TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ALIEN CONTAMINATION (1980)

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ALIEN CONTAMINATION aka CONTAMINATION (1980)

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Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi is most known for his cheesy but colorful Star Wars rip-off Starcrash, and his Hercules films with Lou Ferrigno, but he also entered Alien territory with this 1980 sci-fi gorefest. Alien Contamination, or simply, Contamination finds an abandoned cargo ship drifting into New York harbor. When the ship is boarded, authorities find a dead crew and coffee cases filled with large avocado looking eggs. Worse still, when the eggs are ruptured, they spew a green fluid which causes the human body to literally explode into bloody pieces. New York Police Lieutenant Tony Aris (Marino Masé) investigates with military scientist Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) and finds a conspiracy to destroy all life on earth involving Martians, allegedly dead astronauts and a Columbian coffee plantation.

Flick is written and directed by Cozzi and can be quite gruesome, but also unintentionally funny at times. It’s a silly flick that takes itself very seriously. The dialog is laughably bad, especially Lt. Aris’s hilarious “New York Cop”  dialog, making him sound like he’s from a grade Z 1940s detective movie. Another rib-tickling example of the Shakespearian prose is Stella and alcoholic ex-astronaut Hubbard’s (Ian McCulloch) exchange about his male proficiency. Let’s stay professional, folks! The pace is quite pedestrian and there are only spurts of bloody action before the climax. Even with the Earth’s entire population at stake, the characters never display any sense of urgency. The gore effects are plentiful and one of the best things about the flick. The eggs are quite rubbery looking, although they do make a creepy moaning sound as they pulsate so, they are effective. When our alien beastie is finally revealed at the climax it is a delightfully 1950s-ish tentacled cyclops that would be at home in any Roger Corman production. At least we have a cool electronic score by Goblin and the flick is mercifully short at only 82 minutes. Despite it’s shortcomings, if watched in the right mindset, it can be fun.

The cast won’t win any awards. Marleau is quite wooden as Stella and despite being a pretty actress, she generates no sex appeal even with a last act romantic interlude with Aris. As Aris, Masé is amusing with his heavy New York accent and ridiculous cop dialog. Zombie and Zombie Holocaust veteran Ian McCulloch plays drunken and disgraced astronaut, Commander Hubbard, who was laughed out of a job for claiming to have seen the eggs on Mars. Ironically, he was right all along. Rounding out the main cast is Siegfried Rauch as the alien-controlled villain, former astronaut Hamilton. He’s a bland bad guy and would be far better at home in a low level James Bond rip-off.

Overall, this a bad flick that can be fun when it’s badness is appreciated in the right way. It’s a shameless rip-off of parts of Alien with a hint of bad James Bond movie mixed in. There is awful dialog, wooden acting, terrible dubbing and lots of rubbery SPFX to keep one amused. It also has a lot of gore and an electronic score by legendary band Goblin (Romero’s Dawn of the Dead). With a few brews and watched in the right way, it can be a fun 80+ minutes of Italian gore nonsense.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) cheesy alien eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DARKMAN (1990)

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DARKMAN (1990)

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Darkman is Sam Raimi’s first big studio film and is a fun horror movie/superhero flick mash-up. It tells the tale of Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), whose life’s work is to create synthetic skin. His lawyer girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), however, has unintentionally crossed paths with ruthless land developer Strack (Colin Friels) and crime boss Robert Durant (Larry Drake) who send thugs to Westlake’s home/lab to collect some incriminating paperwork. This results in Peyton being brutalized and badly burned with his work destroyed. Now horribly disfigured and without the ability to feel pain, Westlake continues his work in hiding and uses his ability to create skin masks to infiltrate the criminal organization…and exact gruesome revenge!

Flick is directed by Sam Raimi from Raimi’s story and a script by he and four other writers. That’s a lot of scribes for what is basically Phantom of the Opera meets Batman, but it’s far from the mess that number implies. Darkman is actually a fun and amusingly gruesome superhero/revenge flick as Neeson’s scientist turned vigilante hunts down Durant’s thugs, while carving out a path towards the gangster and his crooked developer partner. He also tries to restart his romance with Julie with a hilarious and tragic amusement park scene being the result of that epic fail. The film has a strong comic book vibe, with over-the-top characters, such as Evil Dead II’s Dan Hicks playing a one-legged thug with a machine gun in his wooden leg. There is a lot of action, but as this is a horror film, too, some cartoon-ishly gruesome death’s for Durant’s men. Raimi isn’t afraid to get bloody, as this is rated R, yet maintains the feel of a comic book, which probably got him the job directing three Spider-Man flicks. He takes his material seriously, yet has a lot of fun with it.

The cast all get the material. Neeson plays Westlake as a charming but dedicated scientist and then makes for a very Phantom of the Opera-esque vigilante when he transforms into a vengeful anti-hero. Frances McDormand is good as Julie, who is at first fooled by Strack’s charms. As Strack, Friels makes for a charming yet slimy villain. Drake is very good as the brutal crime boss Durant. He can be ruthless and cruel and is a perfect match for the once kind, now vengeful Westlake. The supporting cast including Nicholas Worth, the before mentioned Hicks and a cameoing Bruce Campbell, all get the tone of the material and their characters.

Overall this is a really fun flick that captures the comic book spirit sometimes better than the straight-up superhero flicks of the time. The cast all get the tone of the material and despite the overabundance or writers, it’s a clever script that balances the comic book style with the horror elements perfectly…as does Raimi’s direction. There is action and drama and some gruesome ends to some very deserving creeps. Inspired a pair of direct to video sequels with The Mummy’s Arnold Vosloo taking over as Westlake.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 an 1/2 Darkmen (out of 4).

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972)

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THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972)

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Not sure where this cult classic 70’s docu-horror, from director Charles B. Pierce (The Town That Dreaded Sundown) and writer Earl E. Smith (who also wrote Sundown, gets it’s reputation from. The flick was far too campy, corny and cheesy to be remotely scary and doesn’t fare too well as camp, either. It’s Plan 9 -esque “So bad it’s good” charm can be amusing at first, but sadly wears out it’s welcome about halfway through and the flick just becomes tedious. Although, when the film stops dead for a musical ode to some guy named Travis Crabtree, there is much chuckling and eye rolling to be had. That, unfortunately, is also one of the film’s problems, aside from costing about $10. Too many times the flick averts it’s focus from the monster sightings to ramble on about Fouke, Arkansas, or the woods, or some local character. The “High School Warning Film” narration doesn’t help either. The final straw comes from getting a glimpse of the creature’s face toward the end and it’s a store bought Halloween ape mask. The scariest thing about this “G” rated flick is that people were frightened by it when it first came out. Ah, the 70’s…

 

Rated 2 (out of 4) rubber ape masks.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE RIFT aka ENDLESS DESCENT (1990)

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The Rift poster…or Endless Descent poster, if you prefer

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THE RIFT aka ENDLESS DESCENT (1990)

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1990 low budget sci-fi/horror finds the high-tech deep sea vessel “Siren I” gone missing and the ship’s designer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia with hilariously 80s hair) is dragged out of bed…literally…to join the rescue mission aboard the “Siren II”. The military has been using both Hayes’ designed craft and the rescue mission is commanded by hard-nosed Capt. Phillips (R. Lee Ermey) and Hayes’ former flame Lt. Nina Crowley (Deborah Adair). They find the “Siren I” wreckage in a deep sea rift, as well as, some strange undersea lifeforms. The search for the ship’s black box leads them to an undersea cavern filled with horrible mutant creatures and a mysterious laboratory. How did these creatures come to exist? Who is responsible?…and will the “Siren II” crew escape the rift alive?

Cheesy rubber monster flick is flatly directed by Pieces director Juan Piquer Simón, under the pseudonym of J.P. Simon, from a very derivative script by he, Mark Klein and David Coleman. The film evokes a lot of other better movies such as Aliens, Galaxy of Terror and Leviathan to name a few and might have been a really fun rip-off if director Simón didn’t take it so seriously. With it’s cheese-ball miniature subs, horde of rubber and plastic monsters and gallons of spurting blood, this could have been a real treat if it was directed by somebody who knew the difference between a good steak and a decadent greasy hamburger, with this flick being the latter. It still entertains with it’s awful dialogue, 1960s sci-fi level sets and all the flying viscera both human and otherwise. The acting runs from paycheck level from the vets to hilariously bad from the supporting cast, with only Ray Wise seeming to really get the material, when he is allowed to ham it up a bit in the last act. There is a lot of blood splashed around once the crew arrive in the monster filled cavern and the rubber beasties do provide some chuckles as the rend and tear apart the crew in all it’s pre-CGI glory. The flick is very ambitious for what appears to be a very low budget, but needed a more Roger Corman approach to make it really work. If you know you’re a rip-off, take the ball and run with it like Galaxy of Terror or Piranha. With the ridiculous script and rubber menagerie, the groundwork was already there.

On one side the flick is flatly directed, way too derivative and takes itself far too seriously to really work, especially on such an obvious low budget scale. On the plus side there is entertainment to be had by painfully obvious toy submarines, a delightful assortment of rubber monsters and an ocean’s worth of blood and gore splattered all over the place. The veteran cast play the subpar script far too straight, which is laughable in itself, while the supporting cast performances are hilariously all over the place. Not quite the fun it should be, but does have enough entertainment to make it an amusing watch, with some of your favorite brews. Also stars Ely Pouget as a sexy crew member and John Toles Bey who gets some of the worst of the awful dialogue.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) rubber thingys.

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957)

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THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957)

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Giant insect movies were quite popular in the 50s and The Deadly Mantis is among the best. While many of the giant pests were the result of atomic testing, this six legged critter is a prehistoric insect melted out of the polar ice caps by the effects of an erupting volcano. Once free, the hungry beast snacks on military personnel and Eskimo natives on it’s way to warmer climates. The giant insect is pursued by scientists and the military as it stops for snacks in Canada, Maryland, Washington D.C. and even battles the U. S. Air Force over Newark, N.J.! This all leading to a finale confrontation in the Big Apple inside the Lincoln Tunnel (dubbed The Manhattan Tunnel for the film).

Fun flick is directed by Nathan H. Juran, who also directed classics like 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, from a story and script by William Alland and Martin Berkeley. Juran takes the material very seriously, as does his cast, and it helps make the silly scenario very entertaining. The pace is brisk, with a lot of action, the traditional romantic sub-plot and the usual drama and humor, evenly mixed by Juran. There are some cheesy SPFX and stock footage as the military wages war on the mantis, but there is also a very impressive animatronic mantis puppet that is very effective when mixed with miniatures and given a monstrous roar by the sound FX folks. The acting is decent for this kind of movie and that helps the cheesy dialogue and silly science work well enough to keep us from laughing at the wrong times…though we nostalgically now do anyway.

This is one of the best giant bug movies from this era. A Universal picture, The Deadly Mantis takes it’s silly subject very seriously and is surprisingly well made, probably the result of being a major studio film. The cast take the material as seriously as the director and it maintains the illusion that we should be concerned about a massive prehistoric insect eating it’s way across the United States. A fun and very entertaining 50s science fiction epic. Charming cast includes, William Hopper as the handsome Dr. Ned Jackson, Craig Stevens as smooth military officer Col. Joe Parkman and Alix Talton as sexy journalist/photographer/love interest Marge Blaine.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) mantis.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SUGAR HILL (1974)

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SUGAR HILL (1974)

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70’s Blaxsploitation flick from producer Samuel Z. Arkoff and the legendary American International Pictures isn’t one of the best of that era, but certainly isn’t among the worst. Sugar Hill tells the supernatural story of Diana Hill (Marki Bey) who is known to everyone as Sugar. Sugar’s boyfriend, Langston (Larry D. Johnson) is murdered by gangsters and the distraught woman turns to voodoo to exact revenge. Soon the men of crime boss Morgan (Robert Quarry) start to fall, as Sugar and her army of zombies hunt them down one by one and gruesomely murder them.

Flick is the one directorial effort from prolific producer and writer Paul Maslansky from a script by Tim Kelly. It’s directed a bit by-the-numbers and has a somewhat slow pace even for a 90 minute film. Sugar Hill does benefit now from it’s nostalgic charm, but that doesn’t totally get us past that some of the acting is a bit too bad to enjoy at times and the dialogue a bit too badly written to really laugh at. Don Pedro Colley’s Baron Samedi, for example, is almost comical, despite the film’s dead serious tone. There are some amusingly cheesy SPFX…especially the make-up on the zombies…and a few spooky moments, too, such as when they first rise. If that doesn’t add some entertainment to it, there are always some of gangster Morgan’s outfits to provide nostalgia and chuckles. It is also of interest to see how racist, misogynist and sexist a movie could be in that era without raising a ruckus, as in today’s politically correct times. Not to mention, as well, how much PG rated films got away with before the ratings system became more conservative in the 80s. Lastly, this story of a woman who uses voodoo to avenge her lover’s murder has it’s heroine become so gleeful at slaughtering the mobsters who beat her fiancé to death, that sometimes it’s hard to root for her. Sure the bad guys deserve it, but she is now just as bloodthirsty, or more so, than the men she stalks and kills. It’s a thin line, but sometimes it’s hard to get behind someone who’d work perfectly as the villain in another movie. Then again, Sugar Hill is not a morality play, but simple exploitation entertainment.

Overall, this is an amusing example of a distinct era of filmmaking, but not quite one of the best, though there are those that might argue that. Sugar Hill is certainly worth seeking out by those interested in Blaxsploitation cinema and does have it’s entertainment value. Also stars Richard Lawson, who appeared as “Willis” in Scream Blacula Scream, as Det. Valentine and Zara Cully as voodoo priestess Mama Maitresse.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) sexy, vengeful Sugars.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)

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ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)

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One Dark Night is a rare PG rated 80s horror featuring 80s movie icon E. G. Daily (billed as Elizabeth Dailey) and legendary “Batman” Adam West. The story finds pretty high school student Julie (Meg Tilly) wanting to join an elite club and having to spend the night in a mausoleum to do it. “The Sisters” (Daily, Leslie Speights and Robin Evans) plan to scare her, but that is the least of her troubles. The corpse of Raymar, who studied the occult, has recently been laid to rest there, but the man suspected of “psychic vampirism” may not be quite at rest at all.

Flick is directed by Tom (Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives) McLoughlin from a script by he and Michael Hawes. With it’s kid friendly rating this is obviously a fairly tame flick, though PG films did get away with a lot more back in the day. No better example of this than a face melting that comes later in the film. It can be atmospheric and has some spooky moments and the material is played straight, even by West. Legendary FX man Tom Burman made the legion of corpses levitated by our undead villain and filming is said to have taken place in an actual mausoleum which terrified a then 19 year-old Meg Tilly*. On the downside, it is a bit slow moving and takes till it’s last twenty minutes or so for burial chambers to start popping open and Raymar and his army of corpses to make their appearance. The 80s nostalgia helps and watching Adam West pretentiously roll his eyes to the term “psychic vampirism” is worth watching for alone.

Not a great movie, but it is fun at times, especially in a nostalgic sense. It’s very tame, considering most flicks were gore heavy at the time, and there is none of the sex that was also a staple of 80s horror. Meg Tilly makes a fine enough heroine, before The Big Chill and Psycho II got her more mainstream attention later that year, and Raymar is effective even if entirely made of rubber and plastic. It is refreshing that someone made something other than a slasher at this point in the 80s and being suffocated under a pile of corpses is a creepy way to go.

*according to Wikipedia

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 Raymars (out of 4).

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)

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BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959)

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Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) is a busboy at The Yellow Door, a coffee shop for beatniks and bohemian artists…what we would call a Starbucks today…and wants to be revered like many of the artistic types that frequent there, especially in the eyes of pretty co-worker Carla (Barboura Morris). In a series of unfortunate events, Walter kills his landlady’s cat Frankie and hides the body in some clay that he intended to use in a sculpture. He brings the cat to the shop and everyone becomes infatuated with it, especially Carla. Now Walter has discovered a way into Carla’s heart and it will only take some clay and a few corpses to do it.

Horror/comedy is directed and produced by Roger Corman from a script by Charles B. Griffith, who also wrote the original Little Shop of Horrors. It’s not the first collaboration between Corman and leading man Miller, but it is one of their most famous and one of Miller’s few leading roles. It also unleashed a slew of cameos by Miller playing characters named Walter Paisley in the films of up and coming Corman alumni years later. The flick is a comedy of errors with Walter making his first kills by accident, but as his “sculptures”, are getting him the attention he wants, he soon starts killing his subjects to be immortalized in clay. Obviously, things will get out of hand for the bumbling Walter.The satire may not click today as it specifically targets the beatnik culture of the 50s, but one may still appreciate the dark humor of Walter’s newfound art and the art crowd’s overwhelming reaction to it. It’s not a long movie at only 66 minutes and the jazz infused score by Fred Katz is quite nostalgic. On a production level, the film was shot in true Corman style for AIP on a budget of only $50,000 and in 5 days on the sets from another movie.

There is a small cast. Miller is likable and sympathetic as Walter. He’s abused by his boss Leonard (Antony Carbone) and ignored by those he wants attention from. Even when he starts to kill for his newfound hobby, he remains more tragic than unlikable, only becoming downright creepy in the last act. Barboura Morris is pretty and charming as Carla. She’s sweet and seems to always like Walter, though he doesn’t see it. Carbone is slimy as Leonard, who is benefiting financially from the art community’s new prodigy. Even when he discovers Walter’s gruesome secret, he chooses to profit until guilt finally overcomes him. The film also has a small role from 70s game show host and TV icon Bert Convy as an ill-fated undercover cop.

This early Corman production may be dated at this point, but it is still fun and it made Dick Miller a movie fan household name. Miller rarely had lead roles and this one would earn him a long career of character parts and cameos that lasted for sixty years. A perfect example of early Corman thriftiness and one of Dick Miller’s most famous roles.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) sculptures surprisingly titled “dead cat”.

 

Farewell and RIP Dick Miller (1928-2019)

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HÄXAN (1922)

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HÄXAN (1922)

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Häxan is a 1922 Swiss silent film whose title means “Witch”. It’s part documentary and part dramatic recreation of tales of witchcraft, the demonic and the inquisition that arose from the fear of such, around the Middle Ages. Told in seven segments, it starts out with some facts about early claims of witches, devils and demons and then delves into recreations of some tales of witchcraft and Satanism and then the fear-filled and cruel reaction from the clergy of the time. The documentary then tries, in it’s last part, to give modern…modern at the time, as this film is now almost 100 years old…explanations for what is perceived as the signs of witchcraft, such as psychological and physical ailments.

The film is directed by Benjamin Christensen from his own script. Häxan covers a lot of folklore tales about witches cavorting with The Devil and his minions, demonic seduction and corruption and in doing so, provides some very startling and spooky imagery. The representations of witches flying through the air on brooms, being seduced by demons and even giving birth to monsters, is quite bold for a film of this era and quite well rendered for a film almost a century old. Some of what we see is quite brazen, such as demons frantically churning butter while watching the sexual acts between witch and devil. Their swift up and down arm movements obviously simulating…well, you get the idea. The scenes of torture and interrogation are quite effective, as well and one feels sorry for those under the clergy’s scrutiny or accused of evil acts. The film is loaded with atmosphere and some extremely Gothic imagery, one of the first films of it’s kind to represent such subject matter so graphically. Christensen’s visual eye is quite stunning and filled with Halloween-esque images, especially when portraying the scenes of the witches partying with the demonic in the woods. There are a variety of demonic creatures, uniquely designed and rendered and involved in acts that must have been considered quite daring for the early 1920s…and it was daring as the film was banned here in the United States at the time.

This is a pioneer horror film that was one of the first to portray witchcraft and satanic activity in such detail. Benjamin Christensen gives a history of suspected witchcraft and then treats us to some wildly vivid representation of the tales and folklore that terrified the middle ages. We get stunning visuals of nude maidens sleepwalking into the arms of their demonic seducers, witches flying on their trademarked brooms and even a tongue flickering Satan himself (Christensen) corrupting nuns in their own convent. It’s a stunning achievement and at almost a century old, a work that hasn’t lost any of it’s potency and a film every true horror fan should see.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 witches brooms (out of 4).

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: MAUSOLEUM (1983)

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MAUSOLEUM (1983)

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Early 80s horror finds young Susan (Julie Christy Murray) running from her mother’s funeral and finding her way to a creepy mausoleum. There she becomes possessed by a demon which remains dormant until she becomes an adult. Years later, with Susan (Bobbie Bresee) now grown up and married, the demon emerges when men get aggressive with her and, as a result, are gruesomely murdered, as is anyone who stands in her way. Can her husband Oliver (a somewhat restrained Marjoe Gortner) and her psychiatrist Dr. Andrews (Norman Burton) free her of the demonic curse which has plagued her family for generations?

Gory flick is directed sadly with a very by-the-numbers style by Michael Dugan from a story and script by Katherine Rosenwink, Robert Barich and Robert Madero. Despite all the supernatural hi-jinx, the flick is very slow paced and doesn’t nearly use it’s B-movie premise to the fullest. It is saved somewhat by some cool monster make-up by John Carl Buechler, some very graphic and abundant gore and some generous nudity from the shapely Ms. Bresee, who was a former Playboy Bunny. There are some wonderfully cheesy visual effects to go with the terrible dialogue and entertainingly bad acting and some always welcome added 80s nostalgia. It’s amusing for all the wrong reasons and there is nothing wrong with that. Hard to hate a movie featuring a female demon equipped with two creature heads as boobs.

Not a great movie by any lengths, but it is a fun one. The acting and dialogue is terrible and the directing is disappointingly pedestrian. The flick needed a director, like Jim Wynorski, who could milk the premise more, but it does have a cool monster, a lot of graphic gore and plentiful nudity from it’s beautiful leading lady. Not a classic, but a cult favorite that mixed with your favorite brews can be part of any cheesy 80s horror night.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 Marjoe Gortners (out of 4) in one of his less restrained moments.

 

 

 

 

 

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