Forbidden World

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1982

New World Pictures

Directed by Alan Holzman

Produced by Roger Corman

Written by Tim Curnen/R.J. Robertson/Jim Wynorski

I watched FORBIDDEN WORLD on the heels of watching another “Alien” knock-off: “Life.” Despite is having been made 30 years ago, I’d have to say that FORBIDDEN WORLD is the better movie in terms of sheer entertainment. I mean, I actually had fun watching this movie whereas even though it’s got the bigger budget, major acting talent and far better special effects, “Life” was a slog to get through. Maybe it was because FORBIDDEN WORLD revels in gratuitous gore and nudity and I’m a depraved soul. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 1980s and have an affinity for movies of that period. I dunno. I’ll leave it for you to judge.

Which means of course that for some of you brought up on CGI you won’t even be able to get into this movie as you’ll dismiss the special effects. I say that there’s a certain amount of charm to be derived from watching a movie of this nature when the special effects are on the cheap but you can see where the people both in front of and behind the camera are doing their utmost to make it all work. And for me, it does.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sell you on the notion that FORBIDDEN WORLD is some kind of sci-fi cult masterpiece. It ain’t. But what it is is a goofy artifact representing a style of moviemaking that isn’t done anymore.

There’s a scientific research station on the far distant world of Xarbia and something there has gone seriously out of control. Federation troubleshooter Mike Colby(Jesse Vint) along with his faithful robot sidekick SAM-104 (Don Olivera) heads there to find out what’s going on.

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He meets up with the requisite motley crew manning the station. Creepy Scientist In Charge Dr. Hauser (Linden Chiles). His assistant Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick) who judging by her later actions with Mike must have gotten her degree in Sex Therapy.

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Lab Assistant Tracy Baxter (Dawn Dunlap) who, by the way appears to like taking showers with Dr. Glaser for no apparent reason other than…well, they just seem to like taking showers together. There’s your Head Of Security who must have gotten his job through nepotism as he appears to be woefully unable to secure anything and your Obligatory Mad Scientist Dr. Timbergen (Fox Harris).

What has gone wrong on Xarbia is “Subject 20” a synthetic DNA strain that the research team was genetically engineering in order to create a new food source. Subject 20 quickly metamorphs into a life form in in own right and begins killing the humans for food, injecting them with it’s own DNA to turn the humans into pure protein which it then consumes. Now I don’t know about you, but that demonstrates to me that somebody writing this thing was looking to do a bit more than just have their monster simply eat people. And this gives the special effects department an opportunity to go nuts showing still living human beings turn into gooey protein bars before being slurped up by Subject 20.

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I just wish that the writers had put a little more thought into some other aspects of the movie such as: if Mike Colby’s spaceship has hyper-drive then why is he in suspended animation at the beginning of the movie? And why was he under for so long that his son back on Earth is now older than he is? Are the flash-forwards we see Mike having while in suspended animation supposed to indicate he has some sort of psychic ability? And dagnabit, just why do Dr. Glaser and Tracy like to take showers together?

Like I said earlier, I’m not trying to sell you on FORBIDDEN WORLD being a lost masterpiece. Far from it. But it is a Roger Corman movie and if nothing else that man knew how to make a movie that keeps your attention. You can watch FORBIDDEN WORLD on YouTube at the link I’ve provided below. Get yourself some friends, some pizza, some booze and have a good time.

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Rated R

77 Minutes

Life

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2017

Columbia Pictures/Skydance Media

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Produced by David Ellison/Dana Goldberg/Bonnie/Julie Lynn

Written by Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick

See, it’s a good thing that I let a couple of hours pass by between my seeing a movie and writing a review. Because if I had written a review of LIFE right after coming out of the theater I would now be telling you that it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Which isn’t fair to the movie and isn’t true. After all, I’ve seen “The Blue Lagoon” “Cursed” “Cabin Fever” “Altitude” and “Hostel.” All of which were far more excruciating movie watching experiences than LIFE. And it’s not even that LIFE is really all that bad of a movie. It’s worse in that it’s an unnecessary movie. I would have expected to see a movie like this on The SyFy Channel as it’s no more than an “Alien” knock-off. Sure it’s got big star names such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. All of whom must have done this movie as a favor or for contractual obligations as there’s nothing they do in this movie that is particularly outstanding in terms of acting. And it’s got a nice budget for special effects which are pretty good.

But here’s the thing; the days when Science Fiction movies lived and died on their special effects are long gone. Because the technology has advanced to the point where there really is no such thing as a movie having crappy special effects anymore. Every Science Fiction movie we see now has eye-popping special effects that don’t even impress us anymore because we take it as a given that every movie has fantastic special effects. So to really get us into the movie it’s got to have either great characters or a terrific story or preferably, both. LIFE has neither. And at 103 minutes it doesn’t give itself time to have either. The hostile alien antagonist shows up almost at the beginning of the movie and barely 20 minutes in, a major cast member is killed off. And since that cast member provided most of the movie’s wit, charisma and humor up to that point, the rest of the movie is doomed to be flat, predictable and dull.

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The multinational crew of the International Space Station is overjoyed with recovering a probe from Mars that contains soil samples that contain proof of extraterrestrial life. The dormant organism responds to stimuli and soon not only returns to life but quickly grows into a creature that the crew’s exobiologist Hugh Derry (Aryion Bakare) describes as “all muscle, all brain.” The news is relayed to Earth and the news is received with such joy and hoohaw that there’s even a contest to name the thing among elementary schools in the U.S. The creature is christened ‘Calvin’ and there is much joy and celebration.

On Earth, that is. Not on the space station because Calvin breaks out of the lab and quickly establishes that it is hostile and deadly, killing one crew member and serious maiming another in less time than it took me to type this sentence. And from then on it’s a battle for survival. Calvin gets larger and more intelligent the more it kills and the crew soon comes to realize that no matter how this battle comes out, Calvin cannot get to Earth.

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Now I really wish there was more for me to tell you about the movie but that’s it. Really. There’s no characterization to speak of so we really don’t get a chance to know these people before they start getting brutally killed off one by one. There is a scene where the Japanese member of the crew (Hiroyuki Sanada) is shown watching his daughter being born on Earth and for the rest of his time in the movie he constantly repeats how he has to get back to Earth to see her. Okay, I’m not entirely heartless. I fully understand the need of any father to want to see and hold his newborn daughter. But in this case, this is just lazy shorthand characterization to try and make us care about the character without really getting to know him. Give me reasons why I should care about this particular father and his desire to get back to Earth.

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Rebecca Ferguson who was such a knockout in “Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation” tries her best to bring some real emotion to her underwritten role and I give both her and Jake Gyllenhaal props for doing the best they can with such thin material to work with. And once I found out that the writers of this movie were the same writers responsible for the stupendously boring “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and the spectacularly unfunny “Deadpool” I knew exactly what the problem with the movie was.

My advice? Wait for LIFE to show up on Netflix or whatever is your favorite streaming service of choice if you really want to see it. It’s not worth burning the gas to go see it in the theater.

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103 Minutes

Rated R

Get Out

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2017

Blumhouse Productions/QC Entertainment/Universal Pictures

Directed and Written by Jordan Peele

Produced by Jason Blum/Edward H. Hamm, Jr./Sean McKittrick/Jordan Peele

Years and years ago I was having a discussion with a Caucasian friend of mine. Over copious amounts of alcoholic beverages we discussed movies and he suddenly popped up with a question that had been plaguing him for some time and he felt he could ask me instead of some other black people of his acquaintance as he felt I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. He said that when he went to see horror movies, the black people in the audience were laughing at the terrible things happening to the characters in the movie. Why were they laughing? It confused him because they were, after all, horror movies. Who laughs at horror movies?

My answer: “They’re laughing because white folks do things in horror movies that you’d never catch black people doing. We don’t fool around investigating the supernatural or the paranormal. We don’t think it’s fun or cool to party in graveyards. We don’t go down in the dark basement where we know damn well the killer is hiding. We don’t think it would be a groove to go spend the weekend in a haunted house or at some remote camp where a buncha murders were committed. We don’t go back for our buddy/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father if they trip and fall while running from the killer. We don’t go back for the dog or the cat. We don’t split up when we know there’s a mad killer on the loose so that he can pick us off one by one. Got the picture?”

Despite my flippant answer there have been a considerable number of outstanding horror movies with black protagonists. I’m thinking of “The Beast Must Die” “Ganja & Hess” “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Demon Knight” “Attack The Block” and “Night of The Living Dead” come to mind. GET OUT can be added to the list and may eventually be at the top. It’s a dynamic debut film from Jordan Peele who directs with the confidence and expertise of a much more seasoned director. Psychological horror and social satire are skillfully blended with a dash of comedy mixed in just enough to give us a chance to relax a bit before being plunged back into the nightmarish situation faced by Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya)

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Chris is invited by his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to spend the weekend at her parents house. Chris is somewhat apprehensive because he’s black, she’s white and she has not told her parents she’s dating a black man. But she assures Chris that her parents are super cool and everything will be just fine.

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And her parents Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) do indeed turn out to be pretty cool. Oh, sure Dean bends over so far backwards to show that he’s “down” and sympathetic with black people in such a way that it in itself is borderline racist while Missy is just a little too insistent that Chris allow her to hypnotize him to cure his smoking addiction.

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Chris at first is relieved to see a couple of other black faces at the Armitage estate in the form of the maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) until he has a chance to talk to them. As he tells his best friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery) they do not act like any black people he’s ever known. Rod of of the opinion that Chris should never have gone up there in the first place. And as the weekend goes on, Chris starts to think his boy just may be onto something. He meets Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who doesn’t bother to hide his creepy hostility toward Chris. And the Armitages host a party where most of the guests seem to know way more about Chris than he’s comfortable with. And that’s all you need to know. It’s not that GET OUT is a movie full of unexpected twists and turns. In fact, the trailers you’ve seen have told more than they should but there’s plenty left in GET OUT to be surprised with. But that is due more to the gradual building of suspense as the weirdness increases. GET OUT isn’t a movie that depends on violence and gore to make it’s point. It actually gets pretty deep in it’s use of horror movie tropes to examine race and racism while telling an entertaining story at the same time. It doesn’t beat you over the head with social commentary on race relations but there’s enough there to give you something to think about and discuss after you leave the theater.

Daniel Kaluuya holds the center of the movie just fine as our likable protagonist who is an everyday guy thrown into a situation way over his head. His character has some psychological baggage that helpes to round out the character and explains some of the choices he makes later on in the movie. But the MVP award has to be shared by Betty Gabriel and Lil Rey Howery. Betty Gabriel’s Georgina is without a doubt the scariest character in the movie and she made me jump more than once.

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Lil Rey Howery provides most of the movie’s comedy, ruthlessly stealing every scene he’s in. Chris calls Rod during the weekend to keep him up to date on the increasing weirdness and later on, Rod takes a more proactive role which leads to probably the funniest scene in the movie, one that he shares with Erika Alexander who plays a police detective.

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So should you see GET OUT? Absolutely. It’s a fascinating piece of work that has been compared to the best episodes of the classic “Twilight Zone” and “The Stepford Wives” and deservedly so. It’s that good. By all means, go see and enjoy.

Rated R

103 Minutes

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

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2016

Fox 21 Television Studios

Directed by Kenny Ortega

Produced by John Ryan

Based on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” by Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien

And “The Rocky Horror Show” by Richard O’Brien

The first thing that people said to me when I said on social media that I liked THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE THE TIME WARP AGAIN was: “Well, you must have not seen the original, then.”

Not only did I see the original but I saw the original back in the 1970s when it was a Midnight Movie cultural event. I saw the 1975 “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” twice at the Waverly Theater. The first time I went with a bunch of friends and the second time I went with a girl I was dating (a really hot blonde girl, by the way) at the time. And no, I didn’t go in costume but I really enjoyed the experience of watching the movie with people who were really into the movie and were having a great time jumping up on stage and performing along with the movie. I talked to some of those people after both showings I attended and a lot of them told me they attended every single week, along with their friends, family and acquaintances. It was not just a cultural event or a movie for them. It was a lifestyle. And it’s a lifestyle that simply doesn’t have the shock value that it did back it the 1970s. Back in the 1970s Tim Curry is full drag was shocking, risqué and daring. Now? It’s something we see everyday on “The Maury Povich Show”

Years later after I had settled down, married and matured (HAH!) I rented “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to watch on VHS. And while watching it I discovered something that most fans of the movie will no doubt crucify me for. But hey, I gotta say it: it’s not a good movie.

Let me explain. The movie itself was simply a film version of the stage play “The Rocky Horror Show” and so the movie version didn’t aspire to be anything more than that. The movie version was a theatrical flop and didn’t become a hit until audiences started showing up in costumes and making fun of it. As a movie it’s a mess. There is no story and it’s driven along simply because there’s a force of nature called Tim Curry as the star. You say “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to people and I guarantee they’ll say; “that’s the movie Tim Curry is in drag in, right?”

So why did I watch Fox’s production ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN? Well, I’ll be honest…I thought this was going to be a live production like they did with ‘Grease.’ But a half hour in I didn’t care and I was having a great time watching it.

I was hooked with Ivy Levan as Trixie The Usherette escorting patrons to their seats as she was singing ‘Science Fiction Double Feature.’ The audience she escorts to their seats is the surrogates for the people who back in the day jumped up onstage to perform with the movie playing on screen and it’s a wonderfully imaginative way to start the movie off. And during the running time of the movie they’ll talk back to the screen and perform actions that audiences watching the move back in the day, such as throwing toast and toilet paper at the screen. I’ve read reviews that thought it was corny but I dunno…I like it and thought it was cute.

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The plot is fairly simple: Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Laverne Cox) An alien transvestite scientist decides to hold a convention of her/his fellow aliens from the planet Transsexual to unveil his/her greatest creation, Rocky (Staz Nair) The Perfect Man. This coincides with the unexpected arrival of Janet Weiss (Victoria Justice) and Brad McCartan (Brad Majors) a newly engaged couple who will have their perceptions of sexuality challenged by their stay in Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle on this dark and stormy night.

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But the plot doesn’t matter. The story doesn’t matter. Really. What matters are the songs and the performances and the goofy callbacks to the original. So here we go:

Laverne Cox: Is good enough of an actor that she can do the same thing Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto do in the modern “Star Trek” movies with the character of McCoy and Spock. She channels the spirit of Tim Curry without doing an outright imitation of him. And she is having so much fun it’s impossible not to have fun watching her.

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Christina Milan: I’ve been a fan of her ever since you guys dissed her in the “Get Shorty” sequel ‘Get Cool” so don’t expect me to be on your side now. I loved her in this, ‘Nuff said.

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Ben Vereen fills the “Who The Hell Let Him Into This Movie?” Slot.

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I really liked how whenever Tim Curry (The Narrator/Crimonologist) appeared, the faux movie audience gave him a standing ovation.

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“Meatloaf? AGAIN?”

Laverne Cox knocks it out of the park with “I’m Going Home.” And “Wise Up, Janet Weiss”

Annaleigh Ashford actually does her best to give Columbia more characterization than the original and I think she succeeds. Adam Lambert comes in long enough to sing one of the movie’s better songs; “Whatever Happened To Saturday Night?” but I’m with those who say that Jack Black would have been better.

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Like most things in life it comes down to personal taste. I’ve read reviews where the reviewers complain that this version is too polished and too theatrical. But I like it because of that reason. I love how during the run time the movie subtly and gradually turns into a stage production, honoring its roots as a play. And it also gives nods to the 1975 movie as well.

I dunno…I just can’t find it in me to work up such hatred for remakes that most other people do. Especially when it’s a remake that so obviously honors and respects the original. Or maybe I’m just getting to the stage in life when I care more about if my entertainment choices actually entertain me more than anything else. On that basis, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN has done its job because it certainly did entertain me for two hours. Highly Recommended.

88 Minutes

TV-14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scream And Scream Again

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1970

American International Pictures

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Produced by Max Rosenberg/Milton Subotsky/Louis M. Heyward

Written by Christopher Wicking

Based on the novel “The Disoriented Man” by Peter Saxon

As the opening credits of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN play out, we’re watching a fit young man jogging through what presumably is a park in London. He sure seems like a healthy bloke which is why it’s a surprise when he suddenly grabs his heart and collapses. He wakes up lying in a hospital bed. A nurse comes into his room and tends to him but refuses to answer his questions. She leaves. The bloke tries to sit up in bed but something’s not quite right. He pulls back the covers to see that one of his legs has been amputated below the knee. Quite understandably he screams bloody murder.

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We will revisit this unlucky chap during the course of the movie’s 95 minute running time and each time we do, he’ll be missing another limb. When Tom Deja and I discussed SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN on a “Better In The Dark” episode we both admitted how we felt guilty watching this movie and laughing at the guy’s plight because after awhile it’s like the blackest of black comedies. Every time the poor bastard goes to sleep, he wakes up missing a limb.

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But we’ve got other things going in the movie. In fact, there are three totally separate stories going on that on the surface seem to be unrelated to each other. In one, Peter Cushing is a highly placed official working for the government of an unidentified European totalitarian county that is clearly supposed to be based on Nazi Germany. One of his junior officers has apparently mastered the Vulcan neck pinch so well that he can kill people with it. He’s moving up the ladder of power, killing the higher-ups as he does so.

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In the second story Dr. Browning (Vincent Price) is a brilliant research physician specializing in limb and organ transplants who is questioned by the police. They’re looking for a serial rapist/killer who apparently has vampiric abilities. Two of Dr. Browning’s assistants have fallen victim to the fiend and needless to say even though the good doctor claims no knowledge at all of how this could be so, the police find him highly suspicious.

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In the third story, Christopher Lee is the chief of an unnamed British intelligence service who finds himself dealing with the political/diplomatic fallout when one of his spy planes has either been shot down or accidentally crashed in a certain unidentified European totalitarian country.

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And while we bounce back and forth between these three seemingly unrelated stories, we keep revisiting that poor bastard in the hospital bed who is trapped in the world’s worst game of Operation!

If you’ve never seen SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (and I highly recommend you seek it out if you never have) when you see it for the first time you can be forgiven for thinking that this movie must have been put together by a film editor who A: Was high as a cooter on crack and booze when he worked on this. B: Was pissed at the studio or C: Just didn’t give a shit about his job. Because since Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price never share a single scene together, the movie plays out for most of its running time as if the film editor took three different movies; one starring Mr. Lee, one starring Mr. Cushing and one starring Mr. Price then haphazardly edited scenes from each of those movies into one. And yeah, you read that right. The three stars of the movie never share a scene together. Mr. Lee and Mr. Price appear on screen together for maybe a minute at the film’s very end.

But here’s the twist: the three separate plots do eventually converge and when they do, you may find yourself nodding your head as I did the first time I saw it and saying; “Okay, that’s a bit of alright.” This is the kind of movie where you shouldn’t even bother trying to play the game of what’s going to happen next or attempt to figure out where the movie is going or how it’s going to end. Trust me; it’s impossible to do that with SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Just sit back and enjoy where it takes you. It’s science fiction, it’s black comedy, its horror, it’s a political/paranoia/conspiracy thriller and it’s Highly Recommended.

95 Minutes

Rated R

The Black Cat

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1934

Universal Pictures

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

Produced by E.M. Asher

Screenplay by Peter Ruric

Story by Edgar G. Ulmer/Peter Ruric 

You want to know how twisted 1934’s THE BLACK CAT is? Besides the Satanism cult, human sacrifice and necrophilia fetishism? Mollyfoggin’ Bela Lugosi is the hero of this movie. Seriously. When you’re a character in a movie and you have to depend on Bela Lugosi to save your ass then you know the situation has gotten so far out of control it ain’t even funny. But then again, considering that the bad guy in THE BLACK CAT is Boris Karloff, maybe it is appropriate that Bela be the one to come to your rescue.

Bela Lugosi actually did play the hero in the 12 chapter cliffhanger “The Return of Chandu” but it’s this movie that I always point to as his best performance in a heroic role and it’s a shame he didn’t get to do it more because Bela Lugosi plays a very sympathetic hero in THE BLACK CAT. But he also is able to project an air of menace that makes even the American couple he befriends shy away from him. He may be the good guy but that doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.

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The American couple caught in the middle of the bizarre hijinks to come is newlyweds Peter and Joan Alison (David Manners and Julie Bishop). They’re on honeymoon in Hungary (was Hungary the honeymoon destination for American newlyweds in 1934?) and share their train compartment with the mysterious Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi.)

During a curiously touching moment where Werdegast lovingly strokes the hair of the sleeping Joan, he’s caught by Peter who sensing the despair in the older man says nothing and instead listens to his story of how he went to war, leaving his wife, who looked very much like Joan behind at home.  Werdegast has spent the last 15 years in a prison camp and is on his way to see his old friend, the brilliant architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Poelzig has built his futuristic Art Deco mansion on the ruins of Fort Marmorus which Poelzig commanded during the war and where Werdegast served.

After leaving the train, Werdegast, his servant and the Alisons share a bus which crashes and they all end up at Poelzig’s mansion. It’s here that the plot really kicks in as Werdegast informs Poelzig that he knows Poelzig betrayed the fort to the Russians and intends to avenge their dead comrades. If that wasn’t enough, Poelzig also stole Werdegast’s wife Karen while Werdegast was a prisoner of war. And it gets way kinkier than that. Karen Werdegast died two years after Poelzig married her, telling her that her husband was dead. Poelzig then raised her daughter, also named Karen (Lucille Lund) until she was of age and then he married her.

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Werdegast informs Poelzig that he will wait until the Alisons have left and then they will settle their score. Poelzig offers his old friend a new game: they’ll play chess for Joan Alison. If Werdegast loses, she’ll become a human sacrifice for Poelzig’s Satanic cult. If Werdegast wins he can take the Alisons and Karen away with him. The two men sit down to play but the game will end in a conclusion far stranger and horrifying than either of them could ever imagine…

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Even though this movie claims to be inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s; “The Black Cat” there’s absolutely nothing of that tale in here. Werdegast has a phobic horror of cats and no matter how many he kills (by my count he kills at least three) Poelzig always seems to have another prowling around. I remember watching this movie when I was a kid on PBS. Thank Odin there was somebody there in Programming who apparently loved Universal horror movies, “Dr. Who” and samurai movies. THE BLACK CAT had a profound effect on me because even though we never see anything truly horrifying, the aberrant behavior demonstrated throughout the film is disturbing enough. There’s a lot of dark, twisted psychological horror here, backed up with outstanding visual design and terrific B&W photography that looks even better in HD. I recently watched this movie on Turner Classic Movies and it was like watching a movie that had been made this year. The soundtrack is also memorable as it’s made up entirely of classic music selections, the most notable being the use of ‘Dies Irae’ during a scene where Poelzig leads Werdegast through the lower levels of his mansion and details the rules of the game they will play.

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If you’ve never seen it before and you call yourself a horror movie fan then you need to see THE BLACK CAT at your earliest opportunity. It stars two true Icons of the genre and it teams them in one of the best horror movies ever made. It doesn’t have blood or gore but it has atmosphere, character and intense psychological fears and terrors that I really will believe will stay with you long after you finished watching it. THE BLACK CAT is a masterpiece of the genre. I’ve provided a link below you can check it out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Ninja III: The Domination

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1984

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by James R. Silke

What’s the one thing movie fans can unite behind no matter their race, religion or film preference? Remakes. Mention to movie fans that there’s going to be a remake of a beloved movie and stand back. Such a wailing and gnashing of teeth you have never heard in your life. I’ve actually seen with my own eyes people get more upset at the news that a favorite movie of theirs is being remade than at the news of a family member’s death.

What I’ve never quite understood is why movie fans get so upset about remakes when they happen all the time in the theater and theater fans just take it in stride and go on with their lives. You’ll see that every five years or so there’s a new production of “West Side Story” or “Camelot” or “Oklahoma” and theater fans greet it with joy and anticipation.

But I think I have a solution to the problem. Why not remake movies that were flops and failures the first time around and take another crack at bringing to fruition the promise that they showed? And I’ve got my first candidate NINJA III: THE DOMINATION.

Not that it isn’t a whole lotta goofy fun just the way it is. NINJA III: THE DOMINATION has a lot of the elements I love about 1980s movies, up to and including the obvious fact that nobody associated with the production gave a damn about how silly and ridiculous the plot was. I’ve read that Sho Kosugi wasn’t happy with the movie at all and argued strenuously against mixing martial arts with demonic possession. But the results are so jaw-droppingly batshit insane I’m glad that he didn’t get his way. As a result we get a movie that joyfully and wonderfully embraces its weirdness and doesn’t bother one little bit to be embarrassed about it. It’s the kind of movie where you either go with it or leave it alone.

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The Black Ninja (David Chung) comes to an unnamed American city on a mission of assassination. He’s there to kill a scientist. Why? What for? Who hired him? These questions are never answered. The poor bastard is simply a living MacGuffin to get the plot going. The Black Ninja kills the scientist, his wife and/or girlfriend and his four bodyguards while the scientist is playing golf in less time than it took me to describe. He’s surprised by golf course security who call the cops and that takes us into the first but not the last of the many batshit insane action sequences of the movie.

The Black Ninja outruns cops who are on foot, on motorcycles and in cars but there’s too many of them for him to elude and he strikes back, displaying a nice range of ninja weapons while doing so. And I liked the fact that he didn’t simply slice up cops with his sword. He takes them out using his blowgun, throwing stars, blinding powder, chain and sickle, etc. This cat takes out about a hundred cops and even brings down a police helicopter before going down in a hail of gunfire. The cops think he’s dead, get closer and then believe it or not, The Black Ninja jumps up and proceeds to hack and slash to death about a hundred more cops. Having finally gotten sick of this shit, the police do the only sensible thing and form a circle around The Black Ninja then shotgun him to death. Even then this resourceful bastard still gets away by throwing a smoke bomb and seemingly disappears.

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The Black Ninja stumbles on telephone linewoman/aerobics instructor Christie (Lucinda Dickey) and gives her his sword before finally dying. Turns out that The Black Ninja put his spirit inside the sword which in turns possesses Christie and uses her to get revenge on the police officers that killed him. The situation is complicated by Christie’s flowering romance with Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) one of the cops who killed The Black Ninja. He becomes increasing more and more curious about Christie’s unexplained disappearances which seem to happen just around the same time his fellow officers are being murdered one by one. That’s when our boy Sho Kosugi comes flying in from Japan. He’s got a long standing blood feud with The Black Ninja and he’s quite aware that even death cannot stop his evil. It isn’t long before he and Billy have teamed up to try and save Christie’s soul from the demonic possession of The Black Ninja and defeat him once and for all.

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Where do I begin trying to describe why I like this movie so much? Should I start with the scene where our old friend James Hong as a Shinto priest attempts to exorcise the spirit of The Black Ninja from Christie? Or the scene where the spirit of The Black Ninja, which has apparently taken up residence inside of Christie’s arcade video game machine takes control of her with smoke, laser beams, and neon strobe lighting? Or the love scene where Christie pours V8 all over her neck and chest and invites Billy to lick it off?

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The idea of a movie that’s a mash-up of two very popular movie fads at that time: martial arts and demonic possession isn’t a bad one and I think that maybe the reason it flopped at the box office was because there wasn’t enough of either one to satisfy fans of either genre. Sho Kosugi himself doesn’t show up until halfway though the movie and even then he stays mostly in the background until the final showdown with The Black Ninja whose demonic spirit has revived his body in true zombie style.

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The movie belongs to Lucinda Dickey who played Kelly aka Special K in the cult masterpiece “Breakin’” And it’s a shame she never again starred in an action movie because she acquits herself very well indeed. Supposedly she got the role based solely on the fact that due to her training as a dancer she was athletic enough to do many of her own stunts. It helps that Lucinda Dickey is nuclear hot and has enough personality and screen presence to make up for any acting deficiencies. The camera absolutely loves her and she just as obviously loves it back.

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And thanks be for that as there’s not much else in the way of acting to brag about here. Sho Kosugi isn’t exactly Peter O’Toole but then again, he didn’t have to be. He knew exactly what his role in a movie of this type is and he fulfills that role adequately. Jordan Bennett as Officer Secord comes off as being too much on the uncomfortable side of stalker-ish for my taste. Even by 1980s standards.

As I said earlier, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is one of those movies that you just have to make up your mind before you start watching that you’re just going to go along for the ride. And if you do, I think you’ll have just as good a time as I did with it. If you’re so inclined, go no further than the YouTube link below and enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R