Tuesday, 25 November 2014

We've collected a load of our articles and reviews, transcribed some of our podcasts and added all manner of new bits into a 400+ page book! Gorge yourselves on cults this winter!

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Knights (Albert Pyun, 1993)

Set in a post apocalyptic desert Knights tells that oft-orated tale of Lance Henriksen and his big old arm hunting robo-Kris Kristofferson and his lady kick boxer friend so he drink their blood. Or something. For the first twenty minutes this movie sits there like an Oompa Loompa that's been skimming far too many Wonka bars; all orange, bloated and lethargic. Just as I was getting bored of the heavily filtered and slow preamble, however, a cyborg Kris Kristofferson shows up and engages in a fight scene that is funny, exciting and well staged. Taking on another 'borg, the two synthetic sluggers leap, twist and swashbuckle their way through a well realised super-brawl.

It is this scene that breathes some life into the movie and catapults us into the narrative as Kris trains a young female warrior so that she can take on Henriksen and his army of blood drinking cyborg overlords. The cyborgs vary from camp and theatrical to almost good. Hardly high praise, but then they do waft around in colourful silks that hide any mechanical awesomeness they might have going on. Only Henriksen and his enormous Trapjaw-style arm stand out.

Just as the movie gets going in runs out of breath again plodding along for a further 40 minutes. Although there is spattering of half-decent fights along the way it doesn't really get its shit together until the climax where the female warrior, an impressive Kathy Long, sets off on a good twenty minutes of slow motion ass-kicking. The fights, featuring moves now popularised by MMA, are excellently choreographed and captured. There are also some fun gags along the way, especially Long fighting with half a Kristofferson strapped to her back (a la C-3PO).

There are some familiar B-movie faces that show up, namely Scott Paulin and Gary Daniels but they get very little to do. Kristofferson looks bored and Henriksen does what he can with some awful dialogue. The movie also seems to end before it finishes telling its story. This is possibly in an attempt to set up a sequel. Unless that sequel was going to be nothing but Kathy Long kicking cyborgs I'm not really distraught that it never happened.

Maybe I'm being harsh. Don't get me wrong, Knights isn't great, but the end fight is genuinely good, Henriksen's mega-arm is worth a look, some of the location cinematography is gorgeous and about two-thrids in a man gets his head kicked off. In short, not a total loss.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Timebomb (Avi Nesher, 1991)

Back when renting physical media from a shop was a thing, movies had a finite shelf life. Once a movie was no longer able to tempt the casual customer looking for their Saturday night movie these big-boxed buggers, often straight-to-video movies, would be condemned to a bargain bin. This allowed for people with an open mind and a little cash to pick up a stack of videos for the cost of a single new release. This is probably why I've seen as much crap as I have. Amongst the worthless rocks, however, was the occasional nugget. Timebomb is by no-means a home run, but it is a fun little action movie that is not afraid to get excessive when it needs to.

Michael Biehn gives his usual terrifyingly intense performance as Eddy Kay. Kay is a normal everyday guy who suddenly finds himself being hunted by trained government assassins played by the likes of Tracy Scoggins and Billy Blanks. As it becomes clear that Kay's weird dreams might actually be memories and that he is skillful in areas of, shall we say... fucking people up more than he should be we realise he might be part of larger conspiracy. Teaming up with Patsy Kensit's Anna Nolmar, a psychiatrist, the two follow clues that rattle in his meddled-with head in the hope of discovering who is trying to kill him and why. If Total Recall and The Bourne Identify are your kind of thing then this budget version might be up your street.

For the most part the film is a fairly run-of-the-mill low-budget thriller. The visuals aren't particularly stylised and the action scenes are fairly spaced out giving the film a slightly slower pace than you might hope. What makes the film stand out, however, is it not being ashamed of being brazen. Like Eddy Kay himself the movie feels dull and languid but then suddenly erupts into excess when least expected.

The fight scenes are nicely staged and shot but what makes them punchy is the hugely over-the-top sound effects. The titanic impacts bear little resemblance to sounds heard in nature making even Ben Burtt's work feel naturalistic. The intensity of the sound is, at times, matched by the brutality of the action. A nasty fight in a motel room, for example, results in the least efficient and messiest bare-hand kill I've ever seen.

Timebomb is also not shy of nudity either. Kay has frequent dreams of a naked woman which they get away with but the shoot-out in a porn theatre is nothing short of shameless. When Kay and Nolmar inevitably sleep together it a short but explicit (for '91 at least) scene.

One could argue that there is too much time spent faffing between action to give the film any real juice but had the movie maintained this level of sex and violence it could have easily become obnoxious. As it is Timebomb is a routine action movie notable for it's sudden outbursts of sex and violence.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Total Cults Podcast #88: The Cinema

Blood Glacier (Marvin Kren, 2013)

My biggest problem with the The Thing prequel/remake (you know, The Thing thing), was that is was almost exactly the same as Carpenter's movie just presented with a modern aesthetic. I nearly turned it off halfway through not because it was doing anything badly but because I felt I knew every beat in the narrative and because it was so similar it was impossible not to constantly compare it to its superior predecessor. I don't have a problem with remakes but sometimes I feel the productions would work so much better if they wasn't living in the shadow of something far greater.

Blood Glacier is an Austrian horror movie that is exactly what I wanted from The Thing prequel. Set at a research station in a remote frozen wasteland, a team of scientists discover an eerie blood red glacier. This discovery launches them into a fight for survival against a parasite that enters the body, mixes with the host DNA and then incubates a fast growing hybrid creature. As the parasite passes from created to creature it absorbs more and more DNA resulting in a parade of weird genetic mishaps that hunt our heroes down one by one.

Comparisons to The Thing are justified, but it is enough of its own movie to be judged alongside Carpenter's film rather than against it. The main difference here is that our main characters are not cut off entirely from civilisation. This results in a less claustrophobic film but it amps up the threat levels as the danger of the parasite infecting the rest of the world is far more imminent. It also allows the addition of more characters in the middle of the movie. Since more characters means more potential hybrid monsters this injects the movie with an added layer of tension rather than defusing what was already there.

The DNA leeching parasite hook allows for some wonderfully bizarre creatures including an insect-like bird-of prey with an impressive feathered wing span and a lethal stinger. The monsters are mostly, if not entirely, practical and despite a couple of moments of rather over-enthusiastic puppeteering (for my money the goat monster would have looked far more imposing slowly raising its head out of the darkness) they are all the better for it.

But it's the tone of the movie that makes it all the more watchable. It's a creature feature through and through and one that goes out of its way to give you a fun time. Crucially the sense of fun never over powers the tension. It is a little difficult to warm to the characters and there is an overriding feeling that there is something missing, but this is a well made monster movie that manages to feel both modern and classical at the same time. So if you feel like watching something like Carpenter's The Thing but want more than a slightly faded carbon copy, check out Blood Glacier.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Ninjas Ninjas Ninjas! You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967)

James Bond, the pride of Britain, fakes his death so he can travel to Japan, dress up as a Japanese person, sneer at women who he is not attracted to and kill whoever crosses his path. Part of this patriotic agenda is teaming up with a bunch of ninjas lead by his Japanese counterpart Tiger Tanaka. These range from traditional ninjas and samurai to modern gadget ‘n’ gun wielding assassins. Their moment to shine, however, is when they assault the villainous Blofeld’s secret volcano lair. It’s a Bond movie, so gore is as limited as problematic racial and sexual politics are abundant, but it is nice to see ninjas pop up and shine in a mainstream western movie a good fifteen years before they were popularised.

Ninja Abilities – Race changing

Ninja Kit – Sword, Kendo sticks, shuriken, pistols, machine guns, rocket bullets, cigarette rocket launcher, grenades, abseiling kit, plastic explosive.

Ninja Colours – Blue/grey

Notable Ninja Kills – Hack ‘n’ slash (bloodless, but oddly brutal in this context)

Ninja Activity? – Low (In the training ground scene ninjas are costume-less)

Ninja Mythology - Every ninja clan has a secret Sean Connery and here is a tip in case you want to spot one; they’ll be the one wearing racist make-up.

Overall rating - 3/10

Wondering what the hell you just read? Check out the introduction that explains everything you need to know about this column here!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Robowar (Bruno Mattei, 1988)

Having been impressed by Mattei's aptitude for creative plagiarism in Shocking Dark I decided to give another of his films a go to see if it was a one-off or whether he was prone to ripping off much better movies on a more frequent basis.

In Robowar a group of muscle-bound commandos and a deceptive intelligence officer are sent into the jungle on a secret mission where they are hunted down one-by-one by an elusive creature who can see via a form of heat vision. So yes, it would appear it's habitual. However, rather than focus on all the things Mattei has copied from Predator director John McTiernan I thought I'd focus on what he has done differently. This way we can begin to fairly assess Mattei as an artist in his own right.

The Team

McTiernan introduces his group of badass commandos in what has become the standard for macho repartee as they trade quips, chew tobacco and pump golden oldies while they swoop over the jungle canvas in attack choppers. Mattei, however, introduces his team (known as the Big-Ass Motherfuckers, or B.A.M. for short) on a slow boat ride as they make off-colour Aids jokes and dress like this:

What further separates this bunch is that they are completely inept. In Predator, the iconic scene where the team open fire on the jungle only happens once desperation has taken hold of its members. In Robowar B.A.M. are not in the jungle a minute before they see some leaves rustle and one of them blindly opens fire into the unknown screaming as his does. It's only after he's unloaded into the foliage that they then think to check what it might be. The fact that this happens another two times (the third time being the actual rip-off of the aforementioned Predator scene) suggests this is not panicked fire but the units main operational strategy. As a result I imagine most of this units kill count is collateral damage and they probably don't even realise that is a bad thing.

When not fighting trees and screaming B.A.M. also like to disregard orders to launch assaults on local guerrillas, presumably because they've not drawn enough attention to themselves already. It is here we can once again clearly differentiate between this unit and the ones in Predator. While team Predator use stealth and ingenuity to creep up on their targets, B.A.M. stand in a line and yell "Hey, assholes!" before, you guessed it, opening fire and screaming.

So it is already clear that Mattei has a unique vision for his military unit making them loud, irresponsible, inaccurate and in possession of none of the qualities required to be an elite unit of soldiers.

The Craft

McTiernan created a tangible feeling of heat and tension though his cinematography. This, along with Alan Silvestri's careful use of distant percussion and orchestral music, allowed the movie to drift from small moments of rope-tight tension to grand science fiction moments of scale effortlessly.

Mattei primarily uses a synth track that sounds not unlike the music from a Sonic the Hedgehog level. He plays this same track over and over, mostly through the endless wide shots of the team walking through the jungle destroying all the danger, mystery and atmosphere that the location offers. More than that, the music drops out every time we cut back and forth to the robo-vision brilliantly making it sound like the music is diegetic. Mattei also likes to avoid logic, internal or otherwise. This shows most explicitly when a man explodes for no reason.

McTiernan also had use of one of movies most exquisitely designed and realised creatures which helped somewhat, but the way in which the alien creature moved through the jungle was also part of its charm. Mattei has a robot that lumbers around muttering in a robotic voice all the time and looks like this:

The Cast

McTiernan populated his movie with charismatic badasses. Leading them was Arnold Schwarzenegger who, despite not being the greatest actor, has considerable presence and charisma. Mattei, on the other hand, casts one of my favourite b movie actors Reb Brown. Readers of this site should be familiar with Brown's work and the fact he never stops shouting. In Robowar he doesn't disappoint as he is seemingly incapable of pulling the trigger on his gun without screaming. As much as I like Brown he doesn't quite hold the movie together as well as Arnie, yet effort has been made to make him a unique character. For example, where Arnie's Dutch pins a guy to wall with a thrown knife and quips "stick around" Brown's Murphy pins a guy to wall with a thrown knife and quips "don't' move". He also winks as he says it.

The rest of B.A.M. don't really get much to do except die off-screen. Quang, on the other hand, plays a slightly bigger role being an ethnic tracker with some greater, almost mystic, sense of what is going on. Oh wait, that's the same as Billy in Predator. Well at least he doesn't offer to hold off the hunter by bearing his chest and pulling a large knife and…

Oh, right. Okay ignore everything I said about Quang.

The Finale

Forgoing the back-to-basics warfare between man and monster, Mattei loads his climax with a twist. The robot killer is actually a cyborg made from the remains of Brown's long-thought dead best friend. Once the two make eye contact they realise they should not be fighting each other. Actually, that's not the case. Brown immediately shoves him over and explodes him. Luckily, the robot survives and they get to have another heart-breaking moment of eye contact. This time Brown does some acting and the robot hands him a device that can kill him. I can only assume he does this because he has become tired of being a robot, or something. Anyway, he explodes again and Murphy leaps of a waterfall screaming as he does. We then get the credits which begins with a shot of each of the cast members and their names, exactly like Predator.

Okay, I'm fooling no-one. This film is essentially a shittier Predator. Having said that it is a hoot. The one sustained action sequence the movie has is not only competent but full of fun moments (a guy blowing someone up with a grenade then shooting him) while the film is peppered with magic moments throughout its running time. Copycat or not, Mattei knows how to give a good time, even if he doesn't realise he is doing it.