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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Friday, May 26, 2017

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Stargazer John Putnam and his girlfriend Ellen witness what they think is a meteor that crashes in the desert near John’s home. When they investigate John climbs into the crater and realizes that it was a spaceship and not just an asteroid. There is a landslide and the ship is buried before anyone else sees it leaving him a laughingstock in the town. At the same time, some members of the town start acting strangely and it isn’t long before John knows they have been replaced by the crew of the crashed ship. When he gets too close to the truth the aliens kidnap Ellen and threaten to kill her if they aren’t left alone to complete their repairs. Things are complicated when the locals finally believe John and form a posse to deal with the invaders.
Formulas are theme that I come back to many times when reviewing either movies or books. When done correctly even a predictable story can still be entertaining. Following what worked in the past makes a lot of sense. But when you want to do something different and surprise the audience it can be magic. It Came from Outer Space is one of those special movies that turns the expected on its head.
The aliens aren’t here to conquer us or help us. They state clearly that it is too early for contact yet. To them humanity is nothing more than children who aren’t ready for the grown up’s table. Now they are willing to defend themselves, but aren’t going out of their way to hurt anyone. In genre movies involving aliens the story normally revolves around human beings either defending themselves or determining if we are worthy of the help from superior intelligences. Here the aliens crashed accidentally and want to get away from the primitives as quickly as possible. I know later movies would deal with these themes but I remember seeing this movie the first time many years ago, and being surprised by how it dismisses the human race.
Yeah sort of Goofy...
I don’t suppose given two names associated with the movie that it should come as any surprise that it was something different and creative. First, we have the director Jack Arnold. Whether it was this movie, Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, or Creature from the Black Lagoon there was always an added depth and intelligence to his work. Toss in that the script was based on a treatment by the legendary Ray Bradbury and you get one of the smartest entries into the science fiction genre ever filmed.
Just a few more things. The aliens look ok but honestly don’t hold up that well. Even I must admit that and I’m a fan of old school creature effects work. The cast does a fine job delivering some of the most poetic dialogue that you will ever hear in a movie like this. I know that some of the folks I’ve shown this to in the past have thought it was a bit slow. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but if you are looking for the action normally associated with a creature feature you will be disappointed. It Came from Outer Space is a more thoughtful movie that makes you think about preconceived notions that everything revolves around human beings. Maybe we aren’t the smartest creatures running around the universe! For that alone I’d recommend the movie, but clearly there is much more to like then just that.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Neanderthal Man (1953)

Those crazy evil scientists are at it again. This time around it is Professor Groves who decides to play God. He has developed a serum that can regress animals to a prehistoric form by tapping into the information stored in their body. It starts off innocently enough with housecats becoming Sabretooth Tigers! One gets loose and is spotted by a local hunter and the game warden which brings Dr. Harkness to investigate the sightings. He and Groves’ daughter hit it off much to the dismay of the Professor who has moved on to human experimentation. He injects himself and becomes the Neanderthal Man. Much caveman violence ensues and an angry posse of locals is on the hunt!

I have difficulty reviewing movies like this one. One the one hand I did enjoy it. There are all the things that I look for in a B movie from the ‘50s. You have the absurd experiments by a mad scientist that creates a monster. Said monster goes on a rampage until the locals manage to put a stop to it. There is a man running around in a rubber suit, or in this case a rubber mask. We have the hero and his love interest that has some connection to the cause of the problem. I’m checking a lot of boxes here on my must have list.
Not great effects work.
But even I must admit some issues with The Neanderthal Man. I have a sliding scale when it comes to effects works and creature designs. You can’t judge an old movie by what they can do with today’s technology. That said even by the standards of the ‘50s there are problems. The creature here is a man in a gorilla mask and gloves. It looks cheap on the screen. Plus, we have continuity errors where they keep forgetting to have the actor wear the gloves in long shots. I mean you only have three pieces to the suit how do you miss two of them? Speaking of cheap the footage of the tiger used for the Sabretooth doesn’t match the close-ups of the really goofy looking puppet.

Other things I wanted to point out. The acting is stiff and over the top. I thought that Robert Shayne was fine as Professor Groves, but wasn’t fond of those assembled around him. Additionally, the staging and direction was also bad. The final scene of the movie with the family surrounding Groves is a perfect example of both the bad acting and horrible staging. I don’t expect art when watching a movie like this but competence wouldn’t be out of the question.
I did say it was good for a few laughs. 

I’ve covered a lot of old ‘50s science fiction and horror movies for the blog since I launched it. Previously I’ve reviewed movies that I knew I was going to like because I’ve watched them before. While I’ve seen The Neanderthal Man before I didn’t remember much about the movie. After watching it I know why. What is my final decision on this one? As I’ve pointed out there are a lot of flaws. As a fan of bad movies, I had some fun with the cheesy creature and terrible acting. But if you aren’t into that sort of thing it will be a chore sitting thru The Neanderthal Man. This is by no means on the level of other classic science fiction and horror films of the ‘50s that I’ve reviewed. I can’t recommend it unless you like a bad B movie. If that is the case, then it is good for a few laughs. As an added bonus you can watch the movie for free online. I've linked to the full movie above instead of the trailer. 

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review - Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry

Yeah again with the zombies. I can’t help that I’ve been on a zombie kick of late with my reading habits. There are just so many to choose from. Dead of Night is the first in a series from Jonathan Maberry. How about we jump right into the action?

A doctor left over from the Cold War decides that a serial killer named Homer Gibbon deserves more than to just be executed. He injects him with a chemical weapon he had worked on so that instead of dying he would reanimate and feel the parasites responsible for his undead state eat away at him. Sadly, the killer isn’t buried in a prison graveyard as intended and instead is shipped off to the small town in Pennsylvania. The spread of the infection starts with the undertaker and in a few hours the whole town is overrun with zombies. It is up to a couple local cops, Dez and J.T. to protect the survivors from both the dead and the army who wants to contain and hush up the incident.

Here we have another wonderful read. The story plays out in both expected and unexpected ways. Let me explain what I mean. The zombies follow the typical “rules”. You can mangle them, but only a headshot drops them permanently. They crave the flesh of the living and will pursue them endlessly. And except for Homer, the serial killer and first zombie, they are of the mindless variety. As a huge zombie fan, I like it when a story follows some of the tropes of the genre as it lets me dive into the story easily. That said Maberry does a wonderful job fleshing things out, pun intended.

Jonathan Maberry himself! Going on my must read list.
Now for the unexpected. The reason for the outbreak is explained in detail and is maybe more gross than the walking dead themselves. There is a parasite that reanimates the dead and uses them to pass itself along to the next victim. These are described in detail as little larva/maggot looking things that are swimming along in what was the blood of the previous victim. They bite or spit the blood/goo at new victims. The parasite kills the host and takes control of their body, but allows their consciousness to exist as it kills and partially eats others! This disturbed the hell out of me while I was reading the book and give huge props to Maberry for putting a new twist on the zombie story. The fact that the only zombie with intelligence is the serial killer who thinks his new existence makes him a god or something was also a nice twist.

The characters that populate the rest of the book, Dez, J.T., and Billy (Dez’s ex-boyfriend) are well written and fun to root for. I also thought that the pacing was perfect with plenty of action while still taking time to develop three dimensional characters. When bad things happen to them it makes it all that much more engaging. Hell, at times I sort of felt bad for the serial killer turned zombie who never had a chance once he was put into the foster care system!

This is a great book that I can without question or caveat recommend for both the casual and hard core zombie fan.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cell (2016)

So, I was wandering around Best Buy looking at the movies with a $25 gift card burning a hole in my pocket (Birthday money you see…). Cell caught my eye and I immediately thought to myself, ‘I totally forgot that came out last year’. That alone should have put me on guard. But I was heady with the influx of free money and decided to grab myself a copy on Blu-ray along with some Twix candy bars. Took the disc home, popped it in the old reliable player, and jumped into the action.

We are introduced to the main character Clay, played by John Cusack, as he is walking thru an airport. He is on his cell phone talking to his ex-wife and son. His phone dies and a few seconds later everything goes to hell. Anyone that was on their cell phone goes crazy and attacks anyone not affected. Clay flees and ends up in the subway where he meets Tom, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Together they head off to find Clay’s family and get the hell out of the city. Along the way, they pick up some other survivors and discover they are all dreaming of the same figure in a red hoodie. One that looks just like the character in Clay’s graphic novel he sold that very morning!

I’m a huge Stephen King fan and I mostly liked the novel that this movie was based on. I thought the ending of the book was weak, but everything leading up to it was great. When I heard that King co-wrote the screenplay and “fixed” the ending I was excited to check it out. Then it suddenly disappeared eventually showing up on demand. After watching it I realize why that happened. It’s a terrible movie!

Good thing they only travel at night!
Not sure if it is the script, directing, or the editing but the movie has zero energy. It boggles my mind how that could possible happen. You literally have crazy people running around killing everything in sight, but somehow the pacing is excruciatingly slow and generally I wasn’t interested. We have scene after scene of them walking thru the woods in the daylight. This is after they establish that those infected with the cell phone insanity are only active during the day and sleep at night. Yet they never run into any of them. More importantly why not travel at night? Seriously movie follow your own damn rules!

Cell has an excellent cast with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson getting the most screen time. Sadly, the performances are wooden and uninspired. Now I’ve seen Cusack not be great in things, but Jackson is normally always good no matter what he is in. Not sure if the material was that bad, the director reigned him in, or if he just phoned it in for a paycheck. See what I did there? Hah I’m a funny guy! But seriously it is very disappointing to not at least get some energy from actors that I know are better than they show here.

What made things even worse was that I sat thru the whole movie hoping that I’d at least get a decent ending. Remember I didn’t like the ending to the book. Sure enough King changed the ending and managed to make it even more vague and frustrating! You made it worse dude. I didn’t think that was possible but that’s what happened.

I could go on but I don’t want to waste my or your time. There is nothing to see here, move along to a better movie. Well at least the Twix Bars were good.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer