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.

M: Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975)

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Hey, you remember what I keep saying about my unconscious tendency to access director’s careers in reverse? Starting at a recent point or movie and working my way in reverse like a dunderhead? Well, I sort of foiled my own motif, this time around. Sure, I reviewed Juan López Moctezuma’s third flick, Alucarda a couple of years ago, but I also did his first movie, Mansion of Madness (better known as Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon to us gringos), back in the halcyon days of the first Mondo Macabro releases. So it was high time to watch senor Moctezuma’s sophomore effort, especially since I had been low-key obsessed with its ad art since its first-run drive-in days. I mean, just look at it. Best woman-being-turned-into-a-skeleton-making-a-horror-geek-really-want-to-see-what’s-going-on since Scream and Scream Again.

I am pleased to report I was nowhere near as disappointed in Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary as I was in Scream and Scream Again.

We first meet Mary (Christina Ferrare) while she’s having engine trouble with her van outside a creepy abandoned mansion in Mexico. As rain begins to pour down, she finds an open door and tries to find a phone, only to find herself stalked by a shadowy figure. After the standard running and screaming, we find out the figure is Ben (David Young) a drifter who is also seeking shelter from the rain. He promises to sleep upstairs while Mary stays downstairs and has a flashback.

Mary, we find out, is a successful artist who just sold one of her paintings to a guy from the American Embassy in Mexico City. This guy is also quite set on seducing Mary, with some success – at least until she pulls out a dagger disguised as an ornate hairpin and cuts his throat so she can drink his blood.

“What a waste of a perfectly good morgue attendant.”

This isn’t your typical low-budget vampire movie. Mary doesn’t do the traditional movie vampire stuff; she walks around in daylight, sleeps in a bed – at night – and has no fangs. But every so often she has to drink blood, and at those times she uses knockout drops in her necklace’s pendant to render her victim unconscious, so obviously she’s been doing this for some time. Mary is attracted to Ben, and the feeling is mutual, which is going to complicate her predatory lifestyle. There’s also the fact that the Mexican police are starting to notice the number of exsanguinated bodies, and the death of the Embassy guy has brought in the FBI. And, oh yes, there’s another vampire out there trying to track down Mary, and it’s her father… John Carradine!

If you like your vampire movies offbeat, Mary, Mary Bloody Mary is worth checking out. Some folks point to it as an inspiration for George Romero’s Martin, but I think that’s stretching a point. Mary isn’t deluded, but she has a very definite pathology, what her father refers to as “a disease”. There is one heartbreaking point where Mary’s need for a blood fix coincides with gallery owner Greta’s (Helena Rojo) pushy lesbian seduction. It’s the one time her careful searches for someone “I didn’t know or care about” has fallen through, and the first time she tearfully apologizes to one of her victims.

Yeah, yeah, it’s 1975 so there’s plenty of nudity and blood. I can see that after the surreal, Jodorowsky-influenced excesses of Mansion of Madness, it was brought to Moctezuma as a case of “Okay, can you make a normal movie?” which he does – though his penchant for creative editing and visuals is still evident. The seduction and eventual murder of Greta is shot in a lush bathroom with mirrored walls and is quite stunning. But it’s also 1975 and this is a very low budget movie, so be prepared for some slow spots, though Moctezuma tries to minimize those, and to reward you with things like unexpected car chases when you make it through them.

And now, here’s the trailer for the Code Red blu-ray, featuring a couple of my favorite bits: a newspaper with the headline NIXON CHEERED and, apropos of nothing, some dudes stabbing a dead shark to further death in shallow waters.

 

J: Jug Face (2013)

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After the last two less-than-satisfying (to me, anyway) horror movies, it was nice to find one that hit a number of sweet spots for me: well-made, novel, compelling, and unnerving.

Jug Face starts with the neat trick of giving us the backstory during the opening credits (in my experience, only used heretofore in The Boogens, Screams of a Winter Night, and The Incredible Hulk). Presented in Grandma Moses-style rustic art, we’re given a backwoods community being ravaged by some sort of pox. One fellow makes an urn out of clay from a nearby pit; the urn bears the face of the local clergyman, who is sacrificed bloodily to a nearby pit, and everyone is cured.

Which brings us to the present day, in that same backwoods community. Teenager Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) has sex with similarly teenage Jessaby (Daniel Manche), and not for the first time. This is going to cause problems for her later because by the cult rules of the community, she has to be a virgin when “joined” with another local youth, the doughy Bodey (Mathieu Whitman). And only Ada knows she is pregnant – she keeps stealing paint from her friend Dawai to make it look like she is till having her period.

The rather simple Dawai (Sean Bridger) is the village’s potter. Every now and then The Pit demands a sacrifice by possessing him, and while in a trance he makes the jug which bears the face of the chosen sacrifice. So Ada’s other problems recede to the background when she looks in Dawai’s simple kiln and finds out the next jug face is hers. Panicking, she steals the jug and hides it, but The Pit is not to be denied, and starts killing people randomly, while Ada, in a trance similar to Dawai’s, sees the bloody murders. She uses Dawai’s longtime love for her to cause him to make another jug face, this time with Bodey’s face – which only makes things worse for everybody.

There’s a certain understated, otherworldly realism to Jug Face‘s portrait of a community controlled, somewhat willingly, by a malign entity. Before you ask, no, we never see exactly what it is that lives in The Pit, and we don’t need to. The conviction of the cast that says things like “The Pit wants what It wants,” is often horrific enough. Ada’s parents are played by Sean Young and horror legend Larry Fessenden, and their experience and professionalism prove to be the mortar that glues the movie together.

Jug Face can be read as a more demonic, southern variation on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” with a feature-length signaling to the ending, now not so much shocking as inevitable and tragic. Even at a trim 81 minutes, though, it feels a bit stretched at times, but not unworkably so. As a portrait of fear-based religion and as a horror movie, it is fairly unique and well worth checking out.

G: Gui si (Silk) (2006)

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Somewhere in my questionable writings about questionable media I was about to write that the key to Japanese genre movies is that you are asked to accept one extraordinary thing, and the story moves on from that basis. I believe that was about the original Battle Royale – then I realized this was true of almost all genre fiction, and put that in the Stupid Stuff You Came Up With file, and didn’t say it. (This why I would never make it in the world of political punditry, and also why I still have a shot at getting into heaven.)

In any case, the Extraordinary Thing this time around is the Menger Sponge, an artificial substance that traps electromagnetic energy. In a sequence of newspaper clippings, it is revealed that the Sponge’s developers were hoping to use it to achieve anti-gravity, but that production of a large-scale Menger Sponge failed.

However, that is only after a sequence where a Canadian photographer (Kevin S. Smith) is given an envelope of money to take photos with Menger Sponge-treated Polaroid film in a deserted apartment in a dilapidated building. It’s not the first time he’s done this, but this time he is surprised to find an image of a ghostly child in a corner where there should be none. He dies almost instantly with a look of terror on his face.

The crippled scientist Hashimoto (Eguchi Yôsuke) has been heading the Menger Sponge development team for several years, and the Director (Tsukayama Masane) has had enough of his wasting funds, until Hashimoto reveals he has made the largest Menger Sponge ever – although it will still fit in his pocket. What the Director doesn’t know is that Hashimoto has spent the last few years ghost hunting – and he has finally found one, in that apartment. He asks the Director to pull some strings to assign the Special Forces operative Tung (Chang Chen) to his team.

Hashimoto wants Tung because he has exceptionally sharp vision and the ability to read lips – both necessary as he has trapped the ghost of a young boy in that room with Menger Sponge material. The teams has also developed Menger Sponge eye drops allowing people to actually see the ghost, but only Tung can see an eerie strand of energy – the silk of the title – that connects the ghost to other locations. Hashimoto hopes that Tung can discover the boy’s identity, how he died, and where he is buried – because, of course, Hashimoto has other goals beside developing anti-gravity.

Gui si is a well-developed mystery wrapped in a ghost story with some remarkable horror movie moments, since it is discovered that if you look a ghost in the eyes, they can then see you, and inevitably kill you – and the eye drops make that much more likely. Although the eye contact’s not really necessary if a ghost suddenly turns vengeful – and the events of the movie will ensure that a really ticked-off ghost will start tracking down the members of the team with murder on its spectral mind.

An extra layer of meaning is laid on by Tung’s backstory – his mother has been in a coma for years, apparently, but Tung refuses to turn off her life support, even if the doctors say she is suffering. Like Hashimoto, he, too, needs some questions answered about the afterlife.

It’s these layers in Gui si that surprised me, and the fact that the climactic ghost sequences launched into the operatic, and even the heartbreaking, that completely sold me. I had to make an effort to seek this movie out, and having now seen its quality, that surprises me even more.

 

F: Found Footage 3-D (2016)

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Found Footage 3-D starts screwing with you right from the beginning, with a cliched opening graphic and Blair Witch sound effect:

I especially appreciate the typo.

Which is immediately followed by the director complaining about how cliched it is.

Here is your setup: Derek (Carter Roy) is producing and starring in a low-budget found footage horror movie. The aforementioned director is Andrew (Tom Saporito) and the cameraman shooting all the behind-the-scenes making-of footage we’re watching is Derek’s brother, Mark (Chris O’Brien). The Amy alluded to in the graphic is Derek’s now-ex but still co-star, Amy (Alena von Stroheim). While we’re meeting characters, let throw in the PA, Lily (Jessica Perrin) who seems to be Derek’s current squeeze (not that this will cause any drama or tension, nooooo) and the sound man, Carl (Scott Allen Perry).

As you can tell, the script for our movie-within-a-movie, as it stands, calls for Derek and Amy to go to a spooky remote cabin and have strange stuff happen to them. In a pre-production meeting with Andrew and Mark, Derek makes his pitch: since they have no real budget for hyping their production, their only hope at making a splash is to be the first at something. To which end, he reveals that this will be the first found footage movie to be shot completely in 3-D! Ta-daaaah! Skeptically, Andrew asks, “Whyyyyy are they shooting their vacation footage in 3-D?” After the briefest of pauses, Derek brightly replies, “Because he’s a 3-D enthusiast!”

This is typical of Found Footage 3-D‘s sense of humor. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but observational stuff that ultimately rings true, especially if you’ve ever been involved in shooting a low-budget movie. Then you get to say, “It’s funny because it’s true” multiple times. In fact, this is one of the best movies about shoestring film production I’ve seen an a long time.

There’s still quite a bit of friction between Derek and Amy, though the two obviously still have some feelings left for each other. Which is wearing on Mark, who has a not-so-secret thing for Amy. Andrew will be wondering increasingly why Derek even says he is the director as his producer/star overrides him more and more as the shoot progresses.

And, oh, yeah: that remote cabin with a spooky bad history? They’re shooting in an actual remote cabin with a spooky bad history. I was on Team Carl the Sound Man from the beginning, but I was willing to buy the T-shirt when he goes ballistic upon finding out that Derek has brought them all to an actual haunted house. This also leads to one of the most awesome scenes when, stopping for gas and supplies in Gonzales, they ask a couple of old coots sitting in front of the general store to be in their movie, saying old coot things. Quite funny, until the camera stops rolling and one asks where they’re headed. When they’re told which cabin they’re filming at, the two old guys get genuinely freaked out and warn them away from it. Doran Ingram and John Daws, you may have literally been two locals pressed into the job, but you did outstanding work.

Another thing I love about Found Footage 3-D is that it also serves as the Scream of found footage movies, codifying the rules of the genre – and then proceeding to use those rules for all they’re worth. For just one example, the big question of “why do they keep filming after everything goes to shit?” – there is actually a reason given that makes some sense.

Online critic Scott Weinberg is a producer, and actually shows up on set as a correspondent for the late, lamented website fear dot net (this was shot back when we could have nice things). I suspect Weinberg also served an on-set consultant – he’s about the only critic I trust on matters like contemporary horror movies. He’s there for the incredibly gruesome climax, and I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, but one of the rules is nobody gets out alive…

Which means that every time I listen to his podcast with Drew McWeeny, 80s All Over, I’m listening to a ghost. AAAAAAAAA!

Anyway. Highly recommended. I loved it.

 

E: Exists (2014)

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I’ve become a fan of Eduardo Sanchez, one of the directors of the original Blair Witch Project, and whose subsequent work I’ve largely watched within the constraints of the alphabetic format of Hubrisween. E is one of the more problematic letters for horror movie titles, so I was delighted to find that Sanchez had made this Bigfoot movie.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but five young people are headed out to a remote cabin in the Texas Big Thicket for a weekend of (supposedly) doing wacky stunts involving GoPro cameras, a mountain bike, and a ramp into a lake, all for YouTube fame. The two brothers, Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian (Chris Osborn) lifted the key to the cabin from their uncle, who hasn’t been out to the thicket in years. Along are Dora (Dora Madison), Elizabeth (Denise Williamson) and Todd (Roger Edwards). During the late night drive to the cabin, Matt gets distracted and hits something on the road. That something leaves a lot of blood and some coarse hair on the truck’s bumper.

Though our five friends are somewhat discomfited by strange howling noises from the woods, they settle in and begin filming – particularly Brian, our dedicated video fiend for this outing, who finds really big footprints in the woods and tries to get some footage of what he believes to be a Sasquatch. That turns out to be not such an outlandish theory as something completely trashes their truck and they find themselves besieged in a not-terribly secure cabin by a very pissed-off creature. Apparently there was a reason Uncle Bob didn’t let anybody use his cabin.

Once upon a time, I reviewed Sanchez’s fellow Blair Witch director, Daniel Myrick’s The Objective, calling it “a better Blair Witch sequel than Blair Witch II.” I’m going to plagiarize myself and use that same descriptor for Exists, as it covers so very much of the same territory, right down to questionable (in fact downright idiotic) decisions made by the characters, and the eternal question of why the hell Brian keeps filming (and who manufactures his batteries). If only someone would codify the odd conventions of the found footage movie! (They did, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow) They even go the route of a missing party member screaming in the darkness again. They find him this time, though.

Exists, I have to say, is a much better movie than Blair Witch. Sanchez is more in control, the dialogue doesn’t seem to be totally improvised (every other word is not “fuck”), the storyline is fairly logical, and best of all, they had enough budget to hire WETA Workshop to make the creature. For most of the movie, it keeps with the tradition of only fleeting glimpses of cryptids in footage, but when we finally do get a good look at it, the suit is well up to the attention.

If you hate found footage movies, Exists isn’t going to change your mind, but it’s a good, solid flick; it’s like Sanchez and co-writer Jamie Nash looked at the last segment of the original Legend of Boggy Creek and said, “Let’s do that, and crank it up to 11.”