TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974)

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CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974)

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70s disaster/sci-fi flick has a select group of people sent into a bomb shelter deep below the earth’s crust as nuclear war breaks out on the surface. This diverse group of people were chosen to ensure the human race’s continued existence in case such a scenario occurred. Mankind’s survival comes into question, however, as the group find that they are not in the shelter alone.

While this flick had the right premise for an entertaining chiller, it is directed with deadpan dullness by Sutton Roley from a script by H.B. Cross. Roley’s body of work is predominately in episodic television and it shows, as the film looks like the episode of a TV show. For the most part the film is extremely talky with characters whining, crying or yelling at each other over their predicament for most of the run time. The idea of vampire bats invading an advanced bomb shelter is amusing, but Roley has no idea what to do with it and what few scenes of bloody bat carnage there are, are by-the-numbers and have very little bite. While we have some veteran actors here, the characters are not very interesting, or all that likable, so we really don’t care if they end up as bat food. The SPFX are pitifully bad with the bat swarms being terrible animated blobs swirling about and the bloodshed is strictly routine. The pace is rather slow and it all adds up to a waste of what could have been a fun idea.

Roley doesn’t get much out of a cast of decent actors, either. Jackie Cooper is the stereotype arrogant and angry businessman. Bradford Dillman is the nerdy scientist with a secret. Richard Jaeckel is the military representative who knows more than he is letting on and Alex Cord is a character simply there for breeding purposes.  The cast also features Diana Muldar and Barbara Babcock as female members of the ‘chosen’ who also seem to be just there for procreation. A cast of veterans completely wasted.

This is a sad misuse of a good exploitation movie premise. It’s extremely talky and is directed very by-the-numbers by Sutton Roley. When the bats do attack, the FX are laughable and even the PG rated bloodshed is too tame to make an impact. If there ever is a flick that could use a remake by a director that gets the material, it’s this one.

-MonsterZero NJ

rated 2 vampire bats.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STARMAN (1984)

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STARMAN (1984)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

80s Sci-fi romance is an entertaining road trip flick from director John Carpenter and is probably one of his most underrated movies. The film has an alien race accepting the Voyager probe’s invitation and sending a representative to check us out. The poor explorer is shot down by the U.S. Air force and crashes in a remote area of Wisconsin near the cabin of recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Using a strand of her dead husband’s hair, the alien takes human form, physically replicating Jenny’s deceased spouse (Jeff Bridges). The terrified women is then basically kidnaped into taking the alien visitor to a rendezvous point to meet his mother ship or he’ll die. As the two travel across country with the police and U.S. Government in hot pursuit, Jenny starts to fall in love with this extraterrestrial being with her husband’s face.

To be honest, the script by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon is corny and clichéd, but it is the skilled direction of John Carpenter that makes it so fun, heartfelt and entertaining. After a string of violent action, horror and Sci-fi flicks, Carpenter showed he can direct with restraint and versatility with this romance heavy road trip/chase thriller. What elevates the movie above the simplistic and sometimes silly script is the emotional depth that Carpenter gives the sequences and the strength he gives the relationship between Allen’s terrified and confused widow and the peaceful and naive visitor so well played by Bridges. He deftly guides his actors through a relationship that starts out based on fear and grows by the film’s bittersweet finale into love. Sure some of it is downright cheesy, but Carpenter gives it the right touches at the right times to make it work. He knows when to take it seriously and when to have a little fun with it, such as Bridges’ Starman trying earth food for the first time and learning his first obscene hand gesture. The romantic elements are also quite effective, but Carpenter keeps them from getting too overpowering, so not to neuter the drama and action. All the elements blend very well and it is highlighted by a very atmospheric score by Jack Nitzsche and some great cinematography by Donald M. Morgan.

Of course Carpenter also gets great performances from his cast, especially his leads. Bridge’s is wonderful as this curious being trying to learn how to be human in a short time and the subtle nuances and facial expressions are borderline brilliant even when the script is at it’s corniest. He earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for his work and deservedly so. Karen Allen deserved one, too, as she is equally strong as a woman facing the impossible. Not only is this charming widow seeing the face of her husband again, months after his death, but also in the company of a being from another world…one she grows to have feelings for. She handles the transition from terror to sympathy to love deftly and her chemistry with Bridges is perfect. The two are great together. In support, we have Charles Martin Smith, in of the weakest written roles, as a sympathetic SETI scientist and Smith does good work to make him endearing despite the clichés. Rounding out is veteran actor Richard Jaeckel as the stereotypical government security agent bad guy and he also wades through a river of clichés to make the role work. A good cast that make the best of a cornball script.

Is it silly?…yes…is it corny?…yes…but skilled direction from John Carpenter and great performances from his lead actors overcomes all that for a touching and entertaining romance/chase thriller about a marooned alien being learning first hand about what it means to be human and falling in love. Carpenter shows he is more than just a horror director and gives a weak script some strong dramatic moments and gives emotional depth to some two-dimensionally written characters. Bridges gives one of many Academy Award nominated performances and Karen Allen might also have given one of the strongest performances of her long career. It may be a little dated now, but there is the heavy 80s nostalgia and the SPFX still hold up after over three decades. An underrated film from a director whose versatility is still overlooked.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 resurrected deer.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GRIZZLY (1976)

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Grizzly

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GRIZZLY (1976)

Grizzly is a 1976 Jaws rip-off that tells the horrifying tale of a massive 15 foot (the ads for the film say 18, but in the movie it is said to be 15) grizzly bear, who has wandered hungrily into a state park and begins snacking down on the campers and rangers alike. Chief Ranger Mike Kelly (Christopher George) has his hands full as he, Naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and war vet chopper pilot Don Stober (Andrew Prine) have to somehow stop the relentless carnivore.

Grizzly follows the template created by Spielberg’s thriller quite closely with our three leads being the Brody, Hooper and Quint characters who are hunting a vicious, yet seemingly very intelligent predator, while it racks up quite the body count of innocent victims. We get the greedy head of the park refusing to close the place down despite the deaths and bringing in a bunch of amateur yahoos to hunt the bear down. But despite the blatant similarities, Grizzly actually works on a B-movie level. As directed by William Girdler (Abby, The Manitou), Grizzly is actually an effective and surprisingly gory PG horror flick. While it never matches the tension of the movie it was clearly inspired by, it does entertain in more of a low budget slasher flick kind of way, with the rampaging bear filling in for Jason or Michael Myers. For a 2000 lb. animal, it sneaks up on people quite easily. There is never much attempt to explain why the animal is so big, or why it has come to this park to feed, except for a quick throw-away line suggesting it might be a throw-back to it’s prehistoric ancestors. But like with the shark in Jaws, the grizzly is effectively portrayed and it’s background is unimportant to the carnage it creates. A live bear was used in filming and the 11 foot “Teddy” is quite effective in the part along with a prop arm for up-close mauling. It is said that the crew coaxed the bear into it’s roaring stance by offering it marshmallows, adding the roar in post production. Works for me!

Sure there is some silly dialog and all the acting is not top notch, but the leads are veteran actors and give the material the respect it needs to work and their characters are all pretty likable. This, along with some effectively gory kills and a nice fast pace by director Girdler, turns this low budget rip-off into an entertaining B-movie that works well enough on it’s own. Made for a reported $750,000, Grizzly grossed almost $40 million. Not bad for a Jaws imitation that, when you add the 70s nostalgia factor, is actually a fun Saturday night B-movie horror thriller despite it’s rip-off roots.

3 rampaging grizzly bears

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Couldn’t find a good trailer but did find the opening attack scene… in fact, you can watch the whole movie on Youtube as it appears to be public domain now… WARNING: SCENE IS GRAPHIC!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GREEN SLIME and MESSAGE FROM SPACE

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THE GREEN SLIME (1968)

Ten years before the campy fun of Message From Space, Kinji Fukasaku (who directed Battle Royale as well) helmed this equally campy and equally fun 60s space opera about a space station overrun by tentacled alien creatures played by Japanese midgets in rubber suits. The film stars Robert Horton as hot shot Commander Rankin who is sent on a perilous mission to blow up a giant asteroid hurtling toward earth by landing on it and planting explosives. The mission is launched from space station Gamma 3 commanded by rival Commander Elliot (Richard Jaeckel) and the two butt heads over command issues and their mutual love interest, the sexy station doctor, Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi). But all that soap opera nonsense will have to wait as the asteroid is destroyed, but a sample of an organic tissue splashed onto one of the space suits makes it’s way back to Gamma 3 and soon grows into an army of one-eyed, green creatures with electrified tentacles. Can Rankin and Elliot put aside their differences and mutual lust for buxom space doll Lisa before these creatures overrun the station and kill everyone on board?

This colorful and fun B-movie as directed by the versatile Fukasaku was a co-production from MGM and Japan’s Toei Studios with a mainly Anglo cast, who take the silly proceedings dead serious and that’s what makes this so much fun. The SPFX are delightfully cheesy as are the sets, the totally 60s sci-fi costumes and the hilariously campy dialogue. It’s like watching a 60s rubber monster version of Aliens!

A fun and entertaining flick that is a really nostalgic good time if you can appreciate monster movies like this. Very 60s and a lot of fun. A nice, no frills DVD and Blu-Ray is available from MGM’s archive website.

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) rubber suited space monsters!

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MESAGE FROM SPACE (1978)

Message From Space is Japan’s answer to Star Wars, though there are not as many similarities as one might expect, as this colorful and deliriously fun space adventure is actually based on a Japanese legend, The Legend of the Eight Samurai. Message tells the tragic story of the planet Jillucia, which is ravaged and conquered by the Gavanas, led by tyrannical leader Rockseia XXII (Mikio Narita) and his henpecking mother (actor Hideyo Amamoto in drag). The Jillucians send out a distress in the form of eight glowing seeds which legend says will lead eight warriors, picked by the gods, to come to their defense. Jillcucian Princess, Emeralida (Etsuko Shihom) leaves to follow them and gather the warriors to return with her. Soon a ragtag group of both would be and reluctant defenders, including retired drunk General Garuda (Vic Morrow), exiled Gavana, Prince Hans (Sonny Chiba) and a bunch of space racing slackers, are off to Jillucia to take on the invaders who have now set their sights on Earth.

Directed by the versatile Kinji (Battle Royale) Fukasaku, Message From Space is a fast moving and delightfully silly and fun space opera. With an abundance of entertainingly cheezy SPFX and numerous battles and action sequences, this unlikely group of heroes go up against an almost invincible empire. You can have a real blast if you go into it with the right mindset and the right beverages. Vic Morrow’s drunken space general and his faithful robot sidekick are worth watching it for alone. There is also some really imaginative art direction and spaceship designs including a ship that resembles an old sea galleon. Message looks more like a live action Manga than a Star Wars clone with it’s art deco sets and space samurai costumes.

A really fun Saturday night film fest flick that would also make a great double feature with Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars if you can’t get your hands on The Green Slime.  Also starring Philip Casnoff, Hiroyuki Sanada, Peggy Lee Brennan and Masazumi Okabe as Aaron, Shiro, Meia and Jack respectively, the young space slackers who become heroes. Message has just become available for the first time on a beautifully remastered DVD and Blu-Ray from the awesome people at Shout Factory!

A campy , fun 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) star galleons

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