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Valley Of The Dragons (1961)

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aka Prehistoric Valley
Directed by Edward Bernds
Written by Edward Bernds and Donald Zimbalist
Based on the novel Career of a Comet by Jules Verne
Starring Cesare Danova, Sean McClory, Joan Staley, and Danielle De Metz

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Jules Verne is perhaps best remembered today for the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The story of Nemo and his advanced submarine has been adapted to screen many times, as have his works Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. So popular were movies of Verne’s adventure stories that it was tempting to produce anything that his name could be attached to. For instance, by using just the barest premise of Of On a Comet (here credited as the subtitle of the translation called Hector Servadac; or The Career of a Comet) the producers of Valley of the Dragons were able to promote a rambling Lost World ripoff as being a Jules Verne movie.

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King Solomon’s Mines (1985)

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Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by Gene Quintano and James R. Silke based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard
Starring Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, Herbert Lom, John Rhys-Davies, Ken Gampu, and June Buthelezi

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Raiders of the Lost Ark made a huge splash when it came out in 1981, immediately creating a wave of adventure movies. The success of Romancing the Stone in 1984 proved that the treasure-hunting genre still had plenty of steam in it, although imitators of both films fell rapidly into the forgotten crevices of empty theaters. It was inevitable that Cannon Films would try to catch the train and hubris that they’d do so with a 2-picture deal for the dusty adventures of Allan Quatermain, the Great White Hunter.

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The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

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Directed by Bill Rebane
Written by Richard L. Huff and Robert Easton
Starring Steve Brodie, Barbara Hale, Robert Easton, Leslie Parrish, Alan Hale Jr., Bill Williams, and Diane Lee Hart

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A lot of horror movies have misleading titles. The Monster That Challenged the World, for example, merely bothered a small boat. One thing I can say in defense of The Giant Spider Invasion is that its title is not technically a lie. There are spiders that are ecologically invasive, and one of them is indeed effing huge. That’s about the only thing impressive about it. The spider, I mean. More on that later.

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Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

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Directed by Arthur Hilton
Written by Roy Hamilton, Al Zimbalist, and Jack Rabin
Starring Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory, Marie Windsor, William Phipps, Douglas Fowley, Carol Brewster, Susan Morrow, and Suzanne Alexander

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American society had changed during WWII. A shortage of men had brought women into the manufacturing workplace to help with the war effort, and with over 400,000 US casualties a lot of men weren’t coming back to reclaim those jobs. The men who prided themselves for saving the world felt threatened by the new independence of women, and their fear expressed itself in the repressive attitudes expressed as norms in television and films of the time. It can be difficult to recognize this in some of the more popular media, which comes off as merely dated. For your entry-point into seeing the reactionary misogyny of the time you need a clumsy and blatant display of it such as presented in the film Cat-Women of the Moon. As plot details are important to making this point, spoilers for a terrible 63-year old movie abound.

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Ticks (1993)

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Directed by Tony Randel
Written by Brent V. Friedman
Starring Rosalind Allen, Ami Dolenz, Seth Green, Virginya Keehne, Alfonso Ribeiro, Peter Scolari, Ray Oriel, Dina Dayrit, Barry Lynch and Clint Howard

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There have been several films about minuscule terrors; Phase IV and The Flesh Eaters come immediately to mind. Likewise The Beginning of the End and The Empire of the Ants present the peril of small things vastly enlarged. There is a minor niche in between for films about the tiny grown to not-very-big, and within that the chief example is Ticks.

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The Spider Labyrinth (1988)

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Directed by Gianfranco Giagni
Written by Riccardo Aragno, Tonino Cervi, Cesare Frugoni, and Gianfranco Manfredi
Starring Roland Wybenga, Paolo Rinaldi, Margareta von Krauss, and Claudia Muzi

Spiders sold separately.

Spiders sold separately.

There are certain things I just know I have to watch. Giant spider movies, naturally. Italian horror is another favorite. I can’t say no to noir, especially the sort where investigation leads to doom. Anything with Ray Milland in it. So when I learned that The Spider Labyrinth was an Italian horror-noir about a spider cult, I nearly fainted with joy. Good thing Milland wasn’t in it!

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Summer School (2006)

Do not be fooled by the cast list. Neither Lance Henricksen or Michael J. Nelson had anything to do with this movie.

Directed by Lance Hendrickson, Troy McCall, Mike P. Nelson, Steven Rhoden, and Ben Trandem
Written by Lance Hendrickson, Mike P. Nelson, Steven Rhoden, Pa Chia Thao, and Ben Trandem
Starring Simon Wallace, Amy Cocchiarella, Tony D. Czech, Lance Hendrickson, Troy McCall, and Mike P. Nelson

I do appreciate the 1970s style title.

I do appreciate the 1970s style title.

Anthology movies are always hit or miss. There are only so many minutes in a movie, and each additional story splits the available pot with which to tell a story. Many deal with this by having only about four stories. This allows them to be roughly the length of a half-hour commercial TV episode. Some, like The ABCs of Death, embrace the brevity and present as many thoughts as possible in the hopes that the scattergun will hit. Then too, most have a wrapping narrative to connect the segments. These can be as simple as each title starting with the next letter in the alphabet or as intertwined with the stories as Peter Cushing selling cursed items from his antiques shop.

"Oh, man. That nap wore me out."

“Oh, man. That nap wore me out.”

The high concept for Summer School is that a kid falls asleep in an empty classroom, where he keeps waking up from one scary dream into the next. His name is Charles (Simon Wallace), and he has apparently binge-watched a bunch of horror movies for his review site. As the title suggests, he seems to have come to school for a summer class — Physics, if the dreams aren’t lying about non-horror facts. Every story centers on Charles and involve some or all of the pool of school characters: a few close friends, a girl he fancies, the teacher, the security guard, and the nameless fodder that fill out the cast roster. There are seven stories (including the wrapper), and altogether Charles wakes up no fewer than 9 times.

This is playing with the difficulty set on Hard. Four experienced and talented directors teamed up to make Four Rooms with a shared character and setting, and it did so well that it’s never spoken of. Five directors — including Orson Welles — and a legion of largely uncredited writers worked on the endearing fiasco that was the 1967 anthology film version of Casino Royale. What I’m saying is that five directors working on seven stories with the same characters and setting is ambitious, particularly when the “it’s yet another dream” premise removes any and all emotional investment in Charles’ adventures.

Dennis (Lance Hendrickson) stops Charles from questioning events.

Dennis (Lance Hendrickson) stops Charles from questioning events.

So I give the many directors and writers of Summer School credit for reaching too high, while acknowledging that the result of their collective effort is not very good. On average each story only had 12 minutes to work with, so the majority of the scenarios are fairly trite without much room to stand out in any way. There are still some fun moments; the segment “Vampires” features an entertainingly improbable staking, and “Slasher” sees Charles finally snap and go on a stabbing spree. Largely though, it’s a collection of genre beats without any context or weight.

Perhaps the worst section is the one that the greatest chance to break free of the limiting nature of the setup. “Hill Billy”, written and directed by Mike P. Nelson, puts a backwoods redneck family living directly outside the school. It’s the most overtly dreamlike setting detail in the film, and it gets us out of the building, so it’s a promising start. Sadly, all we get is recycled homosexual hick panic with a predator played by an actor too scared to actually touch Charles. It’s… not good, and the double-fake end of the segment does nothing to clear the air.

We call them... Monsters.

We call them… Monsters.

So why am I even reviewing Summer School then? Because, dear readers, the second interior story contains that most rare and horrible of arachnids: spider men! The segment “Monsters” is co-written by Steve Rhoden and Ben Trandem (who had a writing and/or directing hand in all but two of the stories) and directed by Rhoden. It’s my favorite part for two reasons. First, of course, is that it features arachnothropes. That’s a word I just made up, because a cursory search turned up nothing else that fit. There’s zoanthropy, but even if you ignore the fact that it’s intended meaning is for people who only think they’re animals, it’s still usually restricted to mammals. Not a lot of people think they’re creepy crawlies, apparently.

The other reason I like “Monsters” is that it chose to avoid cliché. Sure, there’s nothing too unusual about infectious monsters, cocooned victims, or going down in a swarm, but instead of trotting out werewolves or making giant spider puppets someone thought “You know what? Spider masks would look sweet with gorilla suits”. I love that kind of thinking! The overall effect was rather silly, but I have to say that the masks look good. They’re only seen in quick shots or at a distance, so they come off well even with their immobility. Plus, how many times have arachnothropes appeared on film? Without poring over my notes on spider movies I can only come up with three: Horrors of Spider Island, Curse of the Black Widow, and the execrable Lost in Space. I’d also accept Mesa of Lost Women, although none of the humans looked spidery, and the spider just got big. I’m not prepared to discuss Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula. It’s still too soon. Okay, and there are a few adaptations of Monkey that have spider women… My point is that it’s fun to see such an underexposed monster type in a movie that’s otherwise merely a tour of familiar scares. I mean, they even hauled out Nazis, for crying out loud.

It's got them crazy eyes!

It’s got them crazy eyes!

Overall, Summer School does little more than prove the technical competency of the filmmakers. That’s not a knock. While I was generally unengaged with the movie, I couldn’t fault the production values. The camera work, lighting, most of the sound, and even the effects are well above average for such a low-budget project. This kind of showpiece can be a nice entry on a CV, and indeed many of the film’s workers have since worked on technical and makeup capacities on TV, including some directing. Not bad.

Unless they’re still dreaming!

"Please, still be dreaming!"

“Please, still be dreaming!”

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This review is part of the Adult Onset Lycanthropy roundtable; we’re taking a look at films were people become inhuman. The links below are for reviews from other participants. Give ’em the ol’ clicky, would’ja?

Checkpoint Telstar observes The Bat People

Cinemasochist Apocalypse honorably faces Kibakichi

Micro-Brewed Reviews bogarts Curse of the Black Widow (but I’m totally not jealous or nothing)

Las Películas de Terror scans The Beast Within

Psychoplasmics rounds up An American Werewolf in London

The Terrible Claw Reviews slithers up to Sssssss

The Tomb of Anubis tracks down Romasanta