My Bloody Valentine

We took lots of pictures while at Shooter’s World, but on the whole, these ones are probably more aesthetically pleasing…

So, what did you do on St. Valentine’s Day? Candle-lit dinner? Romantic movie? Moonlit stroll? Me, I lost my virginity.

I should perhaps mention that we’re not talking sexual virginity here, but something which I’ve guarded far more preciously, for nigh on twice as long – my firearm virginity. In my 33rd year, I’d not as much as touched a gun, let alone shot one; in a curiously contrary and peculiarly British way, this was a perverse badge of honour: we don’t need guns in this country, thank you.

My abstemiousness came to an end at Shooter’s World in Phoenix, Arizona, a gun shop and shooting range to which I was taken on February 14th. The trip was a surprise – this was no bad thing, as if I’d known about it, I’d have probably have turned up in a long, black trench-coat, sunglasses and chewing on a match-stick, rather than jeans and a TC-shirt. I’d also have been a bundle of nerves; again, a British upbringing tends to teach you that guns of any sort are a Very Bad Thing, to be feared and avoided.

I met my teacher for the session, Bill, and gingerly carried the weapons through to the range: a pair of 9mm handguns, a Beretta and a Glock. [Did toy briefly with the idea of asking if they had a Walther PPK, but decided that would simply be sad] Having learned of my complete innocence with regard to practical weaponry, Bill opted to start from absolutely first principles i.e. the pointy bit is the muzzle. This was perhaps a little excessive, given my solid theoretical background, admittedly derived largely from John Woo films, but was probably for the best to prevent Stan Bowles-style accidents [This reference will make sense to readers who remember the TV show ‘Superstars’, and an unfortunate incident where Stan managed to blow a hole in a table during the shooting competition].

We started with a single bullet (unleashing a full clip from each hand while diving in slow-motion through the air must be on the Advanced course), and the target was set at a distance which an unbiased observer might well have described as somewhere between “pathetic” and “laughable” – you could probably have spat with a good chance of hitting the bulls-eye. It was, however, quite enough for me to deal with, as I tried to take in everything Bill told me: stance, grip, concentration, breathing, oh, and pulling the trigger. Or rather, take up the slack, feel the resistance, continue to tighten until…


Firstly, the protective gear proved its worth: even through the ear-plugs, it was fabulously loud, no doubt partly due to the enclosed space; if ‘The Killer’ was anywhere near accurate, Chow Yun Fat would be saying “Pardon?” rather a lot. On the other hand, the flames from the end of the barrel explained how Sally Yeh got blinded, and the purpose of the goggles became clear as the ejected casing ricocheted around the stall from which I’d fired. Happily, the target had a neat little circle, fractionally right of centre. Bill made encouragingly approving noises, which was very kind of him, given I could have leant forward with a pencil and done something similar.

Further rounds followed, and bigger clips. Loading was the trickiest thing about the whole event; fearful the cartridges would go off in my fingers I handled them like egg-shells,. And with two round surfaces to push against each other, I never got the clip more than about half full. Meanwhile, we’d also graduated from bulls-eyes to a target looking…well, let’s be honest, human-shaped. Bill gradually moved it back until I was finally reduced to squinting somewhere down the range towards a distant blur. To my surprise, I still hit it. Well, most of the time. [“That’s not a larch…” © Monty Python Inc.]

My TC-shirt depicted (surprise, surprise) a woman holding a gun, specifically a Hechler and Koch MP5K – Bill asked if I fancied a few rounds with the very same model. If you’d asked me before, I’d have been only vaguely interested; now I was up for flame-throwers, rocket-launchers and low-yield battlefield nukes. I have to say the H&K was perhaps not quite what America’s founding fathers had in mind when they wrote about “the right to bear arms”, or else they’d have put “the right to bear really cool, scary-looking arms”. For if one bullet is loud, flashy and impressive, the ability to rip off an entire magazine with a single pull of the trigger is god-like. I did have trouble literally coming to grips with the gun, however; while using a handgun was fairly intuitive, the correct stance and grasp for the full automatic seemed forced and unnatural, like a golf swing. You have to hold the weapon almost in the centre of your chest to balance the recoil, with your head tucked down in an odd position. Even so, my bursts had a distinct tendency to drift quickly left and up, each successive bullet throwing my aim further off. Still, it was a fitting climax to a memorable hour, and I left clutching a handful of spent shells and some severely bullet-riddled targets, now proudly attached to a door here in TCHQ.

My opinion on guns has perhaps softened now I’ve experienced how much fun they are. I do remain unsure about gun ownership: not for responsible people like you or me (well, you anyway) but no-one has yet worked out how to keep them out of the hands of idiots. And there are an awful lot of those out there – ­never forget that half the population are below average intelligence. Unfortunately, in a democracy, “being an idiot” is not deemed sufficient legal authority for prohibition. How you work round this has baffled greater minds than mine.

“Did you get a hard-on?” asked Chris as we left. No, I didn’t – but now I certainly understand better why some people do.

Thanks go to Chris for setting it all up, and to Bill Garcia for his immovable patience in the face of my irresistible ignorance, even when I tried to jam the magazine into his beloved H&K the wrong way round: “bullets first” was his helpful tip…

Shooter’s World is at 3828 N.28th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85017. Tel (602) 266-0170

High Weirdness By Mail

Peter J. Evans, Croydon – “Many thanks for the copy of TC20/21. I’m amazed that my subscription has expired, but then again the days have started blurring alarmingly into one another recently. Do you have any plans for 1997?

Anyway, here’s ten quid which, even accounting for postage and packing, should see me sticking with Trash City for the next six years or so (now there’s a scary thought). I’m sending you a note rather than a cheque because right now my bank account is the physical embodiment of quantum theory – I can never be exactly sure of what’s going on there, and actually observing it can send the whole thing into a kind of fractal Hell. To simulate this, roll 1D6 on the ‘Pete opens a bank statement’ table:

  • 1          Sink back into chair and sigh with relief
  • 2-3       Swallow loudly and start snivelling
  • 4-6       Laugh hollowly a la Eddie Hitler in that episode of Bottom when they were stuck on a ferris wheel (‘Things are looking bleak’).”

Disturbingly, I rolled a 7 – quite remarkable on a six-sided dice…

Geoff Barker, Sheffield – “About Diana – I can’t understand why anyone, given a choice of who would you rather give a damn good tw***ing? would choose old horseface Camilla rather than young, pretty desirable Diana. Most blokes think with their dicks. I know I do…

Can anyone tell me why is it that on TV “lesbians” are all attractive women/girls (for example, Beth & Margaret from Brookside, and Zoe Tate from Emmerdale) yet in real life they’re all butch types, more reminiscent of the Viz character Millie Tant? Signing the letter as my sister-in-law (a card-carrying dyke), I did send off for a copy of Blaster on Her Hip an SF/Fantasy ‘zine for “women who like women”, but was well disappointed. Where was all the totty?”

A subject that I feel deserves further study. Where did I put that copy of ‘Wild Things’?

Claire Blamey, Great Yarmouth – “I am now the proud owner of a computer. It was a freebie – I have been involved in a ‘mentoring’ thing with a chap from BT (don’t ask). I called him Polyester Ken (not to his face of course) because his name was Kenneth and he looked exactly like Ken of Ken-and-Barbie. He is the perfect example of all that is wrong with capitalism. Don’t get me wrong, he is a nice bloke, but for someone in a very high position in the company, with the attendant salary and 50 weeks holiday a year, he was thick as two short planks. He could just about write (block capitals in a sort of studied 10 year old way) and had absolutely no interest in anything apart from his boat (yes, a yacht, no less). No qualifications, left school at 15, and is now in charge of the hiring and firing of telephone field engineers in an area that extends from Northampton to Hampshire. Scary.

Anyway, BT in the usual foresighted and we-don’t-waste-any-of-our-shareholders’-money way had discovered that all the computers they had bought in the last three years for their call centres (thousands of them) were not Y2K compatible (see – I even know the lingo now). So the whole lot of them were basically chucked out – except this one which Polyester went and fetched from Bristol for me in his car and brought it up here (which was very nice of him). It’s only basic, but it’s got a colour monitor, etc., and I got our computer chappie at work to load Windows 95 on it, so it’ll do for me. It hasn’t got any Internet connections which I don’t want, as if I had it I know I would be stuck on it all day and turn into some sort of biotech interface thingy with no life (or at least less than at present – which come to think of it would be no life anyway). So now the letters I used to scribble in 5 minutes take me five times as long to do – isn’t technology wonderful?

{The Jill Dando murder] …when they had the reconstructions of the bloke who ran through Bishops Park, and went over the railings by the river, that was just about the spot where Gregory Peck has his meeting with Patrick Troughton in The Omen

An appropriately millennial note on which to finish this last letter column before we hit 2000…

Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to…the photographer’s?

J.B.S.Haldane once said, “I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy.” I don’t think he was talking specifically about pornography, but on occasion, I come across (as it were) a publication which defies belief. ‘Jail Babes’ is from the delightfully twisted mind of Larry Flynt’s Hustler Publications, a man whose stable of smut documents the warped and perverse state of the American nation as it careers towards the third millennium. Even by his standards, though, this is strange stuff, playing like a combination of ‘True Crime Illustrated’, ‘Bizarre’ and ‘Razzle’, bringing together jail-house confessions, factual pieces on misdeeds and their perpetrators (with some gruesome crime-scene and autopsy photos), and pictorials of women who are allegedly either ex-cons, or even more implausibly, have been let out on work furlough for the day in order to take part in the photo-shoot.

Of course, the important word here is “allegedly” and, as with anything to do with the porn industry, you’re well advised to take the whole shebang with a pinch of salt, not least the lurid and florid text which accompanies the pictures. However, it’s readily apparent that most of the models are not going to be getting calls from Hugh Hefner in the near future, the quality ranging from not-too-bad, down to the skanky ho level. It’s probably the latter who are the more interesting, from a veracity point of view, as well as the photographic: you’re a million miles from soft-focus, air-brushed cheerleaders here and the words, with their tales of abuse and felonies, become disturbingly plausible.

Flynt is, however, a hard-nosed businessman and wouldn’t have published the mag if there wasn’t an audience for it. “Bad Girls” exert a particular fascination on most men, though most would stop short a little way before convicted criminals. Not all though: the appeal of convicted killers is well known, and there exist Internet sites, such as (and its male equivalent, devoted to putting those on the outside in touch with those inside. The appeal of that does escape me – I’ve had my share of psychos already – though I suppose you will always know where your woman is… But the disturbing thing is that while the Prison Babes site goes into great detail about the dames, it notably omits to mention why they are behind bars, a somewhat pertinent fact, I’d have said.

That is probably going a bit further down the road than ‘Jail Babes’, which allows you the chance to examine them up-close and personal, without the risk of a fork in the eyeball. And if you’re going to leave pornography lying casually on the coffee-table in your lounge, then better get in a few copies, ‘cos you’ll probably find this magazine will mysteriously evaporate whenever friends call round…

Single issues are $6.99, annual subs to the UK  are $39.95. Visa and Mastercard accepted – preferably your own…

Jail Babes,
PO Box 5743,
Beverley Hills
CA 90209-9909

Film Blitz

Angel Heart (Alan Parker) – Blimey. Rarely has a film swung so wildly from the crassly obvious (“Louis Cyphre”…why didn’t they make it “B.L.Zebub” and have done with it?) to the utterly obscurist (most of the rest of the movie). Mickey Rourke stumbles along convincingly as the P.I. trying to find a singer with whom Mr.Cyphre had a deal, only to find murder, evil and Lisa Bonet stalking his every move. So it’s not all bad, then. Long on atmosphere and short on coherence, it’s a film you need to watch twice in a row to get a grip on – except it relies so much on precise mood, that it could be years before I feel I want to see it again. Unsettling stuff, mixing Christian and voodoo mythologies to discomforting effect, even if most of the time, you don’t have a clue what’s happening or what it all means. C+

Dark City (Alex Proyas) – Bring yer sniperscope for this one, as Proyas delivers a viable candidate for Least Lit Film of 1998. Peering through the murk, we see a city run as an experiment by an alien race, which gets reset every midnight, though only a handful of people realise this, notably scientist Kiefer Sutherland. [If that idea sounds a bit familiar, it’s because a very similar concept was used in ‘The Matrix’] Though over-reliant on computer graphics, it all looks very nice – what you can see of it in the gloom – but hero Rufus Sewell is unconvincing, and it might have been better had there been another tragic on-set accident, such as Proyas already endured in ‘The Crow’. The audience can empathise with the sets, both being largely left in the dark, even if by the end you get just about enough grip on it to wish you’d not lost interest earlier on. C-

Deep Rising (Stephen Sommers) – Starting off as ‘Under Siege’, with a group of crims preparing to assault a liner, this suddenly warps when they find a distinct lack of passengers, and something very icky now inhabiting the stricken ship. From here, you’re in ‘Aliens’ territory, with the odd nod to the likes of ‘Tremors’ and ‘Anaconda’, though the relatively brief period since the last-named has seen computer effects go from obviously artificial to solidly convincing. There’s an inevitability about who gets shredded, yet Treat Williams and Famke Janssen put enough effort in to balance the cardboard villains. It’s crunchy and juicy on the gore front and, probably wisely, no effort at all is made to explain the Rob Bottin designed creatures. The result is an old-fashioned monster mash, albeit one bordering on ‘Legend of the Overfiend’ for sheer tenticularity, and of rather more than B-movie quality, at least on the technical side. B+

Enemy of the State (Tony Scott) – Taking paranoia to new heights, this pits lawyer Will Smith against, oh, the entire bulk of the National Security Agency and every closed-circuit TV camera on the continent, after he acquires proof of a Senator’s murder. Gene Hackman and Lisa Bonet provide assistance, Jon Voight and Jake Busey don’t. Scott delivers his usual blend of flashy smoke and mirrors, to distract from a plot which…hey, look at that hyper-kinetic zoomy camerawork! Still, Smith turns in an appealing and winning performance, while Hackman does his best to lend gravitas to things, and even the NSA bad guys are a nice mix of thugs and nerds. The overall effect  may be that you find yourself looking nervously up into the sky for a few days… B

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (Scott Spiegel) – The first film has George Clooney; this one has Robert ‘T2’ Patrick. And that sums up the problem here; compared to the first film and its playful maliciousness, this comes up short in most directions. Patrick is part of a bank-robbing gang down Mexico way, who finds his colleagues turning vampirical after an encounter with Danny Trejo – about the only person to return from the original. Spiegel certainly doesn’t stint on the action, but it seems a steadily more desperate attempt to keep the audience interested, since the plot and characters fail to do so. Cameos by Bruce Campbell and Tiffany-Amber Thiessen engage excitement in the first five minutes; however, from the moment you realise that’s just a film-within-the-film, it’s downhill all the way. D

Guyver: Dark Hero (Steve Wang) – Wang deserves credit for twisting the first film, a tongue-in-cheek rubber-monster romp, into something as downbeat as the title suggests. It combines extraterrestrial archaeology (Quatermass and the Pit), an evil, weaponry-seeking corporation (Aliens), a tortured cyborg hero (David Hayter, training for his role as the voice of Solid Snake in Playstation classic ‘Metal Gear Solid’)…and latex monsters, which do make it hard to take as seriously as it wants – the surprising amounts of gore do help there. At least the gore is present in the uncut version reviewed here, which comes in at a terrifically ambitious two hours; unfortunately, the UK release is over 20 minutes shorter. This is a shame since, while it doesn’t quite pull it off, being both too po-faced and too silly, it’s a brave stab at an intelligent B-movie. C+

Highway to Hell (Ate de Jong) – This quirky little horror pic proves that given enough imagination, even a ludicrous central premise can work. And, boy, do we mean ludicrous here: a Satanic cop stalks a stretch of road, kidnapping beauties for his master in Hell, until the boyfriend of one follows him below, intent on rescue. This part of Hell looks like Arizona, it would appear, and there are too many mis-steps to make this a classic; the astonishingly annoying kid guarantees that. Yet, equally, there are enough cool elements casually dropped in without fanfare to keep you watching, and Jason Patric makes a fine Devil. Nice touch that Satan wants only virginal beauties, reversing the usual ‘have sex and die’ cliche – but such is the kind of oddball movie we have here. Worth a look. C+

It’s Alive + It Lives Again (Larry Cohen) – Cohen has an ability to take even the most ridiculous of concepts and turn it into a horror movie. Whether it’s killer yoghurt (The Stuff), killer flying snakes (Q: The Winged Serpent) or, as in this case, killer babies, his technique is to play it all totally straight, no matter to what depths of bizarreness things sink. In the first film, we have a mother giving birth to a mutant kid, which then proceeds to rampage through LA on its way back home, yet no-one ever bothers to mention how ludicrous it is. Perhaps wisely, the baby is kept mostly out of sight, Cohen endeavouring to create a creepy atmosphere while making social comment on the evils of pollution: neither are hugely successful, but it’s only in the last fifteen minutes that boredom really sets in. Given the severely limited material, this isn’t a bad squeeze job at all. The follow-up heads off in a different direction, concentrating on the government plot to kill all the mutant babies, and the counter-conspirators trying to save them. This works better, and the feel is similar to ‘Scanners’ (albeit with fewer exploding heads). Cohen adopts Jim Cameron’s approach to sequels i.e. if one baby is scary, three must be scarier – however, you rarely see more than one, presumably for budgetary reasons, leaving the effect somewhat diluted! Still, Cohen’s reputation for strange little efforts is proven once more to be well-deserved. C- and C+

Jawbreaker (Darren Stein) – High school can be murder. Literally, in this case, as Rose McGowan (whose boyfriend is the cameoing Marilyn Manson) and her clique of cronies, try to cover up a death when a prank goes wrong. Shades of ‘Heathers’ here, obviously, though the film’s main weakness is  sympathetic characters who are so bland as to be forgettable. Bad girls have more fun, it would appear., and McGowan is great, towering above everyone else in the film like the Gucci-clad embodiment of pure evil. The script is nicely observed, yet your attention may wander during the middle section, since it’s fairly obvious where it’s all going to end up – at the Senior Prom. The soundtrack is also way too intrusive, with most of an eye on the inevitable spin-off compact disk. Chewy, yet lacking in bite and eventually unsatisfying. C+

John Carpenter’s Vampires (three guesses) – …though if I was JC, I’d be a little wary about putting my name to it, since this modern-day vampire film comes over as limp and anaemic, not sexy or gory enough, and seriously short in the bad attitude bureau. However, I definitely  exempt one person from criticism: James Woods as the “heroic” vampire-killer, who demonstrates the difference between A-movie actors like himself, and the B-movie rest of the cast. The man is utterly hardcore, even if this is the sort of film you expect to see at the start of a career, not after Oscar nominations. He is the film’s main saving grace; a couple of nice ideas (winching the vampires into the sunlight) are buried in a definite sense of seen-it-all-before. Carpenter’s career continues to sink, and may be irrevocably holed. Meanwhile, the iceberg that is James Woods sails serenely on. D+

The Mangler (Tobe Hooper) – It’s hard to take any film seriously where a major protagonist is a possessed iron, even if admittedly it’s a somewhat larger than average model, being fed with 16-year olds by evil laundry owner Robert Englund. You can spot the plot elements a long way in advance, and there’s a curious lack of era, which could be any time from the 1930’s on. The gore is infrequent, but copious and effective when it appears, even if getting sucked through a steam press miraculously leaves your skull uncrushed. Such incongruities indicate where this is coming from, and the plot is both ludicrous and slipshod. There is a certain Grand Guignol charm about the climax, however, when the industrial equipment starts stalking its victims through the laundry. Laugh? I did. D-

Mixed Blood (Paul Morrissey) – This has the low-budget feel of something Abel Ferrara would do; grubby, down-beat New York locations populated by scummy characters dealing in copious quantities of drugs. It’s giving nothing away to say it all ends in tears. Alphabet City is the name of the area in question, where a range war is going on between two groups seeking to control the coke + heroin trade. The film centres on the La Punta family, ruled by a matriarch so desensitised to death that she happily plans funeral and christenings simultaneously. This performance, by Marilia Pera, drags the film up by its bootstraps; the rest of the actors largely fail to deliver identifiable characters, and often, intelligible dialogue. The other major thing you’ll take away is a firm resolve to drive speedily past Alphabet City, should you be in the neighbourhood. C+

Raw Justice (David S.Prior) – Pamela Anderson in reasonable performance shock! Okay, she’s playing a hooker here, so unkind elements might suggest it’s not much of a stretch. Bounty hunter David Keith (doing a Patrick Swayze impression) is “looking after” a murder suspect, and links up with Pammie for no apparent reason – although let’s face it, who wouldn’t, given the opportunity. His task apparently involves chasing through swamps in hoverboats and copious amounts of property destruction. Oh, and having sex with Pammie up against the wall of a warehouse, though she also bonks the murder suspect in a motel room. Friendly girl. This is, of course, total nonsense, and the New Orleans location is sadly wasted. However, it lacks all pretensions to higher things and hits the target – albeit the one labelled “lowest common denominator” – with practiced ease. C

The Rock (Michael Bay) – As a Brit, there’s something very satisfying about watching Sean Connery, pensionable and locked up for 30 years, kicking the arses of the best American special forces. Indeed, this is on the whole fairly gratifying, particularly a first half which has two sequences that lesser films would happily claim as a finale. As is standard in this kind of thing, the professionals are toast early on, and it’s up to amateurs Connery and Nicolas Cage to save the day, in this case by evicting evil terrorists from Alcatraz. One at a time. In interesting ways. Usually involving explosions or gunfire, for this is a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. The major problem here may be biochemical: the human body can’t contain enough adrenalin for 135 minutes of uninterrupted climax, and by the end, I found myself punch-drunk and wobbling. Though that might just have been too much microwave popcorn. B-

Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow) – With James Cameron lurking as writer and producer, it’s hard to tell to whom this film belongs, not least because there are two different stories crammed into it. Both take place in the same dystopian future, on the eve of the year 2000, and involve a device which records life experiences, but one is a serial-killer thriller and the other a political polemic about a murdered rapper. The two fail to meld, despite obvious efforts, and the overall effect is of flicking TV channels; an appropriate metaphor for a movie which wears its media-consciousness like a medal, burying any interesting ideas, about the street finding uses for technology, in a tidal wave of chases and pop-promo style. Ranulph Fiennes is barely okay as the dodgy dealer still in love with wannabe rock star Juliette Lewis, who seems keen to show her breasts off. Like the film itself, these are something of a disappointment, but at least they’re a good deal less confusing and noisy. D+

Vampire Journals (Ted Nicolaou) – This Full Moon production clearly wants to be ‘Interview with the Vampire’; luckily, it isn’t, despite a similar fondness for candlelit angst and heaving bosoms. The hero, a “vampire with a mortal’s heart”, is hunting Ash, the most powerful of his breed in Romania. It’s largely traditional stuff, dark and brooding vamps, and Nicolaou does overplay his limited hand – if you see one shadow flitting across a building, you see twenty! Despite a heavy reliance on drapes ‘n’ chandeliers, the Eastern European setting (more for pecuniary reasons than out of any desire for authenticity, I suspect) gives this a lush and decadent feel, while the internecine vampiric bitching is a nice touch. In the end, though, you can’t help wondering where Buffy is when you need her… D+

Hong Kong Special

Beyond Hypothermia (Patrick Leung) – A classy little film, mixing ‘Leon’ and ‘Nikita’ to good effect, in a beautifully shot tale of a female assassin (Ng Sin Lin), totally numbed by her work, who finds humble noodle vendor Lau Ching Wan defrosting her heart. On the action side, she incurs the wrath of a Korean gangster, who single-mindedly starts to track her down. Told largely in subtle flashback, it benefits from good performances on both sides of the camera. As the heroine thaws, so we grow to like her, increasing the impact of the final, bloody confrontation in which she faces her destiny. The feel is very Western, with little suspension of disbelief required by the viewer, and it’s a minor gem. B+

The Big Score (Wong Jing) – A rollicking start here, as an undercover cop has revenge taken on him by the gangster he betrayed: specifically (deep breath), he is kneecapped, blinded and has nitric acid poured down his throat, while his daughter is killed and his wife raped then killed. These are not nice people. Enter his friends, one an ex-cop, the other a gambler, who join forces for revenge on the perpetrator. Typically, of course, the cop ends up doing the gambling, while the card shark wields the weapons. Not just directed by, but starring Wong Jing (as a lecherous swindler – ­hmmm…), this is easy on the brain, yet if it goes pretty much as you’d expect, the initial violence gives it an edge beyond the brain candy. And only Wong would pull a refreshingly incorrect “blind girl as comic relief” stunt. A working knowledge of mah-jong would probably help a good bit. C+

The Ebola Syndrome (Herman Yau) – Perhaps the most notorious Cat.III flick, I think this does live down to its reputation. Murderer, pervert and generally non-nice guy Anthony Wong becomes a carrier for Ebola after having sex with a dying African woman. When he heads back to Hong Kong, it’s virus-on-the-loose time, as the police try and track him down. A graphic autopsy scene, killings, rapes and a sequence which will put you off steamed pork for ever are the ‘highlights’; the stuff between gross-outs is scarcely memorable in comparison, though Wong is clearly making fun of his own role in the same director’s ‘Untold Story’. Calling this a black comedy might be going a little far, but it’s certainly not a film to take seriously. Ethnic stereotypes, gore, sexploitation: hard to see how they could top this one, which is certainly memorable, though you will need to be in a very liberal mood! B-

High Risk (Wong Jing) – The Cantonese title may be approximately translated as “Mouse Courage Dragon Might”, which makes a good bit more sense when you know that, in Hong Kong, ‘Die Hard’ was called “Tiger Courage Dragon Might” for this is somewhere between a parody of, and a homage to, that film. Jacky Cheung plays Frankie Lane, an actor who relies on stand-in Jet Li to do the work. The pair, together with a nosey TV reporter (Chingmy Yau), are taken hostage in a skyscraper by a gang of jewel thieves – led by the guy who killed Li’s wife and child two years before. The first half is broad parody: Lane is famed for doing his own stunts, but is actually a fake, drunkard and lecher. Do you think Wong Jing was pissed at Jackie Chan or something? Eventually, however, even Lane becomes a hero when the second half kicks into full-on “Willis in vest” mode. Jet Li never gets to do much, surprisingly, leaving the final battle to Cheung, yet the end result is fast and fun – as long as you’re not a hardcore Chan fan… B

In the Lap of God (Lo Kin) – Almost an HK version of ‘Jewel on the Nile’, with Roy Cheung and Irene Wan as Douglas + Turner, travelling through Burma, the former to reclaim diamonds, which the latter hopes to exchange for her kidnapped fiance. The sparky fencing between these two keeps the first half alive, with Cheung particularly personable as they try to outwit each other en route from Hong Kong. Probably inevitably, they then have to team up in the face of corrupt soldiers, guerillas, crocodiles, etc – the usual stuff. It does become a little ho-hum and predictable eventually, while the ending is blatantly visible from a long way off. Still, an aimiable time-passer. C

Once Upon a Time in Triad Society (Cha Chuen-Yee) – The structure of this one is great; a gang boss is shot and, lying on the operating table in hospital, looks back on his life. But is it real, or is it what he wants to be true? Half-way through, this flips, forcing you to re-evaluate what you have seen, and there are a host of other cool touches which have to be experienced to be appreciated. Francis Ng delivers two more or less independently good performances as the boss, though it’s really scriptwriter Chung Kai-Cheung who deserves most of the credit. If you think you’ve seen all the twists on Hong Kong gangster films, this one will probably make you sit up and take notice. Going by this film, Depeche Mode were right – God has indeed got a sick sense of humour. B+

Sex and Zen II (Cheuk Man Yu) – Only loosely connected to the original, this is not as sexy nor as, er, Zenny, preferring to head into supernatural territory. A female spirit roams the countryside, draining life energy from her victims (three guesses how) and with the ability to change sex thanks to a guidebook of advanced carnal knowledge. It’s closer to things like ‘Ghostly Vixen’, even if at the start it has some elements you’d expect – ­specifically, a penis transplant. In Part 1, it was from a horse, this time it’s a mechanical device with more functions than a Swiss Army knife, although this fine idea is sadly underused. The odd scene works well, yet it falls uncomfortably between sex and horror, and ultimately fails to satisfy as either. Best line: “I must make her come, to avenge my father”. D+

She Shoots Straight (Corey Yuen) – This blast of largely revenge-driven cinema stars Joyce Gaudenzi (who is Mrs. Samo Hung – he has a minor role here) as Mina, a cop who marries into a whole family of police, but finds trouble being accepted by her sisters-in-law, who resent her getting promotion over their brother. Things go from bad to worse, after she kills a Vietnamese criminal and becomes the target for retaliation, and from worse to utterly dreadful when it’s her husband who ends up getting murdered. Time for her own revenge, methinks. The action is good, yet sits awkwardly with the dramatic elements, and the scene which will stay in my mind has Mina at her mother-in-law’s birthday party, trying desperately not to let on about her husband’s death. It’s all rather too relentless, and this one catches fire only occasionally when compared to Gaudenzi’s superior, albeit much lighter, ‘Licence to Steal’. C

A Taste of Killing and Romance (Veronica Chan) – Perhaps oddly, given its female director, the killing works better than the romance in this film about two assassins, Andy Lau and Anita Yuen, who meet and fall in love, until one of them is ordered to take out the other. Meanwhile the cops are closing in, and there’s also a Very Bad assassin – in the film’s most memorable scene, he suffocates a pensioner in clingfilm, pours Dettol down her granddaughter’s throat, and chucks her dog in the washing machine. This cheerful exuberance enlivens most of the action, even if ‘The Killer’ is an obvious inspiration – in some ways, this is a remake with extra added lurve. However, that angle falls some way short of being convincing, and too often you find yourself waiting for the next piece of imaginative mayhem. C+

To Be Number One (Poon Man-Kit) – Downbeat, realistic, but not actually all that entertaining saga of life among the triads. Ray Lui plays a junior thug at the bottom of the heap, who has a chance encounter with the head of his triad and embarks on a spree of violence to impress and win promotion. Except, of course, it doesn’t quite go as planned, and his boss eventually has to deal with his loose cannon. The violence is well-staged and possesses the required impact, but the characters are ill-defined and there are simply too many subsidiary ones rattling around – a concentration on the central character would have helped. As it is, you simply don’t care what happens to him, leaving the result distant and unengaging. D+

Treasure Hunt (Jeff Lau) – Chow Yun-Fat playing a CIA agent sent into China scarcely seems like a stretch, but this is less wall-to-wall action than poignant romance. Chow ends up stuck in a Shaolin temple, where he meets and falls in love with Wu Chien Lien, a girl possessing psychic powers – ­and introduces the monks to the delights of baseball and Nintendo! It’s all rather sweet, with one particularly beautiful moonlit flight through the snow, and not much violence or blood until the bad guys kidnap his girl when…well, I’m sure you can guess what happens. While the gunplay seems somewhat perfunctory and half-hearted, the other elements work nicely, right up to an ending straight out of ‘The Railway Children’. Heroic tearshed, shall we say. B-

The Spoof is Out There

The Roswell Incident And Other Fairy Stories
by Jim Swallow

The Truth Is Out There. Trust No One. Deny Everything. It’s sinister to consider that all these X Files quotes apply so well to the so-called “Roswell Incident”… Probably the best-known and worst-documented (in terms of actual “truth”) UFO event in history, say the name of this sleepy New Mexico town at an average dinner party and you’ll hook a dozen folks each with their own take on what happened. Strangely, Roswell is actually better known than so-called “first ever” sighting by pilot Kenneth Arnold, in reporting which a wag journalist coined the term “flying saucer” and the rest was history (In actuality, Arnold’s sighting was pre-dated by the less famous but no less intriguing Maury Island sighting, which also featured recovered UFO material, three days before). Arnold’s sighting in Washington State was on 24th June 1947, and a little over a week later, something odd crashed in New Mexico.

The fog of claim, counter-claim and theory upon theory about the event has helped to muddy the waters so much that it’s likely we’ll never know what happened. We may even have seen some glimpse of the truth, but now we’ll never be able to tell. Even the few remaining people who were there probably aren’t even sure anymore. All you can say truthfully about the Roswell happening is that;

  • a) Something crashed in the desert. It may even have been several somethings…
  • b) The local airbase said it was a UFO, then they changed their minds and said it was a balloon
  • c) The people in charge lied about some things. Quite how much is another story.

Like any legend, Roswell has grown grander and more exciting with each telling. 1995 saw the ‘revelation’ of alleged autopsy footage of bodies and hardware recovered from the crashed vehicle, and with the public’s pre-Millennial appetite for weirdness, conspiracy & paranoia stories still not sated, it’s a legitimate target for the media to sink it’s teeth into. Even that most popular of SF TV, Star Trek, has taken the myth to it’s own — the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine spilt the beans for all time by revealing that the crashed UFO was in fact a time-travelling starship crewed by some of DS9’s resident aliens. Roswell was name-checked in The X Files first season finale “The Erlenmeyer Flask” and later in “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (which spoofed practically every bit of UFO lore in forty-five minutes), but noticeably missed from the 70’s series Project UFO (and indeed, missed from the real Project Blue Book on which the TV series was based). Perhaps the most entertaining TV outings for the story formed part of the series Dark Skies, which ran an interesting tap-dance act between its own story arc and dozens of “real” UFO events.

It seems that the movie and TV execs love affair with this infinitely malleable story has yet to wane; Here’s a rough guide to some of the fall-out you can find on your video shelves….

Incident At Roswell – Shown on Channel 4 here in the UK and also sold on video, Incident At Roswell is a documentary on the event that covers the salient facts well and allegedly introduces a new element with a previously silent witness. The program is built largely around Ray Santilli’s “lost” alien autopsy footage, and as such might make the entire endeavour as suspect as the autopsy film.  I have to say that I’m not convinced by the Santilli footage…It just doesn’t look right to me. But, you’ll have to make your own mind up on that one. All I will say is that I recently spoke with a British video company executive who lightly offered to put me in touch with everyone involved in the faking of the film — for free. The Santilli film also aired in the USA and later here in Europe on the Sci-Fi Channel in Fox Television’s doc Alien Autopsy: Fact Or Fiction?, which did so well that it has since spun off it’s own series, The Paranormal Borderline, presented by Star Trek: The Next Generation dude Jonathan Frakes. Frakes’ programme also shares airtime with other video-verité and yes-it’s-true shows like Sightings and The Extraordinary.

Roswell – Kyle MacLachan stars as Major Jesse Marcel in this docu-drama loosely based on the book “UFO Crash At Roswell”. For those of us familiar with the story of the incident, there’s nothing new here to see, but for people after a quick and dirty synopsis of the event, you can do worse than watch this. The story finds an aged Marcel piecing the truth behind the cover-up together through flashback and chats with other witnesses. When he has most of the pieces, enter Martin Sheen as Townsend, a shady type who muddies the waters completely with the woolly saucer theories familiar to anyone who’s read a few UFO books. Story wise, Roswell is (like the real thing) interesting but quite incomplete, and the effects are quite neatly donebut it fails to capture any sense of the more sinister elements of the Roswell crash.

Overall, Roswell is more a movie about Marcel than it is about the incident; We sympathise with this family man who’s made the fall guy for a military cover-up, but to be honest it could have been anything they were hiding. The UFO angle is almost incidental. There’s also a few gaps that could have been filled in the movie – we see flashbacks from other witnesses as they speak to Marcel – but some of the more interesting Roswell accounts have been bypassed…  There’s nothing much of the actual UFO crash site aside from a few blurry pictures. Budget restrictions, maybe? But gripes aside, Roswell is one of the better of the bunch. B+.

[One other interesting Roswell item, in the category of “life’s little ironies”. A flap that spread over the Internet in 1995 when someone released grainy new pictures of a Grey’s corpse, was eventually put down when some movie buff realised they were actually props from this film, that had been mistaken for the “real” thing…]

Official Denial – This at-first promising piece of 1993 UFOria stars Parker Stevenson as your typical abductee-spurned-by-those-around-him-who-do-not-believe, trying to convince his wife (played by Buck Rogers alumnus Erin Gray) that the little grey men are coming to get him. Enter the U.S. Air Force, watching his every move, waiting for the aliens to come; And come they do, in a nifty CGI UFO, beaming him up to the ship, implanting the traditional “nasal object” before dumping him back on the lawn. The USAF give chase, first in Apache helicopter gunships, then in stealth fighters, before the general in charge of the ‘secret compound’ orders the UFO lasered out of the sky by an SDI satellite. Pretty soon, the government forces under the control of the ‘Majestic’ agency cordon off the site around the downed saucer and investigate;

We get scenes of the alien ship inside and out (oddly familiar in tone to anyone who’s played the PC game UFO: Enemy Unknown), a dead Grey and subsequent autopsy thanks to trigger-happy Colonel Dirk (Battlestar Galactica) Benedict, and a live one too. Stevenson is brought in as a last-ditch attempt to communicate with the alien and then it all goes pear-shaped…About twenty minutes in, Official Denial changes from a reasonable TV movie to a low-grade rip-off of E.T., even pinching John Williams’ musical riffs. In the end, we discover the Greys are actually genetically engineered time-travelling humans from the polluted world of the far future, and they’re only abducting us for our (and their) own eco-aware good. I’m reminded of the Commander X books and William Cooper’s warnings about movie conspiracies – that the media is being manipulated to portray UFOs and aliens as benevolent – after watching this one. Official Denial gets my official denial and scores a D, or a C+ if you turn off before the cute stuff starts.

[As an aside, the writer of Official Denial, Bryce Zaybel, was one of the co-writers for the aforementioned Dark Skies, which starts in the Kennedy-era Sixties and posits a “hidden history” of alien invasion and conspiracy. Unlike his movie, this is much more fun, a neat hybrid of JFK, The X Files and The Invaders, Dark Skies is well worth a look, a punchy romp through the sinister countryside of the UFO mythos, with all the trimmings. For saucer buffs, Dark Skies is the show, as its plot thread neatly dovetails with “real world” incidents like the Gary Powers U2 crash, the Kennedy assassination and the Betty & Barney Hill abduction in 1961. The last also has its own movie version, The UFO Incident, with James Earl Jones playing Barney like he’s phoning his lines in.]

Fire In The Sky – This one seems to have something going for it from the outset, as we’re proudly told that Fire In The Sky is based on the true-life abduction of logger Travis Walton (played by D.B. Sweeney) from a forest in Arizona back in 1975. Walton and a bunch of co-workers were heading home one night when they came across a saucer blocking the road — Walton got out to take a look and was zapped for his trouble. His workmates panicked and drove away, coming back later to find Walton and the UFO gone. Travis stayed gone for nearly a week and in the meantime his fellows on the logging crew were accused of his murder. On his return, dumped 12 miles away from the site, Walton recounted his tale of alien abduction. The movie is a bit uninvolving, despite capable performances by Robert Patrick as Walton’s best buddy and James Garner as the investigating officer, starting off with the reaction of the townsfolk to Walton’s vanishing and the tidal wave of rumour that builds up against the innocent loggers.

Just as we begin to sympathise with Walton’s mates, he comes back and the movie changes tracks (and even producers) as his abduction is seen in flashback. Travis Walton himself even makes an appearance, as one of the concerned townspeople. Then the film ends, with no suspense, no explanation, no nothing. Realistic? Yes. But filmic? No. Fire In The Sky also neglects to mention a few things, like the Walton family’s reputation for practical jokes and Travis’ prior interest in UFOs, only touching on the possible untruthful aspects of the case in vague, blink-and-you-miss-it asides. The scenes on the UFO are quite engaging, if almost completely unlike Walton’s ‘actual’ experiences, and include some rather squirmy moments on an examination table. Clearly writer Tracey Torme (late of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Sliders and the risible alien abduction miniseries Intruders) exercised all his artistic licence here, not in the Earthbound sequences. Fire In The Sky rates a hardly scorching C.

Hangar 18 – Like Area 51, Dreamland, Gulf Breeze, Warminster and of course Roswell, Hangar 18 is one of the notorious pieces of saucer-infested real estate around the globe. In this 1980 B-flick, a duo of shuttle astronauts are blamed for a satellite explosion caused by a crashing UFO, and while the two search for the truth, the government men (Robert Vaughn and Darren McGavin in full “Deep Throat” mode) plot to hide the ship in the secret hangar. For your money you get a bit of Capricorn One, some Close Encounters, a dash of Flight Of The Navigator and mishmash of all those American Seventies post-Nixon conspiracy movies.

There are a couple of missed opportunities: although both the alien pilots are dead, we don’t get an autopsy, and we never really get to see much of the UFO aside from some flashy lights nicked from Glen A. Larson productions. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Hangar 18 is the slight debt owed it by 1996’s big budget alien invasion flick, Independence Day, which has a similar secret base, with a similar investigative team poking through a crashed ship…The only difference here is that the ID4 saucer crashed back in 1947, giving the movie a little Roswell riff as well. But as for Hangar 18, it’s a D.

Communion – Oh yeah. The Whitley Strieber movie-of-the-book. Now while this one has the always-watchable Christopher Walken playing the lead role, it’s a little tough for me to give Communion any kind of real credence. Strieber was and still is a highly selling horror fiction writer, and obviously the kind of guy with an eye for a story that will shift books; The fact that Communion shot up the book charts and was then followed by a couple of sequels (and let’s not forget this flick) makes me wonder just how “true” a story this is. One of Strieber’s post-Communion books was ‘Majestic’ (there’s that word again), and in it he allegedly quoted from another book published by a Victorian writer, whose writings conveyed his story of alien abduction. Strieber called it proof.

Actually, it was written in the 70’s by noted British SF humorist/columnist Dave Langford… Anyone who can miss a boner like that has a serious credibility gap. But about the film. The direction is somewhat loopy and meanders; Walken and a reasonable cast of co-stars (including the excellent Frances Sternhagen) try to keep things on an even keel. The numerous dream sequences (or whatever) degenerate into dumb rock-video imagery towards the end, and while there are a couple of disturbing instances, any imprint these leave is washed away by the later, more slack moments. Read the book; I’m told it’s better. D.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Spielberg’s classic UFO film from his pre-E.T. days in 1977, while still a good flick, has dated a tad. The effects seem a little rough around the edges now (no Industrial Light & Magic or CGI back then, remember), but yet can still wow you – who can forget that great moment when the mothership rises over Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (which is a real place, in case you were wondering), little Cary Guffey’s abduction (later pinched for Fox Mulder’s sister) or the subtle giant shadows and now-cliché blinding aerial spotlights that dog Richard Dreyfuss. My fave has to be that bit with the headlights in the rear-view mirror…But I digress.

To Steve’s credit, it’s a great-looking film and it proves that he had that magic touch back then; CE3K is a real crowd-pleaser, with drama, suspense, chase bits and some real spectacle, but is it a “real” UFO film? Spielberg will have us believe that the Greys are our ‘space brothers’, not the ones responsible for evil abductions (only good ones) and cattle mutilations. Back in the Seventies, that might have been believable for the populace, but now in the wake of post-X Files paranoia it seems dreadfully naive. Maybe Spielberg is right, and they are going to be our pals — but he’d have a much harder time proving it today. Nevertheless, despite its sentimentality and a fluffy and essentially vacuous core, CE3K is a visual treat and worth a second look, in either its normal or “Special Edition” versions. It’s also interesting to keep an eye open for all of Spielberg’s cinematic riffs that have become clichés or staples of UFO stories ever since. B+.

and all the rest… Of course, if you can’t find any of these, head down to your local video store and abduct the following works of “art” — but don’t pay real money for ‘em.. These are uniformly D-’s and worse…. The Return is a clunky CE3K remix with Cybill Shepherd, Jean-Michael Vincent and Martin Landau in something they all probably keep off their CV’s. There’s a mad prospector (actually a mad alien cattle and person mutilator) and lots of flashy lights and nice E.Ts — so-so UFO pabulum. Visitors Of The Night is a TV movie aimed at the middle-America mum market, with an angst-ridden housewife agonising over her rebellious daughter to her workaholic ex-hubby while ogling the hunky local sheriff…but it turns out mum’s an ex-abductee and her daughter is next in line, because the Greys want babies. All the aliens stuff is a metaphor for the break-up of the family (the rebellious and hateful daughter realises that mother is always right when the UFOs turn up), and there’s a timely triangular UFO as opposed to the more common saucer. The movie ends with them both being abducted — which means the audience don’t have to listen to them whine anymore. Don’t be fooled by the semi-clad babe on the video cover and the  hints that this is a skin-flick – it’s not.

If you want a real soft-core space porn movie, check out Erotic Encounters — there’s no Roswell connection, but it proves that the aliens don’t just probe folks anally and it invents a new kind of perversion: xenosexuality.  Elsewhere, we have Intruders – a duff TV miniseries about alien foetal hybrids and abduction, way too long and utterly yawnable – and the more recent Nineties miniseries remake of The Invaders, where Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula struggles with a mind-implant and a meandering script. There’s a couple of nicely moody moments, and a cool tip-of-the-hat cameo by the show’s original star Roy Thinnes, but it’s hard going.

Of course, this listing only manages a handful of the saucer flicks you can find, so don’t be afraid to get in some beers, put on your tinfoil hat and seek out your own UFO gems; just don’t forget to keep watching the skies. Heck, if you don’t believe that’s enough of a connection to Hollywood, did you know that actress Demi Moore was born in Roswell? Draw what conclusions you will from that…

The spate of Roswell-alikes (many dating back to since before the arrival of Ray Santilli’s alien autopsy footage) and related UFOrama continues apace, and while many of these stories are high on the hoke scale, it’s still sad fun for dedicated (and demented) saucer buffs to note the classic props of the modern UFO myth as they appear in them; Watch out for, and tick off:

  • The Black Helicopter  
  • The Authority Figure In Search Of The Truth  
  • The Nasal Object  
  • The Cordoned-Off Crash-Site  
  • The ‘Majestic’ Group, MJ-12  
  • The Big Hidden Secret