February 13th, 2008

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1973) *

The filmmakers behind the Blood Island Trilogy, director Eddie Romero and producer John Ashley were also responsible for this coma inducing rip-off of The Island of Dr. Moreau.  As bad as those Blood Island movies were, this one is even worse. 

 

Ashley stars as a diver who gets kidnapped (UNDERWATER!) and is taken to a remote island where a mad doctor (and former Nazi) is turning people into half animal mutants.  There’s an ape man, an antelope man, a bat man (who can actually fly!), a wolf woman, and a panther woman played by none other than Pam Grier! 

 

Ashley gets the hots for the doctor’s cute daughter, and since she is played by Pat Woodell, and I can’t say I blame him.  The good (bad) doctor plans on turning Ashley into his next experiment, and when he catches him fooling around with daddy’s girl, he tosses him in a cage.  Pat can’t have her slab of man meat locked up, so she rescues him and the duo stage a revolt by springing all the half human mutants and letting them run wild on the island.   While in the jungle, the mutants fight over food and try to act civilized, but it’s kinda hard (no pun intended) when Woodell is so hot it makes the ape man (who has Elvis style mutton chops) want to rape her.  Thank goodness the others dissuade him, because he could’ve been arrested for both rape AND bestiality.  In the end, the doctor gets killed by a former experiment who used to be his wife. 

 

Any potential this flick had goes out the window pretty fast thanks largely to the film’s languid pacing.  Sure, those Blood Island movies weren’t the finest examples of low budget made-in-the-Philippines horror, but at least they had their moments.  This one is the pits. 

 

The make-up is pretty weak (especially the get-up on the antelope man) and all the actors playing the mutants (including Grier) pretty much make an ass out of themselves while trying to act “animalistic”.  In the scenes where the bat man flies around on his dime store wings, I swear you can only BARELY see the wires holding him up.  As cheesy as this effect is, it’s by far the best thing the movie has going for it. 

 

The gore is so-so.  There’s a couple rather tame gut munching scenes, but most of the kills come via neck biting.  We also get a pretty impressive head in the jar, but Romero films all the operation scenes “tastefully” and they lack the punch of the ones from the Blood Island movies. 

 

But the film’s cardinal sin is having such a talented actress as Grier and giving her nothing to do.  Anyone who’s seen her in Foxy Brown and Coffy knows she can be an invaluable screen presence, but Romero (who also produced ANOTHER Moreau rip-off, Terror is a Man) is content on sticking a rubber nose on her and have her run around on all fours snarling.  It’s a criminal misuse of talent.  At least the flick has great theme music and some excellent underwater photography. 

 

The doctor’s fey bodyguard gets the movie’s best line:  “You must have a good case of hot pants!”

 

AKA:  Beasts.  AKA:  Island of the Twilight People.

FIDO (2007) ***

 

Remember the ending of Shaun of the Dead where all the zombies became domesticated and acted as pets and servants?  Well, that basic concept has been extended to a full length movie by the makers of Fido.  While it’s nowhere near the same league as that classic, it’s one of the better zombie comedies to come out in quite some time. 

 

In an ersatz Twilight Zone version of the 50’s, domesticated zombies are fitted with an obedience collar and help families with chores around the house.  Because they are the only family on the block that doesn’t have a zombie, housewife Carrie Anne (The Matrix) Moss buys a zombie named Fido (Billy Connelly from Head of the Class) for her son Timmy (K’Sun Ray) against her husband’s (Dylan Baker) wishes.  Since dad is emotionally distant and spends most of his time playing golf, Fido becomes a father figure to Timmy who plays catch with him and even helps fight off a couple of bullies.  When Fido’s collar is broken he bites a couple people and creates a zombie epidemic.  Henry Czerny is the head of “Zomcom”, the creator of the zombie collars, who takes Fido back to the factory for a recall, which leads Timmy to come to his rescue. 

 

Basically if George Romero directed an episode of Lassie, you’d end up with something that looked like Fido. 

 

The blend of 50’s Leave it to Beaver style nostalgia and zombies is inspired to say the least and the film is consistently entertaining.  While I enjoyed the metaphor of zombies being the latest have-to-have appliance, I just wish the filmmakers didn’t play it so safe (the gore quotient is extremely low) and the film wasn’t so predictable and pat.  The funniest scenes are easily the black and white commercials and Zomcom approved filmstrips that occasionally pop up.  (“Grampa’s fallen and he’s getting up!”) 

 

The performances are great with Billy Connelly doing an excellent “thinking man’s” zombie.  He really gets to flesh out (no pun intended) his character and does an incredible job considering he mostly just grunts and growls.  While his performance may draw many comparisons to Bub from Day of the Dead, Connelly makes the role his own and is a treat to watch.  Moss is also quite good as the “perfect” 50’s housewife, and Baker does yet another nuanced twist on his patented husband-with-issues character.  But it’s Tim Blake (O Brother Where Art Thou?) Nelson who steals the movie as a neighbor who keeps a sexy zombie as a “girlfriend”. 

 

While not exactly a home run, Fido is a wholly entertaining zombie flick that will tickle your funny bone and is worth seeing on the strength of the performances alone.  It’s almost enough to make you want a zombie pet of your own.    

HOT RODS TO HELL (1967) *

 

After a Christmastime automobile accident nearly cripples Dana Andrews, he decides to relocate his wife (Jeanne Crain) and kids out to the desert where he’ll run a motel.  On the road, they are terrorized by two guys and a sexy blonde in a souped up hot rod.  They run them off the road, throw litter at them and cause them to get a flat tire.  Andrews and Co. arrives at the motel and the teenage maniacs follow close behind.  See, they don’t like the fact that Andrews is the new owner, because this is THEIR motel (I didn’t get that part either), so the boys do what any crazed pubescents would do:  try to get into Andrews’ daughter’s pants.  This makes Andrews MAD and leads to the climatic game of chicken.

 

This flick was originally intended to go straight to television, but was considered too sensational and ended up at the drive-in where it made a killing.  It’s actually not very sensational.  Hell, it’s not even very good.  It’s actually too tame for it’s own good.  The teens aren’t threatening in the least and are about as terrifying as Frankie Avalon.  In fact, they seem oddly out of place for a movie made in the 60’s.  They resemble more like the juvenile delinquents of the 50’s than hoodlums from the swinging 60’s.  Andrews and Crain likewise seem trapped in some sort of time warp.  They were stars in the 40’s (they appeared in State Fair together) and like the film’s antagonists, seem like they’re a generation behind. 

 

The scenes where the teens terrorize the family on the road are weakly executed and get repetitive and monotonous as the movie wears on.  The fact that the rear screen projection is overused and looks as fake as all get out doesn’t help either. 

 

There’s not much to recommend about this antiseptic thriller, but there is at least one unintentionally hilarious scene where Andrews has a nightmare to the tune of Jingle Bells!  We also get a few chuckles from Mickey Rooney Jr. (!) and his Combo, who do several awful songs including “The Chicken Walk”. 

 

Despite a potent premise; the film more or less falls apart due mostly because the teenage villains are so lame.  Luckily, there’s oodles of choice dialogue to be had such as “What kind of animals are those?”, “These kids have nowhere to go and they want to get there at 150 miles an hour!”, and “You gopher head!”

 

AKA:  52 Miles to Terror.

GO, JOHNNY, GO! (1959) ** ½

 

“Mr. Rock n’ Roll” Alan Freed plays himself and tells the story (in flashback) of an orphaned choirboy named Johnny Melody (Jimmy Clanton) who goes from having nothing to becoming America’s top singing star.  After he cuts a record, he thinks he’s all washed up and takes to the streets, but he unknowingly becomes an overnight sensation.  Because Johnny never gave his name, Freed runs all over the city looking for him.  When Johnny tries to rob a jewelry store to steal a pin for his best gal, Freed ends up squaring things with the cops so Johnny doesn’t go to jail and is able to go on tour. 

 

The plot is as weak as three day old coffee, but the real reason to see this flick is for the musical acts.  Such big names as Eddie Cochran, Jackie Wilson, and Richie Valens (in his only screen appearance) all do one song each, and even though they don’t get to sing any of their hits, they still rock the house.  But it’s Chuck Berry who steals the show, singing three classics:  “Johnny B. Goode”, “Memphis Tennessee”, and “Little Queenie”.  He’s pretty awesome and deservedly gets the most screen time.  Sadly, Clanton isn’t much of a singer and makes for a pretty wimpy hero.  The film is also mercilessly padded with other non-talented musical acts that can’t hold a candle to Berry, Valens (who was dead before this was released), Cochrane and Wilson.  The shitty performer to superstar ratio is about 1:1, so things could have been a lot worse I guess. 

 

Check it out only to see some musical greats and Freed (who also produced) do what they do best. 

 

Berry gets the best line of the movie:  “I’m a cat, but I don’t have nine lives!”

ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957) ** ½

Russell Johnson (the professor from Gilligan’s Island) stars with Pamela (The Undead) Duncan in this uneven but fun Roger Corman cheapie about a group of scientists who go to a remote island to study the effects of radiation fallout of an H-Bomb test and encounter massively mutated killer crustaceans.  The giant crab monsters decapitate their victims and use their voice to lure more victims into becoming Crab Chow.  (They’d make one Hell of a ventriloquist act.)  The scientists kill one of the monsters and break off one of it’s oversized King Crab Legs and run some tests on it.  They learn that the crabs are charged with electrical energy and the only way to kill them is by zapping them with a laser that looks like an oscillating fan.  Then it’s crab cakes for everybody.

 

Like many a Corman quickie, this flick is loaded with more padding than a sports bra, but once the crabs show up, the film finally kicks into gear.  The carnivorous crustaceans are some of the best special effects ever seen in a Corman flick.  Unlike many monsters from Corman’s repertoire, these babies actually get a lot of screen time and have a real sense of menace about them.  The scenes of giant claws attacking people are pretty great and the scenes of hands getting hacked off and headless bodies add to the fun.  Corman even liked the whole monsters-throwing-their-voice idea so much that he used it again in Night of the Blood Beast the next year.   

 

The film has too many stiffly acted, snore inducing scenes of bland scientists talking a lot about a bunch of nothing for my taste, but as a die hard Corman junkie, I can honestly say he’s done A LOT worse.  Besides, it’s hard not to like any movie in which someone gets decapitated within the first five minutes.