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Posts tagged “1977

Fright Fest: Shock Waves (1977)

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Shock Waves (1977)

[85 minutes. PG. Director: Ken Wiederhorn]

(It’s 40 years old, but I’ll give a SPOILER WARNING anyway)

There are literal and figurative streams of consciousness at work in Shock Waves, Ken Wiederhorn’s most well-remembered film.

It’s not a great film – at least not as great as my childhood mind remembers – but makeup designer Alan Ormsby’s suggestion on the Blu-ray commentary track, that the film is possessed of a “dreamlike quality” is not inaccurate. And that’s arguably where it acquires its power.

It’s a film that takes place primarily on water, with the midsection set in an abandoned hotel on a desert island.

There are scenes where characters paddle toward escape – through narrow, knotted thickets; through shallow ocean waters on the way out to sea – and don’t say much. They don’t need to, really – they know their situation is inexplicable and absurd, so what’s the sense in fevered rationalizations? By the end, the lone survivor of the ordeal, Rose (Brooke Adams) has been rendered catatonic by what she’s seen, reduced to writing gibberish in a journal.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Spiders.

There is no middle ground. You love them or you hate them. You either gently put them back outside when you find one in the bathroom, or you go Ripley on the bastards with a can of aerosol deodorant and a lighter.

Having had a terrible, life-changing spider experience myself, I come down pretty firmly on the Screw the Biosphere, Annihilate All Arachnids side of things. And yet, I am compelled to watch the 1977 movie, Kingdom of the Spiders, three or four times a year. Why would I put myself through that psychological torture?

Because this movie is freakin’ amazing, that’s why.

The story is basic bio-horror, where humans and their usage of pesticides are the real enemies. All that wanton spraying of DDT has killed off the smaller animals usually eaten by tarantulas. Out of necessity, and possibly anger, the tarantulas have banded together into a supergroup, much like Asia or The Traveling Wilburys. Working together, they can take down much larger prey. Cows! Biplane pilots! William Shatner!

That’s right. William Shatner. Before you start doing that Captain Kirk impression in your mind, understand that out of all the Shatners that Bill Shatner has ever shat, this is the least Shatner of all the Shatners. He gives a fine, almost realistic, performance in this movie. No chewing scenery, no unfortunate soliloquies. He knows he’s in a crappy B-movie, yet he sets his histrionics on stun.

Shatner plays a veterinarian with the awesome name of Rack Hansen. Can you imagine all the stuff you could get away with if your name were Rack Hansen?

“I’m sorry, Golden Corral server named Marla, but I won’t be paying for this meal, for I am… RrrrrrrACK HANSENNnnnnn.”

“I understand, Mr. Hansen. Please come back and bring condoms, for I want to make sweet ham fat love to you by the meat carving station.”

It all starts with a calf, dead for reasons Hansen can’t quite comprehend. He sends a sample of the calf’s blood to the lab and the lab sends back a woman. Not the standard way to respond to blood samples, but it works in this case. The woman, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Boling), is an arachnologist… arachnidiatrist… a spider doctor person. Turns out the calf was killed by an insane amount of spider venom. The guy who owned the calf (Woody Strode) says something to the effect of, “Oh, that explains the giant fucking spider hill behind my house with thousands of tarantulas crawling around it.”

The puny humans make an attempt to burn the spider hill, but those clever tarantulas have an escape tunnel. They regroup and begin an attack on the town itself.

It’s never explained how the pesticides give the tarantulas human emotions, like anger or the desire for crawling revenge, but soon, the little bastards are on the rampage, tearing through a small town in Arizona. It’s like a small, eight-legged version of The Warriors, as the humans try to make their way to Camp Verde, a resort where they can hide and be safe. It’s their Coney Island. Meanwhile, the Gramercy Riffs (the spiders) are hot on their tails, leaving cocooned victims in the streets behind them.

There are so many spiders in this movie, most of them actual live tarantulas, and if you love the creepy-crawly little things, be warned. I think some of them get smashed on camera. They used fake spiders, too, so there’s no way of really knowing. It’s certainly not at the Cannibal Holocaust level of animal violence, but there’s your trigger warning.

If you can get past that, you’re in for a real treat with this movie. The spiders show up in waves, like the little aliens from Space Invaders. There’s a lengthy sequence where the tarantulas attack the center of town, and it’s surprisingly brutal. Bloody dead kids wrapped in webs lying on the sidewalk like Pez dispensers for spiders. Panic in the streets. One elderly man goes shuffling in front of the camera with a real tarantula on his Sunday hat. He just wanted to make it to Golden Corral before Rack Hansen used all the ham fat! Now he’ll never use that AARP discount.

What’s the deeper meaning of it all? Tarantulas are creepy. That’s it! There ya go. This is a movie for loving, not analyzing. As far as the eco-terror genre goes, Kingdom of the Spiders is one of the most effective entries because it doesn’t beat you in the face with any Silent Spring manifesto. It is way more concerned with dropping live tarantulas onto actors getting paid scale and recording their terrified reactions. Cruel? Probably. Does it work? Hell, yeah.

The ending, which involves an egregious matte painting, is rightfully infamous, but even that works within the context of things. For a film with no CGI and William Shatner, there’s no other way the movie could end.

Ridiculously entertaining while remaining fairly grounded in reality, Kingdom of the Spiders is a must-see. While it has been made fun of by professional movie riffers, watch it straight before you indulge in that kind of wackiness. Like your spouse’s siblings, Kingdom of the Spiders deserves respect and the benefit of the doubt before you make fun of it behind its back.

Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976).

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Fright Fest: HAUSU (1977)

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Some films you watch because you want to, they’re your usual type of fare. Be it horror, action or zombie films, we all have a certain type of film that irrespective of what we’ve heard from other people, we’ll watch. Then there are the ones that you get from recommendations, they’re not that frequent, and usually go one of two ways. You either love them, or hate them, and cut the aforementioned person from your life. Cos, let’s face it, no one needs that kind of person in their lives.

Then…and there is a point to my rambling, honest, there are the films that offer you a glimpse of something a little different. This is where HOUSE, or HAUSU steps through the doorway, and waves at you, whilst brandishing a bloodied cartoon knife.

I was first alerted to its existence whilst looking through a list of bizarro horror films. From the two paragraph synopsis, I knew that I had to see it. For the avoidance of doubt, this is the Japanese film, called HOUSE, not the 1986 American version. If you’re expecting something on that, well…yeah, you’re in for a number of WTF moments.

See, there is another type of film you watch, and these are the rarest of all, they’re the ones where they are an ‘experience’. Horror films, in the main, don’t really appeal to me. I find that they tend to be filled with tropes, and just aren’t really my bag. But you watch zombie films I hear you cry!

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Yes, yes I do, but see rule number 1. They are my bag, I love them, and I don’t care that you have to watch three or four to see something even remotely different, because of well…zombies.

HAUSU though, well, nothing can quite prepare you for the spectacle you’re about to witness. Reading about it, the film itself was greenlit by Toho studios for TWO YEARS, before it was made. A whole assortment of directors severed it, mainly because they thought it would be their death knoll. This is in part due to the fact that a lot of the film came about as a result of the writer’s daughter.

Yeah…

And to be honest, it shows.

Let’s get the bad out of the way now, lest it cling to the hull of our already heavily barnacled rowboat, and capsize us. The acting is so wooden, it makes enough to form a whole fleet of rowboats. The plot, if you can call it that, is utter BS. The animation, terrible, effects in general, utter shonky, yet none of that matters one jot.

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HAUSU is one helluva odd film to watch, one that you need to switch off that little piece of your brain, which tries to ground what you’re seeing into any semblance of ‘normal’.

So what the hell is it about? A bunch of school girls prepare for a summer way, except one, Angel, who is looking forward to some time away with her father, who has been working in Italy on film scores. He returns, with joyous news! They will be going with his new squeeze, Ryoko, who has a permanently waving scarf, and a penchant for stiff handshakes. Well, this does not please Angel, who scurries off to her room and reminisces about her dead mum. In the process, is reminded of her auntie, who, as luck would have it, lives in a big house all by herself.

Casually inviting herself and her mates for the summer, she waits eagerly by the post-box, with a white fluffy cat, that turns up out of nowhere. Her aunt replies and says she would love to see them all. So off they go…

What follows is the girls disappearing one at a time. Conveniently, they are all called things like Prof (wears glasses), Mac (eats a lot), Fantasy ( a bit of a daydreamer) and Kung Fu, which I bet you’ll never work out what she does.

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The way they go missing is just so comical, that you’re not sure if it actually happened. Obviously, with it being nigh on forty years old, it looks dated, but the director intentionally made the effects bad. I mean, that’s taking pride in your work to a whole new level. I don’t even know that I would still have a job if I applied that logic to my own vocation:

WORK: “So…Duncan, we called you into this meeting today, as we asked you to do this urgent database update.

ME: “Uh-huh, yep, you sure did.”

WORK: “One which was necessary to stop us losing our entire book of business.”

ME: “Oh yes, I felt really humbled that you asked me to do that, pretty big honour, I have to admit.”

WORK: “So, why did you debone a swordfish and play a medley of Ska songs on its skeleton?”

ME: “Well, thing is, I wanted it to be so bad, that instead of me keeping the business afloat, I wanted it to be really silly.”

WORK: “But you-”

ME: “Like, really silly. I think I managed it, don’t you?”

It just wouldn’t work, would it?

Or would it…I’ll save that for another day.

Kumiko Oba ("Fantasy")

Anyway, it is an unusual approach, and in any other film, it would have made it ridiculous. But HAUSU, is already light years ahead of you, presiding in the Ridiculous nebula, part of the Ridiculous galaxy. How might you ask? Well, you have a man fall down stairs, slide around on the floor, stop-motion style, before having a bucket stuck on his arse. This serves as his reason as to why he can’t drive the girls to the house.

How the hell can you try and make that shit legitimate?

You just can’t, so the only thing you can do, embrace it, know what you’re doing is so utterly mental, that all you can do, is push the envelope some more until it ruddy well works.

THAT is the beauty of this film. So many scenes are just filled with my internal monologue going, “What the actual fuck is going on?” I’m not gonna list them, as you really do need to spend some time and watch it for yourself, even if it’s just the once.

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As for horror, the effects kybosh any real chance of building up suspense or dread, and the sharp left turns, which make little sense, also remove any shock value. Again, though, it doesn’t matter. If you come into this film expecting a tight narrative, kickass effects and gasping shocks and turns, you chose poorly.

So why the hell should you watch it? I get ya, your time is precious, you have a million and one other things you could be doing. There are pigs to scrub down, flame wars to ignite on social media, Machiavellian plans to hatch. I will ask you but one question…do you want to watch something which is genuinely different than 95% of the other films you will watch during your life? If you do, then give it a crack. Revel in its awfulness, laugh at the effects, but most of all, just enjoy a film that will live long in your head.

HAUSU is like that one person you know, who you see only fleetingly, but for the brief time you do, you see how wonderful true strangeness can be.

DPB Picture

Living in a hollowed out pumpkin, Duncan P. Bradshaw finds October the most troublesome of months, as people become intent on sticking flaming candles into the midst of his happy abode. In fact, the only good thing to come about from it is the copious amount of candy that he steals from passers-by. When they have all sodded right off, he retires to the tip of the stalk, which affords him excellent views of the neighbourhood. As the rest of the street slumbers, he writes down the weird and wonderful thoughts that have built up during the day, like the plaque. Find out what he writes down, by checking out his website http://duncanpbradshaw.co.uk/ or follow him on Facebook, where he does all manner of things https://www.facebook.com/duncanpbradshaw/

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind is secretly the most terrifying movie ever made…

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In the glamour of watching a Steven Spielberg film, it is easy to understand how caught up we can get in the chaotic wonder of blinking strobes and superb John Williams magnum opus score. But, while we found ourselves in that childlike stupor, did we see what was really going on? The visuals dazzled us, no doubt there, but was the subversive message really received? Did we hear? Did we jump? Did we cower? Since watching, have we kept a precarious eye on the nights sky, glaring into the dark depths of the cosmos and wondering who or what is out there? And not only who or what, but what capabilities do they have? What technology or power can they subvert us with? Mind control? Abduction? Electromagnetism? Black outs? Radiation burns? Sickness? Madness? All these are terrifying symptoms, no? If you’ve paid attention you’ll find the terrifying powers listed here are all in that Spielberg film we’ve loved and adored since 1977. And this is why I think Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the most terrifying surreptitious movie ever made. While we were dazzled and awed, strange elongated aliens were abducting children in a blaze of orange fog. While we giggled and cooed over the keyboard synthesizers and light show, a husband and father of three aggressively and tragically lost his mind, eventually being taken away by these so-called visitors. If we can sit back down and watch this movie again, carefully, point for point…well, I’m sure you’ll agree: Close Encounters of the Third Kind IS a cosmic horror movie. Why? Well, this goes back to that ole Lovecraftian fear, not really knowing “what’s out there” or “where they come from,” and having zero control over “what they do.”

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Since its release in the 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind has grossed over $337 million worldwide.  Ray Bradbury declared it the greatest science fiction film ever made. The film was nominated for several Oscars; having only taken home one in cinematography. Had Star Wars not released the same year, I’m certain Close Encounters would have won all the eggs. No surprise there, if you’ve seen the movie the you know there is no denying the films powerful dream-like quality . There’s nothing uber complicated with the plot or story structure. Its actually rather cut and dry, in which some may say is a tad slow for our rapid fire attention spans. I too recall watching this when I was a kid on VHS and thinking it had its fair share of boring scenes; however, as an adult now, I think the movie has a fantastic pace in which every moment is important in some way. I think a part of why we never watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind thinking how horrifying the movie really was is because of the simplicity of the story, we glaze over and…again, coo over the musical numbers and flashy bulbs. Look at the film, watch the movie, even those on screen, especially at the end, the characters are all moon pied, as if surrendered to some kind of trace or hypnosis. AGAIN…isn’t that in itself a terrifying factor?

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And we have to ask, what exactly do these aliens really want? If they’ve been abducting people for generations, what do they want with the one man crazy enough to have made it to Devils Tower? If they’ve been taking people all willy-nilly since before WWII, or even longer, well…it goes to say they probably already have a clear understanding of human anatomy. And if they can insert images and thoughts into our minds, well… this begs the question, how much more of us do they really need to know? To me, it all seems like a subjective test. A greater intelligence than our own giving humanity the equivalent of an SAT exam. Consider this bit from an article published by Keith Phipps:

When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a humble lineman for an Indiana electric company, investigates a power outage, he witnesses an unidentified flying object, a run-in that leaves him with what appears to be a severe sunburn. Nearby, 3-year-old Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey), follows some lights outside as his mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) chases after him. Both Roy and Jillian, who soon meet, are fascinated by their experiences, but this feeling soon takes a turn. Having strayed from his duties as a result of his sighting, Roy first loses his job then seems to lose his mind as he becomes fixated on alien encounters while his family looks on in horror. Jillian’s life turns even more dramatic than Roy’s when the UFOs return and draw Barry to them as Jillian fights their efforts to avail, in a scene Spielberg stages like an otherworldly home invasion, with Barry’s unwitting delight only amplifying the horror. Something from beyond Earth has arrived, but its intentions remain vague, as does its respect for human life.

And at the end, we get the impression of open communication with the whole sign-language gag. But I wonder…how open that communication really is. Neary was still taken. He was obviously still insane, giving no thought or hesitation of leaving behind his wife, two sons, and daughter. My impression is that these intelligent aliens are still rather indifferent about humanity. And indifference can be dangerous. I question the “friendliness” of the final encounter, the film to me reeks of its post-Watergate-pessimistic era of misguided trust. Sure, they are taking Neary to some place that might be benevolent and beautiful, but how do we know and we’re never guaranteed his return. Will they bring him back as they did the countless others? (Did you see the billboard with all those names and pictures of people they believe had been abducted? Freaking insane number, right?) The final act is the answer to the entire mundane meets the spectacular and secretive undertone of the movie, we don’t know, we don’t know if Neary will return, we don’t know what they’ll do with him, and we have absolutely no power to stop them from taking him. And we have to ask ourselves, would we take a ride with these cosmic visitors?

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Would we even have a choice if they came for us?

Update: According to several sources, including Blumhouse News, “in honor of the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s classic feature CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Sony Pictures has recently done a 4K restoration and is planning on re-releasing the film in theaters on September 1st.”

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Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.