The Year Comes for Us

December was kind of weird.

Despite managing to post some reviews from a truncated project, and a Crapfest recap, I was largely off movies for the month. That’s not unusual; Hubrisween – or any similar movie challenge – usually leaves me with a hangover. So I engaged in some other braincell-killing pursuits, until I could bear to watch a movie again. Which is good, because I’m trying to gear up for another challenge in March, one that will ease me none-too-gently back into the world of Movies I Should Have Been Watching. I do really enjoy wallowing in the Cinema of Diminished Expectations, but there are so bloody many conversations I cannot take part in because I was watching Sausage Party instead of A Quiet Place.

Let’s do the non-movie stuff first.

I couldn’t afford a new laptop, but I still needed a portable computing solution, so I got a refurbished Chromebook instead, and I love it (of course, I love it because I’m not using it for its intended purpose). It does everything my phone does, with a larger screen and keyboard. My phone had started to be a transistor radio to me months ago, when I started using Amazon Music to sing me to sleep (their phone app has a sleep timer). I started to explore music podcasts for the same thing, since most podcast apps have a similar timer, or simply stop after an episode finishes. My favorite in this period was Trance Paradise, hosted by Euphoric Nation (yes, I am 61 years old and listen to a lot of Trance). That led me to the Internet radio station After Hours. Now, I sighed, if only I could find a podcast or radio station for my other love, late 60s – early 70s psychedelic rock. Exploring apps on my Chromebook, I find one that has links for Trance stations… and another for largely more electronia, but had the occasional oldies station, so say hello to my other new love, Psychedelicized Radio.

Which is all to the good, as I like music playing while I work, but it wasn’t using the potential of the Chromebook to its fullest. Then, by golly, enter Whizical Digital Imaging and their app, Kaleider. It’s an image-mirroring program that can produce some stunning, moving kaleidoscope images, and though I can find nothing that says it’s triggered by music (it has its own music player) the shifting of the images in time with either of those music stations is often more than can be chalked up to happenstance. This provides an experience that’s closer to meditation than anything I’ve managed in years. If I had this toy back in my heavy acid-dropping days, I would never have come down. I’m reminded of some parts of Ernie Kovacs’ TV show that were simply recordings of classical music with kaleidoscope images. In black and white. This is better.

For instance…

It’s also been fun tracking down images of old black light posters to feed into the program. I briefly considered trying to make a video of Kaleider in unison with some music, but then I realized the reaction would be something along the lines of “Oh, you stoned fool,” and went back to playing Gems of War (something else the Chromebook can do, and my dumpster-diver PC could not).

But what’s this? Christmas, and a number of Amazon gift cards? Hello, suddenly affordable replacement PC! It’s not magnificent, but a very definite step up. (I still can’t play No Man’s Sky, which is something I’ve wanted to do for three goddam years, but hey) What I can do is run Plex, which suddenly put the sneakernet in my house out of business. I had been jealous of my pal Dave’s home networking, and now I don’t have to be! Movies stream like magic to my TV! I feel like I’m finally living in the year 2000!

So. Movies. Let’s do the rare theatrical outings first.

Aquaman: I loved it. The further the DCEU gets from the Snyderverse, the better. As my son Max exclaimed, “There was actual color in this movie!” Strong cast, good director, and the sort of visual overload I once moaned that you could only get from Chinese movies. My major takeaway from The Expendables was “My God, Dolph Lundgren actually learned how to act!” and he is great in Aquaman! I have never been so happy to reassess my opinion of an actor. I’m also impressed that the DCEU hasn’t tried to movie-up their costuming as Marvel did. That didn’t work out so well with Deathstroke in the post-credit scene in Justice League, but damned if they didn’t make the gold-and-green for Aquaman look good. Amber Heard had already proven she could pull off the classic green Mera look. Hell, I didn’t even mind the minor rewrites of Justice League to make the timeline in this movie work.

I know, I know, you’re sick of superhero movies. You’re where I was with slasher movies, romcoms and 80s movies reboots. They’ll fade into the past soon enough. In the meantime, let me have my fun.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: I’m torn. I really, really loved the first one and its videogame-centric worldview. This is a sequel that did everything a sequel should: took our established heroes, gave them new challenges and vistas to explore. The satire is much wider here, but still pretty geeky. Overall, I liked it a lot, I think: the take on the Disney Princesses is pretty funny, and I liked that the animators cared enough that when they’re mucking around the Marvel part of Disney, they included a Stan Lee avatar. I’ll need to watch it again when it hits home video. Also, the post-credit scene was perfectly timed to answer a question that occurred to me.

Speaking of home video…

My local movie resale shop has a deal where if you buy 3, you get the 4th one free, and that is how I went home with Sausage Party (the others were It Follows, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and The Black Cauldron, if that matters). This is the R-rated version. I understand there is an unrated, unexpurgated version out there, and holy shit, am I not interested. The R-rated version pretty much took me to the limits of where I was willing to go. The world-building was fairly okay; the supermarket as a place where food waits for “Gods” – people – to come and take them to the promised land, and those that sit on the shelf too long are gathered by the “Dark Lord” and taken to the hell of the trash can. You probably already know about the overtly sexual relationship between hot dogs and buns, but you are not ready for the oversexed nature of all food. From there we fall into too-easy racial stereotypes as ethnic foods enter into the story, the discovery that the “Gods” are monsters who will eat our main characters and the eventual war between the two, climaxing – quite literally – in a food orgy, which is at least inclusive of all possible gender combos, and has one impossible act. The question that is going to linger with you is why?

Well, I may have given up on Pixels after five minutes, but I’ve seen Sausage Party all the way through.

Not sure what that proves.

“Complete and unexpurgated” had caught me by nasty surprise recently, too, as I had a copy of the extremely strange Italian movie Nude for Satan that claimed to be this. I had gotten really tired of the “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” thing (jesus, people, I was making that joke years ago), posted “Oh, so I suppose you’re going to tell me Nude for Satan isn’t a Christmas movie” and slapped that thing into the player, thinking this was likely a prime candidate for Crapfest. What I didn’t know was that there was a Dutch version of the movie into which some wily entrepreneur had spliced actual hardcore porn footage. There are few things like being entertainingly puzzled by a demented Italian flick and when your protagonist opens a door and reacts in shock, you are slapped across the face by several minutes of well-lit, enthusiastic fellatio. On Christmas Eve, no less. This would happen over and over again, with only a minimal attempt to actually connect it to the movie surrounding it (and often not even that bare – *snicker* – minimum), rendering the plot even more confusing. Something about Satan trying to switch our two stars with versions of themselves from the past, and lecherous giant spiders and oh yes, more porn.

Obviously the only way to follow that up was by finally watching Venom (please do not inquire about this train of thought). I’m okay with Tom Hardy finally getting his superhero movie, but I’ve never been a Spider-Man fan, nor of any of his morning zoo crew. It’s pretty standard stuff, with crusading reporter Eddie Brock (Hardy) finding out that Earth-Sony’s version of a not-stupid Elon Musk (Riz Ahmed) has managed to bring back some alien symbiotes via his own private space program. The symbiotes have to bind with a compatible host to survive in our atmosphere, and most people aren’t strong enough to survive the binding. Brock is, and is soon talking to himself and turning into a whole bunch of shapes as Venom (and biting off a couple of heads). The upshot is that a more powerful symbiote, Riot, has taken over Ahmed, and wants to bring all its symbiote buddies back to Earth to eat us. Venom wants to stop this, which is a character turn that feels entirely unearned, but we agree to let art wash over us. Venom made a ton of money at the cinemas, and I’m not sure why; I don’t regret ceding 90 minutes of my life to it, but it’s not something I’m going to grab people and say “Hey! Watch this!”

Last watch of the year was something I had meant to get to for a while, unsuccessfully: The Night Comes for UsTimo Tjahjanto’s action follow-up to Headshot (preceded by the equally Netflix-produced horror movie May the Devil Take You). Ito (Joe Haslam) is one of the Six Seas, Triad drug lords in charge of keeping the trade efficient and problem-free. When a few members of a village skim the Triad’s profits, Ito and his crew are sent to massacre the entire village as a lesson to others. Ito, however, hits Kill Critical Mass, and instead of letting his men finish off the lone surviving 6 year-old girl, kills them instead, and that is where the problems begin.

Ito’s attempt to leave the country with the girl and start a new life gets very complicated when the other Six Seas want the girl dead to complete their message, and Ito six feet under as well. To do this they call in his childhood buddy Arian (Iko Uwais), as well as the female assassins The Five Lotus Petals. What that really means, though, is this movie is basically one long fight scene, and is already infamous for its brutality. That’s it. Theoretically the movie’s about the different paths Ito and Arian’s lives have taken, but it’s really just a Macguffin surrounded by fight scenes. It’s fun to see Uwais play on his reputation as a good guy.  Julie Estelle (the formidable Hammer Girl of The Raid 2) is on hand as The Operator, an impressively deadly lady whose job is to exterminate the Six Seas. At the end, The Operator, five of the Six Seas and at least two of the Five Lotus Petals are still alive. That’s a sequel I would watch.

You might want to bring plastic sheeting to a viewing, though. Pretend it’s a Gallagher concert.

New Year’s Eve was spent talking myself out of watching The Emoji Movie, on the faulty theory that then 2019 couldn’t possibly do anything worse to me, but I finally decided it was best not to tempt the bastard. Now I suppose I should start thinking about teeing up those movies of (harrumph) quality I was talking about.

Right after The Emoji Movie.

 

 

 

 

A Cosmic Christmas (1977)

Honestly, this impromptu challenge has little chance of success if I don’t toss some short slowballs to myself.

It’s Christmas Eve and young Peter is strolling around town with his pet goose, Lucy (ho ho). After a brief encounter with the town’s young punk ne’er-do-wells (one named Marvin is particularly keen on picking a fight with Lucy, which shows how dumb he is, because geese are frightening), Peter decides to check out what he is sure is a UFO he saw landing in the woods. Peter’s got a pretty good eye, because it is a spaceship, and from it come Plutox, Lexicon, and Althazor, who bear an uncanny resemblance to the Magi. They’re here to investigate a strange stellar event that occurred 2000 years ago, which Peter interprets to mean that they’re here to learn about Christmas.

He takes them into town, where commercialism and petty politics contradict everything Peter has told the aliens about Christmas; luckily he takes them to his own home where his grandmother shares her memories of what Christmas used to be before these durn modern times, and one of the aliens holographically recreates her memories, so Peter’s Mom and Dad get to learn a little bit about the true meaning of the season, too.

Then Marvin crops up and goosenaps Lucy, leading to a big chase that cuts through a mob of townspeople who’ve gathered at the spaceship. Marvin’s bicycle crashes through a fence and then he breaks through the thin ice on a frozen lake; Peter tries to rescue him but gets pulled in, too. The townsfolk form a human chain that winds up short, and the aliens forsake their Watcher ethos that forbids interference and join the chain, rescuing the boys. Everybody makes up and retire to Peter’s home for a good, old-fashioned Christmas feast that would make old Fezziwig proud. The aliens have learned about Christmas, and return to space to spread the word, one supposes. The end.

This was the first of Nelvana Animation’s TV specials, followed closely by The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Intergalactic Thanksgiving. I’m a big fan of Nelvana in this era (so was George Lucas, he hired them to do the animated intro of Boba Fett in The Star Wars Holiday Special, inarguably the most entertaining part of that misfire), it’s so fluid and unique. TV specials like this usually ellide over the religious aspects of the holiday, but Peter goes right ahead and names names to the visitors, which was kind of refreshing after the depressingly bleak secularism of Christmas Evil. That goes largely by the wayside once we’re into Grandma’s Christmas memory, which manages to be warmly nostalgic without becoming overly mawkish. And that climax with the two drowning boys is genuinely suspenseful.

A nice little animated surprise if the kids – or you – are sick of re-runs of The Grinch.

 

 

W: Willow Creek (2013)

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So the question is, how in the hell did I manage to find myself watching two found footage Bigfoot movies in one year? Well, Hubrisween, that’s how.

We’ve got Jim (Bryce Johnson) and his girlfriend Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) on a road trip. Bryce has got a nice new video camera and a serious wireless microphone, aiming to make a movie documenting his trip to the town of Willow Creek, California, then down to Bluff Creek, which is where Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin shot their famous Bigfoot footage back in 1967. This is Jim’s obsession, and his birthday is coming up, so Kelly is humoring him by coming along.

The first half of the movie is getting there, which is going to be a problem for some people. Jim is not a good filmmaker, but we do see him improve somewhat with practice. He interviews some real people, Like Steven Streufort, who runs Bigfoot Books in Willow Creek. Tom Yamarone, “the Bob Dylan of Bigfoots”. Shawn L. White Guy Sr., who saw a Bigfoot when she was a child. And Nita Rowley, who runs the Visitor’s Center, and gives the best, most frustrating (to Jim) interview, because she doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, but keeps warning the two about bears and mountain lions. Character actor Peter Jason plays a former Ranger whose dog got torn apart by something in the woods, just in case you were forgetting this was an actual movie (to Gilmore and Johnson’s credit, that actually is possible).

They also meet up with a couple of vaguely threatening guys who warn them away from the forest. Not that this will do any good, mind. Does it ever?

The Bigfoot Burger – why wouldn’t you want one?

Once they actually hit the Bluff Creek area and start hiking into the wilderness (at almost exactly the movie’s halfway mark), you’re going to start to get what most people came here for, and also cement the fact that Jim is an idiot. They brought camping gear, and Kelly claims to have spent some time in the woods, but neither of them brought, say, a compass? After some trekking, Jim wants to push on to the Patterson site, but Kelly demands they set up camp, as light is fading. And so begins what you really came here for.

There are sounds in the night. Jim turns on the camera, apparently the only light they have (idiots). What follows is an 18 minute long single take, as the noises get closer and something starts shuffling around the tent. There is also what sounds like a woman crying, which doesn’t help matters. This scene goes from skepticism to curiosity to fear to absolute terror; it actually gets pretty intense, and what’s remarkable is that it is all conveyed by acting and sound. I generally watch movies with headphones on, which aided the effect immeasurably.

With the morning light, Jim and Kelly make the sensible decision to get the hell out of Dodge, but that lack of a compass I was yelling at them about ensures that they immediately get lost (as if they weren’t already), and there’s not even a Blair Witch screwing with them. For a few moments I thought they were actually going to show some brains and follow the creek to civilization, but something in the bushes scares them back into the woods, night falls again, and, just like the afore-referenced Blair Witch Project, a number of plot threads come together at the end with tragic results. I’m going to give Willow Creek the clear edge on escalating, frightening endings, though.

Willow Creek is not going to be for all markets (as a glance at user reviews at the IMDb will tell you); I’m not even sure fans of slow-burn horror will take to it. I was pretty iffy on it myself until that 18 minute single take, which, among other things, had me wondering what Tarkovsky would have done with modern equipment, unburdened by limitations like the size of a film magazine. If you want more excitement sprinkled through your found footage Bigfoot experience, then Exists is definitely the way to go. But Willow Creek, while lo-fi in concept and execution, does have a couple of scenes that pack a memorable wallop.

 

V: Vanishing on 7th St. (2010)

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Here’s a story that may seem familiar to you: see a title that looks interesting, tag it on Netflix… and then proceed to ignore it for a few years.

Until you need a movie that starts with a “V”, anyway. (I may have lost some of you there)

We’re first going to meet Paul (John Leguizamo)a projectionist at an AMC theater in Detroit, puttering around his domain, headlight ablaze, making sure the latest Adam Sandler movie runs smoothly (all we hear is some really improbable music and the audience’s laughter). There is a sudden blackout, and when the lights come back on, everybody is gone. Literally. All that remains in the theater and lobby is spilled popcorn and empty clothing, still in shapes that suggest the people once wearing them. There are screams in the distance.

Then the lights go back off again.

We are introduced to Rosemary (Thandie Newton), a physical therapist at a hospital, and Luke (Hayden Christensen), a TV reporter who managed to sleep through the whole thing. Like Paul and his headlight, Rosemary was holding a lit match, and Luke’s girlfriend had some candles burning on a bedside table. In the 72 hours that follow, they wander around Detroit, scavenging flashlight batteries and glowsticks, finally winding up at a bar on 7th Street that has a backup generator, its lights keeping the hungry darkness at bay. There they meet a fourth survivor: James (Jacob Latimore), the 12 year-old son of the bartender. They will try to figure out what happened, and how they can get out of Detroit – or if they should even try.

The first 15-20 minutes of Vanishing are absolutely perfect and nightmarish, leaving me wondering why this movie wasn’t better known. Then we settle down in the bar and it becomes a different movie; a kind of a spam-in-a-cabin flick with all the bickering and psychological drama you’ve come to expect. That was a bit disappointing, but it has to be admitted that director Brad Anderson and a quartet of talented actors sell it and keep it moving, breaking up the submarine movie with flashbacks from Rosemary and Luke  – Luke in particular receiving a satellite broadcast, during a momentary resumption of power in his TV station, from Chicago – implying that whatever it is, it’s worldwide, and laying out the rules: Stay in the light, don’t listen to the voices, and only trust the light that is in your hands.

I may have checked the time remaining, but I never once was tempted to press the fast-forward button.

There are going to be those among who will look askance at my describing Hayden Christensen as a “talented actor”, but really, separated from George Lucas’ ham-fisted direction (the man is a brilliant technician but considers actors mere props – and let’s not talk about his dialogue) Christensen is fine. We already knew about Newton and Leguizamo’s talent, and Jacob Latimore has had a good career since. Honestly, the fact that there are two kids giving great performances in this movie is amazing (the other is Taylor Groothuis).

You may have noticed that a couple of paragraphs above, I dropped the name of the director, Brad Anderson; you should recognize that name, as he is the director of, among others, Session 9 and The Machinist, both off-kilter, unusual horror movies. Vanishing on 7th Street was his first, and as far as I know, only apocalypse film, and I’d love to see what he could do with a larger budget on the same subject. He seems to be concentrating on TV more in the last eight or so years, with only the occasional movie, seemingly leaving overt horror behind. Let’s hope not, though.

T: Tears of Kali (2004)

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Oh, hello again, Germany.

I stumbled across this movie while searching off the beaten path for Hubrisween. I fancy myself fairly well-read in the realm of horror, and searching somewhere other than the US and the UK offer strange delights. For me, there is nothing quite like coming across a movie I’ve never heard of. Even better is finding out it doesn’t suck.

We begin in a compound in what we are told is Poona, India in 1983. People on mats, all appearing to be in various stages of suffering as an older man (Pietro Martellanza) walks among them, comforting them. One in particular is Kim (Anja Gebel), quite striking because she is naked. The man asks her where she’s looking. “Inside.” “What do you see?” “Darkness.”

He walks her to a window and asks her to open her eyes. She does, only for a second. He asks her to look outside, “For there is everything. Life. Do it for me.” And he leaves her.

And she walks slowly out of the room, returns to the window, and cuts off her eyelids with a pair of scissors.

From this we go to our first story (yes, this is an anthology) “Shakti”. A writer (Celik Nuran) visits a mental hospital to interview a patient, Elizabeth (Irena-Heliana Jandis), due to be discharged in a week. Years before, Elizabeth had belonged to a cult headed by Samarfan (Joey Bazatt), where she was known as “Shakti”. Samarfan, we will find, belonged to the infamous and experimental Taylor-Eriksson Group, who we saw in that opening. What Samarfan brought from his stay in Poona was a system of meditation and primal scream therapy, first contacting what Jung called “the shadow” in each person and casting it out with the scream. One night, Samarfan was torn messily to pieces, and Shakti confessed to the crime – even though witnesses claimed she was with them all night.

It turns out that the cast-out shadows didn’t simply go away, in Elizabeth’s case becoming a tulpa composed entirely of her rage. The writer has her own agenda, and wants Elizabeth to once more summon her tulpa so a hidden video camera in her purse can capture the proof.

This is a bad idea.

The second story, “Devi”, concerns young skinhead thug Robin (Marcel Trunsch) who has been convicted of beating a Polish tourist nearly to death while hopped up on speed. To avoid jail, he must get 15 hours of therapy, and is referred to the office of Dr. Steiner (Michael Balaun). Robin puts on what he thinks is a good contrite act, only to be countered by Steiner at every turn, until the doctor puts a Vulcan nerve pinch on him. When Robin awakes, everything in the office has been covered in plastic sheets. Dr. Steiner, you see, was in the Taylor-Eriksson Group, where he learned some interesting things about therapy. Here’s a hint: Watch out what you say in your first sentence to your therapist.

As you might guess from that plastic sheeting, this story has the goriest ending of the three.

Speaking of third stories, “Kali” introduces us to Edgar (Mathieu Carrière) a faith healer who is losing his faith. Though not spelled out, the story skillfully implies that his gift left him when he was unable to save his daughter from some disease. He’s drinking a lot more these days.

One of the people who come to him is Mira (Cora Chilcott), who is bent over with the burden of something from her past. Edgar can sense whatever it is, and it is powerful; after a tense bout of thrashing and screaming, it leaves her, and we see a shadowy form slither into the old church building Edgar has rented. Mira was in, you guessed it, the Taylor-Eriksson Group in its final days, when they were experimenting with “the Kali Process”, venturing inward, into “the cellars of the soul, where there is no separation between the living and the dead.” There are things down there that should stay there, but Mira brought one back. And now, free of her, it’s in the dark building. And it’s hungry.

Tears of Kali was originally three short films (each story starts with its own credits) and, indeed, writer-director Andreas Marschall has made quite a few short films, and I’m trying to figure out how to find more of them to watch. You can usually trust that in any given anthology film, you’ll find one great story, one lousy story, and the rest various shades of mediocre; Tears of Kali puts the lie to that by presenting three very good stories – though I will admit “Devi” is my particular favorite. All that work he did on shorts shows in a good, solid movie obviously done with not that much money but a whole lot of skill, commitment and artistry.

It’s probably not a big surprise that Marschall is also known as an artist for heavy metal album covers.

Q: The Quatermass Conclusion (1979)

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I said I was going to ride this Quatermass train as long as I could, and seeing as how this one is called The Quatermass Conclusion, it’s looks like I may have to actually put some effort into finding an entry for Q next year.

In the intervening years since Quatermass and the Pit, the British Rocket Program has shut down, and Bernard Quatermass (John Mills, this time) has retired. He journeys from his home in Scotland to London on a twofold mission: to appear as a guest on a talk show, and to look for his granddaughter, who ran away from Scotland in a fit of rebellious boredom. London, Quatermass finds, has gone right downhill; street gangs have turned the city into a combination of Mad Max and Clockwork Orange. He’s only saved from a savage beating by the arrival of radio astronomer Joe Kapp (Simon MacCorkindale) in his armored vehicle, complete with guard dog.

The TV show is celebrating the linking of American and Soviet spacecraft in a precursor to the International Space Station. Quatermass’ bitter dismissal of it is rather undercut by the station’s sudden destruction, though. Quatermass accompanies Kapp to his home/radio telescope base to find some answers, only to discover another bit of weirdness in play: lines of young people trooping across the countryside, following leaders with plumb bobs and apparently walking along Ley Lines to rings of standing stones. These are “the Planet People”, claiming they are going to be taken to another world. One such gathering is obliterated by a colossal beam of energy from the sky. Quatermass and Kapp find a girl that was on the very edge of the blast area, burned and delirious. They carry her away to treat her wounds, much over the violent protestations of the Planet People who didn’t get reduced to ash (or “transported”, as they insist).

A visit from the local commissioner (Margaret Tyzack) causes Kapp to use his radio telescopes to bounce off some satellites to receive a video call from America, because there have been more energy beams, killing thousands, and they need to get Quatermass’ opinion (I do love the fact that, no matter how much crap Quatermass has been through, if something weird comes from space, he’s the go-to guy). Quatermass and the Commissioner manage to get the girl (who looks eerily like Yolandi Visser from Die Antwoord) to a hospital; her burned tissues are turning into crystal. Well, they are until she levitates and explodes, anyway.

Quatermass theorizes that something ahead of the energy beams – some advance waves, or similar – has been feeding into the youthful members of society, causing the upset of gang warfare, and the mass migrations to the ancient sites, standing stones erected by bygone societies as a warning. As the beams continue to rain down, he recruits a group of literally senior scientists, immune from the alien influence, to attempt to forge a solution before mankind is virtually exterminated.

Writer Nigel Kneale was approaching 60 at this time, and I’m amused that his cause for youthful sullenness and rebellion is alien intervention. It is no coincidence that Kneale fan John Carpenter took a similar tack in They Live: the only possible explanation for the callousness and cruelty of the Reagan Revolution was an alien invasion, right? People wouldn’t do that normally, right? Right?

The budget on Conclusion is quite low, and the story somewhat drawn out at times – as traditional, this was a TV series first. Kneale wrote a separate script for the feature film version, but the seams are still somewhat apparent. Director Piers Haggard moves it all along quite amiably and well. The Quatermass Conclusion – simply Quatermass in its native land – is the most lo-fi of the Quatermass stories. There’s no giant monster shambling around, no conspiracies; the enemy and its motive is, as Quatermass concludes, ultimately unknowable, and the best humanity can manage is to bite them so hard they don’t come back – but at a terrible price. There’s a quite good BBC series called Invasion: Earth that owes a lot to Quatermass. That’s worth seeking out, too, if you haven’t had enough bleak science fiction pitting man against unimaginable forces.

N: Night Watch (2004)

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Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had a Russian representative on Hubrisween…

First of all, we are informed that there are people who not quite human, called “others” for their various talents, and they are basically arrayed into Light and Darkness factions. In olden times there was a tremendous battle between the two, but the armies were too evenly matched, and a truce was called. Each faction watches the other, Nightwatch is the light side watching the dark side, and Daywatch is the vice versa.

Twelve years ago, our protagonist Anton (Konstantin Khabenskiy) consults a matronly woman to get his estranged wife back from her new beau; the woman is a witch who claims a baby his wife is carrying must be aborted before she will come back to him. She can do this, but Anton must take the sin of the child’s death upon himself. That’s a violation of the truce, and she is busted by a Nightwatch team. The fact that Anton can see the team proves that he is an Other.

Twelve years later, Anton is working for Nightwatch, and it’s a job that really sucks. The mission that opens the story major requires him to get in sync with a young boy who is experiencing “The Call” – the spell of a vampire summoning him to a remote location to be exsanguinated. To do this, Anton must exploit his friendship with the vampire next door to get some pig blood to drink. This leads him to a vampire and his new bride, who is the one performing The Call – the boy is to be her first victim. Anton’s backup is late in arriving (mainly because Anton is a crap operative) and he winds up killing the male vampire in self-defense. This is going complicate his life exponentially for the rest of the movie, as the new female vampire escapes and still has a bead on the boy.

Further, while he was on the hunt, Anton saw a woman in the subway who his vision reveals was under a curse, and in his debriefing finds out it is THE curse – one that will cause a vortex of suffering and evil that will bring on, at last, the final battle between Nightwatch and Daywatch, and the end of the world.

There’s quite a bit of mythology thrown at you in Night Watch, some of it pretty standard fantasy boilerplate, some not. The not part seems pretty elastic, for instance the concept of “The Gloom”, a sort of twilight dimension only accessible by Others. First we’re told this is the safest way for Nightwatch operatives to interact with rogue Dark members, then we are told it has a time limit and requires blood sacrifice.

Night Watch is based on a novel by Sergey Lukyanenko, which itself is composed of three interlocking stories, of which the movie is only one. The sequel, Day Watch, is another, and the supposed third movie in the trilogy, Twilight Watch was the last of these. Director Timur Bekmambetov, however, split to make the 2008 Wanted, and never looked back. If, like me, you saw Wanted before Night Watch, the dazzling, rushing camerawork in many of the sequences are going to be very familiar. It’s stuff like that which made Night Watch the highest-grossing Russian movie of that year, and an international success (and made certain Russian film types grumble that it was “too American”).

The nature of the segmented source novel, though, carries with it an ironic violation of Chekov’s gun; you’re given a lot of characters with very cool potential that is never exploited. That was left, I assume, for the sequels, one of which we are never going to get.

Night Watch has a ton of interesting visuals that are worth checking out, but if you’ve never interacted with Russian cinema, be aware of some standards: a love for doomed characters, a large dose of fatalism, and a disregard for short running times. I found it interesting but not terribly engaging. As always, your mileage may vary.