Bug Wars

As Hollywood technology advances, it trickles down from the blockbusters – the morphing seen in Terminator 2 can now be found in many a cheaper film. Bug Wars is thus of note, since it takes the computer-generated insects of Starship Troopers, and incorporates them into a film made on a smaller scale.

I think it’s fair to say much smaller scale, almost a one-man show from director/writer/editor/effects man Timothy Hines, with, effectively, two characters (others turn up on video monitors, etc.) – the last survivors of the human race, who had the luck to be cryogenically frozen shortly before the war which wiped out everyone else. As if life wasn’t hard enough, they then have to contend with an invasion of alien insects, intent on colonising Earth.

Which is where the computer graphics – and lots of them – kick in. There’s no denying the impressive volume, with more than 32,000 special effects composite elements as the bugs attack, and the heroines fend them off before taking the war to the invaders. On their own, these aren’t bad – I was particularly impressed with the computer-generated backdrops, which are excellent. The major problem is a lack of interaction with the human characters. They just don’t appear to inhabit the same plane of existence, and the results are pretty feeble, with the insects looking as if they’d been stuck on to the screen. Never mind Starship Troopers, Jason and the Argonauts did it better. There’s only one sequence of note where…well, let’s say the prospects of survival for humanity grow somewhat dimmer.

This is a shame, as it detracts from a film which isn’t lacking in good ideas, climaxing with a beautifully downbeat ending. This leaves the viewer with a wonderful sense of doom and futility, and also helps explain earlier inconsistencies, such as how the aliens are able to navigate interstellar distances but, as soon as they open fire, couldn’t hit a barn if they were standing inside it. Darlene Renee Sellers and Corree Dibble, the last people alive, are credible enough, and Hines (with his director’s hat on!) gives a fine sense of the loneliness and hopelessness which the situation would inevitably provoke.

I appreciate it’s hard to sell anything other than feature-length films, but wonder if the makers would have been better off going for a short, higher-quality film, and using that as a show-reel to get funding for the full version. Instead, their technical resources look somewhat over-stretched, and while there’s no doubt that Bug Wars points the way forward, showing how future movies will be made, it seems like an idea whose time has perhaps not quite yet come.

Visit http://www.prescriptionfilms.com for info. 2008 Update. Don’t expect this all the time, but I’m just lobbing a bonus paragraph up here. The website listed here no longer worked, so I had to correct that anyway; I needed to extend the piece to make room for another picture; and unlike many of the things I have covered, Hines did not vanish into obscurity. In 2004, he suddenly came out with his version of H.G.Wells’ War of the Worlds, which was released on DVD the same month as both the versions by Steven Spielberg and David Michael Latt [both covered here]. Needless to say, Paramount were less than impressed, even though the Wells’ title was now public domain outside of Europe, rumblings of legal threats followed. Ironically, Hines’ production company [now known as Pendragon Pictures] then sued Dark Horse Comics, claiming they’d stolen composition for their graphic-novel version from the Pendragon movie.

While I haven’t seen the film, it’s probably safe to say that opinion on the quality of the final, three-hour epic was mixed, to be charitable: a typical review called it “a real endurance test,” and says that “the Martian war machines look like they have been crudely superimposed in great haste.”  That’s interestingly close to my comment above, “the insects looking as if they’d been stuck on to the screen.” Hines has now largely dropped off the radar again: the official web-site for Pendragon says Chrome is now “in post-production”, but since it was originally supposed to be released in 2003, I hope no-one is holding their breath waiting for it. [2021 update] It’s now on Amazon Prime.

Of Tomatoes and Home Shopping

OK!! Stop… I’ve got to tell you about this before I forget. Bear with me because I do like going off at bizarre tangents but the payoff…wow, you’ll love it. My mother recently returned from a trip to Italy, and being the typical mad Italian brought back a whole load of insane things. Among these were a cake dish and an ice cream tub full of fresh tomatoes – tomatoes being almost impossible to find in this country, as you know. Now, the cake tin was dented in several places, but (and this is where it gets interesting) none of the tomatoes were even slightly damaged. Hmm, you may be thinking, what’s your point?

Here’s my plan. We construct all aeroplanes out of tomatoes. Genius! Now, if a plane crashes, everyone will be unharmed, as the strength of the tomato covering will keep everyone alive. This also means that if the plane crashes on a mountain in the middle of nowhere (see Alive, or better still, see Survive. No, better than that, copy the first 15 minutes of Alive, then add the last 60 minutes of Survive for the ultimate movie), you won’t have to eat fellow passengers because you can eat the plane. Or if you fancy the look of stewed stewardess you can flavour the pot by chucking in some tomatoes. I’ve not looked at the pros or cons of other fruit/vegetable plane construction techniques yet, but I do know that making a plane out of tomato ketchup just won’t do. Too much glass, you see? Mark my words, this time next year, some enterprising aerospace giant will be launching the Tomato 747 and you’ll be able to say, “I heard it here first”.

I feel it only fair to point out the following facts.

  1. I have never spoken to a French man and enjoyed it.
  2. I have never spoken to a white South African and not wanted to punch his face off (smug fuckers)
  3. I lied about number 2, there was one, Stephen, but I’ve not talked to him since he went back to South Africa so he could have turned into a wanker.
  4. I actively look forward to the return of soap opera Crossroads to our TV screens.
  5. I can give it out, but oh boy – I most certainly can’t take it.
  6. I can take an instant dislike to anyone, but, perversely, they must all love me for the god I am.
  7. Nick, Nick, Nick. There, see I told you I’d shoehorn your name in again somewhere.
  8. When Jim moves to the States, will there be a bloody power struggle between himself and the lovely Chris as to who becomes the “Official Trash City American correspondent”? Yes, I know, that’s not a fact, but I’m waiting for my coffee and you’re not really caring are you?
  9. I give it approximately 2 weeks before every lame 4th grade British comedian starts pathetic “Wazzzzzzzzup?” skits or comedy routines.
  10. While I enjoyed the movie version of Oliver!, I don’t like slicing tiny pieces off my ears.

Right, don’t you feel closer to me now?

Let me tell you a little something about the crazy world of television home shopping. That was the plan, until last night anyway; channel hopping, I found a channel that all-out, balls-out headfucked both QVC and Ideal World (the pretender to QVC’s throne – I’m not going to mention Shop! in the same breath for reasons I’ll go into later). The channel I’m talking about is called, wait for it, wait for it: Bid-Up TV. Broadcasting from 8pm till midnight on Sky digital channel 647, BUTV as I shall call it, is an insane mix of the worst home shopping channel presenters, Paul Ross and 60p a minute premium rate call madness.

How does it work? Well, from what I can work out, BUTV’s extensive line up of three presenters will show you a product, and again, from what I can work out, the products consist of bottles of wine, Dunhill watches (as was made clear last night, these are real Dunhill watches, not those dodgy ones you get from the market) and mountain bikes. The presenters will wheel out a mountain bike and say, quite proudly, that is costs £400 in the shops – quite what shop I’ve not been able to work out yet, I’ll get back to you – and that they will open the bidding on this bike (of which they have the grand total of two) at £200. Then we get one of three promos hosted by wacky Paul “I wish I was my brother” Ross, telling us that we call the 60p/minute phone line with a bid, and we really, must call now (I think they get paid extra for shouting every second word). Then there is a surreal 5 minutes, where one of the presenters stands there looking off-screen saying arcane things like “Oh, come on now, Steve, you’ll have to bid a little more than £201 for that lovely bike – show them the seat again Linda” and “Oh, this is all very exciting”.

I’ve not been able to watch any more than 10 minutes of it (Paul Ross every two minutes is too much even for me), and as BUTV only ever seems to sell 2 of any particular item, I honestly can’t see it lasting very long. Somehow though, the experience is hypnotic (even as I type this I want to go home and see what they’ve got next). Check it out and let me know what you think, but hurry!!

Elsewhere on the shopping channel front, QVC seems to be getting attacked from all sides. For a long while they were the kings of home shopping, essentially having stolen the format directly from their American cousins (although dropping the little counter in the corner of the screen that lets you know how many of the “Hand powered steam cleaning diet carpet cleaning night lights” they’re selling). Things started to change around a year ago when Shop! – yes, with the exclamation mark – started. Owned mainly by Granada, this poor excuse for a shopping channel (or should that be Shopping! Channel!) is still limping along, presented by all sorts of fourth-grade (QVC employing third-grade or higher only) ex-local news presenters and, quite frighteningly, Anthea Turner for a while, trying to get rid of some awful clothes line – no, not for washing, but a line of clothes she’d designed. Romper suits and split crotch panties, I think. It was, and still is, no competition to QVC.

Then, in April, Ideal World appeared. For those who didn’t see the fascinating documentary on Channel 4 a while back, it’s the brainchild of a couple who run a company which shoves those shonky mail order catalogues through your door (you know the sort of thing: sub-Sharper Image type stuff, plastic winter shoes etc). The ace up their sleeve though, was to poach some of QVC’s more popular presenters, namely Paul Lavers (kind of like the Uncle who scared you slightly), Debbie Flint (loud woman) and most interestingly of all, Steve Watley, who used to present on QVC until he was dumped from the channel just after Lady Diana’s death. Why? He tried selling a ring by saying something along the lines of “It’s just the sort of thing Lady Di used to wear” which was considered bad taste. They’ve also poached some other minor presenters, an annoying ginger fellow, etc.

The most frightening face on Ideal World is not, surprisingly, Steve Watley – though he is the most amazingly camp presenter on any television station, even if he does mysteriously mention his “wife” occasionally. It’s the DIY “expert” who they’ve called Bill the Drill. This man is truly the stuff of nightmares, a huge 1970’s German porn star moustache and an evil cravat-type deal, which obviously hides some sort of nasty DIY accident. Bill does nothing more than scare people into buying items.

Highlights of the products they’ve sold so far? Let me see: there was the Audi TT sportster they tried selling in their first few weeks on air (no, not a model – the actual car, a snip at £34,000. I bet the phone lines were burning up at that one); the plastic toilet roll holder; and only yesterday, the Dracula fancy dress outfit (good, we were told, for Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties as well as Halloween) for a low, low price of £50.

I do believe that Ideal World (channel 642 on Sky Digital) is the best in “road accident” television: no matter how bad it gets, you just can’t keep your eyes off it. So much so, I think it’s taken over as my number one shopping channel choice. Other pretenders to the throne have also recently appeared, being nothing more than infomercials strung together, or in the case of “Shop America” having the worst in “self improvement” products sold by the worst in plastic presenters – nothing quirky enough to keep me watching there.

There you have it, all you need to know about the fabulous world of TV shopping. Or your money back. Please note this offer is not available to people living… That’s it – just living people,

Killing for Cult-ure

A Timely Message from Heaven: The End of the Present Times

All of you living on the planet, listen to what I’m going to say: When the year 2000 is completed, the year that will follow will not be year 2001. The year that will follow shall be called Year One in a generation that will follow the present generation; the generation that will follow will have few or many people depending on who will repent.

The Lord told me that hurricanes of fire would rain forth from heaven and spread over all those who would not have repented. They would burn them but would not die immediately… This fire will also reach inside the buildings; there is no way one can escape. Those who had repented were told to go in hiding to the houses they had built for this purpose. These houses are called ‘Ark’ or ‘Ship.’

We are definitely taking you to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary, who have (sic) commissioned us, and through the Pope. Since the Ten Commandments of God have been abandoned and are being broken, those who go to hell are very many…Those going to heaven are few. Ours is not a religion but a movement that endeavors to make the people aware of the fact that the Commandments of God have been abandoned, and it gives what should be done for their observance.

A great number of youths now move about more or less naked. They move about putting on slit-skirts, see-through dresses without any under-clothing. Some move about half-naked putting on back-show dresses. Girls prefer wearing men’s trousers to wearing their own dresses…All these are symptoms of an urge to violate the Sixth Commandment. Our Blessed Mother Mary says that we, the youths, are like simpletons or fools because of having allowed Satan to dwell in us and make us do all sorts of shameful actions

AIDS … is a disaster that has befallen the world. AIDS is a punishment that has been released to the world due to its disobedience. The sole cure is repenting our disobedience, and the restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.

“Body no. 47, infant, gender unidentified, with rope round neck”. The naked, decomposed body of a baby is dumped on a growing pile of month-old corpses. After a cursory examination by a doctor, an entry is added in his colleague’s notebook. Moments later the tiny corpse, one of many discovered in the garden of Father Dominic Kataribabo, a leader of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, is thrown into a fresh grave, another victim of the biggest cult-related disaster since Jonestown.

Even in recent times, Uganda’s history of grinding poverty, rampant AIDS and regional conflicts make fertile soil for fanatical or extreme religious sects. Perhaps the most famous was Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement which sprung up in northern Uganda in 1987. While her own bodyguards preferred AK-47s, hundreds of her followers marched to their deaths believing magic cooking oil would protect them from bullets. While eventually suppressed by cutting off supplies of weapons – and cooking oil – her cousin Joseph Kony still fights on as the Lord’s Resistance Army, saying he wants to run the country on the basis of eleven Commandments: Moses’s ten plus “Thou shalt not ride a bicycle” (on the grounds that cyclists might speed into town and warn Ugandan forces that Kony’s men are around). More recently, the government raided an illegal camp in the Sambabule district run by a prophetess said to eat nothing but honey, while leaders of another doomsday sect, the 1,000-member World Message Last Warning, were charged with rape, kidnapping and illegal confinement when police broke it up in September 1999.

Joseph Kibwetere, the 68-year old self-styled bishop of the “Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God”, had been a prominent member of the Catholic-based Democratic Party in the 1960s and 70s. When his political career ended abruptly after a controversial general election in 1980, Kibwetere took refuge with an Anglican bishop in Kabale; seven years later, at a time when many people reported seeing visions in the area, he claimed to have overheard a conversation between Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, and recorded it on tape. “There is a lady’s voice on the tape which says the world is suffering because the people are not following the Ten Commandments,” said Sister Stella Maris, a Catholic nun living near Kanungu. “She says the commandments must be enforced or the world will end.”

Was the “lady” ex-barmaid and prostitute Gredonia Mwerinda? She teamed up with Kibwetere in 1987 after allegedly also receiving a calling from the Virgin Mary. Along with excommunicated Catholic priest Dominic Kataribabo, they moved to Kanungu, in Uganda’s south-western hills. Father Paul Ikazire, who claimed he was among the sect’s leaders before leaving in 1994, said Mwerinda was the power behind the throne. “She used to bring in messages from the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael…things like, the Virgin Mary wants you to bring more money.” Cult members were required to sell their possessions and hand the proceeds to the church. “They gave all their money to the leaders who filled sacks with banana fibres in imitation of currency notes and burned them,” claimed local government official Paul Kwesigabo. It’s not clear where the money went, but her uncle, Marsiali Baryeihahwenki, said Mwerinda travelled frequently around Africa, as well as owning a huge farm, vehicles and several shops.

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”
       – sign over the altar at Jonestown

  • November 18, 1978 – U.S. pastor Reverend Jim Jones, leads 914 followers to their deaths at Jonestown, Guyana, by drinking a cyanide-laced fruit drink. Cult members who refuse to swallow the liquid are shot.
  • December 1991 – Mexican police blame a minister’s fervent belief in God for his death and that of 29 followers who suffocate when he tells them to keep praying and ignore toxic fumes filling their church.
  • April 19, 1993 – At least 70 Branch Davidian cult members die after fire and a shoot-out with police and federal agents end a 51-day siege of the compound near Waco, Texas.
  • October 1993 – 53 hill tribe villagers in a remote Vietnamese hamlet commit mass suicide with flintlock guns and other primitive weapons in the belief they would go straight to heaven. Officials say they were victims of a scam devised by a blind local man Ca Van Liem, who received big cash donations in return for promising a speedy road to paradise.
  • October 1994 – Police find the burned bodies of 48 members of the Solar Temple, an international sect that believes death by ritualized suicide leads to rebirth near Sirius, in a farmhouse and three chalets in Switzerland. At the same time in Quebec, five bodies, including that of an infant, are discovered in a chalet in Morin Heights, north of Montreal. In December the following year, 16 members are found dead in a burned house outside Grenoble, in the French Alps. Two French police officers were among the dead. In March 1997, police in Saint Casimir, Quebec, find the bodies of three women and two men inside a house owned by a sect member. Death toll (for now): 74.
  • March 20, 1995 – The Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) doomsday cult disperse nerve gas in the Tokyo subway, leaving 12 dead and injuring thousands.
  • March 26, 1997 – Police find the bodies of 39 men and women in a mansion outside San Diego. The victims, who belonged to the Heaven’s Gate cult, committed suicide in the belief that a UFO, shielded behind comet Halle-Bopp, would take them to heaven.

This lifestyle was in marked contrast to the austerity and depressingly-familiar brainwashing techniques enforced on followers, who were told to live strictly by the commandments; disobedience was punished with canings or food deprivation. Dressed in robes which designated rank (white for leaders, green for those who gave generously on recruitment, black for the rest), they toiled in fields and workshops without payment, communicating with each other only by gestures. Men and women, including married couples, slept in separate dormitories, and no children were ever born to any members of the 13-year-old cult. According to Baryeihahwenki, families were split up when they joined the cult and members were shifted frequently between several different sites in the impoverished region to stop them forming attachments. “They would come with a pick-up and tell people to get in with no warning,” he said. “They were moved around all the time.” Any children that new recruits brought in were also put to work, fetching water and firewood. A primary school run by cult leaders was closed down in 1998 by local authorities, who said in a report that children were malnourished and made to sleep on the floor without mattresses or blankets.

Grace Kibanja of Makerere University’s Institute of Psychology said, “These people were poor with no hope and saw salvation. Attaching themselves to a man who promised a better life has to be understood in this context.” Murindwa Rutanga, political science lecturer at Kampala’s Makerere University and an authority on cults in this region, agrees: “these were desperate people – landless, unemployed and probably sick. The community provided a home and some basic services like medicine that the state and church had failed to provide.”

Some blame reputable religions. “Anglican and Catholic churches have to admit their past mistakes”, Pastor Alex Mitala, Ugandan representative for the Christian Men’s Network stated. “When ordinary Ugandans question religious doctrines taught by foreign pastors they often turn to the question: Which way to God? In such situations they fall prey to charlatans and other such misguided individuals.” Driving his point home, Mitala pointed out that until recently, mainstream churches taught rural Ugandans that if you touch a woman’s breasts outside of wedlock, they will fall off. “Once this is patently not so, Ugandans begin to doubt the sincerity of all religious teachings,” he adds, rather unnecessarily.

Cult members were told the world would end at the beginning of the new Millennium, and they would be delivered to heaven only if they gave up all their earthly goods and followed the cult. One theory suggests that when Kibwetere’s prediction of December for the end of the world proved wrong, he and his associates came under increasing pressure from a now destitute congregation to repay their money. “All along they had said that this (church) is the boat of Noah,” alleged a local villager. “This is the ark and they were told that at the time of calamity they would come here. They were told that at a certain time this year, the world would end and so the leaders made it happen and perhaps the people there believed it had happened,” she said.

For several days before the carnage on March 17th, members made their way to the compound, in buses, pick-ups and lorries. Only those in the church would be saved, they were told; the rest of the world would face God’s wrath. Local officials said the cultists slaughtered a cow and ordered 70 crates of soda the night before – in a nearby dormitory, chicken bones and millet bread bore witness to the last supper. Meanwhile, police believe Kataribabo purchased 40 litres of sulphuric acid days before the tragedy, telling a local storekeeper he wanted to use it in car batteries. While these were not found in the church compound, the acid would be highly inflammable and explosive if mixed with petrol, as well as forming a poisonous vapour when burnt.

With the doors and windows nailed shut, they sang and chanted for hours, wearing their finest robes, before the fire was lit. By dawn, hundreds of charred corpses lay in the burned-out shell of the church as rain fell through the collapsed iron roof of the building. Some of the bodies, with hair and clothes burnt away and features obliterated, stretched out their arms in what looked like an appeal for help while others lay face down or balanced on their elbows with their heads back. Still more seemed to be huddling together against the flames. One baby was curled up like a foetus on the ground.

Yet the horror was only beginning. Investigators found several pit latrines covered in fresh cement and, when they opened the first one, discovered new corpses. “We found five bodies on the surface and when we shone a torch there were more underneath,” said public health officer Richard Opira on March 20th. “They haven’t been wounded so we think they were strangled or maybe poisoned,” he said. In the end, 153 cadavers were found buried under a house used by the cult in the village of Buhunga, a further 155 corpses in the house and garden of Dominic Kataribabo in Rugazi, 81 more in Rushojwa and 55 in the capital, Kampala. The final death toll, announced on July 20th, was 780. It was apparent that the fire was merely the climax to an orgy of slaughter; most of the dead appeared to have been murdered less than a month ago, and some still had ropes around their necks, indicating they had been strangled.

Setting new records for monumental ignorance, neighbours said they knew Kataribabo had been digging in his back garden, but never suspected the purpose of his exertions. “He was a good man, good to his followers, good to his family and good to people in general,” Kataribabo’s nephew Bagambe Apex said. “There is no way we ever expected something like this could happen.” According to Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, the group’s religious nature explained why authorities in the heavily populated area did not notice the disappearance of hundreds of their followers, which also falls into the category of dubious explanations. Completing the turning-a-blind-eye trilogy is local police official James Byaruhanga. “These people were very good taxpayers. They had permission to operate from the authorities, so we had no reason to stop them.”

On the other hand, some people claim to have had suspicions, although this could be mere hindsight. “As time went on we started getting more and more scared of them,” said Kisembo Didas, a farmer in Rugazi. “We thought they were dangerous, a cult of Satan. They used to behave abnormally, suddenly becoming paralysed in the street and then talking nonsense.” Those of a conspiratorial bent may also wish to note that an assistant district commissioner in south-west Uganda was arrested for allegedly suppressing an intelligence report that suggested the cult posed a threat.

Alternatively, ex-President Milton Obote of the banned Uganda Peoples Congress claims that the bodies are not cult members at all, but government political enemies, killed in large-scale, extra-judicial massacres by the Ugandan security services. “How can five people kill over 900 persons without some escaping?” he questions, while pointing out that many government critics have mysteriously disappeared in recent months. In a strident e-mail message sent from Kampala to various reporters, opposition supporter Yoswa Nkalubo (claiming to be on the run from government security agents) states that more bodies are buried in latrines all over the Ankole and Kigezi districts and that these are opposition members eliminated under the guise of having been killed by the cult leaders Whatever the truth in such theories, few families have come forward to report missing relatives.

Nor is anyone sure what happened to the leaders. Uganda’s New Vision newspaper said Kibwetere sent a letter – his first in three years – and several books to his wife, Theresa, so that she should go on “with what we have been doing because we are going to perish.” But a young member of the cult, a 17-year-old named Ahimbisibwe, told the paper he had seen two of the leaders leave the compound before dawn on the day of the fire carrying small bags. “Kibwetere and Gredonia prayed for us on Thursday night and they left the camp,” said the boy, whose mother and sister were among the victims. The area’s member of parliament, Amama Mbabazi, said he believed the leaders had survived. “My gut feeling is that Kibwetere and his colleagues are on the run,” he told New Vision. While Kataribabo’s and Mwerinda’s bodies were at first officially identified by police at the site, they later admitted they had not been able to recognise them. and issued arrest warrants for six leaders, including Kataribabo. With the remaining corpses bulldozed into a mass grave, destroying any remaining evidence, it seems the truth will never be known…

This kind of thing is disturbingly common. Across in Kenya, a different brand of religious fanaticism is on the rise. Tens of thousands are joining a new wave of born-again Christians, whose leaders claim to speak in tongues and deliver miracle cures to cancer, AIDS or deafness. Some may be run by genuine believers, yet others are shaped by opportunists who seek power and financial reward by manipulating the hopes and fears of the region’s poor. In Uganga, the results were more lethal than usual, yet it’s scarcely unique, or even rare. For example, on July 2nd, seven Peruvian family members were found dead with Bibles by their sides after poisoning themselves in a religiously motivated suicide at their shantytown home. What happened in Kanungu may have been larger in scale, but it’s sadly common: just another case of the lives of ordinary people getting screwed up in the name of organised religion.


  • African Business, May 2000
  • http://atheism.about.com
  • http://www.cesnur.org/testi/uganda_updates.htm
  • The Cult That Couldn’t Stop Killing, C4 documentary, 11/6/2000
  • Daily Mail And Guardian, Johannesburg, 10/1/1997
  • Fortean Times: #100 (p41), #135 (p34)
  • Reuters agency news reports, 19/3-20/7/2000.
  • Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. Timely Message from Heaven: The End of the Present Times. 3rd ed. Karuhinda, Rukungiri and Rubiziri, Bushenyi (Uganda,) 1996.

The Incredibly Bad Film Show: Tammy and the T.Rex

“We got two more squished bodies and a one-legged girl over there; she’s still kinda good-looking”.

The early careers of famous actors and actresses are usually the most fertile ground for Incredibly Bad movies, because once they’re stars, their agents would rather they churn out banally mainstream work – straightforward “bad”, rather than “incredibly bad”. Thus, we have Kevin Costner in Sizzle Beach, Demi Moore in Parasite and Nastassja Kinski in the sublime Passion Flower Hotel. But to find two future stars in one of the most ill-conceived movies ever is a rare find indeed…

I have to admit that, for the moment, we are really talking only one star, and a proto-star. The former is Denise Richards; opinion on her aesthetic appeal is radically divided in the TC camp, some regard her as cute, while others refer disparagingly to her as “The One-Eyebrowed Wonder”. But after Starship Troopers, Wild Things and The World is Not Enough, there’s no denying her position. Co-starring – for the first quarter at least – is Paul Walker, who has come up through Pleasantville, She’s All That, and most recently, The Skulls. A great future beckons. Or at least, something better than Tammy and the T.Rex, certainly.

There is probably no connection to the “Tammy and the…” series of films starring the likes of Carrie Fisher’s mom, Debbie Reynolds, that ran in the late 50’s and 60’s. Instead, imagine a triple-tag match between Robocop, Jurassic Park and King Kong, and you’ll be a good way towards knowing the plot. Specifically, though: Tammy (Richards) wants to go out with Michael (Walker), but her current jealous boyfriend arranges for an “accident” in a safari park. In hospital, Michael is kidnapped by a mad scientist, who implants his brain in an animatronic tyrannosaur (of wildly varying size, depending on which prop they are using). Inevitably, he escapes, goes on the rampage against his killers, then seeks out Tammy, who turns out not to be averse to some lizard lovin’, even if DinoMike is by this stage a mass murderer. The police and mad scientist, however, are less happy…

Good news: it starts off on the right foot, with Denise as a cheerleader. Bad news: she’s stuck behind the titles. This schizophrenia is characteristic of the movie overall, with ideas which you could see working, spoiled by quite hideous execution. It’s both so juvenile you feel it ought to be a Disney film, yet clearly wants to be a Troma pic too. Even its rating occupies that uncomfortable PG-13 middleground. Had it gone either way, it would have been better.

The dinosaur effects, too, range from the numbly pathetic, to the quite decent. Cleverly, it’s allowed to look animatronic, since it is and, when not moving, is by no means unconvincing. However, any attempt to show the whole thing in motion will provoke hysterical laughter as its legs move up-and-down like pistons. Worse still, the front legs are clearly played by arms in socks; half the time, they stick out from completely the wrong angle. This is important for scenes in which the T.Rex is, for example, required to make phone calls, the sheer pointlessness of which convinces me Tammy must have been sponsored by AT&T. There’s another moment where Tammy’s father phones her bedroom to find out what all the noise is.  It’s good to talk, but…

With Michael out of the picture (Walker gets off lightly, only having to appear in the first twenty minutes or so), Tammy is assisted by unthreatening best friend Byron. He is a) black, b) the son of the local police chief, and c) bent as a nine-bob note. This is about as good as it gets with regard to comedy in the film. Well, actually, that’s a bit cruel: there are two decent jokes:  the squashed T.Rex victims can be rolled up like wrapping-paper, and as Tammy and Byron prepare to surrender to the cops; Byron says, “We need something white – besides you.”

Well, I laughed. OK, only a bit…

Other tricky issues appear to relate to Michael’s “accident”. The bad guys go to a safari park to dump him off, driving open-top convertibles: this is amazingly brave, or dumb, given it takes predatory animals about five seconds to notice Michael. And the only visible effect of the lion attack is to give Michael a black eye, yet this gets him into intensive care. Mind you, medical care in the city is a bit relaxed anyway; the morgue is in a building of its own, iunlocked, unguarded and with a convenient Morgue sign outside. That’s significant, as the very resourceful Tammy needs a new body into which DinoMike’s brain can be placed, his old one having gone a bit off by now. She has great adaptive skills too. After she finds out her beau’s brain has been borrowed by a bad boffin, and is now inside a pneumatic dinosaur, virtually her first comment is, “I missed you so much”. She discovers the plot basics via DinoMike charades: watch for some deeply pathetic hand-in-sock gesturing.

The local cops finally notice a truck sitting outside the morgue with a dinosaur in it; Tammy + Byron are forced to flee in the truck, until a low branch clothes-lines DinoMike. We then get to see Denise Richards riding off into the sunset on the back of an artificial Tyrannosaurus Rex, which has to go down as a canonical image in bad cinema. But it’s to no avail, as the police find them again, and take DinoMike down in a hail of bullets. While I’m usually reluctant to give spoilers, in this case I’ll make an exception, for reasons which will become apparent. There’s a happy ending: Tammy saves Mike’s brain, and keeps it in a jar in her room, video camera and so forth attached for sensory input. She pours alcohol into his jar, and does little strip-teases in front of him to keep him amused, though the editing is so bad, one is left yearning for an R-rated version. The sight is sufficient for Mike’s brain to start frying gently – after 82 minutes of the film, this is something with which it’s easy to feel sympathy.

As a movie, it’s hard to find any facet which is not completely inadequate, and one can only assume it was done as some kind of amusing tax write-off. No matter what they may do in their careers from here on, if Richards or Walker ever merit career retrospectives from the British Film Institute, it’s probably safe to say that Tammy and the T.Rex will not be heavily featured.

And what do we have here? It’s a blank bit of space at the end of the page. Wonder if I can find anything appropriate to fill it. Oh, look – what are these…?

Long Live the Queen!


A thousand people surged against me, some trying to snatch my flaming torch, some trying to push around me, over me or through me. Tribal drumbeats sounded across the cold night air, rhythmic, sensuous, mysterious. Strangely dressed apparitions whooped and cavorted nearby, some crawling, as if deranged, upon the dew laden grass, slithering along, hauling themselves towards two figures sat under a decorated tree on some kind of wicker seat. Some of these bedeviled red men were being whipped with branches, whilst others belched flames up into the sky which scorched the retinae for several seconds. Bonfires roared in the distance, seemingly alive, beacons amidst this frenzied maelstrom of barely contained activity. Several girls removed their tops, and danced as if possessed.

Beer and wine flowed freely, and the rising dawn sun did little to quell the frenetic nature of this gathering. I looked across at the other torch bearers, and they seemed, like me, transfixed by this bewitching spectacle, oddly uniform, slightly sinister with their blackened faces adorned with gold and silver runic symbols. Suddenly, our cordon broke, and the hundreds of people behind us poured into the area we were protecting.  Cries and screams of ecstasy and partial oblivion added to the heady cacophony, fueled by fresh drumbeats and powerful sensations. I put down my dwindling torch, not needed now, and joined the writhing throng.

This was my first appearance and attendance at the now legendary  Beltane festival in Edinburgh. Once a medieval traditional gathering to  celebrate the transition of Winter into Spring, on May eve, the practice  was stopped as the Industrial age swept in, and grim rationale  replaced any spiritual or ritualistic necessities. However, in 1988, Angus Farquhar, from the band Test Department, decided to resurrect the festival for the city and the people. Collaborating with dancer/choreographer Liz Ranken and performance artist Lindsay John, they created a contemporary annual event, strictly rooted in, and faithful to, the ancient Beltane ritual. They set about making authentic costumes, and planning the route the procession should take.

It was decided that the entire event should take place on Calton Hill, which overlooks the whole city. This was believed to be an ancient site of power (it does seem to have peculiar qualities). The May Queen (played by Liz) and her attendant White Women would process along a specific path. On the way, she would have to ‘overcome’ the four ‘elements’ – separate performance pieces indicative of the struggle with the four natural earth elements. The mischievous ‘Red Men’ would threaten the procession at strategic areas – barely clad, red painted fiends, who tumbled, leapt and spew fire in all directions. Finally, she would overcome the figure of Winter, and transform him into Spring. Rejoicings and much festivity would then ensue.

The occasion has grown in popularity and scale each year, and now commands audiences of up to twelve thousand people. I was invited to take part, and provide a dawn pyrotechnical display. Richard Stanley, the enigmatic director of Hardware and Dust Devil, had met Liz’s boyfriend Mark at Glastonbury, and learnt of the antics of the Beltane Fire Society. Intrigued, he stayed in touch with the organisers, and went up to see for himself, detonating a pyro laden wooden goat ‘sacrifice’ at dawn for the crowds. I had constructed this four legged ‘creature’ for him, and wired in all the charges, but could not attend the particular day, so sadly missed the chaos.

When the next festival came around, I did not hesitate. Richard and I decided to up the ante – so asked the Beltane Society in Edinburgh to build a large Stag. I constructed two dedicated firing boxes for the pyros – one for sequential detonation and one for fast sequence firing. I planned the order of explosions, fireworks and effects perfectly (is this sounding familiar?!). It would be spectacular. By dawn, I was told, survivors would be in, how shall I say, an advanced state of merriment. How to announce the expected dawn sacrifice? Luckily, I managed to get my hands on a military flare – went up a thousand feet up, gave a half-million candle light, then descended on a wee parachute. Platoon in Scotland, I fondly imagined! It might well attract the attention of any light aircraft/shipping in the area, but this would just add to the fan base. With the equipment stowed, Harvey Fenton (editor, Flesh and Blood) drove us up. It was my first time in Scotland, and besides getting to blow the shit out of something fairly large, in front of a captive audience of five thousand remaining revelers, I would also get to paint my face black, daub strange runic symbols on it, and carry a large iron flaming torch around. What more can a man want?

We stayed with the costume designer of Sleepy Hollow, who, amongst other things, had an outstanding collection of aviator/film prop goggles. I went Mad Max with these for a while before we left to rig up the wooden stag. The Beltane crew had constructed an impressive beast. (see picture) To remain worthy contributors, we had bought along an impressive amount of explosive material – this was  definitely to be a non smoking afternoon! I wired them into the structure according to my design, whilst everyone busied themselves for the coming festival. Wiring charges takes a surprisingly long time, as each one must have two wires leading to the firing box, and be properly placed and fixed. 

Once again, we gave the creature a formidable appendage – a three stage flaming dong consisting of various firework effects – much to the amusement of bystanders. The stag was to belch fire, spray fiery streamers, flash, pop, fizz and bang, then burst into flame before violently exploding and tearing itself to a thousand pieces. Even then, the fun wouldn’t end, as Richard and I had cunningly concealed fearsome secondary charges, which would only explode when the remains of the stag were on the floor, burning – low down dirty shock tactics, I know, but it was May Day after all. I was beginning to get profound sexual excitement from the thought of setting it all off …… (er, I mean the excitement from the anticipation of the display grew within me…). Finally, hours later, it was ready. It stood there crazily, a mare’s tail of wires leading away, each labeled for its effect. I whispered in its paper ear that everything was going to be OK, and not to worry. It’s all in a good cause, so don’t get any ideas about running away, I sternly warned it. Primed for action, it was safely stowed away. Then, it was off to make-up.

There were some twelve of us torch bearers, from all over Europe it seemed. We blacked up our faces, then applied generic runes to each other. As I was tracing out ye old Celtic shite onto one guy’s face, I was filled with the urge to do him up all Steve Strange – but instead settled for some kind of Middle Ages ‘Adam Ant’ look, which he seemed to approve of. (some Eighties fans just won’t move on …..) When all were done, we stared in bewilderment and amusement at each other. The effect was not comical, but pretty unnerving – like the German Black Peters. Our job, we assured each other, was to protect the White Women from harm – we were the goddam pagan secret service! Thus imbued with righteous fire in our belly, we climbed the hill to prepare for the festivities.

Around us were the jubilant masses, and we lined up in our fenced off enclosure with the other performers, ready to start the procession. A bloated, sensuous full moon burnt overhead, casting a strange hue on Calton Hill. To quell our nerves, a bottle of whisky was passed around. For many of us, it was a completely new experience. The drumming started and our stomachs leapt. We trooped off into the thousands of spectators, to wild cheers, sporadic camera flash bursts and pockets of wild partying. We ascended the huge steps of the ‘temple’ – five looming Greek style pillars and ledges. The torch bearers fanned out on each side, standing some ten feet above the crowds. It seemed unreal, a bizarre dream – truly a rush of excitement, trepidation and an odd sense of belonging. A burning torch was passed down the line so we could ignite our own torches – I had one of the heavy iron poles.

Then the hypnotic, pagan drumming started, reached a crescendo, and we were off. Barely knowing what I was doing, I followed the procession, fending off drunkards, some trying to steal the torch, some trying to join in the march. On several occasions I had to physically haul people from our processing trail. But I was too swept up in the energy of it all – as the May Queen did ritual performance art at each of the four ‘elemental’ areas, as the ‘Fire Spirits’ leapt and cavorted, taunting us and the White Women, in mock threat, spewing sheets of fire into the night sky, tumbling over the hill, swinging flaming metal balls – dervish like, mystifying, alluring and potent. Finally, it was over. The lead players took up their ‘Throne’, drink flowed, drummers belted out new, primal rhythms. Beltane is primarily a fertility festival, and the year previous, four of the White Women had fallen pregnant! It was not a night for Christians. I have never experienced something so authentic, dedicated and passionate – Mark and Liz, the organisers, were rightfully proud.

As numbers dwindled, and the cold seeped in, Richard, Harvey and myself whiled away the early hours, taking in the deranged spectacle, gearing ourselves up for our dawn display. We had secreted the Stag behind a large wall, part of the enclosure for the Royal Astronomical Society grounds, also situated on the hill. My bag containing the all important firing boxes, tools and military signal flare was hidden under bushes within this enclosure. As the first light touched our still blackened and wearied faces, we went to ready the ‘sacrifice’ – our own particularly noisy dawn chorus. I found it first. The Stag had been thrown to the ground. The paper skin had been mostly torn away. The main wooden supporting structure was wrecked. One leg was hanging limply off the main body. My carefully placed charges were shifted violently out of position. Some wires hung loose, and most painfully off all, its pyrotechnic dick was ruptured. It had been killed. And, to make matters much, much worse, my bag was missing. Who would do such a thing? Only ourselves and the organisers knew where the Stag was.

Then I remembered. Earlier, when I returned to make the final adjustments to the display beast, an old guy from the Astronomical Society bellowed at me for trespassing, even though we had been told that permission had been given. “You! Get the hell outta here, pal! And tek yer stinking Stag with ye!” The bastard star gazers had wantonly wrecked our precious creation! Hours of work ruined – and some filthy thieving scumbag had walked off with my fantastic blast boxes – the jewel in the Shadow Theatre arsenal, one of them already a veteran of Beltane! All those hours into the early morning spent struggling to remember basic electronics, solder flying, drill whirring, voltage flowing! Swearing as circuits wouldn’t work, even testing a charge in my room at risk of personal injury! I cursed the person responsible a thousand times! And his mother, and his mother’s mother! All three of us fell into a deep depression. “This always happens!” lamented Richard, before rambling off on some paranoid conspiracy theory. “We’ve been sabotaged!” he cried. “Motherfuckers!” I added, needlessly. Harvey hung his head in spiritual pain.

We went over to the remains of our creation. It sagged painfully, pyros protruding like eviscerated organs, wiring exposed like veins. As the dawn light grew stronger, and the sun threatened to appear, thousands waiting in anticipation of the expected display, all seemed doomed. Mark joined us, and was as shocked as we were. The Astronomical Society? A jealous pyrotechnician? Earlier, we had had a spat with one of the effects guys from the Edinburgh contingent. Christian rebels? The Scottish Firework Police? Or, more worryingly, perhaps God himself? I remembered my Bible for an instant – Fawkes 8, Verse II – “Thou shalt not indulge in gratuitous explosions.” I trembled in fear.

Then, something in me screamed. We would not be beaten by the evil forces we imagined were against us. “Fuck it!” I cried. “Fuck ‘em! We’ll still blow it up! Whatever’s left, we’ll blow the shit out of it!” The others just stared at me, part sympathy, part concern. But Mark rushed off to get a car battery. I would just have to connect whatever wires came to hand, and see what happened. The four of us lugged the sorry looking Stag over the wall, and through the remaining crowd. It was a little embarrassing, as of course they would be thinking that the Stag was meant to be in this state! Ha! Any derision would soon be quashed as the gunpowder went to work. We managed to get it to stand on its own on the path below the festivities. I fed out the tail of wires, and plonked the battery down, some distance away.

All eyes were on me now. I could feel the rising sun on my back, and the soft dew between my fingers as I crouched down. I would not fail them! Swallowing hard, I touched the first pair of wires to the terminals. Nothing! The collective disappointment of the crowd smashed into me like the charge of a fierce animal. I had thoughts of just setting fire to the thing’s arse and running away. Quickly. But then – a hiss! A piffle of smoke! BOOM! The flamer in its mouth erupted and sent a blast some feet in front of it! Cheers! Applause! Joy! Spurred on, I grabbed another bunch of wires ….. KABOOM! Five charges detonated with some ferocity, and I had to duck as pieces of wooden Stag flew towards me. Then more! Its dangerous dick ignited, spewing flaming particles into the ground. Its ‘antlers’ shot fire and brimstone into the sky. The watching people loved it! Secreted devices triggered deep within the thing, blasting more pieces all over, coloured fire, spectacular, mesmerising effects.

Then, the finale – a ‘gerb’ situated within the Stag set fire to the whole thing. I joined the others to watch the final demise. As we all stood looking, entranced like children, I saw some fool walk towards the exploding carnage. “Get back! Back I say! There’s still charges left in it!”

“Fuck you!” the mad man cried. I turned to the others, and shrugged. Well mate, it’s your life! Just as that thought percolated through my hazy mind, a awesome explosion occurred, sending the man scampering backwards, frantically trying to brush flaming pieces from his person. How we laughed! It was done. We walked down to the remaining embers – burning copper wires giving a mysterious green hue to the fire. “Hey! You!” a fearsome voice said. We all turned to see two battle scared geezers walk towards us. I noticed, as they got closer, each sported serious scars to their faces, with noses that veered off at odd angles. Ears that looked like uncooked pastry. Several teeth missing. Oh shite, I thought.

“You!” he pointed at me. I have a black face which is covered with silver runes, I thought. That possibly makes me a target….
“Ur, me?”
“Yeah, you!” His thick Glaswegian accent struck fear into my soul.
“Are you the violent cunt that did this?” Richard and Harvey backed off slightly.
“Ur, well, I might have been involved. Slightly.”
“Did you fucking do it or not?”
I looked furtively around. Everyone looked bewildered. And a little scared. “Well, ur, well, yes. Yes, I did.” There was an uncomfortable silence. “Did you enjoy it? Or…not?”
He said nothing, but walked towards me purposefully. His friend tried to grin, with what was left of his face. I suspected imminent violence.
“You violent cunt!” he cried, before grabbing me, then hugging me. “It was fucking great!”
His friend’s grin echoed his sentiments. I just smiled knowingly.

Andy Collins