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Classic 1950s science fiction flick is based on the equally classic novel by H.G. Wells. It has a meteorite crashing into the California mountains near a small rural town. Scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is nearby and heads there to investigate. When he arrives, he meets pretty Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), who joins him and soon they discover that the meteorite is actually a spacecraft with a trio of hostile Martian war machines inside. With more of these craft landing all over the world, the military surround the Martians in hopes of stopping them. The Martian technology is too advanced and our most modern weapons…most modern for 1953, that is…are no match for the invaders. As the Martians begin a wave of global destruction, Forrester and Sylvia begin a desperate attempt to find some way to stop them, before the planet falls to this seemingly indestructible enemy.

Film is directed by Byron Haskin for legendary producer George Pal. The screenplay is by Barré Lyndon based on H.G.Wells’ 1898 novel. The film takes some liberties with Wells’ book, such as with the design of the Martians and their weaponry, but most by way of simply updating the story to the 1950s and moving it to the United States. The basic tale is still there. It’s the original Independence Day and is a far superior movie, aging much better over a longer period of time. The SPFX may seem antiquated by today’s CGI heavy standards, but the wire-work, models and visual FX were quite impressive for the time and still have impact even today. The sound effects and Leith Stevens’ epic score are also very effective and add atmosphere. The battle sequences are intense and Barry and Robinson make a very good hero and heroine and have nice on-screen chemistry. The film is filled with gung-ho military types and strong religious overtones, as was typical of films of this era. It is very strong dramatically, even a bit scary in some of the earlier sequences, and has some pretty devastating scenes of city destruction and the panic and terror of the citizens within. It is simply a great movie and tells a lot of story and accomplishes a lot in it’s economic 85 minutes without ever feeling overcrowded, or it’s main characters shortchanged.

Overall, this is simply a great flick that still resonates almost 70 years later. The SPFX were impressive at the time and are still powerful today, even if the techniques have become outdated and antiquated. The Martians and their war machines are made scary and the film is populated with some fun characters that are stereotypical of this era of science fiction films. The leads are endearing and well performed and the narration from Sir Cedric Hardwicke adds atmosphere and dramatic intensity. A classic movie that has aged far better than a lot of more contemporary films with similar premises. War of the Worlds is currently available on a wonderfully restored blu-ray special edition from the Criterion Collection.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Martian war machines.





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Update of the classic H.G. Wells story finds Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) running from her relationship with her abusive, control freak boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). She’s helped by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and is living with her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a policeman, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Two weeks after her daring escape, she hears that millionaire Adrian has committed suicide and even has left her a large sum of money. She thinks she’s free of him, until strange things start to occur around the house and someone starts messing with her life. There are hints that it’s Adrian and soon Cecilia is convinced he’s somehow still around. The events continue to escalate, but no one believes her that her ex is somehow the cause and soon those close to her start to doubt her sanity. Is Cecilia crazy or is Adrian somehow still alive and stalking her for revenge?

Flick is extremely well written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who cut his teeth writing for the Saw and Insidious movies. Whannell showed the potential for solid direction with his debut, Insidious: Chapter 3 and the 2018 Upgradebut really comes into his own here. Not only is the script a clever updating of a story that is well over 100 years-old, but adds in some contemporary themes, such as domestic abuse, stalking and the effect of abusive relationships, in a way that perfectly blend with the story. Here our scientist is a psychotic, Tony Stark-ish, millionaire optics expert, one who uses his brilliant new technological invention to stalk and terrify his ex-girlfriend, rather than benefit mankind. In the director’s chair, Whannell starts the film off with a very tense and suspenseful scene of Cecilia trying to escape from Adrian’s bed and home, while he is in a drug induced sleep. The film gives us just a brief moment to breath before things start going on in James’ house and Cecilia starts to believe Adrian is not as dead as the world thinks. She sees his touch in all that is befalling her, sometimes literally. No one believes her, especially when the invisible stalker frames her for murder and everyone is convinced she’s crazy. It’s a tense, suspenseful and very effective ride as Adrian could be anywhere…and usually is. When Cecilia begins to fight back, all hell breaks loose leading to an intense showdown. Whannell gets a lot of milage out of mixing a classic story with contemporary story elements, but wisely never let’s it go over-the-top. By keeping things grounded, we go along with even the more fantastic parts of the story, such as the manner in which invisibility is achieved. It’s not perfect. When things start to happen in the house, Cecilia skips right over other possibilities, such as, maybe, a haunting and goes right to invisible man. Sure, she knows better than anyone Adrian’s intellect and optics expertise, but it’s hard to swallow, that she’d leap straight to that conclusion so quickly. That and after the exciting and violent final showdown, there are a few additional scenes that continue the story for another few minutes. An extra chapter after we thought it was done. It comes to a chilling conclusion, but sort of takes the flick into an extra inning that doesn’t quite match the momentum of what came before. None of it’s flaws are critical to the film’s effectiveness, but, as said, the flick is not perfect.

Whannell has a good cast. Elizabeth Moss gives a strong performance of a woman terrified to the point of feeling like she’s loosing her mind. When Cecilia starts to fight back, you fully believe she’s a woman driven to the point of finally standing up for herself. As we don’t actually see samples of her abusive relationship with Adrian, we still feel it’s potency based entirely on her performance. Great work. Oliver Jackson-Cohen has only two brief scenes and is fine. Again, most of his character actions are portrayed through Moss’ reactions and FX, so he hasn’t much to do physically. He is appropriately creepy when we do see him. Aldis Hodge is solid as supportive friend James. As a cop, he is forced to walk a thin line with what he can believe once Cecilia begins to rant about being stalked by a man who’s supposedly dead. In more supporting roles, Harriet Dyer is fine as Cecilia’s sister, Emily, Michael Dorman is appropriately slimy as Adrian’s lawyer, brother Tom and Storm Reid is likable as James’ daughter, Sydney. A solid and effective cast.

A very effective thriller from Leigh Whannell. It’s tense, suspenseful and mixes contemporary themes into it’s sci-fi/horror story very well. It’s paced efficiently and moves quickly for a film over two hours in length. There is some shocking violence to punctuate certain scenes and really recreates the fear of someone being stalked and manipulated to maximum effect. It has a few flaws, but otherwise shows Whannell has really locked in his directorial skills and one looks forward to whatever he comes up with next.

-MonsterZero NJ

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










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I’ll be honest, I am not the biggest fan of these two giant critter/nature run amok flicks from legendary American International Pictures, but there is enough 70s nostalgia and plenty of bad dialog, cheesy SPFX and over the top acting to make an enjoyable evening of  ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema. They are not among personal favorites, though they do have their fans, and they do work well together being similarly themed and both based on H.G. Wells stories and directed by schlock legend Bert I. Gordon. Sure they lack the charm of his earlier films, but watched together with some of your favorite beverages, they still can provide some laughs and a few chills. They are considered cult classics to some and are among the last few movies of this type made before AIP tried to go mainstream, failed and ultimately was sold in 1979 and saw it’s final releases in 1980.

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Food Of The Gods is loosely based on a story by H.G. Wells and tells the tale of a mysterious substance that bubbles up out of the ground on a remote British Columbian island and when eaten by the offspring of living creatures, causes them to grow to enormous size and with an increased aggressiveness. Local woman Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino) sees it as a gift from God and has the brilliant idea to mix it in with her chicken feed and not only does she get vicious, giant chickens, but inadvertently creates a pack of wolf-sized rats. A number of people staying on the island, including pro football player Morgan (70s TV and movie icon Marjoe Gortner), greedy dog food company owner Jack Bensington (Ralph Meeker), his pretty assistant Lorna (Pamela Franklin) and young married couple Rita and Tom (Halloweens Belinda Balaski and Tom Stovall) become stranded on the island and forced to fight for their lives against giant wasps, worms, chickens and the hungry horde of rats. Will they survive nature’s vengeance against mankind’s tampering?…will Morgan get to kiss Lorna between vermin invasions?…will pregnant Rita give birth during a crucial giant rat attack?…the answers to all these questions are a play button push away!

Adaptation is written and directed by Bert I. Gordon who made an illustrious career out of cheesy B-movies like this, including a previous version of the story, the 1965 Village Of The Giants, which focuses on giant teenagers. Gordon gives us some really bad dialog to go along with some really stupid decisions that characters make to move the plot along or put themselves in danger. And despite there being a lot of action, he directs this horror with a very pedestrian pace and gives it a very somber and serious tone, when we could have had a little more fun with a cast of hammy actors battling rubber prop critters. The SPFX are very cheesy with either real animals photographed against models or superimposed badly into live action footage, with the before mentioned plastic props for close-ups. There are a few effective moments…the worms, ewww!…and there is a surprising amount of blood for a PG rated movie, but that was not uncommon in the 70s. It was only till films like Dawn Of The Dead and Friday The 13th came along and pushed the limits that the ratings board got very sensitive. And all these cheese-tastic elements would be a lot more enjoyable if the flick didn’t lack the fun and charm of some of Gordon’s earlier giant animal/bug/human pictures. His 50s and 60s movies had a sense of entertainment, where here, he seems to really be trying to make a serious Sci-Fi/Horror out of this, despite the goofy script. There is some fun to be had with all the unintentional cheese, but we only wish the film didn’t take itself so seriously and took the wildlife out of control premise and really ran with it like the 1978 Piranha.

The cast take their roles very seriously for such a silly flick, some to the point of camp. Gortner especially is a natural ham and really chews the scenery as the pro football player turned giant critter killer. Few actors could battle a giant rubber chicken with such seriousness and intensity and he is fun to watch. Also amusing is his deadpan narration that bookends the film. Lupino is also over the top with her melodramatic eye rolling and over-acting as she recites some truly ridiculous dialogue with a straight face. Meeker is a stereotypical greedy corporate douche while Franklin gives us the perky yet rebellious assistant. Why she even works for this jerk is the big question. The rest go along with the nature run amok premise just fine and do a really good job emoting against plastic creatures and reacting to things that were added later in post production. I give each credit for keeping a straight face with some of Gordon’s dialog and the situations they are put in.

Overall, Food Of The Gods is an amusing watch, but sometimes is either too bad or too serious to really have a good time with it. It also has a slow pace and really doesn’t pick up till the last act. The FX are delightfully cheesy and some of the acting and dialog is bad enough to elicit some chuckles, but I just feel the really somber tone defeats the cheesiness of the story and low budget production. Gordon made a career out of movies like this and I give him credit for not making a joke out of his subject, but when you are dealing with giant rats and chickens, you’d think he’d had a little more fun with it. On a more personal note, while I can’t find any documentation to verify it, it looks like some real animals were killed in some scenes and that doesn’t sit well with me either. A decent B-movie,but one that could have been more fun if Gordon just went with it instead of trying to pass off a cheese burger as prime steak.

2 and 1/2 giant rats!

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Food Of The Gods was a success for AIP and so, Gordon was back the following year with another giant creature feature from yet another H.G. Wells story, this time Empire Of The Ants. This one works slightly better with it’s story of radioactive waste dumped in the ocean and making it’s way to the shores of a small island where it is consumed (why?) by the local ant population. Enter Marilyn Fraser (Joan Collins), a greedy real estate developer who takes a boatload of potential scam victims to the island to show then where their future homes aren’t really going to be built. Obviously they get stranded on the island with the large and highly intelligent ants, who not only have an appetite, but use pheromones as a form of mind control to make humans into slaves. Now it’s up to boat captain Dan Stokley (Robert Lansing) to try to get this beleaguered group to safety, battling both the ants and their human drones.

Again flick is directed…but this time co-written with Jack Turley…by Bert I. Gordon and once again with a somber and serious tone despite the silliness of giant, mind controlling ants. But this film seems to work a bit better then Food Of The Gods as giant ants are a bit more effective then giant chickens and the cast is a bit more subdued, especially hero Lansing, so we don’t get the glaring contrast of serious tone and over the top acting…though there is still some of that. Once again Gordon gives us cheesy moments of real ants photographed and superimposed to look giant and plastic heads and limbs for close-ups though, ironically, the ants make a shrieking noise like a school girl who has just found an ant crawling on her arm. We also, get characters making some really stupid decisions like an elderly couple who, while fleeing the ants, see a door-less shack and proclaim “We’ll be safe in there!”…and there is some really bad dialog recited with straight faces by the cast. Again, like the previous Wells adaptation, this one just should have had more fun and more energy for a B monster movie. Sure there are some sequences which work and give chills, but Gordon’s earlier films were a lot livelier, where these two Wells-based flicks are taken far too seriously considering the subject matter and the SPFX, which were cheesy even in the late 70s. No one is saying to make a joke out of it, but recognize that it is a Saturday Night Sci-Fi flick and have a good time with it, like Gordon did with his films of the previous decades. After doing more seriously toned movies like Picture Mommy Dead and Necromancy, Gordon seems to have lost his sense of fun. Empire and Food lack the charm that made Gordon’s earlier films a delight.

The cast are a bit more dialed down then Food Of The Gods’ Lupino and Gortner, especially with leads Collins and Lansing. Joan Collins plays the manipulating, bossy bitch she made a career out of and keeps a very straight face despite acting with plastic ants. Lansing plays the soft spoken hero very well and it was refreshing to have an older man as the hero instead of a young jock or soldier. The supporting cast features 70s/80s regulars Pamela Shoop (Halloween II), Robert Pine (CHiPs and father of Chris “Captain Kirk” Pine) and Albert Salmi (Superstition). There is a some cheesy over-acting here, as well, but it is a movie about giant ants, so we’ll cut them some slack even if it butts against Gordon’s too serious tone.

Overall, much like Food Of The Gods there is some fun to be had here, but certainly not enough as we’d like, or, to make it a real B-Movie treat. Sure there is cheesy FX and dialog to laugh at, as well as, the added nostalgia of the 70s stereotypes that make up the film’s characters, but the film forgets to have a little fun and Gordon doesn’t give it the charm of his earlier works. An amusing watch that would definitely be helped by a few brews and a visit from the MST3K gang.

 2 and 1/2 giant mind controlling ants.

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