Archive for July, 2016

By Dean Treadway

pit 1

I have to admit, I was certainly surprised when the first results of this poll were first revealed, mostly because one of my favorite genre entries was not in our top 75. Luckily, when the poll was finally expanded, there was the Hammer film classic Quatermass and the Pit, landing at a too-low #84. I struggled to figure out why and concluded that not a lot of our participants have seen it. It’s been out of print on DVD for many years, and was only released on Blu-Ray in 2011 (and has quickly gone out of print again). Also there could be some confusion lingering as it was (not badly) renamed Five Million Years to Earth upon its 1968 American release (since the estimable UK TV and movie hero Professor Bernard Quatermass was largely an unknown quantity on US shores). Anyway, if I’m right and many of you have missed this bonafide masterpiece (or somehow have forgotten its rather nightmarish power), I’m glad to remind you to see it. For those, it’s now available on You Tube in pristine shape.

The Quatermass series has a complex history. It originated on British TV in 1953, with actor-turned-writer Nigel Kneale’s serial The Quatermass Experiment dramatizing the aftermath of a failed mission to space, resulting in the return to Earth of a single astronaut (out of a three-man crew), upon which Quatermass is charged to figure out why the spaceman’s flesh is slowly deteriorating. Reginald Tate would be the first of many actors to assay the role, and the piece would be remade for cinemas in 1955 with Brian Donlevy in the lead (the film would be rather strangely retitled The Creeping Unknown in the US). (more…)

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85. Zardoz (1974)


By Roderick Heath

The success of Deliverance (1972) turned John Boorman into a major figure on the cinematic landscape, and gave him the opportunity to do almost anything he wanted. Almost. He first tried to realise an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and after the potential expense scuppered that project, Boorman remained excited by the idea of tackling an invented, fantastical world. An idea had come to him whilst working on Tolkien for a tale set in a distant future where extreme science fiction ideas could commingle with motifs and atmosphere out of mythology, the realm to which his thoughts were increasingly turning as he contemplated the unease of humanity with itself and the world it lived in. The result, Zardoz, has been extremely divisive work since it was released. There’s no doubting that if Boorman had set out to make a film that would dazzle and provoke some and strike others as bewildering and absurd, he could not have done better than what he managed with Zardoz. Aspects of the film have even retained a kind of fame though decontextualized, like the mantra “The gun is good, the penis is evil,” and the sight of Sean Connery in a red loincloth, still eternally provocative to the kind of adolescent mindset pervading the internet. From its very first moments, Zardoz announces its strangeness, its odd humour, and its sly understanding of itself as post-modern trip through the idea of myth-making. A man’s face hovers in the darkness, drifting closer to the screen, playing the chorus to the tale he himself is author of, protagonist in, and creation for. He is Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), made up like a Renaissance actor’s take on an alchemist or a pharaoh, confessing quickly that he too is just another made-up character for a tale before asking the audience, “And you, poor creature—who conjured you out of the clay? Is God in show business too?”


Frayn has many secrets to be unveiled in the course of Zardoz, not least of which is that he is the title character, or at least pretends to be. As in any good myth, the death of a god is the pivotal act. In the post-apocalyptic wastes of 2293, Zardoz floats high above the desolate Earth, a giant, floating carving, a fearsome godhead worshipped by the remnant human population known as Brutals. Zardoz preaches a grim testament, encouraging his followers to take up the creed as anointed holy warriors who call themselves Exterminators and wear masks based on Zardoz. These adherents have been charged to kill their fellow humans and wipe the infesting remnant of their species from the face of the world. Zardoz delivers them loads of guns for their purpose. But one of the loyal Exterminators, Zed (Connery), sneaks into the godhead when it lands by hiding in a load of grain, and discovers it’s actually a kind of hovering aircraft, loaded with goods and stores and people in suspended animation, and captained by Frayn. Zed shoots Frayn, who falls from the craft. The Zardoz head lands in an enclosed commune, one of several scattered about the countryside, called the Vortex. Shielded by invisible force-fields, the Vortex is an oasis of green and summery pleasantness in the otherwise forsaken land. Zed explores the Vortex and enters one of the houses, a seemingly ordinary old country house littered with keepsakes and relics from a forgotten world. He discovers a miraculous crystal on a ring that projects Frayn’s image and links to a supercomputer that answers all of Zed’s questions – except for the truly important ones. Zed is soon discovered and apprehended by the inhabitants of the Vortex dubbed the Eternals, a collective of humans who have, thanks to advanced science, achieved life stasis, effectively making them immortal. Even Frayn, dead at Zed’s hand, is already being regrown, his foetus suspended in plastic in the laboratories of the Vortex. (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      Brian De Palma—a science prodigy and high school wunderkind—could, no doubt, have carved out a peppy career in some corner of what practitioners call “hard science.” At the doorway (in the form of Columbia University) of this generally considered to be fulfilling life, he turned away in favor of becoming a movie maker. Some might jump to the conclusion that he realized he didn’t have what it takes to pursue a “hard” endeavor. My guess is that he came to realize that science isn’t hard enough.

Whereas classical rational science is about managing the architecture of a brilliant intellectual past in order to discern growth potential which could up the ante of discovery, it also functions as a form of church which sustains taboos against regarding sentient entities as logically more cogent than aggregations of elemental particles. It is, I think, the matter of that hostility and coercion which induces, despite the many attractions of scientific research, the drastic turnaround into personas and their seemingly unacceptable, unpredictable actions. Exciting as dynamic scientific discoveries may be, even more exciting (to De Palma) are the truths and consequences of dynamic courage which only full-blown human sensibilities can discover.

The métier which De Palma has settled upon is not without its possibilities of profiting from the architecture of its own brilliant past. Much has been said about his being suffused with the work of Alfred Hitchcock. But that rather ordinary tip of the iceberg traces to Continental avant-gardists as suffused with the energies of the surreal, where humans count for much more (reality) than mathematical flecks. The sensual priorities of this repository entail a remarkable sense of embattlement with mainstream dictates. (In view of this disposition it is well to note that two distinguished colleagues of his generation, namely, Ridley Scott and Michael Mann, present close accompaniment to De Palma’s modus operandi. Mann is particularly significant in being [unusually, for this situation] explicit about his indebtedness to Jean-Pierre Melville—a preposterously underestimated giant—and his own formative years as a close associate with Surrealist jack-of-all-trades, Jean Cocteau.) (more…)

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Beast - and Roller Coaster

by Lee Price

Nonfiction: I’m Not Making This Up

This is about the day Jean Renoir watched The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. I’m not making this part up. He went to a matinee.

To repeat: Jean Renoir—a giant among film artists, director of The Rules of the Game (cited by some sophisticated and astute people as the greatest film ever made) and other masterpieces, ranked as the fourth greatest director of all time in the 2002 BFI Sight and Sound poll, son of the famed impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir—had a grand time at a matinee in summer 1953 watching The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms accompanied by Eugene Lourié, the movie’s director.

Years later, writing his 1985 memoir My Work in Films, Lourié remembered: “Renoir reacted just like the youngsters surrounding us. ‘Eh bien, mon vieux,’ he said. ‘You surely had a wonderful time making this film.’”

I’d give anything for a photo of Jean Renoir and Eugene Lourié in that movie theater, surrounded by a happy sea of monster-loving children and thrill-seeking adults, enjoying the first of the 1950s cycle of giant-monster-attacking-a-city movies. According to Lourié, it made Renoir feel like a kid again. (more…)

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By Roderick Heath

The 1950s saw the first real boom in cinematic science fiction, and those genre halcyon days owed much to George Pal. The Hungarian-born filmmaker had made his names with a series of shorts linking music and a clever brand of animation he developed known as Puppetoons, starting off working in the German film industry before the Nazis came to power. After he moved to the US and started working in Hollywood, he captured an Oscar for his shorts in 1943, before eventually turning to feature production with the 1950 fantasy film The Great Rupert, helmed by actor-turned-director Irving Pichel. Pal and Pichel quickly followed it up with a more ambitious project, extrapolating cutting-edge scientific concepts, most of which were still purely theoretical, about what space travel would be like, and turned them into a movie, arriving under the title Destination Moon. Not the best of the sci-fi work of the era and not quite the first, Destination Moon nonetheless renewed the template for a brand of realistic science fiction first touched on by Fritz Lang two decades earlier with The Woman in the Moon (1929), and proved the catalyst for an eruption of interest in all things fantastical and futuristic that would cram movie screens for the next few years. Pal, who seemed to harbour ambitions to emulate his Paramount Pictures stable-mate Cecil B. DeMille as a maker of grandiose entertainments, soon produced two more works still familiar to anyone who loves the genre with When Worlds Collide (1951) and War of the Worlds (1953). His brand came to grief with Conquest of Space (1955), an attempt to return to Destination Moon’s template of hard sci-fi that was generally rejected as hokey and clumsy, although now its ambition and fumbling attempts at a poetic understanding of space flight now look far more prognosticative.


Pal didn’t make another film for three years, and when he did it came as a straight fantasy for MGM, tom thumb (1958), with Pal himself directing for the first time. The film’s success allowed him to return to sci-fi with a second raid on the works of H. G. Wells after War of the Worlds, taking on the 1895 novella The Time Machine. Wells’ role in shaping the very concept of science fiction is hard to overestimate. If his predecessors and fellow progenitors Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne opened up the strange new landscapes of speculative interest, the former pair as a psychic vista of strangeness and anxiety, and the latter with a grasp on the potential of machinery, Wells synthesised their approaches and used his real scientific learning to start writing stories that investigated a certain driving idea to a logical end, with his real dramatic and poetic gifts used to shade and guide. Wells was eventually frustrated by the way his early, short, sensational writings overshadowed his more literary and philosophical output even before his death in 1945. His most famous tales also defied easy filming, as they tend to be shaped more like travelogues through certain conceptual universes rather than propulsive narratives. Pal had no problem overseeing their conversion into forceful blood-and-thunder yarns.


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by Sachin Gandhi

“To everyone’s surprise, the ship didn’t come to a stop…over Manhattan or Washington or Chicago..but instead coasted to a halt directly over the city of Johannesburg.

These opening words quickly establish that District 9 is going to be a much different film than other Science fiction alien movies that appear at the multiplex where the spaceship only stops over an American city. The shift to South Africa lays the groundwork for a film that explores complex issues related to politics, racism and is not content with being just another Sci-fi movie that is a battle between aliens and humans.

District 9 opens in a mockumentary fashion and interviews a few people who outline the early days of the alien arrival. The spaceship arrived back in 1982 and halted over Johannesburg. We learn that for 3 months the spaceship didn’t do anything, just remained suspended over the city. There was no first contact, no bright lights or any other events depicted in other Sci-fi films. It was humans who had to fly up to the spaceship and force entry. Once inside the spaceship, humans found malnourished aliens, creatures that were lean and starving. The appearance of the aliens as physically weak in District 9 is a deviation from conventional films. In other Sci-fi films and TV Shows, aliens are always shown to be strong and in some cases beautiful even if the aliens are arriving from a planet with no resources (food/water). (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

My weekly post as always is a “diary” and as such my own seven day report is one of unspeakable grief, the worst I have ever experienced in my own life.  My brother Joe’s beloved oldest son Brian, who lived several years with my father, shockingly passed away mid week at age 35 (he never woke up after complaining of chest pains) as a result of a long period of on an off drug abuse.  Many efforts were made to remedy the problem, and he was in rehabs, but in the end the abuse affected his heart.  This unspeakable tragedy leaves us all shaken to our cores.

On the other grief-stricken front I do speak to Allan everyday and almost always for long online conversations.  His attitude has improved greatly and he has been immersing himself in movie talks and all the new releases.  His treatment begins Wednesday, and I call on everyone to send on their best to a successful negotiation of the chemotherapy.

Thanks to all for the very kind words.

I honestly have nothing more to say at this time, other than to note I have been trying to divert by watching a bunch of discs Allan sent – mostly Japanese classics, and have been sharing my findings back with him – a practice that gives him some pleasure.

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by J.D. Lafrance

Repo Man (1984) was part of a fascinating trend during the 1980s of foreign filmmakers seeing America through the eyes of an outsider and making films that identified with marginalized figures hanging out on the fringes of society. Some of these directors included German director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas), Czech Ivan Passer (Cutter’s Way), the Franco-Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder (Barfly), and Liverpool, England-born Alex Cox. Teaming up with legendary Dutch cinematographer Robby Muller, Cox offered a fresh perspective on Los Angeles, a sprawling metropolis that has been the setting for countless films and television shows, by picking locations that hadn’t been seen all that often – “dirty, dingy locations in East L.A. and downtown” with all sorts of abandoning buildings and vacant lots, as the Los Angeles Times observed, naming the film one of the best set in the city in the last 25 years.

Repo Man came out at the height of the Reagan era and was notable for how it proved to be a sharp contrast to the prevailing trend of rampant commercialism with its generic branding of food and drinks and a protagonist that openly rejected material items and a traditional job in search of something else. The film follows the misadventures of a white suburban punk named Otto (Emilio Estevez) who we meet stacking cans of food in a supermarket while co-worker Kevin (Zander Schloss, who’s look and demeanor anticipated Napoleon Dynamite by two decades) sings the jingle for 7-UP to pass the time. For Otto this is the last straw and he quits his job after being confronted by his boss for not properly spacing the cans. He’d much rather party with his punk rock buddies until he catches his best friend Duke (Dick Rude) having sex with a girl he was just about to get with himself before going to get her a beer. Not only rejecting his crappy job but also his punk rock friends, Otto ends up wandering the streets aimlessly until he meets Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a veteran repossessor of cars, and who unwittingly gets the young man to help repossess his first car.


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by John Greco

Frank Sinatra was never shy about expressing his political beliefs. As far back as 1945, he made The House I Live, an eleven minute short film with a plea for tolerance. By 1960, Frank was back on top of the entertainment world. He was one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. Still a political liberal, Sinatra wanted to produce and direct a serious film. He chose William Bradford Huie’s non-fiction book, The Execution of Private Slovik (1954), the story of the only American soldier executed since the Civil War. Sinatra hired Albert Maltz, who coincidently happened to have written the The House I Live In script to do the adaptation. Maltz was one of the original Hollywood Ten blacklisted in Hollywood. By 1960, HUAC and the witch hunts were over, though remnants of the stink it created remained. Many writers still could not get a job, at least under their own name.

After it was announced that Maltz would adapt the controversial novel, a political storm began with the winds blowing from both the left and right, all heading straight at producer Frank Sinatra.  John F. Kennedy was running for President and the Kennedy family feared a backlash would hurt JFK’s chances. On the right, Eisenhower was in his last year as leader of the free world with his lap dog Nixon anxiously waiting to take the throne. While researching the story of Eddie Slovik, author William Bradford Huie discovered that Eisenhower had given approval for the execution to proceed after turning down a direct plea from Slovik for clemency. The Republicans did not want to stir up old wounds fearing it would hurt Nixon’s chances of reaching the White House. The pressure kept mounting on Sinatra and he eventually dropped the project.[1]

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by Anuk Bavkist

Survivors take refuge in a museum cellar-turned-underground bunker. Lit by flickering light bulbs, they resemble the waking dead. Their daily routine finds them manually pedaling to generate electricity, digging their own graves and philosophizing the end of times. The surface above them is nothing more than an industrial wasteland littered with decomposing bodies and architectural ruins.  Other survivors, equipped with heavy hazmat suits to shield themselves from an endless nuclear winter, still navigate the remains of their former city while an authoritative presence keeps watch in the form of patrolling helicopters and military raids. What caused the nuclear holocaust that left their existence in such disarray is never made clear, but is theorized to be the result of a computer error that launched a war missile (possibly an alternate future where Stanislav Petrov had actually responded to Oko’s false alarm in 1983). Our guide through this post apocalyptic nightmare is a grizzled old man referred only as “The Professor.” He spends much of his days caring for his sickly wife while going through the daily minutiae with the rest of the survivors under the museum. A Nobel Prize laureate and man of science who’s only real defense mechanism to the harsh reality in front him is mentally writing letters to his dead son, Erik. (more…)

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