B-Movie Saturday on Monday

Since I had some boxes to go through, I thought I would watch some of the bad movies on my Netflix Queue.  Why would I put bad movies in my Queue?  Easy, I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional B-movie (more than occasional if I’m honest).  Most of the early science fiction and horror films were B-movies.  If you want to appreciate a film genre, you really have to watch the old stuff as well.  If you appreciate film and film history then every film has something to say. 

Perhaps the once exception is “The Room”.  Even that has value.  It tells a person that if you can’t get a theatre to perform your play, and you can’t get a publisher to take the book, and you can’t get anyone to do the film, there is a REASON.  So save your time and DON’T raise the money to make the movie yourself.   Even Zardos has more value.  (I’m maybe one of five people on Earth that actually likes the film despite massive issues with it.)

I started off with ‘The Spellcaster’.  This 1992 movie looked like it was filmed in 1986.  It was very dated to the 80’s.  The cast was pretty much a no-name collection of actors with limited skill.  The writing was awful.  The dialogue left much to be desired.  The best acting came from Adam Ant, who played Diablo, and Richard Blade, who played Rex, the VJ.  (Video Jockey for those not old enough to remember the short lived term) 

The type of movie has been done many times.  Lock a bunch of people in a huge house and give them 24 hours to do something and earn a million dollars.  In this case it was literally find a check for a million dollars.  You have one host and one out of control non-playing character.  In this case, a drunken rock star and a host from the rock TV station filming the contest.  Oh, and camera crew, which is easy to forget as they are the equivalent to red shirts.

In other words, it is a milder rip-off of House on Haunted Hill and everyone who dies comes back.  The special effects were very good for the time.  Only one or two didn’t really pull it off.  Sets were pretty nice but the camera-work was uninspired.  Given the bad acting and bad dialogue, the reason this movie works is because it IS very campy and cheesy.  Isn’t strange how we can forgive a bad movie once it presents itself as ‘campy’?  We now expect it to be bad and can enjoy said badness in all it’s glory.  Overly cliched characters that are so exagerated that they move away from archtypes into characitures.  Still, it was a fun hour and a half.

Then I moved on to “The Tomb”, 1986.  This one did not have the dated look of most 1980’s films.  It looked much more contemporary.  But the opening scene made no sense.  The character seemed like Kurt Russell trying to play a very badly done Indiana Jones.  Only Kurt Russell can do more with a bad part than this guy did.

The tomb robber wakes up an Egyptian princess/priestess/sorceress or whatever she was supposed to be.  I had problems with the idea that your average tomb robber wouldn’t know who Bast was.  After all, in order to find buyers for things, and to steal the things buyers might want, you have to have some knowledge of the subject. 

It ended up being so boring and the special effects so bad that I gave up entirely and moved on to a different film.

Next up was the black and white film, The Maze, from 1953.  Netflix gave this a low rating for me.  But I actually liked it.  I’m pretty good about viewing films within the context of the time they were filmed.  It is vital for a movie like this.  If you can’t set aside what you know now it will be hard to suspend disbelief.  It is interesting to note that this was film for 3D.  I couldn’t watch it as 3D on Netflix but according to my research into it, it was very well done.  Modern 3D ads very little to the films and I prefer to go to 2D showings.

The spooky ancestral home and family secrets putting the leading lady in danger was a long time staple of films already.  It might explain the tired feeling of the lead actor, Richard Carlson.  It is interesting to not that he was once a big name in old science fiction/horror films. The cinematography and special effects were very good for the time and make the film worth watching for any student of films despite the performances of both the leads which fluctuate between wooden and forced.  The butler is well worth watching as well. 

The basis of this film is the now disproven theory of phylogeny which argues that the human embryo goes through all the stated of evolution when in the womb.  Children with webbing between toes or tails were thought to prove this.  While this does happen it does not mean that a baby can be born as an amphibian.  But this was considered a viable theory at the time which turns the ending into a tragedy rather than a horror. 

Several things are never really explained.  Why do all the heirs die young and seem to age quickly after inheriting?  What is the ‘monster’s’ issue with women that no heir ever marries?  If he has no problem killing women, why was he so afraid of the leading lady that he flees to his rooms and jumps out a window rather than attacking her? 

But the movie is still a pleasant diversion and rather good despite the evidence that the subject was becoming a tired and old one in Hollywood.  I can easily recommend it.

I followed it up with a much more recent film.  “The Thing Below (2004).”  If you go to IMDB you will see that the highlighted review says that it is a rehash of Alien.  Clearly, that reviewer was not familiar with the background on this film.  Long ago in 1938, a short novel was written called Who Goes There, it is set in the Arctic where the air force finds a spacecraft.  The monster itself is plant based. 

This short work has produced a number of movies.  The first movie, the Thing From Another World (1951) was usually just called The Thing. It retains the air force and the space craft and plant based monster. 

In 1982, the first remake was done and simply titled The Thing and was moved to the Antarctic, the Air Force connection was removed, and the basis and origin of the monster never explained.  While it was supposedly not intended to be a remake, it is said to follow the events of original book more closely than the previous movie did.  (I probably should read the actual novella one of these days.) 

As a side note, I spent YEARS trying to find the 1982 film.  I couldn’t remember the title.  I just remembered that I read a short story that matched the movie and I thought it might have been Kurt Russel or Michael Douglas.  I saw it on T.V. back in the day before people had VCR’s and movies were shown on T.V. instead.  This movie has been altered to fit your t.v. monitor, to fit the time block, and for nudity and violence.  The result is that when I finally tracked down the film, what I remembered and what the film was really like were two entirely different things.   It turned out to have WAY more violence in it that I expected.  In fact, I wonder how they stretched it out into a standard T.V. movie block based on the amount they would have had to cut out.

The Thing Below takes the story out of the Arctic and Antartica and moves it to a deep drilling platform in the ocean.  Otherwise, it is the same story.  A team working on a government project to find an alternative energy source instead finds a strange cavity in the earth.  A ship crashed in the distant past and an alien life form lived in the cavity until it was released by the scientists.  It takes on the form of people just like in the previous two versions. 

The movie itself wasn’t horrible.  Better than the low rating on IMDB.  But they did serious damage to it with the addition of the ‘porn star’ segment of the film.  That alone brought the entire film down and destroyed and validity the film could have otherwise had.  They could have used that additional time to fill out the other characters’ stories a bit better. 

As a strange side note, the monster actually looks more like the black, tentacled, alien from It Came From Outer Space.  Which is not a tie in to the original book as it is written by Ray Bradbury and the aliens are not dangerous.  They are just trying to repair their ship and occasionally take over the locals in order get things done as they could not blend into the human population.

There is also a 2011 remake of the 1982 version of The Thing.  I can’t say much about it since I never saw it and don’t plan on that happening.  At least not right anytime soon.  I don’t think it did well.

To top it off, there is going to be another 2013 film that seems to be tracing it’s roots back to the novella, sorta, in a very loose way.  It actually has the title that I always believe the first movie had, “The Thing from Outer Space”.   It is a spoof.  Intended as a comedy, the shape-shifting alien crashes in a British suburb and start to eat people.  The poster says:  Spore It’s Hungry.  Which seems to indicate it is going back to the plant based alien.   I can’t find out a lot of information on this so I don’t actually know it is part of the same chain of movies.  But as all of them were titled, ‘The Thing’ something or other, it leads me to think it might be. 

Wow, I didn’t mean to go so far into the history of one string of movies. 

I followed this up with the movie The Digital Man.  I had trouble getting into the beginning of this film and kept wandering in and out of the room.  Oddly enough, I kept going back to the computer to do more research on The Maze.   The first half is just a bit slow.  There is a terrorist attack.  Nothing is working.  A captain decides to use an experimental robot to end the attack. It works.  People above him are pissed.  Turns out, some uppity up, officer was behind it.  The malfunctioning or hijacked Digital Man was actually following his programming all along. 

The team sent after him is a mixed team of Humans and Cyborgs.  Because, in the past, the two didn’t work well together, these cyborgs were programmed with histories and to believe they were human.  As a result, the team worked great together.  At least up until they discover the first cyborg among them.  Then they started questing who is human and who is not.  Oddly enough, despite them question each other’s humanity, the team still is able to work and function very well together despite the fact that 3 of the 5 person team dies.   Once you get to the part of the movie in which this team is going after the Digital Man, it is picks up and is pretty good.  

By the time I reached the end, I had the oddest feeling I may have seen this film.  Bits and pieces felt like I knew them and other parts were totally unfamiliar to me.  I didn’t discuss much about this movie.  I guess because I started to focus on the story.  I feel like they were trying to do with a Human vs. Cybernetics story that got sidetracked by the action film.   At one part of the film, the Digital Man was described as having fully integrated systems.  It gave the impression that this was what they were trying for with the Cyborgs but the Cyborgs had to much independence and to much ‘humanity’ where as the Digital Man was much more robotic in nature, tied to performing his programming, and much more computer than man.  But everyone likes an action film and the action sort of ‘took over’.  

Production values seemed a little low.  Much of it was in a desert, that saves some money.  Many of the interior scenes seemed fairly close quarters, so  minimal sets were seen.  Props and body armor seemed a little on the cheap side.   The overall feeling is that they were working with a very limited budget.

I might have watched another movie, but I was getting tired of that and decided it was time to play some Star Wars, The Old Republic.

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