rite is intriguing, if scant. (More could have been done with it.) And as a former resident of New York City, I swear, when characters first start winding through the subway tunnels, I could conjure the smell. Now that’s olfactory memory.

rating from outer space: B+

Prophecy (1979)

directed by john frankenheimer
paramount pictures
a robert l. rosen production

Boy, does this one feel like a missed opportunity. Compelling despite itself for the majority of its running time, this cautionary eco-terror tale collapses drastically once the “monster” is revealed. Because it’s a bear. Sure, it’s an ursine that appears kinda acid-damaged (no, not that kind), but it’s a bear nonetheless. Which is quite a letdown, given all the Science-y gobbledygook promising mutations and devastation of the food chain and so forth, and renders this production not unlike a handful of other such endeavors about rampaging animals. Until that reveal, however, it’s an engrossing flick that works pretty well. The usual caveat applies about giving the details of the story too much thought. Especially those that are glossed over in the first place.

why did i watch this movie?

I had just finished the David Seltzer novel and felt it must have been filmed at some point. It turns out he wrote the script first.

should you watch this movie?

If you plan to, I’d recommend reading the novelization beforehand. It helps fill in a lot of backstory. Of course, it may also contribute to a feeling of disappointment with the screen version.

highlight and low point

The bear monster is supposed to be humongous – some of the promotional material specifies “15 feet tall” – and it isn’t. It’s, you know, bear-sized. Except when it’s smaller, because it’s a guy in a bear monster suit. Other than that, this picture’s biggest problem is that it pares away the relationships intended to give events their gravitas. The allusion to Minamata disease is indeed frightening, even if the source material fails to note the outbreak amongst First Nations people in Ontario, Canada, that must have inspired the proceedings.

rating from outer space: C−

Bats (1999)

directed by louis morneau
destination films

A typically dunderheaded nature horror predicated on an “accident,” this flick features not one believable element. You will not believe that Dina Meyer’s character is a bat expert with a Ph.D., you will not believe that Lou Diamond Phillips makes a creditable sheriff, “Leon” doesn’t even always seem to believe he’s supposed to recite his character’s lines, and you certainly won’t believe the BATS are real for even a second. In other words, it’s quite the enjoyable waste of time. The BATS, of course, “escaped” from some sorta experiment-cum-military project. (Maybe.) A wannabe Halloween blockbuster that somehow made money, it would’ve been perfect brainless summer fare. Oh, by the way, the predetermined ending isn’t believable, either.

why did i watch this movie?

I was in the mood for just this type of highbrow feature. Actually, by my standards, I was veritably giddy with anticipation.

should you watch this movie?

What ELSE are you doing?


highlight and low point

The BATS. Oh my my my, the BATS. Some are animated. Some are animatronic! Some are bat size. Some are, like, scary-movie-bat size. And once in a while, for effect I assume, one or two are the size of goddamn turkey vultures. Plus, the very first time the BATS kill anyone, they rip ’em to shreds. After that, they … don’t. These facts more or less encapsulate the professionalism imbued in this endeavor. Also quite humorous: the ongoing “hints” that the obviously nefarious scientific foil is concealing a dark secret. Stock military footage is thrown in for good measure, along with a rather remarkably turgid action sequence. Somewhat surprisingly, few overt attempts at comedy are present. But as Steven Wright observed, you can’t have everything – where would you put it?

rating from outer space: C+

Die, Monster, Die! aka Monster of Terror (1965)

directed by daniel haller
american international pictures/alta vista film productions

For the first half-hour or so, this sumptuously appointed fable seems as though it’s going to be a vastly rewarding romp through B-movie silliness, complete with Boris Karloff adding plenty of dramatic intrigue. Unfortunately, it soon descends into choppy pointlessness, though the inane and repetitious dialogue might bolster things for a while if you’re in the right mood. The story kinda feels cobbled together as it goes along, and even the requisite expository scenes don’t much help to clarify matters. A few startling moments crop up here and there, though only the first earns its reaction, and it goes nowhere. Based on “The Colour Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft, though how or why Arkham, MA, is transplanted to England is a question best left to others.

why did i watch this movie?

I found it under the title “Monster of Terror,” which … I mean, what more do you need? The presence of Boris Karloff and some glowing (pun definitely intended) nostalgia offered by commenters sealed the deal.

should you watch this movie?

I will table that question until I’ve watched a couple other filmed interpretations of the classic story.

highlight and low point

Boris Karloff’s clearly dissembling patriarch and his myopic assistant Merwyn are a hoot, and our hero Reinhart’s difficulties with the locals in Arkham set the picture up rather nicely. By far the best effects are achieved when Stephen and Susan are creeping downstairs in the dark guided by one lighted candle … which brightly illumines absolutely everything in the vicinity, and looks suspiciously like a spotlight trained right on them. Again, there are a few genuinely unsettling moments, but they’re wasted  – along with the lavish set dressing – by a flimsy screenplay.

rating from outer space: C−

Contagion aka John Lechago’s Contagion aka Alien Contagion aka Bio Slime (2010)

written and directed by john lechago
forward motion entertainment/lechago entertainment

A digital-video delight, the sort of very independent production whose cast largely doubles as its crew, and the fitfully heroic tale of a dissipated artist with some dissolute acquaintances, this particular “Contagion” likely ranks as the first SF horror epic in which humanity would appear to be saved by a meth-lab explosion. (Should you not be aware that the next sentence would read … OR IS IT, apply immediately for Remedial Thriller 101.) Dubious fun from start to finish, with most of the action occurring within a down-at-its-heels tenement populated by the aforementioned meth lab, the drunken artist’s “live-work space,” a pornographer, and various hangers-on and ne’er-do-wells, the story is set in motion by a mysterious criminal transaction and some poor decision-making skills, and mutates from there. A SHOCKING ending is included at no extra charge.

why did i watch this movie?

I found this picture under the title “Bio Slime,” and naturally thought I needed to take a gander at it – a wise choice.

should you watch this movie?

Why the hell not?

highlight and low point

Honestly, Vinnie Bilancio’s depiction of the dipsomaniac struck a chord, thanks to my extensive personal research on the condition. I particularly enjoyed it when he decided to go ahead and start drinking the denatured alcohol he kept around to clean his brushes or remove paint or whatever. That’s some quality realism there. The FX are a mixed bag, mainly consisting of a lot of latex and some lights and hoses, but the deft characterizations of the different personalities and the mysterious nature and affiliation of the “specimen” from the “Teratology Division” are spot-on. The film also brandishes just the right amount of excessive taboo sleaze and black (bleak?) humor.

rating from outer space: A−

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

written and directed by david durston
a Jerry gross presentation

A dyed-in-the-wool exploitation quickie, the only thing surprising about this little absurdity is its relative restraint. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plentiful wallowing in sleaze here, but it’s kinda presented as an afterthought. Sure, limbs (and a head) are hacked off, and multiple animals are slaughtered, but the sexual assault happens off camera and minimal nudity is shown, even when it’s implied that an entire construction crew runs a train on an overly willing female. True, the sleepy little town goes haywire after a young boy injects meat pies with rabies-infected blood and sells them to a roving band of hippies … hmmm. Perhaps this reviewer has grown jaded. BE THAT AS IT MAY, this film mainly revels in its presentation of the idiotic “satanic” pretensions of the ill-defined “cult” at the center of the action, and dwells lovingly on its ensuing violent insanity. Ultimately, the picture descends into a disjointed and haphazardly edited sequence of uncompelling chase scenes. Those where the survivors defend themselves with water display a highly entertaining ignorance of why the deadly disease was once known as “hydrophobia.”

why did i watch this movie?

I’ve got a reputation to uphold.

should you watch this movie?

Do you like drugs? Do you like killin’? Do you like listenin’ to “Boogie Chillen’”?

highlight and low point

The cult leader’s opening oration includes “Satan was an acidhead” and “together we’ll all FREAK OUT!” Additional period dialogue adds this observation: “He’s not drunk, stupid, he’s been doped – with that stuff that they call ‘LSD.’” The sometimes alarming soundtrack often alternates between hypnotic monotony and electronic experimentations.  Bonus points were granted for a character using the phrases “the colored boy” and “the fuzz” in the same conversation.

rating from outer space: c−