FTP: Island of Terror (1966)

MARCH 19, 2020


Scream Factory put Island of Terror out in June of 2017, and I won it at trivia that or the following month. I started watching it one night shortly thereafter, but didn't get far before falling asleep, and for whatever reason, didn't finish it the next day or whatever. And then it just disappeared for a while before I finally found it under my subwoofer, at which point I said "Oh good I can finally finish it!" and put it on my shelf... and then forgot about it again. Long story short, it's been almost three years since I started it, so I obviously had to start from the beginning as the only thing I remembered was that I was digging it so far.

"Luckily", like most Americans I suddenly have a lot of time on my hands, so I made it my first "I can't go anywhere so I'm gonna start making a dent in this endless pile of unwatched movies" selection. And I was happy to discover that the rest of the movie was as enjoyable to me as a newly christened 40 year old as the first 30-35 minutes that I saw in my thirties. In some ways it's a bit like a Quatermass movie; the heroes (Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Eddie Byrne) are all doctors and thus men of science, using their intelligence to stop the threat instead of traditional weapons, and the monster, while interesting in concept, is goofy as all hell in execution. The "silicates", as they're called, are the result of an experiment designed to cure cancer using man-made cells that would attack the cancer in the host's body, but instead the cells became the creatures that are now attacking everyone on the "damn little island" (Cushing's words), which are seemingly invulnerable to explosives and other traditional means of attack.

Unfortunately they look something like a cross between a turtle and an ostrich, with a long "neck" type thing (and a point on the end instead of a head) coming out of a shell that wriggles its way along the ground. Granted, given the way that they were formed it wouldn't make much sense for them to take on a humanoid or traditional "monster" appearance, but I couldn't help but snicker every time they appeared. Also, the filmmakers had to cheat to make them more menacing; they somehow escaped from a completely locked down building, and then later they're able to climb trees and such despite not having any means of doing so. The flipside: they're all over the island, and there's a pretty great shock kill relatively early on when one falls on top of a character who seemed like a candidate for survival. So I can forgive the creative license, because otherwise the heroes would simply have to go upstairs and wait for the things to die of starvation, or keep doing stupid things in order to provide the film with its action.

Instead they do the smart thing! They lock themselves down in a smaller building, study the doctor's notes to find a way to fight them, etc. Cushing and Judd make a good team, too - Judd's a lot younger (five years previous, he was apparently a candidate for Bond) and from the way Judd's character is introduced it doesn't seem like they have much of a friendship (just fellow colleagues) but they banter and look out for one another, and even do small things like help each other take off their doctor's scrubs with a casual familiarity - it's the sort of thing that always charms me. And even with the goofiness of the monsters' appearance, there's no denying that they are indeed menacing, as the body count is rather high by the end. Even Cushing doesn't get away unscathed - Judd has to lop his hand off when a monster starts feeding on it.

Oh yeah, and the monsters suck out the bones of their victims, leaving them a rubbery puddle of flesh. Whatever failings the FX guys had for the monsters, they made up for it with their mushy corpses, they look pretty great for their time. Unfortunately, none of them are on the Blu-ray to talk about it, and for that matter no one else from the movie is either. By now almost everyone from the movie is dead (heroine Carole Gray seems to be the only exception, though she is long retired), so the only bonus feature is a rather snooty historian commentary by a guy who doesn't have much nice to say about it (other than that it's preferable to The Projected Man, which it was released on double feature with), though he thankfully actually has done research about it rather than rattle off filmographies like some of his peers. It's a decent enough listen, but I do wish he'd give it a little more credit than he offers; sure it has some script issues but it's still effective where it counts and offers another top notch turn from Cushing, seemingly relishing playing a charming hero in between Frankenstein movies. It's a "pile" movie I will be keeping, so take that, historian guy!

What say you?


Silent Rage (1982)

MARCH 10, 2020


Almost a full ten years ago, I watched Hellbound, the Chuck Norris vs Satanists movie that stands out from his usual stuff on account of being horror adjacent. It wasn't very good, but the commenters told me I should give Silent Rage a try and, well, a decade later I have finally done that - hope those readers are still around to see what I thought! It's probably the only Norris movie I've seen since (not counting his cameo in Expendables 2), so I can't say how well it stacks against Invasion USA or Missing in Action or whatever, but I can say it's certainly better than Hellbound, not to mention a must-see for Halloween fans since the influence is more than readily apparent throughout.

And, painful as it might be to admit, it actually trumps Halloween in one tiny area: its opening tracking shot, while not overall as complicated, is actually done in one continuous take, or if there are cuts, they're hidden better (Halloween's has three cuts, one of which is pretty easy to see). The camera stays inside, but it moves in and around through various rooms and tracks multiple characters (it's not a POV like Halloween's, so we see everyone it involves) as our villain wakes up, calls his doctor, goes outside, grabs an axe, comes back, and starts attacking the people he lives with. With all the dialogue and movement, it's pretty impressive - even more so when you consider the director, Michael Miller, gave us the lifeless Class Reunion the same year. Guess he put more effort into making an actual slasher movie than he could muster for spoofing them?

That said, Miller has denied that there's any slasher influence here, claiming the film is more of his take on something like Frankenstein. He's not crazy - there are a couple of mad scientist types who use the body of the killer to try out their regeneration formula - but it's absurd to think that Halloween and its imitators weren't on his mind. The score is sting-filled (and electronic, so it's got a real Halloween II flair that's enhanced by the number of hospital-set scenes) and the tracking shots make it hard not to think about Carpenter's classic, even if you ignore that the film's villain is an murderous madman who seemingly can't be killed. Whether he likes it or not, some producer definitely envisioned "Chuck Norris fights Michael Myers" (Jason wasn't around yet) and that's how the movie came to life.

As for Norris, he's... well, he's Norris. He's never been a particularly interesting or charismatic performer, and this doesn't pose any challenge to that view. In fact you could practically remove him from the movie and it'd barely make any difference; he fights the killer early on, but it's the other cops who bring the villain down (which kicks off the plot, as he survives the shooting and is brought to the misguided doctors), and he is unaware of the resurrection until its final reel. He even disappears for a stretch as the film focuses on the trio of doctors: the two who are gung-ho for the experiment (one played by William Finley!), and the other who has more of a conscience and doesn't want any part of the experiment. Funnily enough, that "good" doctor is played by professional bad guy actor Ron Silver, as if to tell us "this is how wrong it is - even Ron Silver won't go along with it!"

Instead, Norris just kinda hangs out in the margins of the movie, waiting until the big finale where he will go toe to toe with the killer. For no other reason other than to give him something to do, we see a motorcycle punk harass him at a diner early on, prompting Norris to tell him to get out of town (why the guy opted to pick a fight with a sheriff in the first place is beyond me), so you know they'll fight later. Sure enough, a half hour later Norris and his partner (Stephen Furst) are driving along when Norris sees the guy's motorcycle parked outside a bar, and being that this is the 1980s he has no choice but to drop whatever he was doing, enter the bar, and proceed to beat the crap out of every dude inside. It's a pretty good fight scene, extraneous as it may be, but a better script would at least have him get hurt so he had a reason to go to the hospital and maybe stumble upon the experiment plot.

But no, he continues to be oblivious to it all; it's only really a coincidence that he manages to get involved in the third act. Silver's sister is Norris' girlfriend, so when Norris comes to get her for their weekend getaway she is in hysterics because the killer has just attacked Silver and his wife. From that point on he's a bit more proactive, but still - over an hour until the hero serves a plot function? It's not a surprise the screenwriter has no other produced credits. I swear it's like they added Norris into the movie the day before shooting, as you can easily see how his girlfriend might have been the protagonist in a tighter draft of the script. I suppose it's not even worth mentioning that it stretches beyond the expected 90 minute runtime for such fare, with that extra 10-12 minutes being pretty much exactly the amount of time they spend on Norris' bike gang "subplot".

Still, it's an amusing enough B-movie. Furst has some choice moments (an anecdote about how he accidentally froze his dog as a kid is pretty great), Frank Darabont regular Brian Libby as the killer is certainly imposing, and Finley is still a hoot in what counts as one of his more normal roles. And I like that the regeneration stuff is actually the point, so you can't exactly roll your eyes when the killer turns out to not be dead - of course he isn't! That's literally his thing! I also enjoyed the Texas backdrop (apparently, this was the first time Norris played a Texas lawman), which you didn't see all that much in this sort of thing. Also (spoiler for 38 year old movie ahead) Silver's body is hung on a door and I was incredibly impressed at his corpse acting, as he's not only on-screen for a while without moving (some of the other corpses in the movie blink/twitch) but the door he is hung on is opened/closed and he still manages to keep it straight! Goddamn he was good.

What say you?


Blumhouse's Fantasy Island (2020)

MARCH 2, 2020


Normally I go see the genre films on opening weekend, but Blumhouse's Fantasy Island (yes, that's the on-screen title, which they also did for Truth or Dare, another Jeff Wadlow joint) came out the same weekend as Sonic, and as a dad, that had to take priority*. Likewise, I usually see movies "in order" (by release date), but the reviews and indifference to this film meant it seemed silly to wait on the ones I was looking forward to on the following weekends (Boy II and Invisible Man), so basically we can thank Super Tuesday for me finally having the time, as coverage of the event meant nothing to do at my day job, "forcing" me to use a paid day off and waste it on things like this.

I should note that I've never seen a frame of the old show, though I looked at a few "best episodes" lists and quickly discovered that Blumhouse making the big screen version wasn't as odd as it sounded, as the show seemingly dipped its toes into genre territory pretty often. Episodes revolving around ghosts, haunted mansions, and even Jack the Ripper kept coming up just as often as romantic themed tales during my cursory searches, so it would seem any studio (not just Blumhouse) would likely want at least some kind of spooky element in their adaptation. And it's pretty horror-lite compared to the other movies bearing the Blumhouse name; there's a supernatural explanation for the things on the island, but apart from the Hostel reject who torments Lucy Hale's frenemy (her fantasy is to get revenge on the girl who bullied her in high school) it's basically an action/adventure movie that occasionally tries to pull at your heartstrings.

And that's because of the five main characters, Hale is the only one whose fantasy lends itself to genre movie scenarios. The other woman (Maggie Q) doesn't even HAVE a fantasy, but eventually Mr. Roarke (the Ricardo Montalban role, played by Michael Peña) convinces her to see what would have happened if she said "yes" to a marriage proposal five years earlier. As for the three dudes, one of them wants to try living out a war fantasy since his dad was a soldier while he was rejected by the armed forces, and the other two just want to party with models (male and female; in addition to the nicely multicultural cast, one of the three men is gay, and his alpha male brother is very supportive of it). Things go sideways in all of these fantasies, of course, but none of them are really played for scares. If you cut the Lucy Hale bully stuff, there'd be almost nothing for Blumhouse to justify their posters for the movie, which were better than the film itself.

Before you think it, no, it's not the horror-lite result that left me indifferent to its narrative, because I knew that coming in. The problem is that the movie - which is just under two hours, for Christ's sake - takes too damn long to get to the part where it actually starts being fun, and it's too late to save it. Without spoiling the particulars, there are a couple of twists in the final half hour that had me laughing out loud, while also appreciating the cast for going all in on the nonsense and playing it straight - but it also left me wondering why they didn't just dive into this kind of insanity so much earlier. There's some minor "wait, is this part of the fantasy or is this an unrelated thing that's really happening" tension in the first hour (Roarke carefully explains that fantasies do not always play out the way they hope), but as the storylines go on, I quickly realized I didn't care either way - none of them, or their characters, were interesting enough to put much stock into whether or not the people were in real danger or how their lives might change as a result.

Hell, they couldn't even rope me in with "Dad Stuff", which is usually like shooting fish in a barrel for me (for non-longtime readers who are unaware, my father died when I was in my early 20s, long before I had a son of my own). The soldier guy ends up being on the mission that his father was on when he died saving his squad from a wayward grenade, giving him not only a chance to fight alongside his pops but also save him (though the time travel element of this is never explored), which is the sort of thing I'd usually eat up, but leave it to the consistently middling Wadlow (he also gave us Cry_Wolf and Kick-Ass 2; Truth or Dare at "eh, not that bad" is probably his best movie) to bungle even that much. And that was the best of its scenarios!

Until those silly reveals (one of which will have you realize that several scenes had a character acting innocent even when alone, which suggests a twist no one bothered to think through) the only other amusement the film really provided were the brief turns by Michael Rooker and Kim Coates, two men who are simply incapable of being boring. Rooker plays a reporter who went undercover to try to expose the island and is living in hiding in/around the compound to compile more evidence before signaling for a plane to come take him, while Coates plays the leader of the mercenaries who the soldier guy's dad is tracking. Coates actually manages the film's most intriguing idea with a single line: "How do you know that this isn't MY fantasy?" he asks one of our protagonists that he is currently terrorizing, which it very well could be since Roarke doesn't exactly come across as the most noble person in the world and thus might not really give a shit what his guests want as long as they pay up and don't blow up his spot.

Alas, nothing is done with the idea, and I still don't know if Coates' character is a real person or something dreamed up by the island's power. But, again, I don't really care either. Regardless of what genre it belongs to (to be fair it toys with just about all of them - it's a romantic action/adventure horror comedy with some sci-fi!), the characters or their fantasies simply aren't engaging enough to get too invested with how it ends up, and the twist, while delivering some unintentional laughs, isn't satisfying or particularly well explained (keeping it vague for spoilerphobes, so for those who have seen the movie: try to imagine the meeting between _______ and Roarke when the former pitched their *actual* fantasy). That'd be frustrating enough for an 80 minute movie, but when you're asking for just under two hours, you gotta deliver more than a handful of laughable plot turns to even qualify as "so bad it's good" kind of entertainment. And yes, while it's not always the case the PG-13 rating does indeed hurt the film here - pretty chaste fantasies considering you can have whatever you want, people!

What say you?

P.S. There's some evil black goo here, so I hope Blumhouse makes another PG-13 reboot/remake/re-whatever that has it so we can get a trilogy with this and Black Christmas.

*I was doubly excited since it was the first live action movie he's ever wanted to see. Finally, a crack in the ice! Maybe I can take him to a Marvel movie this or next year!


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