Arachnophobia (Frank Marshall) – Odd that those most likely to find this scary will be the least likely to go and see it. I’m no arachnophobe (wasps are my pet hate) so the film began at a disadvantage with me and I found myself cheering on the beasties – any hero who is a wine connoisseur loses my sympathy straight away. Most of the other characters are just as obnoxious: Julian Sands as the mandatory scientist and John Goodman as a bug-killer are the best of the (human) cast. After an hour of warming-up, it does provide some nice thrills to justify it’s existence and I suspect how much you enjoy the movie depends a lot on your feelings about spiders. Just spare a moment’s silence for the ones that died in production and those mercilessly crushed by jumpy citizens who’ve seen the movie… 6/10.
Buried Alive (Gerard Kikoine) – Cliche ridden Edgar Allen Poe adaption – you can tell because there’s a black cat in every other frame – seems like a cross between ‘Suspiria’ (lots of insects and a girls’ school) and ‘Reform School Girls’ (they’re naughty bimbos). Someone is doing nasty things to the inhabitants and Donald Pleasence wanders round saying things like “Yvonne sees reality as a warped rejection of her own super-ego” and “Who’s to say they are dead? There are many different levels of existence”. A film with all the problems of Argento movies and none of the benefits, this is a distinct disappointment from the director of ‘Edge of Sanity’ despite the first ever food-mixer scalping. 2/10.
Cafe Flesh (Rinse Dream) – “This is not a porn movie” says the Scala Cinema’s programme in block capitals and a tone of certainty. Oh, yes it is! Despite a surreal post-apocalyptic culture setting, where only 1% of the population are able to have sex (watched by the other 99%) and better characters and dialogue than might be expected, without the hard-core it’d bear a strong resemblance to ‘The Comic’. However, the decidedly cute presence of a pre-‘Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’ Michelle Bauer (under the name of Pia Snow) is adequate compensation. 6/10.
Dead Calm (Philip Noyce) – Effective, if often predictable thriller has a husband and wife on a sailing cruise, up against a psycho who maroons the husband on the gradually sinking ship belonging to his last victims, and begins to close in on the wife. The setting is nicely claustrophobic and the set pieces work well but some sections require too much credulity. Does succeed in adding a new dimension to the phrase “dumb bitch deserves to die”, however! 7/10.
Deathstalker III (Alfonso Corona) – A third director and a third lead actor remove all traces of continuity (apart from the customary rip-off footage from the previous adventures) leaving little more than a very tired idea and not enough sex or violence to justify it. What’s the point of a sword and sorcery movie without nudity or blood? It certainly isn’t the acting or the plot, neither of which stand up to scrutiny even at 3am in the morning after several beers and a lot of sandwiches. 3/10.
Desperate Hours (Michael Cimino) – Neither Cimino nor star Mickey Rourke are exactly flavour of the month with the critics so this one has been drowned in a sea of vitriol. A pity, because it’s a very slick, taut and plausible (at least as these things go) thriller. Rourke plays a psycho, sprung from jail by his girlfriend, who takes over the house of a lawyer (Anthony Hopkins) as somewhere to lie low. The police net closes inexorably towards them and the stresses start to show. It may be formula stuff, but it’s beautifully shot (perhaps too much so, it occasionally looks like a Utah Tourist Board promo film), relentlessly cool, Hopkins is as good as ever and Rourke shows that when he isn’t trying to play the sexual animal, he can act – more of this might help his career, though I know at least one female reader who’d disagree!). 8/10.
Fantasia (Walt Disney) – 50 years old, and wearing well, despite, or maybe because of astonishing naivety: it takes a while to work out why the male centaurs look odd, then you realise they’ve no nipples or belly-buttons, leaving their bodies totally blank! At least the females have breasts, albeit nippleless ones. And while the animation is less detailed than in later pictures it’s still easily as good as anything produced these days. The sequences either tell a story (‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’ is the best known) or are more or less abstract sequences of pretty pictures, such as for Bach’s Toccata – restful to the point of soporific, so it’s a good job there aren’t many of them. Advertised as “the ultimate trip”, there wasn’t a kid in sight when I saw it and if it won’t replace LSD, it’s more mind-expanding than ‘My Little Pony’. 3-8/10, mostly towards the upper end.
Flesh Gordon 2 (Howard Ziehm) – Subtitled ‘Flesh Gordon Meets The Cosmic Cheerleaders’, this delayed sequel starts off being self-consciously stupid, then hammers the viewer with an endless succession of juvenile tit-and-fart jokes until…hell, you’ve got to laugh at the awfulness of it all. Good thing too, because the actual jokes aren’t all that funny. Unlike the first, it’s aimed at the ‘R’ market so there’s a lack of blatantly removed hardcore which helps and the performances are at the right level of naffness. Racist, sexist and homophobic to the point where even I began to wince, leave all liberal sensibilities at the door. 6/10.
Goregasm (Hugh Gallagher) – After a man is found murdered and the entire police force is too busy to investigate, the case is assigned to desk detective Chase (Rick Billock). Soon he’s delving into the world of porn videos after discovering an ad for ‘Goregasm’ in the dead man’s house. The murderer turns out to be Tara (Gabriela), the wacked-out bitch in the Goregasm ad and soon Chase is trying to find her while she goes about, killing men, in various states of undress. The film (actually it’s shot on video) isn’t quite as exciting as the synopsis sounds. It is a fun “bad” film loaded with cheesy gore, the topless Gabriela and some bad acting – as a “real” film, this one has some good ideas, just doesn’t execute them well. But taken on the level that Hugh Gallagher (publisher of the ‘zine ‘Draculina’) had the guts to make a film despite having no money or stars, I’d say he did quite well: it’s a big improvement over his first venture into film-making with the dull ‘Dead Silence’. (DP)
Grim Prairie Tales (Wayne Coe) – The problem with anthology movies is that they tend to mediocrity: I’ve yet to see one with four really good stories and ‘Grim’ certainly doesn’t qualify. The linking sections are better than the tales themselves, Brad Dourif and James Earl Jones providing an otherwise too often lacking frisson. For the record, No.1 has an Indian burial ground being disturbed – I fell asleep during it, so missed the end and the start of No.2, though I did get to see it’s spectacular climax (and ‘climax’ is the word). I was kept awake for No.3 by the guy in the next seat writhing every time the 14-year old daughter appeared (Hi, Jason, isn’t libel fun?); it was otherwise pointless, and No.4, about a gunfighter scared of blood, wasn’t much better. 4/10.
Heavy Petting (Obie Benz) – A group of celebrities, from William Burroughs to Zoe Tamerlis (now with red hair and calling herself Zoe Tamerlaine, still looking wonderful) via David Byrne talk straight to camera about their early sexual experiences with varying degrees of coherency and frankness. While these often strike a chord, the confessions never give more than a glimpse of the personalities behind them, and I enjoyed the interspersed clips from 50’s and 60’s sex-education films more – these varied from the ridiculous to the very ridiculous. 7/10.
Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismaki) – If David Lynch had directed ‘The Blues Brothers’ while having one of his notorious sugar rushes, this might have been the result. A group of Finnish, vaguely Pogue-like musicians possessing incredible quiffs and minimal talent head for the States on the very reasonable grounds that “they’ll swallow any shit there”. Most of the movie centres round their journey to Mexico to play at a wedding, via encounters with Jim Jarmusch, Nicky Tesco, bikers and police – it’s all highly weird and if the far-too-numerous musical interludes do little except prove that the Leningrad Cowboys are indeed completely untainted by commercial potential, it’s still likeably unique. 6/10.
The Little Mermaid (John Musker/Ron Clements) – There used to be rumours that Walt Disney had made pornographic cartoons, which were locked away deep in the vaults of Disneyworld. While T.L.M. is no X-rated movie, it’s story resembles ‘The Trials of Traci’ (mermaid goes onto land seeking mate) and the heroine looks less like Snow White, and more like Cherry Poptart, star of a comic book high on H.M. Customs’ hit-list. Very suspicious. And then there’s all these hidden messages – beautiful people are good, ugly ones are bad – designed to influence our children. It’s a plot, I tell ya! Paranoia aside, this is good stuff, almost classic Disney and easily better than any of the American competition. While the animation may be simplified to reduce effort, it’s rarely noticeable – people lack teeth, that’s all. Nice songs, an evil villainess and an entirely predictable story: exactly what one expects from Disney. 8/10.
The Match Factory Girl (Aki Kaurismaki) – Probably the most depressing film I’ve seen in ages: a woman has a dull job, a joyless homelife and spends her evenings being gloomy. The first 20 minutes has three words of spoken dialogue: “Half of beer”. The comic highlight is someone getting poisoned. And it’s in Finnish. Yet despite being the visual equivalent of a Joy Division douple LP, it’s more engrossing than it sounds (though I can’t for the life of me work out why) – only confirmed depressives will actually enjoy it and the rest of us should be sure to put away any sharp objects before viewing. 6/10.
Meet the Applegates (Michael Lehmann). The director of ‘Heathers’ has certainly come up with one of the more original films of the year so far: giant insects move to Median, Ohio from the Amazon so they can sabotage the local nuclear plant and save the rain forests. Their instruction manual to “being American” is a Dick and Jane reading book – reality is somewhat different, the husband has an affair with a secretary, his wife discovers the joy of credit cards, their son is hooked on dope and the daughter gets pregnant. This very thin veneer of normality reaches monomolecular levels as people who discover the truth end up cocooned in the cellar. The problem is that, like ‘Twin Peaks’, there’s nothing behind the weirdness: while the scenes of the family adjusting to American life are fun, it can’t support an entire movie and the interval between inventive scenes gets steadily longer. However, bear in mind it took several viewings for ‘Heathers’ to take root… 6/10.
Mortal Passions (Andrew Lane) – This fails totally as serious drama, yet provides ninety minutes of tacky entertainment and a couple of the cutest actresses to appear on our screens this year. Zach Galligan plays a suicidal house-painter whose wife (Krista Errickson), the sort of girl who apologises by taking her clothes off, is having it away with a customer at the cocktail bar where she works, and is planning to kill her spouse for his money. But his brother finds out, kills the cuckold and takes over screwing the wife. Then the murdered man’s girlfriend appears. Oh, and both husband and wife are getting therapy from a psychologist played by David Warner. No good comes of all this, you will not be surprised to hear. Victorian melodrama, 1991-style, that gets steadily more ridiculous and sleazy by turns. I liked it. 7/10.
Nuns on the Run (Jonathan Lynn) – TC’s continuing quest to bring you the full range of nun-pics brings you a one joke movie (two criminals hide out in a convent) which by some sleight of hand still manages to be an enjoyable piece of mindless entertainment. This is mainly thanks to Robbie Coltrane (was he a nun in a previous life?) doing miracles with a script that is rarely less than obvious and never subtle. Eric Idle marks time incomparison, being frequently diverted by a love interest, presumably to reassure the audience that he and Coltrane are ‘normal’ and don’t get any pleasure out of cross-dressing. 6/10.
Polyester (John Waters) – Could be considered inspiration for ‘Meet the Applegates’ as Divine and family are so bizarre they might well be from Amazonia. Originally released with scratch and sniff cards to enhance the ambience (I’ve got an unused one – any offers?), even without them it remains trash in a compressed, concentrated form and a monument to tack. While it lacks the deliberate offensiveness of ‘Pink Flamingos’, this is no bad thing, as it’s replaced by vicious parody of American lifestyles, clothes, habits and everything from shopping to Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite a tendency to go on ramming the point home beyond what’s necessary, this is perhaps Divine’s finest moment. The plot? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you… 7/10.
Predator 2 (Steven Hopkins) – Blam! Boom! Bang! Arnie may be missing, but the bad guy is back, or at least one like it. This Predator is even better equipped to kick human ass having all sorts of nifty optional extras: ultra-violet sight as well as infra-red, killer frisbees and lots of freaky weapons, as opposed to the original Predator’s minimalist style (it went for the locking wheel nuts and a stereo radio instead). Virtually an expanded remake, set in the urban jungle of LA, I don’t think this will disappoint – it’s intelligently exploitative, Danny Glover bringing more to his character than Schwarzeneggar did, while the action sequences easily make up for some slack moments early on. The last ten minutes, as our hero finds the alien spaceship, made me sit back and go ‘Whoa!’. An early contender for Pyrotechnic Overkill Movie of 1991. 8/10.
The Presidio (Peter Hyams) – Shaun Connery is a policeman on a military base who has to contend with murders, a renegade ex-soldier turned cop and a fairly un-necessary romantic subplot involving said cop and Sean’s daughter. Needless to say, he ignores them all and proves again that while he may play a limited range of characters (this time, it’s roughly 50/50 ‘Name of the Rose’ and ‘Hunt for Red October’), he’s pretty good at them. 7/10.
Sex Madness (???) – From the same people that brought you ‘Reefer Madness’, a solemn tale of what happens to those who dare to have sex outside the sanctity of marriage. They get syphilis, pass it onto their husbands and children, are forced to the edge of suicide and lose any acting ability they may have possessed. Or maybe it just seems that way, as whoever the director is, he was clearly a one-take man: a half-open window slams shut, making the actress talking at the time visibly jump and the camera keeps right on rolling. These little technical quibbles aside, this is medical melodrama pushed to the limits – do I mark it as such or do I write it off for the dated exploitation it is? Both, and neither. 5/10.
Sugar Hill (Paul Maslansky) – You can tell you’re in trouble from the song on the opening credits of this stinker: a groovy number called ‘Supernatural Voodoo’ (available on Motown records, we’re told). Made during the blaxploitation period, the ‘plot’ concerns Sugar (Maki Bey), the death of her boyfriend and her subsequent revenge. It turns out Robert Quarry wants to get his greedy hands on the bar owned by the boyfriend – first they try buying him out but he refuses. Several minutes later they appear outside and in a totally hilarious fight scene, kill him – don’t ask why they’re wearing ladies stockings on their heads or appear to be dancing on the victim. Sugar Hill pops down to the local swamp and calls on Baron Zombie, a dude who thinks evil is breaking out into a nasty laugh every couple of minutes. He raises his zombie friends, who turn out to be a couple of black actors with silvery eyes, covered in cobwebs, and together with Sugar, they set about knocking off the dudes that killed her boyfriend. The movie is laced with well thought-out dialogue: “Honky, you killed my man – now you’re going to die, sucker” and Quarry’s insistence on calling Sugar a “black bitch”. This one has to be seen to be believed. 3 (but for a good laugh 6)/10. (MM)
The Vanishing (George Sluizer) – Dutch film that got a minimal release at cinemas to critical acclaim and is now out on video as a result. It’s unusual story has a man obsessed by the disappearance of his girl-friend, who vanished three years ago at a service station, and trying to find out what happened to her. He eventually finds the man responsible – to say any more would be unfair. A psychological thriller (roughly translated: “not action-packed”), it concentrates on the characters involved – as a drama, it’s fine (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu as the kidnapper deserves especial mention) – as a horror movie, it lacks punch and I didn’t feel it’s ending lived up to the hype. Mind you, I’m not claustrophobic… 6/10.