Hammer’s Camp on Blood Island (1958)

Directed by Val Guest, Camp on Blood Island followed Hammer’s meteoric success on Curse of Frankenstein. Billed as “the brutal truth” behind the Japanese prison camps during WWII, the film was more sensationalist than the ‘tell all’ that it claimed to be.

Panned by critics, the movie was a raving success with film-goers. The movie starred an ensemble cast headed by Andre Morell as Colonel Lambert who tried his best to keep the prisoners in line in the face of horrific war crimes. The story was purported to have been brought in breathlessly to Hammer’s producers but it is more of a litany of war crimes gathered from various stories combined with supposition. Written by Jon Manchip White, who was himself a former prisoner of war, the movie attempts a kind of realism with the added dash of drama to give it flavor.

In the opening of the film, we see a prisoner dig a grave and he is then shot by machine gun fire and falls into the hole he had just finished digging. Morell’s Colonel Lambert has a secret that he has kept from the other prisoners; the war is over and the Allies have won. However, this is not good news as the camp commandant has stated that at the conclusion of the war, if Japan has lost, he will kill all the prisoners and raze the entire compound to the dirt it rests on.

What follows is a battle of nerves as the prisoners try to keep their dignity and sanity while both are steadily chipped away by the commandant’s sadistic practices. A cunning plan is conspired, but will it be enough and in time to allow for any survivors on the dreaded Blood Island?

Criticized for its negative depiction of the Japanese and for stirring up racial antagonism, the movie attracted box office success earning $3.5 million worldwide. The movie is nevertheless a rarely screened Hammer film aside from some late night showings in the 70’s. Revived for a new audience, Camp on Blood Island has been included in the third box office set from Power House/Indicator, Blood and Terror. Included along with a crisp new transfer is a bevvy of extras including behind the scenes documentaries, cast and crew commentary and an informative booklet.

I highly recommend grabbing a copy and giving it a watch.

Flash Gordon (1980)

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“He’ll save every one of us!”
Flash Gordon was a phenomenon to my child mind when it was released. An action drama with visuals straight from an induced college experiment and filled with character actors galore, it remains a cult classic. Based on the Kings Features comic strip and serial of the 1930’s, the movie is a classic.

The purring malevolent voice of Max von Sydow opens the film declaring that he, Ming the Merciless, is bored. His deputy Klytus (played by Department S’s Peter Wyngarde) offers up a plaything, the planet Earth. Attacking the planet with natural disasters, Ming chuckles with delight at the chaos and destruction. While on a remote airstrip, Flash Gordon, football player, waits for a private flight home. He encounters news writer Dale Arden on the plane and the pair are catapulted into adventure. The plane crashes at the laboratory of Professor Zarkov (played by Topol). Zarkov has developed a manned rocket and is also a bit insane. He commands Dale and Flash into the rocket to help pilot it off world. The craft enters a warp and lands on the planet Mongo where Ming rules with an iron fist.

Introduced to the mighty Ming, who is receiving bounties from the many moons and civilizations of Mongo, Flash is reluctant to kneel. He makes a stand, something no one has ever done and thereby starts the wheels of revolution (even if slowly at first) turning. Flash is killed via lethal gas, Zarkov is brain drained and Dale is prepared to be Ming’s bride. All seems lost. But there’s still hope for Flash Gordon who seems to have as many lives as a cat. Aided by Ming’s daughter Princess Aura, Flash escapes to the moon of Arboria, kingdom of Prince Barin (played by James Bond Timothy Dalton) where he is coolly welcomed. Standing up to Ming is not a popular move. He must earn the trust of the inhabitants of Arboria who want him dead. It’s not easy to stand up against such tyranny, but Flash has strength of spirit and determination.

Written by King Kong and Batman 1966 scribe Lorenzo Semple, Jr, Flash Gordon is a bit campy to be sure but is also so strange and unlike any other film that I had seen around that time. It doesn’t take itself seriously and the performance of Brian Blessed as Vultan King of the Hawkmen needs to be seen to be believed. Star Sam Jones plays the role of Flash straight with so much sincerity in the face of all the absurdity.

There are plenty of action set pieces but the attack of the Hawkmen on the Ajax ship as Brian May’s guitar squeals is the high point. The soundtrack by Queen is phenomenal and one of the reasons the film has held up so well over the years.
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If you are looking for a great film for a party night, you can do no wrong by throwing in a copy of Flash Gordon. In no time you’ll be yelling along with Blessed and singing along with the soundtrack.

Order below:

Moebius’ art from Jodorowsky’s Dune

The most ambitious and awe-inspiring film to ever be attempted is most likely Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune. A film that would have featured Salvador Dali as the Emperor, the movie boasted collaborators from all over the world and from various backgrounds all with one goal; to make the most unfilmable movie possible.

One of the key contributors was Moebius. The artist drafted up a complete movie storyboard and character sketches. The story bible is glimpsed briefly in the film about the attempted movie and it looks stunning.

More info can be found here

Star Knight (1985)

star_knightAn alien lands on a medievel world which may be Earth. A clumsy knight (dubiously named Klever) obsessed with advancing toward a higher standing in the court and marriage to the princess who becomes the alien’s captive. Seeking to gain the approval of the king, Klever leads a team of men into the lair of the dragon who dwells in a lake (where the alien’s craft has crashed). With the support of a alchemist Boetius, Klever is sure to defeat the alien who cannot speak or exit his space suit. However, the princess Alba has strangely fallen in love with Ix the alien and wants nothing to do with Klever.

It’s a calamity!

Star Knight is an oddity to say the least. Featuring Klaus Kinski and Harvey Keitel, I was expecting something strange and entertaining. However, the lack of good ADR and a dodgy script coupled with poor acting left me feeling cheated. Keitel acts as if he is in any movie other than a fantasy and Kinski is barely present. The only upside of the movie is the alien’s spacesuit and craft design which are quite impressive. Keitel blunders his way through the story and there are some comedic sequences with a Green Knight who cannot get anyone to fight him which fall flat.

A bizarre entry into that nether world of 80’s sci-fi/fantasy, Star Knight is more of a fizzle than a pop.

The X From Outer Space

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After a rip-roaring musical opening, the starship AABGamma embarks on the latest Mars expedition. Every previous attempt has failed but this one is bound to work thanks to the wacky misfit crew of experts. However, the ship encounters a UFO that is defined as looking like a ‘half cooked omelet,’ prompting a stop over at the moon base. This future world has such a well run space program that a trip to the moon is a five minute journey and the moon has a fully stocked bar.

Eventually the mission is back underway but the UFO traps the craft in its gravitational pull. When the crew tries to fix the atomic engines, they find that small glowing egg-like things are draining the ship’s thrust. After returning to Earth with one of the eggs, the crew decides to relax and party only to later find that the lab where the egg was left to analyze (after many nightcaps) has hatched. The rapidly growing bird/lizard-like creature goes on an all-too-familiar rampage throughout Japan as the scientists scramble to find a solution.

Revered as a kaiju epic by film historians, The X From Outer Space was part of Shochiku Studio’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of giant rubber monsters. The movie is a delightful snort fest of its time. If you are looking for a fun monster film to watch with friends or that special someone, this could be it.

The X From Outer Space can be found on the Criterion Eclipse Film DVD set When Horror Came to Shochiku.

Black Sabbath (1963)

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The work of Giallo grandfather Mario Bava, Black Sabbath is an anthology film containing three short stories; The Telephone, Wurdulak and The Drop of Water. Hosted by horror legend Boris Karloff, the movie is a tension filled yet thoroughly enjoyable delight. Each part of the trilogy stands on its own and deserves praise; the thrilling Telephone simmers as an innocent young woman is terrorized by repeated calls from her ex lover, recently escaped from jail and eager to enact revenge. As she frets about her apartment, more phone calls come detailing her every move. Its a nail-biter in the tradition of Hitchcock and a great opener.

My own favorite tale, the Wurdulak, is based on folklore not dissimilar to the Wendigo. A killer who has tasted human blood yearns for the lives of its loved ones. A spine-chilling story, the Wurdulak stars Karloff as a weary man who has returned from a mysterious hunt after this famed beast and appears changed, as if the murder of the creature has changed him. The lighting and cinematography is stunning and the sound design, an unholy night in the middle of nowhere, will make your hair stand on end.

The final tale, The Drop of Water is a cautionary story of the supernatural when a woman is called in to assist on the preparation of a body after an untimely death. The corpse is horrifying with an inhuman open grimace peering back at the viewer. After snatching a piece of jewelry from the body the woman is haunted by what she saw and driven to madness.

I was lucky enough to see this film at the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC. A double feature is screened every week and this one (paired with Dario Argento’s Deep Red) could not be missed. Accompanied by trivia and period trailers, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Robo Vampire

robovampire5.jpgDrug smugglers are getting frustrated with the DEA who seem to be one step ahead of them. In order to get the upper hand, they make an obvious decision to employ vampires as both mules and muscle. Their connections are a bit baffled by all this but figure that the bad guys know what they’re doing. When a girlfriend (who may be a ghost) of the alpha vampire (who wears a gorilla mask) shows up, she is allowed to stay so long as both cooperate. Everyone is very sweet and understanding toward the drug smugglers.

These vampires, it must be noted, are the hopping kind (or jiangshi). They can be controlled by special notes and dust. They hop, shoot sparkler flames from their sleeves and smoke from their mouths. They also possess an uncanny knack of martial arts and flipping making any battle five times longer than it needs to be.

But where’s the robot you ask? One of the DEA agents is killed in action and revived using what appears to be manikin limbs painted silver, random computer parts and silver oven mitts. The robot is an amazingly ineffectual machine of tedium whom the drug smugglers, along with their army of the undead destroy. But since he is a state of the art robot, the DEA quickly repairs a ‘short circuit’ (he was actually blown to pieces by a rocket) to get him back in action.

Robo Vampire is a lurid film with standard action, drama and torture along with a weird love scene between a ghost and a gorilla-vampire. It’s tastefully done. The robot is so laughably bad that it nearly makes this film worth seeing for his ridiculousness alone. It’s a great flick for a night when you have a bunch of friends over and plenty of adult beverages.

Like Hyper Sapien, Robo Vampire can be found on the Sci-Fi Invasion DVD set.

Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star

During a visit to Earth, a pair of young aliens decide to remain and discover what life on this strange planet is like. Trailing along with Robyn and Tavy is a weird triple-limbed muppet named Kirbi. Both girls have massive coifs of hair that shift color after prolonged exposure to Earth’s atmosphere. Luckily, during their long trek through the wilderness of Wyoming, they meet Dirt, a young lad with a love of the outdoors and a bizarre habit of sleeping in a suspension hammock.

Passing themselves off as simply ‘visitors’, Dirt eventually realizes his new friends’ alien origin. Luckily, his Grandpa is an open minded guy and is more than happy to host a pair of extraterrestrials. Even Kirbi, a truly mystifying creature which consumes gasoline and charcoal is welcome. Kirbi also helps Grandpa hustle some local in poker.

The film is a charming story that sees Robyn and Dirt grow attached to each other as their obvious differences filter away. Oh and the magic of a community barbecue and local politics doesn’t hurt. 4BBoSI4XrXo76D0tpqFo7GKCqrUDirected by former Bond film editor Peter Hunt, Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star is pure 80’s cinema. The performance from Keenan Wynn as Grandpa is especially touching and sadly marks the famed character actor’s final appearance.

But nothing can prepare you for the oddity that is Kirbi.

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Hyper Sapien can be found on the Sci-Fi Invasion DVD set, which I recommend for a fun few nights. If nothing else it’s the only opportunity to catch the rarity Morons From Outer Space.

 

On the Edge of Blade Runner

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Looking for the perfect way to spend a quiet Monday evening? Here’s a wonderful BBC documentary based on Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (oddly hosted by comic genius Chris Morris).

I can still remember the cold rainy day when I saw this film (at far too young an age). A groundbreaking film that never fails to make an impression and make me feel like I am watching it for the first time… I love Blade Runner.

As a bonus, here’s a lovely film about the life of author Philip K Dick with some very special cameos.

Free to watch: “The Thing” documentary!

Exploring the dark interior of the mind and soul, the horror movie is one of the most revered of cult film genres. With a body of work spanning over 40 years, filmmaker John Carpenter is an icon of horror. While there are many movies that Carpenter has directed which have a strong following (including Dark Star, Halloween, The Fog, Christine, Escape From New York, and Big Trouble in Little China), “The Thing” remains one of his most revered efforts.

Including interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage and storyboards, this amazing documentary provides a unique glimpse into the production of the John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and is not to be missed.

In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic research station discovers an alien buried in the snow for over 100,000 years. Soon unfrozen, the form-changing alien wreaks havoc, creates terror and begins killing the researchers one by one.

Source: Free to watch: “The Thing” documentary!