Monday, 30 May 2016

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

For many people, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the gateway drug to the world of bad movies, and it was certainly the case for me. Writer/Director Ed Wood Jr can be accused of many things in terms of deficiencies of plot, characterisation and special effects, but there is no way you can call his work boring.

While on a routine flight airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot Danny are surprised by a bright light and loud sound, and are shocked to see a flying saucer. The saucer lands at a cemetery, where a number of suspicious deaths have taken place. It turns out aliens are hiding out there, carrying out their fiendish plan to take over the world: reanimating the dead, otherwise known as Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The basic elements of the story, mad scientists, atomic power, alien invasions, zombies (albeit the pre-Romero, non contagious, non-flesheating kind) are not unfamiliar in the genre films of the time. In the hands of another film-maker, what could have resulted is the sort of pleasant but forgettable film that so many others were churning out at that time. Thankfully the job was turned over to Ed Wood, a man whose enthusiasm for movies was only matched by his enthusiasm for vodka. This meant that his scripts were bursting with ideas, and while he was not always the best at shaping these into a coherent whole, they have an anarchic energy and anything-can-happen atmosphere, coupled with dialogue that veers between the drearily banal and the outrageously surreal.

There are so many other points of interest along the way, from the health and safety loving police sergeant who insists on punctuating every line of dialogue by pointing at things with his gun, the Styrofoam Gravestones, the outrageously camp chief alien, and the heroic disregard for continuity, especially in terms of what time of day it is.

The star of the film, Bela Lugosi died a few days into shooting, the sort of event that would have crushed a lesser man than Ed Wood. Instead, he simply carried on, getting his wife's chiropractor to play the Lugosi role with his cape over his face so that we can't see the difference, even though he is at least a foot taller than Lugosi.

When I first saw this, back in the early 1990s the consensus was that this was something silly and terrible, something to be sneered at. Nowadays, I feel nothing but admiration for Wood. Granted his film-making skills are not up there with the best, but his enthusiasm and tenacity shines through in the movies, The surfeit of ideas means the film never gets dull and stands up to repeat viewings. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo is a rare British excursion into kaiju, the genre usually associated with Godzilla, where huge seemingly indestructible monsters smash up major international cities. The two dimensional human characters are more than made up for by the sympathetic monsters, fast paced script and competent special effects.

A huge volcano erupts off the coast of Ireland, nearly sinking a salvage ship working nearby. While awaiting repairs on a nearby island, Captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and first officer, Sam Slade (William Sylvester of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) hear tales of a giant monster and mysterious deaths and disappearances amongst the fisherman of the island. When they discover that the monster is all too real, the pair and their crew manage not only to capture it, but also transport the creature to be shown off in a circus, where it is named "Gorgo" - but a group of scientists thing the 65 foot tall Gorgo may only be a youngster, and his mother is three times that size, and wants her child back.

The script with a plot straight from the Toho studios template, with a bit of King Kong thrown in as well is competent if unoriginal. The main point of interest is how unsympathetic the two main characters are, driven by greed, blind to the consequences until it's far too late, although Ryan gets to redeem himself by saving a cute little orphan boy. By contrast Gorgo and his mother, like King Kong are likeable, despite the destruction they cause, because of the treatment they have received from human beings

Director Eugene Lourie keeps things moving along in an entertaining way, and the scenes of panicking crowds as London gets smashed up are full of nervous energy and hysteria, with lots of handheld shots, close-ups and fast cutting. The special effects are also borrowed from Japan, with a man in a rubber suit stomping models of famous landmarks into the ground.

These scenes of destruction are even more interesting when put in an historical context. The film was released 20 years after the Blitz saw Nazi bombs raining down on England and right in the middle of the Cold War, when the end of the world could be around the corner. Filmmakers and film goers were eager to explore any potential apocalypse, are still are, but always seemed to prefer doing so in a fantasy context.

Gorgo (1961) Full Movie by TheCryptoCrew

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

A breezy, pleasant documentary that poses an interesting question - what if you lived in a world where watching a Chuck Norris film was an act of political defiance?

Through a mix of talking head interviews and dramatic reconstructions, we are taken back to 1980s Romania, under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Western Imperialist Capitalist culture was banned outright, but the government and Secret Service were no match for one enterprising citizen, and a woman who went on to have one of the most famous voices in the country.

The citizen was Teodor Zamfir, a man who had overseen the smuggling of scores of videos of banned American films into Romania and set up a dubbing studio in his apartment. The woman is Irinia Nistor, who was working as a translator for Romania’s Government controlled TV channel. Clandestinley approached by a colleague, she ended up providing Romanian language voiceovers for the bootlegged films, and as the underground network of viewers spread, Nistor became the second most well known voice in the country, after that of Ceausescu himself.

The title of the film, while understandably attention grabbing, is not strictly accurate. Norris was one part of a wider set of American films that was not limited to the action genre, but took in comedies and romances such as Dirty Dancing. These would all be viewed in clandestine screenings at somebody's apartment, and if word got around that one was taking place these could be busy affairs.

This is ultimately what Chuck Norris vs Communism celebrates, the communal joy of a shared experience, of being lifted out of reality, even if only for a few hours.

By 1989 Ceaușescu's regime had collapsed following a wave of violent protests, and he and his wife were tried and executed. With the collapsing economy and living standards he presided over, it is likely Ceaușescu would have fallen eventually anyway, and I don't think the director Ilinca Calugareanu is trying to imply the videos were responsible for his overthrow. But, there is no denying, they did help people get through the troubled times.

Chuck Norris vs Communism Official Trailer by filmow