The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

Sounds good doesn’t it? I was expecting a black and white masterpiece of the 50’s when I first came across this. Alas its actually from the mid 70’s which means its in colour and full of dodgy hairstyles and fashion. Still, can’t not be intrigued with a title like that huh.

So somewhere in rural (always rural) Wisconsin a meteorite crash lands which lights up the sky on impact (literally lights up the sky with some awful colour effects). Now somehow, don’t ask me how, but somehow this meteorite contains lots of spiders, all of which look remarkably like spiders here on Earth (don’t question it). These spiders seem to vary in size from your regular tarantula size (because they are tarantulas), to dog size, to house size.

I’m not too sure how these spiders survived the impact but they do appear to be cocooned within small circular rocks (rocks which also contain diamonds!). So I guess that sorts that (?). But do they spawn in the rocks? Do they use the rocks as shields against the vacuum of space? What do they feed on? Where did they come from? When they emerge on Earth why do they start to grow slowly? Why do they grow to such enormous sizes?

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The main crux of the movie is of course the spiders, but leading up to that there are various boring subplots surrounding various characters. We are introduced to each individual and shown what type of person they are. Not that that matters much because this was a low-budget affair only intent on showing you spiders eating people. But sure enough, this being the countryside most of the townsfolk are hick types bordering on rednecks. Most of these rather unwashed looking characters are generally either in troubled relationships or simply up to no good such as one character trying to sweet talk an underage female (gulp!).

I guess I should point out that a few of the actors in this movie are/were well known stars on American TV shows as well as movies of the time. Director Bill Rebane managed to do what Quentin Tarantino once did which was gather together a bunch of forgotten stars (probably on the cheap) who were happy for the work. Obviously the quality of film and outcome differed slightly.

Anyway back to the arachnids (effects). So what are they like, the effects. Well whaddaya think they’re gonna be like? Obviously all the effects are pretty much on the cheap and homemade, but with much care and attention. There are plenty of wispy cobwebs hanging about the place and they do use quite a lot of real tarantulas which is quite effective for certain shots. There are also some bigger shock sequences such as a house (room set) being torn apart by the giant spider; and a guy getting mauled by the giant spider in his car which leads to a crash and explosion. I was actually reasonably impressed with the real tarantulas popping out of the ball shaped diamond encrusted space rocks (almost like eggs). Clearly they did put real tarantulas inside these balls and sprung them open to reveal the creepy contents.

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The larger spiders is where things obviously go down hill somewhat. A large dog sized spider leaps onto one female character at one point which is quite amusing. Its very obvious someone threw this rubber spider at the actress…and its quality stuff. The oversized fangs, wobbly legs, and eyes are especially top quality. But its the giant spider that wreaks havoc on the town that is the big draw. Apparently the effects guys built this thing out of a VW Beetle; simply covering it with black fur, big legs, and using the rear lights as eyes. The crew operated the legs from inside the car. Ingenious if I do say so myself because the bottom half of the spider vehicle is always out of sight, which does actually give the solid illusion of a slow moving giant spider roaming the US countryside. There are quite a few shots showing this thing in the distance and it genuinely does look quite good.

Its was also quite gory too. This giant VW spider has big fangs below its (two) big red eyes and doesn’t hesitate to slam them into its victims as they are dragged up into its gaping maw. I assume the crew inside are pulling the actor inside the car via the sunroof when the spider eats someone. But this simply action is well edited and accompanied by a good gallon of blood that flows down the victims body. All in all its pretty satisfying to see people getting eaten by this mega arachnid or watch crowds of people flee from it. That and the individually moving legs, overall its a solid effect cleverly thought out.

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I love how despite everything that occurs you never see any real police, army, or scientific presence. Its like no one outside that town knows whats going on at all and no one thinks to call for any external help. Pretty much all the characters are scummy or too gruff and you don’t care about them. Plenty of stock footage, a staple of these cheap crappy movies. Day and night switching between shots in classic Ed Wood style. The movies explanation for the spider invasion is ridiculous, an interdimensional gateway. The solution? A Caltech neutron initiator (it just might work!), like yeah…whatever you say bud. Apparently they drop this thing in the meteorite crater and switch it on. This does something that closes the interdimensional gate which in turn causes all the spiders to melt (an admittedly neat little melty effect sequence). Like I said, don’t question it.

You probably know not to expect too much from a movie like this. A cheap sci-fi B-movie that looks like its been shot on a camcorder. Visually it looks like a shoddy exploitation movie at times. Those 70’s styles and especially the violent and panicky street mob sequences. Its a throwback to the corny giant bug movies of the 50’s (check that poster), yet they made it to genuinely compete with ‘Jaws’! Somehow this went on to make quite a bit of money for Transcentury Pictures and has since become a cult. I can understand why but for me personally I think it would be a lot more enjoyable and effective in black and white (and set in the glorious 50’s).

if it doesn’t work, then old buddy we’ve got company for dinner

5.5/10

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Innocent Blood (1992)

So in some regions (dunno where) this movie is referred to as ‘A French Vampire in America’. Are we seeing the connection yet? Yes this is a horror comedy directed by John Landis, but no this is not a sequel or prequel to his classic ‘An American Werewolf in London’. But lets be honest here, that ‘French Vampire’ title is way better than ‘Innocent Blood’. That doesn’t really tell you anything, very bland. Personally I like ‘A Vampire in Pittsburgh’.

Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a vampire in the (then) present day of the early 90’s. We know little of her background, how she became a vampire, where she comes from etc…All we know is she only feeds on criminals. She is currently in Pittsburgh where there just so happens to be a very strong mafia presence, she’s in luck. Marie begins to feed on a random Italian American gangster which causes a stir. The aftermath of which results in undercover cop Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) being put into the witness protection program. Eventually Marie feeds on mafioso boss Salvatore ‘Sal the Shark’ Macelli (Robert Loggia), but she is unable to kill him completely. This leads to bigger problems with Sal becoming a vampire himself and then starting to turn all his men. Marie must find and kill Sal but needs the assistance of Joe, apparently.

So the plot is thin on the ground, its pretty weak. Basically Marie fudges up whilst feeding and causes a shitstorm. Remarkable really considering she’s supposedly a very old and experienced vampire, you’d think she would be able to do this kind of thing blindfolded. But I guess everyone makes mistakes, even the undead. From there on out its simply about Sal trying to cope with being a vampire, and then realising he can turn all his men. In the meantime Marie must find Sal and stop this. But with all her supernatural powers you’d think that would be relatively easy. It begs the question, why do we need LaPaglia’s character? OK he’s a love interest, I get it, but she essentially doesn’t really need the guy. What can he offer her?

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Interestingly this movie isn’t set in New York, even though it clearly really really really wants to be. I mean lets be real here, this movie is so rammed full of cliched Italian American mafia themes its unreal. Almost every cliche in the stereotype book is used here from the black limo’s, the sharp suits, slick back hair, mullets, the chewing of toothpicks, the silly mafia names nicknames, the black leather coats, and the freezing cold looking city streets filled with plumes of smoke from the drain grates. Heck they even go as far as using Frank Sinatra tunes in initial scenes. Not only that, I think Landis cast almost every actor around at the time with either an Italian American last name, heritage or simply looks like a mobster (you know what I mean). Indeed many of these actors have gone on to become household names in mafia/gangster roles.

Worth noting, cameos for Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Frank Oz, Angela Bassett, Chazz Palminteri, and Tom Savini. Although it also worth noting that Savini did not do the special effects here, that honour goes to Steve Johnson (‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘The Abyss’).

Lets talk about those special effects, how do they compare to Landis’ classic lycanthrope movie. Well there is much less emphasis on the vampires and their fangs in this, but a lot of emphasis on the blood. There is a lot of claret on show in this movie, mainly gushing from victims necks as they get torn open. Indeed the effects on neck wounds are really quite grisly and wonderful. Nice big chunks missing with ripped flesh dangling. Often the victims clothes are drenched in wet blood, sodden and dirty. Loggia spends most of the movie virtually head to toe in wet and dried blood. In fact I’d go as far as to say Landis goes a tad overboard with the blood because it becomes less shocking the more you see.

As for the vampires, we never see any fangs believe it or not. The entire emphasis is on the eyes of these supernatural killers. Johnson used special highly reflective contact lenses that change colour. It really is a startling look that really grabs your attention. Some of the vampires have red eyes, yellow eyes, sky blue eyes; whilst Marie seems to have eyes that change colour, not sure why though. The only issue I had with this is the fact they are obviously contacts (clearly very thick) and on most of the actors the pupil was slightly off-centre in one eye. It kinda made all the vampires look a bit simple looking, or like they had strabismus.

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Other early effects were a point-of-view flyby effect where the camera simply moves around a space to simulate the vampire flying. Quite a bit of wire work to simulate the strength of the vampires, lifting people up high etc…The vampires roar or scream sounded very familiar to me, I’m sure its the same sound effect used for the werewolf howl in ‘American Werewolf in London’. Again its used very effectively, a quick cut to the vampires face with a loud blast of the howl, really makes you jump.

The best effects sequence in the movie has to be the death of recently bitten Manny Bergman (Don Rickles). Whilst in hospital this character is accidentally exposed to sunlight…and you all know what happens next. Well this is the money shot here folks. A slow painful looking death as Bergman’s body cracks and breaks up in front of the doctors. The medical staff try to help him but his body crumbles and deteriorates in their hands. One shot of a nurse accidentally pulling off his crispy smouldering arm, only to then drop it and watch it break apart into a mess of black glowing ash, is incredible (for the time).

To be utterly honest not a great deal of interest happens for the most part in this movie (effects aside). Once Joe realises what Marie is he goes after her (ignoring his boss of course). Marie has all manner of powers but somehow Joe is still able to find and catch her. But did she want to be caught huh? This eventually leads to the inevitable sex scene betwixt man and vampire. By this time you will have realised that Anne Parillaud is not shy about showing off her entire self (very European, very French). Although the sex scene shows us how Marie must control herself (something Joe is always concerned about), its of little importance really. A little spice for the movie, gratuitous nudity.

Landis goes for broke with this one, he loves to throw out old beloved conventions. Like I said no fangs here, but lots glowing eyes (although no explanation as to why different vampires have different colour eyes). Vampires do have reflections in this movie, but still garlic makes them sick. A bullet to the head is enough to kill a vampire, as is snapping its neck. No mention of stakes through the heart or crosses though. They can still climb up walls, fly and have incredible strength. Lastly and most interestingly no one actually uses the word vampire in the movie (I think).

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Loggia is clearly enjoying himself here as he chews up the scenery big time. He may not have the physique of a vampire but he certainly has the bark and snarl that’s for sure. Loggia makes Frank Langella in ‘Masters of the Universe’ look positively bland in comparison. In the scene where Sal had to rape and abuse Marie, he really fecking went for it! As for the other main leads, Parillaud is definitely very cute and adorable as Marie. Like I said she’s not shy about getting it all out for the camera and she’s very fit looking to boot. Bit of an issue trying to understand her accent at times but she does convey the shy quiet vampire nicely. You do truly believe she is a centuries old Gallic beauty; a siren that has been seducing immoral men over the ages. On the other hand LaPaglia is…fine. You could literally stick any guy with that Italian American look in that role, the character is kinda pointless.

Ultimately I do think Landis went too far with the blood factor in this one and loses a real sense of dread and spookiness. His werewolf movie had blood but nowhere near as much as this, plus ‘Werewolf in London’ was eerie as fuck; it was genuinely scary. This movie loses any real sense of scare factor with all these stereotypical mafia bozos running around shooting at everything. Yes there are some good shocks and thrills but the comedy spoils it, its too hammy, too dumb basically. The movie is a horror comedy and Landis does hit his targets well, it is a fun flick for horror fans to enjoy. I just feel this is too much of a homage to other things, too many cameos maybe, too many winks and nods, not gritty and dark enough. Its a hard one to call because the cast is great and the old school effects are superb .

I do heartily recommend this as I’m pretty sure many will not have even heard of it (it is a forgotten gem). Bottom line, it doesn’t quite satisfy your vampire needs/requirements, it ticks some boxes but misses others. But overall its still a top John Landis horror comedy and easily better than what you get these days. Shame about the end credits song, totally out of place methinks.

8/10

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The Mole People (1956)

Only the cinematic era of the 50’s could come up with a movie like this, a movie about actual mole humanoids (or humanoid moles). As I’ve said before, within this decade they pretty much used every kind of insect and animal they could think of to besiege humanity.

The movie starts off in a unique way by having a science and history lesson. And by that I mean an actual Californian professor (Dr. Frank Baxter) talks and explains to the viewer about various old theories of a hollow Earth and how this movie is a fictional representation of those theories. Although I enjoyed this amusing little snippet from a stereotypical looking 1950’s professor in his stereotypical 1950’s looking study, it all seemed rather bizarre to me. What was the need for this? Did the audience back then really need confirmation that the movie was fantasy?? Did they need to have a professor talking about ancient hollow Earth theories?

‘Primitive man, going into caves, reaching back and back and down and down, wondered what lay beyond. Then in terror he fled out!’
Is this proper English, Mr. English professor? Who wrote this?? Its terrible geez!

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Any way the plot is what you might expect. Some archaeologists are digging around somewhere in Asia and discover ancient relics that are apparently Sumerian. One thing leads to another and before you know it they’re up a mountain discovering a temple, then the ground opens up and some bloke falls down into a deep cave. Well I guess you know what comes next, down the hole they go and piff paff poof! They end up discovering a lost Sumerian civilisation beneath the Earth. These people are of course way behind the times worshiping ancient gods. They are albino, can be killed by sunlight, oh and they also enslave a race of mole people to harvest fungi which they eat.

So first off let me just point out the casting of Alan Napier here as Elinu the High Priest. Yes that Alan Napier of the campy classic 1966 Batman series with Adam West. The rest of the cast are pretty much your standard affair truth be told. There is nothing special about any of them. A couple stout white blokes, a sexy blonde bit of totty for them to rescue…and of course fall in love with. All the native actors are of course white and generally terrible at acting in a charming kind of way. But then you have Alan Napier, clearly a class act, clearly on another level in terms of talent and experience. The man gives this movie credibility it does not deserve. Whilst the rest of the crew are merely meh, Napier’s campness is fecking marvelous! When a native girl starts her ritual dance before, what I presume to be virgins, are sacrificed to the light; the girl flirts her way over to Napier’s High Priest. She starts to seductively jiggle before him which results in the most brilliant look of disgust, disapproval and exasperation from Napier’s priest.

Effects wise its what you have come to expect from these movies. The first opening shot of the lost Sumerian city is a nice matte painting back-projected against some live action of the actors. Again bog standard fair but it looks relatively acceptable, some nice depth. All the caves are generally very basic looking whilst the very clean and in good condition temple areas (they are supposedly 5000 years old) are clearly sets that look more like a theatrical stage productions (although large). As with many of these black and white movies the lack of colour helps sell the effect because it hides the joins so to speak. All the natives are wearing rather hokey medieval/Arabian looking outfits that look more like Halloween costumes. But surprisingly the mole humanoids (or humanoid moles) actually look pretty good. It does appear that maybe the budget was maybe spend on getting the mole masks looking as terrifying as possible…and it was worth it! Obviously they are just men in suits with big rubber claws and rubber masks but they do work.

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I must also point out how effective it was seeing these mole people rise from the earth like the undead (hmmm). Its a simple effect for sure but very eerie and again it works wonders here, I’m sure the audience would have been scared shitless seeing this. But like I said, other than the mole people its all a bit average really, stereotypical ancient tribal stuff. Everyone is albino so they’re simply painted white from head to toe. The characters generally don’t seem fazed by anything such as finding mole people, finding a Sumerian civilisation and vice versa them finding modern humans. The heroes take it all in their stride whilst the natives just wanna sacrifice everyone to their God. Final mention to the native dancing girl for the most obviously made-up native dance ever; plus the actress looks to be Asian as in possibly Chinese or Southeast Asian, whoops!

Lets also just overlook how they managed to get so much metal and precious stones down there, surely the mole people could only mine so much in that region. Oh and how they made their clothes, why they sacrifice young women and not die out, how they only live on mushrooms, and how this civilisation never ventured back to the surface in 5000 years! I suppose I should also mention that the mole people are actually not required in this movie despite being awesome. They have no real point to the plot other than to scare the audience, plus we never find out what they are or how they came to be. You could of quite easily just had a movie about the explorers in this subterranean world. So the movies title is a bit cheeky. I’m also unsure as to how exactly the Sumerians managed to keep the mole folk in slavery for so long with only whips and swords. The mole people aren’t allergic to light so that gave them an advantage.

But I think one of the most surprising aspects in this movie (other than the excellent looking mole monsters) is the fact they used a real ancient civilisation. I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in expecting them to just make up some ridiculous sounding ancient race like ‘Zynapians’ or something (I Googled that word and its definitely not an ancient race). But on the other hand that means they would have had to get the Sumerian culture visually correct, did they? I don’t know not being up on my Sumerian culture, but kudos for going there I guess. I suppose we should all just be thankful they didn’t resort to using ancient Greek or Roman costumes. This movie is good fun in the usual schlocky way; its certainly engaging with its natives, moles and crazy Fu Manchu priest. Just don’t expect anything to be explained much, it all just happens because.

7/10

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Alien: Covenant (2017)

After the somewhat convoluted disappointment that was Ridley Scott’s lavish A L I E N prequel ‘Prometheus’, I was never really sure how his inevitable sequel would go. After seemingly setting up even more story lines with even more questions, the main question for me was simply, how in the hell was Scott gonna rein all this crap in?? So this time I decided to go into this sequel/prequel relatively blind, not paying too much attention to all the mass debating online.

That being said, it was still hard not to get tied up in all the hype. And with that my initial disappointment came with the plot. Set 11 years after the events in ‘Prometheus’, the colonisation ship Covenant is en route to the distant planet of Origae-6. Onboard we also find Walter, a newer model of android series that resemble David from the first movie. His job is again to monitor the ships functions and crew whilst they are in cryo-chambers. A random space event damages the ship and kills some of the sleeping colonists which forces Walter to awaken the main crew. Whilst repairs are underway the ship picks up a distant transmission from an unknown, but habitable planet that is almost identical to Earth (yet the crew are not amazed by this). Despite some concerns the ships Captain decides to divert and check out the transmission. So put simply, its the same damn plot we’ve now seen twice before. Really Ridley?

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OK so I will try not to make this read like a huge list of questions regarding the massively convoluted plot, but no promises. The movie opens with the exact same title sequence as the original 1979 movie. You know what I mean, the main title slowly appearing bit by bit against a backdrop of space. Yep this is an Alien movie alright, and we’re redoing everything you fondly remember…but this definitely isn’t another soft reboot.

K so when the crew are awakened from hypersleep in an emergency, one of the pods malfunctions or something. This leads to the death of the ship’s original captain played by James Franco, who we never actually see in the movie apart from a photo. For some reason he gets incinerated inside his own hypersleep pod, really not too sure why his pod did this. Maybe as a way to contain any possible unknown dangerous space bacteria and whatnot? Also a convenient way to dispose of the body? It does seem to be a rather worrying design flaw. Its also around this time we meet the stereotypical crew consisting of many faceless alien fodder characters that you will never care about (keywords being faceless and fodder). Some strong Ripley rip-off characters, a Lambert rip-off character (you’ll find out later), and the obligatory white female with black male partner (never any other race, always black). Oh and Danny McBride plays a cool, bearded stetson wearing character called ‘Tennessee’. You know because in the origin film there was a cool bearded character called ‘Dallas’. See what he did there?

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As with the previous film we also see that the technology on-board the ship is way better than anything we saw in the original 79 movie. At the time this was crudely passed off with an explanation about how different ships would have different technology on-board. This has always bothered me simply because its bullshit. Why would anyone make a large spaceship and not fit it with the best technology going? Even if said ship was a basic mining ship and costs were taken into account, its a bloody spaceship! not a Ford Escort. It will require good technology all round surely. So with that I still find it hard to swallow the fact that these ships are so ridiculously better looking all round than anything we saw in the original movies. Lets be honest here, its because movie effects are obviously way better today and Scott and co simply couldn’t help themselves. They just wanted kewl looking spaceships.

Quick question about the ship. When they arrive at the mystery planet there is a large plasma storm over the area with the transmission. This storm prevents the Covenant from landing or going in closer when things start to get messy on the surface for the scout party. But why? OK its a storm over an alien planet but lets not forget the planet is supposedly very similar to Earth. Secondly if this ship can fly billions of light years through the universe contending with all manner of spacey things, why can’t it make it through a storm cloud? Thirdly, couldn’t they just go around the cloud? I realise that might have taken time but that leads me to ask why they didn’t just approach the transmission area from a different angle in the first place. Surely they could of descended into orbit elsewhere and gone under the cloud or slightly around it? Its not like the storm was a surprise, they knew it was there, plus they used a drop scout ship anyway so distance clearly wasn’t that much of an issue.

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Again as with the previous film we have issues surrounding the intelligence of the crew and how they operate. One main factor last time was poking and putting your face up close to an unknown alien organism. This time…yup we have that again, ugh!!! But not only that, this time the entire crew wanders off the safety of their ship onto an alien planet (the one with the mystery transmission which just happens to look like where it was filmed…New Zealand) without any form of protection! No space helmets, no real protective suits, no planetary scans or scouts to check the surface, zippo. They merely stroll onto the planet and start off on a cross-country ramble. Jesus Christ some even start talking about setting up the colony there! Yeah this unknown, unchecked mystery planet will do nicely. You can get lost or killed first? First prize…errr…you die!

This unknown planet turns out to be the Engineer homeworld which is also home to David, a now dead Shaw and the black goo. If you thought ‘Prometheus’ was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. So David supposedly wiped out all the Engineers with the black goo when he arrived. Why? presumably because he wanted to create his own lifeforms and needed a clean slate, although I don’t know for sure. All the Engineers were standing around and cheering the ship as it arrived, not sure why, was this a special ship or mission? All the Engineers also looked really different to the main chap in ‘Prometheus’, not as muscular or marble-like. Different in a bad makeup job type way that is. We are also led to believe that this entire planet only consisted of one major Engineer city?? No other cities or anything nearby or further away??

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So David released the black goo and it wipes everything out, fine. When the humans go walkabout one male gets infected by a plant or fungus releasing a black goo spore. In turn this very quickly takes affect causing an alien to gestate and burst from within (his back this time because…changing it up a bit). So, if the black goo infected everything in this way, wouldn’t there be lots of little aliens running the planets surface? And clearly those spores are WAY more lethal and effective than the alien creatures. They are literally particles in the air that can enter the human body through any small orifice. The main aliens are actually less threatening! ha! Also, how fucking quickly did that new alien go through its gestation period from a mere spore??!! And speaking of gestation periods, the main alien again goes from chestburster (which looked like a children’s toy) to full grown alien in no time! What has happened to the slow build up and tension?? And how exactly did David create the original alien eggs? I still don’t get how he managed that. Did he somehow get to the eggs from experimenting on Shaw?

As for the finale its in three parts essentially, all of which are totally cheap cop outs (with dreadful CGI on the alien amazingly). The first revolves around a pitch battle and various large powerloader-esque pieces of equipment. As Tennessee tries to take off from the planet with Janet Daniels (Katherine Waterston) in tow, the alien tries to take her down. This involves Daniels outside the ship, trying to shoot or knock the alien off, whilst attached by a cable. For some reason Tennessee just flies around in circles whilst Daniels swings around aimlessly doing a bad job of defeating the alien. At no point did either just think to fly into space and fry the alien? Anyway, eventually Daniels operates a large crane claw, which the alien very conveniently jumps straight into, and they crush it.

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You think that is the end but its not, oh no. We then get the second cheap schlocky finale. Low and behold there is another alien…because of course there is! This one decides to attack some of the remaining crew members while they have sex in the shower, in true 80’s slasher flick style (just to cover all the bases). Tennessee and Daniels (who is now in full Ripley mode complete with vest) must now lure the creature into one of the ships cargo bays so they can flush it into space. Yes that’s right, flush it into space, cheap ending number three. Because Scott just wants to rehash every damn thing from his glorious original. Oh and this alien seems to mature in around five bloody minutes after hatching, certainly appears that way.

What can I say about this movie?? Really what can I say??? Its so so obvious that Scott was somewhat crushed by the reaction to ‘Prometheus’ and was literally forced into going in a new direction for this sequel. Its abundantly clear that he’s added the entire alien aspect simply to appease the fanbase that demanded more alien action. But Ridley being Ridley, was never gonna completely eject his original plans. Thus we have this complete clash of ideas, two concepts rolled into one resulting in a higgledy-piggledy mess.

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On one hand you have this epic spiritual space adventure into the unknown; focusing on life, our place in the universe, creation, Gods and monsters so to speak. Then on the other hand you have this terribly cheesy and cliched monster movie that degenerates into a tacky slasher flick with horribly obvious twists (David and Walter switcheroo and David creating the xenomorph). You can quite easily tell from reading the films title. The film should have simply been called ‘Covenant’ or ‘Prometheus II: Covenant’. The addition of ‘ALIEN’ was clearly to draw in the fanboys of the original movies in the promise of a more familiar story.

Yes Ridley provides us with top notch visuals, a masterclass in true spectacle…again. Yes the attention to detail from costumes to technology to the score, is astoundingly good. Its a sheer pleasure to simply view a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie, it really is. But the more he dabbles in this franchise the more he screws it up. From a pretty looking convoluted mess in ‘Prometheus’, to another pretty looking convoluted mess in ‘Alien: Covenant’. The real downside is this movie is not its own film, its merely a collection of highlights that we’ve all seen before in previous movies. At least ‘Prometheus’ displayed a lot of originality, it still made a mess of everything but at least it was a brave move (much like the Star Wars prequels). I do find it quite bizarre how these new Alien prequels do seem to be going down hill in the same way the Star Wars prequels did. Is the flute scene with David and Walter the new sand scene?

5.5/10

The Mummy (2017)

I feel I must point this out just in case, for the younger generations. This movie is not entirely based upon the oddly popular Brendan Fraser trilogy that started in 1999. Believe it or not there was in fact an original horror movie from way back in 1932 starring Boris Karloff that kick started the entire idea. But lets be honest here, this new movie takes many ideas from many classic horror movies. So much so it feels more like a long trailer of highlights from other movies redone with better effects (I still can’t believe the nerve of them frankly).

So the main change in this modern reboot is the titular Mummy (Princess Ahmanet) wanting to resurrect Set, the God of war and chaos (instead of a dead lover). Initially she was inline to the throne in her native Egypt, but her fathers second wife has a baby boy which takes her place. Out of anger and frustration at losing her rightful place as Queen, Ahmanet murders her family and plans to resurrect Set using her lovers body as the vessel for the Gods spirit. She must do this using a special dagger to transfer Set’s spirit. Before this can be done she is captured and of course mummified alive.

What follows is (now) pretty much your bog standard action flick all because Tom Cruise was cast. Yes that’s right, probably one of the worst choices ever for this type of movie. Cruise would easily be in my top ten of actors that I would never consider for such a dark tale of mysticism and terror. Apparently Cruise had much of the control in the creation of this movie, and boy does it show. The opening sequence could quite easily be from any Mission: Impossible movie as his character Nick Morton and sidekick Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are caught by ISIS-esque insurgents as they try to pinch ancient artifacts from a small town (which the insurgents would have destroyed anyway).

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The pair are actually on reconnaissance for the US military at the time but are moonlighting as black market traders for ancient artifacts. Amidst the carnage of gunfire and airstrikes (with no apparent casualties) the tomb of Ahmanet is discovered. At the same time a sexy blonde archaeologist (Jenny) appears out of nowhere who Morton was supposedly bonking and naturally becomes his love interest for the rest of the movie. Its around this very early point when you realise this movie isn’t gonna be very good. Apart from Cruise merely playing the same character he’s played for years now, the entrance to this tomb is ridiculously vast!! and they treat these priceless ancient artifacts like spare parts from Ikea.

Lets not be too negative here, there were some good points in the movie. The horror element was actually nicely done. The movie isn’t scary or anything but the various CGI effects for people having their souls sucked out of them with their bodies being reduced to shriveled up zombies, was pretty cool. The undead themselves were also really well rendered using CGI and makeup; they did look pretty terrifying visually and the way they moved was well choreographed.

Its just a shame that’s about all I can say on the positive side of things. The fact they basically stole the whole undead guide/corpse idea with Vail from John Landis classic ‘An American Werewolf in London’ is damn near unforgivable. I can’t even say it was a homage because they just outright copied the entire concept! Then there are things that don’t really add up; why exactly does Ahmanet need to use this specific ruby encrusted dagger? What connection does that dagger have to Set? During the movie Morton is told numerous times the curse cannot be broken, then apparently it can be broken just by destroying the ruby. In one scene the undead cannot swim (they just sink), then in another they can swim. In another sequence Morton and Jenny are escaping in an ambulance at top speed when some zombies attack outta nowhere. How did they get on the ambulance?? There were clearly no zombies on the vehicle in one shot, then they’re all over it.

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Then we have the secret organisation known as Prodigium headed by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Or call it what it is, the very very blatant and obvious attempt at copying Marvel’s cinematic universe building, Universal Pictures S.H.I.E.L.D. equivalent. Aside from the fact this one idea has been used a gazillion times, ‘Van Helsing’ for example. There is no imagination here whatsoever, its literally all about setting up future movies with small easter eggs dotted around, there is no other point for it. The fact Universal don’t even really try to hide this fact, and everyone knows it, makes it worse!

Observation: So within Prodigium there are lots of little teasers as I mentioned already. One such teaser is the forearm of a creature that clearly hails from the movie ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’. But here’s the thing, there was always only one creature from the classic movie/s, but this teaser indicates there are possibly numerous creatures that have already been seen and maybe killed (unless the main creature is now missing a forearm). But seeing as its unlikely that the first new movie will have a one-handed creature (unless it grows it back?) I must assume there are more than one.

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Even then they couldn’t even do anything interesting with this; when Dr. Jekyll transforms into Mr. Hyde…nothing happens! Crowe simply turns a shade of grey, his eyes seem to go yellow, he adopts a cockney accent and that’s it I think. Don’t get me wrong I think its good they didn’t go with some huge CGI creation that we’ve all seen before, but the character definitely needed something else. Also Prodigium has Ahmanet all chained up for the most part, but guess what? One minute she’s all chained up and helpless, the next she simply decides to break free and escape. As already pointed out, this does seem to happen a lot in this movie, things just changing on a whim. Much like Morton being taken over by Set, only to quite easily retake control of his body seconds later (so much for Set). Oh and Vail being resurrected at the end of the movie, did Morton resurrect everyone that died in the film? He could have.

I think everyone knows the problem with this movie, it stands out like a sore thumb. And that is quite simply, the movie is torn between being a proper fully fledged horror movie and a Tom Cruise action vehicle. Clearly the entire production didn’t know what to do with the director being in limbo and the studio basically giving Cruise full control. The whole movie is a mess of ideas from start to finish with Cruise running around alongside his much younger female love interest, and grinning a lot (much awkward and unfunny comedy). The movie fails on such a large scale its embarrassing; they essentially tried to map stereotypical Tom Cruise action flick tropes onto this horror classic of the silver screen. There are some nice touches here and there yes, but ultimately it fails on almost every level.

4/10

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Resident Evil: Vendetta (JP, 2017)

So apparently Capcom said this animated feature would be a reboot of the animated series, but then it turned out to be a sequel. It was in fact the tone of the film that would be rebooted, and that is clear to see. Both the films poster and introductory sequence are clearly harking back to the very first game with the large scary mansion in the woods angle. Indeed the films opening sequence involves a team of BSAA agents (with Chris Redfield) storming a dilapidated mansion in Mexico. Their targets are the films new villain, Glenn Arias and the hostages he has taken. This whole brief intro is basically the original Resident Evil game but with one problem, its completely unnecessary.

We get to see the new villain and his sidekicks, and we get a small idea of his dastardly plans. Other than that its all a waste of time and obviously in there to lure in the fanboys with promise of some classic Resident Evil action. After this its essentially back to business with the rest of the film, and by that I mean lots of hi-tech locations and explosive action. If you were looking for a more classic, slow creeping, suspenseful horror feature set in a big mansion, look elsewhere I’m afraid.

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The story for this umpteenth incarnation in the franchise revolves around Glenn Arias, a shady arms dealer who was targeted by an unnamed government for termination. Unfortunately the bomb they dropped on his wedding (kinda ruthless) killed everyone but Arias, and now he wants revenge. His revenge comes in the form of wanting to turn everyone into zombies through a new virus that lies dormant within its host until triggered. Luckily Redfield is joined by Leon S. Kennedy and Rebecca Chambers to save the day (but no one else it seems).

The story is an unoriginal one but that is hardly much of a surprise. The real problems arise in the fact that this plot is supposedly set in between the events of Resident Evil 6 and 7. So if you don’t play the games (which I don’t) then you may have a problem knowing all the ins and outs. That was the first major issue, the next major issue was the connection to the previous animated movies (‘Resident Evil: Damnation’ and ‘Regeneration’). Is there any connection? Is this an actual sequence or what? Well truth be told I don’t know because its been so long since I saw those films I can’t recall. All the films have Leon as the main protagonist so I’m gonna assume each one is simply a chapter in Leon’s long running battle against zombies and whatnot. But no I do not believe this is a direct sequel to the previous animated movies. In all fairness this film does stand on its own well enough to get around those issues.

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But alas there are more issues. The new A-virus lies dormant within the host until triggered, but what was the trigger?? It was also mentioned that the triggering can happen by accident, how? This new virus can also be transmitted by air and water so surely that would make it almost impossible to contain. Chambers manages to whip up a vaccine against the virus which works, so then Arias just formulates another virus to beat that vaccine, whilst creating his own vaccine. This all happens pretty quickly which just seemed stupid. But the one thing I didn’t get was if the virus needs to be triggered, why do people just turn into zombies straight away when they come into contact with the virus? I think the newer virus Arias creates bypasses the trigger part but I’m not entirely sure.

But its not just the plot that is weak, the character are poor too. Arias doesn’t really have much clout if you ask me. OK an unnamed government killed all his family and wife-to-be, but why not just kill that government body? Why kill everybody in New York? He also kidnaps Chambers at one point because she looks like his dead wife. But what was his plan with her? Did he fancy her? Did he wanna use her as bait? A guinea pig for his new virus? Its also just a bit too ridiculous that one of his sidekicks just happens to be an ultra sexy female, in a shiny black skintight catsuit. His other sidekick is a massive Bane-like character with a metal mask and metal gear bolted onto his body. Sure these two characters look really cool but come on…cliched much? We do actually find out these two were at Arias’s wedding when it was hit, so I guess that’s why they are now both ùber villains. Not sure why the female has decided to dress in a skintight catsuit though. Also not sure how the man managed to become a ginormous monster but hey its Resident Evil.

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Both Leon and Redfield are invincible soldiers who simply cannot be beat. Both are martial arts and weapons masters who can run into a horde of undead zombies and beat them without breaking a sweat. Who needs backup? just send in these two and watch them defeat an army of zombies. Leon also spends much of the finale on a motorbike because…it looks cool? There is no other real reason for this, oh and neither of them ever change their clothes. Whilst on the other hand Chambers starts off as your stereotypical scientist, and ends up as your stereotypical damsel in distress with nothing much in between. We again see the return of the infamous zombie dogs as a pointless nod back to the classic original game. Were these zombie dogs always as powerful as they are here? Running as fast as a motorbike at top speed and crushing cars when they land on the roof??

In the end it all builds up to a climatic battle between Leon, Redfield and Arias/tyrant Arias (yes tyrant because…Resident Evil). This battle literally transported me back to 1992 with all its ludicrous slow motion bollocks and operatic gun gymnastics (my God the gun gymnastics!). Yeah there are slow motion snippets throughout, and they’re all terrible, but this finale took the biscuit. Lets not discuss the large rifle type weapon that when used, can actually take down an entire line of skyscrapers. How many innocent folk died in that moment??

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I guess the real problem here is, like previous Resident Evil games and films, its just not Resident Evil. I think now people are really craving a feature that recaptures the original game from back in 1996. I think people are tired of the insane gun-toting action. This film teases us with the classic approach but then U-turns and goes back to the usual shit. But the question is, have we all moved on from that original concept way back in 96? Is that concept now too dated, too cliche?

My final thought is also a cliched one. Although the CGI visuals in this feature are very impressive, very slick and shiny, you still have one age old problem. And that’s the fact it all just feels like you’re watching a very long in-game sequence from a videogame. You just can’t get away from this mainly because in-game videogame sequences are basically mini-movies these days. Obviously there was a time when a CGI movie was very special because videogames couldn’t match them. But now its all very different, thusly a film like this feels boring because you feel like you should be interacting with it. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible flick, its just very average and way outta touch. I’m not sure if die hard fanboys will like this, they might be disappointed.

6/10

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Return to Horror High (1987)

No this isn’t a sequel despite it really really really really sounding like one. Much to my disappointment I must add because this movies title sounds cool and very much in the same vein as classic horror comedy franchise The Return of the Living Dead. Well that’s what I thought anyway, I thought, gee this sounds like a cool classic 80’s horror gore fest, I wonder if there’s a movie called ‘Horror High’ that came first. Little insight into the way I think there for you all, well actually my reviews kinda do that any way don’t they…moving on!

The plot is a simple horror concept. Back in 1982 the small community of Crippen, South California was rocked by a series of grisly murders within the local high school. The killer was never caught. Years later a film company comes to Crippen high school to make a movie about the horrific incident. Unfortunately the same killer is still on the loose and starts his old habits yet again on the film crew. So as you can see this is a pretty generic horror movie concept.

But this movies plot is a bit different in a few ways. Firstly almost the entire plot is told in flashbacks from the narrative of a police investigation taking place after the incident. The bulk of these flashbacks come from the police interviewing the last survivor. At the same time there is a film-within-a-film (found footage) element from the film company as they film their horror movie. The plot jumps back and forth between these plot lines making you the viewer unsure if you’re seeing a real murder or a murder for the film-within-a-film.

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But all that aside, what is the movies big selling point now? Its stars a very young, curly haired George Clooney. Yes Clooney is in this movie…for around five minutes before being unceremoniously killed off by the unknown killer. Admittedly I wasn’t entirely sure if this was a real kill or pretend for the film-within-a-film but that is made clear later on. By that I mean, when its a fake kill the sequence always ends panning away with us seeing the crew filming or the actor breaking his scene. If the kill is real that simply doesn’t happen and its more eerie.

In that sense the movie does feel more like a series of set pieces or shorts because its all so fractured. The plot is really quite incredibly jumbled and you’re never entirely sure what’s real and what’s not. Half the time everyone kinda comes across as play acting including the cops doing the investigation. One female officer leading the investigation seems to be constantly aroused and eating at the most inopportune times, its really quite odd. The film-within-a-film producer is played by the legendary Alex Rocco which does add much gravitas but at the same time he feels completely miscast. You get the impression he was simply cast for his movie star status because he does very little else except act frustrated and walk around.

The rest of the cast are completely hit and miss really, just faceless actors doing their bit that anyone could do. There isn’t really anyone pulling everything together, giving the movie any real punch, it all feels so meh. The visuals throughout are really drab and mundane, they don’t utilise the high school enough for maximum horror effect (not until they venture into the basement at least). The kills are rather boring, predictable, no sloppy 80’s gore, nothing to engage you. The actual killer reveal is a typical [i]Scooby Doo[/i]-esque turn that is so flippin’ hokey, not entirely predictable but not exactly shocking or exciting either. To top that the killers mask is a blatant rip-off of various other classic iconic horror movie killers.

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All in all it was hard to know what exactly this movie was suppose to be. It wasn’t particularly scary, it wasn’t particularly funny anywhere, its definitely not for kids but I wouldn’t say it was for fully grown adults either. Fully grown adults wouldn’t find this very engaging methinks. It felt more like an attempt at a smart horror comedy for teens and young adults, but it just fails miserably. The final twist in the tale makes no sense simply because you’d think the cops and paramedics would have sussed it right away (surely?!). That in turn then puts doubt on whether there was a killer in the school or was it all a hoax. I think the killer was there but the others simply missed it, I’m honestly not sure.

This could almost be an early forerunner to the Scream franchise, its similar in idea and tone but simply not as clever or witty. Its a shame because the movies poster and title both have that classic 80’s vibe and promise. Alas it all looks cheap and tacky, its thoroughly convoluted and thoroughly dull.

4/10