January again?

It’s been a strange trip to this post. My wife, Lisa, caught The Cough in early December. After Christmas, I caught it too. I was lucky – the worst of it for me was over in a couple of days, thanks to megadoses of vitamins, I’m sure. She didn’t improve though. We still had to get my son, Max, back to college over New Year’s, and we were both so sick that we wound up staying in the college town an extra day. As I write this, Lisa is now in the hospital with pneumonia. As I can’t do anything but leave her to the doctors and nurses, I guess I’ll just write. After all, I ponied up the cash to renew my domain and ad-free account – not using it would be stupider on my part than usual.

I travel light when taking Max to school, which bit me on the butt this time with the unexpected layover, but I had, at least, brought my Kindle Fire with me. That, combined with the LaQuinta respectably fast wi-fi allowed me to start my 100 Films, and it was all the fault of the 80s All Over podcast. Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg had exclaimed about Contraband, mentioned that it was on Amazon Prime, and since I’d had no idea that Lucio Fulci had made an organized crime drama…

Fabio Testi plays Luca Di Angelo, who with his brother Mickey (Enrico Maisto) runs the cigarette bootlegging racket in Naples. Someone starts trying to muscle in on their business, even to the point of murdering Mickey. Another Neapolitan gangster is suspected, but in truth it’s a vicious French drug gang led by The Marsigliese (Marcel Bozzuffi), who wants to take over Di Angelo’s smuggling operating for his heroin. Lots of people die.

There are parts of the movie that are extremely interesting; it makes the point that the economy in Naples is so depressed that practically everyone, in some way, depends on the black market. The resistance of old school criminals to drug trafficking is going to be very familiar to anyone who’s seen The Godfather, as is the sequence when The Marsigliese starts killing off all the capos – though not during a baptism, nor all at the same time. It’s all the work of one very busy – and speedy – assassin. The bloodletting in Godfather was shocking and fairly realistic, but we’re talking Fulci here. When a guy gets the back of his head blown off, we’re going to linger on it. When a woman tries to rip off The Marsigliese and he takes a blowtorch to her face, that is going to take a while. And let’s not forget a fairly graphic rape scene.

There seems to be a fair amount of involvement of actual criminals in the making of the picture, which would explain the bizarre climax where older gangsters come out of retirement with their favorite weapons to put paid to The Marsigliese and his gang. It’s not a great movie – dang, Luca is one of the stupidest heroes I’ve seen in a long time – but it is fairly entertaining and has some lovely cinematography.

I then watched Xmoor, but I need that for Hubrisween, so you’re just going to have to wait.

I followed up Xmoor with Hell House LLC, another Prime movie that had come highly recommended by my friend and fellow horror fan Rodney. It’s a found footage movie, so go ahead and get the jeers out of your system. I don’t mind them, personally. Found footage movies, that is. I hate jeers.

The setup is this: in a Halloween haunted house attraction, something goes wrong on opening night, and fifteen people die mysteriously, including four of the five people who organized it. The incident is pretty much hushed up except for the footage one attendee uploaded to YouTube. A group of filmmakers investigate, and manage to find the sole surviving member of Hell House LLC, Sarah (Ryan Jennifer Jones). After several years of seclusion, she’s finally ready to talk, and she brings with her all the video footage shot during the creation of the House.

We get introduced to the company in the course of the tapes, and they got several of these haunted houses under their belts. This is an attempt to grow the company outside New York City, and they take over an abandoned hotel in (snerk) Abaddon, NY. It does seem like an ideal locale, and it is rather interesting to watch the group brainstorm the haunted house tour, which will end up in the basement. The group’s leader, Alex (Danny Bellini) isn’t too worried about the fact that the basement comes complete with pentagrams chalked on the walls. Not operating in their home town, the group moves into the hotel and begin to work on cranking up the scary in the first floor, and installing cameras to ensure safety (and more coverage for our found footage).

Clowns. Why did it have to be clowns.

Needless to say, weird stuff starts happening. Sarah is sleepwalking. Props start moving by themselves. The local actors hired have heard, um, stories about the place. Bad stories.

This is all cut together with Sarah’s interviews, along with interviews shot by the investigating crew, and some other attendee footage for the climatic opening night. A lot of the stuff building up to that night is really creepily effective, and the fact that it all takes place in an environment that has been engineered to be scary just makes it worse. The cast is engaging and real, and there is only one instance I can point to where the found footage concept is cheated. I found the reveal on the opening night catastrophe a bit underwhelming, but the stuff leading up to it is so good I didn’t mind. And even after that reveal, the movie is going to continue screwing with you.

I’ll be the first to admit there are a lot of lackluster found footage movies out there. Hell House LLC ain’t one of them. It’s really good, folks.

Fast forward a few days. We’ll spare you the exhausting drive home. No surprise, our Friday show was cancelled, so let’s see what’s available… huh. Beyond Skyline. I hear that’s crazy.

It is, in fact, kinda crazy.

Frank Grillo is Mark, a tough police detective whose son Trent (Jonny Weston) has wound up on the wrong side of the law again. An old colleague of Mark’s (Jacob Vargas) lets him go for old time’s sake, but makes it clear this is the last time. An attempt at reconciliation between the two on the subway is interrupted by an alien invasion. Enormous motherships hover over the city, broadcasting a blue light that hypnotizes almost everyone and levitates them into waiting holds (that’s about all you need to know from the first movie). Trent gets hit by the blue light not once, but three times, with Mark, apparently one of the few immune, pulling him back each time, until finally they get pulled into the ship.

Now inside, we find that the aliens are harvesting (in a pretty grisly fashion) the brains from captured humans and plugging them into robot bodies, still hypnotized by the blue light, to create a zombie robot horde. Significantly, the more times you resisted the blue light, the more immune you become; Mark is himself rescued by a robot who’s broken the hold of the aliens and needs him to help his still-human wife give birth. One other wrinkle: the first pulse of the blue light has somehow altered the fetus in situ, engendering fast growth (the mom is only three months pregnant when she gives birth to a fully developed baby) and the child has strange powers that the aliens fear. Mark promises the transformed father to get his daughter out of the ship.

You know, like Kill Bill Vol. 1Beyond Skyline really feels like a tender valentine to me and the movies I love. Past the whole alien invasion thing, the scenes inside the ship have an undeniably horrific edge. The freed robot sabotages the ship, causing it to crash in southeast Asia, where Mark and another survivor, Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) run into a drug warlord (IKO UWAIS!!!!) who’s going to have to go to war with the aliens, too. Where Iko goes, so must Yayan Ruhian, who must have it in his contract that he must always die in the most intense fight choreography you have ever seen. Which means, that’s right, just when you thought Beyond Skyline had blended in almost all of my favorite genres, it went ahead and threw in The Raid movies, too. And on top of that, two giant things start pounding the crap out of each other.

Whatever else you may say about Beyond Skyline, it’s not boring. It feels like one of those crazy-ass action movies you chanced onto at two o’clock in the morning on Cinemax, but with actual money.

Let’s see if I can bring this in.

My pal Dave, a couple years back, was dissed by younger hipster actors for not being familiar with the films of Rene Laloux, probably while they were huffing avocados through their Vapemeister 3000s. Laloux’s primary fame on these shores comes from Fantastic Planet, an animated movie I’ve never particularly cared for. It’s pretty, but is, as Danny Bowe’s once said of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, “French as fuck.” Still, I’m down for animated movies. So I followed up Beyond Skyline with Time Masters.

I was not expecting a Moebius movie.

Now, Jean Giraud did not write the story – that’s the work of equally French writer Stefan Wul, but he did design it. Giraud was an artist who could knock you square in the eyes with his work and make you thank him profusely for the experience. Time Masters is still French as fuck.

A young boy, Piel, is marooned on the planet Perdide. His dying father radios an old comrade, Jaffar, to rescue Piel. Jaffar immediately interrupts his current journey to set out for Perdide, much to the displeasure of his passenger, a prince who is escaping some justice on his home planet. Trouble is, in the vastness of space, it will take Jaffar a month to get there.  They can communicate with the boy via a subspace radio, and have to help him survive via instruction. The Prince will try to get Piel to “accidentally” kill himself, there are guys with wings and Time Masters. It’s all French as fuck.

He’s probably smoking a Gauloise

Yes, it does feel like one of Moebius’ Metal Hurlant serials in animated form. The animation style is much more traditional than the nearly-decade previous Fantastic Planet, and often it doesn’t serve Moebius’ work as well as you’d hope. Still worth seeking out for its French-as-fuckness.

There I did it! First real blog post of the year! Four movies into The List! I’ll correct the spelling errors tomorrow! 30!

December Already

There is an odd perceptual trick that as you get older, time goes by faster. This phenomenon likely has its roots in the crush of past experience pressing up against the present moment, with a constant increase in supposedly adult matters burning away your time. I suppose the current administration was the solution for that, as there were instances when time ground to a maddening crawl, like a perpetual few seconds just before the impact of a car crash. Hurricane Harvey was only three months ago; it feels more like a year.

Life definitely feels like a circus act where you’re pressed up against a board and some idiot with a blindfold keeps throwing knives at you. December’s always hectic, and I doubt it’s going to calm down until the year is nearly over. Maybe not even then.

I think you’re getting at least one more post out of me this year. In the meantime – since I have a few minutes to catch my breath – here’s the few movies I’ve had the chance to watch:

The Limehouse Golem is based on a Peter Ackroyd novel, and delights in moving the timeline back and forth as Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is a sacrificial detective set up by Scotland Yard to investigate the Limehouse Golem murders, a series of bloody mutilations that predate and outdo Jack the Ripper for sheer ghoulishness. His investigations run counter to the murder trial of music hall star Lizzy Cree (Olivia Cooke), whose poisoned husband seems a very likely suspect for the Golem.

The world of the English music hall wasn’t something I was expecting to be immersed in when I started the movie, and that was a pleasant surprise. Douglas Booth, as music hall superstar Dan Leno, is a continuing thread through the story as it unfolds, enabling the unique story structure. I’ve not read Ackroyd’s novel, but that structure feels uniquely literary, and director Juan Carlos Medina pulls it off well. While I can’t hand it an enthusiastic recommendation, I can still say it’s definitely worth a look. If you’ve not had your fill of Edwardian murder mysteries, you can certainly do far worse.

I finally watched Atomic Blonde, and I’m sort of glad I didn’t get over my animosity toward theaters to see it. It’s a pretty good retro spy movie, taking place just before and during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an asskicking troubleshooter for MI5 tasked with finding a wristwatch containing microfilm with the names and records of every agent on both sides of the Cold War, including a double agent known only as Satchel. She meets up with the local handler, Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone native in a big way. She spends most of the movie getting the crap kicked out of her, but you should see the other guy(s). What’s left of them, anyway.

Let’s be frank, Charlize Theron just plain owns me, and has for years. She is incredible as the agent James Bond would rightly be afraid of – except incredible doesn’t really cover it, she is credible in the role. Great supporting cast, too – John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan. Incredible soundtrack. Great editing. Pretty much what you would expect from David Leitch, who was one of the directors of the original John Wick.

My only real complaint is that the movie feels over-extended at nearly two hours, giving me far too much time to figure out the true identity of Satchel. Minor complaint. Some directors would have stretched it out to two and a half hours.

That same day I saw Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, so I must have been in the mood for a fight. If you dug on the 45 minute long battle scene that ended 13 Assassins, good news! This is basically a movie-length version of that! In the very first segment, Manji (Takiya Kimura) informs a mob of about a hundred lowlife bounty hunters – who just slaughtered a girl for fun – that he is going to kill each and every one of them. And does. As he lays dying from his wounds, he is infected by bloodworms, which will heal any wound, even rejoining severed limbs to his body.

As Blade is based on a long-running manga series, I don’t know if there is ever a good reason given why a mysterious old woman gives Manji this curse/blessing – it still hurts when he gets injured, and the healing is far from instantaneous. He just can’t die from his wounds. He eventually takes up the cause of young Rin (Hana Sugasaki), whose family was killed by a group of rogue martial artists who want to take over the Imperial Guard (a ploy familiar to fans of “rule the world of martial arts” movies). The story gets somewhat involved from there, with plots, counterplots, a bloodworm poison that significantly slows down Manji’s healing, many colorful opponents, and my second two exhausted, bloody combatants still taking each other on fight scene in one day.

Overall, I liked it, but I wanted to love it. Miike’s samurai flicks are really good, though – see it and make your own decisions.

I watched two more movies, but I promised the review for one to Daily Grindhouse, so you’re going to have to be satisfied by closing things out with S&M Hunter.

I’m always downloading movie trailer collections and watching them at my leisure; one group was some movies available from PinkEiga, which specializes in Japanese “Pink” movies – so called because they involve nudity. That’s a subject that has a Wikipedia page all to itself, so I’ll direct you there for the broader picture. Pun definitely not intended, by the way. S&M Hunter caught my eye with its outrageous stylization and definite kinkiness (it’s right there in the title, after all), so I sought it out.

A man comes to “The Pleasure Dungeon” and chooses to whip a submissive dressed (briefly) as a nun until she faints. The Dungeon Master states “You are not a true sadist. I can see it in your eyes.” (Never mind that both men are wearing sunglasses) It turns out that new customer has a massive hate on for women because he’s gay and his lover has been kidnapped by a high school girl gang and is being used as their sex slave. Enter the dungeon’s superhero, S&M Hunter, dressed as a priest with a skull eyepatch, who agrees to rescue the boy. His super power is an amazing – and like all super powers, essentially impossible – mastery of rope tricks and the fact that every woman he is up against gets pleasure from the act of being tied up.

S&M Hunter would be classified in the realm of “Pinkie Violence”, I guess, but the whole setup is so silly and over the top that it comes off as a lighter parody of that genre. S&M Hunter has his own spaghetti western theme song. The Hunter’s archenemy feels it necessary to dress up in a gestapo uniform, complete with Nazi flag. The Dungeon Master has all the good lines. It’s only an hour long.

I was considering this for a Crapfest entry. But. It still remains a sex film, and that’s a level of tawdry I’m not willing to subject the fest to – titillation is fine, but S&M Hunter, while not explicit, still crosses that line. It is a pretty subversive entry in that genre, though, as the only truly loving, normal relationship is the homosexual one. Here, have a censored version of the trailer that sent me on this odd sidetrip:

Things only get busier from here on out. Hope to see you betwixt Christmas and New Years, if some moron doesn’t get us all killed. Happy Holidays, everybody, as possible.

 

Post-Hubrisween: Life (2017)

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I was going to review this for Hubrisween, but Gavin had a prior claim to it. Cool, I did The Living Head instead, because I was sure Gavin would have more interesting things to say. So here is a post-Hubrisween review. It’s wafer-thin!

Okay, show of hands: who passed this one up because it was so obviously this generation’s Alien? Um hm, yeah, okay. Me too. Until I needed an “L”.

In the near future, the crew of the International Space Station is waiting for the return of the Mars Pilgrim 7 probe, carrying with it soil samples. The probe has been hit by space debris and is off-course; it is only through a risky maneuver that the craft and its precious scientific cargo is retrieved.

Knowing what you know, you can pretty much write the movie from here: a dormant microbe is found frozen, they manage to revive it, it begins developing and evolving rapidly, and at some point, it gets hungry.

Don’t touch, dummy

That is ridiculously simplistic of me, of course; the script does a far better job of developing our monster (as the result of a national contest among schools, it is named Calvin) and its threat. The creature is fast, ridiculously resilient, resisting cold and heat, and intelligent as hell.  Our six person crew is various flavors of doomed, and the film’s success will depend on how creatively they meet those dooms, as they attempt, with very limited resources, to rid themselves of a creature that must not be allowed to reach Earth.

Life does a good job of distinguishing our cast; the heaviest hitters box office-wise are Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal’s character has been in space for a record amount of time, and his body is beginning to atrophy dangerously – he just doesn’t want to go back among billions of people, most of them assholes, and dirty air (tell me that’s not identifiable). The biologist (Ariyon Bakare) is a paraplegic who enjoys the increased mobility microgravity allows. Miranda (Rebecca Ferguson) is the Contamination Officer who has her work cut out for her, and whose contingency plans are constantly screwed up by human error and the unforeseen ingenuity of the enemy. Director Daniel Espinosa keeps things moving, and the character notes seem to flow organically (which seems an unfortunate turn of phrase here).

The influence of Cuarón’s Gravity is definitely felt, with all the null-gravity choreography and attempts to keep the technology reasonably realistic. So yes, this is Alien with floating, but it’s well-produced floating.

And also yes, this is this generation’s Alien. Which was that generation’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space. We can play that game for some time, but let’s take it in another direction.

Let’s say it’s more of a prequel.

Life becomes much more interesting and less derivative if you consider it as the movie leading up to something like The Quatermass Xperiment. What happened on that particular doomed spacecraft was left to a damaged camera reel and surmisal. Here it is as a complete, well-rounded story. I find myself considering Life far more charitably in that light.

Buy Life on Amazon

Y: The Yin Yang Master 2 (2003)

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0383543Ha! My hard-won strategy for gaming the system strikes again!

In 10th century Kyoto, a demon is killing various members of the gentry, in each case carrying off a different body part, and sorcerer supreme Abe no Seiman (Mansai Nomura) and his companion, Lord Hiromasa (Hideaki Itô) are called in to investigate. Don’t worry, the perpetually cute butterfly girl Mitsumushi (Eriko Imai) is back, too.

Another magician has cropped up amongst the peasantry, healing disease and injuries, Genkaku (Kiichi Nakai). Several of the lords, trying to bring Seiman down a notch, bring Genkaku in on the case, but he demurs respectfully to Seiman, who feels the murders are not the work of “a true demon”. Hiromasa, as usual, falls in love with the wrong woman, this time the tomboyish daughter of another lord, Himiko (Kyoko Fukada). This lady also possesses surprising healing powers. Hmmmm, I wonder if there’s a connection…

Our heroes at 221B Baker S... er, Abe no Seiman's sanctum.

Our heroes at 221B Baker S… er, Abe no Seiman’s sanctum.

Onmyoji 2 has a more complex plot than its predecessor, and sadly suffers somewhat for it. It takes a little too long for the usual plot to destroy Kyoto to solidify; it involves a war crime fifteen years earlier, which has of course been glossed over by the government as a glorious victory over evil. Though the culmination of the villain’s plot feels a little too similar to that in Omyoji, it gains its own identity when Seiman underestimates his opponent, and has to journey to the afterlife, where, accompanied by the loyal Hiromasa and his flute, the magician must dance in drag as “the trickster goddess” to gain the attention of the goddess Ameratsu.

onmyoji-stillIt saddens me that this appears to the last movie in the Onmyoji series, which featured a largely subtle, non-bombastic approach to magic, nonetheless engaging and exciting. The Seiman/Hiromasa version of the Holmes/Watson synergy is compelling, and certainly could have supported more adventures. But sometimes we just need to be happy with what we got.

Buy Onmyoji 2 on Amazon

 

V: The Valdemar Legacy II: The Forbidden Shadow (2010)

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Yes, it took me fully four years to figure out how to game this system. This is, of course, the sequel to La Herencia Valdemar, which we visited at the other end of the alphabet; this is simply the English title. Frankly, I prefer the Spanish version: La Sombra Prohibida, but this is the easiest V I’ve ever scored.

Some spoilers follow. You’ve been warned.

There were a ton of storylines left over when chapter one closed. Chapter two finds us firmly in the present day, except for a flashback to the 1890s which finds the tortured Lázaro Valdemar (Daniele Liotti), after the sacrifice of his wife, falling deeper and deeper into books of forbidden lore, much to the dismay of the faithful Jervás (Paul Nachy in his final role). In fact, Jervás begs none other than H.P. Lovecraft (Luis Zahera) to try to convince Lázaro to give up his ultimate acquisition: the Necronomicon. “You don’t own the Necronomicon,” he tells Lázaro, “the Necronomicon owns you.” To no avail.

In the present day, Nicolás (Óscar Jaenada) and Dr. Cervia (Ana Resueño) continue their search for the missing antiques expert, Luisa (Silvia Abascal), who has escaped from the slow-witted Santiago (Santi Prego) and the sociopathic Dámaso (José Luis Torrijo), which results in the capture of Eduardo (Rodolfo Sancho) and Ana (Norma Ruiz), also searching for Luisa, a bit ahead of schedule, we will find.

All four wind up in a room in the deserted Valdemar mansion, wallpapered with polaroids of bloody people screaming and begging. Santiago releases them and leads them through a cavern underneath the mansion, where they are unfortunate enough to encounter the thing that was released in the first movie. Fleeing it, they run right into the arms of the cultists being led by Colvin (Eusubio Poncela), the head of the real estate agency employing all four – and a surprisingly young Lázaro. It is an elaborate scheme to gather enough sacrificial souls for a rite which will undo the botched Dunwich Ritual from the first movie. However, Colvin makes a mistake equally as catastrophic as Crowley’s in that instance, with the results that the cult is suddenly confronted by a very pissed-off Cthulhu.

That synopsis doesn’t convey half the texture and turns the story presents. Santiago has a horrifying yet heart-wrenching monologue about the nastiness at the Valdemar mansion to Luisa while having one of his seizures (and the handful of horse tranquilizers he downs to kill the pain). Luisa runs into an honest-to-God gypsy fortune-teller in a wagon in the woods. Like the earlier appearance of Bram Stoker, this version of H.P. Lovecraft has a lot more going on than the guy we think we knew. What I’m saying is, the two movies considered together form a pretty good Lovecraft pastiche, while still managing to be extremely Spanish in character. As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for Lovecraft on a budget, and the budget on this one is actually pretty decent, something in the range of 6.5 million Euros. The acting, music, effects and cinematography are all of a very high order. It’s a little too ambitious to completely fulfill all its promises, and bends back on itself a little too often – even then, it’s still admirable in many ways.

I would recommend this to all Lovecraft fans. But.

This sequel/second chapter is hard to find. Amazon lists a PAL DVD for $120 – you can find it on eBay for less – but the most astounding thing is Amazon Video has part one but not part two. Unsuspecting viewers will find themselves hanging, like I did at the end of Sword of Doom. That’s just bad policy, there. It is, however, currently on YouTube for three bucks. Maybe Shudder has access to it – I don’t know, I’m not in a position to afford streaming services at the moment.

But somebody really should remedy that situation. All those situations.

R: [REC]2 (2009)

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Hello again to Spain, the MVP in this year’s Hubrisween challenge! ¡Ustedes molan!

I reviewed [REC] back in 2012] , and I have no idea why I took five years to get around to its sequel, because I loved it. It did everything right for a found footage movie, and at barely 80 minutes, it didn’t have time to get bogged down. Small wonder that directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza went back to that well, and amazing that they did it so well.

We’re still on the same night as the first movie, and a four man Special Forces squad (Óscar Zafra, Ariel Casa and Alejandro Casaseca) is gearing up to go inside the sealed apartment building. They are joined by Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor) from the Ministry of Health, who has a very special mission: he has to get to the top floor to obtain a blood sample he somehow knows is there, a blood sample that will enable the formulation of an antidote to the mysterious plague that is turning people into violent zombies. It’s up to the squad to get him there and out.

And we all know it is just not going to be that simple.

Balagueró and Plaza open up the scenes nicely; all the troops have networked helmet cameras feeding into the main camera held by one of the troops, Rosso (Pablo Rosso, who was the cameraman in the first movie, for all you Easter Egg fans). There was a suspicion in the first installment that the plague was supernatural in origin, which is borne out this time, especially when Owen seals a zombie in a room with a crucifix and reveals a priest’s collar under his jacket. Patient Zero, we are told, was a girl the Vatican verified as possessed, and a secret lab was established in the building to find a scientific basis and cure for demonic possession.  A journal in the penthouse mentioning mosquitoes points the way to what went wrong with that plan. It’s her blood Owen needs to find.

All of this is pretty straightforward and suitably intense, with the result that the story has pretty much run its course 40 minutes in. Perhaps there was some criticism over the brevity of the first movie, because the squad’s camera is damaged at that point, and we pick back up with three bored teenagers (Andrea Ros, Alex Battalori, and Pau Poch), briefly seen by the squad in the building when all hell started breaking loose. They had been videotaping a failed prank on the roof across the street before being evacuated by the cops earlier in the evening. They follow a desperate tenant from the building and a fireman (looking for his friends from the first movie) who go through the sewers into the building by a basement access. Their camera takes up the story until they finally intersect with the squad – trouble is, their battery is dying, and it’s remarkable how tense that flashing red icon makes me. Then again, I’m a videographer in my day job.

At this point a surprising survivor from the first movie pops up, and their TV camera takes a licking and keeps on ticking, which is fortunate, because if you thought things had gone to hell before, well, you likely aren’t ready for the third act, with a trip back to the top floor and the return of the night vision camera.

The intrusion of the three teens is really annoying at first, but necessary, since the story’s intensity at this point has winnowed down the cast of characters and some more fodder was needed. I don’t see much way to speed that portion of the movie up, but there’s no denying that going back into setup mode puts the brakes on the movie’s momentum.

No matter. Still fun, still a great ride.

Q: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

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Like a lot of Americans, I was introduced to this movie as Five Million Years to Earth, because Warner Brothers/Seven Arts didn’t want to face a bunch of palookas moaning wut the hail is a quartermess? Probably wise, but said palookas were likely still not ready for one of the best science-fiction horror movies of all time.

A bunch of workers on a London subway extension uncover some skulls buried in the clay, and as is the law, all work must stop as anthropologist Dr. Roney (James Donald) and his assistant Barbara (Barbara Shelley) begin excavating the remarkable find – Roney estimates the age of the skulls at five million years, possibly the oldest ancestor of man yet. Then a sort of metallic wall is unearthed, and there is a very real possibility that they’ve found an unexploded bomb from the Blitz.

Meanwhile, our old pal Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir, this time) is receiving the bad news that his British Rocket Group is being co-opted by the military, in the person of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover). On their way back to Rocket Group, the Colonel is called upon to advise about this thing in the clay (which is a very clever way to get Quatermass involved, I must say).

As the soldiers uncover more of the object, it becomes plain that it is something novel; the magnetic stethoscopes of the bomb specialist will not stick, so it isn’t steel. Blowtorches have no effect. And in one recess, a completely intact skull is found, which means the object has been down there as long as the skulls – five million years.

Under Barbara’s insistence, Quatermass begins to piece together the odd history of that part of London, named Hob’s End – Hob, of course, being another name for the devil. It is infamous for sightings of strange, goblin-like creatures and visitations of Old Scratch. When the entire object is uncovered, it is obvious that it is not, as Colonel Breen insists, some sort of Nazi Propaganda weapon, but a spacecraft. Especially when a sealed chamber of the craft opens to reveal four dead insectoid creatures, preserved in some sort of unnatural ice, and now decaying rapidly.

The upshot is the creatures are probably Martians, and faced with the death of their planet five million years before, began experimenting on the apes of Earth to create a lifeform that would carry on their way of life. Fortunately, we evolved past the hivemind state the Martians wanted, but buried racial memories translated the insects into horned demons. A further problem is that spacecraft is actually alive, and is waking up and reinforcing the hivemind – which insists that any living being not a part of the hivemind must be destroyed.

Nigel Kneale wrote some of the most thoughtful science fiction/horror stories for the BBC back in the day, and I think most acknowledge Quatermass and the Pit as his masterpiece. It’s hard to explain what a thunderbolt this movie was, with its effortless blending of the two genres, because so much of it has been co-opted in the following years. The most blatant – and loving – example is John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which he wrote under the nom de plume Martin Quatermass. To that you can add the magnificent mess that is Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (whose source novel was far more Lovecraftian)

Kneale was the most satisfied with this film of his work (and rightfully so), and Andrew Keir – since this was my first Quatermass movie, Andrew Keir was Quatermass, as far as I was concerned. Imagine my surprise when I finally caught up with the first two movies, The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2 (or, thanks to the palookas, The Creeping Unknown and Enemy from Space) and got Brian Donlevy. Donlevy was cast to sell the movies in America, and Kneale hated him. A brusque and domineering version of the character, I cannot imagine Donlevy in this movie. When the Minister tells Quatermass that the object is now exclusively under the command of Colonel Breen, Donlevy would have thrown his badge at him and resigned from the force.

I used to have the original BBC serial on a double VHS set from Sinister Cinema, with Andre Morell playing Quatermass. I really like Morell, but for some reason he turned down the film version. And as I said earlier, I love Keir in the role.

If you’ve not yet seen Quatermass and the Pit (or Five Million Years to Earth, you palooka), you owe it to yourself to remedy that. Highest possible recommendation.

Every halfway-reasonably priced disc for Quatermass and the Pit is only playable on Region 2/B players. But if you have three and half hours, here’s that original TV serial: