Posts Tagged ‘james cameron’

Worm rape.

There, that got your attention, didn’t it? And in some ways I’ve said all that needs to be said about the semi-infamous 1981 Roger Corman production (almost universally lumped into the Alien knock-off subgenre, although truth be told it has a lot more in common with later films like Event Horizon than it does with Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece) Galaxy Of Terror (also released under the alternate titles of Mind Warp — which has more of a 2001 ripoff feel to it, in this reviewer’s opinion — and Planet Of Horrors, for those of you keeping score at home), thus making the rest of this review an exercise in redundancy, but what the hell, since we’re already at it (and since we’ll inevitably return to the subject of worm rape again later) —

At some point in the distant future, our descendants, who have spread out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy (or, hell, it could be the universe for all I know) decide to do away with all that pesky freedom and democracy nonsense we kid ourselves into believing we have and just put everything in the hands of a guy called the Planet Master (most commonly referred to simply as “The Master” for the less-than-90-minute duration of this film — maybe it’s a term of endearment?), whose only qualification for the job of ruler of the galaxy (or,again, maybe it’s the universe for all I know) seems to be that he has a glowing red orb for a head. Fair enough.

All is not well in the galaxy (or, again, and hopefully for the last time, the universe) though — an expedition ship has gone missing on the mysterious and hostile planet of Organthus (I shit you not) and for reasons only known to his glowing red mind, “The Master” decides this is such a calamity that he must hand-pick a special team of deep-space adventurers to go and find the remains of the ship and, if they’re still alive, its crew.

Welcome to the starship Quest, then, and its hastily-assembled, ragtag band of spacefaring voyagers, assembled not, apparently, due to any particular aptitudes on their part, but simply because this is the bunch that “The Master” wants. Oh, sure,they’re a competent enough grouping of soon-to-be-cult-stars (Robert Englund, Zalman King), sitcom stalwarts (Erin Moran), Corman veterans (Sid Haig), has-beens (Ray Walston, bless him) and almost-weres (Edward Albert, son of the guy from Green Acres), all ably (despite her role in the apparently-calamitous “Hesperous incident” we hear some talk of ) led by grizzled Space Corps (or whatever) vet Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, best known as Laura Palmer’s mom on Twin Peaks and here wearing some less-than-convincing age make-up to make the at-the-time-mid-30s actress appear to be more of a Captain Janeway type, even though this was about 15 years or so before anyone knew who Captain Janeway was).

Once on Organthus, though, our heroes discover that the wreck of the ship they were searching for couldn’t possibly have yielded any survivors, but hey — what’s that (admittedly well-realized, especially for a $700,000 Roger Corman flick) giant, dark, foreboding pyramid off in the distance? And that, of course, is where all their troubles begin.

Once inside the ominous structure (and it has to be said that director Bruce D. Clark, working under the name “B.D. Clark” here and ably assisted by second-unit director/unofficial head special-effects man/unofficial assistant production designer/jack of all trades/future most successful filmmaker in Hollywood history, James Cameron, does a very nice job of conveying atmosphere and mood on a scale much bigger than anything he’s got to work with would logically allow for) the crew of the Quest are subjected to every sort of nightmare they can imagine as their most deep-seated fears are realized and brought (mostly rather convincingly, it must be said) to life right before their eyes.  And then, of course, these living nightmares kill them — that’s just how this kind of shit works.

And that, dear readers (if assuming the plural there isn’t assuming too much — whoops, just assumed twice in a row there, that makes a double-ass of you and me both — how does it feel?) brings us back to worm rape. The most hapless of all our stellar explorers, one Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell, who honestly has enough to contend with in life with her absurd — albeit more than likely self-chosen — name, but would simply never live this down even though the scene in question was excised by censors in numerous international markets for home video release) is deathly afraid of worms, maggots, and all that slithery stuff. And when a solitary worm mutates to enormous size with all kinds of dangling, vaguely penile appendages limply drooping from its slimy underside, it’s pretty obvious how her goose is gonna be cooked.

Oh, sure, there are some other things that transpire after this point in the film — one of the crew is not who he appears to be, the whole doomed mission (and presumably the one before it that the folks aboard the Quest came to find) turns out to have been set up for one very specific purpose that I won’t give away, etc. — but honestly, once a woman gets raped to death by a giant worm, what do you do for an encore? Not that I’m in any way condoning such a vile, prurient, exploitative, probably-misogynistic-if-the-whole-idea-weren’t-so-fucking-weird thing. Who, me? Of course not. Fear not, dear readers, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru states unequivocally, and for the record, that I am against giant worms raping women. How’s that for a brave political stance?

And yet — it definitely makes for a cinematic moment that’ll stick with you. And it’s a good thing it comes towards the end, because like I said, you’re just not going to be able to one-up that. And that’s been both an inherent blessing and curse to Clark’s film over the years — sure, everybody who follows cult horror and sci-fi, or just B-movies in general, knows about Galaxy Of Terror. It’s the worm-rape movie. But, as I hope I’ve been able to convey, it’s also a pleasingly twisted, better-than-we’ve-probably-got-any-right-to-expect, sleazy slice of Corman ungoodness. The sets are well done for a shoestring production, the camera work is solid, the performances are of a uniformly high standard, the effects, though dated, are generally impressive, and the story’s not a half-bad admittedly-somewhat-by-the-numbers- mind-fuck-in-outer-space. But it always comes back to worm rape, doesn’t it?

Fortunately for everyone except Taaffe O’Connell, the good folks at Shout! Factory saw fit to release Galaxy Of Terror as one of the first titles in their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series on DVD and Blu-Ray, and they pulled out all the stops — we’ve got a widescreeen high-definition picture transfer that looks spectacular, a nice 5.1 surround sound mix, and extras galore including a full-length commentary track featuring four members of the cast and crew (including Ms. O’Connell, who appears to be more than a good sport about the whole thing), no less than six “making-of” featurettes that can be played either separately or all in order (a nice idea I wish more DVD and Blu-Ray releases made use of), extensive photo galleries including stills, production shots, posters, artwork, production design sketches, and more, the original screenplay in .pdf format, a really cool reversible cover featuring the poster artwork for the Galaxy Of Terror title on the front side and the Mind Warp title on the other — suffice to say it’s packed to the gills with great stuff and is a flat-out essential purchase for any and all true conoisseurs of low-budget cinema. It’s one of those all-too-rare releases that really enhances your appreciation of all the effort that went into making the finished product, and anyone who walks away from it still thinking that this film is essentially just a one-trick pony (or, hey, worm) clearly hasn’t been paying attention. All that being being the case, I have just one more thing to say before I sign off —

Worm rape, worm rape, worm rape.

"Piranha 3-D" Movie Poster

Okay, so I meant to get around to reviewing this back when it came out but I was lazy and I didn’t. Still, now’s not a bad time to take a look at Piranha 3-D since it’s due out on DVD any day here, and while home DVD and Blu-Ray 3-D can’t come close to matching the theatrical experience yet, this is such a fun flick that it’s certainly worth a rental on your part, or even a purchase if you can grab it on sale cheap.

And cheap is the operative word when it comes to Piranha 3-D. Oh, sure it had a budget of around $25 million, but it’s loaded with cheap and plentiful gore, cheap and plentiful nudity, and life comes damn cheap in it, too. I ask you, friends, what could be better than that?

This is true B-filmmaking all the way courtesy of French “new horror” maestro Alexandre Aja, who made his mark with Haute Tension in his home country before taking Hollywood by storm with his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and then taking something of a misstep with the Kiefer Sutherland horror vehicle Mirrors, which wasn’t as bad as many of its detractors would have you believe but really wasn’t actually very good, either.

Anyway, Aja’s back in fine form with this third installment in the Roger Corman-originated Piranha franchise (the two previous flicks were directed by Joe Dante and James Cameron, respectively), and while it’s probably not fair to classify it as strictly a sequel per se to the first two, it’s certainly not a remake of the original, either — I guess the most appropriate term to use here would be to say it’s a re-imagining, much as I despise that word, and indeed all trendy Hollywood and corporate buzzwords — for instance, is anyone still referring to anything as a paradigm shift anymore? Didn’t think so.

But I digress. The paper-thin plot here revolves around spring break in the fictitious town of Lake Victoria, Arizona, where thousands of hard-partying college kids descend each year to perform their annual bacchanalian rites of binge drinking and binge fucking. Things are gonna be a little bit hairier for the wild youths this year, though, since an earthquake in a self-contained underground aquatic ecosystem has ruptured the lake bed and sent hundreds of prehistoric piranha swarming into party central. The piranha have been surviving in their little watery subterranean paradise all these years by eating each other since there’s nothing else around to sink their teeth into, so they’ve big, they’re mean, they’re bloodthirsty, and,  like the nauseating drunken students, they’re out for a good time.

Aja really pulls out all the stops in once the mayhem ensues, treating us to a non-stop bloodbath punctuated only by totally gratuitous boob close-ups and even more gratuitous full-frontal nudity. There’s an extended underwater ballet scene with starlets Kelly Brook and Riley Steele (yes, that Riley Steele, and she’s only one of several porn stars brought in to liven up the proceedings here) that seriously verges on soft-core territory, and if 3_D T&A is your kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed. I’ll just leave it at that.

There’s a gratuitous sampling of has-been B-list actors crawling out of the woodwork here, too. Elizabeth Shue (who I swear to God doesn’t age) has the nominal starring role as local sheriff  Julie Forester, who;s got to try to solve the crisis while also rescuing her son, who’s gone off for the day on a photoshoot with ultra-sleazy “Girls Gone Wild”-type producer Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Ving Rhames is her bad-ass deputy, Christopher Lloyd is on hand as a mad scientist-type who’s fervently trying to figure out just what these deadly fish are, where they come from, and how they can be stopped, Richard Dreyfuss is on hand for just long enough for you to say “Hey, that’s Richard Dreyfuss!” before he becomes the bloodthirsty fish horde’s first victim, and if you look really closely you’ll even see Eli Roth as the emcee of a wet t-shirt contest.

But the main “star” here is the sheer, unbridled, completely tasteless mayhem that’s front and center almost from the word go. Ever possible way to be eaten by deadly fish is shown in graphic detail, some of which you can imagine, others of which, quite frankly, you can’t. A guy’s dick getting bitten off and later chomped down by one of the piranha is played for laughs (as it should be). There’s fish-bitten boobs, legs, arms, feet, shoulders, stomachs, faces, you name it — and there’s just no damn way to kill these things off en masse. In fact, at the very end, Aja just plain stops trying as the film finishes on a note that’s pure sequel set-up (not that this will probably happen now given the movie’s underwhelming box office performance).

Not all the 3-D works all that well, to be sure — underwater 3-D effects seem to be an iffy proposition at best, and some definitely deliver the goods better than others. Still, even when Aja and his effects crew fall short, it’s certainly not for lack of trying. Piranha 3-D is a film that aspires to do one thing and one thing only — absolutely annihilate all the boundaries of good taste, and get away with all it can and then some. It’s a true stylistic, and thematic, heir to many of the grindhouse and exploitation flicks that we cover so regularly here at TFG and viewed through that lens, you have to say that it succeeds more than admirably. It’s gleeful, unmitigated, irredeemable trash — just the kind of thing we love around here.

In short, Piranha 3-D is the party movie of the year. It’s full of blood, boobs, blood, boobs, blood, boobs,more blood, more boobs, butts, female genitalia, and huge, shiny, flesh-devouring teeth. Can’t ask for any more out of a movie than that, can you? Catch it as soon as you can.

"Lady Terminator" Ad Sheet

“First She Mates — Then She Terminates!” — Advertising Tag-Line for “Lady Terminator”

Your host is debuting a new semi-regular feature here at TFG where we take a look at some of the more bizarre Z-grade exploitation fare from around the globe, since,  as the Japanese, Italians, and others have proven over the years, the English-speaking world doesn’t hold a monopoly on head-scratchingly bizarre cinema — in fact, you could argue that we’re in the minor leagues compared to plenty of other countries. And I can’t think of a better place to begin our occasional examination of international film absurdities than with the 1988 Indonesian gem (and I use that term advisedly — context, people, context!) “Lady Terminator.”

First thought upon seeing the title is, naturally enough, “looks like a cheap ‘Terminator’ rip-off only with a chick.” Which is, of course, true. First impressions don’t lie — all the time. But there’s a lot more to this film than just that, as it incorporates local legend, aimed squarely at a largely working-class local audience, to deliver a truly Indonesian take on James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster, all while trying its level best (and failing) to look like an American Hollywood special effects extravaganza.

If blending the local with the desperate desire to appear like it was filmed somewhere — anywhere — else sounds incongruous to you, rest assured that it is, and it’s this attempt to both speak to, and simultaneously disguise and/or escape its roots, that gives “Lady Terminator” a unique personality all its own — albeit a highly schizophrenic one. The cheesy special effects, horrendous dubbing, lame acting, and cheap production values are just icing on the cake. The funnest thing about this film is watching how it tries to pitch itself to audiences at home by giving the story a distinctly Indonesian (specifically Javanese) backstory while trying to hustle its wares to audiences abroad by doing its level best (and, again, failing) to look like an LA-based production.

She doesn't look much like Ah-nuld, thank God

Our story begins hundreds — shit, maybe even thousands, by the look of things —of yea ago in an ancient, foreboding castle by the sea. There, the evil South Seas Queen slakes her apparently endless sexual thirst on an apparently endless succession of local men. The only problem : they all end up dead; their cocks chewed off  mid-intercourse,  a stream of blood spurting up their bodies. I know what you’re thinking here — the old “vagina dentata” myth, most recently explored cinematically in “Teeth.”  Hold on a second, though – one day, a mysterious (white) foreigner shows up and tames her with his John Holmes-like appendage. He also learns the secret to why every other guy who got tried on for size (pun sort of intended) ended up quite literally emasculated : there’s a sea serpent living inside the evil queen’s snatch, and he grabs it out, turns it into a dagger(?), and she ends up dead — but not before vowing that, in one hundred years’ time, she’ll have her revenge upon his great-granddaughter.

This, friends, in the ancient Javanese legend of the South Seas Queen (raise your hand if you knew that one — I admit I didn’t). Yes, it’s a variation on the “vagina dentata” theme just mentioned, but probably the type of variation that could only come from an island culture, fused as it is with “sea monster”-type legend.

Fast-forward 100 years and we’re in the present day (well, 1988). I know what you’re thinking — I said that whole castle scene looks like it took place centuries ago. And it does. But whatever. In our new, modern segment of the story we’ve got a beautiful,  ethnically vague (my guess is half Indonesian half white)  young anthropologist named Tania (Barbara Anne Constable) about to head underwater for a diving excursion. She’s  investigating the legend of the South Seas Queen and believes she’s located the whereabouts of her castle so she wants to see if there are any artifacts from it lying on the sea bed. I didn’t know anthropologists were interested in shit that’s only 100 years old, either, but again — whatever. It’s called suspension of disbelief, people, and trust me when I say that if you want to keep up with events in “Lady Terminator,” your very survival depends on it.

Anyway, Tania’s boat is capsized by a tsunami and soon she finds herself on the bottom on the sea. In a bed. in a dry room. Naked (she spends a good 50% of her screen time at least topless, if not fully nude, although there’s very little by way of full frontal stuff). Whereupon the evil sea serpent that had possessed the wicked queen enters her (entirely unconvincingly) vaginally.

Then it’s back up to the surface to pick up right where our evil snake left off — Tania and her new body-sharing mate are determined to fuck, then kill, every guy in sight, and to track down the granddaughter of the guy who put a stop to their last round of carnal homicide. The Lady Terminator is born!

I'm gonna wash that blood right outta my eye ---

This is the point at which the movie moves firmly into Cameron clone territory, albeit with a few twists — for one thing, the Lady Terminator is not half-robot, or whatever the hell Ah-nuld was. But she’s every bit as indestructible. Apparently, the cops — as well as hotel and mall security guards — in Indonesia have an endless supply of automatic weaponry, but all the uzi fire in the world, even at point-blank range, doesn’t stop this lady. Nor do helicopter-fired missiles. Or fiery car wrecks. When her eye gets bloody, she just pops is out of its socket, washes it off with a combination of water and crackling electricity, and sticks it back in. The only thing that can harm her is an ancient amulet worn by Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker), the granddaughter she’s hunting down.  But will out erstwhile heroine figure this out in time?

The other areas in which this film deviates from the James Cameron blueprint are in the sheer amount of sex and violence packed into its 85-minute runtime and the rushed mouthfuls of dialogue that fly non-stop. It almost feels like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of a longer film.  And the action almost feels like it’s following the script of the original “Terminator” film and turning it up a few notches just because it can. In fact, it’s got almost as much non-stop mayhem as “Terminator 2,” and almost bears a closer resemblance in many key respects to that film, even though “Lady Terminator” came out a few years earlier. It’s enough to make you wonder if Cameron had actually seen this thing before starting work on his sequel — in which case “Terminator 2” would be a copy of a copy of his original.

But back to the story, such as it is. Erica’s an up-and-coming wannabe actress/pop star, and the only recognizably Indonesian member of the principal cast (even though her great-granddaddy was supposedly white).She’s protected by a stereotypical tough young cop named Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), who is obviously American (and working for the Indonesian cops — don’t ask me how that works), and equally obviously only speaks English. In fact, a good half this movie looks like it was shot in English but then dubbed over anyway.  Max got put on the case when a bunch of dickless dead bodies started turning up at the morgue. Soon he’s trying to protect Erica from her indestructible pursuer and starting up a romance with her at the same time. That’s generally how these sorts of things work.

The action all takes place at decidedly American-looking locales, from shopping malls to hotels to airports (all with signs in English). It’s as though director H. Tjut Djalil (given a phony Anglicized name in the credits, as are all the cast and crew) and screenwriter Karr Kruinowz figured they were done with the Indonesian part of the story after the opening set-up and, having captured the interest of the locals, would spend the rest of the film trying to make as American-looking a production as possible in case they could actually pick up some overseas distribution (which, in fact, they did — “Lady Terminator” actually played a few 42nd street grindhouses in the waning days of the pre-Disneyfied Deuce).

A rough day at the office for the Lady Terminator

The final climactic battle is pure Cameron rip-off, albeit on steroids, with an emaciated, disfigured, grotesque Lady Terminator engaging in a last, desperate, ultra-violent battle with our heroes. The only thing missing is the red eye and dangling robot parts. Then we’ve got some voice-over narration at the end that takes everything back to the realm of ancient Indonesian legend even though the previous 70-plus minutes have been a desperate attempt to look as American as possible. Go figure.

"Lady Terminator" DVD from Mondo Macabro

“Lady Terminator” is available on DVD from Mondo Macabro. Despite not having featuring a commentary track, which probably would have been almost impossible to produce given the language barriers involved even if they had managed to track down all the principals behind the scenes, it’s a truly excellent package. The anamorphic transfer is generally sharp and crisp aside from some entirely forgivable and excusable grainy spots in parts, the digital mono soundtrack is perfectly fine, and the extras include a superb mini-documentary on the history of Indonesian exploitation cinema and an extremely thorough and comprehensive text essay on the origins and production of “Lady Terminator” that includes some still photos as well as promotional artwork for this film and Djalil’s previous cinematic offering, the equally-befuddling, but ultimately less engaging, “Mystics in Bali.” All in all, an extremely worthy addition to your DVD library.

“Lady Terminator” is a singularly bizarre movie experience, and one not to be missed. In attempting to appeal to both a local audience and to the international — specifically the American — market, Djalil and company ended up making a film that feels like it was made not in America or in Indonesia —  or even on the planet Earth for that matter — but one that landed here from another dimension altogether.

"Avatar" Movie Poster

So, yeah, “Avatar.”

I guess I would be remiss in my duties as an amateur wannabe-film critic if I didn’t at least address the topic, given that it’s probably going to be the all-time box office champion any day now. It’s still picking up another $30-$40 million per week without much sign of slowing down. It’s set to pass “The Dark Knight” for number two on the all-time list domestically within the next week or two, and after that, all it’s got to beat is director James Cameron’s last movie, “Titanic,” (which I still have never seen), and it’s the all-time champ. Most box office observers expect this to happen within the next moth or so.

One thing’s for certain, Cameron has established himself firmly as the uber-Spielberg, as Spielberg on steroids. Everything he touches turns into pure box office gold. He took a long time completing his follow-up to “Titanic,” but so what? He made the biggest-grossing film of all time, then followed it up with the new biggest-grossing film of all time. Cynical as I am, I gotta admit that’s pretty impressive. But is “Avatar” itself?

My answer is — not really. Or maybe it is and it isn’t would be a better way of putting things. Sure, it’s cool to look at and all, and the 3-D is solid (I didn’t catch it in Imax 3-D, just standard 3-D, but from what I hear there’s not a whole ton of difference), but given that the film’s costs were somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million for production, and another estimated $150 million for worldwide marketing, all I could think was “this is all $400 million gets you?” There aren’t a bunch of make-you-jump-out-of-your-seat-type moments.  The effects are all CG (hell, the whole movie is essentially CG). There aren’t any highly-paid actors in it. So where the hell did all the money go? I’m sorry, but if I’m 20th Century Fox, at this point I’m asking to see the receipts, even if the finished product has already made over a billion dollars worldwide.

None of which is to say that “Avatar” sucks. It’s okay. It’s got a decent little story (though there’s probably no point whatsoever to me giving a detailed — or even brief, for that matter — plot recap here, since all the details of the story are fairly well known at this point). I appreciate the fact that it’s pro-environment, anti-colonialist message is pissing off the right wing to no end (they’ve taken the film’s anti-colonialism to mean anti-Americanism, as if we invented that risible practice. Ever heard of Britain or France, to name just two former colonial powers? Oh, wait, this is the right wing we’re talking about — only the US and its history is of any relevance to them). And the CG effects are just fine — but not anything you can’t get from a Pixar or DreamWorks Animation 3-D flick, which probably don’t generally cost any more than $40 or $50 million, at most, to produce.

And that’s the rub. Evidently Cameron had his cast “act” out a lot of the movie (for instance, actress Zoe Saldana, who plays the main female alien lead in the movie, never appears “in the flesh,” per se, but is still credited as a member of the “cast”) then used sophisticated motion-capture technology to “transfer” their natural, human movements into CGI, if you will. My question is — why? For the most part, “Avatar” might as well be a purely CG animation film. It would’ve cost a lot less and looked just as good. Capturing the “natural” human movements of the actors and actresses makes no difference to the finished product whatsoever, in my view. No one would care if all the CG was just that — high-quality, standard, animated CG. That’s all the impressive sets and backgrounds and what have you are, after all. Why go to the trouble of “casting”actors to portray computerized aliens at all?

To be sure, the integration of the human stars with the computer-generated sets is seamless, but then, it is in almost every movie these days. The “Star Wars” prequels, and anything by Peter Jackson, feature tons of real-life actors doing their jobs in front of blue- and green-screen backgrounds, with the CG added later. It’s nothing new, nothing trailblazing. It’s all done in slightly greater abundance in “Avatar,” sure, but that’s about it. Again, I have to ask — $400 million for this?

I have no intention here, really, of bashing this movie. It’s fine. The story’s fine, the acting is fine, the 3-D is fine. But it doesn’t knock your socks off. And given that’s really the whole goal of “Avatar,” I have to say it falls short of meeting the standards it sets for itself.